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

Are you struggling with failed implementations? It’s a serious concern. During the sales cycle, customers see all the possibilities in your product: they get their hopes up and see their dreams being fulfilled. Then things stall out. Customers get frustrated. They pause and cancel their subscriptions in despair. Here’s a guide to avoid that pitfall. Read on to turn around failed implementations and prevent them in the first place. 


Why are implementations failing? 

Implementations primarily fail due to monolithic deployments, poor fit customers, not delivering value, and lacking an impactful onboarding approach.

1. Monolithic deployments. In an era of agile and iterative software development, product releases are usually every two to six weeks. When it comes to deploying and implementing your product, on the other hand, customers are holding their breaths for three to nine months on average before they get their fingers on a live instance. All those promises made to customers take months to realize, and customers fall into the “trough of disillusionment.”

The image below shows how customers go through high expectations during the sales cycle and then hit a low point when challenges arise: implementations drag out, they are tangled in technical challenges, and your product is hard to use. All those promises made during the buyer journey seem a distant past, so they pause and cancel their licenses even before they go live.

Fig 1: The Trough of Disillusionment

2. Not delivering value. A singular focus on your product leaves your customers in the dark. They wonder and wait and worry about when they will gain benefits. They feel ghosted, so they stop showing up for onboarding meetings and doing their part to move implementations forward.

3. Selling to poor-fit customers. In the rush to close deals, everyone suffers. During the time sales reps should be selling to new customers, they are busy resolving issues with existing accounts. Implementation teams work overtime to cram customers into their solution. And customers never obtain the value that was promised. I’ve worked with companies losing hundreds of thousands of dollars because they would sell to any company willing to sign the contract. While the end of quarter “hockey stick” looked great, the next quarter required sales reps, legal teams, and buyers to urgently reconvene as implementations went off the rails. They re-defined goals, re-set expectations, and re-wrote contracts, costing them and their customers precious time and resources.

4. Poor or nonexistent customer onboarding. Without a robust onboarding approach, you miss out on critical relationships and trust-building during the most crucial part of the journey. As a result, even when your product finally goes live, there’s no guarantee that users will use it and customers will still expand. 


The costs of failed implementations 

When customers fail to launch, it costs you. Not only do you lose all the money you poured into acquiring customers (customer acquisition costs, or CAC), but you also burn the money spent to onboard new customers (customer onboarding costs, or COCO). When you add CAC and COCO together, you get COCA, the costs of onboarding plus the costs of acquisition. If you don’t pay attention to these critical metrics, you’ll find company profits are delayed and margins are eroded, especially when customers churn in their first year.  


How to turn around failed implementations 

The key to implementation success is to slow down. Start by phasing deployments and delivering a journey of value rather than just going live with your product. Next, sell to your ideal customers. Finally, slow down to build relationships with an impactful onboarding approach. 

1. Deliver phased deployments. Rather than monolithic deployments, start with an initial use case or prototype. When working with a big data company in the UK, we reduced onboarding from six months to four weeks or less by going into production with an initial data set rather than all the customers’ data. The image below shows how phased deployments culminate in a smooth customer journey; there are no troughs to fall into here!

Fig 2: Phased Deployments

2. Deliver a value journey. To keep customers from ghosting you, deliver immediate and ongoing value along their journey with you. Start by celebrating quick wins in days or weeks, even before your product is deployed, ensure users receive benefits beyond logging into your product once it goes live, and then help users go deeper and broader in your solution so they stick around and buy more. 

3. Sell to ideal customers. Rather than closing any account possible and then struggling to make your product fit, define an ideal customer profile (ICP). I recommend you capture the characteristics of your best customers to build out that profile. Next, create a systemized way to ensure all your customers become as successful as your best. I know this can be challenging when sales teams need to meet their numbers, but it’s a critical way to reduce failed implementations and churn. The more you define and sell to ideal customers, the easier it will be to create a journey of best practices and onboard and implement customers at scale.

4. Orchestrate Onboarding.  A prescriptive and proactive customer onboarding process, like my Orchestrated Onboarding® framework, is critical to building trusting and enduring customer relationships. Start with the big picture so customers and their users appreciate why they are using your product. Then, dive into how you will implement and what’s required to go live, providing customers the tools to reach successful outcomes as quickly as possible. When you have trusting relationships in place, customers are understanding and patient, even when implementations are arduous. 


Slow down to speed up

When you take the time to sell to your ideal customers, more of your customers will thrive and increase their spend with you. Deliver immediate and ongoing value through phased value-based customer journeys and create partnerships with new customers with an onboarding approach that builds trust and loyalty from day one. You will find customers are more patient, understanding, and engaged, even when deployments hit bumps in the road.