Aug 28, 2020

Outdo Your SaaS Onboarding: 8 Expert Tactics to Exceed Expectations


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SaaS onboarding makes or breaks your customer retention. It’s a learn-or-churn, adopt-or-get-dropped user experience.

Onboarding has a long-lasting impact with deep ties to a customer’s likelihood to churn. For this reason, everyone is trying to crack the code on how to create the optimal onboarding experience. Exactly how do you get customers to embrace your product instead of merely moving (erm, politely pushing) them through the motions and hoping for adoption?

That’s what we set out to ask the Customer Success experts. Because one of the best ways to learn is from those who have already achieved what you’re trying to do. They’re intimately familiar with the struggles faced, missteps made, and “had I only known sooner” pangs felt along the way. So, learn from the failures (and successes) of others whenever you can; then, go make your own.

To hear exactly what the experts had to say on how to crush onboarding, download the full eBook. (You’ll want to read it as the meat is in the details.)

But if you’re still feeling noncommittal, here’s a taste of the topics and takeaways we delve into.

1. Work cross-functionally during onboarding:

  • Get alignment with CEO and executives to work across teams. Interview customers to identify their effective and affective needs and pain points. Recruit cross-functional team members to review customer feedback, map internal workflows, and define responsibilities and metrics.

  • The significance of the Sales to Customer Success handoff cannot be understated. Sales sold the customer the dream and now Customer Success needs to facilitate its realization. Customer Success should extract as much detail as possible from Sales and ask the right probing questions.

  • But it’s not just about Sales and Customer Success. Product plays a definitive role in customer onboarding to make it frictionless, intuitive, and value driven.

2. Segment your customers for onboarding:

  • You want to provide the optimal value based on a customer’s role. Train them according to how they will actually use your product. At ChurnZero, we segment customers into three preliminary categories: decision makers, champions, and users.

  • Aside from role types, you should consider a customer’s business maturity. A customer’s technical or domain proficiency will influence the focus of their onboarding.

  • Another approach: segment first by markets and tiers, and then determine personas by customer journey phase.

3. Define and correlate key onboarding events to your customers’ success:

  • Define your customers’ success in terms of technical success versus business success. (Note: most Customer Success teams prioritize the former rather than the latter. That’s a mistake.)

  • Your key metrics are not your customers’ key metrics – always know the number one problem they purchased your software to solve and let that guide you.

  • An effective sales closing technique is to confirm the customer’s intended goals, share a draft of the Customer Success journey/plan, and explain the CSM’s role to ensure success and satisfaction.

4. Accelerate time to value with your product during onboarding:

  • Focus on the critical trifecta – identify what’s important to the customer, set clear expectations, and measure success to accelerate time to the initial value.

  • Many software buyers don’t understand what it takes to drive change and adoption. The first step is helping your customers set up their own internal user adoption team.

  • Consider an “agile” implementation process so customers see fast initial results which motivate them to deploy more capabilities.

5. Avoid overloading the customer during onboarding:

  • Typically, you want to create a standard onboarding process to track trends and anomalies across your customer base, but don’t let process be your enemy – especially during complex implementations which may push the customer to take a different path.

  • Avoid a “big bang” approach by creating a multi-phased usage adoption plan that sets a clear path for customers to optimize value over time.

  • Don’t jump into onboarding content too quickly. Establish working parameters and reach an agreement with the customer on how you will communicate and collaborate to avoid unnecessary conflict down the road.

6. Motivate unresponsive onboarding customers:

  • Help customers understand the implications of not fully participating in the onboarding process, including what is left to accomplish and when that needs to happen. Share the reverse situation: Customers that do onboard properly see certain results in a certain amount of time.

  • Keep the decision maker actively engaged during onboarding to maintain a built-in escalation point, if needed.

  • Salespeople and CSMs must become much more familiar with change management. Quoting change management via Professional Services is a simple way for a salesperson to increase the deal size and ensure they get follow-on business down the road.

7. Manage customer outreach after onboarding completion:

  • Be consistent. It’s tempting to hand off the product to the customer and assume they can take the wheel from there, but they often need more help to get up and running.

  • Create a Customer Success journey/plan to articulate milestones for implementation, adoption, and achievement of business goals.

  • In addition to the Customer Success team’s outreach, the Product and Marketing team should collect customer feedback through surveys to better understand how the solution helps customers in their daily work.

8. Measure onboarding performance using the right KPIs:

  • Too often, companies’ onboarding KPIs reflect their internal tasks and not the customers’ real onboarding progress.

  • Many Customer Success teams monitor onboarding completion time, but it’s more vital to track how quickly you deliver the first value to your customer.

  • Time to Value provides insights that you simply can’t get anywhere else. It tells you exactly when to engage, when to offer help, and when to nudge customers.

Although we’ve given you a quick preview of the pressing onboarding topics we cover, we saved the best for last (and for the eBook). So, to hear the experts’ single best piece of onboarding advice and to dive into their more detailed takes on the topics covered in this post, download the eBook.

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