How to design and implement a customer onboarding process

How do you go about designing and implementing a solid onboarding process? Lincoln Murphy has a few pointers for you.
March 22, 2022
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Lincoln Murphy, CS Growth Expert, Consultant, and Thought Leader at Sixteen Ventures, shared his insights on how you can design and implement an effective onboarding process. 

He touched upon the following ideas:

  1. Some hard truths about onboarding
  2. Joint Accountability
  3. The three things that customers generally hate
  4. The five keys to shifting from WTF to AHA Onboarding 
  5. Orchestrating future milestones and more.

Here are some of the key takeaways from Lincoln's session.

Some hard truths about onboarding

"There is no magic formula or playbook that will fix your onboarding process. And I'm not going to give you that today because it doesn't exist. I don't know what your onboarding process should look like, but I can help you figure it out. And it's going to be based on your unique relationship with your customer."

The ease of implementing something that actually works is not as simple as we would like it to be. That's why there's a whole conference planned for onboarding. That's why there's purpose-built software. That's why there are experts in this industry. 

At the same time, we also shouldn't swing the other way and overcomplicate the process - where we try to create methodologies and frameworks and things to make it something more than what it is.

Onboarding can't just be about the functional aspects of the product; it also has to be about the customer. And therefore, your unique relationship with the customer will dictate what your onboarding experience will be like. Paying close attention to this relationship will help you determine your own "AHA" onboarding process. 

Joint Accountability

Joint accountability is a transformative concept. It's the idea that you and your customer are both in this together, as cliched as it sounds. 

Everything becomes more manageable if you talk directly to your customer.

" If you hold up your end of the bargain, and I hold up our end, we're going to hit your objective and goals in the timeframe that you laid out."

Joint accountability can be broken down into the following four parts:

  1. What the customer has to do on their own outside of the product
  2. What the customer has to do on their own inside of the product
  3. What we'll do with them inside the product 
  4. What we'll do for them inside the product 

The first one happens in the early stages, where customers have to gather data, build processes, or talk to their users. But we don't have visibility/control over that.

The last two are where we come in. Although point 4 is usually handled by professional services, CSMs, and onboarding specialists can help customers out behind the scenes.

"I believe in pushing as much onto the customer as possible because, ultimately, the customer probably wants to be able to do things themselves, and they don't want to rely on us. But also, just from a scale and a positioning standpoint, I don't want to be seen as just glorified support doing stuff for customers. So I want to push the customer to do as much as they can on their own."

Even in the stages where you're helping the customer, you want the customer to be doing those things while you supervise them, not the other way around.

If you fall into the trap of constantly doing their work, you position yourself in the wrong way. It's hard to go back later on. 

The three things that customers hate

"Hate" is a strong word, but it's something that customers feel from time to time, especially B2B and enterprise customers.

They don't like unknowns. They don't like surprises. And they don't like repeating themselves. 

If you ask a customer to buy an add-on, it's the most logical next step for them. But they might bring up objections like, "I don't have money for that." But the truth is they didn't know this was coming. They didn't prepare/plan for this unknown. 

"Same goes for surprises. And customers hate repeating themselves. Make sure to speak with your sales team and get a rundown of everything your customers have already mentioned before the kickoff."

As a rule of thumb, make sure that you're not invoking these three things, or keep them to a bare minimum. This is not just in your onboarding but in every aspect of your relationship with the customer.

The five keys to shifting from WTF to AHA Onboarding 

1. First, make sure you nail the handoff

Handoffs are not always orchestrated properly. But we need to be careful and ensure that the discovery turnover happens. Your customer told your salesperson a lot of things. Much of this is contextual and not necessarily in the CRM, or at least in the structured data. So you want to make sure that all the critical pointers in the deal are being turned over to you because, as we discussed earlier, customers don't like repeating themselves. 

2. Expectations management

Your sales team should appropriately manage expectations, ensuring they don't over/undersell any aspect of your product and its functionality. 

3. Human introductions

Human introductions must happen. Your salesperson should be introducing the CSM or the onboarding specialists to your customers during the handoff. 

4. Kickoff meeting calendar invites

It goes without saying, but make sure everyone knows when the kickoff meeting is. Send everyone an invite and plan ahead.  

5. The sale should only be marked complete once the first onboarding activity with the customer occurs

Some companies are doing this right by not marking the sale as complete until the first onboarding activity with the customer has happened. It shows that sales teams have a massive influence on the early stages of the customer lifecycle, sometimes even immediately post-sale. 

Orchestrating future milestones

  1. Adoption
  2. Renewal
  3. Expansion
  4. Advocacy

The onboarding specialist or the CSM working through onboarding can set up many things for future success. Whether that's talking about renewal or adoption or expansion, you want to make sure that it's a no-drama event. That's what orchestration is. Your customers need to be thinking about the future.

"But I don't want to be sales-y or too pushy." 

Remember that you're only letting the customer know that these things are out there. So they can start thinking about them and plan ahead. You're not being sales-y by simply taking them through their options. 

And we finally come to advocacy. 

Ask for it! Tell them, "Hey, if you're getting some value from our product, please leave us a review or kindly let us use your story."

You might not want to do this too early, before they have gotten any value from you. But once your customers start realizing value, don't hesitate to ask them.

More resources from industry leaders and experts

  1. Propel22 recordings
  2. Implementation Stories
  3. Preflight Conversations
  4. The Launch Station - a podcast for all things customer onboarding
  5. Customer onboarding resources from Rocketlane

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Rahul Sridhar
Content Marketer @ Rocketlane

Content Marketer at Rocketlane. Former teacher turned tech writer. Occasionally dabbles in comedy and rap music.

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