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By Donna Weber, author of Onboarding Matters: How Successful Companies Transform New Customers Into Loyal Champions

Sales reps are great at building relationships with buyers. Trusting relationships are a huge component of the buyer decision, and the messages buyers receive during the sales journey impact how their customer journey begins. Unfortunately, most companies throw all that relationship collateral down the drain when they win the deal. 

During onboarding it’s critical you combat the challenges of first impressions, buyer’s remorse, and prospection because how you start with a new customer may determine whether they renew or they churn. Those first 90 days are that important. When you quiet new customers’ neural networks you build trusting and enduring relationships that last. Use these trust builders to start new relationships off on the right footing: cognitive closure, expectation setting, visuals, and small talk.

Start with Closure

Since new customers’ brains ruminate in fear and doubt, it’s pivotal to engage them immediately. That’s where cognitive closure comes in. Cognitive closure is the stopping mechanism that applies “brakes” to the validating process and allows crystallized judgments to form. 

When you start with closure, you stop your new customers’ brains from churning in the uncertainty, confusion, and remorse they naturally fall into when they don’t know what comes next. A prescriptive onboarding process like Orchestrated Onboarding provides ways to satisfy your customer’s neural networks. Orchestrated Onboarding includes Embark, Handoff, Kickoff, Adopt, Review, and Expand to ensure you build trusting relationships with new customers and provide the path to success from day one. When customers know what’s happening next, they relax and start to trust you. 

Set Clear Expectations

Expectations are a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future. When companies ask me how to solve issues with misaligned expectations and delayed implementations, I tell them to start onboarding earlier. The sooner you show your customers you know what you are doing and that you’ve done this before, the faster you foster trust, and the easier it is to engage new customers quickly. 

When the deal nears closing, generally in the last couple of sales stages, it’s a good idea to acquaint customers with the specifics about your onboarding program. This is the time to introduce the teams that guide customers to success and to let them know they are in good hands. Setting clear expectations early and often also delivers continuity from the buyer journey to the customer journey. Continuity is another trust builder.  

Bringing onboarding into the sales cycle may even improve your deal close rates. Take the example of the company CFO who told me about his experience as a buyer. When the vendor shared their onboarding and customer success framework during the sales cycle, his reaction was, “This company has their act together. I want to work with them.” Since customers naturally make assumptions about what is going to happen next, you might as well give them the right things to assume and ruminate over .

Use Visuals

Your new users are likely overwhelmed in the early days of purchasing a new solution and all that it entails for their business. For success to be possible, there is likely data to migrate, APIs to connect, customizations to be made, and new processes and technology to learn and use. These can be formidable for new customers, especially when they aren’t tech savvy. When you throw long task lists and complicated requirements at new customers, they can’t process the information.

When new customers are overwhelmed during onboarding, it’s hard to foster their faith in you. You probably end up repeating the same things over and over because customers just don’t remember what you told them in the first place. To make things easier from day one, use visuals. Neuroscience, the study of the structure and function of the nervous system and brain, tells us that images are better than text for customer onboarding. 

I’m sure you know the phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” That’s because the human brain processes visuals up to 60,000 times faster than text. Research shows that people pay attention, understand what you tell them, and use that information effectively when you show them images. It’s easier to easily process all that onboarding and implementation information when it’s shared in simple visuals because symbols are much faster and easier to process. Consequently, customers relax. Their confidence grows as they partner with you to implement your product. 

I like to share basic images with prospects and customers to illustrate the journey we are on together. See a simple image of the Orchestrated Onboarding™ framework below. 

Start simple.

As we progress on our journey, I include the details of milestones, deliverables, and timelines. See the example below. You don’t need to worry about fancy graphic designs, I often use the smart art features in most presentation applications.

Convey what happens at each stage. 

Talk Small

Remember the power that first impressions have on relationships? While it might seem trivial, small talk is an important way to build a good first impression. In fact, research shows that small talk helps build trust, which is just what you need when starting new relationships. Small talk, or polite conversation about unimportant things, is a crucial conversation opener. Especially with new customers. Even though it might feel like fluff, do your homework to learn about the people you with whom you partner at every new customer, and engage them on a personal level.

I prepare for meetings by checking LinkedIn for common connections and interests, as well as where my new contacts were educated and where they currently live. I use this information to get the conversation started. For example, in preparing for a meeting, I noticed my contact’s LinkedIn profile showed an image of them hanging out on the top of Half Dome, the legendary granite dome in the east end of Yosemite Valley. Since I had also hiked Half Dome, I started the conversation discussing our shared passion. I also check the company website and review their latest news updates. 

Get Started

How you interact with new customers during the critical beginnings of a relationship impacts your customer relationships for life. So, onboard new customers with care. Provide clear endings and beginnings, set clear expectations early and often, and create simple visuals to convey important information. When you interact with the people in your customers’ company, take the time to build relationships with people through small talk. How will you build trust today? 

DONNA WEBER is the world’s leading expert in customer onboarding. For more than two decades, she’s helped high-growth startups and established enterprises create customers for life. Her new book is Onboarding Matters: How Successful Companies Transform New Customers Into Loyal Champions. Learn more at