Scaling without compromising on customer experience

Sloan Pettersen, Director of Global Client Onboarding at Impact, shares her insights on the ability to scale and automate while still providing a positive customer experience.
Shuvedha Subramaniam
June 21, 2023
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In this episode, we have Sloan Pettersen, Director, Global Client Onboarding at Impact. Before starting her journey with Impact, she studied international business administration. As a part of the initial onboarding team, Sloan was crucial in establishing the client onboarding function at Impact. Today, she is a leader who has accomplished a variety of roles and is focused on getting customers to value in a timely manner.

In this episode, Sloan talks about:

  1. Her journey at
  2. Developing a formal client onboarding function from scratch
  3. Tackling the challenges that come up with scaling and automation 
  4. The client onboarding process at

… and more. Tune in!

Here are some highlights from the conversation.

Sri: When would you consider a customer truly activated on your platform?

Sloan: We would consider them a customer as soon as they’ve been sold the product by sales and passed off to our onboarding and integrations team. And once they’ve completed the setup, their technical integration, and when they start utilizing the system for what it is meant for, we would consider them activated.

Sri: Does activation require the customers' partners to also be on board in some way?

Sloan: I would say, the first point of value is as soon as customers have their first partnership joined on as that’s when it implies that they have realized the value of our platform. But in order to get to that first point of value, customers need to go through the onboarding setup and technical implementation phases. So, we see this through and ensure that customers successfully create an attractive programme for their partners, making them want to join the platform. We make sure that the customer has all the tools and educational material with them to know what the first steps are before they move to the recruiting and discovery processes. Customers would definitely need to start realizing the value from the platform that they have spent time setting up and it’s imperative that you spend some time on helping them get to that value.

Sri: As organizations grow and scale, how do you accommodate the changes that come about into your onboarding process? What has that journey been like at Impact?

Sloan: Over the past years, has grown and scaled a fair bit, and even acquired  a bunch of companies. And it has been quite a journey. To be honest, some of the challenges we have faced were more difficult to overcome than the others as we had to account for growing volume and incorporate additional teams, products and processes into our own.

One thing I always try to do when addressing change, is to ensure that I’m looking at it through the lens of the customer. It’s extremely important for overall customer happiness to make sure that none of the internal challenges that we are dealing with affect the customer’s experience. 

In 2020, as the pandemic was hitting, we saw one interesting shift happen at Impact. We saw a massive increase in the volume of SMB customers joining the platform. Historically, up until then, we had had a good array of mid tier, large enterprise customers, and just a healthy amount of smaller brands coming on board. But with the COVID pandemic in play, and no in-store purchases happening, a lot of brands were looking to take their activities online. So all of a sudden, we saw a lot of smaller brands wanting to jump in and realize the value of the channel.

These smaller brands were new to the partnership concept and we really had to iterate on a lot of our processes to handle this influx of volume and figure out how we could cater to their needs with our same limited resources. They needed a more consultative approach with an educational and training component as they were new to the space. They needed this to strategize and understand how they could ensure it was going to be a successful and attractive programme for partners. This was when we had to start capitalizing on automation and figuring out how we could bring in tools and resources to better utilize the one-to-many engagements with customers all the time. We had to figure out how we could provide customers with a positive experience, while not necessarily hand-holding them always. A dedicated resource for the customer throughout the whole journey was one such means that allowed us to take a step back and add in a layer of automation to help us grow as an organization.

Sri: As business grew, was there a temptation to throw more people at the problem or did you decide to handle the new customers also with the same number of resources?

Sloan: Economically, the pandemic was an extremely difficult time for everyone around the globe. All of us were also forced to operate as remote teams, and there was a hiring freeze at most companies. It was uncertain times and we didn’t know what was going to happen. We were also aware that a lot of our customers would also be faced with these similar economic challenges, and we would probably see some churn from a few of them that couldn’t make it through.

We didn’t have much of a choice then and we knew we couldn’t throw more people at the problem. We were also at the stage where we were taking the steps to figure out how to automate this more. Even in the competitive landscape, we were seeing a lot of our competitors offering lower pricing and getting into that battle zone. So we were tasked with competing against them, while also ensuring that we could get people on board the platform and provide them a positive experience.

One way was for us to have platform guides, tools, or intuitive interfaces that guide people through the platform, without requiring an actual person to lead them through the whole process. We figured what were the little triggers and levers that we could pull to give customers what they needed to succeed. We were extra cautious to not use up much time from our teams and were figuring out how we can become more efficient all along the way. We were always looking for ways to automate processes, improve our customer engagements and bring in more value to them.

Sri:  How did you deal with the small versus mid/ enterprise customer conundrum? How was onboarding at Impact before you joined and what were the top changes that you did to the process?

Sloan: We’ve always done whatever it takes to get a customer onboard Impact. We have made sure to go above and beyond where we need to, to make sure that customers have what they need. These are some of the few things that we’ve done to help us scale better and become more efficient. But some of this is product related too.

We’ve worked closely with our product team to figure out how we can make some changes in the interface to make it an intuitive flow for the customer to go through. On those lines, one huge project that we’ve been working on is, having a checklist on the app that customers can work through and get updates and steps on what they need to complete next before they are completely onboarded and can start adding partners.

Another piece we had been working on was technical partnerships of our own. We had partnered with some of the top shopping engines and e-commerce sites to build our plugins with them. We now have plugins with Shopify, WooCommerce, Bigcommerce, and more. This has allowed us to really simplify the technical integration for customers that are already on these e-commerce sites. Customers now can just come in, set up their plugin, and we are able to hook in with their shopping engine and track them seamlessly from there. So this has played a huge role for us in being able to tackle these smaller customers and break down the complex technical integrations for them to handle. This is usually the piece that takes the most time in setting things up, and now it has allowed us to reduce the time to onboard a customer tremendously.

Sri: How do you define success criteria for companies of different sizes?

Sloan: It’s tough to have a blanket metric or KPI that applies to everybody. But one phase we always need to focus on is onboarding. It’s such a critical time in the customer lifecycle and it’s when their first experience as a customer with your company begins. It sets the stage for the rest of their journey, continued through Customer Success, Support and all the other teams that are going to be working with the customer further down in their lifecycle. Customer onboarding acts as the first impression for the customer. So, it is important to understand your customer’s business goals and work on tying them back to what success actually means for your customer.

At, we look at time to launch as a metric to track. But you might have a customer that doesn’t care about the time it takes to launch, but is rather keen on taking their time to learn the product. That might be what’s important to them. Some others may be looking for smooth transitions onto a new platform, without any significant drop in revenue. They might also be looking out for their partners to easily transition on to the new platform.

Ultimately, I believe it all comes down to setting clear expectations with the customer upfront, and making sure everyone is clear on what goals, deliverables, timelines, and roles they hold. This is really critical to ensuring the success of any project while building on the partnership and relationship you have with the customer as they come onboard.

Sri:  How has your onboarding team evolved? Are there different roles within your team?

Sloan: The team has evolved and changed a lot over the years. Our team is primarily responsible for the happiness and success of our customers and we make it a point to own the relationship during the onboarding phase. On our team today, we have onboarding success managers and we closely partner with the implementation engineers who are responsible for the technical implementation. The implementation engineers closely work with the developer on the client side to make sure everything gets integrated, tested, and validated perfectly. And they own the technical component of the process. That’s the structure of our team right now, which works very well for us.

Initially, we had our team broken into onboarding project managers, and onboarding success managers, with separate roles. We’ve also tried having an associate who would help with the backend tasks that need to happen. However, I think we’ll continue to evolve on this, especially over the next six months, as we continue to layer in more automation, and are able to have proactive monitoring of our customers, looking at their progress, without having to dig into their project plan updates or their account. We believe that these triggers will help us respond to customer queries (if any) faster. So, I think we will just learn to become more efficient, and our function may continue to change and evolve as our processes and tools become smarter and automated.

Sri:  Has the ratio of number of accounts per onboarding Success Manager changed over the years? 

Sloan: Definitely. I’ve had my team broken out by different customer segments, one focused more on SMB, and the other on enterprise. For the enterprise team, the volume of accounts they handle is much lower than the SMB team. And that’s typically because of complex technical integrations, more players being involved and the massive migrations that also follow suit. Comparatively, SMB customers have simpler projects leading to shorter timelines. So, it’s easier to get those customers through the onboarding process.

As we also make  improvements to our processes, we are always looking to improve our efficiencies as a team, improving things even on our backend to save time. This will enable us to spend more time interfacing with our customers, and ensuring that there's actual value happening there. We intend to spend quality time with them, and not be another document, help guide, webinar, or training video for customers to watch.

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