How to Build a Killer Customer Onboarding Program with Donna Weber

Target with a ladder leading up to it
Thought Industries
January 7, 2019

When it comes to onboarding a new customer, are you using hope as a strategy?

If you attended theHow to Build A Killer Customer Onboarding Program” webinar with Donna Weber from Springboard Solutions, you know just how many companies actually rely on an unscripted plan to manage this critical time in the customer lifecycle. If you’d like the short answer, it’s way too many!

Now, if you’re responsible for keeping customers happy, reducing churn rates, and increasing ARR, you know just how important the onboarding process is to the overall health of your company. You also know just how difficult it can be to get it right every time.

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To dive deeper into this topic, I caught up with Donna to chat about her experiences and insights. As an onboarding expert, Donna walked me through common pitfalls and provided suggestions on how to avoid them. She also offered tips on how to manage the customer hand-off from sales to the CS team, and discussed what trends she’s seeing as we head into a new year.

Below is an excerpt from our conversation. If you have questions about the customer onboarding process, I’d encourage you to join the Customer Training Network on LinkedIn. There, you can connect with Donna and other industry thought leaders about this important topic.

7 Questions on How to Build a Killer Customer Onboarding Program with Donna Weber

CC: When it comes to building a killer customer onboarding program, where is the best place to start?
DW: As soon as a deal closes, most teams dive into the technical weeds of implementing the product. They miss out on transferring the relationship. Before you build anything else out, start with the hand-offs. If you don’t transition the relationship then you will always be behind the curve. I recommend two hand-offs: the internal hand-off and the external hand-off.

The internal hand-off happens just before the deal closes to pass the relationship off to the Customer Success Manager (CSM). Too often CSMs just see what the new customer purchased in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. This is not enough information for a CSM to be successful. So, start with an internal hand-off where the sales rep shares the nuances of the relationship and subtle details that are best conveyed in conversations between people.

Next is the external hand-off, which happens right after the deal closes. This is not the kick-off meeting, the onboarding meeting, or the implementation meeting. It’s a hand-off meeting, and teams from both the customer side and your company’s side attend. The external hand-off is important for two reasons. One, for the sales rep to introduce the post-sales team and to formally transfer the relationship with the customer. And, two, for the customer teams to align on why they bought your product. This is especially important when your company works with larger customers because in enterprise companies the person who buys the product may have nothing to do with implementing and using it. The external hand-off is to get your customer’s teams aligned so they will be more engaged and successful. Learn more about how to nail the hand-offs here.

CC: What are some common pitfalls to avoid during the onboarding process?
DW: The biggest pitfall I see is when companies use hope as a strategy to onboard customers. While you likely have excellent post-sales services and programs like training, consulting, and support, you hope customers know what to do after they buy your software. You provide a bunch of touchpoints, but do not deliver a prescriptive and seamless customer onboarding.

CC: What advice do you have for managing the “handoff” from the sales team to the CS team?
DW: It’s critical to work with Sales and Customer Success (CS) management to get their buy-in on the handoff process. Then, make both the internal and external hand-offs required and documented tasks in the CRM. This means an opportunity can not close, and a sales rep does not get paid, until these tasks are completed.

CC: How do you measure success? What KPIs matter?
DW: Of course, the most important measure of success is when customers renew. However, since that is a lagging indicator, it could take a year or more to know the impact of your onboarding program. So, start with leading indicators. Define milestones and deliverables and track customers along the journey. Measure whether customers who go through your new onboarding program have higher product usage than customers who don’t. Explore other leading indicators like net promoter scores, support tickets logged, and customer health scores.

CC: What tools can help manage the customer onboarding process?
DW: I suggest you use whatever tools you have on hand. Don’t wait to implement Gainsight. Instead, build out the process and touchpoints in a spreadsheet. Then, track your efforts and how customers are doing so that you can understand what efforts are working and where to invest time and resources. When appropriate, build out a custom object in your CRM and then ideally create learning pathways in a learning management system (LMS) and playbooks in a Customer Success platform. In addition, project management solutions like TaskRay and Taskfeed help you manage the process and keep customers accountable.

CC: What are some of the biggest trends you’re seeing in the customer onboarding landscape?
DW: The most important trend is that companies are just starting to understand that Customer Success is not the job of one role. Instead, teams are breaking down silos and working together to guide the customer journey. I recently read an article from McKinsey called From Touchpoints to Journeys: Seeing the World as Customers Do. McKinsey shares that even when you provide great customer-facing services like training and support if you don’t guide customers along the journey it is actually a huge detriment to their experience and satisfaction. So break down the silos. You can no longer have great products and services and then hope customers know when to use them.

CC: What is your biggest prediction for the Customer Education industry in 2019?
DW: I’m on the board of the Customer Education Management Association, and at our Fall Training Leadership conference in Boston, many presenters talked about this same trend of breaking down silos. There is a saying, “We’re all in Sales.” Well, now we’re all in Customer Success, and Customer Education needs to join the Customer Success framework. As a result, Customer Education might seem less visible, because it’s no longer about specific courses. Instead, it’s about customer enablement. The opportunity here is that Customer Education can lead the way. Since Customer Education has been enabling customers a lot longer than Customer Success has been around, Customer Education leaders can be the conductors orchestrating the seamless customer experience across the company.

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About Donna Weber:

As the founder of Springboard Solutions, Donna is passionate about engaging customers and specializes in the post-sales customer success journey. With over 20 years’ experience, she has a proven track record helping hi-tech firms create customers for life. Her clients range from start ups to well-established large companies, with a focus on the open source and SaaS arena. Colleagues know Donna as a leader who makes a difference.

Donna is also a principal with Kickstart Alliance, a  B2B leadership and operational consulting team, leading the Customer Success practice.

When she’s not springboarding customers to success, you might find her white water kayaking the rivers of California and beyond.

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