Why Project Management Tools Are Terrible For Onboarding + 2 Tactics To Try Instead

Customer onboarding is all about momentum. You’re either trying to build it or figuring out how to maintain it. One thing that stops that momentum dead in its tracks? Customers having 17 tasks assigned to them and not knowing which one is the highest priority.

Stuart Balcombe

August 22, 2022

4 minutes

Customer onboarding is all about momentum.

You’re either trying to build it or figuring out how to maintain it.

One thing that stops that momentum dead in its tracks?

Customers having 17 tasks assigned to them and not knowing which one is the highest priority.

"It just feels like chaos – whenever I login the list is always too long, no matter how much I get done, I feel like I didn't do enough"

That's just one reason – 3 more below – why project management tools are a terrible way to give customers a great onboarding experience.

Reason #1. Project management tools hijack the relationship with YOUR customer

Would you invite a pushy used car salesman to a meeting with a new client?

This is exactly what happens when you invite customers to your onboarding plan in a project management tool.

  • First, they have to create an account for yet another tool (and remember another password)
  • Next, as soon as they sign up, they’ll start getting onboarding and marketing emails from the project management tool not you, just one more thing competing for their time and attention.
  • Then there’s time to get oriented and understand how the tool works.

That's before they even get to YOUR product.

This distraction leads to confusion. Confused customers get stuck, not onboarded.

Reason #2. Your customers don't want another project to manage

Project management tools are notoriously messy because we love to fill them up with every possible task we could work on.

But, you can’t expect your customers to bushwhack their way through the clutter and find a clear path to successful onboarding.

  • Customers don’t need to get hung up in your processes and tactics; they need to know what to do next to make progress.
  • The same flexible workspace that makes a project management tool perfect for handling complex internal projects, doesn't provide any guardrails to focus customers on the next action they need to take during onboarding.
  • Project management tools are typically powerful and complex, but that complexity means more to navigate for your customers.

Project management tools feel like "work", customers want "progress".

Reason #3. Tasks complete is not onboarding successful

Customer onboarding is not a check the box exercise.

Successful onboarding results in customers realizing value and adopting your product to reach their desired outcomes.

  • Project management tools are designed for task not outcome management.
  • Disconnecting the work your customer needs to do from the outcome they are trying to reach reduces their motivation to make progress. They didn't sign up for your product to create more work for themselves after all.
  • Being able to measure and report on onboarding performance becomes tedious and time consuming in an unstructured project management tool where there isn't a defined path to success.

Ultimately, project management tools cause customers to lose, not build momentum in onboarding.

Here's what to do instead:

1. Focus, Focus, Focus: On one task at a time

Your customers already have a list of tasks to complete in their own project management tool. Instead of giving them the work of deciding what to do next, serve it up to them at the right time.

  • Instead of laying out the plan for your customers by sending an email with a laundry list of tasks, focus only on what they need to do next.
  • Provide everything a customer will need to complete the task in one place. Every time a customer has to jump to another tab is an opportunity for them to get lost.
  • Customers should only see the steps they’re required to complete and have clear expectations set about when any tasks that fall on your plate will be completed or be able to reassign tasks they are unable to complete themselves.

2. Build a path. Not a project.

Your customers signed up to solve a problem that you have solved for customers before. You know the best path to take to help them be successful. Stay focused on that direct path instead of creating an unscoped project.

  • Do the work upfront to understand your customer – know their goals, challenges and key participants so you aren't guessing about the right route to take.
  • Create a linear path to success. Pull from your past experience with similar customers to build the plan that provides a path to their goals.
  • Keep your customers in flow by connecting tasks. If you know that they need to fill out a form before they book their kickoff call there's an opportunity to link the form success page to your meeting link and build momentum.

The more momentum you build with customers, the faster they see value, the faster they go live, and the less likely they are to be thrown off track and get stuck.

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