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Onboarding is your opportunity as a CSM to make a memorable first impression that will help the customer understand your product and its value. The process is fully owned by the CS team and with that comes great responsibility. The impact of a well executed onboarding on customer satisfaction and likelihood for renewals is well known. Now it’s time to deliver, however, when it comes to onboarding new customers, there are multiple challenges that CSMs should take into consideration.
- Change Management - Introducing a new product may face various obstacles such as integration with the existing products and technologies in your customer IT environment. This change will trigger various operational issues and business risks, not to mention the natural resistance from other stakeholders and teams who were not part of the evaluation process of your product.
- Expectation Management. Expectations created following the sales cycle are usually at an “all-time-high” and there is a risk of an early “reality check” during onboarding which may lead to disappointment and lack of satisfaction (“Not seeing the value quickly”).
- Handover from Sales- The handover from sales is not always straightforward (missing context about the use case, stakeholders, expected value, etc). Moreover, the sales and pre-sales team probably established a good relationship with the relevant stakeholders (as they should). Now the stakeholders need to invest time and effort dealing with a new team (“also known as the success team”) and you are expected to make this transition as fritionaless as possible.
- Good momentum Vs. slow motion. Ideally the customer has just purchased your product and you have their attention (and energy) to commence onboarding, deliver the expected value and solve their problems. Alternatively, you may find that the customer is in no rush to start onboarding and deploy quickly. This presents an even bigger challenge when one stakeholder or one team selects your product while a different team (and corresponding end users) will eventually deploy and use it.
With these challenges, there is natural risk to successful onboarding, which is likely to affect your customer perception of your product value, consequently creating a bigger risk for adoption and later for retention and renewal.
At this stage, CSM is expected to evaluate the risk of incomplete onboarding and provide appropriate mitigation. This is a great opportunity to use a few prediction tactics that will assist in framing the “onboarding picture” based on signals that can be detected while engaging with the customer. Having this “picture” in place in an earlier stage can help in detecting risks and mitigating them before they negatively impact the chances for successful onboarding.
The signals to look for when predicting successful onboarding
Signals are questions that you should proactively ask to assess different aspects of the onboarding phase. One important note: You will proactively be looking for these signals. This will be the opportunity to use your good judgment, communication skills and emotional intelligence.
The Use case – when the new customer is handed over from sales, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the use case (that the customer has signed for) clear and easy to explain?
- Is the use case documented (even partially) and can be later referred to by the vendor and the customer?
- Do you (the CSM) understand what problems and challenges your product will solve?
Expectations. Customer expectations are created from an early prospect phase throughout the sales cycle and should be reconfirmed and aligned by the CS team. The ultimate objective is to bridge gaps and have a mutually agreed target to achieve by the end of onboarding. The questions below will help you detect potential risks related to customer expectations:
- Do you know who your main end-users are? Sometimes the team who made the decision about purchasing your product is not the one that will eventually use it.
- Is there a focal point from the end-user’s team that can explain their expectations?
- Is there a common understanding and alignment on the way your product will be used? Examples: Which features, and product flows will be used? Reports, dashboards, etc.
- Are you aware of any commitments made during the sales cycle that your product does not support?
Executive stakeholder ownership. These are the signals that indicate lack of executive attention, which is not an ideal start for your customer relationship building.
- Is there any executive stakeholder expecting the deployment of your product and will benefit from its value?
- Is there any executive stakeholder that is interested in the status and progress of the onboarding phase?
Operational ownership – These are the signals that indicate that your customer is taking concrete actions to onboard your product.
- Is your customer aware of their responsibilities to complete the onboarding activities?
- Has the customer allocated a focal point to ensure onboarding is completed successfully?
- Is there bi-directional communication with the focal point to track progress and resolve operational issues?
Value – While it can be technically “labeled” under the customer expectations section, it should also be addressed separately and labeled as "time-to-value". Value measurement is instrumental to successful completion of the onboarding. The main signals to look for are:
- Is there an alignment on what constitutes a value for your customer?
- Is the value described only in technical terms? It should, however, be correlated to business outcomes (such as revenue increase, cost reduction/efficiencies, time-to-market, risk reduction, compliance, brand awareness, etc.).
- Is there alignment on how the value will be measured/evaluated by the customer?
- Are there specific reports and dashboards that will demonstrate the value clearly?
What can you do?
The simple answer is that you should constantly look for the signals mentioned above, ask the questions and assess the onboarding risks. Please take into consideration that you will probably not have answers to all the questions listed above and there will be missing pieces. These missing pieces are your “blind spots” and potential risks that you should at least be aware of.
The other proposed course of action is to follow a few simple steps (below) that can be part of your onboarding playbook and will help you drive onboarding to success.
- Have a structured handover with sales/pre-sales and make sure it is completed with minimum knowledge gaps.
- Make sure you understand why the customer purchased the product and what is their perceived value?
- Identify the stakeholders who are responsible for the onboarding.
- Identify your end users and confirm their expectations (and how they plan on using your product).
- Proactively look for the executive stakeholder that will benefit from your product value.
- Make sure you have clear communication channels to your customer to plan and execute the onboarding activities.
One note before we start onboarding. The list of predictive signals is not conclusive. It is a good framework for you to use but there could be more indications for success or failure of onboarding.
Remember - the more you think about possible outcomes in the future, the better chances you will have to act in the present, mitigate risks and drive your product onboarding to success.