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Resource allocation for long implementation cycles

Preflight Community discussed allocating the right resources to overcome inefficiencies during longer implementation cycles.
February 28, 2023
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When it comes to complex products, inefficiencies during implementation are usually more common due to their intricate nature and broad scope.

It can make the process of implementation quite challenging. It requires more comprehensive project management to make sure everything goes as planned. Here are some reasons complexity could contribute to longer and inefficient implementations:

  1. It gets challenging to keep track of all the dependencies, stakeholders, deadlines, and potential risks. 
  2. It requires specialized technical expertise. If the team responsible for implementation lacks the necessary skills, it can result in delays and errors.
  3. Integrating a new system with existing systems can be complex and time-consuming, mainly if the new system needs to be designed to work seamlessly with the existing infrastructure.
  4. Extensive testing due to the complexity of B2B products is often required to ensure that the product is functioning as intended. Testing is time-consuming and resource-intensive, particularly if the product has many interdependent features.
  5. Navigating a complex web of features can be a time-consuming process. It will inherently slow down adoption rates during a product's onboarding and implementation stage and can further delay getting it up and running.

In a recent conversation on the Preflight Community, we discussed allocating the right resources to overcome inefficiencies during longer implementation cycles, and how you can reduce the chances of any hiccups during implementation if you proactively plan for them in the following scenario (and similar situations): 

You lead the customer onboarding department at a SaaS company with a complex product with high parametrization work.

  1. Your onboarding team consists of senior and junior roles working on the implementation, including parametrization, training, UAT, change management, post-go-live support, etc., along with customer success managers who are very involved during the implementation–they take care of stakeholder relationships, upsell opportunities, and escalations. 
  2. The CSMs also liaison with the product team when a product request is blocking the implementation. 

What would you do when there is a lot of overlap between the work that implementation managers and CSMs do, and they end up working on the same things, being on the same calls, etc., and spend a significant chunk of the day for B2B SaaS enterprise implementations? 

Would you merge them, so there is no overlap? If yes, how do you plan to bring more "commercial" skills of a CSM and the technical and analytical skills of an implementation manager under the same role and job description? 

Would you involve the CSM only after the customer onboarding process is completed? Read on for recommendations from other customer onboarding and post-sales managers:

Nate Siswanto

  1. Plan your implementation projects to be completed in less than one year
  2. Decide whether you need one role that handles both implementation and customer relationships
  3. Understand what an implementation manager and CSM should do in their respective roles.

Srikrishnan Ganesan

It depends on the following: 

  1. How big is the company?
  2. How big are the customer onboarding and implementation teams today? 
  3. What is the volume of customers being onboarded? 

In the early stages, it is possible to find “hero” team members who will learn and do it all - maybe you tilt more towards technical than commercial. But in mature orgs, it’s better keep it separate as you can’t find people who can do it all at scale. I’d free up CSMs from joining every call and have them focus more on strategic initiatives during implementation, though they should be plugged in and aware.

Tami Titheridge

It depends on the size of your startup! If you can afford to have two roles, then that would definitely be the gold standard, as each role has its own set of responsibilities and complementing skill sets (E.g., onboarding specialists usually have a specific set of responsibilities and have clear start and end points for the relationship with the customer whereas CSMs are there to lead everything post-sales on an ongoing basis).

In our case (I've just joined a new startup with a complex product myself) - we're building out a structure with implementation specialists, account executives to lead the commercials, and CSMs to lead the day-to-day operational aspects of making customers successful.

From my perspective, the CSMs should be able to own: 

  1. Stakeholder management
  2. Discussions with our product team when product gaps are identified
  3. Business reviews (with success metrics once the customer is live)
  4. Upsell opportunities: this could start before the customer onboarding phase ends, if you have different modules and often customers only buy two or three of them in the beginning.

This is where having great internal communications comes into play - the training teams should be providing bullet point summaries after each training session with a recap on:

• What was covered during training

• Where the users are at 

• What they need next 

• Any issues or friction they observed or feel there is 

• What the next steps are 

It's then the CSMs' responsibility to keep themselves updated on each customer account so that they can plan out the success outcomes accordingly.

Jeff Kushmerek

I've dealt with this problem before! This is how I’d like to approach this situation: once the champion signs the deal, the CSM needs to be introduced during the kickoff. When the implementation is ongoing, you need to bring them in sporadically. The CSMs need to be looped in on all the notes! Bring them in when there are strategic decisions to be made–situations where the decision affects key outcomes such as feature requests to be made to Product, etc. 

For year-long implementations, the CSMs might need to be involved every three weeks or so! CSMs can then be present in all the status meetings, monthly or bi-monthly QBRs, even during implementation. This is because you’re still driving value and not waiting until the end of the implementation cycle to drive value. 

I would not merge the two roles. The risk of this might be that no CSM work into driving value might get done. It is always better to position the CSMs as strategic outcome drivers throughout the course of the implementations. 

How do you allocate resources during long implementation cycles? If you have ideas, suggestions, and questions you want to share with the larger customer onboarding, implementation, and CS community, we’d love to have you join Preflight Community and share it with our members!

Further reading

  1. Do your CS and Product teams share joint KPIs to drive customer adoption?
  2. Customer Onboarding to Customer Success Handoff
  3. Pre-implementation and why it might be relevant for your business
  4. Tactics for complex customer onboarding journeys
  5. What is the difference between customer onboarding and customer implementation?

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Usha Kalva
Community & Partnerships @ Rocketlane

Usha is a Community Manager at Preflight. She's been an EIR, runs a successful restaurant, and is inclined toward the social sciences. In a parallel universe, she'd have been a wildlife photographer.

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