Propel23

Scaling customer onboarding at a hyper-growth startup

At Propel23, Katie Clark talks about scaling the onboarding function at a hyper-growth startup.
April 24, 2023
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Sivaprakash

Katie Clark loves all things onboarding! She believes in being an advocate for the customer internally & a champion for the product externally.

At Propel ‘23, she got talking about her experience in scaling the onboarding function at a hyper-growth startup. She shared her insights on:

  • Defining & developing team metrics
  • Expanding processes with experimentation
  • Growing your team
  • Making friends with Sales, CSM, and Product

and more.

What to expect as part of a hyper-growth startup?

  • Adapting to constant change: Being in a hyper-growth startup means chaos and constant change, particularly in onboarding. It's not just the processes but internally at the organization; some quick decisions may be made, your customer base may be changing, or your product is evolving rapidly. So, it's essential to be open and adaptive to such changes and not shut yourself off.
  • Being proactive instead of reactive: Rather than putting out fires after they crop up, it's always better to prevent them from occurring. This means that you need to recognize patterns, know when/why things happen time and again, and take proactive steps or actions to prevent them from happening in the future.
  • Primed to lay a solid foundation: Being in a hyper growth startup means that you are primed to lay a solid foundation for a successful scalable onboarding experience.

Scaling your process

One of the best places to start when you want to scale a process is by defining your customer journey.

Purpose

And onboarding can mean a lot of things for a lot of people. For some, it may mean being more focused on training, while for others it may be more configuration or integration focused. The approach you take with customers during their onboarding, is also something that might change with its purpose, like taking a more consultative approach for long term success. Additionally, you also need to pay attention to what the customer needs to do in order to complete their onboarding and move on to the next phase. This will ultimately boil down to the complexity of your process and what value you are providing for the customer.

Take the time to write out your entire customer journey from start to finish – from the moment the sale closes, until the moment they're ready to leave onboarding. These could include all the touch points you have with customers, project communication plan, and other activities for expectation management with customers. Once you have that all mapped out, you will be able to see and define the overall purpose of onboarding more distinctly.

Value

To ensure you're giving your customers the most value during onboarding, give them opportunities for quick wins, rather than just having them simply learn all that the product or software can do for them. And remember to keep track of their progress. – it will show them that you care about their success.

Time

Zooming out and mapping the whole customer journey from start to finish will help you identify how long it takes to complete your onboarding process. Additionally, it will give you insights you may have otherwise missed. For example, you may identify a three week stint in the middle where only your team is hard at work, say while working on integrations or creating tables and diagrams. From the customer's perspective, this three-week gap might feel like a total waste of time. This way, you will know if you are making the most of your team’s time and learn how to make the process more efficient. 

Pay special attention to the number of hours a customer has to dedicate in order to finish the onboarding process.

Resources

Figure out exactly who from your team and the customer's side needs to be involved, and when. Once that's done, look at all the different parts of the onboarding process and spot any opportunities to speed things up. It could be shortening calls, replacing certain tasks with emails, or finding other ways to make sure your customers are getting to value quicker.

Wondering how to reduce your time-to-value? Here’s a simple tweak you can do to your customer onboarding process.

Once you’ve all the information about your customer journey mapped out, it’s time to put it to good use.

  • Start with the basics: Come up with a list of just the essentials that would help 80 to 90% of your customers to get through the onboarding process successfully.
  • Look to templatize: If there’s any process that you’re doing manually, try to get it templatized or automated. This will help save time for your team and make processes a lot more efficient.
  • Prepare for escalations: Hopefully, nothing goes wrong during the onboarding. But if something does go wrong, your team should know what to do and who to go to for information. They also need to know what timelines they should be looking at to solve bugs and other issues within your solution.
  • Define roles and responsibilities: Ensure the roles and responsibilities of all persons involved in the process are stated clearly - for the onboarding team, technical team, and customer success managers.
  • Diversify with a low-touch process: Try to deliver value with as little manual input as possible.
  • Think of internal processes too: When scaling and diversifying your onboarding process, you need to consider the impact these changes would have on your organization internally. People who initially created the process may not be able to keep up with everything as the team and organization grow. So to make sure higher-ups are in the know, it's helpful to do health checks for pipelines, give status updates, conduct account retros, and identify what your leadership team should be aware of in the onboarding process.

Scaling your team

It's great to take a look at your process, but a fully scaled process won't do you any good unless you have a team that scales with it. To make sure your team is set up to scale efficiently, here’s what you need to do:

Introduce data and metrics

Here are some basic metrics to introduce:

  • CSAT scores: Customer feedback can help you identify what is going well and opportunities to improve your process.
  • CSAT response rates: A high average CSAT score means nothing if you only have a handful of responses. Ensure that you take response rates into account when you consider the CSAT scores. 
  • Time to graduate: This can help you understand how efficient your process is – especially as you start to diversify your offerings."Account" volume: Understanding how many accounts your team can manage can help you to resource a growing team, so you are not stuck with an over inflated pipeline or a stressed team.
  • Time spent delayed: Knowing how much of your process is spent being unproductive can identify problem areas.

Other factors to track and keep tabs on:

  1. Reasons for delay: You also need to identify the reasons for delays - it can be product gaps, misaligned expectations, customers are under resourced - all help you to grow your process
  2. Post-Onboarding Success: To make sure your onboarding is really working and effective, align with the CSM on your customer’s goals. Assist the CSMs in setting up customers to see ROI as quickly as possible.

Work cross-functionally

Scaling your team and process involves working cross-functionally with:

  • Sales - Working with the sales team can be quite a breeze if you are both on the same page. Here are a few helpful questions whose answers will help you collaborate better:
    Would they need pre-closing consulting from onboarding? Are they able to explain the differences between offerings and how to discuss them with customers? Sales are also great for re-engaging customers who have gone silent; re-selling to an account that's lost interest or changed focus can be a great way to bring them back on board.
  • Customer Success - Onboarding customers is a key responsibility, so it's important to ensure effective handoffs and provide CSMs with information on expansion and upsell opportunities. It's also critical to define roles and responsibilities so that both your team and the customer know what to expect. If this isn't clear, the customer is bound to become frustrated very quickly.
  • Product - You need to pay attention to ensuring that product requests are heard and communicated back to the product team. Additionally, ensure that your team works closely with the product team to know how to discuss new products or features with customers during onboarding.
  • Marketing - Working with the marketing team can help you identify potential opportunities for case studies and PR campaigns. As you roll out different onboarding options, make sure that your definition of a high-value and low-value customer matches with the marketing team’s.

Mistakes to avoid during customer onboarding

1. Scaling with blinders on

Onboarding is just a step in the customer's journey and so, as you are trying to scale out your process or scale up your team, it is incredibly important to make sure that there are open lines of communication with all teams in the organization - sales, CSMs, product, support, and engineering. Your aim should be to make sure that the customer's journey is cohesive across every single department. 

2. Ineffective experimentation

Working at a hyper-growth startup is conducive for experimentation. But if you don’t measure the success or failure of your experiments, then all that time is wasted. For example, if you can't prove that a low-touch or high-touch process is effective, you won't have any evidence to show whether what you're doing is working or not.

3. Making assumptions

When it comes to revamping your onboarding process, don’t make any assumptions without relevant data to back them up. It’s important to be mindful of why things are a certain way in the organization.
For instance, combining two calls - a project kickoff and a technical kickoff - might seem like a good idea, but it might not be the most effective approach in a given context.

Katie’s top customer onboarding lessons

  1. When in doubt, map it out - Write out your process, identify what's working and what's not, and take what you've learned from there and keep reiterating to make it better.
  2. Numbers speak louder than words - It’s definitely great to experiment. But unless you have the data to back up to show whether what you're doing is working or not, it's not going to mean anything. Conversely, it is going to make it all the harder for you to grow and scale effectively. 
  3. Onboarding isn't an island - Remember we work cohesively with all teams in the organization. So, don’t just scale in silo. 
  4. Fail spectacularly! Don’t be afraid of trying new things. It’s the only way to scale effectively and learn from earlier mistakes.

Further reading

  1. Use our simple 10-step checklist to set the stage for a successful kickoff meeting
  2. Discover the steps and best practices for efficient client onboarding
  3. Planning to scale the customer onboarding function at your organization? Here's some valuable advice.

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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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