How to convert casual mobile browsers into paying customers with Phil Leslie of ProOnGo

With a return user rate of under 50 percent for all apps, selling a service through a mobile app is an uphill battle. With this in mind, Phil Leslie hosted a workshop focused on customer acquisition in the mobile space on Thursday morning at 1871. Leslie, the founder of ProOnGo, a mobile expense tracking company that works on a software as a service model (SaaS), shared tips on how to optimize mobile apps and websites and how to convert casual browsers into paying customers. 

Starting with pre-release marketing, Leslie talked the audience through the process of acquiring a new customers in the mobile space and why a shift to the web may be beneficial. He refers to the customer acquisition process as a “funnel”—to make a mobile business plan work you, you need a strong flow at the top because you will lose customers at every step. With multiple steps, from download to account creation, register to subscribe, and finally increasing average revenue per user, businesses in the mobile space need all the help they can get.

Step 1: Determine price
Start by focusing on the top of the funnel. The first major decision is to determine your price. Free is not an option: a free app is not sustainable, lacks a business plan and quickly goes out of business. If you are unsure, Leslie recommends just guessing for the initial price—you an always change it later. 

Step 2: Optimize app store description
The next obstacle is crafting your app store description and attempting to optimize it for SEO. Rapidly changing and less mature then website SEO, Leslie says there are no tricks to this black art. The solution: day-to-day attention, effort and focus are they only way to track what works.

Step 3: Get usernames
When you reach the username creation stage simplicity is key. Leslie discovered that Android and Blackberry software allows app creators to pre-populate a username based on the users current email addresses synced to their phone. This is an ideal situation because it cuts down on the number of fields users need to complete to get to the next step.

At this point, an obvious call to action is needed above the fold. Leslie uses OpenID, a platform that allows companies to partner with another service, eliminating the need for users to create a new account. An example of this is the “sign in with Facebook” button that is seen all to frequently across the web. Leslie only recommends doing this with a site partner that you are symbiotic with—don’t just choose Facebook because it is popular. This incredibly powerful tool not only allows you to skip an entire part of the funnel, it also makes the experience easier for the user.

Step 4: Move beyond mobile monthly subscriptions hurdles
Subscriptions, the next stage of the funnel, comes with some problems in the mobile space. To thrive SaaS businesses need subscriptions that re-up automatically every month. Unfortunately, this is not yet allowed by for services in the App Store: currently only content creators, such as newspapers, or games can charge using this model. The Android Market does allow subscriptions but Leslie describes them as hard to manage and laments the multiple restrictions that include not being able to change the price.

This leaves creators of SaaS apps with no straightforward way to charge. Because most SaaS marketers also have a web presence the solution lies in driving traffic to your website and forcing customers to sign up for monthly subscriptions there. To workaround app store limits (you are forbidden to put website links into app store descriptions) businesses must start a conversation in-app and move it online.

Step 6: Expand from mobile to online
For ProOnGo, Leslie uses auto mailers that let customers know there is a web-based experience working along side the mobile app. “As you go thorough key parts of our app experience things that you do will start triggering various auto mailers to you, presenting an aura that there is a whole web side of this experience,” said Leslie. This takes advantage of SaaS companies resources: you have back-end services and reasons to approach the user in these kinds of ways. Other consumer perks for online service include always having a back-up.

When given the opportunity to show in-app subscription offers, the key is testing and tracking the responses. ProOnGo uses A/B testing to track the first 60 days, analyzing the revenue per view. “Turn it on, try it and see which one cranks out the best results. Sitting around guessing what will work is a waste of your time,” said Leslie. He has found that bigger buttons that offer a larger target area always perform better and taking the guesswork out is key: the less decisions the user has to make, the better.

Step 7: Market online using SEO
After flipping his focus to the web, Leslie learned that increasing traffic is more beneficial through good SEO, not expensive ad words or paid advertising. He recommends using Traffic Travis, a free service that will analyze your pages, your competitor’s pages and compile a list of your strengths and weaknesses. Picking two or three “trophy phrases” or keywords will help improve your ranking while having a blog with content from your company and outside content consumers care about can help dramatically increase site traffic.

Video can also be beneficial. Leslies uses YouTube’s playlist function to increase his companies presence on the video search results page. He also adds annotations that link to similar informative videos and provides YouTube with a full English translation of the audio that helps the site better index the content. YouTube annotations only allow links to other YouTube videos but Leslie has found a workaround that lets him advertise his company website: running a $1 ad campaign on YouTube allows you to add popups that lead directly to your site.

Step 8: Turn customers into buyers
Once you have customers browsing the site it’s time to turn them into buyers. To do this, Leslie recommends offering a 30-day trail with a card and providing a self-service check out. “Focusing on making sure your biggest differentiated feature is something the user can get to on their first session,” said Leslie. You want them to use it and love it. To get the highest average revenue per user sometimes it makes sense to route some transactions other places. By using PayPal Micropayments for some smaller transactions, ProOnGo was able to save almost 20% on the dollar.

For Leslie, the bottom line is simple: you better be a solution on the web and mobile—not just an app. If you are trying to build a real, sustainable cash flow business do not focus on vanity metrics. Focus on starting a conversation, taking out the guesswork and providing what is relevant for your average consumer so they fall in love with using your product.

Filed in: Startup Community