August 18, 2019

How Marketing Can Help Develop an Effective Customer Onboarding Program

How Marketing Can Help Develop an Effective Customer Onboarding Program
The Importance of Customer Onboarding

Customer Onboarding is a critical driver of ongoing customer success and satisfaction. During this stage of the customer lifecycle, users are eager to get started with your product or service. This is your first opportunity to show each user how your product works, how it will benefit them, and why they should feel confident about their choice in going with your product.

Onboarding refers to the training and educational activities that will enable your customers to effectively engage with your product over the long term. This includes both new customers just starting out with your technology, as well as existing users who may need training on new product features, integrations or refresher material they can refer back to as needed.

Read More: My Ally Builds the First AI-Enabled New Hire Onboarding Software for the Enterprise

While onboarding is typically understood as a point-in-time exercise for the first 30 to 90 days of a new account, truly impactful customer onboarding is an ongoing process that spans the entire lifecycle of each customer. The most successful training programs are partnerships between the Marketing, Customer Success, Sales, and Product Teams. Marketing is particularly well-positioned to strengthen the onboarding process because of its focus on content creation and developing resources that speak to a variety of audiences. Your Marketing Team already has valuable experience, whether it involves the creation of advanced resources for existing customers or introductory content for new users, In some cases, Marketing may even own the entirety of the Customer Onboarding experience. With this in mind, for all the recommendations that follow, Marketing could be the Owner/Driver or a core participant.

A strong customer onboarding program is based on the specific needs of each user

and must communicate why they should care about your product and how it will make their job easier. In the following sections, I will delve into the three core audiences Marketing should target and the types of resources to consider for each audiences’ unique needs.

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New Users in New Customer Accounts

First impressions are lasting and it is important that new customers feel supported and quickly find value in your product. Similar to the partnership with Sales for prospects, once accounts sign on, Marketing and Customer Success Teams should partner to create resources that accompany the various phases of the customer journey. These opportunities include:

  • Live and/or recorded webinars that speak to common business challenges and how they can be addressed with your product;
  • PDFs or written guides based on common support ticket questions that proactively address areas of concerns or confusion; and
  • Email campaigns that drive knowledge development by promoting related onboarding coursework and other relevant resources.
Existing Users in Existing Customer Accounts

Particularly when someone is onboarding at a new company or in a new role, it can be difficult to retain all of the information required to use your product effectively. And as your company releases product updates and new features, you will have to continue educating your users. For these users, marketers can partner with Product Teams to create concise, to-the-point resources that quickly get them to value. These opportunities include:

  • 30-second video walk-throughs that demonstrate how to use a particular feature;
  • Learning paths made up of short, modular courses in which users can select the specific part of the training they want or need; and
  • In-product guidance that enables users to learn as they go, without leaving your product.

Given the existing relationship your company has with this audience, marketing also has a great opportunity to create targeted, highly personalized communications and outreach content that connects users with the latest information about new features or product updates.

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New Users in Existing Customer Accounts

While it’s easy to overlook these users as a group in need of specialized onboarding, your customers experience the same personnel changes as your company. Accordingly, the key to maintaining customers over the long term is to proactively prepare for changes like this.

When new users join an account, Marketing and Customer Success Teams must work together to get these users up-and-running as quickly as possible with the information and skills necessary to excel in their specific role. That said, this group does not necessarily require net-new training content; it is likely you can modify or repurpose existing resources. Examples of resources for this group include:

  • Short, how-to videos that walk through the fundamentals of using your product;
  • Blog posts that outline best practices, tips and tricks, and additional resources at the users’ disposal; and
  • Knowledge checks and quizzes that ensure users are successfully acquiring the right information.
Bonus: Prospective Customers

Marketing can use training programs to create a direct source of lead generation with targeted resources and campaigns that speak to common business problems and the solutions offered by your company. A related approach that I’ve seen work well is one where marketers offer training content that helps professionals up-level their skills or gain accredited licensure hours.

Training content can also help marketers shape the development of a new discipline or category. By getting the relevant professionals trained on their cutting edge technologies, marketers create a pool of evangelists that can drive the adoption of their cutting edge innovations.

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Some content formats and sources for you to consider are:

  • One-pagers that outline your product’s key features and benefits in a quick, easily digestible format;
  • Video walk-throughs that demonstrate how your product functions; and
  • Email campaigns that send relevant content to prospects based on their industry, size, and/or stage in the buyer’s journey.

A successful onboarding program positions your company as one that is dedicated to the success of each individual interacting with your product. As the team primarily responsible for showcasing your company and your product’s capabilities, Marketing serves a critical role in helping develop onboarding content and campaigns that do just that. First impressions are lasting, and companies that understand the strategic impact of onboarding on customer success are positioning themselves best for long term growth.

Read More: Employee Engagement: Leave No Generation Behind

If you’re interested in learning more, you can download the full eBook: A New Segmentation Model for Customer Onboarding

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Sandi Lin

Sandi Lin is co-founder and CEO of Skilljar, the leading customer training platform. Prior to Skilljar, she was a senior manager at Amazon.com. Lin has bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering from MIT and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

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