How to slow churn and drive user success with SaaS onboarding coaches 

Clate Mask

Co-Founder and CEO at Keap.

Clate Mask

Co-Founder and CEO at Keap.

Last Updated
April 9, 2024
Estimated Reading Time
5 minutes

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Keap faced a big churn problem, and we turned to onboarding coaching to solve it. 

As a product-led company, it’s important to overlay your approach with the reality of customer experiences and their interactions with your platform. 

We discovered at Keap that new users weren’t completing onboarding because they didn’t know how to start using our software and were not experiencing its value immediately. 

To bridge the value gap, we needed to teach and train users about their processes and what they're automating. So we decided to infuse coaches into our onboarding experience to help improve customer success.

What is an onboarding coach?

An onboarding coach provides personalized support and training to ensure users can quickly and successfully use your software and experience its value. 

They may help customers map out their processes, understand key features of your software, and troubleshoot issues. 

Onboarding coach must-have skills 

Onboarding coaches are product experts with strong account management skills. Unlike traditional sales representatives, they’re more focused on understanding the product and implementing strategy with the customer. 

Your company is a great place to start looking for onboarding coach candidates. Look for teammates with a blend of sales and customer success skills backed by impressive expertise about your product. 

Can your company benefit from coaching?

Start by thinking about where your SaaS product falls on these two spectrums: 

  • Platform sophistication
  • Consumer to enterprise orientation

Now, consider what your customers bring to the table.

A simple, consumer-oriented tool is easy to implement. 

However, suppose your company operates in a complex enterprise, and your product requires a sophisticated implementation process. In that case, your customer will likely lack the requisite domain expertise and benefit from a coach.

Let’s bite into the obstacles preventing your users from succeeding in the next section.

A three-layered approach to coaching sessions 

Understanding customer problems helps your team tailor solutions to meet their needs better and accelerate learning with onboarding coaches.  

Three key areas impact customer success – product, knowledge, and skill gaps.

Now, imagine each as a layer of a cake. 

The base product layer addresses issues within the product experience. 

Next is the knowledge layer, tackling gaps that users should know to ensure success with the platform or task. 

Finally, the top skill gap targets users lacking the necessary skills to fully benefit from the product. B2B software companies like Keap have a big opportunity to help users bridge these skill gaps and accelerate their learning. 

Empowering users beyond product fixes 

While fixing problems in your product doesn’t always bridge the knowledge and skill gap, hiring onboarding coaches provides valuable support. 

It’s easy to blame customers for knowledge and skill gaps, assuming someone on their team is dedicated to filling them. 

Yet, small business employees often juggle many responsibilities with limited resources. This can lead to users deviating from the intended usage path and eventually blaming your software for their challenges. 

Keap’s journey to onboarding success

As a business automation platform, our users need some raw materials to start. However, the result was a high churn rate because how to use the platform was unclear. Initially, our primary focus was on ensuring the success of new customers. We experimented with templates and pre-built solutions, but they weren't enough.

Our customers needed more than a one-size-fits-all approach. They needed to understand their own processes before realizing the value of our software. 

We invested a lot of time and effort in directly addressing this need with onboarding coaches. 

Today, our coaches focus on pre-sale users. Before people become paying customers, we offer them personalized support to explain the automation process, map out their current processes, identify areas for improvement, and address any questions they have. 

The shift towards prioritizing user success has become synonymous with Keap’s success. Despite trying various post-sale tactics to reduce churn, the biggest difference came from hiring onboarding coaches to help users find value in our product. 

Keap’s coaching offerings include the following: 

What we discovered, and what holds true for other PLG companies, is that without the strategy right for your customers, achieving the level of success you desire for them in your product becomes challenging. 

The economics of hiring onboarding coaches

If your product is more complex and caters to enterprise users, investing in coaching might be beneficial. 

But does it make economic sense?

For an answer, let’s revisit where your product falls on platform sophistication and orientation spectrums. 

If your product falls somewhere in the middle to the right on both spectrums (leaning towards enterprise and robust platform), you'll find that lifetime value warrants some onboarding coach experience.  

Even if you’re in the middle of the spectrum, or only slightly to the right of one of these spectrums, and experiencing higher churn and lower lifetime value, this scenario warrants running coach experiments. 

Keep the cohorts separate, track them, and test them. 

Here are some best practices to keep in mind as you run these experiments.

  • Take a close look at gross retention and dollar retention. Tracking these metrics will clearly show the difference in lifetime value between customers who receive onboarding coaching and those who don’t. 
  • You’ll have to run these tests for more than one week, as tracking how coaching sessions impact lifetime value takes a while.  

Overall, founders will be surprised at how much of an increase in lifetime value you get for a relatively small human capital investment.

How to introduce coaching at your company

Get started with a couple of onboarding coaches, analyze data, and listen to customer experiences

Assign one or two onboarding coaches to new customer accounts and compare their performance with those without onboarding coaching. Then, closely track usage and success milestones. 

Beyond metrics, these coaches can share anecdotal insights about customer experiences. They’ll give your Product team great input on where people get stuck, what problems they encounter, and where your content perspective in marketing isn’t up to par.

This qualitative feedback helps you understand how users are showing up, leaning in, and getting value.  

Often, customers have “Aha!” moments, realizing how these experts bridge their knowledge gaps. They start seeing these coaches' impact on their businesses.

Start tailoring onboarding coaching for customer success 

The ratio of customers to onboarding coaches varies greatly across businesses.

Some choose to include onboarding coaches in their top-level package, using it as a trial to assess its value. Then, based on feedback, they adjust their approach, considering whether to include it in lower-tier packages.

Others adopt an onboarding coach plan, offering options ranging from a single call to a 90-day or even year-long program. The decision typically hinges on the sophistication of the platform and customer needs.

When rolling out onboarding coaching, the real trick is to start somewhere and refine your approach as you go. For more information on delivering value to your customers faster and scaling your business, check out the ProductLed System™️. This comprehensive GTM system includes the nine key components of a successful product-led business. 

Alternatively, if you’d like to work with a coach to implement the process component into your business, check out ProductLed Academy. It’s our intensive coaching program where we’ll help you build a strong foundation for product-led growth so that you can scale faster and with more control.

What’s unique about this program is we’ll work with you and your team to implement the proven ProductLed System™️ so that you can scale faster with less stress.

You can learn more about our coaching program here.

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