Decoding the State of Customer Onboarding in 2022 ft. Donna Weber

We had Donna Weber release our customer onboarding survey report. Read on for key takeaways from the webinar.
December 20, 2021
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Krishna Kumar

Early this month, we released The State of Customer Onboarding 2022. This industry-first survey report uncovers important trends, challenges, and goals of the people working in the customer onboarding space.

On this special session, Donna Weber, customer onboarding expert and author of the award-winning book ‘Onboarding Matters’, joined Srikrishnan Ganesan, Co-founder - Rocketlane, to release the report. 

Donna is a recognized Customer Success thought leader, influencer, and strategist who helps high-growth companies deliver value to their customers. For more than two decades, she has helped companies decrease their Time to First Value, reduce customer implementation time and costs, boost product usage and adoption, increase customer lifetime value, and scale their Customer Success function.

For the survey, Rocketlane spoke to 100+ customer onboarding and implementation professionals in the SaaS and technology industry to understand the current practices and challenges in customer onboarding. The data and insights from this study are compiled in the report.

In this session, Donna and Srikrishnan discussed: 

  1. Why customer onboarding matters
  2. Key findings from Rocketlane’s State of Customer Onboarding report
  3. The need to understand patterns in customer onboarding and the impact of low visibility on customer relationships and business
  4. Insights, ideas, and inspiration for improved customer onboarding experiences in 2022

This post provides key takeaways from the session. 

Donna Weber: Who thinks you're customer centric? You or your customers?

Customer onboarding matters

Customer onboarding isn’t just about going live. It’s about engaging, enabling, and driving customers to value. Most customers churn because they fail to see value in your product at the right time. 

The two mistakes that most high-growth companies make during customer onboarding:

  1. Treating each customer completely uniquely 
  2. Taking too long for product implementation, customer onboarding, and product adoption, causing the value that Sales and Marketing brought in to get eroded over long cycles.

The journey to customer onboarding maturity

Donna shared the four typical stages that companies find themselves at when it comes to customer onboarding maturity:

  1. Reacting: Treating each customer as a unique/special case; characterized by a reactive approach that’s focused on ad hoc problem-solving and troubleshooting 
  2. Performing:  Having processes and playbooks in place such that customers are engaged in a consistently similar way
  3. Scaling:  Leveraging technology for a one-to-many approach
  4. Optimizing: Establishing/demonstrating the impact of customer onboarding on business (by showing the impact of onboarding on renewals, upsells, adoption, etc.)

The state of customer onboarding: Insights, ideas, and inspiration 

1. Top challenges in customer onboarding 

The problem: Customers often don’t even know they’re holding up onboarding because they don’t know what’s needed and expected of them in the first place.
Today, customers are updated on a minute-by-minute basis, even on the status of their pizza order, and there is no excuse for onboarding to be a black box. 

The solution: transparency. Customer onboarding teams need to be transparent, proactive, and explicit in their approach to ensure expectation management and accountability.

2. Top reasons for customer escalations

The potential problem is that companies jump into the technical weeds of deploying the product as soon as the deal is closed. 
The solution: orchestrated onboarding. Customer onboarding teams should build a strong foundation and relationship first by getting customers to understand the big picture and setting the right expectations regarding timelines, deliverables, resources, and inputs from their end.
Since Land-and-Expand is the default strategy in most SaaS sales, it’s important to make the first impression count so you can land strong and expand confidently for better NRR.

3. Customer updates 

The problem is that the assets and content anchoring onboarding live only on spreadsheets and folders without being operationalized. 

The solution: Customer onboarding needs to be operationalized such that no workflow document, meeting, or review is missed or isolated. A centralized approach to all the assets and content can help operationalize every aspect of customer onboarding to make the process proactive and prescriptive.

4. Areas of improvement in customer onboarding 

Companies need to know what’s happening across accounts. They need data and insights to establish baselines, identify blockers, identify improvements, etc. 

The solution: Besides ensuring a way to have a consolidated view across projects and team members, companies also need to focus on how they can deliver value from Day 1, whether through the product or other avenues such as communities, thought leadership articles, etc.

5. Top implementation goals 

The problem: value delivery is not a top area of priority. The real focus, Donna, maintains, needs to be on value delivery since everything else–improving CX, reducing churn, expansion, etc.–is internally focused. 

Delivering value at the right time is key to keeping customers engaged even through long and intense onboarding projects. It’s helpful to think of an onboarding project as a fitness plan with a coach/trainer. If a personal trainer is helping you see results even in cases where you don’t enjoy their approach or methods, you’d be more likely to stick to the plan since you see tangible value in it.

6. The role of tools and technology for customer onboarding

The problem
  1. Using multiple tools means there’s a higher risk of losing the big picture view of the whole process. Leaders find it hard to get a complete understanding of how projects (and the teams) are faring
  2. There’s an additional liability of individual copies of project data stored locally being lost
  3. Fetching, analyzing,  and sharing status updates, project data/insights, etc., are additional, time-consuming tasks that customer onboarding teams must handle. 

Operationalize customer onboarding using the three pillars,  people, process, technology: 

  1. Process: Setting this in place informs the people/skills the customer onboarding team needs
  2. People: Identifying the right mix of specialists and generalists
  3. Technology: Operationalizing the strategy and enabling scale
How Rocketlane Does Customer Onboarding: People, Process, Tools

The best approach to operationalizing customer onboarding: 

  1. Take the lead, take a proactive and prescriptive approach.  
  2. To secure a budget for customer onboarding, make a business case for onboarding by understanding what the current customer onboarding process is costing you. 
  3. Consider how margins could be eroding because onboarding each customer separately and intensively is prolonging implementation timelines and how much you can save by shortening customer onboarding time. 

Operationalizing customer onboarding: the role of technology 

Spreadsheets and project management tools don’t quite work for onboarding. Here’s why.

Spreadsheets and project management tools also contribute to the hidden cost of customer onboarding arising from: 

  1. Low visibility into progress 
  2. Lack of insights on projects and people 
  3. Poor internal and external transparency
  4. Chaos due to the use of disparate tools

Rocketlane, a purpose-built customer onboarding platform  

Rocketlane’s features are designed to help you optimize customer onboarding through:

Transparency and visibility 

  1. A unified platform for both customers and the onboarding team
  2. Presentation mode to outline the entire project with timelines, deliverables, resource requirements, and more
  3. Centralized snapshot view of all projects in addition to data and insights across projects and team members

Customer experience 

  1. A branded customer portal with a customized URL
  2. Automated status updates within the platform with the option to contextualize and customize each update 


  1. Templates that let you codify best practices and create templates tailored to different customer segments - size, industry, maturity level, or implementation complexity. 
  2. Data and insights on performance and consistency at every stage. 

Collaboration and productivity

  1. In-app collaboration and conversations with customizable internal and external (customer) visibility options 
  2. CSAT ratings for key delivery milestones so you are never left guessing about customer sentiment
  3. Embedded documents so customers and teams can access everything they need in one place
  4. Inbuilt time-tracking for resource planning and forecasting; Automated reminders and status updates
4 ways Rocketlane makes customer onboarding smoother, simpler, smarter

Q&A with Donna 

Note: Responses edited for brevity and clarity

1. How much does the cultural/geographical background of the customer affect their onboarding experience? 

It’s really important to know your customer. The cultural aspect doesn’t have to be geographic necessarily. For example, you might be that you’re working with a developer or a data scientist on one project and an accountant on the other. 

You need first to understand your customers’ wants and needs. Have customer interviews, get on a Zoom or phone call to first talk to your customer to understand what’s important to them.

2. What tools would you recommend for customer onboarding?

It depends on the size and complexity of your customer onboarding process. If you have a small team or a simple process, you can build out a custom object on your CRM, such as Salesforce, Hubspot, or a CS platform like Totango or Gainsight would work. 

For more complex or long-drawn customer onboarding, I recommend having a dedicated tool like Rocketlane

Top 5 benefits to having a dedicated platform for customer onboarding

3. What is the best way to prepare customers for what is expected of them?

Make them understand the journey ahead. Map out this journey visually. I share the six stages of orchestrated onboarding (Embark, Handoff, Kickoff, Adopt, Review, Expand).

You can tailor this to match your business and branding to create a visual map that highlights the big picture, the milestones, and the timelines.

A 'Readiness Kit' for customer onboarding

4. For a B2B2C business, how do you measure TTV? Is it the implementation of your platform or adoption by their users?

TTFV needs to be from the user perspective. So it’s really about knowing what your customers need and identifying the low-hanging fruits you can drive towards.

5. How do you handle multiple vendors and the dependencies and delays they cause?

Get the information you need and let them know what you need even before the sales cycle ends. 

You can start customer onboarding during the last two stages of the sale. For instance, if you have a payment gateway or integration that you need in the fifth week or data cleanup before the migration, you need to tell them to get started right at the outset.

I try to move any downstream blockers upstream to address them sooner.

6. When should you have a dedicated customer onboarding manager or a team separate from the CS team?

Again, it depends. If your team is small, it makes sense to have more generalists, but it makes sense to start specializing as you grow. In cases where you have team members working on more technical/implementation aspects and others who work on the business relationship, it makes sense to separate the team.

I’ve worked with companies where CS is introduced at the start of customer onboarding, after which they hand the project off to the specialists/onboarding team for implementation. The project is then handed back to the CSM after go-live.

I like to bring the CSM/account manager upfront to develop the high-level partner relationship, after which they hand off to the onboarding/implementation team and then have them re-engage after implementation. 

That way, the implementation and customer onboarding folks can focus on implementation without getting pulled into account management and the relationship management aspects.

Setting up your first customer onboarding team

7. Do you have any tips on keeping the customer engaged through the onboarding phase?

Well, a lot of it depends on how you start the project. It’s about setting the right expectations upfront regarding the meeting cadence, their resource/time inputs, etc.

Another way is leveraging a tool like Rocketlane so customers can see what they need when they need it and when they/their inputs are needed.

Another way is to charge for customer onboarding. When people pay, they are more likely to be engaged and accountable. I’ve worked with companies where the customer onboarding process is spelled out as part of the contract. 

8. How often should you reach out to a client ghosting you?

If you have an orchestrated onboarding plan where you have a success plan, and you’ve captured risks, determined escalation workflows, you shouldn’t be seeing cases of ghosting customers.  

It’s really important to have more than one contact info at the company. When I work with companies, I take the stakeholders’ information to call them directly when I have issues. Emails don’t work anymore, and I make sure to call so I’m not left waiting. 

My job is to provide value, and I have to do what it takes to get things moving to focus on doing that. 

Reviving a customer onboarding project when you’ve been ghosted

9. What is the typical timeframe for customer onboarding?

I’ve observed that typically, for most companies, onboarding can take between three to six weeks, though it ends up taking twice that time in reality.

10. What are some KPIs you recommend tracking during customer onboarding?

It depends. In companies I’ve worked with, I’ve seen them track metrics such as the percentage of active users within 30 days, product usage, TTFV, etc. Find out what is important at your company. Find out what executives are reporting to the board and understand how customer onboarding can impact those metrics.

Top customer onboarding metrics to track

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Kirthika Soundararajan
Head - Content Marketing @ Rocketlane

All things content at Rocketlane. I run on coffee and cat videos. Follow me on Twitter @kirthikasrajan

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