Propel23

Moving from Customer Onboarding to Professional Services

Jay, Jenn, and Matt delve into the importance of customer onboarding and how it can extend beyond mere product introduction.
April 24, 2023
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Sivaprakash

Your customer onboarding process plays a major role in determining the success of your relationship with clients. The main objective is to ensure that customers quickly and efficiently start using the products and services, leading to fast value realization, high customer satisfaction (CSAT), and increased adoption. Given the current challenging environment, customer retention has become crucial. 

In this roundtable session at Propel23, Jay Crocker, Jenn Kleinschmidt, and Matt Heinwood explore the what, why, and when of transitioning customer onboarding to a professional services team, and the formal processes and specialized skills it needs.

Jay Crocker, Director of PS Operations, Clari, has 20+ years of experience in delivery operations and governance. His current focus is on maturing implementation processes, tools and operational metrics to support a fast growing SaaS business. 

Jenn Kleinschmidt, Manager, Strategic Engagement Managers, Gainsight, is a professional services leader with over 15 years of experience in CS and project management. Driven by delivering exceptional experiences to customers, Jenn takes pride in the impact she and her team deliver to clients during the critical stage of customer onboarding & implementation.

Matt Henwood, Chief Delivery Officer, Zennify, is an expert in growing talent organizations while implementing operational models for scale. In a career spanning over 20 years in high-growth environments, he has been instrumental in scaling multiple service companies.

How does your organization define or view customer onboarding?

Jenn

At Gainsight, customer onboarding is a big deal. It starts right during the sales cycle where the account executives and solutions consultants focus on relationship-building, understanding the customer's business objectives, and ensuring that those objectives align with our framework. After they come onboard, their journey continues with professional services engagement.

Matt

I believe there's been an evolution in how companies handle onboarding. When companies are first starting out, they often rely on one person to help customers get set up and get comfortable with their products or services. But as time goes on, I think of the process as having three parts: someone to manage the engagement, a technical expert, and a functional specialist.

Jay

I think it's fair to say that we're all noticing the evolution of the customer journey. In smaller startups, you often have one person who needs to be a "jack of all trades" –  they might help build the product or service, as well as offer support and customer success. 

But as the company grows and scales, there is more complexity, and multiple roles need to be taken on. At Clari, we've always been deliberate when it comes to the customer onboarding process and their journey - from sales and pre-sales to onboarding, customer success, and beyond.

What roles are involved in customer onboarding in your organization?

Jenn

Our professional services team has evolved and expanded to better support customer onboarding. One of the recent additions is the regional engagement manager role, to help the sales team define requirements and scope, freeing up the onboarding team to focus on supporting customers.

Another important role is the strategic engagement manager, who acts as a project manager while also offering strategic guidance and best practices to customers. We also have technical roles like solutions architects, who design the system and align it with customer goals, technical architects who build the system, and technical account managers who provide ongoing strategy assistance. These roles collectively form our professional services team at Gainsight.

Matt

In terms of the role breakdown, it really depends on the customer and their needs. For customers who require more complex solutions, you may need to include all the roles. This includes roles like business analysts and technical leads, in addition to a project manager. However, for simpler projects, fewer roles may be sufficient. Ultimately, the decision rests on the complexity of the solution, the desired outcomes, and the environment in which you're working.

Jay 

At Clari, 80% of our engagements are managed by one consultant. However, when we deal with larger and more enterprise-level customers, we usually need more strategic input, and employ project managers and strategy consultants.

If you do have a professional services team, what should go into the decision to create this team?

Jay

At Clari, the decision to establish a professional services team was driven by several factors. The increased volume of engagements and projects necessitated a more skilled and efficient resource management approach. The transformation of our revenue platform from transactional to transformative required expertise and thought leadership to guide customers through the process effectively.

Following the example of larger companies like Salesforce, Clari recognized the value and credibility that professional services brings to their SaaS product and sought to monetize and create credibility through this offering.

Additionally, the consideration of scoping and contracts played an important role in team expansion and development, as was ensuring clear expectations and deliverables. As far as my experience goes, many product-based businesses just have simple contracts. For us, it increased the risk of what was expected from the customer in terms of services. Having a SLA or a Service Level Agreement in place helped us to set expectations and set some boundaries on what we were going to provide during the project.

So to sum up, some factors that have an impact on the decision to offer professional services in an organization are:

  • The volume of projects or engagements
  • The complexity of the product
  • The need to have clearly-defined scope and contracts, and 
  • The necessity to make money while figuring out resource costs

Jenn

When building out a PS team, it’s really important to make sure your customers understand the value each specialist brings to the project. At Gainsight, we make sure to do this by including job descriptions and expectations in our documentations. We also need to be really clear about the additional value our teams bring, right from the sales process. Showcasing that value makes a huge difference.

Matt

When considering the contract makeup and the roles involved in customer onboarding and implementation, it's important to navigate the complexities that have emerged over the years. Previously, a technology architect might have handled various tasks, but now there are specialized roles like data integration specialists, integration platform specialists, and business analysts. 

The challenge lies in determining the right mix of specialists to include in the contract based on the specific customer's needs and preferences. Some customers appreciate the value these specialists bring, while others may not fully understand their significance. Striking the right balance and demonstrating the value of these roles to customers is crucial to avoid excessive complexity and ensure a streamlined contract process.

When you're selling a product or service, you want to build a partner ecosystem, but make sure the quality is good so your customers have a positive view of it. Some companies will do this in-house while others will form the ecosystem and put controls in place. So when it comes to services businesses, you need to think along these lines too.

How do you transition to a professional services team? what is the process like? What are the steps and considerations that come into play?

Jenn

Understanding the necessary skill sets for the onboarding process is crucial. It involves identifying the specific roles or skills required to guide customers effectively. This could mean having the expertise to engage with executives and handle interactions at the VP and C-suite levels. Additionally, the ability to bring structure to ambiguous situations.

Often, individuals may need to wear multiple hats and contribute to defining the process as it unfolds. If you're seeking to fulfill these requirements within your existing team, it's essential to identify and develop the necessary skill sets or provide opportunities for upskilling to ensure they can effectively fulfill these responsibilities.

And when it comes to metrics, demonstrating value to executives is key. Time to value is a significant metric, as customers who struggle with onboarding without dedicated resources may take longer to derive value from the system. Stronger adoption is more likely when customers quickly experience value. At Gainsight, metrics such as margin against projects, profitability, and Net Promoter Score (NPS) are utilized. NPS helps gauge customer satisfaction with the onboarding process, and it's important to have a closed loop system for gathering feedback, evaluating it as a team, and implementing improvements based on key themes. Having clear ways to measure success and showcasing these metrics is vital.

Matt

The most important thing is ensuring that you supply the right mix of people with the right skills in order to meet customer demands. This will help you keep close track of how the pipeline of resources feeds into the PS organization. 

To make sure everything is done well for customers and the business, you need a good methodology and reliable tools to make sure you can create consistency and make decisions based on data.

Jay

When implementing a professional services team, considerations beyond skill sets should also come into play. Factors such as volume, complexity, methodology, and tools must be evaluated.

Utilizing a professional services automation (PSA) tool like Rocketlane can facilitate customer onboarding and streamline resource management. Consistency and metrics are essential, particularly for companies aiming for growth or attracting investors. Working with the finance team to outline the team, roles, skill sets, and monetization plans is crucial for creating a solid business case. While profitability may not be immediate, demonstrating the value and potential market for services can garner executive buy-in. Planning to allocate a portion (e.g., 5-10% of ARR) towards services aligns with industry benchmarks and reinforces the value-add of professional services to the product and overall revenue.

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Shuvedha Subramaniam
Content Marketer @ Rocketlane

Marketing analyst @ Rocketlane. An Advocate by choice and a penwoman for the love of it. When the world zips, I like to zoink. Also, being happy by being kind.

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