Onboarding is one of the most delicate (and critical) periods in the customer lifecycle. After the sale closes, when CSMs and CEMs first engage the customer (if they haven’t already come through pre-sales, to help drive success during a free trial), onboarding is the first chance to help your customers achieve success. Delivering the right customer training is paramount to ensuring your customers reach “First Value” as soon as possible during onboarding. “First Value” or “First Value Delivered” (FVD) is defined as the initial success your customer has with your software, according to your customer’s definition of success. Like Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC), ARR (annual recurring revenue), MRR (monthly recurring revenue), Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV), and churn, time to value (TtV) is now one identified by industry experts as a crucial metric that counts for SaaS customer growth and as a predictor of ongoing customer retention.1
Here are some actionable strategies for training your customers to get to first value in the shortest time during onboarding.
Get upfront customer buy-in for training goals, metrics and processes.
You’ve very likely touched upon your customer’s goals (aka their “desired outcome” or individual definition of “customer success”) in the pre-sales and sales environments. During onboarding is the time when you and your customer need to identify and agree on what the first value should be--what matters most to them to get out of your software right away. This is a crucial time to set expectations as well as help customers feel confident and always know what the next steps will be in training.
Get buy-in from your customer when setting training milestones so everyone is on the same page about the goals of training (helping them reach the first outcome). Offer relevant training covering exclusively the most important features of your software that help your customers achieve their desired outcome. You can always teach more features in later trainings.
Ensure your customer is prepared to consume 1:1 and self-serve training content (you’d be surprised how many people say they’ll fit in training but don’t actually get to it unless there’s structure and reminders!). Introduce surveys, quizzes, or another measurement system early on so the feedback chain is established (in addition to the smart metrics you’ll be tracking through your LMS such as Learndot!). Require a gated sign-in process for training so it’s even easier to track for results.
Deliver the right self-serve and scalable trainings during onboarding (at the right times).
While CSMs and CEMs may step in for 1:1 human touchpoints, it’s also important to provide scalable training resources that help your customer move towards first value at their own pace. These self-serve training resources may include knowledge bases, recorded trainings, step-by-step guided support, quizzes and more. Onboarding resources may depend on the subscription level, with top tier customers getting access to a dedicated CSM or CEM, live video trainings and/or phone support, and lower tier getting primarily self-serve resources. Formalizing your training program and creating excellent self-serve resources frees up your CSMs and CEMs from teaching the same things over and over. The goal is a net positive arc of success--if your customers are really struggling, you can always deliver more personal training if needed.
It’s worth noting that even the highest caliber self-serve training resources aren’t a replacement for personal touchpoints--your CSMs or CEMs should always be willing to engage customers, especially early on in the onboarding process--but they’re crucial if you want to scale your customer success program.
Make Smart Use of Group Training
Group Training can include group calls (by cohort, especially) and recorded video trainings, as well as tracking groups in your LMS to measure a customer’s progress against peers. Your goal is to reduce the number of days between deal closing and onboarding completion, and any metrics and data you can put around groups is helpful both for you and for the customer. It can be very helpful to let a customer know how they rank among their group/cohort in terms of training outcomes. Create user groups in which customers can get additional feedback and support from each other. You can also gather data including trainings consumed, app usage, support tickets, and other metrics to establish benchmarks against which your customers can measure their progress to see if they’re falling behind in their cohort.
According to ServiceRocket’s Head of Training Bill Cushard, when gathering data, customers can not only measure themselves; you can use this same data to analyze the effectiveness of the training among the group. You should attempt to answer in your data: which groups performed better/worse, and why? What was different about groups that performed better/worse? What are patterns/characteristics of high-performing groups and low-performing groups? If you can answer these questions, you can implement interventions to improve low performers as well as address any weak areas in your training programs.
Every training during onboarding should focus on helping your customer achieve that one First Value that aligns with their desired outcome (how they define customer success). To help your customer achieve this First Value as soon as possible, establish goals and metrics that count up front, deliver the right training at the right time, and track zealously to ensure your customers are hitting their marks. Balance superb, scalable self-serve training resources, and group training programs, with scheduled 1:1 customer-trainer touchpoints. Through surveys and other tracking, measure trainings completed, usage data, and when your customer achieves First Value. Require a gated sign-in process for training to ensure all activities are accurately measured. And, most importantly, always know which trainings are driving behaviors that lead to successful outcomes. This is the best way for a training program to deliver lower customer churn, more upsell and cross-sell engagement opportunities, and long-term Customer Success.