Numerous B2B SaaS industry reports on client churn stats have shown that seeds of a client renewal or churn are actually sown during the client onboarding stage in majority of cases (excluding the cases when churn happens because of external/client org issues).
So the next question is, where do things go wrong during this ‘onboarding process’ – do we understand the root causes? And is there a pattern to the underlying process issues across companies?
Based on my experience, conversations with several other SaaS industry leaders and a focused market survey we had done recently on this topic, it seems that while Sales, Marketing, Product and Account Management (with new incarnation of ‘Customer Success’) have evolved (to a good extent) from the legacy ‘upfront license+AMC’ model to SaaS model, but the current onboarding and rest of post-sales processes in many B2B SaaS companies are sort of still done the same way as it was done even a decade earlier, which is not really ‘customer-centric’. It is of course well known that while software vendors got away with this during the legacy model, it is not sustainable in SaaS model to not have a ‘customer-centric’ onboarding and post-sales process.
One broad pattern seen across companies is that the onboarding happens in silos with different pieces of the ‘client onboarding action plan’ passed mostly sequentially across cross-functional teams (Sales, CS, Product, Tech and QA teams involved in the customer onboarding) via proposal docs, meetings, email chains, chat channels, onboarding meeting notes, various excels, CRM, some product centric tools and interestingly some key information about customer onboarding next steps stays in Sales/CSMs’ heads as there is no structured way to document in a central platform currently!
The challenge starts when some surprises show up further down the customer journey when some team misses to address a new use case or test scenario (which gets reported as a bug in production later on) or a new feature delivery is delayed (which blocks the client from getting full value as promised by Sales/CS!). This happens because different functional teams are simply not aware of each client’s each use case (hard to keep track in silos when there are hundreds of clients, and each client has a bunch of use cases across multiple products – so it’s a multi-dimensional problem!) or the teams couldn’t prioritise something appropriately (with so many items/client requests etc.) as there is no single source of truth!
Addressing these onboarding challenges effectively would require a ‘centralised customer centric’ framework to:
- Track customer objectives to the level of each use case for every client, priority of each use case and critical dates by when clients need certain use cases delivered.
- Assess current internal readiness status for enabling each of those use cases for each client.
- Enable internal cross-functional collaboration (among Sales, CS, Product, Tech and QA) on a common platform to prioritise, close any gaps and minimise ‘time to value’ for high priority use cases (critical for retention) of every client.
This new approach would help establish a strong ‘data driven’ foundation for what follows next in the client journey – product usage, value realisation by the client, churn/renewal and expansion.
This approach also complements existing ‘Customer Success Management’ tools available in the market by giving visibility of ‘Account Health’ during the onboarding stage itself for the SaaS provider and faster ‘time to value’ for their client. For example, the existing ‘Customer Success Management’ tools focus on monitoring product usage as a leading indicator of churn and while it is certainly valuable to see product usage dashboard to determine if client is getting value from the engagement – but usage is not always a leading indicator when something else went wrong way earlier in the customer journey! In fact, real leading indicator of churn can be seen in the ‘client onboarding status’ report, which is the output of the above mentioned onboarding framework.
So how can a SaaS company use this framework as part of their ‘Customer Success’ playbook? Actually this framework can be used to answer the most important question – How to measure the ‘value realised’ by the client?
The right way to measure the ‘value realised’ would be to review the delta of this ‘client onboarding status’ report (covering all the use cases promised during pre-sales/onboarding stage) and ‘product usage status’ report (covering the use cases actually delivered to the client).
This review should be done on an on-going basis internally (e.g. in monthly Key Account reviews) and externally (in QBRs and monthly reviews with key clients) to close any gaps from both sides.
This would make renewal an obvious (and data driven) choice for the ‘Key Decision Maker’ in the client org, rather than he/she wondering “I am not sure what value did we get from this tool in last year compared to what was agreed 12 months back? And even though I personally ‘think’ we got some value, how can I show a clear evidence of this (without building another ppt deck!) to my management for approval?”
To conclude, this new onboarding framework would not only solve onboarding and churn challenges, but also in the future this sort of approach would become a ‘competitive advantage’ for a B2B SaaS company as it empowers the entire post-sales operations to be truly ‘customer centric’ and ‘data driven’.
Hope this is helpful for all our industry colleagues from the B2B SaaS community!
If the above resonates with your organisation’s situation/challenges, I would appreciate your thoughts/feedback.