Jul 22, 2022

Read Time 10 min

Q&A recap: Driving customers to value during onboarding, at scale


Does your Customer Success team suffer from a shallow view of onboarding?

If you consider onboarding to be a success when a customer reaches their go-live date, then you need to dig deeper.

As Donna Weber, a leading onboarding consultant and advisor for CS and post-sales organizations, knows, onboarding is about more than completing product training and filling out checklists. “It’s about transforming your customer’s business and delivering value, so you make their life better,” says Donna.

Whether it’s greater efficiency, increased revenue, cost savings, or achieving compliance, every customer has a reason for purchasing your product.

But when it feels like each customer has different goals and definitions of success, how do you create an onboarding program that caters to these individual needs and at the same time can scale?

In our webinar, Driving customers to value during onboarding at scale, Donna shares how to stop recreating the wheel every time you onboard a new customer as well as why, how, and when to lead customers to first value.

The webinar’s Q&A session covered popular SaaS onboarding topics like how long it should take a customer to reach first value, what should you do when a customer disengages, and how to hold customers accountable at scale.

How to increase customer value during onboarding with Donna Weber

Q: Should the definition of first value be based on your team’s perspective or the customer’s perspective?

A: It absolutely has to be from the customer’s perspective. I was working with a company and they said first value is getting the customers to log in. But I said that nobody cares about your product. Logging in doesn’t give anyone value. It really needs to be helping them to do their job better. I recommend you interview customers. That’s something that I do. I just talked with a company today. They’re trying to get customers off their legacy system so they can switch over to the new platform. I’m going to interview their customers to find out what they did to get off that legacy system so we can bake that into the customer journey. I would interview 5 to 10 customers and ask what ah-ha moment made them glad they bought your product.

Q: How long should it take a customer to reach first value?

Q: What I like to say is, of course, it depends. That’s my soft answer. It depends on your product. It depends on your customers. It depends on how technical your customers are. But what I am seeing is that there is a correlation between the time that it takes to sell your product, so the sales cycle, and the time to deliver value and ideally be onboarded.

If you have a really long sales cycle, let’s say 6 to 12 months, then you have about half of that time, say three to six months, to deliver value. If your product sells in 10 days, then you better start delivering some morsel of value within about five days.

It’s anecdotal. I’ve talked with folks about how we can create a formula to work that out, but that’s what I’m seeing. You have about half of the time of how long the average sales cycle is to start delivering value.

Q: Our biggest bottleneck is installing and configuring our products. Because of our customers’ individual organization setups, other than providing them with prerequisites upfront, how can we break it down further?

A: I was talking with the company, they’re global. They’re an open source big data platform and the director of onboarding said, “Management wants me to build out a whole risk mitigation plan.” I’m like, rather than risk mitigation, just deal with stuff upfront. What I find is when there’s issues with onboarding, there’s bottlenecks, there’s blockers, customers don’t engage, things like that, what I do is I look at how we can address challenges upfront. Let me go back to my six-stage onboarding framework.

Oftentimes, there’ll be issues during the adoption stages where you’re doing the implementation. We address it here in the embark, handoff, and kick-off stages. For example, customers aren’t accountable. They don’t engage. As soon as possible, I start telling them, even during the buyer journey, this is what you need to do and this is how we’re going to keep you accountable. I start driving and setting up expectations and accountability during these initial stages so that by the time we’re in implementation, we’ve talked about how we’re going to resolve issues quickly.

Q: How do you handle when a customer disengages during onboarding?

A: I would step away, even before the deal closes. This is why we have the embark stage, which is when you start to tell the customer this is what’s going to happen afterward. For example, let’s say you’re my new client and I am your personal trainer. We could just work out really hard the first session. You go home so wiped out you can’t even get out of bed. You don’t show up for the next session. Now, you’re not accountable. You’re not engaged. Or I could tell you, look, we’re going to ease into this because I don’t want you to be wiped out. This is the protocol we’re going to follow. After the third session, you’re going to be swearing and calling me names because everything is going to hurt so much. But by month two, you’re going to see results. You will fall into this trough of disillusionment. Or as my colleague calls it, the valley of despair. You’re going to take a lot of ibuprofens. You’ll get through it. Drink a lot of water. You’ll start to receive results.

But I tell you; I set expectations. Now, you’re going to stay engaged and when it hurts, you’re not just going to say this is too hard. That’s part of setting it all up.

Another thing is when I work with companies, and I covered this all in my success plan, we talk about how we’re going to handle risks and blockers. What happens is I get the mobile number of the buyer, the stakeholder, and I call them as soon as there are issues happening. I’m not just relying on this one person. I get more contacts and we address it immediately, so that’s risk management as well.

Q: What should you do if the team you’re onboarding wasn’t part of the buying decision and isn’t thrilled to be learning a new tool?

A: That’s what I do during the handoff stage. I have two handoffs. I have the internal handoff from pre-sales to post-sales customer teams. Then I have a customer handoff to ensure the customer teams know what was purchased and why. You might also call it a customer alignment or client alignment meeting.

During that meeting, the buyer tells the project teams what was purchased and why. They hear it from their stakeholder and not from me going “this is really awesome.” Then, they can share any objections at that time and the stakeholder can address them. That’s all baked into my orchestrated onboarding framework.

Q: When and how does change management intersect with onboarding?

A: I include that in my adopt stage. Just because you go live with your product doesn’t mean people are going to use it. You need to bake that in. The adopt stage includes implementation and enablement change management. I covered that in my book, Onboarding Matters.

For example, I’ve worked with companies where they roll out this awesome product. This company that joined the last master class in June had this great product. And guess what? Their biggest competitor is spreadsheets. Their customers just love their spreadsheets. They’ve got conditional formatting. They’ve got their pivot tables. They probably have been refining them for years, if not decades.

Now, their product is so much faster, so much easier, so much better, but customers want to stay on their spreadsheets. So, they need to bake into their framework “We’re going to get you off your spreadsheets. We’re going to get you off your spreadsheets. We’re going to get you off your spreadsheets. We’re going to get you off your spreadsheets,” and talk about it and define milestones where they’re moving off their spreadsheets. You bake that into the whole journey. Then you have it, let’s say maybe by the first QBR or the first review meeting at 90 days, that’s the milestone you’re off your spreadsheets. But you tell them over and over. You build this bridge so that you can get them off the spreadsheets as part of the journey.

Q: How do you identify bad-fit customers?

A: There’s a saying about knowing what you can control and what you can’t control. If you as an onboarding person or a Customer Success person find that there’s someone that’s not a good fit, it would be good to start raising that to your management. Start to track it. If you find that 50% of customers are poor fits, then there is a systemic issue and you need to get leadership to address that. You’re not going to change who sales is selling to.

If it’s an anomaly, then you might say we just need to make it work. I would start to track what percentage of all customers who you’re onboarding or working with are poor fits and why. I would start to look at measuring trends and understanding them first.

For example, let’s say they’re a poor fit because the customer needs to do a bunch of stuff and they’re a small company. Maybe your company started in enterprise customers as well and is going down market. Those enterprise companies have a lot of teams that can do stuff to migrate data and cleanse data and customize fields. Those enterprise companies have the dedicated resources to do all that but your small customers don’t. They may feel like a poor fit because they don’t have the bandwidth to handle that. That might be a huge opportunity because now you can create new offerings and services that you can sell to them to do that for them and to get them to value very quickly. A poor fit may be a huge opportunity.

I would say the first thing is to understand what that means. I talked to a company yesterday that has an open-source platform for developers to find errors in code. They said there’s a wall. They close the deal and they just throw it over the fence to the Customer Success teams, so they just deal with it. Then, I would have the head of Customer Success start to track that. “Implementation should take three weeks. It’s taking eight weeks because of this and this.” You need data. If you want to change things at an organization-wide level, you need to look at the data and look at what it’s costing. What does an average implementation cost? If your average license is $10K and it is costing you $30K to implement, your company is in trouble fast. When we talk about metrics and data, that’s what you need to look at. What’s it costing your company? If we could get them to onboarded in two weeks, we could be saving $1 million a year. That might help you to hire the right people for your teams. That might help you to buy ChurnZero or other technology to help you scale.

Q: How do you hold customers accountable at scale?

A: That’s where I like technology. There’s a whole new landscape of onboarding software vendors and many of them have customer-facing components built right in so that I can assign tasks and due dates and there’s in-app chat. One, that’s a way to communicate and let them know what’s expected of them. But two, what you’re assigning them. So many Customer Success and onboarding teams I work with use project management tools where their internal team has the project plan and knows what’s supposed to happen and why, but the customers are in the dark. Customers need to know what is happening, why, and who is responsible? When I’ve interviewed the customers of companies I’ve worked with, customers tell me they want to be held accountable. But implementing your product is not the only thing on their plate, so you need to give them the tools to keep them on track.

Q: Have you found B2B companies that effectively use gamification in onboarding?

A: That really depends on your audience. For example, I’ve interviewed customers of several companies and it really depends. If it’s more of an end-user or a consumer product, even if it’s B2B, that can be very motivating. For example, I was working with a company that does software for accountants. When we asked them would badges and gamification be motivating, they were like no. For that audience, no.

I just interviewed a company whose customers do storage and it was interesting. The new users would be more interested in badges and gamification, but some of the folks who have been using the product for years have no interest. Oftentimes, if it’s really technical, like developers tend to be more interested in that.

I would interview your customers. Listen to your customers. I will repeat that: listen to your customers. Because you might think what’s first value. Should we do this, should we do that? It doesn’t matter. It’s what matters to your customer. Before you get busy, you need to find out if that resonates for your customers or not. Because it might be what ChurnZero is doing, and they’ve got some great ideas, it doesn’t mean it’s going to work for your company and your customers. You need to really deliver the right content to the right user at the right time. It’s all about knowing your users.

Q: When do you consider onboarding to be complete?

A: I would say when you’ve delivered some value so it needs to be more than going live. A lot of companies say when product is live. It’s hard to say in general, but I would want to look at what’s implemented. How long is that taking? What value has been delivered? Then, you can start to say here are some milestones we’re driving to and we can say onboarding is complete.

In some regard, onboarding never ends because you always have new products to onboard, new users to onboard, new releases to onboard, new organizations to onboard. There might be loops where they keep coming back into onboarding, but it’s good to define when that initial onboarding is done. It depends really on your product and your customers.

Q: How do you approach onboarding for DevSecOps tools?

A: Products that are DevSecOps are kind of in the background and part of the infrastructure. You really need to highlight the value, and it might be something that needs to be baked into the product like a dashboard. You show them these are all the errors that we resolved or all the security risks that we blocked. Maybe you go live with a dashboard or report that demonstrates that and make sure they know how to use that very quickly. You might need to work with your product team.

Q: What are your top onboarding metrics?

A: Again, it depends. It’s really what matters at your company. I’ll give you some examples. First of all, when companies talk about what metrics should we track, I always like to say what is important at your company. For example, when you go to a company-wide meeting, what are they always reporting on? When I worked at my prior company, in every meeting we talked about ACV so I had to get behind that. How can I be contributing to ACV? That was what was reported to the board and that’s what we measured. I created products that were subscriptions so I could be adding to that ACV bucket so I could be more relevant. It really depends. It might be lifetime value, it might be product usage, it might be the percentage of active users. You need to know what those numbers are at your company and get onboard with those. If you just say, “This is the number of customers being onboarded right now or this is how many accounts each CSM is managing,” that’s good to know, but across the company, they don’t care. You need to look at the impact of Customer Success on the bottom line.

Want to set realistic onboarding metrics, but not sure where to start?

Learn how to establish baselines for SaaS onboarding metrics to improve customer experience, adoption, and retention, in our blog “How to set baseline onboarding metrics.”

Update: Our speaker Donna Weber took the time to address the unanswered audience questions from the live webinar on her blog. Check out part two of the Q&A here.


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