Oct 25, 2019

Read Time 11 min

Q&A: Rethinking Customer Onboarding to Accelerate Success


 Increasingly, Customer Success teams talk about helping customers successfully achieve their desired business outcomes, yet they do very little during onboarding to help customers achieve the results they require. Instead, many onboarding efforts are ineffective and often are narrowly focused on the technology itself.

Many of your customers lack the internal knowledge, expertise and infrastructure they need to successfully achieve their business goals using your (or any) software! It is time to boldly revamp your onboarding process to instead focus where your customers struggle the most – developing the capacity to drive internal success on their own.

To discuss this topic, we hosted a well-attended webinar last week with Jason Whitehead the Founder of Tri Tuns LLC, a Customer Success and Software Adoption Consulting firm. During the webinar he presented a proven model that you can use to help customers quickly shift their approach and build their capacity to drive their own internal success with your software.

We also touched on:

  • Why most onboarding efforts are ineffective and do not set your customers up for success with your software
  • Why your customers struggle to achieve their goals and how you can help them create their own internal success team
  • Specific tactics you can use to quickly improve your onboarding approach to be a force multiplier in driving customers success, while reducing the workload on your CS team

No worries if you missed the webinar (or would just simply like to view it again) you can view it on-demand here.

During the webinar we conducted three audience polls to get a gauge on where attendees were in terms of helping their customers drive adoption. Where do you fall? Do you relate to others in these regards?

user adoption poll 1

user adoption poll 2

user adoption poll 3

We also engaged in a great Q&A session with the presenter, that we wanted to share with you here.

Q&A Recap

Speaker: Jason Whitehead, CEO, Tri Tuns and Co-Founder of Customer Success Mastermind


Q: How do you engage with customers who do not see a value in sharing their business goals or vision for the next year, three years, five years, etc.?

A: What I found to be helpful is sometimes taking a couple of steps back and asking them – well, why did you buy our software? What are some of the problems that you want to solve? And sometimes you can come at things a little bit sideways. For example, tell me how did you realize that was an issue that needs solving? What are the implications if we don’t solve that? So, start there and get them a little bit more comfortable with it or even just directly ask if there’s a reason they don’t want to share that information and sometimes it may be they don’t know or they may view it as confidential and then you can come back and say – well the more we understand what you’re trying to achieve the better. We can recommend solutions that you may not know are available to you and can help you achieve your goals.

So, start wherever you need to start and build a relationship because you don’t want to turn them off, but you want to keep asking for that. Asking these types of questions that will get you the answers you need even if they won’t answer the direct question itself. So, that’s one way to do it.

The other way you can do this is sort of help them with tools and templates. Help them line of sight it and say okay- we want to use this feature and function and we need to communicate to your team – 1) why you want to do this 2) by when 3) we will know we are successful when we achieve X 4) by doing Y.

But ultimately I think if you have a customer that really is combative for whatever reason, they’re going to use your product, they don’t want you to help them with this, and if you have a larger customer base, sometimes you just have to say- you know what, we should probably focus in somewhere else where we will be more successful because our confidence in this person or team to get the value that they need to renew is low and it may not be worth our time and effort to keep fighting a battle that we are probably not going to win.


Q: How do you start a conversation regarding a customer’s need to establish an internal success team for your product?

A: That’s one of my favorite questions. So, one of the things that I think that you can do this is start with a question. For example- tell me about your current technology stack? Tell me about all the applications you have in your company and how many of those are getting full 100% effective adoption? How many of those would you say you are getting the full value from? And they’re probably going to say, you know, none of them. And then you start to say well, tell me on average, what’s your typical system look like? How much value would you say get you’re getting from them? And they’ll probably say somewhere between 1—30%, maybe 50%.

And then one of the other things you can do is say well, let me share with you what I see happen with most customers when they go through and implement software and you tell me if this fits your organization. Then we can talk about some things we might do differently and that’s when I typically draw out an ROI chart.

If you go to our website, we have a free e-course out there that really walks through that chart in more detail and it has a narrative on exactly what I’ve used with customers to open up that conversation. And once I get this “aha” that we need this, the issue is not the same system live issue, it’s making sure people use it, you know one, three, and five years down the road.

Then I start to say, well tell me about how you typically structure that process and that’s when we go into recommendation mode. That’s when you can say- we highly recommend that you invest in a team. Depending on how big they are, the team can be one person, part-time if it’s a really small application used by very few people. Or I’ve had customers where they had a team of 15 full-time and create an entire new department about it because it was an organization-wide Enterprise issue.

So, that’s usually a great way to start the conversation, by asking a couple probing question, flip out the ROI chart and say – this is what typically happens – and ask some questions to get their head bobbing and then go through and add that recommendation.


Q: How do you go about sharing usage data to drive adoption with your customer without it seeming like you’re calling out users or “tattling” to their manager?  

A: One of the things that has been really helpful is early on when you’re planning an adoption program, set the expectation with folks say – one of the things that people need to adjust are their behaviors, they need feedback about how they’re doing and most people want that. So, you need to present this and say, here’s how we’re going to do this. You will be getting reports that show where the system is being used and whether there’s issues or there’s parts of non-usage and initially this is a learning curve, and we’re using this for the next six months. This is going to be used to help us figure out where we need to adjust our behavior, where we need to adjust the system or where we need to adjust expectations.

So, we’re going to report on this for the first six months and then after that we expect you to come through that learning curve because we want you to do your job differently using the system. The new message is not just how well you do your job matters, it’s also how you do your job and if you’re using the technology.

That’s part of your job and if you’re implementing it in a way that prevents other from using the system because they don’t have access to data because you never put it in or you put things in late or in the wrong place, that’s sort of a performance management issue at that point. So it becomes a performance management tool and then eventually down the road if people are still not using it over the long term and they’ve been asked to and they’ve been unable to do it, then you need to take individual actions just like you would if someone’s not performing their job, you know outside of technology. So really setting those expectations of – this is a learning tool and that we’re going to use it down the road after this window to monitor performance then to take action as necessary, but it’s not punitive out of the gate.


Q: How do you elevate your primary contact within the company from end users to a decision maker to plan the adoption program?

A: I would say it should really start during the sales process. Part of this is getting your salespeople to focus on having the right discussions with customers, not just landing the initial sale, but making sure we’re selling for renewals from the very beginning and including this as part of our sales process.

So, say- whoever is going to be writing the check, whoever had approval authority for this, let’s talk with them about how we’re going to create value for them, so they want to renew over the next 20 years, and let’s talk about the steps that we need to do that.

I know a lot of our clients might say they only have an end user or someone in the tech support of system administrator role, but they don’t have someone else there. And they can say – I need to have a conversation with someone about these bigger issues across the entire user base because there’s probably some things that need to happen in order for your organization to get more value. If you’re not the right person who will be the person to talk to about this, I don’t want to waste your time. Can you connect me to them? And many times, people will help with that. Sometimes you’ll get a gatekeeper and you need to get creative about how you get around that.

Some folks have even gone as far as to call a main number or use LinkedIn and see who the right person is. Then when you get to the decision maker and they are saying hey, we’re writing a check for the system because we have a problem to solve and we want to get value from it. If you can have a nice compelling discussion about how you can add value for them and how you can help them really de-risk their investment and improve their organization – they’ll want to talk to you. It can just take some hunting to get to the right person.


Q: What’s a common objection you hear when pitching a comprehensive change management plan? And how do you overcome them?

A: I often hear we need to just sell people on what’s in it for me or we need to just do a little training, or the user interface is so intuitive we won’t possibly need all of this. And that’s when I usually come back and the easiest way to do that is to ask really compelling and targeted questions and usually in a sequence that you need to think through to create the “aha” that oh that’s not the case, we’re going to have some issues around that.

And sometimes I’ll say things like, you know what, I hear that from a lot of folks and then they typically find that six months later people really aren’t using it and they don’t know why or a year down the road they’ve had all these other problems because they didn’t know there were other factors that prevented people from using it even if they wanted to or they didn’t realize there were so many interdependencies in their organization because someone downstream couldn’t use the information because someone in the upstream process like in sales or marketing didn’t give them the correct information.

So then, I would say, whose job is it to take care of this? Whose job is it to make sure that if these conflicts arise and they say- no one. Um, well that’s a challenge.

During our methodology training class there’s a whole bunch of questions we ask people in sequence and one of the first ones that you can ask that are impactful is- whose job is it to make sure that the system is used in generating business value a year or three years down the road? Who in your organization is accountable for that? And typically, you’ll hear, well, no one and then, that’s a problem. So, if no one is accountable for that, how likely is it to happen? Not very likely.

So maybe we should do something about that and then walk them through other questions. So, what are the activities that you need to do? And if they say, oh I’m not sure. Okay, well let’s talk about that. And as you go through this and get some really interesting head nods. Oh, this is bigger than I thought but remember, this is new for a lot of people. It’s not part of their day job to think about user adoption and how they are going to drive that, until you ask them the questions that make them realize that this is a huge issue that they need to address and then they’re like okay, I’ve got to do something.


Q: Let’s say they are onboard for creating an adoption team. How big is that team and who is it comprised of?

A: How big it is all depends on how large your organization is and how complex the application needs to be and really how much work needs to be done on an ongoing basis. So, I would also say that typically you will need a larger team and more effort upfront during the initial implementation and initial adoption and accelerating through that phase. And then after a year or so, after go-live, it’ll probably shrink significantly to just be more of an ongoing adoption effort and get people to adopt new features and functions.

I’ve seen some people do it if it’s a very small organizations where it’s a part-time role. I’ve had one client where they create an entire new department with over 15 people with full-time jobs, senior executive in the organization heading it up to make sure that this happened all the way through. So that was their full-time team, sort of their core adoption team and then each location, each division had their own representatives on that team that had work to do in their location working a little bit more hands-on for a period of time so it can get kind of expensive because you need to think of this as an organization transformation to really help people drive adoption and adopt new ways of working not just new technology. And that’s a bigger challenge because its people, it’s processes, it’s policies.

So, you do need a more comprehensive effort. And it really depends on the organization. But definitely what I’ve found is that when people make those investments in this the business outcomes for their organization and not just the value, they get form their technology but throughout the entire adoption transformation effort it’s really astronomical and it can really pay for itself.

To hear this recorded Q&A you can view the full webinar on-demand here. 

View Now

If you would like to hear more from our guest speaker Jason Whitehead, check out his podcast- “The Jasons Take On…” which is an unplugged conversational series on key Customer Success topics.


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