The sales “funnel” concept has been a staple of business revenue for as long as I can remember. When it comes to making that revenue repeatable and sustainable, however, it must be augmented with a few key areas of focus. One that the traditional “funnel” omits entirely is onboarding, thus it is a step that many companies miss or get wrong.
What is onboarding? Simply put, onboarding is the greatest opportunity to go beyond completing transactions and to start building thriving relationships with our customers.
As its name suggests, it is the process of bringing customers “on board” after the purchase is complete. In “funnel thinking,” the purchase process ends with the sale. But for the customer, their main experience with who we are as a company (not as a sales unit) begins with the purchase. From the customer’s point of view, the marriage doesn’t end at the wedding, it begins there. They spent months “dating” us. They selected us from among other suitors. They signed the “marriage contract” and have accepted the risk that goes with that.
They’re no longer a prospect; they’re on board with us and they can’t wait to get started. They have expectations and questions.
When do we kick off? When is my product shipping? Will I have a project manager? What’s the next step? They may have doubts and insecurities as well. Did I do the right thing in signing with this company? Will this be good for my career?
These doubts and questions only multiply the longer they go unaddressed. And yet, quite often, nothing happens after the contract signing. Crickets. This gap of inactivity can last anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks. Why? Maybe the company was so busy closing the order they haven’t handed it over to the service team yet, and so the service team doesn’t even know the customer exists yet. Maybe no one has been assigned to bridge the gap.
Or maybe the company does bridge the gap, but they do it in a clumsy, formulaic way that does not show respect and appreciation for the customer.
The Bad and The Ugly
Have you ever had an experience like this? You book a nice hotel for a few days away with your special someone. The hotel website wowed you with promised services and amenities, and you’re really looking forward to the stay. You enter the lobby—your first encounter with the facility itself—and no one’s at the front desk. You look around, you wait a minute or two. Nothing. You ring the bell for service, and no one comes. Growing impatient after five minutes, you check behind the counter or you peek into a back office to see if anybody’s there—and suddenly someone barks at you, “You can’t be back here!” You explain that you’ve been trying to check in, and they say, “Go back out to the lobby, I’ll be with you in a minute.”
Already you feel like an outsider, like you’ve done something wrong. You go up to your room, and you find your keycard doesn’t work, so you go back down to the desk, and you must wait in line behind two other guests who are checking in. Fifteen minutes later you’re finally able to get into your room, and it’s not the room you reserved. You paid for an ocean view. So, you call down, and the desk people react as if you’ve just dumped a problem on them and you should be grateful if they manage to solve it.
You’re now feeling downright adversarial toward the place. You finally settle into your non-ocean-view room. You’ve just fallen asleep; it’s 10:30 at night. The phone rings, and the voice on the other end – with no trace of irony – states “Good evening, sir. Just want to make sure you’re enjoying your stay. Is there anything else we can do for you? Would you like a wake-up call? Don’t forget to give us a reference on Instagram.”
Maybe a B2B company has been wooing you, calling you every day at your office. You feel like you’re getting to know the salesperson. When you chat together, you talk about sports and your kids and your interests. Then you sign the contract, and you’re ready to be assigned a project manager. But the first thing you get is the bill. Suddenly you feel like all that personal chat was just phony. You feel used. You knew you were going to have to pay for what you bought, but you were hoping to be welcomed first—maybe some service?
Perhaps you’ve made a service purchase and are waiting to find out what happens next. And nothing does. And nothing does. You eventually call the company, and they tell you, “We sent you an email explaining everything. Have you checked your junk folder?” From your perspective, you’re on the phone with them right now. Maybe they can help you get started now. Alas, they just want to point you back to that email you can’t find.
All of these are examples of missed opportunities on the part of companies to do some great onboarding. What too few companies realize is that all the customer’s goals, hopes, and desires for the purchase first begin to be realized (or not) in the onboarding step.
Customers need personalized communications, attentive setups and consistent check-ins to feel valued and invested in what you offer. What your customer wants is a relationship. And if you ever want to turn that customer into a client, you need to invest in the process of building that relationship. If you’re not committed to seeing this through from Day One onward, your competitors will always be happy to oblige.