Shreesha Ramdas, 7+ year CEO of the Customer Success platform Strikedeck (acquired by Medallia in 2019), is passionate about customer onboarding.
We sat down with him recently to get a better understanding of how he thinks companies can elevate their onboarding experience to the next level. This newsletter includes an excerpt from our interview with Shreesha.
CHRIS: Should onboarding be treated separately from the rest of the customer journey?
SHREESHA: I believe it should be treated as separate because of the immense impact that onboarding has on the customer and the rest of the phases of the customer journey.
If you are not onboarded well, the chances are zero that you will have good adoption. Onboarding is where first impressions are formed, so your customer will assume that their experience during onboarding is a reflection of the experience they’ll have as a customer of your company.
Onboarding sets the tone of the relationship, so it's incredibly important during this phase to convince a customer that they did the right thing by buying your product.
Even when your product has flaws, if you onboard customers well, and if you get them to understand how they can get the most value from the product, they may overlook the flaws. That's the reason why you have to pay very special attention to onboarding.
CHRIS: React to this statement—Time To Value doesn't matter.
SHREESHA: I'm on the middle here because value is subjective. Having said that, you need to measure the benefits customers are getting from the product or service as a part of the onboarding journey.
I like the ‘aha’ metric better than TTV. The ‘aha’ metric is when a customer finally understands how a product serves them and you can measure it by looking at a customer’s usage behavior. Before ‘aha’ their usage will be unpredictable. But once they figure out how to use and leverage your product, you will see a consistent, predictable behavior and frequency of use.
I'm also a big fan of having a uniform measure by looking at the time it takes for the customer to use a particular feature. Let's take email automation, like Marketo or MailChimp, for example.
You might say, ‘When my customer is able to use the email campaign with the scheduling feature, that's when I know they're completely onboarded.’ By measuring time to use a feature rather (an objective measurement), rather than the subjective TTV metric, it ensures your features are tied to benefits and that you have a uniform way of measuring milestones for your customers.
CHRIS: Measuring Time To Value as an average is problematic because a few customers who onboard quickly could mask customers who take much longer to onboard. Or the opposite—you could have a single customer that takes nine months to onboard, which throws off your TTV metric for all the other ones that onboard correctly.
SHREESHA: You're right. Using the mean just wouldn't work. A better measure of TTV would be frequency. This is why patterns are important. One thing is very clear—the worst punishment for a SaaS company is being condemned to being a ‘shelfware’.
(For all the confused readers out there, software used to be sold and installed via a physical CD, so ‘shelfware’ could be defined as unused CD software that has been relegated to a dusty old shelf.)
If customers are not using your product frequently, then it's as good as shelfware because you know they will give up on it.
Now if you work at an early-stage SaaS software company, then you should not care about the average or any single metric. Instead, put all of your focus on the customers who struggle to get onboarded. Because especially early on, that reason is very important.
Now, let's say you've been around for a long time and you have a deep understanding of why customers don't onboard well, then outliers actually don't matter as much. There will always be outliers or customers who for their own intrinsic reasons will not be able to use the product.
You should not care as much about those outliers because the majority of your customers will be in their own swim lane.
CHRIS: So in that case, why does Time To Value matter?
SHREESHA: What matters is that there is a predictable pattern. Basically, the TTV metric ends up being a steady-state metric, and only when that metric moves out of the boundaries of normal, should you start paying attention.
CHRIS: What's your take on the new emergence of onboarding tools?
SHREESHA: In the past, I was used to seeing numerous companies function for the different aspects of the onboarding experience. Asana managed the milestones and key dates with the customer. Google Drive was used for customer collaboration and document sharing. Customer interaction happened on Slack. And training took place via Loom videos.
But now I see a benefit in unifying all of those steps into a single place with a comprehensive onboarding tool where the 5 core areas of onboarding are covered.
The 5 core areas of onboarding include:
#1 Project management
This includes timelines, milestones, and activity reporting to track the progress of customer onboarding.
#2 Artifacts management
A repository of documents, data, and collaterals that need to be shared.
#3 Customer collaboration
Enabling real-time collaboration between the customer and vendor to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Planning the customer's education and training needs helps to ensure ramp-up and the transition to the adoption phase.
#5 Customer satisfaction
This includes measuring the customer's pulse on the activities completed and collecting feedback on a continual basis.
I believe that ‘well begun is a job half done’ meaning that if a customer has a good start with you, you are already halfway to your goal. People should place a separate focus on onboarding from the rest of the customer journey. That's why I'm a big advocate of using a best-in-breed, all-in-one tool to focus on elevating the onboarding experience.
CHRIS: What factors help decide the right onboarding program for your company?
SHREESHA: I’m an advocate for CS leaders evaluating their need for onboarding specialists rather than general purpose CSMs. Leaders should especially consider employing onboarding specialists if their product requires a highly technical integration process or if onboarding is typically very time-consuming.
The benefit of having onboarding specialists is that they understand the product implementation process really well, they’re meticulously data-oriented, and they’re experts at deploying specific onboarding dates, documents, and deliverables that customers need to meet.
CHRIS: What tips would you like to share with folks about improving the Sales to CS handoff?
SHREESHA: There are a lot of opinions on the internet about what constitutes as the best Sales <> CS handoff. But the point I would like to emphasize is the importance of Sales passing on two things to CS teams during the handoff.
#1 Attributes of stakeholders and influencers.
Once a prospect buys a product, Sales usually has had ample time to become familiar with the buyers’ needs, wants, environment, and style of communication. Unfortunately, it’s rare when a salesperson passes along intricate persona details to the CS team.
Maybe a customer is meticulous about the details, or likes responses to come back within two hours, or is hardcore when it comes to negotiation. Those kinds of attributes, if passed to CS, will save CSMs an incredible amount of time. Otherwise, CSMs tend to spend three to four months getting to know customers better when the knowledge was held all along by the salesperson.
#2 Company dynamics at play.
What I mean by that is, what is the culture of the organization that purchased your product? Are they fast in decision-making? Are they slow? For all the important decisions, do they look up to the CIO? Or someone else? Does the IT organization come into the picture every time you have to talk about integrating with another system?
Again, if Sales can document and pass those details on to the CS team, it’ll make their job much easier and allows the CS team to provide a better experience right from the start of the customer relationship.
Connect with Shreesha on LinkedIn.
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