The concept of “onboarding starting in the sales process” only truly applies to a SaaS company that has a sales team, and a product that requires an onboarding process. Many SaaS products are “sign and go,” and there is no setup or formal training needed.
We should all be striving to be more like Slack to align with the way modern customers want to buy. But, most of us aren’t there yet, and many SaaS companies rely on a sales team and a customer success team to acquire and retain new customers.
For these SaaS companies, the onboarding period is one of the most crucial times in the customer journey. We all know this to be a fundamental SaaS truth. Onboarding can make to break your customer retention and LTV. If the customer doesn’t adopt the product, use it and get value out of it, they won’t stick around. A great onboarding experience theoretically ensures against that.
…user adoption is the foundation to driving long-term revenue, and successful onboarding is an essential part of that journey.”OpenView
Rethink what onboarding is
Onboarding is usually referred to as the time span between when the customer signs up and when they “launch” or meet some specific product usage milestone.
But I don’t think this is the right way to view onboarding for a sales-driven SaaS company.
In most SaaS organizations, sales
As someone who led both sales and customer success, I saw how intimately linked these two functions really are. Over time, I came to view onboarding as something that started very early in the sales process and continued fluidly as the customer moved from “sales” to “customer success”. I fostered a culture that understood and respected this dynamic, making sales & customer success collaboration a given.
Here’s why I think sales & customer success teams need to step back from their respective functions and work together to onboard customers.
- The buyer journey merges into the customer journey, and these two periods aren’t as separate as we imagine they are. To the customer, they are just points on a continuum of interactions with your company.
- If the handoff transition from sales to customer success isn’t fluid, accurate and complete, onboarding will be filled with friction as customers have to backtrack or re-explain things to bring customer success up to speed.
- No matter what a great fit the customer is, and how much they can benefit from your product, if the wrong expectations are set during the buying process, the customer is likely to have a tough onboarding experience.
- If the customer isn’t prepared for what role they need to play in onboarding, or what resources will be required of them, onboarding is likely to be rough.
- If the customer doesn’t fit your ideal profile (ICP) or doesn’t have a strong business need for your product, onboarding will likely not go according to plan.
- If the sale happens with a decision maker(s) who then hands the whole thing off to implementors and users who weren’t deeply involved in the buying process, everyone is starting from scratch and onboarding will probably be extended and fraught with issues.
I could go on, but I think you get my point. For the customer to have an excellent onboarding experience, the foundation has to start in the sales process.
Collaborate for a better onboarding experience
Here are a few simple ways sales & customer success can work together to create a great onboarding experience for the customer.
- Educate both teams on their respective functions, ensuring customer success understands the buyer’s journey and sales process and the sales understands what onboarding entails.
- Work together to identify where friction, stalls, and missed expectations happen most frequently. Identify potential areas where the sales process can be tweaked to help mitigate those areas and vice versa.
- Map out, in detail, all the typical steps from initial sales contact through completion of onboarding. Look for areas of duplicity as well as gaps in knowledge or information.
- Determine if there are aspects of onboarding that can be started in the sales process, without slowing down the sales cycle to any significant degree. Done well, merging some aspects of onboarding into the sales process can help increase the odds of closing the deal because the customer is invested and actively engaged before they sign on the dotted line. For example,
- Can certain setup assets be requested during the sales cycle?
- If decision makers will be handing it off to users, can those users be introduced during the sales cycle to gain familiarity with the product, and what’s required from them, beforehand?
- Can onboarding be made more tangible during the sale regarding resources and timelines, so that buyers have a clear understanding and are well prepared?
- Is it possible to pre-schedule all the onboarding calls and milestones during the sales process to help ensure there aren’t stalls once the deal is done and the transition to customer success happens?
- Are there some scenarios where it makes sense to introduce the customer success team into the actual sales process?
The above should be approached with the spirit of collaboration and teamwork, not blame. Likewise, I think for this to be most successful, teams need the freedom to be able to brainstorm ideas broadly without concern (at least initially) for what is practical, how things will impact the sales cycle, etc. Some blue sky thinking is needed, before the results are boiled down into an action plan that helps accelerate both the sales cycle and onboarding, with positive impact to both.
A unified vision of customer onboarding
I think a unifying vision of what an exceptional onboarding experience is like for the customer, and how both teams impact that, can help improve the customer journey, decrease churn and increase LTV.