Three Things Your Customer Needs to Know During Onboarding


Since I started my career in SaaS more than a decade ago, I’ve had the chance to work with many amazing companies whose solutions have the ability to transform their customers’ businesses. I don’t think anyone in the Customer Success industry would deny that the onboarding phase of the customer lifecycle holds the biggest impact on customer retention (as well as growth potential), however it’s a process that I see many companies can make big improvements on. To get started, here are three things your customer should know during onboarding.


What Do They Owe You During Implementation

If you have a detailed SOW, deliverables and deadlines may be outlined for both you and your customer - this is the goal standard because everyone has entered the agreement knowing precisely what needs to provided and when it needs to be provided to get up and running with the solution within the desired timeline.


Especially if you work in a startup, this is probably not the case.


One of the biggest complaints I hear from onboarding services teams is that the customer isn’t getting them what they need. Chances are this isn’t because the customer wants to delay the project, but because they either didn’t know what they needed to provide or they were altered to what they needed to provide with insufficient notice to provide it on time. Remember, your customer is dependent on their internal teams, and requests for assets, developer and third party systems can take time.


Developing a project plan is an easy way to address this. A project plan does not have to be intricately detailed and include RACIs and gantt charts (though I’m a big fan of both those things), but it should include milestones and dependencies and associated timelines. This will allow you to keep the project operating smoothly and on time, and will better prepare your customer for the implementation process and give them lead time to gather what is needed. This transparency also allows your customer to inform you early on if they expect longer lead times to meet any of their deliverables, and even what they could do faster.


What processes are changing and how will they use the new solution

Training is something that customers will ask about quickly, and there are many ways to educate your customers. But before you get to ramping up end users, begin by taking time to do discovery on their current processes and what they need to achieve with your solution, then provide input on process adaptation and deliver relevant training.


The change process can be stressful for end users, so starting any user training with what the system is, why the solution was implemented and delivering training on how they will use it to achieve the defined goals. This can help diffuse those who are initial detractors, and knowing the relevance and specific supports better learning outcomes during formal and informal training.


Another component critical consideration for training is one that is often missed: take time to ensure that contacts that will be making configuration decisions are informed on what they are. Educating your customer on the options and the pros and cons of each will guide them. They will still look to you and the implementation team for advice, but you can save yourself a lot of headaches (and the implementation team a lot of rework) by identifying the key decisions and having an enablement plan in place. The project plan can inform any topics you should review with your customer, and having open communication with the project team can help you identify any other customer enablement that will enhance the implementation.


How they define success

This is what I would argue to be the most important conversation, If success has not been defined it cannot be achieved. Discussions regarding success should be held early on as it will influence the first two points.


It is very common to accept the known purchase motivation as what the customer is trying to achieve. Think of this as the tip of the iceberg. There are three questions I strongly urge you to ask each new customer you have to get below the surface. These will help you get to know the customer and they will inform the success plan.


What are the top three priorities of your department? Understanding what their team is working to achieve will help you understand where you solution fits in context to other initiatives, and can also help uncover additional business problems the customer has that your company offers solutions for.

What do you expect to achieve in the first 90 days? Knowing what they want to see before our first business review (and especially before any opt-out clauses) will help you create a success plan. This is also a time to manage or guide expectations.


What does success look like a year from now? This is the long term, and likely relates to number one, but understanding your customer’s perspective on how they want to evolve can also inform your success plan.


This is a point in time that you customer will be making decisions without all the information, as many of my customers have described it, “I don’t know what I don’t know” and this is where you can shine as a Success Manager to give input and make sure they set appropriate goals, communicate those to the appropriate stakeholders and enable all of you to celebrate accomplishments along the way.


Do you think I’m missing something? Do you have a story about one of these that demonstrates it really well? I’d love to hear in the comments!

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