Challenge Customers During Your SaaS Startup's Onboarding

Tomasz Tunguz's (VC at Redpoint) blog is a must-read for SaaS startup founders. His most recent post Challenging Your Customers During Your SaaS Startup's Sales Process is no exception.

He references a 2009 Corporate Executive Board study on effective enterprise sales teams. Conclusion? The most effective sales person is a "Challenger" - someone who controls the sales process by teaching the potential customer what they need to do to achieve their goals.

Tunguz summarizes it perfectly:

This judo move changes the power dynamic in the relationship. The salesperson becomes an expert and the customer wants to continue the conversation to learn more about why their current worldview isn’t optimal, and how to fix it.

(emphasis mine)

This is exactly what you need to do during concierge onboarding - to take control and become the expert. Here are the right and wrong ways to do it.

Wrong onboarding: help them use your product

A new customer signed up for your SaaS app and you managed to get her on a Skype call to do concierge onboarding. Then you ask the first question that sets the stage for your entire relationship:

"Can I help you get started using my product?"

This approach is sub-optimal for 2 reasons:

  1. You've started by talking about your product and not the customer.
  2. You've conceded all power in the relationship. By making the product the center of discussion you've put yourself in the position of being "the person helping me with the product" instead of "the teacher/coach I trust".

The customer is now more likely to cancel in a few months or (worse yet) never convert to a paying customer.

Correct onboading: challenge them to achieve goals

We at All Aboard! use the GROW coaching technique to do our concierge onboarding calls. We take control (in a happy super-nice non-judo way!) by confirming the customers' Goals, helping them assess their current Reality, see potential Obstacles to achieving success and creating the Will for them to change.

The best way to start a call is to get agreement on the customer's Goals. 99% of the time you can start the call by just confirming them - since you most likely already know:

"Did you sign up for my product to increase your sales by 20% this year?"

Once you get agreement on the Goal the onboarding conversation is about how the customer can use your product to achieve them. You've help them identify obstacles and challenged them to create the will to achieve them. By the end of the call the customer should feel like they've got a new member of their team - a trusted coach or adviser who will help them become successful.

Do this and I guarantee you'll convert more trial customers and decrease churn on your SaaS startup.

Photo credit: Kim Paulin