Critical Customer Success Processes: Customer Onboarding

Critical Customer Success Processes: Customer OnboardingCustomer onboarding is one of the most critical customer success processes to be implemented. It’s so important that many companies create a dedicated team for this step.

In this article, we will:

  • Clarify what we mean by customer onboarding.
  • Describe important processes leading up to onboarding.
  • Share tips for providing a great onboarding experience
  • Provide a simple template for your customer success onboarding process.

What do we mean by customer onboarding?

Customer onboarding is setting up new customers with the solution or product they purchased. 

However, this customer success process goes beyond flipping a few switches and providing training. It requires understanding WHY the customer bought from your business, what problems they seek to solve, and ensuring that the system helps them achieve these outcomes.

Whether customer onboarding is handled by a separate onboarding team, or your customer success team, is a question of scale: the larger your organization, the more likely to segment teams to work on discrete tasks.

The pros of this segmentation are that the skillset for onboarding is more tactical and product-oriented, whereas the skillset for customer success is often more consultative and strategic.

Before customer onboarding, what should happen?

Pre-sales Introductions

While the exact timing varies, your customer success team (and onboarding team if it applies) should be introduced to your customer as early as possible before the final sign-off on the contracts.


  • Customers often have anxiety as they move closer to a final decision. Meeting the team with who they will work post-sale can boost confidence and get the sale done.
  • The customer success team will benefit from meeting the customer in person and understanding their challenges before the deal closes. A) If they see challenges, they can raise them with the sales team before deal sign-off; B) They can better prepare for a smooth customer transition from pre- to post-sales stages.

These introductions must be carefully timed both to create value for all parties and avoid having customer success wasting time with prospects that never become customers.

Formal Hand-off from Sales to Customer Success

This customer success process is essential to your business’s success.

When a customer signs, the following should occur:

  • The customer success team should be notified.
  • They should receive a link to the deal in the CRM.
  • They should receive all notes from the sales team.

This information should inform CS of the following:

  • What products did the customer buy?
  • What challenges are being solved?
  • What success metrics were discussed during the sale?
  • Immediate milestones to be aware of that will impact schedules.
  • Key stakeholders during the sale and for implementation and ongoing roll-out.

Your business will have additional critical pieces of information that sales should handoff during this part of the customer success onboarding process.

Customer Onboarding Process – Post Sale

Formal Introduction Email

The seller should formally introduce the teams to one another, clarify roles, and hand off to the CSM to provide the next steps.

Ideally, the customer has already seen a PDF or other document which outlines your standard onboarding process and milestones.

Kick-off Meeting

As quickly as possible after the sale, the customer success team should have a meeting with the customer to review:

  • Introductions between groups and clarify roles for each team member.
  • Understanding of what was bought and for solving what problems
  • Review KPIs that the teams will measure success during the onboarding process and beyond.
  • The onboarding process for this customer. This process may be your standard onboarding process or slightly customized based upon what they purchased.
  • A proposed schedule for the onboarding process.

Your Onboarding Process

Your exact process will vary but will include things like:

  • Configuring user accounts and permissions.
  • Loading data, files, or other materials needed for your solution.
  • Integratinn your solution into other parts of the existing technology stack.
  • Providing training and probably train-the-trainer sessions.
  • Recurring meetings to share progress in system build-out, adoption, movement on key metrics.

If a dedicated onboarding team manages the onboarding process, customer success should be involved throughout the onboarding process to ensure they hit the ground running when you reach the CS hand-off.

Tips for Onboarding Success

Follow these steps for onboarding success.

  • Have a formal, documented project plan.
  • Ensure you have a RACI associated with the plan, so the customer understands their role throughout the process.
  • Have regularly scheduled meetings to update the customer on progress. It is hard to overcommunicate during this stage, but it is easy to under-communicate.
  • Collaborate closely on training plans. Some customers will want you to deliver training; some will want to give it to their teams.

The Best Customer Onboarding Software Available Today

Assumptions Related to Our Recommendations

We are making the following assumptions:

  • You already have your CRM in place – if not, review our article on CRM selection.
  • Your business has a customer success organization in place – if not, read our article on the role of the customer success manager and hire one.
  • You do not have content management or training solutions you would be comfortable sharing with your customers — if you did, you would be using them for onboarding.
Criteria for Making our Customer Onboarding Software Selection

And with our assumptions stated, here are the criteria we are using:

  • It is necessary to customize the delivery of onboarding materials to each customer.
  • You will want to minimize your costs – paying for user access for your customers will be a deal-breaker.
  • The platform you use should support a degree of sharing, collaboration, and communication.
Our Recommendation

The cost-effective approach for your business will be to use an enablement content solution that supports digital sales rooms (DSRs). These solutions do not require licenses for the users accessing the DSRs, and the best ones provide a level of collaboration that makes them great candidates for this use case.

In addition, DSRs allow you to share only the content necessary for a given customer and are generally customizable to a reasonable extent.

In this case, we recommend Paperflite. It checks all the boxes.


Essential Customer Onboarding Process Reviews

The Process Review

The team members participating in this sale should sit down with the Customer Success leader and answer the following questions.

  • Is the customer well-positioned to achieve their objectives based on their purchased product?
    • Can we correct this for this customer?
    • Where did this misalignment occur?
    • Are there materials, training, and messaging required to be updated or missing?
    • Does this customer reflect our ICP, or did we sign up a customer we should not have sold?
  • Were there any surprises during the onboarding process?
    • Was information captured incorrectly or not captured at all?

When mistakes occur, remember that this presents an opportunity to learn. Walk back through EVERY single stage of the sales and marketing process until you uncover the root cause of the failure.

For example, if this customer should not have been sold to, walk back through the process and ask questions like:

  • What did we miss in the qualification?
  • Are there other discovery questions we should have asked, or should we have interpreted the responses differently?
  • If this buyer matched the persona, what’s wrong with our persona?

You could ask millions of questions, and we will not flesh them all out in this article. You will need to understand your processes, ICPs, solutions, and so forth well enough to diagnose what led to the issue.

The Prioritization Process

You’ll likely uncover multiple opportunities for improvement in the review process.


You cannot solve them all immediately.

Prioritize the issues based upon:

  • Cost of not correcting.
    • Weight this based upon potential dollars lost by either selling what you should not or missing opportunities to sell what you should have sold.
  • Time to correct.

Based upon the approximate ROI and consensus with your leadership team, pick ONE item to fix moving forward.

Baseline, implement and measure

Be thoughtful in making this change and formalize the change management process enough to ensure the improvement is made, delivered consistently, and has the expected impact.

For example, if you make a change that should improve the quality of the customer you sell to, with a downstream expected impact of reducing customer churn:

  • Ensure future customer onboarding review sessions carefully examine the “quality” of the customer.
  • Compare all customers sold after the change to customers sold before the change. Do you see the expected impact on the churn rate?

Many of these changes take time, so pay close attention to the leading indicators.

Note:  Make one significant change at a time and be patient. You will want to fix everything you see but don’t do this. You need to know how your changes impact your customers, your employees, and your business overall and cannot understand the impact of each change if you make multiple at the same time.

Share all discoveries with other teams

Information is powerful; share every lesson learned


Final thoughts on the customer success onboarding process

You are entering a new phase in your relationship, moving from prospect to customer.

Remember that you are making a first impression for your business in this phase — demonstrate to them that they made the right choice and minimize the always present risk of buyer’s remorse.

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