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Make your onboarding process better than ever

Rutger van der Pol
Rutger van der Pol
Co-founder The Sales Strategist
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Turn your B2B post-sales process into a success moment

Client onboarding is the process of getting new users set up and using your product with the goal to deliver value as quickly as possible — and is therefore your first opportunity to let a new client experience a win.

This is particularly important for companies with a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) revenue model, where the sale of a product is not a one-off event but is based on a subscription to your technology. For the client, this revenue model is very attractive: with its low upfront costs, companies can easily access advanced technology without having to immediately spend an enormous amount of money. But precisely because you earn your money over time, as a provider you are dependent on your clients remaining subscribed to your technology for a longer period of time in order to recover your operational and development costs, as well as the investment you made to acquire that specific client (important metrics here are your churn, LTV, CAC and LTV/CAC ratio). And that is exactly why the onboarding process is so important; your client must quickly experience the value of your product so that it becomes part of their success (in the long run) which in turn promotes loyalty and client satisfaction.

Before the clients start flooding in, new clients must first be attracted, and that is often a lengthy process — especially in B2B. We dove into all the peculiarities of the B2B sales cycle and you can read our findings in this article.

Set clear goals for your post-sale process

Client onboarding is a hugely important aspect of retention: if you can get clients set up easily, they are more likely to stick around and become long-term users of your product. However, the goal must be to not only make your client feel comfortable using your product but also to make sure they’re successful with it. The transition from sales to onboarding can make or break your efforts to having a client base that is successful with your product.

The post-sales process has two main goals:

  • Onboarding new clients into your product;
  • Maximising their ongoing usage of your product.

Summarised like that it sounds quite simple, but your responsibility is to ensure that the client can launch your product successfully and make sure that it works for them in their day-to-day operations. You have to set clear goals for your post-sale process to be a success. What needs to be done for the product to be deployed, managed, and maintained, and what steps have to be taken to make sure your clients get onboarded quickly and fully? What should they be able to accomplish within their first week, month, quarter?

For example, if you sell a marketing automation tool, you might want your clients to start building their lists during the first interactions with your product, create and schedule some emails during the first week and try out some advanced features within the first month. You’ll have the ability to set milestones for each client and then track them closely so that you can help any client who is having trouble onboarding or learning how to use your product effectively. Understanding what the “Aha!” moment is for your product is crucial here, especially for those SaaS companies that have a self-service onboarding process (in combination with freemium or free trial first product interactions).

The post-sales process can vary depending on the type of product you sell. Based on the size and complexity of your product, your onboarding process might include training and support, implementation steps, account setup, and more. For some vendors, this might involve connecting clients with different other technologies in their tech stack. For others, this could be coordinating training sessions or even a complete consulting project supported by your technology. It’s vital to keep the client focused so you can help them reach the point where they’re ready to use the tool with confidence and achieve their goals. One of the ways you do this is by setting goals together with the client in the final phase of the sales process, so that together you have a shared definition of success and when exactly impact is achieved.

You have to set clear goals for your post-sale process to be a success. What should your clients be able to accomplish within their first week, month, quarter?

Map the client journey

To be able to successfully get your clients to these milestones, you need to have an onboarding roadmap for your product. This roadmap will help you communicate valuable information to the user about how to get started using your product the right way. It will be a critical component of defining and improving your product’s user experience. This will also make the transition from sales through onboarding and then into customer success more efficient.

This roadmap helps you spot gaps in your processes and understand where improvements are needed. Here are some of the steps to take:

  • Identify the main areas where clients go through their journey, such as an account creation or account upgrade.
  • Figure out which touchpoints have the most impact on clients along the way: for example, where do they get their login details? What happens after they log on for the first time? Where do they find relevant information to complete their first tasks? How long does it take?
  • For each touchpoint along the way, identify what could be done to improve it or remove friction. Think about more than just the technical requirements and don’t forget about the user experience. It will take a certain time, with a logical flow of information and steps, for the different users within your client’s organisation to become proficient in using your technology.
  • You can group key activities into three main categories: administrative (collecting data and creating accounts), functional (configuring and testing integrations), and education and support (training on how to use the technology). Make sure that for each of these categories it is clear who has to do what, when and in what order.

Finally, once the onboarding journey has been mapped out, make a checklist of all the steps in the onboarding process and assign a person to each task on the list. If you want, and if there are relevant tasks to be completed on the client side, you can share this checklist with them. In the case of self-service onboarding, this can be a checklist within the product itself.

On your own side, you keep a second part of this checklist; a plan for how to deal with early problems that your client may encounter, or obstacles in the onboarding process. These include the most asked questions about the use of certain features or common technical complications. A quick and clear solution will greatly improve your client’s experience, especially the first negative one can leave a deep impression. But even a user issue can be turned into a positive interaction if your team has enough information, knowledge, and resources to assist your client when they need it.

Identify who does what after the sale

Create a post-sales process that is tightly integrated into the sales process and includes a smooth handover from sales to customer success. Define the roles and responsibilities between sales, implementation, support and customer success, but keep in mind that there may be overlap from time to time depending on the size of your organisation. These roles should also be well documented with clear expectations for each team, to ensure there is ownership for each stage of the client journey.

If you don’t have a documented post-sales process yet, you can start here (even though we said earlier in this article that you should start by defining your goals): look at the people you have and what they are doing now. This will give you a good idea of the current steps being taken and can form the basis on which you then set your goals, map the journey, and adjust the division of tasks where necessary.

Make sure every single person involved in post-sales has sufficient access to information about each client to prevent friction from arising here. This is where a powerful client relationship management (CRM) system comes in handy. Your CRM should already contain information about your clients, such as the people involved in this project and their contact details, the product they purchased, and relevant information about previous interactions and support tickets. This information is not only relevant for client support, but can also be used by marketing and sales to set up new campaigns and engage with clients in a timely manner around renewal dates for example.

Because teams and task divisions vary greatly from company to company and from product to product there is little more to say in general terms, but at least make sure that:

  • Your people are familiar with your product;
  • They understand what a good client experience looks like and how they can contribute to it;
  • They know how to handle problems or questions as they come up;
  • They know who/where to turn when they themselves need help;
  • They want to go above and beyond to ensure a great experience for your clients.

Decide what data you’ll collect

It can be difficult to track clients over time and understand what they need from your business as they progress through their lifecycle with you. The data you collect about each client should enable you to understand how they use your product, and what changes may improve their satisfaction with your business. This will help you identify common questions or issues that arise during the onboarding process so that you can streamline it and continue to make it increasingly better.

The benefit of SaaS products is that you can collect data on how your clients interact with your product. This can be used to improve the onboarding process, create better relationships with your clients, and identify potential upselling opportunities. There are different types of data that you can track, you will have to find a good balance between quantitative and qualitative information here:

  • Onboarding rate: for example Training Completion Rate and User Activation Rate. These metrics mainly have to do with the previously discussed onboarding checklist, and also with your “Aha!” moment. Initially, all your attention should be on activating the first use and letting your clients experience your product’s value. Think of a quick win that they can easily share and celebrate within their company soon after implementation of your product.
  • Usage: How frequently are clients using your product? What features are they using most often? Your SaaS solution should be designed with the assumption that you will have some power users, who use the full range of features, and “light” users who may not leverage everything at their disposal. Ultimately, this is a good thing: You want clients who find value in and get use out of your product, even if they don’t fully utilise every feature. You will need a lot of data to apply good statistical clustering to your client base, but connections between usage and churn and LTV should be easier to find.
  • Satisfaction: Are clients satisfied with your product? Are they getting their needs met? If not, why not? The answers to these questions may vary from client to client, but understanding what works and what doesn’t can help you not only refine both your product and the onboarding processes, but also loop back feedback to your sales team regarding the expectations they’ve set.

Automate where possible

Without making your touchpoints impersonal, try to automate as many tasks as possible in your onboarding process. For example, you can standardise information sharing that happens around human interactions to ensure that your new clients get the information they need at the right time, in the right order, and that nothing is skipped, ensuring the smoothest and most complete flow of information. Some examples are:

  • Onboarding emails: these are more than just simple welcome emails, they should provide everything needed for your clients to get up and running. This includes things like a how-to video tutorial, a step-by-step guide that explains how to use your product, or general best practices and tips. Communicate the value of your product and focus on practical education – break everything down into small steps so that you don’t overwhelm them with information.
  • Automated reminders: in addition to the educational onboarding content, you can also send reminders during the weeks after onboarding. Use your onboarding checklist and your “Aha!” moment: which tasks and activities should your new clients not skip, or what are good things to remind them to perform on a regular basis?
  • Usage and impact reports: incorporate product usage stats into an automated monthly progress report you send to your clients. You can also highlight what features are being used most and which ones are being underused, and provide recommendations for how to get more out of those underused features. Through this report, you can keep track of clients’ achievements and provide valuable insights to them that help them extract more value from your products.
  • Follow-up survey: collect feedback from your clients during and after onboarding; is everything working the way they want, are they satisfied with the information they receive, and are they able to get the expected value from your product? Don’t make a long survey of this, but choose specific moments when, for example, a question pops up in your product about their experience at that specific moment.

If you’re looking for an effective way to improve your B2B post-sales process, start by looking at areas where your current system is inefficient or leaves room for improvement. Then take your time and implement small, incremental changes. You may need to run multiple A/B tests before finding one that boosts leads or sales.

Prepare to grow

Although in this article we mainly focus on the onboarding process of new clients, the beginning of this post-sales process is also the beginning of a new sales relationship. Smart SaaS companies are well aware of how important it is to keep clients happy during the onboarding process. They know that a smooth and intuitive onboarding experience immediately after signing a contract leads to happier, more satisfied, and loyal clients who will make use of the product long into the future. A well onboarded client who uses your product and derives value from it will sooner or later also provide up- and cross-selling opportunities.

After the onboarding comes a period in which the client must be able to work with the product more or less autonomously. But especially with a new product or a growing company, it is important to stay close to the first clients; you can learn from their usage patterns and feedback and you can solve problems timely so that their client experience is not negatively affected. In addition, it is always important that someone keeps an eye on the clients: what indicators are there (declining use, for example) that a client is losing value, or possibly going to churn. Make sure you are not unpleasantly surprised when it is time for renewal of the contract.

Streamlining your post-sales process requires patience, introspection and a strong willingness to punt old habits in favour of new best practices. If you’re looking for an effective way to improve your B2B post-sales process, start by looking at areas where your current system is inefficient or leaves room for improvement. Then take your time and implement small, incremental changes. You may need to run multiple A/B tests before finding one that boosts leads or sales.

In conclusion, it is important to understand that this phase is not just the responsibility of the post-sales team (onboarding, engineers, success or service teams), sales also has to take care of the handover and ensure a smooth experience in the transition from buyer to client. Marketing also has an important task in providing (automated) information and content during the onboarding process, and can continue to add value through information about product updates, use cases, and other tips in their campaigns for clients. This flow and collaboration between departments should be well thought out in advance, but should also be well orchestrated by a central figure who keeps the overview and stands above the marketing, sales, and success teams. Find out here what we at The Sales Strategist are doing to fulfil this central role.

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