At Hubspot, we recently overhauled our customer onboarding strategy after having identified the status quo added friction and wasn’t customer first.
In this article, I’ll explain why and how we implemented an objective-based onboarding strategy to become more customer-centric, all the while maintaining personalization, plus explore possible ways to innovate in our roles and share some key insights gleaned along the way.
Hi, my name's Paula Mendes, and in this article, I'm going to talk about how to perform a customer-centric onboarding experience at scale while maintaining personalization.
About Paul Mendes of HubSpot
I currently work at HubSpot. HubSpot is an all-in-one software for inbound marketing, sales, and service. My role is customer onboarding specialist. I'm originally from Brazil, working in our LATAM office located in Colombia.
Before HubSpot, I used to work as a sales account executive. It turned out to be a great background to have because I got to experience some of the pains and responsibilities of sales reps, which really helped me understand better how CRM and automation can help the productivity of sales teams and show the value of our product to the customers.
Besides work, I love to travel, I love to learn about different cultures, places, and people.
First, I want to talk about a big shift we recently witnessed in HubSpot onboarding, and explain to you how and why we did it.
Secondly, I'm going to explore some of the possibilities to innovate in our own role and to really be customer-centric.
Finally, I'm going to point out some key insights for you to bring back to your day-to-day role.
I know many of you are probably tired of hearing and reading the definition of onboarding but I wanted to clear it up.
Onboarding is the process of introducing a newly acquired customer to your company's product or service. It's a way to get them engaged with your product and assist them to experience how your product will help them achieve their goal.
In other words, we put a lot of effort into marketing and sales to get the customers but unless we do an onboarding process, the customer will see no value in our software.
How and why HubSpot changed its onboarding strategy
Before talking about HubSpot onboarding, we need to understand how HubSpot developed its relationship with customers. To understand this, we need to talk about culture.
We have a culture code - HubSpot is crazy about culture, it takes it very seriously because it's the operating system that powers the company. In this code, HubSpot lays out the seven amendments, the seven topics that it lives by, everything that they believe in.
I won't tell you all of them, although I encourage you to go find them online because it's great. But I want to highlight the second amendment, which is we look to the long term and to sell for the consumer.
What does that mean? We want to delight customers not only satisfy them, and we only want to acquire customers that we can delight because our goal is to help them succeed.
HubSpot has this important mission that has helped millions of organizations grow better. We can only do that by listening to our customers, putting them first, and getting customers that we can delight.
You must be thinking "Yeah, yeah, I've heard that before it's a nice speech". But we have taken real steps and made real changes to support this ideal. One of these steps is our new onboarding strategy.
Why we changed strategy
Problem 1: One size fits all onboarding
We quickly realized it was not possible to help customers achieve their goals if we had a one size fits all onboarding. Our onboarding and professional services needed to be tailored to our customer's most important priorities.
For example, we can have two marketing hub customers that purchase HubSpot with completely different goals. One might want to focus on improving quality lead generation, and the other might want to automate their entire marketing process. If each customer sees success differently, we should provide unique paths to their goals through the onboarding that we offer them.
Problem 2: Sales and service team not aligned
We noticed that the sales and service teams were not working together in this initial and crucial step of the relationship with the customer. Sales used to work with the scribes for months, gather all this information but most of it gets lost in a black hole.
The onboarding specialist did not have easy access to it and the customer gets in their portal after months of discussing their needs and nothing's customized. It seems that nothing was valued by the sales rep, nothing is in the portal to help them get started.
Problem 3: Unclear onboarding
It was not clear what they had to do. They had to wait to talk to their onboarding specialist before they could do anything inside the tool that they just acquired.
They're eager to start doing something. In the end, the onboarding finishes, and all we base it on was the hours spent.
The outcome: Not customer first
We can see this is not very customer first. We treated them with a standard approach, added friction by not aligning our sales and service teams, and didn't give them the tools to find success fast without our help. We had to change that.
The solution: Objective-based onboarding
Although we want it to be very personal, to have this very personalized, tailored experience for the customers, we knew we couldn't be all about personalization, it also needed to be scalable. We created what we call objective-based onboarding.
The whole idea behind the objective-based onboarding is to move to a personalized goal-oriented model to help customers grow with HubSpot.
We created a framework where the process of discovering what's important for them starts in their first interaction with us.
So the new process would be during the negotiation, we present a list of goals they might have with our tool, thinking about goals for marketing, goals for sales, and goals for service - we have about 10 options of goals for each hub. We ask them to choose three of them to be worked during the onboarding.
The second step would be after they acquire the software, they open their platform for the first time, and they find the three projects, a checklist with actionable steps and guidance to help them during their first days, according to the goals they chose with the sales rep.
Each step contains a description and resources to get them started. So we have this whole area of the tool focused on projects that they can create on their own, or use to help get started with the tool.
Tailor to needs
Finally, they get in touch with their onboarding specialist for the first time, they already have a bunch of resources and the onboarding specialist will use those projects and other insights to tailor the onboarding process according to their needs.
This specialist will give strategic guidance to help the customer complete each project and share the right resources and best practices. That along with our support team, our knowledge base, with our academy will be the resources to give the customer all the power to be very successful with our tool.
Projects as the core
We decided to go for this idea of projects as the core of the onboarding, not relying only on automated emails, videos, or documents because we wanted to put all the focus inside the platform.
Asking customers to follow steps in one place, for example, a video explaining how to set something in the tool, an onboarding document, playbook, a PDF, and do the action in order in the tool - the software itself - is not practical.
The smartest way we found to go about it was to rely on adoption inside the tool.
As you can see, we've shifted from a one size fits all onboarding to an objective-based onboarding, we created more collaboration opportunities between our sales and service teams, setting the customer to success from day one.
Also, we gave the customer tools to find success earlier without their help. We generated a sense of completion of the onboarding, it's no longer just based on hours and familiarity, but on actual steps completed inside their portal, inside their project, to ensure the customer is set up to meet the goals and find all the success with us.
How we can innovate & be customer-centric
Although this new process is very well structured, in practice, there's always room for innovation. To really be customer-centric sometimes means not following the process 100%. Each case and each customer is different so here's my perception of how we can innovate and really be customer-centric in our roles.
In practice, being customer-centric means listening to the customer, especially working with different markets, we need to understand what they really need.
For LATAM, for example, we noticed that many customers were coming from a previous tech stack. They used to work with different tools, and their number one priority was to deactivate the other tool and start using HubSpot.
They need the resources to help with tool migration, what we did was to create a whole new project, a whole new goal, just focused on the LATAM market, that they could pick and focus on steps for migration because that's what was their priority.
Also, we started building projects from scratch for customers that had a very specific goal. Asking them to follow a checklist that doesn't communicate with their pains and needs is not what we want. We can also create customized ones to adapt to their goal.
Also, we need to understand the profile of each customer. One thing that really helped me doing my job was to understand that each customer learns and moves differently. It is important to read their profile and ask how they like to learn.
- Are they tech-savvy?
- Do they usually solve for themselves by going after the resources I shared?
- Do they have a clear view of their goals?
Because sometimes they don't and when they don't we have to take a step back to help them understand their goals. Then we can move forward with implementation.
Some customers just like more visual resources, others just like to be reminded of their tasks, some just want validation on what they did. Your onboarding approach should change depending on their profile.
The customer sets their goals before they start using the tools. In our case, sometimes months before using it. If they say their priorities change when they finally get in the tool and they find out what it is, maybe someone left the team or let's say we're in the middle of a global pandemic crisis, we should be able to adapt with them and change the direction of the implementation to the scenario, to the context where they are.
Generate quick wins
Also, we should generate quick wins - understand not only the user point of view but also the professional point of view of the person you're interacting with. They're usually employees who need to develop something for the company that they work in.
Let's say they have to structure a new process and they have to report to someone - ask that person, what will make you look good to your boss? Help them find the right thing to focus on and that will be good for you because you will be helping them see results faster, deliver results faster, the decision-maker will be seeing that, it will be a promoter for your company, most likely they will be retained.
Activate them first, and make them focus on the things that will generate quick wins for them.
Three key takeaways
With all that, there are three things that I want you to reflect on and to take home.
- The first is that we need to create a structure that is both scalable and personalized. We shouldn't have a standard process just to onboard a huge volume of clients. We need scalability, that's true, it's very important but also think customer first and personalize so they can find success in the real sense of it.
- Rely on adoption inside the tool, use that to your favor, customers will be inside the tool more often and that will help you activate them. Getting them to log in is the first step to get them engaged with your software. Making them go inside the software to find the project, to find the checklist, is the first step to getting them creating stuff inside your portal and using the software that they bought.
- Being customer-centric sometimes means not following the process. Listen to your customer. Our preset framework can help them - if not, and they ask for something that is doable within our reach, let's say creating a new project, creating a new goal, creating a whole new strategy for a specific market such as LATAM - do it. That will help you retain them, that will turn them into promoters, to speak great stuff about your company, and that will be a win-win for both sides.