If you’re releasing a new product to a market, and you want it to be successful with it, one rule of product theory is more critical than the rest: The more innovative the product, the more onboarding is necessary.
6 Tasks for a Customer Onboarding Checklist
Standard Onboarding Checklist
1. Get everything you need from the customer.
2. Start work only when you have everything you need.
3. Make sure the customer has everything they need to get started with the product.
Extended Onboarding Checklist
4. Adoption: Has the customer completed one use of the product?
5. Engagement: Is customer regularly using the product?
6. Success: Is the customer getting the benefits they expected from the product?
Onboarding is, to put it simply, the introduction of a product to a customer. But trouble begins where that simple definition ends. Proper onboarding should be happening both before and long after the sale.
Pre-sale onboarding begins before the customer even becomes a customer, promoting awareness and education. Pre-sale onboarding has to answer the question: How do we make a customer prospect aware of the benefits of the product, and educate them on why they need those benefits?
The tools associated with pre-sale onboarding are growing in prevalence and maturity – and these include free trials, self-driven demos, newsletter campaigns, and even webinars (still). I could write multiple deep-dive posts on the pre-sale phase of onboarding, and I have.
What I want to talk about here is what happens after the sale, because when that onboarding phase is skipped, and it often is, the problems that crop up tend to be more impactful and costly.
The Standard Onboarding Checklist
Onboarding doesn’t stop with a handshake and a quick introduction, it has to continue through adoption, engagement and eventually customer success. Post-sale onboarding must answer the question: Is the customer reaping the benefits of the product and, ultimately, do they need it?
You’d be surprised at how often the answer to that last question looks so much like a yes but winds up being a no. That head fake often leads to a lot of money being invested into false positives, resulting in an ever-rising CAC and ever-shrinking LTV.
Post-sale onboarding must answer the question: Is the customer reaping the benefits of the product and, ultimately, do they need it?
The best way to reach those customer success goals is with an onboarding checklist — a predetermined list of tasks that need to be completed for each and every new customer. This list is something that should be compiled pre-launch, and it should be made available to every team member with a responsibility for customer revenue, from account executive to support representative.
Let’s start with a set of basic tasks, then talk about how to extend that checklist to lead the customer from introduction all the way to success.
set 1: Help your customer help you
The first set of tasks on the onboarding checklist covers all the information the company is requesting from the customer. This is the information and all the deliverables you’ll eventually need from them.
A simple B2C example: We’re going to need your shirt size.
A simple B2B example: We’re going to need an export of your current customers.
Ask for this information once, and get everything you want, even if you don’t need it right away. There’s nothing worse than going back to a customer a second or third time because you didn’t collect information you needed to make them engaged or successful.
For any deliverables, make sure they know exactly what you’re looking for and give them plenty of prep time. You’re not their top priority. They are yours.
sEt 2: start work only when you have all you need
Before you begin any work to deliver the product to the customer, you’ll want to make sure they have delivered everything you need. Remember, in this relationship, delays are your fault, whether they’re actually your fault or not. If you’ve promised a three-day turnaround, and that got delayed because it took them a week to get your something you need, all they’ll remember is that it took you 10 days when you said three.
sEt 3: Fulfillment
The first time the customer touches the product, you’ll want to make sure that they have everything they need to get started. That could be training, it could be some third-party add-on to the process, it could be installation. Hold their hand through “opening the box” and make sure they’re smiling.
Extending the Onboarding Checklist
Those three sets of checklists are what most companies think of when they think of onboarding. But that just means you’ve sold the product. That’s fine for fax machines and IKEA furniture. When you’re a new company with an innovative product, just getting the product into customer’s hands is only half the battle.
Now let’s go over the set of tasks required to get them through adoption to engagement, and success, and ultimately a higher LTV for you.
It’s going to require some creativity up front. But once you think it through, it should just be another series of checklists.
sEt 4: Adoption
How long until the first completed use? I could sheepishly rattle off a list of all the products I’ve acquired and never used (i.e. Clubhouse). And not just stupid stuff, it’s business stuff too. I’m not impulsive, I just don’t have a ton of time. It’s not something I particularly worry about.
What I would worry about is the product that I’ve sold that was never used. It happens rarely, but when it does happen, even if it’s just once, it makes me question my entire value proposition. If someone didn’t need my product, does anyone?
Obviously, a company should do some kind of follow up on first use. And the newer the product, the more innovative, and obviously the more pricey, the more critical that follow up becomes.
Develop a checklist for that follow up. An email might suffice, but if your product is digital enough and your goals are lofty enough, you should monitor usage and score your onboarding on how long it took to get to that first use and how long it took to complete that first use.
The goal is to shrink both of those numbers.
sEt 5: Engagement
How long until there is a regular cadence of use? Very few products are meant to be used once. Other products are meant to be used rarely, one example might be a product used for remediation. But some remediation products are such a joy to use that it almost makes me want to have the problem again, just so I could use the product again.
If your product isn’t intended for single usage or remediation usage, that’s the kind of cadence you want associated with your product. What tasks can you identify to give you an assurance that you’ve reached that point?
Again, if you can measure how long it takes for your customer to get into a regular cadence of usage, especially one that signifies that there’s a need there and not just a nice-to-have, you should work on shrinking that as well as the amount of time between uses.
sEt 6: Success
Are you impacting the customer’s business? This is the measurement that usually gets the most lip service but the least amount of attention.
Back at the beginning of the onboarding process, I talked about making the customer aware of the benefits of your product. This is the final stage where you measure whether or not the customer reaped those benefits.
For example: If your product increases revenue, check in with the customer and make sure it did. And if it didn’t, find out why it didn’t. This should be a measurement you make across your entire value proposition.
Ask your customer: Are you getting the benefits from the product that sold you on it?
That’s not just a question of customer success, that’s product success. And like I said at the beginning of this post, it takes a great deal of onboarding to get there.