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Onboarding Starts with Why

Source: Simon Sinek

Why is it that some companies inspire great loyalty and engagement with their customers, and others don’t? Too often, I see companies alienate their customers at the very beginning of the relationship because they dive right into the technical weeds of implementation and deployment. They focus on the product rather than the people. As a result they miss the opportunity to building great relationships with their new customers.

I recently read Simon Sinek's book, Start with Why. Sinek explains the impact of starting with Why when you communicate with customers. A lightbulb went off for me when I grasped how my Orchestrated Onboarding™ framework aligns with Sinek’s Golden Circle. When you start with Why, which is at the center of the Golden Circle, your customers stick around for the long term.

The Golden Circle

Discovered in 2006 by Simon Sinek and popularized in one of the most popular TED Talks of all time, the Golden Circle explains how great leaders communicate to inspire and motivate. In the center of the three-ring circle is Why. The next ring out is How, and the outer ring is What.

According to Sinek, people and organizations, including your customers, function on three levels.

  1. What to do

  2. How to do it, and

  3. Why to do it

Sinek explains that people naturally communicate from the outside-in. They typically start with What, because it is easiest to understand, before they explain the hardest things to comprehend, the Why. Why is so challenging because it taps into the part of the brain that has no capacity for language.

Unfortunately, all those What’s and How’s do not inspire action. As a result, Sinek suggests you take a different approach from the comfortable and familiar: Start in the center of the circle, with Why; and then move outward to How, and finally to What. Aligning these three elements in the right order, provides a foundation to engage customers and to build loyalty and trust, which are vital at the beginning of the customer relationship.

The Orchestrated Onboarding™ framework

The first three stages of Orchestrated Onboarding, align with the Golden Circle: Embark = Why, Handoff = How, and Kickoff = What. The Orchestrated Onboarding framework is a cross-functional approach to customer onboarding and enablement. I call it orchestrated because it involves organizing and planning something that is complicated to achieve a desired or maximum effect.

Embark = Why

Embark is the first stage of Orchestrated Onboarding. During the Embark stage you sell and market the value of your Customer Success and onboarding programs. The purpose of Embark is to help customers see the journey ahead of them. During Embark you start with the big picture and stay strategic. You focus on the Why, or the purpose, cause or belief that drives customers to initially engage with your product and your team.

Staying big picture is important at the beginning of the customer relationship because that’s when the limbic system gets involved. It’s the part of the brain that is responsible for all feelings, including trust and loyalty. It’s also responsible for all human behavior and decision-making.

When you start onboarding with Why, 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.

Handoff = How

The next stage of Orchestrated Onboarding is Handoff. The Handoff stage is important because companies are in desperate need of alignment with internal teams and customers. Internally, you need orchestration and collaboration between Sales and Customer Success. Externally, you need alignment between the buyer and the users. When you fail to align the teams on the customer side, they end up lost and confused. They don’t understand what was purchased and how their goals are going to be achieved.

The Handoff stage includes two handoffs: an internal handoff and a customer handoff. The purpose of this stage is to align internal teams and customer teams and to transition the relationship from the sales reps to the CSM or other post-sales teams and to ensure internal teams and customers understand how the Why is going to be achieved.

Kickoff = What

The purpose of the Kickoff stage is to provide a clear structure for the way you will partner with your customers throughout the implementation. During Kickoff, you’ll get specific about the details to ensure you reach your customer’s success outcomes. The Kickoff also the sets the tone for progressing through the Adopt, Review, and Expand stages.

The Kickoff is about the details of implementation and adoption and shifts the focus from big picture strategy (the Why and How) to the tactics of onboarding and implementation (the What). This is also the time when communication shifts from the feelings and behavior limbic brain to the rational and analytical outside of the brain, the neocortex. When your customer onboarding aligns with the Golden Circle, your customers will be ready to process and move forward on all that’s needed to deploy your product, like migrating data, connecting APIs, customizing code, and connecting with third party systems.

Slow down to move fast

Take the time to align on the Why and the How before forging ahead with the What of onboarding. Rather than starting with the Kickoff stage, constrain yourself to effectively Embark new customers and provide valuable Handoffs. When you use the Orchestrated Onboarding framework everything you do downstream will run more smoothly and more quickly. Customers will be delighted, and your internal teams will be less stressed. I guarantee it.

DONNA WEBER is the world’s leading expert in customer onboarding. For more than two decades, she has helped high-growth startups and established enterprises create customers for life. Her award-winning book is Onboarding Matters: How Successful Companies Transform New Customers Into Loyal Champions. Learn more at



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