How Customer Onboarding Helps You Earn The Right To Grow

3 customer success leaders weigh in on how they are building onboarding and product adoption programs to provide a tactical path to sustainable growth.

Stuart Balcombe

February 4, 2022

5 minutes

Growth is not a given – and for many companies the default is to die rather than to succeed.

The right to grow is earned by making your customers successful.

As Dooly’s Director of Customer Success Ellie Hutton put it:

“If we don’t make the customer successful, then we’re not gonna earn the right to grow and we’re not going to renew them and we’re not going to be able to grow those accounts.”​

Trying to grow without first making customers successful is a fools errand, likely to result in expensive churn problems that can never be offset by expansion revenue.

Earning the right to grow is the prerequisite to achieving high Net Revenue Retention (NRR) – today’s most coveted of all SaaS metrics.

Today, I’m pulling together insights from 3 recent conversations on the topics of onboarding and product adoption to provide a tactical path to sustainable growth.

1. Do you have clarity on who the “right” customer is?

Customer success is helping customers achieve the outcomes they want.

The thing that’s counter intuitive about making customers successful?

Helping customers achieve better outcomes means being intentional about who you actually want to have as customers.

Here’s an example. Last year I chatted with Sean MacPherson, VP of Customer Success at Alyce. The conversation went something like this:

“I think I might be in the market for a product like yours”
”Oh really, have you tested gifting already?”
”No, but it’s something I want to invest in”
”Ok, well don’t buy our product. Do this first instead”

Wait what? I just told you I want to buy your product and have cash to spend?

You’re telling me I shouldn’t pay you money?

What followed was a step-by-step mini-guide to testing gifting as a channel that even included for other tools I should use along the way!

The result?

1/ Sean quickly established himself (and Alyce) as a domain expert - he knew the shortcomings of my proposed approach, a better playbook for getting started and resources to help me see success.

2/ I now see Sean as a “trusted advisor” for anything remotely related to gifting and associate Alyce with solving related problems - you better believe their search result is the one I’ll click on when I need help (or need a product)

3/ When I’m actually qualified to buy - Alyce will be the obvious choice. And in the meantime their precious resources can be devoted to helping their best fit customers achieve the outcomes they want today.

All of this driven by a clear understanding of who Alyce is for and the people they are best suited to help achieve successful outcomes.

So what do you do to ensure your best-fit customers become happy and successfully activated users of your product?

2. Do you have a plan to successfully onboard customers and create an adoption flywheel?

Adoption is like a flywheel – whereas sales, marketing, even implementation and onboarding is usually linear where you’re moving customers through phases.

Once a customer is successfully “onboarded” they should be able to enter a self-sustaining state of adoption with an ever increasing velocity and volume of value received.

Let’s go back to Sean to hear how he thinks about marrying what best fit customers are hoping to achieve with how we can best deliver an experience that gets them there.

“one thing I always recommend when, when you’re first building a CS function, is you might want to over-index a little bit on getting an understanding of who your customers are. What behaviors do you need to drive for adoption?

Because that’s going to tell you a lot. And what you’re really trying to lead towards is what’s that one key behavior that everyone needs to gravitate towards.

Now you can rally around that concept – for us it’s if they sent X amount of gifts, they get X amount of accepts.

We know they’re going to have that. And we need to get them there as fast as possible… that’s how we did it here over at Alyce we really want to understand what’s that one key behavior we’re driving towards and how do we educate our customers? So they become the experts faster. So therefore we hit time to value faster and they don’t need to talk to us because they know what to do to be successful.”​

If someone isn’t adopting your tool after what you define as onboarding is “done”, Arrows Head of Success Shareil Nariman says it’s time to check in.

Use what you know from your discovery to start a conversation.

“You said initially you were trying to solve this, is that still true? - if so have you not adopted because”:

1/ The tool isn’t understandable? 2/ You don’t have the means to solve this problem right now? 3/ A feature is broken?

When someone falls out of the adoption flywheel, it’s an opportunity to learn and improve your onboarding.

As Ellie Hutton put it. “Onboarding is the most important thing. Getting that right means that a company is going to be more successful, get more value faster, fall in love with your product faster, be more likely to renew, more likely to be an advocate, more likely to do all the things.”

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