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Enterprise Customer Onboarding: Ins and Outs of the Onboarding Process

/ Paige Frisone

Smiling woman presenting, set against solid purple background. Navy and white title that says enterprise Customer Onboarding.

You know your services are the best on the market, but your customer engagement is falling behind. What gives? Three words: enterprise customer onboarding. Without an effective customer onboarding process, success maxes out at the threshold of “good enough.”

If you’re solid in some areas and struggling in others, this onboarding guide is here to administer CPR on your systems. Here’s what we’ll cover:

Come on in, the water’s fine.

What is enterprise customer onboarding?

Business man in blue suit sitting outside a building on a computer.Effective enterprise customer onboarding means taking care of your customers from sales to product adoption and still thereafter. Image via Barbara Olsen.

Enterprise customer onboarding is the process by which businesses seek to successfully educate and maintain customers after a product or service sale. In other words, the steps beyond the purchase—introductions, training, getting started, goals, and milestones—are imperative parts of the onboarding process. And while all of that sounds very operations-driven, there’s a greater mission here: to develop the company-customer relationship (even if the customer is another business).

Unlike going to the grocery store and leaving with an abundance of food to experiment with, tech and software customers need a bit more hands-on assistance to start. Experimentation is a positive and eventual byproduct of effective enterprise customer onboarding, but not right off the bat. Why not?

Without establishing proper expectations of your company and its products, customers can perceive too much independence as abandonment. The operative word? Perception. The tell-tale sign of a successful onboarding process? Managing customer perceptions and exceeding customer expectations.

In the interest of not abandoning you in this process, let’s dive into a few reasons for onboarding, as well as some must-haves along any onboarding journey—a system for your systems, if you will.

Reasons for enterprise customer onboarding

Business man sitting with point-pen and a tablet looking at graphs.Shift customer perceptions and experiences with an elaborate and actionable success plan. Image via Adeolu Eletu.

Let’s return to the idea of perception.

Perception is the means by which humans process information on a sensory level. Our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, taste, and sense of touch inform our experiences, beliefs, and even physiology.

From an onboarding standpoint, these universal processing methods can guide your stylistic choices. That’s why engaging company materials sport brand colors, logos, and are built from cohesive templates. Understanding perception can fuel company missions as well.

Great products alone don’t make a business. Running a business is multifaceted; it involves understanding customer behavior, value, need, desire, and perception.

Businesses are also living systems. For that reason, if you want to see a different outcome, you’ll have to shift your perceptions first. To make sure we’re operating with similar perceptions, let’s explore this quick perception vs. reality demonstration.

Perception: Customer onboarding is solely designed for customers.

Reality: Enterprise customer onboarding impacts in-house staff as well. In the event of leadership changes or business model adjustments, onboarding can be internal or external.

Like any balanced relationship, there are three parties involved: you, them, and your relationship. If you initiate a change within the company, you’ll have to communicate with customers, thereby impacting your relationship. Tend to these three relationship dynamics and you’ll be just fine.

Perception: Enterprise customer onboarding exists to increase revenue.

Reality: In truth, customer onboarding improves revenue, which includes the amount, as well as the type of revenue. It costs more to gain a new customer than to keep an old one. So instead of focusing on the number of customers you have, shift focus towards customer loyalty and customer lifetime value (CLV).

Perception: Enterprise customer onboarding means endless follow-up emails.

Reality: Enterprise customer onboarding means actionable post-sales success plans. While some follow-up emails are involved, they’re part of a scalable value-driven process. In totality, enterprise customer onboarding involves:

  • Day-in and day-out tasks
  • Feature functions
  • New rollout training
  • Objectives
  • Training videos
  • Key milestones
  • Roadmap to expertise

The root thread amongst these aforementioned aspects is shifting perception. Once you can illuminate new potential, new possibilities, new confidences — you have customers for life.

Benefits of enterprise customer onboarding

Man presenting all-hands meeting deck to co-works in trendy workspace. Enterprise customer onboarding starts with leadership. Implement cohesive messaging for a high-quality trickle-down impact on customers. Image via Austin Distel.

The benefits of shifting from a passive, Let’s try this out onboarding program to a, This will change everything for the better onboarding experience speak for themselves:

  • Increased customer engagement, loyalty, retention, and referrals
  • Heightened revenue
  • Quantifiable effective business practices
  • Identifiable ineffective business practices
  • Established customer and company value
  • Strengthened business operations
  • Improved customer experience, ease, and satisfaction

If this process is done correctly, it can even help folks acquire and maintain careers based upon certain learned skill sets. Make that your gold standard and never stray. Watch what happens.

Just one of these outcomes is reason enough to revive and streamline business operations. But all? It’s a no-brainer. 

Other reasons to implement enterprise customer onboarding:

  • 86% of customers say they’d be more loyal to businesses with intentional onboarding programs
  • Competing with businesses that have enterprise customer onboarding systems put those without at a disadvantage
  • 82% of companies rate their onboarding experience as part of their value

Regardless of who or what motivates your best business practices, know that both businesses and customers alike strive for top-quality operations. In this case, not keeping up with the Joneses could hurt your business sales, retention, and overall reputation. 

Lastly, did you know that 40% of people prefer self-service to human contact? That means not only are people seeking businesses for their tools and products, but for their level of ease, accessibility, and self-teaching capabilities. 

And while anyone can throw caution to the wind and offer self-teaching assets, how you simplify this process for customers is a whole other ballgame. Since self-sufficiency has become a dominant societal value in the last several years, strategic businesses will use this feedback to optimize the self-learning experience. 

Speaking of achieving an excellent user experience, here are a few best practices to help make it happen.

5 best practices for enterprise customer onboarding

Computer alongside a tablet showing colorful pie charts, graphics, and statistics.The gift that keeps on giving—track customer data to improve systems, answer questions, and exceed expectations. Image via Pexels.

Enterprise customer onboarding can be perceived as:

  • Scalable business plans
  • Customer success plans
  • Plans for optimal business-customer relationships

All three of these definitions are correct and co-occurring. So let’s learn how to optimize these three moving parts with five best practices.

1. Instill urgency

Cue the Eisenhower Principle! Just because something’s important doesn’t make it urgent (and vice versa), so how can you make your company’s assets both important and urgent at once?

Education. Once you educate an audience, they can’t unknow what they know. Plant seeds to help folks understand what they’re currently doing, why it’s not working, what systems work better, and how to use them.

No one likes being made aware of things that aren’t working without solutions — so make sure you offer a holistic picture with intended and expected outcomes.

2. Document everything

Don’t let your hard work be all for naught. Businesses and customers alike rely on data-driven insights to support the why behind business decisions and investment opportunities. Track data to relay back into the business.

Keep logs on successes, failures, improvements, and share them with customers for optimum transparency. Everyone loves someone who takes accountability for their process and lack of communication is an immediate drama-causing red flag for any relationship.

3. Ask for feedback

Once you guide customers into company systems, tools, services, software, and philosophies, you can ask for periodic feedback with surveys. Of course, you’ll want to give them enough time to try your services before initiating. Premature action here can seem too sales-y, or sketchy — neither are great.

Oppositely, when customers can see you listen, change, and guide them through the changes, you're destined for positive reviews. Slow and steady does win the race when it comes to fostering your new business-client relationship.

4. Cater to user experience

The reason behind sound business leadership? Well, there are a lot. But everyone’s been a customer at some point or another, and putting yourself in those shoes can fuel smooth business ops. As a customer purchasing your product or tool, you might ask yourself:

  • What am I in for?
  • What’s the end goal?
  • How will I get there?
  • Who will help?
  • How long will it take?

Setting up a designated FAQ section may also help answer introductory questions. Customer onboarding can take anywhere from a few months to half a year or more. Differing variables can adjust the timeline, like if this is your first time building an onboarding process or if you’re switching management styles. 

Tip: Instead of just telling the customer how this process will go, try emphasizing the value of their feedback and participation. Ultimately, businesses should be helping customers discover where they find value, honor that, and build from there. Always offer expectations, but leave space for customers to discover their own, too.

5. Establish roles

Mapping out how the business’s role throughout onboarding is helpful for new customers. When faced with new terminology, new products, and new learning curves, the need for positive reinforcement and consistency grows.

Guide folks to introductory clips, training videos, or other self-study materials. Encourage them to reach out for guidance or to start with a particular feature. Gentle guidance each step of the way can actually foster efficiency for one’s creative process.

Enterprise customer onboarding in 5 quick steps

Two men and one woman sitting in front of computers at work with large windows in the background.Enterprise customer onboarding is customer service times one hundred. Establish goals and guide new and lasting customers to success step-by-step. Image via Arlington Research.

Alright, the time has come. You’ve acquired a new customer (or many). They’re in the liminal space between payment and what comes next. They might even be thinking, Hm, now what? And before they have an ounce of mental space for doubt, you swoop in! What’s your big move?

As John Legend poetically sings in one of his songs, When you move, I move —that’s exactly the type of dance we’re looking for with customers. Post-sales, here’s an onboarding structure idea to guide you as you go.

1. Confirmation and welcome

First thing’s first. What’s the immediate thing folks seek post-purchase? A confirmation email, of course! This confirmation serves as the customer’s first real contact with a company’s brand, message, and personality. Don’t let logistics squash creativity. Every impression with a customer informs perceptions.

2. Transition from sales to onboarding

On the backend for businesses, once a customer is in the system, they transition from sales to the onboarding department. Make it clear to customers who their point of contact will be going forward.

Time to ramp up success plans and actionable insights. Bring the customer into their own progress path. What do they value? How can you best support them?

3. Time to get started

Ah, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: a walk-through of services. Whether you offer an online software program, video editing tool, or tech product, it’s best to offer an interactive how-to for customers. Make an interactive video full of audio, background music, and pop-up arrows to demonstrate a step-by-step process.

Remember those universal processing methods we talked about earlier? Same goes for kinesthetic, auditory, and visual learners. The majority of the population learns visually, so using diverse media like videos are the way to go.

4. Feature rollouts and tutorials

Who doesn’t want to be a lifelong student? New and loyal customers can always learn something no matter what stage they’re in. Send consistent follow-up emails announcing new feature rollouts and ways to engage with them. Embed quick how-to videos— no more than a couple minutes — for instant upticks in feature usage.

5. Time to celebrate

There’s always a reason to celebrate, but it helps to get clear on milestones you wish to highlight for customers. First day? Congrats! Maybe you also include the six-month mark, year one, and every year thereafter.

You can also initiate milestones for the first time you try a particular asset or achieve an outcome. Decide whether to make these celebratory milestones a surprise or what criteria your customers can work towards. Just be sure your choices don’t invite confusion.

Tackle business growth opportunities head-on with onboarding

We’ve learned a few new business paradigms today. Create a dependable, encouraging, and balanced business with a working business-customer relationship. Treat business as a living entity (because it is) and pivot accordingly. Both B2B and B2C businesses are co-creative. Yes, it’s your role to provide expertise, authority, and direction, but how you do this effectively is subjective and dependent on your customer base.

While having a skeletal structure is helpful, leave space to innovate based on your data-driven insights, documents, and feedback surveys. No matter if you’re building your first enterprise customer onboarding process or polishing an old version, you’re on the up and up. Tap into your intuition, make sure to stay creative, and balance analysis with play.