How To Create A Successful Customer Onboarding



The notion “customer onboarding” has come up a lot lately. This is a great momentum, since having a poor onboarding experience for your customers can pretty much kill your business growth.

The first in-app experience your customer has with your product sets the tone for your relationship, and if it’s confusing, overwhelming, or otherwise puts up barriers to achieving success (or at least recognising the value potential in your product), you’re in trouble.

Regardless of whether it’s a high-touch or low-touch scenario, 100% of the time, the problem is that the SaaS vendor either doesn’t know what the customer or prospect’s desired outcome is or forgot that solving for that is the most important thing.

The Definition of Onboarded Customer


Most people think in terms of “functional” or technical onboarding; getting their customers and users to go through the motions to get “up-and-running” with their product rather than equating onboarding with a value delivery milestone.

But even if they focused on value delivery, there’s still no universal definition of a fully-onboarded customer; it’s simply different for every company.

And for SaaS vendors – where customers can start small and (ideally) expand their use of the product over time – the notion of “onboarded” as a status is even harder to nail down than it was with traditional Enterprise software.

What “initial success” does my customer need to achieve when all parties understand that the breadth and depth of use will continue to evolve and expand over their lifetime as a customer? That’s a great question to keep top of mind as you go through this process.

That’s YOUR definition of success; don’t confuse that with THEIR definition of success.

Not Sure How they Define Success? Ask.


How do you figure that out? That was a great question to ask BEFORE you built your product. At least you’re asking it. The easiest way to figure out what success looks like for your customer – before you can break that down into milestones – is to ask them.

  • What is their Desired Outcome?
  • How do they measure success themselves?
  • How are they measured by their boss?
  • What are they trying to achieve with your product?

However, to be absolutely clear, you’re getting them to tell you the outcomes they desire, and maybe the milestones needed to get to that “success” with your product.

You’re not asking them what they need or want (features, functionality, or even workflows) since they’ll just tell you what they’ve done before or what they wish they could have done; if you build end up simply being iterations on existing ways of doing things. You can make big leaps forward by understanding not what they need to “do” but what they need/want to achieve and using your creativity/engineering prowess/entrepreneurial spirit to solve for that. This is where desired outcome thinking really shines.

Iterating on existing processes isn’t fun or really the lucrative in the long run.

Just Focus on the Next Success Milestone

The cool part of breaking down the onboarding process like this is that while you must keep the overall goal of success in mind, you only have to solve for the next success milestone with your lifecycle messaging, app design, etc.

Once they reach that milestone, onto the next one and so on. This makes creating those email or in-app lifecycle messages easier and results in them being much more effective. Keeping this “success milestone” way of thinking after they become a customer – or are otherwise past the customer onboarding process – will allow you to surface upsell/cross-sell offers, as well as advocacy requests, at the perfect time so you’re more likely to get a positive result.