"We're product-led. And that means we're self-serve. So we're good with completely automated onboarding, right?" Not really.
While it all sounds lucrative to think that being completely product-led would shorten the customer's time to value, get customers to self-sign-up in droves, improve the conversions—it's far from reality for most SaaS companies.
You might have the best automated onboarding sequence complemented with videos, tutorials, and other forms of self-service content, but you're still betting on your customer to understand your product on their own.
In one of our earlier blog posts, we discussed in detail why product-led alone as a go-to-market (GTM) motion isn't enough and why or how to add a sales-assisted layer to improve your GTM motion.
In this post, we will specifically look at a few tips on how to improve the SaaS buyer experience with sales-assisted onboarding.
What is sales-assisted onboarding?
In many ways, the sales-assisted role in a product-led environment works more like customer support or customer success than sales. It’s less about selling and more about educating and supporting the buyer.
In a typical product-led environment, the onboarding is mostly self-serve. A customer signs up for your product, starts their free trial, goes through the guided in-product onboarding videos, receives a sequence of onboarding emails, and then goes on to become a paid customer.
Here’s how the no-touch product-led onboarding cycle looks:
In contrast, here’s how a sales-assisted onboarding experience looks like:
The sales-assisted onboarding is a model where we go the extra mile to help the customer achieve their goals using our product. Again, it's about offering a personalized customer experience from the get-go—and "assisting" the prospect in their self-discovery without being salesy.
A customer signs up for a free trial of your product and goes through the onboarding sequence. While your customer is in the automated onboarding workflow, you keep your ears to the ground to see if the prospect would like any assistance to accelerate their time to value.
You reach out to the prospects to check if they need any assistance, i.e., offer them a 1:1 onboarding session with your team. Then, your Account Executive (AE) or your Customer Success Manager (CSM) improves their onboarding experience by helping them accomplish their goals using your product.
The whole point of offering a 'sales assisted' experience is to remove any friction from their buying journey.
Why do you need to offer sales-assisted onboarding?
The fundamental reason to offer sales-assisted onboarding is to offer assistance rather than sell. No matter how great your product is—no one knows more about your product than you. Therefore, regardless of how good your automated guided onboarding is, you need to reach out to customers who are trialing your product and help them succeed in the goal they're trying to achieve with your product.
The core intention of sales-assisted onboarding is—instead of being a typical product-led vendor that expects the customer to adapt to your product, you take a proactive approach by assisting them like a partner.
The role of sales-assisted onboarding
1. Educating the customers and accelerating the time to value
It's not uncommon that even the simplest of products have a little bit of a learning curve. But, in addition to that, you need to realize that the customer who is trialing your product has a full-time job or is probably running their own business. And that means they might not be able to experience the value of your product in a 7-day trial or even a 14-day trial unless they get additional support from your team.
So, the role of the sales assisted team is to keep tabs on product usage, understand the hotspots where customers might need assistance, and then reach out to them proactively. For instance, you could reach out to the customer and offer a 1:1 demo to remove any possible friction and accelerate the time to value for your product—thus helping them accomplish their goal.
2. Collecting feedback to optimize the overall buying experience
While the sales-assistance team helps prospects solve their problems or answer their queries, they also act as the perfect bridge between customers and internal teams. They capture the customer feedback, identify the gaps in the onboarding process, and relay it to the internal teams such as marketing, product, sales, and support to better optimize the buying experience.
For example, our sales team uses Avoma's snippet feature to share customer feedback instantly with our product and marketing teams.
3. Opportunity to land and expand
The process also means keeping all your key teams in the loop from day one. For example, you can use a conversation intelligence software to record, transcribe, and take AI-generated notes across all your sales-assisted conversations (permitted within the call recording laws). This helps the customer success team to gain complete context when they take over the account after you seal the deal.
It helps your customer success team expand newer opportunities, not by pushing it too hard, but because they have deeper context about the account and the decision-makers involved. So you start at the user level and ultimately impact the account level.
Building and delivering a world-class onboarding experience
As discussed above, delivering sales-assisted onboarding is all about delivering the best possible experience to customers by breaking down silos and reducing friction as much as possible. To deliver such a seamless onboarding experience, you need a well-defined process or a set of steps you can follow so that you deliver value in the shortest possible time.
Build a cross functional sales-assistance team
It all starts with the team composition of your onboarding team. In most SaaS organizations, the key 'sales-assistance' responsibilities are majorly owned by sales and customer success. But that’s not enough.
When you're serving the SMB and mid-market, the expected onboarding experience goes beyond educating customers on your product functionalities.
Customer-facing teams, such as customer success or sales, are often caught up between managing the training needs of multiple departments and dealing with customers' business goals simultaneously. Therefore, you can’t confine the responsibility of sales assistance to these two teams.
It would be best if you had a cross-functional team with expertise across product, marketing, sales, and customer success so that you offer assistance to the customer throughout the customer lifecycle.
Ideally, you might want to group your sales-assistance team based on three parameters—Onboarding, Retention, and Monetization. And then set up an internal feedback loop (based on your customer-facing conversations) to ensure that you're removing every possible friction along the way.
Product and marketing specialists can contribute to the assistive experience in a big way in bridging the gaps in the current onboarding experience. For example, the feedback loop may help them improve the product's UI, thereby enhancing the user experience. It might also lead the marketing team to create the right how-to documentation, case studies, and more.
The cross-functional mix allows you to optimize onboarding flows faster as you have shared owners between sales assistance and one of the core functions (product, customer success, sales), thereby eliminating bottlenecks and dependency delays.
Optimize for the right mix of automated and assisted onboarding
The sales assistance team is the main education carrier for your product and is often an extension of the product itself. But the real make or break factor in the onboarding experience is—the right mix of automation and sales-assisted onboarding.
An overly aggressive team could turn off prospects who would prefer to be left alone. It's rather about creating a friendly environment where customers know that there are experts readily available to answer their questions, guide them about the product, and help them solve their problems.
In short, having sales-assisted onboarding doesn't mean every customer needs a concierge experience. Instead, it's about leveraging the automation to let your customer be as autonomous as possible and yet be available to assist them when needed.
Largely, there will be two types of customers that need sales assistance—the ones that reach out to your support with a request and the other set to whom we need to proactively reach out by understanding their product usage trends and workflow.
The key is to find ideal moments in their onboarding journey so that the reach out from your sales-assisted team is welcomed rather than being an interruption. To enable that, you can identify key milestones or key activation moments in your product such as connecting their calendar to the product, setting up the account, etc.
Those moments can be opportunities for you to reach out to your customers, appreciate them for using certain features well, and guide them through the next steps. For instance, leading with personalized insights based on user behavior is a great place to start.
Maybe you can have two different workflows based on qualification criteria.
- If the trial users are individual customers, let the product offer a fulfilling self-serve experience.
- Have a separate workflow for potentially bigger opportunities where the prospects are qualified by your sales development reps (SDRs), and then passed on to the sales-assistance team, thus ensuring that their time and energy is spent on the right accounts..
To sum up, while many customers prefer a valuable knowledge base of help docs, webinars, videos, and other forms of self-service content, there are several instances when prospects expect brands to offer a human touch.The hybrid onboarding accelerates customers' time-to-initial value, increases the adoption rate, improves customer retention, and boosts their lifetime value in the long run.
Overall, the whole point of offering sales-assisted onboarding is to add value to the product experience and reduce friction wherever possible.
Sales or customer success need not be a siloed function just because you're a product-led organization. Punctuating the product-led onboarding process with a human touch from time to time can go a long way in improving the experience, conversion, and customer lifetime value.