expert panel discussing secrets of successful onboarding a B2B customer

Secrets of successfully onboarding a B2B SaaS Customer.

Several studies have shown that successful customer onboarding is one of the most crucial pieces to making a customer renew their contracts in the future.

Though every company will have a different customer onboarding process as per their requirements there are some basic things every B2B SaaS company should follow.

A few months ago we conducted a Customer Success meetup in Bangalore where several Customer Success Leaders came and shared their learnings and insights on various topics.

In the previous blog, we covered the first topic of discussion: Moving from reactive support to proactive success.

Here we will cover the second topic: Secrets of successfully onboarding a B2B SaaS Customer. For this discussion we had a panel comprising:

  1. Srihari B T, Customer Success Architect, Whatfix
  2. Apoorva Jaswal, Technical Account Manager, Branch
  3. Rajiv Sharma, VP of Sales and Customer Success, Hiver

The discussion started with the panel discussing how important onboarding is in the SaaS world. If you had to focus on only one thing, that should be customer onboarding as that is the first thing a customer experiences after the deal is signed. No matter how good your product is, if you fail at onboarding, the customer is likely to churn.

Customer Onboarding Template

Secrets To Customer Onboarding

What is customer onboarding?

Some say that the first 90 days are a part of customer onboarding while others say that when a customer is live and starts using the product is customer onboarding.

But according to Srihari, when a customer achieves first value, i.e., business outcome, that is customer onboarding. It doesn’t depend on the time spent but on delivering what has been promised.

It is also important to do person onboarding along with customer onboarding, What this means is that you have to understand that each person is different. Try to understand your future champion, what their aspirations are and why did they buy the tool. 

Suggested Read: The ultimate guide to customer onboarding

In the end, both the company and person should be onboarded.

Apoorva said that the aim of successful customer onboarding should be to get the customer up and running with minimum effort from the customer. The major focus should be on the time to the first value.

What is the first value?

Rajiv said that depending on the team that you are working with, the first value would be different. Different accounts can have different goals and hence you need to measure different metrics.

Building on it, Puneet added that the same tool is bought by different customers to solve different problems.

Giving an example of what the first value can be, Apoorva added that the first value can be when the customer makes the campaign live or understand the potential once they start using the product.

Srihari had an interesting point of view that we should look at the value from the point of view of the sponsor and define the business value. The value itself can be divided into 2 parts: 

  1. Tangible value – How many people are using the product?
  2. Intangible value– Positive customer feedback.

Here is the complete video of the discussion:

What should be the very specific goal for the first 90 days? 

Srihari suggested that the timeline and scope of the first value should be decided first. If a customer expects to achieve a certain goal in a certain timeframe, the Customer Success Manager (CSM) should inform how much of the exact goal (say 30%) is possible in the given time.

Apoorva added that the current value of the metric should be known and after a specific time period, the delta improvement in the metric should be highlighted.

According to Rajiv, if the customer has taken a product trial, s/he will know what the basic value is. Here the CSM should take the help of the sales to exactly understand what the goal of the customer is and then based on their knowledge and experience add some thought leadership to explain to the customer what the exact possibilities are and how can that be achieved. After all everything, like improving efficiency, cannot be measured.

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What is the role of a CSM?

Rajiv suggested that the relationship between a CSM and the customer should be like that of the relationship between a doctor and the patient. As the doctor is expected to treat the illness and not the symptoms similarly the CSM should aim to fix the core problem.

A CSM should be proactive in assisting the customer in fixing that problem. Thus, making them realize the value of your product eventually.

Everyone agreed with this analogy and Srihari added that the CSM should show the before and after story so that the customer knows exactly what the benefits of the product are.

Suggested Read: 6 Key Responsibilities of a Customer Success Manager in a SaaS Company

Should Customer Success teach all the features of the products? 

This is a common doubt among CSMs. Many CSMs train the customer on all the features of the product which makes the customer so overwhelmed that they churn.

Srihari suggested that the CSM should first understand which all features will help the customer achieve his/her first goal and then teach only those features.

Agreeing with Srihari, Apoorva added that only those new features which help the customers achieve their goals should be taught.

According to Rajiv, customers should be divided into cohorts depending on what their goals are. Based on the use cases, each cohort should be taught only those features that will help them achieve their goals.

Should there be multiple onboarding processes? 

According to Apoorva, different personalities need to be tackled differently. Some need detailed explanations while others need access to the documents. Someone may want to read the documents and start using the product on their own while others need basic hand-holding. 

Expanding on the same point, Srihari suggested that a small questionnaire should be sent to the customers at the start to understand what they want, how they work and other small details. Based on the answers the CSM can educate them, help them execute while also explaining the possible benefits of using the product.

Pro tip: Check out the Customer Onboarding Framework to get an action plan for designing your B2B SaaS Onboarding process.

Who should manage the onboarding of customers?

There are several people who can onboard the customers:

  • Onboarding specialist
  • CSM
  • Sales team
  • Customer Support

Since Apoorva has previously worked as an onboarding specialist, she said that earlier her job was to take the customer to the first value and then a CSM used to manage the customers. This led to the customer getting confused regarding what work does a CSM do and what work does an onboarding specialist do.

Hence, Apoorva suggested that onboarding should be handled by the CSM as it helps build a relationship with the customer. Also, during the onboarding process, the CSM can deliver high values to the customer which helps in building the trust between the customer and the CSM.

According to Srihari, a CSM should handle the customer for the entire lifecycle. Once this cycle is repeated a few times, if there is a CSM who handles better than every other CSM, s/he can act as the onboarding specialist.

Rajiv believes in a different approach. According to him, the sales department already has a relationship with the customer. They have been trained in such a way that they have domain knowledge too. Hence, they should manage the onboarding process. Any technical query can be handled by the support team. 

The advantage here is that they don’t need a very big team and also since the employees are not super-specialized, when a problem comes, they don’t keep looking for that one person who can solve the problem. They have built their structure in such a way that most of the problems can be handled by the available employees.

Puneet added in the end that an onboarding specialist should handle the onboarding process only if the process is very complex. Otherwise, a CSM is the best person to handle onboarding. 

Churn Analysis Template

What are the advantages and disadvantages of 1-1  and 1- Many onboarding?

According to Apoorva, 1-1 onboarding is the most effective way. But, 1-1 onboarding is difficult to scale and hence eventually you have to move to 1-Many onboarding.

Srihari agreed that 1-1 is the best way to onboard a customer. Every onboarding should be done as if it has been paid for separately. 

Rajiv believes that onboarding should be based on the different cohorts that they have segmented the customers into.

Adding to this, Puneet said that setting up a Onboarding playbook can be 1-1 while the education and advice can be 1-Many.

How do you know whether you have successfully onboarded a customer or not?

Successful customer onboarding can be:

  • Time based
  • Feedback based (NPS etc)

According to Apoorva, time to first value shows whether the customer has successfully onboarded or not. The first value can be when a campaign is live or as discussed with the customer.

Srihari believes that sometimes the action may be executed early but results are seen after weeks or months. Like the customer can go live today but they might take weeks before they can achieve their business goals. 

Hence you should ask the customer for feedback after the onboarding process to understand how their experience was. If they can give testimonials or referrals that means the onboarding was successful.

Rajiv has a very simple concept: if 80% of the users are using 80% of the features, then it is a successful onboarding.

In the SaaS industry, if you want a constant stream of revenue, you have to provide a constant stream of value to the customer.

Onboarding is the first and one of the critical steps that decide how long the customer is going to stay with you. Make sure you get it right.


We regularly conduct customer success meetups in India and USA. To get notified of the next meetup, join Success Bound US and Bangalore.

Arnab is a content marketer at CustomerSuccessBox. In his free time he loves watching videos on YouTube and reading about entrepreneurship and startups.