When companies ask me how to solve issues with onboarding and implementations, I tell them to onboard their customers earlier. You’ll know you need to start onboarding during the sales cycle when onboarding and implementation teams are detained by unprepared and even unaware customers. Rather than quickly driving new customers to first value, they spend precious time unraveling unrealistic expectations set during the sales cycle, bringing sales reps in to clarify what was sold with the buyers, and redefining contracts. Deadlines are missed, internal teams are swamped and frustrated, and customers pause or even cancel their licenses before you ever go live with your product.
I worked with a company that provides software and hardware for medical practices. When we dug into the numbers of what these delays cost them it came close to half a million dollars a year due to the added labor costs of delayed implementations, the costs of paused and canceled subscriptions, and also the lost opportunities when sales teams are looped in to resolve issues with already closed deals.
Sell the value
Rather than startling new customers after the sale, sell the value of your customer-facing services during the buyer journey. The earlier you show your customers you know what you are doing and that you’ve done this before, the faster you foster trust, and the easier it will be to engage new customers quickly.
Embark is the first stage of the Orchestrated Onboarding™ framework. Orchestrated Onboarding a strategic solution to ensuring the renewal in the beginning of the customer relationship, when it most matters. It’s a workable process that improves communication across internal teams as well as customers. Ideally, onboarding starts during the sales cycle and continues past the product go-live to address user adoption, change management, and user turnover. The figure below shows a high-level overview of the six stages of Orchestrated Onboarding.
During the Embark stage you sell and market the value of your Customer Success and onboarding programs, even before the deal is closed. The purpose of this stage, which starts during the sales journey, is to help buyers understand the journey ahead of them. During Embark you start with the big picture and stay strategic. During Embark, you also sell the value of onboarding and the Customer Success services you provide customers. Then you capture important details to embark new customers in their tailored success plan. Theses components of the Embark stage allow you to provide continuity from the buyer journey to the customer journey, which is what’s needed to establish trust. Trust: The missing piece of customer onboarding Sales reps are great at building relationships with buyers. Trusting relationships are a huge component of the buyer decision, and the messages buyers receive during the sales journey impact how their customer journey begins. Unfortunately, most companies throw all that relationship collateral down the drain when they win the deal. That’s why the Embark stage is so important. When you start onboarding before the contract is signed, you combat the challenges of first impressions, buyer’s remorse, and prospection. You quiet the neural networks of your new customers and you build trusting and enduring relationships that last. Then you continue to instill confidence in new customers during the Handoff stage, which we’ll discuss in the next article. Close deals faster I get the most push back about the Embark stage, because sales teams are reluctant to bring Customer Success professionals and onboarding into the sales cycle. However, everyone wants to see the path to success. When you produce an impressive solution, you want people to know how you make their lives better. According to customer experience expert Joey Coleman, “The best companies in the world take the customer experience offered after the sale and infuse it into marketing and sales, so the customer gets a flavor of the good things to come. This not only incentivizes prospects to sign on the dotted line, but also properly sets the expectations for what will happen after the sale.”
Bringing onboarding into the sales cycle may improve your deal close rates. Take the example of the company CFO who told me about his experience as a buyer. When the vendor shared their onboarding and customer success framework during the sales cycle, his reaction was, “This company has their act together. I want to work with them.”
The Embark stage sets up your teams and your customers for productive onboarding and implementation. Begin building loyal relationships, sell the value of your impactful onboarding and Customer Success programs, and establish a framework of accountability and transparency. Once you’ve set the foundation in Embark, you and your customers are ready for the next stage of Orchestrated Onboarding, the Handoff stage, which we’ll cover in the next article.
 Joey Coleman, Never Lose a Customer Again, p. 61 (Portfolio/Penguin, 2018).