On separating onboarding and retention activities

Customer Success teams start by hiring a few Customer Success Managers (CSMs) who do a little bit of everything: they train new customers, they check in on them, they engage in retention activities and discussions. Undifferentiated roles make a lot of sense in a small team.

As the team grows, however, it’s very helpful to separate onboarding and retention activities. Why?

  • The skill sets are different. Onboarding is similar to training or consulting and requires the ability to structure a curriculum, to deliver great presentations, to follow a methodical process. On the other hand, retention requires quick reactions to unscripted objections, debating abilities, and an ability to build compromises. Some individuals have a vast set of skills that allows them to do both well, but that’s rare.
  • The temperaments required are really different. Onboarding requires patience and the ability to gain trust and build positive relationships. Onboarding is a happy-making job. Retention is much faster pace, more aggressive, and requires individuals that can bounce back from rejection. Sunny, caregiving personalities shine in onboarding. Bold, quick personalities do better with retention, at least if retention activities are more reactive than proactive.

Consider the strengths of your CSMs when assigning them to one side of the job or the other. In other words, assign them to onboarding because they can structure training conversations and are kind and skilled at building trust — not because they cannot think of their feet and make it as retention specialists. Assign by strength, not by weakness. (And even onboarding specialists need to think on their feet sometimes!)

Do you separate onboarding and retention? Why and how? Please share.

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