designing a customer onboarding framework

Designing a Customer Onboarding Framework for B2B SaaS

Customers who aren’t fully engaged after 90 days don’t stay customers very long – Sixteen Ventures

In the hyper-competitive SaaS world, no matter how high your growth is, if you are unable to control your churn rate, it is difficult for your company to sustain. Having high growth along with high churn rate is like filling a leaky bucket. Though you may feel you will be able to fill the bucket, eventually you will realise that it is impossible and you have just wasted water. Similarly, if you don’t manage your churn rate, you will fall into a trap and eventually end up wasting resources.

According to Sixteen Ventures, customers who aren’t fully engaged after 90 days don’t stay customers very long. This means that if your customer has a poor onboarding experience, s/he is likely to churn in the first 30-90 days. So, even though your sales reps might be closing deals you might still be losing money because of customer churn.

Customer onboarding = Value delivered

Onboarding is helping your customer get to value by using your product. You need to guide your client on how to use the product so that they get used to the product and eventually gain value from it.

This is where we all go WRONG! We don’t need to train the customers on all the features. We need to train customers on only those features that help them get to their specific value. Value here would be the primary reason why s/he bought the product in the first place.

Different customers buy the same product for different reasons.

Now, the value for each customer can be different since their goals need not be the same. Different customers buy the same product for different reasons. So, it is crucial that you understand why each of your customers has bought your product. Accordingly, we need to tailor the onboarding steps depending on those different use cases.

customer onboarding use cases

For example, if you sell a CRM for sales folks, customers can buy your product for different reasons. Someone may want better forecast and reporting. Another one may want to improve their response time. A third person may want to enable a distributed sales team. Ideally, the number of onboarding processes should be equal to the number of different use cases.

If you have not come up with different use cases based on customer personas, I’d urge you to do it immediately before you read this further.

Once you know what value your customers are looking for, you need to find the shortest path to help them reach their goals as soon as possible. Hence, we need to ensure that each feature that we train our customer on is crucial to reach the goal.

The faster we meet the needs of our customer, the lower the chance of customer churn. But this does not mean that we should only focus on the time-bound completion of tasks. The focus should always be on the customer getting the value for which they had bought the product. We have to ensure that not only does s/he achieve the product milestones but s/he is also able to solve the original problem.

Here’s a customer onboarding framework template that you can use to build an effective customer onboarding process.

Now let’s take a look at the key factors which will help in designing a customer onboarding framework for B2B SaaS.

Customer Onboarding Framework (Download here)

B2B SaaS Customer onboarding

To Automate or Not?

To help the customers achieve the milestones do you use an automated or personalized path? Here is the trick that will help you decide which path to follow.

Depending on the Average Revenue Per Account (ARPA) we can have two segments:

ARPA < $1K

It will not make economic sense to give personalized services.

For example, if you have a marketing automation tool, you can give her/him an instruction manual or a demo video on how to use the product. Since, the product is straightforward, the client can follow the instructions and start deriving value.

However, if you hire a team to train the clients on using the product, it would take up a lot of resources and time.

Hence, you need to automate the onboarding process if your ARPA is less than $1K.

ARPA: $100K to $1M

Let’s take the example of an enterprise CRM software. Each customer will want to solve different problems. Customer A might want to solve forecasting revenue whereas Customer B might be looking to improve response times.

You need to discuss with the client and understand his/her requirements and then use an onboarding process as per the use case. You also need to make appropriate customizations to deliver value to the customer.

But what if your ARPA is between $1K and $100K? Here, you need to take the hybrid approach, i.e., the best of both worlds.

customer onboarding process

ARPA: $1K to $100K

Automate every step. But when the flow is broken, provide personalized services to complete the process.

The customers can follow the easy steps themselves. But when they get stuck, a customer success manager can guide them to overcome the hurdle. After that, the customers can again follow the instructions on their own. So, you need to hire few Customer Success Managers (CSMs) who will only help the customers when required.

Who should own Customer Onboarding?

In many companies, the onboarding process is taken care of by the sales, marketing or even the product team.  The onboarding experience is a major factor of customer churn and the sole aim of success managers is to reduce churn. While sales, marketing and the product team have other important tasks, that is not the case for customer success managers. So, the onboarding process should be handled by the customer success managers.

If the CSM trains the customer during the onboarding process, s/he understands the exact problems that the customer is trying to solve. After onboarding, if the customer faces any difficulty, the CSM can understand the context and help the client. In the end, this will help to retain and even upsell to the customer.

If the onboarding process is quite complex and elaborate, you may need a dedicated onboarding team which works as a part of the customer success team.

However, if you have an automated onboarding process, you need to have a strong support team. When the customers get stuck or if they have any doubts, they are going to raise a ticket which would have to be handled by customer support.

How long should a successful Customer Onboarding take?

Onboarding duration depends on several things. The onboarding duration should not be too short as then the customer will not properly understand on how to use the product. And if it’s too long, then you are wasting precious time. As a rule of thumb, as the complexity increases, the onboarding duration increases.

If your product has the following features, you should have a short onboarding duration of 0-45 days.

Simple: Is your product self-explanatory and easy to use? Can your customer follow the steps effortlessly and start to gain value without needing any help? If yes, then your product is simple to use.

Single User: Your product is designed to be used by a single person instead of multiple people with different skills.

Buyer = User: If the buyer is going to use the product the decision making process is trouble free and fast. S/he can herself/himself decide whether to buy the product or not without asking for too many permissions.

Out of the box: As soon as you purchase the product, you can follow the instructions and start using the product. Neither the company nor the customer has to make any changes/configuration in the system to use the product.

Tool: Your product is designed to solve specific problems of the customers. Different use cases to solve some other problems cannot be added later.

~ Zero effort to value: The company has to put in negligible effort to help the customers get value. The customer can follow the instructions easily and solve pain points.

Ideal duration for a customer onboarding framework

Whereas, if your product has the following features, you should have a longer onboarding duration of 45-90 days.

Complex: Your product is complicated and needs elaborate instructions along with proper onboarding process.

Large team, multi-department: Your product is used by various people from different departments.

Multiple stakeholders: Since the product is expensive and will be used by a large team from different departments, buying decision needs to be approved by several people.

Customizable: The product can be customized as per the specific needs of the customer.

Platform: It is a complete platform and hence can be used for various use cases.

Effort to value: The client needs to put in a fair amount of work before the customer can derive any value. S/he may have to configure the server and then onboard the customer so that the customer can start using the product.

Key metrics to evaluate your Customer Onboarding Framework

Evaluating your onboarding framework using wrong metrics is a critical mistake. You may think that you have done a good job. But when your customers churn due to poor onboarding experience, it would be too late and you already will be in a lot of trouble. Below are some of the metrics  that you should use to evaluate your customer onboarding framework:

Product Adoption

Is the customer using all the features that you have trained him/her on or only using some specific features? If the customer is using all the required features, the product adoption is high. If the customer is only using certain features, the product adoption is low and you need to guide the customer again.

Time spent on the product

How much time is the customer exactly spending on the product? If the user has not logged in since last 14 days, either s/he is facing some roadblocks or s/he feels he is not getting any value from the product. This customer is highly likely to churn. Hence you need to contact her/him to understand his situation.

Values delivered

At the end of the day, it is the values that the customer has gained from the product that actually matters. Make sure that the customer is getting the value by following the shortest path.

Number of active users

If the customer has bought the product to be used by multiple employees but only a few of them are using it, there is a problem which needs attention.

How sales executives can help in a better onboarding process?

Understanding the buyer’s use case

Since the sales representative converts a lead to a customer, they know the exact reason why the customer has bought your product.

Sales representatives need to tell the CSM the exact pain point the customer is trying to solve. So, the customer success team can follow an onboarding process which will help get the customer to value in the shortest time.

Passing the trust by making a warm introduction with success managers

The sales representative will already have a relationship with the customer due to her/his frequent interactions. So, s/he can introduce the CSM to the customer. Also, s/he can make sure both of them are on the same page regarding the value that the customer desires by using the product.

Feedback from the customer at the end of onboarding

This step is extremely important. At the end of the onboarding process, the sales representative should take feedback from the customer regarding what worked for them and what all can be improved.

We cannot be perfect but we can always learn from the mistakes. What better way to learn from our mistakes than from our customers? Also, it is important to ask whether the customer has got the value that the sales rep had promised at the start, or not.

Role of marketing in the Customer Onboarding process

Bring in the creative side for the right messaging

The marketing team knows exactly what works since they are in charge of bringing in the leads. Hence, the marketing team can help in writing effective and to the point emails and other written form communication that needs to be sent during the onboarding process.

Enable data-driven side of A/B testing

The marketing team already has a huge amount of data and knows which process is likely to work. That experience can help in designing a better onboarding experience.

Enable scale, especially useful when automating

If you are using an automated process for onboarding your customers where almost all the instructions will be in the form of mails, blogs, forums (writing) or videos. The marketing team has experience working at scale. They can help in making the onboarding process simple and fruitful for the customers.

So, before designing an onboarding process always see through the eyes of the customer and keep the customer at the heart of the solution. The aim of the onboarding process should be to train the customers on the required features so that s/he can derive value as soon as possible. This will help you in increasing the Life Time Value (LTV) of the customer which will ultimately lead to higher revenue.

Liked the blog? Watch our on-demand webinar titled Deepdive: Customer Onboarding Framework for B2B SaaS.

Nilesh heads marketing at CustomerSuccessBox. A social media aficionado, when he is not working, he tweets about Manchester United and marketing, and posts food pictures on Instagram (lordofgoodfood).