A lot of what's written about customer success focuses on structuring and hiring teams, retaining customers, and cross-selling and upselling. While all these areas are important, there's little reference to a critical topic -- onboarding your customers.
Onboarding is a hot topic right now for low-touch freemium products as companies realize the huge impact it has on short and long-term user retention. This focus shouldn't be any different for higher-touch customer success teams.
In this post, I'll focus on five ways to set yourself up for onboarding success -- and why these steps are so important.
5 SaaS Onboarding Best Practices to Ensure Success
A great customer onboarding experience starts with sales. The expectations set by the sales team about what will happen in the first few days, weeks, or months after purchase can greatly help or hinder onboarding progress and time to prove value for your customers.
Misaligned expectations can be as simple as how quickly the customer will speak to someone after they buy, to something as large the time investment required during the onboarding period. A major reason for onboarding going off-course is a disconnect between what is promised, customer expectations, and reality.
In order to ensure there is no disconnect here, I advocate for spending time working on pre-sale content, speaking to prospects, and regularly training and reminding sales teams about what your onboarding and customer success programs look like. It sounds simple, but requires consistent time and effort, and it gets much harder as you grow and scale.
A scalable way to set expectations about what your onboarding and customer success services look like is to create web pages, downloads, and tools that explain it. Companies invest a lot of time and money into content to market their products, and this should be no different for your onboarding process.
If you are creating content, my advice is to keep the resources as visual as possible. GANTT charts, timelines, or other visual resources will avoid any wrong interpretation your team or the customer.
Speak to prospects
I'm always surprised how little I see this happening in the customer success world. Speaking to potential customers before they even sign up is a great investment of your time. It builds credibility, helps set the right expectations, and gives onboarding teams a greater sense of the concerns and hesitations customers have before they sign up.
But there can also be a hesitation from sales to invite customer-facing teams to meetings and calls with prospective customers. There's a sense you might distract from closing conversations or be "too honest." There's a fine line to walk here, so I'd advise meeting with the sales rep beforehand to go over strategies and your approach to positioning onboarding -- before the sale even closes.
Build customer success modules into your sales training
Your new sales hires should be exposed to the work your onboarding teams do. Training doesn't need to be formalized, but reps can join or shadow meetings and calls with the onboarding team.
Balance the training with the types of conversations your team has, success stories, and roadblocks and problems you run into early on. If you position your onboarding services as a value-add that sales teams can lean into to help sell, you're much more likely to build their trust.
2. Optimize for Time
When a customer makes a purchase, we'd like to think that they're happy and excited about that decision. To capitalize on this excitement and keep momentum going post-sale, you have to make some sort of connection with the customer within the first 24 hours. Otherwise, that motivation can dwindle, and other projects and priorities may come across your customers desk. In the worst case, that customer may even experience buyer's remorse and start to question their purchase decision.
Build "new customer welcome time" into your CSMs or implementation teams' schedules
Initially, this requires digging into numbers. By looking at the trends and numbers of customers you sign up each month or quarter, you can predict how much time needs to be put aside on the teams' schedule to welcome new customers.
Where possible, always default to prioritizing new customers. With existing customers, there's at least some level of trust and they may understand if you need to reschedule. There's zero trust with new customers, and if you let them down early, it can take twice as much effort to get them back on track later on.
Automate some of the process
Scheduling calendars across your team and your customers' teams can be time-consuming and an unproductive way to spend time early on in your customer's lifecycle. When a deal closes, an automatic welcome email should be sent to the customer that includes: next steps, their points of contact, and information about how to book time them.
There's a whole host of tools out there to help with this kind of automation. If your marketing team uses some sort of automation tool, see if you can tap into that and create your own customer onboarding campaigns -- or try using HubSpot Meetings.
3. Do Your Research
When I started working with customers I received some advice that has stuck with me since: Whatever amount of time you plan to spend with your customer during your first interaction, spend an equal amount of time preparing.
New customers haven't built up a trust in your service in the early days. By researching their business, industry, and team, you can ease any concerns or doubts by speaking their language, showing you understand their business, and relating to the people on their team.
With the rise of professional networks like LinkedIn and company profile sites like Crunchbase, it's easier than ever to quickly get detailed information on the companies and people you're working with:
Go through your customer's website in detail
Research the team on LinkedIn
Look out for CrunchBase pages or similar profiles for their company
Use this information to prepare an "ideal world plan" in advance of the meeting in case things go off-course or you need to be more prescriptive.
4. Create Value Quickly
When we discuss onboarding in the freemium world, we often talk about the "aha moment" and getting your users there as quickly as possible.
This shouldn't be any different with higher-touch onboarding. It might not possible to arrive at the full "aha moment" when working with more complicated tools or enterprise software, but you need to look for opportunities to show "micro-value" as quickly as possible when your customer signs up.
I've seen way too many customer success teams spend their first onboarding sessions simply welcoming the customer, discussing goals, and scheduling next steps and calls -- without getting something tangible done. Those topics are, of course, important, but even if you can complete something as simple as turning on one tool or ticking off one basic task, the feeling of making progress can put the customer at ease.
5. Reinforce Goals
This one sounds obvious, but when a customer starts working with a new tool, it can be confusing as to why they are doing certain things in a certain order. Without a lot of context, it can be difficult to see how everything ties together when you start using new software.
On the other hand, customer success managers usually know exactly why they're recommending certain tasks or action plans -- because they know what it takes to make a customer successful. With that in mind, every task you assign or work on with your customer during onboarding should be backed up with the "why."
This is why it's so important to understand your customers' short, medium, and long-term goals and priorities. The ability to justify your actions by falling back on those goals helps build trust and reduce a lot of anxiety in the beginning of your customer's lifecycle.
A version of this blog post originally appeared on Keep | Grow.
Originally published Apr 14, 2020 8:06:00 AM, updated June 15 2021