Katie Clark on PartnerStack’s data-driven customer onboarding decisions

Katie Clark on the importance of onboarding metrics, their impact on decision-making, and more
Usha Kalva
June 22, 2022
Implementation Stories
Main Illustration:
Sivaprakash

Katie Clark on PartnerStack’s data-driven customer onboarding decisions

Katie Clark on the importance of onboarding metrics, their impact on decision-making, and more
Usha Kalva
June 22, 2022
Implementation Stories
Main Illustration:
Sivaprakash

In This Post

For this session of Implementation Stories, we had Katie Clark, Onboarding Manager at PartnerStack, talk about customer onboarding metrics and why they are key to making data-driven decisions.

PartnerStack is the world’s only partnerships platform built for B2B SaaS that supports affiliate, referral, and reseller channel partners to drive recurring revenue. Since 2015, PartnerStack has helped 400+ B2B SaaS companies transform partnerships into one of their most valued acquisition channels.

As the first onboarding team hire at PartnerStack, Katie created better systems and processes to cater to the organization’s growing customer base—ranging from SMBs to enterprises—while helping grow a specialized team of 19 people.

In this session Katie talked about:

  1. The onboarding journey at PartnerStack
  2. The phases in their data/metrics journey 
  3. The key changes in their approach 
  4. Metrics they currently track

In this post, we share key takeaways from the session.

1. Customer onboarding at PartnerStack

Both the CSM and Onboarding Consultant are introduced by the sales team at the start of onboarding. Onboarding typically takes 30-45 days, starting with a kickoff call led by the Onboarding Consultant and ending with a ‘graduation’ – after which the account is handed over to the CSM.

The stage where a customer is able to join a program, refer, and earn a reward on their platform is set as the hard stop that marks the graduation, i.e., the end of onboarding.

The roles within the onboarding team include: 

  1. Onboarding consultants: They act as project managers/owners and best practice consultants who are product/platform experts
  2. Integration specialists: They own the implementation part and work directly with the customers’ technical teams (supported/joined by onboarding consultants on calls as needed)

Two critical calls that guide the onboarding journey include the: 

  1. Integration scope call, conducted by integration specialists
  2. Training/consultation call, led by onboarding consultants based on customers’ responses to the ‘Readiness Kit’, and a set of questions that help consultants identify key areas to focus on in their training sessions/consultations.

Segmented approach to customer onboarding

  1. SMB customers: The team uses a low-touch and templated approach that lays out the options and the corresponding results for each option for customers to pick from,
  2. Mid-market and enterprise customers: Onboarding consultants are more involved, and this translates to more training sessions and higher flexibility in how customers choose to engage with onboarding.

Customer calls and their cadence

While this depends on the customer segment, at the very least, every onboarding project has kickoff, integration scoping, and module discussion calls. On average, the team conducts 4-10 calls in every 45-day onboarding journey. 

2. The three phases of incorporating data/metrics in customer onboarding

Phase 1: Experimenting (The ‘gut feeling’ phase)

This initial phase relies more on intuition given that there is no data to go by. However, asking the right questions at this stage can help advance your journey to the next stage. Here are a few questions to consider: 

  1. What is most important to your customers? 
  2. How can you tell if things are working? 
  3. What does success look like and how can you demonstrate it? 
  4. What information is going to help you scale? 
  5. What information is available to you/the onboarding team?
  6. What milestones should customers hit?
  7. What customer stories can you tell?

Phase 2: Gathering (The ‘aha! moments’ phase)

This stage relies on at least clean reporting for 3-6 months and focuses on identifying the: 

  1. Core metrics that drive your process
  2. Trends in onboarding  

A key step in this phase is sharing (and discussing) data with other teams such as Product, Sales, CS, etc. 

Phase 3: Analyzing (The ‘predictions/projections’ phase)

This phase, which relies on the presence of clean reporting/data for 1-2 years, is characterized by the ability to: 

  1. Make delivery statements and accurate predictions/projections
  2. Use patterns to direct growth
  3. Answer questions with hard facts

Understand that clean and accurate data takes time. Start early and be patient.

3.  The evolution of PartnerStack’s customer onboarding process

Then

Earlier, the team relied on manually tracking: looking into emails, Slack channels, etc. They tracked:

  1. The time spent on onboarding
  2. Communication cadence 

They also captured the onboarding CSAT and the number of vendors currently being onboarded. 

However, the team found themselves unable to make any definitive statements and answer questions on why and where things were going wrong.

Now

Though the team still uses spreadsheets (Google Sheets) for tracking, there is ownership over processes, documents, and other tools feeding in and out of these spreadsheets.

Additionally, they developed a set of metrics that they closely track, such as:

  1. Total number of days for a customer to graduate
  2. Annual Contract Value (ACV) of every account that has graduated 
  3. CSAT response rate (in addition to the CSAT score)
  4. Number of graduations conducted by every onboarding consultant
  5. How long each onboarding consultant took for each onboarding

This has helped them: 

  1. Identify thresholds for onboarding team members
  2. Predict the overall pipeline health
  3. Make projections for resourcing
  4. Build customized offerings for their SMB, mid-market, and enterprise customers
  5. Target a stretch goal of 85 graduations per quarter 

4. Why data and metrics matter

Besides showing the value the onboarding team drives and acting as motivation to the team, data provides a solid foundation for conversations with Product, Sales, and CS.

For instance, it can help the CS team identify customers who had a sub-optimal onboarding experience, so CSMs can give these accounts the additional attention and support they need. In other cases, it could also help identify product gaps that are impacting onboarding.

5. Tools and resources for customer onboarding

The PartnerStack team uses a combination of Google Sheets and Looker to create customized dashboards for the team.

6. Best practices and tips for handling customer onboarding challenges 

Dealing with ghosting 

  1. Be persistent in your follow-ups and take every follow-up as an opportunity to remind them of the value you can bring them. Add a clear CTA and show how close they are to finding value.
  2. Use (sparingly and tactfully!) aspects of FOMO and peer/social pressure, say by highlighting how another customer that started onboarding at the same time has now graduated and unlocked value, highlighting what the customer could be missing out on.

Dealing with customers who engage but don’t take timely action

  1. Lead with empathy. Understand why they’re not doing what they should be, and if needed, help them finish a couple of tasks as a show of good faith. 
  2. Bring the sales team back in to connect with the right stakeholders at the customer end.

Bringing an agile approach to onboarding

Make a note of every single step needed to complete onboarding. Figure out where each step sits and how long it takes. Use this to create milestones and modules that you can tweak or move around.

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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