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You may have just launched a new customer onboarding program or are refining your approach to working with thousands of customers. Regardless, do you know the maturity level of your customer onboarding program? Knowing your maturity level helps you get honest about your current strengths and weaknesses and clarifies the steps to take you and your customers to the next level.


What is a Maturity Model? 

A maturity model is a tool to help you assess the current state of your product or services. Like a map with an arrow that indicates “You Are Here,” a maturity model points you in the right direction. Maturity models are essential because, like any journey, it’s hard to know the path to head unless you know your current location. 


Maturity models usually include stages such as “Storming, Forming, and Norming” or “Reactive, Proactive, Optimizing, and Scaling,” where the first stage indicates things are in an ad hoc or reactive phase. Then each subsequent stage leads you to more cohesive and proactive approaches that deliver a more significant impact. During the development of any new product or service, you go through each maturity stage. The maturity model gives you clear indicators for what to focus on next, and knowing your current state prevents you from creating unrealistic roadmaps and attempting to jump levels. Once you identify your current level of maturity, determine the next stage to aim for and leverage the TaskRay playbooks to keep improving and growing. 


My Four Stages of Customer Onboarding Maturity

The maturity model I use has four stages: Reacting, Performing, Scaling, and Optimizing. As you look at the model and read the characteristics of each level, ask yourself in which stage of the maturity model your customer onboarding program currently resides.  

1. Reacting: The first stage of the maturity model is common in startup companies. You know what reacting looks and feels like; every customer is a special snowflake, and teams rush around with their hair on fire, trying to put out customer fires. Heroics are usually required and even encouraged. Reacting is not limited to startups, however. I also see reactive teams in enterprise companies when they pivot from perpetual to subscription licenses and grasp the importance of taking care of customers. In this stage, the larger and louder customers usually get all the love, while small and quiet accounts are left alone until it’s time to renew. As a result, customers are either abandoned or swarmed when they need help because no one is assigned to address customer needs. You don’t want to hang out in the first stage of the maturity model for too long since it is exhausting and unsustainable. And then you’ll need to worry about employee churn on top of the inevitable customer churn.


2. Performing: Companies reach the Performing stage when they deploy consistent processes and dedicated resources to address customers’ needs. At this stage, companies generally deploy a handful of CSMs and Onboarding Specialists to provide a high-touch or “white glove” treatment with all customers. While best practices and standards are in place, they are usually accomplished through time-consuming manual work, and each CSM often has their way of working with their accounts. As a result, the account relationship can be very dependent on the quality of the CSM during this stage.


3. Scaling: As companies grow, the high-touch approach that seemed to work well during the Performing stage is no longer sustainable. Scaling becomes especially urgent when startups receive investment funds to ramp up their sales and marketing engines. As new sales dramatically increase, customer-facing teams find a tsunami of new customers heading their way. The tried-and-tested high-touch approach no longer meets the volume of new and existing accounts. At this stage, companies realize it’s too expensive to keep adding CSMs and onboarding specialists as the customer count increases. So, there’s an urgency to deliver a one-to-many approach with lower-touch or digital touches and technology instead.


4. Optimizing: While Optimizing is an excellent stage to reside in, you don’t reach it overnight. You must journey through each maturity model stage to achieve an optimized state. What sets optimized organizations apart is they see customer success as a core growth strategy. They genuinely are customer-centric. Listening to and partnering with customers is woven into the fabric of the way customer-facing teams interact with customers. Optimized organizations have robust customer onboarding, enablement, and engagement programs and precisely know their impact on net revenue retention (NRR). Since optimized teams are data-driven, they can prove their value to customers and the company. They likely have predictive analytics to forecast renewals and use the insights to analyze churn and, more importantly, to understand why customers are successful in their products. They share best practices with all customers to raise everyone’s level of success. Optimized organizations also define a customer maturity model to drive customers to more sophisticated use cases in their products and to help customers continue maximizing value over their lifetime.


While some companies are clearly in one specific stage, others are on the cusp, transitioning from one stage to the next. I generally work with high-growth companies performing well and need to scale due to the new customers coming on board. Others have facets of different stages in play. For example, even though a company I worked with had technology and content in place to scale customer onboarding, they belonged in the early stages of performing because they needed more processes to organize internal teams. They tried to jump ahead to scaling and weren’t yet ready for that level of maturity. 


How to Improve Onboarding Maturity

Sometimes your onboarding maturity depends on the maturity of your company. For example, it might take a lot of work to scale at a startup made up of generalists that wear several hats and are fantastic at spinning many plates at once. As your company grows, however, teams need to specialize. It no longer works for everyone to do their own thing. That means it’s time to create consistent, repeatable processes for the team to follow and for customers to experience. At some point, you look to deliver your services to more customers without the expense of adding new team members, which makes it time to scale. Along the journey, you must demonstrate the value your onboarding program delivers to customers and the company’s bottom line. And that’s where optimizing comes in. 


Sometimes you don’t move linearly from less mature to most mature. You might be progressing along a path to scale and are looking for the technology to make that happen. Then everything changes. You acquire a company or are acquired, and rather than scaling, it’s imperative to step back to define processes and playbooks that incorporate the new teams and products. Maybe your company is growing at such a pace that the onboarding backlog increases to the point that teams are thrown back into reactive heroics for a time. Even if you get tossed back a stage or two, it’s always good to recognize where you are and then take steps to get to the next level when possible.  


What’s Your  Maturity Level?

During the development of any new product or service, you go through levels of maturity. When you reviewed the definitions of each level, I’m sure you immediately resonated with one of them. It’s great to know your current state. Take a few moments to consider why you believe you’re at your current maturity level, and then meet with your team to get their input. Most often, I find teams are aligned on their level of maturity. But don’t stay stuck in your current stage. Instead, explore ways to make it to the next level as quickly and efficiently as possible. It’s crucial to keep growing and improving while delivering increased value to your company and your customers.