Happy Customers

Improving customer onboarding is the arguably the greatest growth opportunity for software companies who want to make their customers successful. In this episode I'm joined by Donna Weber, author of the best selling book "Onboarding Matters" to discuss how to design onboarding that drives value and expansion.

Show Notes

In software we love to think in terms of scale and building once and selling forever, but there’s often a gap between what software can do and the outcomes customers actually want to achieve.

Effective customer onboarding can help bridge that gap, ensure customers see value, and are set up for ongoing success.

Today’s guest is Donna Weber, author of the best selling book "Onboarding Matters". In this episode you’ll hear how she:
  • Defines customer onboarding
  • Uses a success plan as the basis for aligned onboarding
  • Addresses onboarding misconceptions and common red flags
  • Thinks about overcoming sticking points in the onboarding journey
  • Recommends companies go about scaling their onboarding programs
Additional onboarding resources from Donna: 
Enjoyed this episode? Connect with Donna on LinkedIn and let her know, or subscribe for future episodes of Happy Customers.

What is Happy Customers?

Happy Customers is about why making customer successful - and ultimately happy customers is more important than ever before.

Over the course of this series we’re going to explore what people inside some of the world's top companies are really doing everyday to go beyond the metrics and numbers on the balance sheet, collaborate across their entire organization, and truly invest in making their customers successful.

Donna Weber (00:09):
When you've had that strategic conversation already, when you hit some snags, because when you're dealing with long and complex implementations or data, it's challenging. So then when you hit those snags, you're going to have a better relationship to move through them more easily.

Stuart Balcombe (00:25):
Hello and welcome to Happy Customers. The show where we're exploring what people inside of some of the world's top companies are really doing every day to go beyond the metrics and numbers on the balance sheet, collaborate across their entire organization and truly invest in making the customers successful.

Stuart Balcombe (00:42):
In this episode of Onboarding Operations, we're talking to Donna Weber, author of the bestselling book, Onboarding Matters about what it takes in practice to design an onboarding experience that drives more successful customer outcomes. We'll also be highlighting some common onboarding misconceptions and red flags to avoid as you're building your own program. I'm Stuart Balcombe, and I'm excited you are here. Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review wherever you get your podcasts. Okay. Let's get into the conversation.

Donna Weber (01:15):
Most companies I talk with, they equate onboarding with implementation. So I would say that that is a misconception. And then I have an article that I say onboarding does not equal implementation because most-. So I work with hi-tech companies and there's this conception that it's all about going live with your product. And then if a customer has your product and their product's live, check the box, they're getting value, they're done and it's all good.

Donna Weber (01:44):
But the reality is customers don't care about your products. Sorry to break the news. They're really interested in being better at their jobs. They're interested in transforming their business. They're interested in saving time. They're interested in making more money, saving money, being compliant. So those are the reasons why people buy your products. So the goal is to help them reach value, not just to go live with your product.

Donna Weber (02:09):
So onboarding is really about starting to have a strategic engagement with the customer, identifying the value that they want and need and making sure they achieve value, not just go live with your product. So for example, let's say I buy a hammer. Let's say Stuart, you're selling me a hammer and you're telling me, "Oh my God, this is strong hammer. It's got this great grip on the handle. The head is really strong." And you really sell all the features and functions of the hammer.

Donna Weber (02:37):
Well, okay. I'm sure it's a great hammer, but why? The value of the hammer is it to put a hole in the wall? No, the value of the hammer is to probably hang something on the wall or to secure something, to make it safe. So really knowing what the purpose is and selling that vision. I mean, cars. Car companies are great at selling the vision. It's just a car, but they promise all this stuff and how it's going to transform your life.

Donna Weber (03:01):
But really, we're focusing on business transformation, not just going live with the product. And that transformation needs to happen, but oftentimes needs to start before the deal is closed, building strategic relationships and not just going live with your product, but also onboarding the users. I think that is a huge gap there. We need to onboard the account, but then we need to onboard the users and then really deliver value quickly.

Stuart Balcombe (03:27):
Yeah. And it's funny, we didn't have this on a list of questions. This makes me think that jobs to be done would be a really interesting topic to talk about, that the example that you just gave of people don't buy the hammer.

Stuart Balcombe (03:37):
They don't even buy the whole, they buy I want to hang this picture of my newborn, which I just took so that my family can see, right? What is that transformation they want to get to? And the features of your product then just become sort of differentiators and sort of proof points that your product may be a better option to achieve that outcome than something else.

Donna Weber (03:56):
And your services might be the differentiator, your onboarding services, your customer success services, because you're all about driving the value.

Stuart Balcombe (04:04):
Especially in software, we love to think in terms of scale and building once and selling forever, but there's often a gap between what software can do and the outcomes customers actually want to achieve. Donna explained how the recent rise of usage based pricing models has helped differentiate companies that are able to effectively close this value gap.

Donna Weber (04:25):
There's a trend moving from we went from perpetual license to a subscription license, but now there's a trend towards consumption, consumption based model. So with that, people are coming in and they might be having a taste of your product, right? Well, let's say I go to a ice cream store and it's based on consumption. So if you give me a taste that costs a dollar, or maybe even that taste is free, that taste better delivers some quick value, right?

Donna Weber (04:53):
Because then I'm going to buy more. So that's why, again, why onboarding is so critical because if you're have a consumption model, you need to get to some value. So then that way they're going to just want more and more and more. So what I like to do is I start with the success plan and I cover that in my book Onboarding Matters. I also have an article on it, on my website about success plans.

Donna Weber (05:14):
And so then you're starting before you even start the implementation. You meet with the customer to review and validate their goals and the success outcomes for using your product. And I say review and validate rather than gather, because those should have been gathered during the sales cycle. So then leveraging what your company has learned from the sales cycle. Pre-populate the success plan with everything you know. But then you're having a conversation, you're partnering with them.

Donna Weber (05:44):
And I'm talking about a high touch approach of course, but really determining what their goals are and getting alignment on that. So then you're partnering and you're not trying-. I've talked to a company yesterday where the customers think they're going here and the CSMs are driving them over here and everyone's confused and frustrated. So you get alignment on that. I do that with companies I work with. I wasn't doing that and I got into trouble because the buyer and I had all these conversations.

Donna Weber (06:10):
But then when I was working with the teams to define and design and operationalize onboard approach, they didn't know. I assumed the buyer told them all that stuff, but guess what? They hadn't. So I realized, wow, I need to use my own best practices. So now I always start every engagement with the success plan to capture the success outcomes or to validate them.

Donna Weber (06:32):
I'm not going to say to capture, to validate. And then we even review, who's responsible, who's accountable, who's consulted, who's informed which some would call a RACI model. We capture what are some blockers to the success? How are we going to, if we need to escalate, how are we going to deal with that? So we have that partnership. That's a strategic conversation before any kickoff meeting, before any implementations begin. So that's why onboarding is greater than implementation.

Stuart Balcombe (07:00):
This is so important. Defining the outcomes we are trying to achieve before onboarding begins, ensures everyone is aligned on the plan to achieve them. I was curious to hear how Donna recommends onboarding teams go about creating that alignment if clear outcomes have not been before a customer is handed off and into their care.

Donna Weber (07:21):
So let's say you are a customer success manager, or you're an onboarding specialist and you're not getting that information. Then you might see if you can get access to the customer relationship management CRM tool. Can you go in there and see what was purchased, what the objectives are, can you get that information?

Donna Weber (07:39):
Can you have an informal meeting with the sales rep and just say, "Hey, can you help me get ready? I want to be successful." So you can kind of do that in the more ad hoc way. But ultimately, it needs to come. It needs to be baked into the process. I, just prior to our conversation, I had a meeting with a company based in Mexico and I said, "You have an internal handoff meeting."

Donna Weber (08:00):
And they said, "Yes, we have that process." I said, "Does it happen?" So a lot of companies will say, "Yes, we have that process." Does it actually happen? No. So you probably need to get buy in from the head of sales. I also recommend that the post sales teams are the ones who schedule that meeting because sales teams will, they're off to the thing and they don't schedule that. So don't wait for a salesperson to schedule that meeting with you, go ahead and schedule it and get what you need to be successful.

Stuart Balcombe (08:28):
That's a really, really actionable thing. If it's not in the process, add it to the process. If it's in the process, but not happening, schedule it on the well, have the onboarding team schedule it rather than putting that on sales.

Donna Weber (08:39):
And it might be a 15 to 30 minute meeting. It doesn't have to be a big deal. Help the sales rep know what's in it for them. They might get more, some expansion revenue down the road by you helping the customer to reach their goals.

Donna Weber (08:52):
And it might be that there's a few friendly sales reps are happy to do that. And you could start demonstrating some successes across your organization and do a grassroots effort and then kind of get it, bring the benefits of that to the leadership and get it moved in across the company.

Stuart Balcombe (09:09):
So now we have a success plan. We know what the outcomes that we want to get to are. Everybody is sort of aligned on this is where we're trying to go. How do you think about sort of actually operationalizing that?

Stuart Balcombe (09:19):
What is the first step in starting to put that in front of the customer, starting to sort of move customers through a process, lack of a better term, I guess, a process to actually being successful? And how do you more, I guess, you mentioned onboarding is more than just the implementation plan. So what is the gap between implementation and onboarding and how does that fit, that piece fit into the plan?

Donna Weber (09:42):
Well, then your, so your leverage is success plan so that you're partnering with your customer to reach those goals and you help them to see where they're accountable. So they might need to get some access to external systems. They might need to get their data ready to upload. They might need to assign an administrator. So you need to help them understand what they need to do.

Donna Weber (10:06):
And then generally, when you move into the implementation, it's more the kind of tasks and timelines and dependencies and deliverables. But when you've had that strategic conversation already, when you hit some snags, because when you're dealing with long and complex implementations or data, it's challenging. So then when you hit those snags, you're going to have a better relationship to move through them more easily.

Stuart Balcombe (10:32):
Donna has a ton of experience to lean on here. So what I wanted to know is where she most often sees team gets stuck in the process in hopes that you can avoid common roadblocks in your own process.

Donna Weber (10:44):
I just want to wrap up a bit more about onboarding and then I'll answer your questions Stuart. And I know I'm going a bit around here. So after the implementation, so we talked about how you need to engage a customer before the implementation. Then you, after the implementation, then you're going to look at driving product usage, user adoption, user onboarding. And then there might be some ongoing onboarding where there's new products to onboard new features, new releases and new users.

Donna Weber (11:13):
A lot of companies I work with, they have huge turnover with the customers users. So I talked with a company that provides a tool for project plans, right? And they do this great initial account onboarding and then they don't do any new user onboarding. And there's so much turnover or there's so much expansion, but if no one else, all these users aren't getting value, they're missing huge opportunities.

Donna Weber (11:36):
So that onboarding needs to be that bigger picture. I teach my orchestrated onboarding masterclass. And I had some folks come who were on the implementation team and they were just really focused on the implementation. And what I see is that the customer facing teams are often very siloed. So you've got, okay, we've got this CSM, we've got the onboarding team, we've got support, we've got education, maybe got, we have a renewal rep and they're all very siloed.

Donna Weber (12:05):
And they're all very focused on their internal metrics, how many ticket are in the queue? What's our ticket closure time? How many courses have we delivered? What's our oh, consultants? How long does it take to onboard or implement or what's the utilization rate? And so the big gap is that the point of this is to drive customers to value.

Donna Weber (12:28):
The reason I call my framework orchestrated onboarding is because there's all these various siloed teams and people that we need to bring together in a harmony for the customer. You're creating a, it's not like, oh, Stuart, you play the cello and I play the flute and we're both just playing our instruments. No, we need to. It's for the audience. So that's a big challenge.

Donna Weber (12:52):
And the thing is a lot of these customer facing teams have been around for a long time, long before customer success, but they're still kind of going towards their internal focus or their internal metrics. And all the lens needs to be pointed on the customer. And so you might have, like what I did at the company that I highlight in my book, I just started having conversations with other teams to understand how we might start to work together better.

Donna Weber (13:17):
So for example, when I was leading the customer education organization, I talked to the head of support, "Hey, help me understand the top 10, how two tickets. So maybe I could start to create some scalable content that your team doesn't have to keep saying over and over and so we can create some scalable content that will help customers and help your team." Oh, oh, hey consulting. There was a consulting organization.

Donna Weber (13:42):
It was like the consultants were going over the basics over and over and during their engagements. And I'm, why don't we have the customers take some training first so then the customers have an under of our platform and get more value from the consulting engagement. And then the consultants can really be those technical experts that are diving into your each customer specific use cases and not going over these basics over and over? So those are some ways in very kind of casual ad hoc ways. We started working in harmony for the customer.

Stuart Balcombe (14:16):
It's really interesting. I certainly have seen this too, that there are, I think we see this across success sort of more broadly is that everybody wants to measure or sort of gravitate to measuring the things that are easiest for them to control. Right?

Stuart Balcombe (14:28):
They measure the things that they can go put a task on that to-do list and just check off, which is a little bit harder when we're talking about customer outcomes and customers seeing value. How do you think about actually measuring, I guess, one, measuring our customers, getting the value that they signed up for and sort of sharing that across everybody who needs to see it?

Donna Weber (14:49):
Well, one is making all customer facing teams aligned with the customer outcomes. So it might be rather than you're measured by hours of content delivered, you're measured by depending on what's important at your company and where you can show correlations, it might be product usage metrics. So if everyone in the company is focused on the product usage metrics, so great support, I'm trying to drive product usage, education, customer success.

Donna Weber (15:19):
I think it's important or more and more those customer facing teams are all under the same organization, under customer success umbrella, under a chief customer officer. So then the most important thing is to have overarching goals and metrics, OKRs, whatever objectives, whatever your company is doing. And that A and O as a practitioner, you're not going to be responsible for changing all that, but you might just start to just be curious and discover are customers who are onboarded or get to value?

Donna Weber (15:52):
Do they renew more? Do they buy more? You can just start kind of having some casual, curious conversations. Or if you have access to a CRM, just do, and I talk about this in the book, just pick 10 customers without onboarding and 10 customers with and see when they renew, do they buy more? Do they expand faster? And then start to share that information across your organization.

Donna Weber (16:16):
I like to say, don't ask for permission, ask for forgiveness. And when I was at the company that I highlight in the book, I just started having conversations with customers. I started having conversations with internal teams and presented my findings. And then after that, we created a customer success organization where we brought all the customer facing teams together and had a chief customer officer. So that wasn't that somebody's strategic decided that, it was me just starting to learn.

Donna Weber (16:45):
And I didn't ask for permission, I saw a gap and I just dove in. And I was doing two jobs at the same time because saw a need and I like to learn. And so I just started talking to people across the customer success space, experts and learning from them, attended webinars, listen to podcasts like this one. And I just started kind of pulling pieces together and sharing my ideas. And then it really trans on the company.

Stuart Balcombe (17:14):
I think that this is often how a lot of sort of big shifts start, right? Is with a little action that is not necessarily somebody breaking the sort of the status quo.

Donna Weber (17:23):
Yeah. You don't have to wait. You don't have to wait for someone else to do it. What can you do today? I mean, my most intimate experience is with the one I shared with you where we really did create this orchestrated, a seamless approach for the customer. And no executive told us to do that, we did that through breaking down the walls and really engaging all those customer facing teams.

Stuart Balcombe (17:45):
So we've heard that effect of onboarding works and can have a huge impact on both customer and business outcomes. But what does it take to scale onboarding most effectively?

Donna Weber (17:56):
There's people, processes and technology. And I like to go in that order. So start with people. And it may be lot of product development teams are working in the agile and iterative approach. So be agile and iterative. Start looking at little things that you can start rolling out. So it may be that you're going to have this internal handoff meeting, or you're going to test drive a success plan. And so start with the people and not, "Oh, we need this fancy tool before we can do anything." Start with the people, start then mapping out processes.

Donna Weber (18:29):
But a process only works when people follow it. So you might need to look at ways to reinforce the process. And maybe it needs to be operationalized in a system with playbooks, for example. So, and then you start looking at technology to scale or to really operationalize. I worked with a company they're pretty big. They do supply chain management and it was, they defined their onboarding approach and then it just was set on some Google slides and Google sheets.

Donna Weber (18:59):
So that doesn't really help anyone because it's, oh, I got to go find this. So it needs to be in the system that people are using. And then I like to make sure you can get some information, not just, "Oh, I'm working with this account and I'm moving them through this onboarding journey." But then for managers and leaders, can you get some data across the accounts? So get some baseline information. Say onboarding takes three to four months. Now we've rolled out this and then start to see, is the time decreasing?

Donna Weber (19:32):
What does that mean for the company by how much does it cost to onboard each account? And if you've reduced that by 30%, how much money are you saving? Or when you reduce that by 30% and customers start buying more earlier, how much more compounding revenue is that? So you might get a metric or two or product usage. Oh, product usage. Oh, we onboard them, but then no one's using the product. Oh, our product usage has increased by 30%. So start, maybe pick one or two metrics that are meaningful to the company.

Donna Weber (20:06):
And then you might start so ideas are, you could build out a whole process and then pick a small segment of customers or pilot of customers or one sales rep to test this out with. Or you could just roll out little pieces of it and then connect them all. So there's different ways, but starting with people, then move to process, then the technology. You're not going to go buy gain site and just assume it's going to fix anything, right? And then be agile and iterative.

Donna Weber (20:30):
So roll something out and meet with folks internal and external. Hey, how'd that work? What are suggestions for improvement? And I work with a lot of high growth companies and guess what? Things are always changing in high growth companies, right? You acquire a company, you get acquired, you get a good investment. So you're going to need to change it. And so you need to stay flexible to go, yeah, that worked last year, but guess what? It may not work this year.

Stuart Balcombe (20:55):
I think that's a great point that A, the company is changing, but you mentioned this earlier about even the account or users within an account are changing whether it's new users being added, whether it's new or the same users using new features.

Stuart Balcombe (21:09):
So there's always sort of places to look at the process and sort of how to think about how to bridge the gap between where we are today and how we help make the customer successful.

Donna Weber (21:19):
Yeah. And then also you might roll something out in a very high touch white glove approach, and then when that's working well, you can start to scale up by going a lower touch or a digital touch. So those are other ways that you can really leverage technology to scale.

Stuart Balcombe (21:34):
Yeah. I think that's actually sort of an interesting question in general. We talk about lot about sort of scaling software and the... As people invest in technology, more companies are using technology, there are potentially more people that you are, who are using your product and that you have to try to make successful or help be successful and get to the outcomes that they want.

Stuart Balcombe (21:53):
How do you think about segmenting between and just sort of generally think about high touch versus low touch versus sort of digital touch. How do you sort of think about that in terms of designing and onboarding program and how does that play into the types of that you put in your process?

Donna Weber (22:09):
Well, it really depends kind of where a company is. But oftentimes, companies will come to me asking for help when they've been doing this high touch, white glove engagement, their customers, every customer's a special snowflake and they're growing dramatically, which is awesome, but what got them here, get them to the next level.

Donna Weber (22:29):
They cannot just keep hiring awesome CSMs and onboarding folks delivering that high touch. It's just going to eat up all their margins. So then we'll start to look at ways to scale. Or maybe the CSM is doing it all. And then we start look at generally at a smaller company, people are wearing many hats and they're generalists. But then as the company grows, you start specializing.

Donna Weber (22:52):
So that's another way to scale. It really depends. One company they're moving, that I worked with, they're a big data platform, and they're moving 50% of their customers to a tech touch. So we mapped out a whole from trial to production in a tech touch. But then you've got to real make sure that you're providing the seamless journey of the right content for the right persona at the right time.

Donna Weber (23:15):
And we mapped all that out. So I would say it depends on kind of where the company is. But generally that's how things go, there's the special snowflake and then you got to start creating some ways that you're driving all customers to some similar value so you can create repeatable processes.

Stuart Balcombe (23:34):
Yeah, absolutely. And I guess, regardless of what level of touch or what the sort of specific implementation of the plan is, everything starts from that success plan that you mentioned. You have to know upfront, you have to do the discovery, identify the outcomes that, or what's does success look like? What is the value that people are trying to get to? And everything from there is a plan to get them there.

Donna Weber (23:53):
Yeah. And there might be in a tech touch, you might do that somehow through some you're identifying the persona or you might in product guidance. So there's ways you could still do that with tech touch as well.

Stuart Balcombe (24:04):
Yeah, absolutely. So one final question for you, you've obviously seen a lot of onboardings, worked with a lot of different companies, seen a lot of process, a lot of things that you wanted to change in processes.

Stuart Balcombe (24:14):
What is the sort of one onboarding related problem that if you had a magic wand, you would just sort of get rid of and that's a thing that every company is now great at. What's the thing that you would wave that wand with and you think would have the, sort of the biggest impact on companies?

Donna Weber (24:30):
Yeah. To make it bigger than implementation, that it's not just about your product, it's about the relationship and it's about the customer value. That if a customer's not getting value, I mean, okay, I'm looking for my phone. It's in my back pocket. Great. I downloaded a new app. Am I value from it just because I have an app on my phone?

Donna Weber (24:49):
No. So if I'm not getting value on an app I download which takes 30 seconds to download. Right? You tell me about this cool app. Oh, I'll check it out. If I'm not getting value in moments, I'm never going to look at it again. And I'm not going to use it. And I'm definitely not going to tell anyone else about it. So it's all about driving value. It's not about your product.

Stuart Balcombe (25:11):
I love that. I think that's a great place to leave it. Well, thank you so much for doing this. It was really fun to chat through all things onboarding.

Donna Weber (25:19):
Thank you, Stuart. It's a real pleasure.

Stuart Balcombe (25:23):
Thanks so much to Donna for a fantastic conversation. Here are my top three takeaways from this episode. Number one, effective onboarding starts with a success plan. Donna shared the importance of getting aligned on what success looks like to the customer as early as possible in their experience. Creating a plan to get there and continuously validating that progress against that definition of success.

Stuart Balcombe (25:48):
Number two, great onboarding is conducted like an orchestra. It's common for customer facing teams to become very siloed and focused on internal metrics. But instead, teams should look for ways to work in harmony focused on improving the metrics customers use to define their success. Number three, onboarding is bigger than implementation. Many businesses fall into the trap of equating onboarding to implementation and measure success with a checkbox for going live.

Stuart Balcombe (26:18):
Starting with the outcome customers want to achieve being better at their jobs, transforming their businesses or saving time and money gives onboarding a much bigger, a much more important purpose. In our next episode of Onboarding Operations, I'll be chatting with Shareil Nariman, head of customer success and experience at Arrows about his experience building and scaling onboarding teams for companies like booking.com and Sprout Social. Thanks so much for listening.