Variable cost models for Customer Onboarding

John Gatlin
John Gatlin Member Posts: 3 Seeker
edited May 2021 in Metrics & Analytics
Hello GGR Community.

I lead our Customer Onboarding function. My team delivers implementation services to get our customers live and adopted on our products. Once a customer is adopted, they are transitioned to our Customer Success team. Like our Customer Success team, our onboarding team is a cost center rather than a profit center.

I am challenged by variable inputs. Volume of new customer sales can vary significantly from month-to-month and quarter-to-quarter. I need a cost structure that can vary as sales and inputs vary.

Our Customer Success leader suggested that this forum would be a great place to hear different perspectives on variable costs.

I would love to hear about your good or bad experience with variable cost approaches. Thanks in advance for your thoughts.


  • William Buckingham
    William Buckingham Member Posts: 39 Expert
    5 Insightfuls First Anniversary First Comment Name Dropper
    edited May 2021
    Hi @John Gatlin

    I have no doubt there are smarter individuals than myself here at GGR to answer this, but I will give you my best thoughts on this.  

    Varying Demand on Onboarding:  I think this is much more common in SaaS than would seem based off the attention it gets.  Scaling an Onboarding team is always at the whim of Sales' productivity/outcomes.  The reality is that Onboarding/Implementation is going to require agility in meeting this varying demand.  Typically seems you have to decide to staff for the low volume times or high volume times.  Assuming time-to-value and reducing early churn is a priority, I would imagine erring on the side overstaffing is the way to go.  

    So I think it comes down to approaching via Varying Costs or Varying Purpose.  Varying Costs might mean you base more of implementations pay off of the number of accounts onboarded. Or simply contract out this work so it is strictly based off real-time demand.   I have never worked with a Varying Cost model for Onboarding.    The alternative is to embrace the varying demand for Onboarding, maintain the relatively fixed costs and agility which comes from a team of FTE's, and focus on the team having multiple value-add capabilities.  Varying Purpose means these team members can onboard customers (primary, default objective), but then when that need is reduced or absent for a short period of time, they can add value somewhere else.  

    With that being said, I think the key is to find ways to maximize those team members during the down time, and to do so via activities which do not become bottlenecks or value gaps during the high-demand season.   A few backup uses of the Implementation team when completed sales are not coming through include the below.  Some of these are dependent on aspects which determine if a fit or not for each business. 
    1. Support Backup:   You can always have your Implementation team hop in the support queue and chip away at the queue when they have no onboarding to do.   
    2. Sales Enablement/Solutions Engineer Backup:  If you have a live chat for your Sales Reps to access technical expertise, you can have your onboarding team members hop in this queue during down time.  I actually love this strategy because it allows Onboarding to chime in and actually help prevent incorrect expectations when the sales process becomes technical.  It also gets the Sales and Implementation team members rubbing shoulders enough to better appreciate the other person's role more than typically do.  
    3. Knowledge Base Audit/Contribution:   During downtime, you can have these team members hop in the knowledge base and identify errors and missing content, and then have them draft edits/content to be sent to Copy team.   
    I am sure there are more creative ways to alternatively purpose these team members during slow times, but  I always find these to be generally valuable activities which contribute to the overall, common goals of Implementation teams:  Reducing Churn, Reducing Customer Support Effort/Costs, and Improving Customer Experience.  

    Hope this helps.

    Will Buckingham

    Customer Success Operations Manager, Enablement

  • John Gatlin
    John Gatlin Member Posts: 3 Seeker
    edited June 2021
    Hi, @William Buckingham.

    Thank you for your thoughtful response.  We are working now on some 'varying purpose' work in support of other functions..

    I appreciation your thoughts.
  • Will Stevenson
    Will Stevenson Member Posts: 16 Thought Leader
    First Anniversary
    edited June 2021

    Hey John, 

    Great question. 

    I like the idea of Onboarding at a price tag. That said, I also like the idea of discounting that cost if goals are achieved.

    At the end of the day, your goals and the customer's goals should be aligned. You both want to get the software up and running AND adopted as quickly and efficiently as possible, while setting the client up for scale. 

    This idea will take some coordination with your sales team, but I've done it with great success in the past. Onboarding costs $X. If the customer asks for a discount in Sales, the sales team can say - the full amount is due today, but if you launch within X days, we'll refund you the cost of onboarding. 

    That said, you have to be really clear about what "launch" means. Document the steps/benchmarks that they have to achieve, before they get the refund. You don't want them sprinting through onboarding, getting it "launched" halfway and saying "where's my refund?". This is where a system comes into play.

    Another reason I like this is if the customer doesn't get onboarded in the desired amount of time, chances are they'll use more of your resources and your team will be compensated for that time. 

    Hope this helps!