The SASSE way to on-board new customers

Delivering successful outcomes for customers starts on day 1, and as customer success professionals, that means designing and leading an efficient and effective on-boarding program. A rocky or prolonged on-boarding experience can be one of the greatest drivers of churn. If you aren’t able to quickly deliver the value that your customers expect, frustration will grow along with abandonment. I like to repeat Lincoln Murphy’s quote on this:

The Seeds of Churn are Planted Early.”

So how do you avoid missteps right out of the gate? What makes for a successful on-boarding? I think there are 5 key elements that every customer success team should consider. While the tactics will vary depending on your customers, product, and company, the principles remain consistent.

To provide an easy-to-remember guide to these principles, I created the SASSE Framework for On-Boarding program design. I summarized the framework in my workshop and breakout session at the 2018 Customer Success Summit. If you prefer text over video though, skip the clip and read on…

Designing the Most Effective On-Boarding Program — Jamey Jeff — Customer Success Summit 2018

The SASSE Framework for On-Boarding Program Design

The framework consists of 5 key areas to consider when designing an effective on-boarding program:

  1. S — Sales handoff
  2. A — Achieve first value
  3. S — Segmentation
  4. S — Success plan
  5. E — End of on-boarding

S — Sales handoff

First things first, make sure that the transition from Sales to Customer Success goes smoothly — for the customer. You customer may have spent weeks or months working with your sales reps. They have made their decision, committed budget, and are ready to go! Two things are important here:

  1. Accelerate excitement — The ink is barely dry on the contract, so seize the momentum, harness that energy, and drive the relationship forward.
  2. Don’t make customers repeat themselves — Your customer spent a lot of time sharing their goals, their pain points, and their needs with your sales reps. Don’t start that kickoff call with a start-from-scratch question of “so, tell me what you’re trying to accomplish…” Come informed. In some companies, this happens through a handoff meeting with Sales. In other’s it’s detailed notes in Salesforce. Others have a handoff form that gets filled out. Whatever form it takes, make sure that the key info gets passed from Sales to Success.

A — Achieve first value

The concept of “first value” requires a definition. This phrase is used often, but they way it’s used varies. For me, the “first value” point is the point at which the customer’s business case for buying your solution begins to be proven. If you promised your product will save them $100k / year, first value might be the first $10k of savings. If you said your product will drive 5,000 leads, first value might be the first 50 leads. Define it in terms of value, or ROI.

Continuing with the theme of acceleration from the Sales Handoff, you want to be in a race to celebrate first value. This is your high-five moment with the customer. They can taste the promise of what’s to come and they exhale a bit — they stuck their neck out to buy your product and are starting to see that it was worth it.

Lastly, for many companies, first value is a “turn the corner” point. Success may not yet be inevitable, but this is the point where momentum takes hold. Your customer has hit that point where they have sufficiently adopted and achieved enough value that they will continue to lean in to drive things forward. The flywheel is beginning to turn.

S — Segmentation

The topic of customer segmentation could be the subject of a post itself. It’s a much discussed, and much debated topic. I won’t be able to cover all the details here, but I’ll hit upon a few key considerations as they relate to on-boarding.

  1. Most companies segment based on ARR (or some other measure of the size of the customer) — This is an important segmentation facet to make sure that you are servicing your customers profitably, and to make sure you aren’t over- or under-investing. However, ARR alone falls short of two other key dimensions…
  2. Customer Sophistication — Just about every company has a wide variety of customers. 
     — Some are novices; they say things like “We love your product, but we also want to learn from you. We’re new to this. Teach us best practices and help us improve.” 
     — Others are experts; they sound like, “I’ve used your product at 2 other companies. I think I know how to use it better than you. I just need to get started. Please don’t get in my way.”
    These two customers should naturally have a very different on-boarding experience, and may have very different goals. And you can find both of these types (as well as those in between) in every ARR segment: there are novice Enterprise, Mid Market, and SMB customers, there are Expert Enterprise, Mid Market, and SMB customers, etc.
  3. Use Case — Not every customer is trying to use all the features, in the same way, right away. If you support 3 main use cases, understand each customer’s primary needs and tailor their on-boarding accordingly. Don’t feel compelled to take them through every single page of the user guide.

S — Success plan

A Success Plan forms an agreement — a handshake — between you and the customer. It contains the steps that each of you will take to deliver upon their business case for buying your product. It is based on representing those key milestones along the way that incrementally deliver the customer’s expected results, and builds from Achieving First Value to Full Value.

One way to think about Success Plans is to use an example of a hypothetical new Docusign customer. I imagine many customers purchase Docusign with the goal of eliminating some number of paper signatures annually, say 10,000 for example. A Success Plan for achieving that goal may focus on incrementally achieving those paper-to-digital signature replacements by a staged rollout across various departments. First, replace all HR-related signatures (e.g. 1000 new hire forms / year). Next replace all facilities signatures (e.g. 20 leases and building maintenance contracts / year). Each of these are value milestones that target “Why” the customer bought Docusign.

Keep in mind a couple points in designing your success plans:

  1. Success Plans are NOT technical project plans — The technical steps may happen in parallel, but don’t confuse the two. Sure, you need to create logons for each user, you may have integration or configuration steps to perform, or you may need customers to provide you with technical specifications. Be sure to track these steps. But realize they aren’t part of the Success Plan.
  2. Success Plans form the foundation for effective QBRs and EBRs — They provide a clear business update on the status of the benefits you are providing to your customer. They articulate a clear “so what” that will encourage your executive sponsor to participate in your calls.

E — End of on-boarding

Thinking with the end in mind helps to further reinforce an effective on-boarding by enabling several important design decisions:

  1. You should determine “when?” — The answer may vary based on customer segment, but it’s important to have a clear point of view on how long on-boarding should take.
  2. You should define “complete” — Considering both your Success Plan and your Technical Project plan, you should have a handful of steps that are critical to deeming an on-boarding to be “done.” Aim for 3–5 Success Plan milestones, and 3–5 key technical milestones.

With these two decisions made, you will have the elements you need to measure the performance of your on-boardings.

  • With “when” defined, you can identify the on-boardings that are running late.
  • With “complete” defined, you’ll be able to pinpoint the steps within on-boarding that are the greatest drivers of late on-boardings.
  • You’ll also be able to correlate the relationship between late on-boardings or specific milestone challenges with issues later in the lifecycle such as adoption challenges, churn, etc.


At the start of any customer relationship, those first impressions tend to significantly impact the trajectory of the success of the customer and their likelihood to remain a customer. The quicker and more smoothly you are able to get to that moment that they imagined when they agreed to buy your product, the better.

Use the SASSE Framework to discuss your on-boarding strategy with your team, and let me know your results!