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What Got You Here Won’t Get You to The Next Level

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

Why You Need The 80/20 Rule of Customer Onboarding

When you treat every customer with special care you end up in trouble – fast. Doing whatever it takes to make customers happy feels good for a while, but those smiles quickly turn into frowns of frustrations as your backlog grows. That high touch, white glove treatment which seemed to work so well and which customers seemed to love, is now holding you back. That's why you need the 80/20 Rule of Customer Onboarding. When you deliver a foundational journey that fits 80% of your customers, you are on the path to success for both you and your customers.

Here’s an example from a company whose product is an infinitely customizable CRM platform. When we first met, they were suffering from the Special Snowflake Syndrome, doing anything to delight new customers. In fact, they tailored and customized their CRM platform to whatever each customer envisioned. Even though the onboarding team went above and beyond to satisfy new customers, churn was high. After waiting four months to receive value customers gave up.

They stopped paying their subscriptions and went back to their old solutions, usually spreadsheets. On top of the high churn, implementation teams were burned out from spending so long with new customers and margins were low due to high implementation costs.

Rather than being limited by growth, employ the 80/20 Rule of Customer Onboarding. It’s the secret to scaling as your company grows. The 80/20 Rule allows you to accomplish more with the resources you already have, which is especially important right now. You’ll reduce your backlog, improve customer results over increasing delight, and deliver value when it most matters: at the beginning of the customer journey.

The 80/20 Rule of Customer Onboarding

The 80/20 Rule means applying the Pareto Principle, or the law of the vital few, to onboarding customers. You take all or most customers down a main route with a "less is more" approach and focus on producing the desired outcomes. Special snowflakes become the exception, not the rule. The 80/20 Rule of Customer Onboarding means you guide users along the “highways” to their destinations, instead of displaying every possible approach. For example, I live in Marin County, California, about 20 miles north of San Francisco. If I want to travel from Marin to San Francisco, you might try to captivate me with all the options you know of: Take the bus, hop on the ferry, cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge, or kayak along the San Francisco Bay. Instead, just tell me the best practice: “Take Highway 101 South.” That route me to my destination most quickly.

4 Ways to Deploy the 80/20 Rule of Customer Onboarding

Here are four ways to scale your organization with the 80/20 Rule of Customer Onboarding:

  1. Know your audience. It’s hard to build a consistent and repeatable approach when every customer is unique. Imagine a personal trainer who specializes in helping new mothers get into shape after having a child. When the trainer targets their approach, it allows them to guarantee results for that defined audience. Now, one of those new moms might refer her partner to the trainer, and that new client will still obtain value even though they are outside the ideal audience. However, the partner is an outlier, not the rule. Once you know your audience and create prescriptive approaches, like my Orchestrated Onboarding™ framework, you deliver results, not just experiences.

  2. Learn from your best customers. Rather than figuring out why customers leave, I recommend you understand why your best customers stick around. While it might make sense to evaluate customer losses to prevent churn from happening in the future, it's also critical to explore why your green accounts thrive despite all odds. They go live, use your product, and renew month after month or year after year. But why is that? It’s time you reach out and ask them. Be curious and listen to what they do or don’t do that drives their success. Find out how they leverage your products and services, possibly in unique ways, to reach their goals more quickly than other customers. Here are a few questions to get the conversation started: · How is our product impacting your business? Why? · Why do you keep paying us year after year? · What roles do you have on your team that use and administer our product? · What has the biggest impact for a successful rollout and go live? Listening to your most successful customers is one of the most important things you can do. When you ask open-ended questions, and then listen with curiosity, you uncover key trends. You might find your top customers all have dedicated administrators, vigilantly take training, or all have the same Customer Success Manager. You might uncover that their stakeholders champion your product and put together well-defined change management plans for successful rollouts. Find out the critical components in their achieving success. What usually makes a different has less to do with your product and more to do with how your customers function or operate internally.

  3. Create consistent repeatable processes. Once you’ve identified key factors from your best customers, then share these practices with all or most of your customers. What you learn from your best accounts also drives the creation of internal playbooks for Customer Success teams and new services offerings. For example, when working with an analytics company I learned the most successful customers had fully trained teams ready to deploy and use the products. In fact, well-trained customers had a 20% higher renewal rate and a 15% higher Net Promoter Score (NPS). To share this best practice with all customers I bundled in self-paced training with the software license subscription and provided training offerings that were easy for sales reps to sell and customers to consume. As a result, more customers became well-trained, and the renewal rate and customer satisfaction levels increased overall.

  4. Take complete ownership: Once you know your audience and you define consistent repeatable processes, then take complete ownership to keep internal teams and customers on that main route to success. Let customers know you’ve done this before and have the best practices to get them to value quickly. It's like that personal trainer. You want them to kick your butt every work out, so you look and feel great for your next event, not make you feel good in the moment by treating you to coffee and pastries instead.

Sane teams and successful customers

Applying the 80/20 Rule of Customer Onboarding leads to sane teams and successful customers because everyone sees the path ahead. That CRM company I'm working with? They moved from special snowflakes to successful customers that stick around. They didn't just improve their customer onboarding approach; they transformed their entire business with distinct products aligned for each persona. Each product is developed, marketed, sold, and implemented quickly and easily. Onboarding time decreased from four months to a few weeks. First year churn decreased by 20% and customers stay engaged. Instead of an infinitely customizable platform, they now deliver infinite opportunities to increase customer value.

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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