Should Customer Onboarding & Implementation be done by Professional Services

Eddie Salce
Eddie Salce Member Posts: 2 Navigator
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Hello GGR Community,

This is my first post, so please go easy on me. In my career as a CSM, I've always run Onboarding and Implementation. At most, we would have a Solutions Engineer alongside us, or the customer would have a set number of hours, but all in all, CSMs ran Onboarding. I'm starting to hear talks of Professional Services managing the Customer Onboarding and Implementation as a Service customers purchase.  I'm a little hesitant of this approach, I'm a big believer that Customer Onboarding is critical to customers' long-term success. Additionally, I think it introduces too many handoffs and as the saying goes, "Too many cooks in the kitchen". 

The argument for this approach is that what we're doing now isn't scalable, and CSMs should only focus on building the customer relationship. I'm not sure if this is true since I've only worked for Startups, so not sure how this looks at organizations with a larger customer base. Maybe there's something I'm missing here, or I'm being naive, but seems odd to me that we would not take point for the first 90 days of a customer's time with us.  Any thoughts?


  • Andrew Shoaff
    Andrew Shoaff Member Posts: 25 Thought Leader
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    edited February 2021

    Hi Eddie,

    Excellent question, and unfortunately I don't think there is a single algorithm that answers the question.  Ultimately I think it comes down to the product.  Take Salesforce, for example.  Implementing SFDC is a huge undertaking and requires specialized knowledge to do correctly (data migration, product customization, training, etc).  For such involved processes, its really hard for a CSM to have all the knowledge required to get this done.   The cost to service provider of these services is also high enough that without a separate PSA you'd be hard pressed to recover those costs without a very high initial product MRR, or a very  long term contract.  

    But I think the above is probably more of an older model.  Trends are certainly going the direction of improved UI / UX to the point where customers really want products that don't require that level of setup.  It's a bit of the social media phenomenon.  When was the last time you saw a training for how to use FB?  FB and a B2B product may be apples and oranges, but it's still how most business consumers will evaluate a product.  

    Here's the thing - the only outcome that really matters is a customer's experience with the tool in the first period of the contract (call it 90 days, but it can vary by product).  If having professional services improves or accelerates product adoption, then it's probably worth it to consider.  If professional services aren't really necessary to produce better adoption results, then I think sticking with a CS do-it-all model is potentially cleaner and easier.

    I've done it both ways.  I started my career in PS and then as things moved to CS have been running dedicated CS teams for 10+ years.  I've had professional services with startups and startups without PS.  Again, it really comes down to the need of the product.  

    Happy to chat offline anytime - 703.786.5672.


  • Eddie Salce
    Eddie Salce Member Posts: 2 Navigator
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    edited February 2021
    Hey Andrew,

    Thank you for your thoughtful response.  I guess I hadn't considered some of these large platforms like Salesforce where some companies go as far as hiring a Salesforce Admin to manage the beast. 

    But to your second point, I do see it as a bit of an older model. As we improve UX practices, it seems like customers are looking at easy-to-use solutions. I think about these No-Code solutions where the whole point is that you can build elegant implementations with ease. If I'm focusing on the Customer Outcome, then it would probably make sense to have a ProServ function to accelerate product adoption. I'm looking forward to seeing it in practice for our product.
  • Jordan Silverman
    Jordan Silverman Member, CS Leader Posts: 109 Expert
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    edited February 2021
    This is something my startup is currently talking about as well.

    The question my CEO posed to me - if we are going to double our customer base, how do we do this without doubling the number of CSMs?

    What worked when we had 50 customers, no longer works when you have 500, and definitely breaks now that we are close to 2,000 customers.

    We decided not to charge for onboarding or training.

     Instead we landed on having specialized roles. Each client, even an SMB has a dedicated:
    - Onboarding specialist (we are an inventory software so lots of upfront setup)
    - Training specialist (focused on usage with major KPI of activation rate)
    - CSM

    The idea is the onboarding specialist goes away after a week or two. Training specialist goes away after a month.

    CSM is responsible for value and making sure the client is successful and happy long term.

    This has allowed the average CSM to have double the portfolio size where in the past new deal velocity was our biggest hurdle in scaling.
    Jordan Silverman
    (914) 844-5775
  • Srikrishnan Ganesan
    Srikrishnan Ganesan Member Posts: 26 Expert
    edited February 2021

    Hit the nail on the head! In addition, there's also the size of customer that matters.

    The easiest of products to use can still take 3 months of assisted onboarding to set up the right way for a large enterprise. In some cases with a PS /Implementation team, and in other cases with a simple team of onboarding consultants.

    For example, I set up slack for my start-up in 5 minutes. But how do you set up Slack for a 3000 member team? Just ask people to login and create channels? Trust the IT admin's judgement on how to set up channels for the whole company?
    Probably not.
    You need a specialist from Slack who has seen successful large deployments before, understands how to make sense of org structure in your 3000 member company, the dynamics and interactions expected between teams, and hence how to best set up channels, integrations, training, phased go-lives to ensure the team starts using slack in a way they are going to succeed with it. 

    There's a professional services team even in - smaller start-ups integrate in hours, not even days.

    Hope this helps! 

  • Jeffrey Kushmerek
    Jeffrey Kushmerek Member Posts: 96 Expert
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    edited February 2021
    In general, if you are in B2b, you will need some level of onboarding that is decoupled from relationship management. Unless you are truly a "pay credit card and all set" type of software , you will need some level of project management and perhaps configuration skills that a classic CSM skill set does not cover. Whether that is a standalone PS team, a group called "implementation" or something else is something that most companies figure out along the way and tweak as they scale. 

    I have a bunch of articles about this, but I will try to cover highlights:
    - you scale with specialization. Let the relationship people do the relationship stuff. Having a new customer launch usually means the existing base gets neglected

    - If you don't charge for implementation, you are devaluing your product and your customer will not value the experience. Skipped meetings, neverending projects, etc.

    - Charge with an established duration. This gets presented in presales and reinforced in kickoff. 10k, 30 days, transition. Use it or lose it. Change orders for delays that are customer-specific. As you grow, you eventually need to get to this place. This approach actually INCREASES CSAT and lower TTV. 

    - Charging also helps pay for your staff. If you only charge even 5-10 k and close 50 deals, that helps pay for the team and adds to the bottom line

    - Getting stickier into your customers usually means integrations and tighter coupling with business processes. This means running a project with basic PM skills, and perhaps some developer type or configurator type. All the more reason to specialize roles

    Happy to chat more or point you to some other tips if needed.