I was talking to an MSP the other day about onboarding. He had thought long and hard on how to optimize his onboarding practices, incorporating current best practices and expert recommendations. He had developed a robust onboarding plan, with checklists and documented timelines. He leveraged this process both as a selling device to instill confidence with prospects, and as a client management device to streamline the first critical steps in a client engagement.
Despite all that hard work, however, he had overlooked several critical onboarding considerations that could result in even more satisfied clients, less client churn, and, perhaps most importantly, stronger margins.
Why did this smart, up-to-date managed services professional miss these opportunities? He had fallen sway to common sense ideas about onboarding that, while not exactly wrong, aren’t totally right.
Common Sense Idea #1: Onboarding starts when the contract is signed
On the face of it, this makes sense. Onboarding is by definition about how you take on new clients – working with them to implement systems and processes to facilitate a smooth transition toward your full management of contracted services.
However, a documented onboarding plan also enables you to control and manage client expectations. And, sometimes, the ‘overpromising’ ship has sailed well before the contract is signed.
Far better to start the onboarding process – especially the network and device discovery process (including a full inventory of software versions, patch history and configurations) – before the prospect is a client. By having discussions about the current infrastructure during the sales process, you get to more deeply understand the client’s true requirements. Consequently, you can better match your services to their needs, have greater confidence in your pricing model, and maybe even identify potential additional required services.
In the past, this full discovery and inventory process would have been unthinkable for MSPs, given the time and effort that was needed. However, there are IT systems management solutions that can now transform a full network and device discovery – including devices behind VPNs or firewalls – into a quick, easy, low-cost process.
Common Sense Idea #2: Onboarding’s primary goal should be the efficient ingestion of new client devices
Again, this idea makes sense. That is, until you realize that efficiency ≠ effectiveness. While efficiency refers to how well something is done, effectiveness refers to how useful something is.
You don’t want to just do a good job. You want to do such a useful job ─ such an essential job ― that the client cannot imagine life without you as a partner.
What does this mean for onboarding? To quote Einstein, “everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Translation? Streamlining is good until it isn’t. So, don’t rush over steps. Don’t miss out on opportunities to educate the client.
In addition, it’s important to show your client not only what you found but what you were looking for ─ and why those things matter. For example, why does knowing every device’s patch status and warranty information matter to the client? Let him know this explicitly; don’t expect him to intuit it for himself. Otherwise, he may think you are just looking to make your life, and not his life, easier.
As you expand your client communications and education efforts, find efficiencies elsewhere, through technology solutions that automate and streamline the technical onboarding process.
Common Sense Idea #3: Meeting 30- and 90-day onboarding plans are the best way to delight clients
Many MSPs have detailed 30-day and 90-day onboarding processes. At these pre-defined checkpoints, they meet with their client to review progress, and generally make sure the client is still happy he selected this MSP.
30- or 90-day plans are great. But there are two limitations to this tactic in terms of delighting new clients.
First, I don’t know about you, but I’m not delighted when a vendor meets expectations and action items that they themselves have set. Don’t get me wrong: I’m pleased – but I’m not delighted. What would delight me? Regular reports telling me how they are saving me time and money, improving my IT performance, and increasing my employees’ satisfaction.
Second, even a 90-day timeline merely delimits the start of any client engagement. You need to have documented processes and supporting technologies that enable you to delight the client after 90 days, including regular reporting, review meetings, and strategy sessions, etc.
Common Sense Idea #4: Making the client decision-maker happy is the main goal of onboarding
While making the client decision-maker happy is necessary, it’s not sufficient to long-term client success. Don’t forget to carefully onboard users while you’re also deploying agents and discovering devices.
Users can be your biggest advocate as well as your biggest headache. If the users are unhappy with either the initial transition or the service delivery in general, your client is at risk no matter how well you’ve met expectations of the decision-maker.
So, during onboarding, be open and direct with the end users. Have a documented process for reaching out and educating them as to what will change for them on a day-to-day basis.
Will there be new icons on their devices? What software will they need to install or select? Are reboots required? How will tickets be submitted and what is the expectation for resolving those tickets? Will there be remote control? If yes, how will it work?
Document and communicate again and again and again. Reach out in different ways, leveraging email announcements, documented FAQs, training webinars, etc.
Common Sense Idea #5: Onboarding ends once the new client is being actively managed
I think you know by now what I’m going to say about this common sense idea. During the initial discovery phase, you may have identified devices that are no longer under warranty; servers and other infrastructure devices that are from multiple vendors or have differing configurations; and multiple antivirus and security applications running on various devices.
Clearly, you will want to streamline all clients’ hardware, software, and procedures in order to better predict your staffing requirements. While some clients may be open to replacing hardware right away, many may not be able to make that change as quickly as you’d like. Developing ongoing ‘sprints’ (to borrow a term from Agile software development) will enable you to get the standardization you want on a timeline best suited for each client.
And what does this mean? Successive onboarding projects as you prioritize and transition these new components.
Onboarding, you see, never really stops. It’s only the beginning of any successful client lifecycle. My MSP colleague’s mistake was to view onboarding as a discrete, tactical technique rather than a methodology that can drive ongoing strategic advantage.
Want to learn more? Register for Onboarding New Clients – Best Practices and Five Commons Sense Fails, an ondemand webinar.