Making the Case for Customer Onboarding

8 minute read

Upland Admin

When marketers start thinking about using content to optimize their sales funnel, typically, they think about optimization before the sale is made. A prospect turns into a lead, and a lead turns into a sale, and the job is done.

But the most successful marketers begin by optimizing the bottom of the funnel first, not the other way around. These marketers focus first on turning leads into sales, then working up the funnel by creating content to convert visitors into leads, then finally generating more visitors at the top of the funnel. 

In this article, I’m going to make the case for why, especially in certain businesses, optimization should begin after the sale, in the post-sales funnel. In further articles, I’ll discuss what content should be selected, and how specifically pre-sales funnel content can be re-used in the post sales funnel.

First, let me illustrate the post-sales funnel with two graphs.



All Customers Are Not Created Equally. Duh.

Everyone knows that all leads are not created equal. Well, folks, customers are the same way. Some customers are much more profitable than others. Just as content is used to turn unprofitable leads into profitable ones, content can also be used to turn less profitable customers into more profitable ones. However, content by itself will not work, the content needs to be presented within a structured process. You need to have an onboarding process in place.

To get an understanding of the difference between more and less profitable customers, let’s compare the “bad customer onboarding” with “good customer onboarding” graphs. The first thing we need to understand is what exactly these graphs are displaying. The straight line in the middle is shows when a sale, or the first transfer of money, happens. The funnel before the sale is the traditional sales funnel that all marketers know.

Along the Y axis is time, and as you move from left to right more time has passed.

The X axis is money. Before the sale, this money is marketing costs. At the sale itself, it’s either revenue or profit. After the sale it represents customer profitability, which is a combination of revenue, customer service/support hours, referrals, and customer lifetime value. All else equal, two points that are closer to each other on the X axis equal less money (lower costs before the sale and lower profits after the sale) or more money if they are farther.

One thing to understand about this graph, and something that I’m going to discuss in-depth shortly, is that this sales process is only for specific types of businesses where the majority of the profits from the customer come after the first cash transaction. If you’re selling hula hoops, the sales process doesn’t look like this. It actually ends at the sale. There is no “post-sales funnel” in the hula hoop industry. However, if you’re selling a $10,000 per month subscription service, the post-sales process will look like the above. While you may have two customers paying $10,000 per month, one might use $500 of customer support time while the other uses $3,000.

So, What is Customer Onboarding? 

Now that you understand the graph, let’s get to the good stuff.

Customer onboarding is a structured, standardized way of teaching all new customers about your product or service. Customer onboarding uses specific pieces of content, tools, and strategies to increase customer profitably. The purpose of customer onboarding is to simultaneously decrease customer support time while increasing customer profitability in a measurable way.

When Should Customer Onboarding Be Used?

One thing I noted when describing how to interpret the two customer profitability graphs is that only certain types of businesses will have pre- and post-sales funnels. You may be wondering, where does my business fit in here?

The main criteria to determine if customer onboarding will matter to your business is if the majority of the value of a customer happens after the first transfer of money. This will largely depend on your business model and pricing plan. Onboarding might not matter as much with low-value single purchases

For this application, let’s define a low-value purchase as a purchase price less than $10,000 and only happens once with more then 75% of your customers.

When does onboarding matter a lot? Account and subscription-based businesses, and when an extremely high-value single purchase occurs. If your customers will only buy from you once, but that purchase is $500,000, then onboarding is most likely critical. In that situation, it’s likely that the implementation of the product or service that was purchased will be key to using it correctly.

One example of an subscription-based business is a solar equipment distributor. These distributors sell equipment to contractors. Typically, a contractor’s first purchase will be around $30,000 of equipment. After that, the contractor will spend between $30,000 and $600,000 of equipment per year, at least for the next 5 years. A high-value purchase might be a software service sold at $10,000 per month.

Why Content Matters for Customer Onboarding

So you know why onboarding is important and to what types of business model. But just like any communications that occur between your organization and customers or leads, you need content that delivers information and value. You’re probably already creating content in a help or resources center. Use that content, as well as the expertise and experiences of your support and account management teams, to create effective onboarding materials.

Some of the most useful things I’ve seen include step-by-step videos (great for product features and set up) and presentations walking through best practices for using a product or service and how to implement them. These materials can be recycled again and again. However, listening to the specific needs of customers and tracking their most commonly asked questions will provide fodder for excellent material that can also be re-used by marketing to speak to potential customer needs. For example, if a prospect is concerned with password security, yet you’ve already created a presentation for current customers on exactly how password authentication works in your software, then you have material contributing to future sales as well as content helping current customers succeed with your product. Win, win, win.

Now, this is definitely an undertaking. So if you’re considering starting or improving onboarding in your organization, consider the following points.

A Few Customer Onboarding Best Practices

1 – Determine the most important characterstics of current clients who are the most profitable. Determine what you need to do replicate those characteristics with other companies.

2 – Make it Mandatory. In order to reap the benefits of decreasing customer service hours while increasing the quality of customer service, you need to make your customer onboarding process mandatory. If you already have customers, make it mandatory for all new customers.

3 – Give it a name to get the certification, for example if Kapost created a mandatory customer onboarding training, everyone who finished could be “Certified Kapost Publisher.” Another great idea is having levels of certifications. While all new customers must go through basic training, you can also have more advanced layers that will give better trained customers perks.

4 – Make sure the customer onboarding process teaches the customer a specific skill AND how to use the product or service you’re selling them. For example, in the “Kapost Certification” training some of the materials will be around how to actually use the software. However, my guess is that teaching customers how to be better content marketers and editors (while using Kapost) will more likely lead to more profitable customers.

5 – You must make you that you can VERIFY that new customers are learning the material correctly. One reason that webinar and videos, and article cannot be reused as is, is that there is no way of verifying that a new customer is learning and implementing the information.

Next Steps: Do you Need a Customer Onboarding Process? Ask yourself These Questions.

How do you know if you need a customer onboarding process? I’d start by asking yourself three questions.

1. What type of product are you selling? Does the majority of your profits from each customer come after the first transfer of money?

If you’re selling a product where a majority of the sales come after the first transaction of money, you might want to have a customer onboarding process. 

2. Is there a huge swing between the profitability of your customers? If 50% of your customers were as profitable as the top 5%, how would that impact your business?

If you have a large swing between the profitability of customers, you may want to create an onboarding process. 

3. How do you currently teach new customers? Is it reactive or proactive? Do you have a standardized process or is it an issue-by-issue basis?

If you teach customer on a reactive and issue-by-issue basis, you’re likely answering the same questions over and over again. This eats up a lot of customer service time. By standardizing the process and being proactive about education, you’ll increase quality and decrease costs.

What have your experiences been with customer onboarding? When have you found it successful, and when has it fallen short? Share your thoughts in the comment section below. You can also take a look at some customer-focused content by checking out the Kapost Customer Success Log on the Content Maketeer.

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