Take a deep breath: the chase is over. They’ve finally said ‘yes.’ You’ve just landed a new logo, and increased revenue for your SaaS company. It’s time to relax. Right?
Not if you want to boost the value of your relationship with your new client and improve your company’s customer retention rate. Trust and expertise are the heart and soul of an SaaS enterprise, and business success depends on the connections you create and nurture. During the sales process, you laid the foundation for these connections. Now, it’s time to prove your product’s value and reassure your client that they’ll achieve the success they’re working toward. This first impression will set the tone for your relationship and possibly determine its future. And that is why successful client onboarding is critical for building value and driving long-term customer satisfaction.
This is the lesson we’ve learned over years of helping hundreds of sales organizations drive sales performance and grow their revenue. For us, the client onboarding stage is a time for hard work and high expectations, a time to collaborate with the client so we can deliver value and increase the adoption of our sales performance management solution across the sales organization. And the efforts always pay off.
The numbers confirm that effective onboarding remains meaningful far into the future. In a global survey conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, more than 80% of B2B executives said that an increased focus on it offers significant or moderate positive impact on client revenue, renewals, and referrals. Similarly, 85% agreed that successful customer onboarding ensures long-term customer loyalty.
What is client onboarding?
Simply stated, client onboarding is the process of building the foundation for long-term client retention. It occurs at the start of any new engagement; crucial information gathered during the sales process, such as the client’s current state, the problems they expect the new solution to solve, and their overriding goals, is handed over, reviewed and discussed in much more depth. The goal here is to ensure that the most current and valuable information is seamlessly transferred to services delivery teams and that they begin implementing the solution and executing on client requirements.
Why is client onboarding important?
Enterprise deals normally have a long gestation period before they come to fruition. Once the way is cleared, your client will be eager to get started. Their legacy system most likely has to sunset, and staff has to learn their way around the new technology. More importantly, administrators need to be trained, and salespeople to begin using the new technology to execute corporate strategy.
Building a long-lasting partnership with clients is the ultimate goal. Guiding and supporting their exploration of your product is the first step in reaching it.
As with any relationship, however, the beginning can be difficult. You may face a lack of internal coordination, which can give rise to misunderstandings. And you’ll probably need to work your way around the hurdle of all hurdles: inadequate communication. Half of the executives surveyed by HBR Analytic Services listed communication as a significant challenge during onboarding, and dozens of respondents said better communication with their clients was the single most impactful change their business could make. So, make sure you speak the same language as your client. Focus on communicating well and promptly, and clarify their challenges and desired business outcomes from the beginning. And most importantly, measure your success. By establishing firm onboarding process controls and metrics, you’ll be able to quickly identify and address any gaps in communication, customer understanding, and coordination, and drive customer satisfaction. Moreover, you’ll become versed at turning any flaw or setback into a valuable lesson that you can apply when onboarding future clients.
But the onboarding team has to do more than create an atmosphere that invites open communication. They need to ask the right questions, to listen hard, to be perceptive. According to the HBR Analytic Services survey mentioned above, only 38% of executives agree that their organizations achieve an in-depth understanding of customer behaviors, feelings, and motivations, and 37% say that they deliver a highly tailored onboarding process based on the understanding of specific customer needs. Moreover, about one-fifth of executives report that their organizations don’t use metrics for onboarding success at all.
A standardized onboarding process is the key to succeeding where many haven’t. By eliminating manual ad hoc activities and setting clear steps to follow, you’ll achieve a robust and streamlined process, increasing engagement productivity and improving time to value for clients.
High productivity and quick recognition of a client’s business challenges. These are goals we achieved by using a streamlined and formalized process to onboard a Fortune 100 insurance company. We introduced our client early on to the features of our sales performance management software, and explained in detail how our solution’s capabilities could help them meet their specific objectives. As a result, we began delivering the solution to clients in half the time it would have otherwise taken.
The Road to Success – Best Practices and Strategies
Make an outstanding first impression and set clients up for long-term success with these five essential onboarding best practices:
- Clarify key client challenges and identify top priorities. To successfully kick off the engagement, stress the importance of open communication. Don’t assume that the challenges and priorities identified in the sales process are correct, haven’t changed, or focus where they need to – that is, at the delivery level. Address any questions and concerns your client may have, and clarify misunderstandings. Doing so will deepen their confidence in your abilities to solve their challenges.
- Educate your client about what you expect. To achieve success, all key stakeholders must agree on business goals, and their expectations of your solution must be realistic. Convey this message clearly and you’ll prevent your team from burning out as they execute on client requirements. Setting expectations early on and reminding your client of these often will help the process go smoothly.
- Automate repeatable activities by providing standard tools and templates. Your customer onboarding process should be methodical, repeatable and scalable. Using pre-existing templates to create client deliverables is one of the first steps toward achieving consistency across engagements. Relying on established onboarding steps, and using checklists to ensure that each of these is successfully completed, will make it easier to repeat the process with other clients. To scale the process, go with a software platform that tracks and measures progress.
- Provide accessible guidance and deliver training sessions tailored to the specific needs of the client. Every client is bound to run into some kind of issue. Offer user-friendly tutorials and learning materials. Also, make sure your client can easily contact you with questions or concerns.
- Demonstrate urgency and responsiveness in solving client problems. Non-traditional collaboration methods such as chat features allow the client to ask questions via the platform without needing to go through 3rd party software; the services delivery team has a prescribed amount of time in which to answer or offer clarification. These exchanges also act as a source of feedback, enabling you to understand what’s working and what’s not.
Enriching your clients’ knowledge about your solution and providing them with the necessary tools to reach their goals make for a successful onboarding experience and a successful engagement. Your approach can greatly impact your company’s revenue. And while it’s true that your onboarding skills will grow with each experience, enabling you to iterate on and continuously improve any existing part of the process, it’s also true that you only have one chance to make a good first impression.
Make it count!
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