Implementation Stories

Supercharging customer onboarding with a consultative approach

Brittany (Yandura) Preseau, Senior Customer Success Manager at Fieldguide, shares how you can have consultative customer onboarding journeys
August 30, 2022
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In this episode of Implementation Stories, Brittany (Yandura) Preseau, Senior Customer Success Manager at Fieldguide, shares how you can supercharge your customer onboarding journeys with a consultative approach.

Brittany has over 11 years of experience in customer-facing roles at enterprise SaaS companies. Her experience spans the whole gamut of customer onboarding, from self-service and multi-client to one-on-one, high-value implementations. She spent the last year building the customer onboarding process from the ground up at Fieldguide, an enterprise software company building automation and collaboration software for assurance and advisory firms. 

In this session, Brittany focused on the following: 

  1. The key idea(s) of consultative customer onboarding 
  2. The current customer onboarding approach at Fieldguide
  3. Key skills to focus on to up your consultative skills 
  4. How you can implement consultative customer onboarding within your organization

Here are our key takeaways from the session.

1. The elements of consultative customer onboarding

A consultative approach to onboarding ensures that your customers exit onboarding with an understanding of not just your product but also how it fits into their process. As a consultative onboarding professional, your job is not to tell customers what your product can do but to tell them what they should do to use your product in their workflows. 

Consultative onboarding connects the dots between your product and the customer’s process by: 

  1. Providing the right advice at the right time
  2. Seeking to understand and advise based on this understanding
  3. Knowing when to break away from standard processes
  4. Balancing short-term and long-term thinking

Another key aspect of consultative onboarding is its ability to customize onboarding for each customer while still adhering to a structure. 

The changes that mark a shift to consultative customer onboarding 

Consultative customer onboarding comes down to moving from:

  1. Talking too much to active listening
  2. Using indefinite language to using definite language
  3. Offering options to giving recommendations
  4. Sharing an information dump to sharing just-in-time information
  5. Being a vendor to a trusted advisor

2. Customer onboarding at Fieldguide

The key activities that enable consultative customer onboarding at Fieldguide include:

Starting with a customer success plan

Onboarding at Fieldguide starts with developing a  mutual success plan that establishes the customer’s goals and their goals with the product. This ensures that they can tailor the onboarding around specific priority projects, on top of which other layers can be added at a later stage. 

Having the customer conduct a workflow walkthrough

This is generally a one-hour call where customers explain their current processes, pain points,  what’s working, and what they’re open to changing. This sets up a clear understanding of the customer’s side of the story while helping the Fieldguide onboarding team speak the same language as them.

Presenting a solution

The onboarding team shows them what the solution looks like in their workflow with their data. This ensures that they learn contextually – without having to figure out how everything is going to fit together. 

Focusing on the process

The focus is on how the customer can go through their process using Fieldguide, instead of a traditional feature/info dump approach.

This means telling them how they’ll go through their process, the features they're going to use, areas where they’ll find efficiencies, and areas that need further understanding for the onboarding team to make the right recommendations.

Decoupling customer onboarding from training

Saving training for separate and dedicated training sessions ensures that customer onboarding feels consultative, not prescriptive. All the details, features, and UI-related aspects are left for training sessions, while onboarding focuses on getting the customer’s process into the system. 

This means that they often have to explicitly state that future training sessions will focus on the platform/UI-specific aspects. Additionally, the team has different team members handling onboarding and training. 

Supporting through go-live

They partner with the customer as they move on to getting their clients on the platform. This ensures that customers feel supported as they interact with their clients, to avoid the risk of them defaulting to old/familiar systems, if and when they are stuck.

Developing best practices

The team develops best practices, while also identifying and highlighting common areas of variation or deviation. This aspect is critical to identify key areas where the onboarding team needs to dig deeper to determine the right approach for the client.

3. Handling common customer onboarding challenges using a consultative approach

The risk of over-customizing each customer journey

Ensure that you follow the same framework and conduct the same sessions – while identifying sessions/aspects that need more time, attention, and support, and balancing them against those that need lesser support.

Dealing with customers’ requests and expectations

Set the right expectations right off the bat – and convey that your job as an onboarding expert is to play devil’s advocate, and challenge them when necessary – to ensure that you jointly make the right decision.

Ensuring customers are engaging with the onboarding process

Ensure that the customer onboarding process is clearly explained in the pre-sales process.

The Fieldguide team encourages customers to sign the contract only when they are ready to get onboarded. Their approach is also white-glove in that they set up the templates and do the groundwork for their customers, so they don’t have to do much to see their processes in motion.

Delays because customer counterparts are not actively involved in onboarding

A key aspect of the consultative/partnership approach is taking a collaborative and invested approach – to understand the reasons for the customer’s constraints and if there’s anything you can do to help. 

Another approach could be to get the partners/high-level stakeholders at the customer end to step back and delegate onboarding to someone else.

4. Key skills to develop for a consultative approach to customer onboarding 

  1. Active listening: You need to actively work to make the customer feel heard and understood.
  2. Problem-solving: This means knowing what to do, and whom to go to within your organization to solve problems, knowing how to ask the client the right questions, and designing the right solution given the customer’s expectations and constraints.
  3. Subject matter expertise: You are the expert on the product, and it is your responsibility to take the lead in the customer onboarding journey such that it unlocks value for them.
  4. Confidence: Developing confidence in your abilities and in your product, to set the right expectations, and push back when needed.
  5. Conflict management: As you dig deeper and create processes that demand a new way of working, there are bound to be differences and disagreements. Knowing how to work through those situations is a key skill for consultative customer onboarding.

Recommended reading 

  1. Onboarding Matters by Donna Weber 
  2. Crucial Conversations by Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler, Kerry Patterson, and Laura Roppe

5. Supercharging your customer onboarding process

  1. Develop predetermined questions: Think about what questions you can ask instead of what information you can give. 
  2. Set goals together: This can be a five-minute exercise in an early-stage call to build alignment on goals, risks, expectations, etc, to avoid the risk of future conversations being perceived as accusatory or awkward
  3. Facilitate mutual learning: You need to learn what your customers do, in order to be equipped to advise them. A simple way to do this could be a 10-question survey to understand their business, team, workflows, expectations, etc.
  4. Develop flexible best practices: Identify common recommendations while also highlighting areas of deviations and recommendations for those areas.
  5. Focus on process and solutions; cut out information dumps: Remember, customers are not buying a product; they are buying a solution to a problem. It's your job as an onboarding expert to show them how you’re solving their problem.
  6. Analyze low product usage points: Dig a little deeper and run consultative activities to get customers to see the value of all the product usage points that you think could be useful.
  7. Decrease time to value: Identify areas where onboarding could be bloated, and stages where you’re offering superfluous information. Move such components downstream for a time when the information in them is more digestible and useful to your customers.
  8. Investigate support generators:  Understand customers' questions in the support phase, so you can incorporate/address them in the onboarding journey.

Helpful additions to supercharge customer onboarding:

  1. Survey your clients for continuous iteration and improvement. 
  2. Set up an internal QA team with a well-defined rubric for peer evaluation.
  3. Use tools like recording software to evaluate and improve your performance in consultative conversations. Tools like Chorus can help you understand how you fare on following a consultative approach – by identifying monologues, the number of questions asked, the duration of customer dialogue, handling of concerns/objections, etc. 

6. Bringing a consultative approach to self-serve and multi-client onboarding

For self-serve onboarding

  1. Use branching content or decision trees to direct customers to the right approach. 
  2. Help customers become their own consultants by asking them a set of questions that helps them identify the right course of action

For group/multi-client onboarding

  1. Survey participants ahead of time and group similar clients in sessions. Or use a scenario-based approach to split participants into different sessions
  2. Use a set of consultative questions and the responses to assign homework specific to them. 
  3. Use a group approach for topics that are common to different companies, and supplement them with one-on-one sessions for specific topics.
Like what you read? Join Preflight, our private, invite-only Slack community and attend the next Implementation Stories session. You will also gain access to peers and share knowledge on customer onboarding, implementation, and customer success.

More resources

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

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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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