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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 - your product didn’t quite have it yet - but the AE promised the account that the product team would build it. Sales whipped up a contract, the Docusign went through, and your laptop pinged with dozens of congratulations notifications from the sales slack channel.

The deal closed, but now the product team has had to add another feature to their roadmap and the pressure is on them to deliver. Engineering capacity was already thin and now some things have to be deprioritized. This is the world of B2B SaaS, and it’s what you signed up for.

This story is why there’s never a “right moment” for B2B SaaS Customer Success leaders to go and ask the VP of Product or Engineering, “can you help me productize our customer onboarding?”

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

Why Your Productized Onboarding Always Gets Pushed to Next Quarter

It’s not just an engineering capacity problem. The real problem is around incentives. While product leaders are incentivized to prioritize the features that immediately generate new revenue, they are not incentivized to fix onboarding.

When trends in the market demand new features or an AE shares that an important account wants something changed - that represents immediate and clear new revenue. Your productized onboarding just got deprioritized.

So why is there a disconnect between onboarding and revenue generation? You already know that productizing your onboarding experience will create positive impacts on ACV and Customer Satisfaction. The problem is that the data connecting customer onboarding to revenue isn’t easy to surface for most B2B SaaS companies.

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. That’s also why it’s difficult for B2B SaaS leadership to measure and incentivize product teams to improve the customer onboarding experience. It’s just a lot clearer for everyone if sales owns revenue and product/engineering own building features that support the most revenue.

That leaves the customer experience to Customer Success teams. Oftentimes we have to fight that battle without the right tools and without internal support. Unless your company starts to measure and incentivize product teams on customer experience 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 to say you can get more budget, hire engineers, and fix customer onboarding yourself?

I (Almost) Decided to Give Up on Productized Onboarding

At many of the startups I worked at, incentive structures made it next to impossible for me to get engineering resources for onboarding. It seemed there were always bigger fires to put out and most were burning outside the domain of customer success.

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

In my previous role, I got lucky. I was able to secure a budget, transitioned out of customer success, and became a product manager. I took on the Herculean task of building and shipping a productized onboarding solution.

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

After I crunched the numbers, I started to understand 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 saw first hand that productized onboarding requires long term, ongoing, expensive engineering support and resources.

At a bare minimum, 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. Then you’ll have to continue to secure a budget to maintain and update your productized onboarding experience. Keep in mind that it will also have to change and evolve at the same pace as your product.

When I built productized onboarding in house, the total cost was over a million dollars each year and it took two years to complete. That experience showed me the truth that no one can enable productized onboarding with a quick internal build. It’s not just a project - it’s an entire product of its own.

Building Productized Onboarding Internally Takes and Costs Too Much

B2B SaaS product leaders are always strapped for resources. Everyday the product leader at your company has to carefully manage her resources to make sure existing customer builds are maintained, bugs are fixed quickly, and features that will help with new revenue are prioritized. Everything has to go into producing new logos and new revenue.

Now let’s consider the sales team or the marketing team. They both need budget as well. Your company needs to create as much demand as possible and capitalize on that 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 to show the immediate impacts of a productized onboarding experience in a way that compels founders and executives to budget and prioritize for 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 I Think Most B2B SaaS Companies won’t ever Build Productized Customer Onboarding

One of my biggest takeaways from my many failed attempts to convince leaders of the merits of an internally built and supported productized onboarding experience. It didn’t matter how I pitched it, or who I talked to. There weren’t enough resources for it. And it was always out of sync with my organization’s quarterly goals.

Then I discovered that productized onboarding is out of reach for most B2B SaaS companies..

Over the last year, I interviewed more than a 100 Customer Success leaders at various B2B SaaS companies. Through our conversations, I’ve learned that building productized onboarding is something that they all saw as important but it always ended up on the backlog.

Lack of budget and resources is why we’ve been forced to use Google Drive and Google Sheets. 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 only way to start our customer relationship off on the right foot.

Having laid out all of the challenges we face in advocating for a productized onboarding experience, it may seem like this is a battle you can’t win. In Part Two of this post, I’ll share how I was able to successfully pitch my company to productize our onboarding flow.

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