Onboarding Ownership: Dedicated Team vs. Customer Success Management
Most Customer Success professionals would agree that Customer Onboarding and Implementation is one of, if not the, most critical stage in the customer journey. Failure to launch inevitably leads to poor adoption, poor engagement, and churn. So if we can all agree that this stage is critical, then why don't we staff accordingly to ensure it's successful.
In speaking with a multitude of Customer Success teams of all sizes, there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to determine who in the organization should "own" onboarding, but based off of my experience and what I've seen in the space, here are a few things to consider when determining who should manage onboarding.
1) Technical Complexity: If you have a product that is extremely technical, complex and highly configurable you might want to consider having an onboarding or implementation team manage the initial process. In fact, it's highly likely that you will need more than one resource to ensure its success. You might consider having a project manager who is responsible for the success of the project as well as the orchestration but they would partner with an engineer or an architect who would be doing more of the build or guiding the technical team through the process. On the flip side, if you have a very basic "one-size-fits-most" solution, that is pretty easy to deploy, you can consider having the Customer Success team own this stage in the journey.
2) Time to Deployment: If your solution takes more than 120 days to get up and running, in fact if it takes more than 90 days to get up and running, you may want to consider having an Onboarding team manage this project. The Customer Success team plays a very responsible role in the partnership and customers who are in onboarding can require a lot more time and attention, if your CSM is working to support 30+ other customers, this might present a challenge resulting in one customer getting more time and attention than another. If you have a product you can get up and adopted in the first 60~ days, the CSM might be fine managing this but otherwise consider having a dedicated team manage the process.
3) Leverage Ratios: If your CSMs are carrying a large number of customer this might impact their ability to manage customers in the onboarding process. Allocating the appropriate amount of time to customers in onboarding to get them set up properly is a good strategy but only if you have the time to allocate. If you've conducted a top-down, bottom-up analysis you should know how much time it would require your CSM to support 1 customer - that would change for a customer in onboarding so you would need to account for this. If your CSMs are not built to support the additional hours of a customer in onboarding you may want to consider having a dedicated team.
4) Company Stage: Despite all of the factors above, the stage of your company can play a part in determining if the CSM manages customer onboarding or if you have a designated team. In an early stage startup, you may not have the funds to hire additional resources resulting in the CSM owning all stages of the customer journey. If this is the case, perhaps there is a manageable number of customers where this is not impossible, but points 1 & 2 can cause this to break down quickly if your organization is growing quickly.
5) Premium Onboarding: If your customers are paying for onboarding then you should staff accordingly; think about this as the familiar billable hour model we see with consultants. Staffing in this model should not be difficult to justify as this part of the organization is a profit center and likely managing their own P&L. The challenges here are when there are no or a low number of projects going on, how do you keep those resources busy. Time tracking and management is really important in this scenario.
At the end of the the day, there are a ton of factors that might determine who manages onboarding at your organization, but more important than "who" is the what, when and how. Your organization should focus on designing the appropriate onboarding model and experience to help ensure your customers are successful as quickly as possible.