Setting up your first customer onboarding team

Do you need a dedicated onboarding team? Who’s the best fit? What kind of skills will they need?
August 2, 2022
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Krishna Kumar

In the early stages of building a company, you often find yourself in a situation where you can't afford to have dedicated resources for each org function. So team members invariably multitask and juggle between different roles. 

"Customer onboarding is a mess. Too many companies ignore their customers… Either no one owns the process of bringing customers onboard, or it’s the onerous job of one person"
Donna Weber, leading customer onboarding expert

If you’re reading this, you probably know how important onboarding is in every customer’s journey. The way you familiarize your customers with your product determines how they will engage with it and the value they realize in the process. You could be selling the greatest tool in the world, but if you don’t get off to a great start with your customers during onboarding, they will eventually stop caring about your product or go buy a tool from a competitor who engages with them better than you do. 

From Donna Weber's 'Onboarding Matters'

A solid customer onboarding team is the first step toward good customer engagement during the onboarding phase. If you’re a startup or a mid-market company looking to assemble a stellar onboarding team for the first time, keep reading. The following pointers will help you go about it the right way. 

When should you start thinking about your first onboarding team?

Your first onboarding team member can be someone from your Presales, Support, or Customer Success team, depending on your product's technicality. 

For instance, your CS teams could be handling your implementations as well. Since you're just starting out, there are probably no renewals happening currently, and customers aren't ready for case studies or expansions at this point in time. This means your CS teams can afford to spend more time onboarding customers than on typical CS-related activities. Their focus automatically turns toward onboarding during those first few months or the first year of your journey selling your product.

As you start growing and adding more accounts, you also want to ensure that your team can do things like a QBR and so on from a success standpoint. If this is indeed your goal, then you should be to create the right bandwidth for the team when you grow your customer base - it makes sense, then, to separate onboarding from CS as a function on its own when the time is right. 

How do I assemble an onboarding A-team?

The first set of people who go into onboarding can be a combination of folks from Presales, Customer Success, and Customer Support. Each of them comes with their own set of skills.

The Presales Pro

A pre-sale solutioning person has muscle memory in areas like proposing the right configurations and solutions for the customer and taking a more prescriptive approach during the onboarding phase. They come with a certain authority to demonstrate to the customer how they can taste success with your product.

Let’s also suppose the same person is involved right from the Presale journey for critical accounts. In that case, they can play the dual role of working with the customer during pre-sales solutioning and then continuing to help the customer get set up correctly. 

The Customer Success Pro

Members from the CS team come with a slightly different set of skills. They’re generally equipped with strong relationship-building skills and know how to help customers meet and surpass their goals. 

For your onboarding journey, a CS pro can help plan adoption on the customer side, navigate stakeholders well to get the right alignment on the customer side, and hold customers accountable to complete tasks on their end. All this makes them a great onboarding team player.

The Support Pro

The support team members come with the experience in helping customers overcome issues/problems while interacting with your product. They also know how to go beyond the realm of your product to help customers work through the issues they’re facing. 

They’re more technically sound and have a great understanding of your product, which helps build customer confidence. 

So, if you're trying to put together an initial team of three members, it makes sense to have one person each from Presales, CS, and Support. You get a unique combination of strengths that way, and it helps the team learn from each other in the process. 

But wait, what else do I need?

A project delivery pro is the only ingredient you will find missing here. None of these three roles generally come with Project Management expertise. You can either choose to coach them or add a project-delivery-oriented person to the team.

Especially as you move upmarket, you may want to ensure that there is at least one person who knows how to set up and drive projects the right way so that you're covered on the stakeholder alignment front, project planning and execution front, and the technical know-how.   

These are essentially the bases you need to cover for an onboarding team to flourish and deliver delight to every customer. 

Optimize for range, not uniformity

Don't look for uniformity or hire the same kind of people for your first onboarding team. Instead, aim for variety in your initial team so that they complement and learn from each other. 

Irrespective of the team these people are coming from, ensure you're hiring people who have the confidence to drive your organization's plan and agenda. Because often, you will find people come in with the mindset to please customers. Too much people-pleasing could end up derailing your onboarding journey or allowing the customer to drive the onboarding process instead of you.  

Your customers may know their organization well, and you might want to get their input while navigating certain phases of the onboarding project, but you're still the product expert. Don't ever forget that. 

Note: If you are working with large enterprises, have a long implementation, and charge for your implementations, you may need to start with a more mature services team from the get-go. In such cases, it's better to have delivery managers or project managers set up the process, and add a CS or pre-sales team member who knows your product well to provide the product and technical context.

More resources

  1. Top customer onboarding metrics to track 
  2. Establishing successful KPIs for implementation
  3. Who should own customer onboarding?

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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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