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Why most SaaS teams don’t get Productized Onboarding

Sai Arora

Here’s a story that happened last week at your company. A large account asked for a feature  which your product team didn’t account for. An AE promised the account that the product team would build it and whipped up a contract.  The prospect signed the contract and a Sales slack channel overflowed with excitement.


The deal may have closed but it comes at a cost.  The product team has to cram yet another feature into their current sprint cycle. Engineering was already spread thin and deprioritizes other initiatives to deliver the feature. This is the world of B2B SaaS, and it’s what you signed up for.


With so much going on, there's never a "right time" for a CS leader to ask their Product, “can you help me productize our customer onboarding experience?”

Most Product teams have this deck saved for easy reference ;)

Why Your Productized Onboarding Always Gets Pushed to Next Quarter

It’s not only an engineering capacity problem. The real problem is around incentives.  Product leaders focus on features that unlock generate long term value for customers. They are not incentivized to fix onboarding; something that impacts current customers once.


When Sales requests a feature for an important account, Product receives an opportunity to unlock long-term value.  Each new request like this means your productized onboarding request  is further deprioritized.


So why is there a disconnect between onboarding and revenue generation? You know that a great onboarding experience increases customer satisfaction and expansion opportunities. But it's hard to surface the data behind this.  It isn't easy to showcase the relationship between customer onboarding and revenue.


It’s difficult to see and track.  It’s not as clear cut as finishing a build for feature X and then having a deal close for $50,000 ARR the next week. This is why Success leaders fail to convince a Product team to invest in Customer Onboarding.


That leaves the ownership of the customer experience to Customer Success teams. Oftentimes we're fighting that battle without the right tools and without internal support. The only time most product teams take notice is when customers start churning mid-onboarding. By this point, it's usually too late to do anything that will make a difference. Until your product team cares about metrics like time-to-value, you can’t expect help from them.


The only way onboarding could become productized is if Customer Success takes it on. But is it realistic for you to get budget, hire engineers, and fix customer onboarding yourself?

I (Almost) Decided to Give Up on Productized Onboarding

At the startups I worked at, it was impossible  to get product resources for onboarding. There was always a bigger fires to put out and most were burning outside the domain of Customer Success.


I felt like giving up on the idea, but I knew i needed the right pitch and the right opportunity.


In my last role, I got lucky. I secured a budget and team to take on the task of shipping a productized onboarding experience.

I finally understood why I had never been able to get budget or help for productized onboarding

After I crunched the numbers, it became clear why Product and Executive leaders always say no. Building a productized onboarding experience isn’t a quick project that wraps up in a quarter or two. Along my journey I realized Productized Onboarding required on-going engineering support. Something that is very expensive..


On the smallest side, most B2B SaaS companies will need three engineers and a product manager. With that skeleton crew, it’ll take a year to build the solution. After this, you would need to secure  budget to maintain and update your solution. Keep in mind that it will also have to change and evolve at the same pace as your product.


For us, the total cost of our solution was over a $1M each year and it took two years to complete. This experience taught me that  productized onboarding isn't a quick internal build. It’s not a simple project - it’s an entire product of its own.

Building Productized Onboarding Internally Takes and Costs Too Much

B2B SaaS companies are always strapped for resources. Product leader face a dilemma between prioritizing features for new and current customers.  Everything has to go into producing new logos and new revenue for the survival of the company.


Now let’s consider the sales team or the marketing team. They both need budget as well. Your company needs to create and capitalize on demand as fast as possible. It’s easy to see why founders and CEOs have to spend as much budget as possible on sales, product, and marketing.


Unlike Sales, Marketing, and Product, it’s hard for Success to quantify the  impacts of a productized onboarding experience. This makes it harder to compel founders and executives to budget and focus on it. The ROI calculation is tricky and isn’t as straightforward as other orgs. When an executive has to choose where to invest their budget, onboarding rarely makes the cut.

Why Most B2B SaaS Companies won’t ever Build Productized Customer Onboarding

After pitching  productized onboarding to other leaders, I learned something.  It didn’t matter how I pitched it, or who I talked to. There was never enough resources for it. And it was always out of sync with my organization’s quarterly goals.


This is why productized onboarding is out of reach for most B2B SaaS companies..


This year, I interviewed 100+ Customer Success leaders at various B2B SaaS companies. They all knew providing productized onboarding was important. But they also knew that it always ended up deprioritized on a product backlog.


Lack of budget and resources is why we're forced to use Google Drive and Google Sheets. Somehow, along the way, this became considered a best practice. This isn’t a best practice, it’s a compromise. Onboarding is the first experience our customers have with us as a customer, not a prospect. Productized onboarding is the best way to start off a customer relationship. 


From reading about the challenges we faced,  it may seem like this is a battle you can’t win. In Part Two of this post, I’ll share how I successfully pitched my company to productize our onboarding flow.

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