How many times have you won a deal only to realize later that your new customer doesn't have the knowledge, bandwidth, or resources to get the proper value from it?
Even with a world-class Customer Success team in place, it can be hard to onboard customers if the customer lacks commitment to properly implement the solution, gain adoption with their organization, or the proper staff to manage it. These issues can be exacerbated if the rep did not set the right expectations during the sales process. It’s exciting to move forward with onboarding, but when you don’t capture customer needs and expectations upfront, you’re in danger of early failure. Rather than waiting until customers are weighed down with challenges and blockers, guarantee smooth onboarding and implementation with a customer success plan.
A success plan is a shared document to capture customer goals and outline how you will achieve them. A well-formed customer success plan describes best practices, resources, and quick wins. Share this blueprint with customers to make sure you both agree on what success looks like before you get lost in the technical weeds. Most importantly, a customer success plan gives you a place to address potential gaps and risks that might derail the project. ServiceSourceemphasizes, "An effective Customer Success Plan mitigates potential problems with onboarding, adoption and operations, and it provides everyone with a big-picture perspective.”
No one likes to share detailed objectives with a sales rep only to repeat the exact same information to their new Customer Success Manager (CSM). Begin forming the bones of a customer success plan prior to the deal closing in order to capture all the nitty-gritty information customers convey to pre-sale teams and facilitate a seamless Sales to Customer Success handoff. A sales engineer is a great person to populate the success plan before the deal closes because they have a good understanding of customer's goals and objectives, as well as the technical requirements. The earlier your plan takes shape, the more likely pre-sale teams can determine when a prospect will require extra hand-holding and support. Ideally, the rep or sales engineer will meet with the CSM prior to the kickoff to review the information that has been captured so far and determine what still needs to be gathered.
Now that you have your customer success plan, what are you going to do with it? First of all, remember that this is a customer facing document, so make sure it is professionally branded. While it would be nice to track important customer information in a custom object in your CRM or in a Customer Success (CS) platform that spits out a gorgeous report, start with a basic shared document. Add your logo and your customer’s logos, then attach it to the account record in your CRM or CS platform. Follow the success plan template below to get started.
During the kickoff meeting, the CSM meets with the new customer to complete the success plan, not start it. In the initial meeting the CSM reviews and updates customer goals, roles and responsibilities, project timelines, and dependencies. While you still have the attention of the business sponsor, take the opportunity to highlight gaps and risks which could impact or derail this project. Potential risks could include lack of the necessary resources within the org such as having a data analyst on the team or a dedicated administrator for the system. Other risks might include hardware needs that must be purchased before it's possible to move forward with implementation. A customer success plan is a roadmap so use it to steer the conversation, uncover key information, and adjust as needed.
Here is an example of how you might address a potential risk:
We initially spoke about a September 1st go live date, but it sounds like we may need to move this up 2 weeks. This is achievable but will depend on adjusting the scope of the project and bringing your staff quickly up-to-speed on Acme products. As a result, we recommend the following, as detailed in the plan:
-Take Acme Administrator Training
-Purchase the Quickstart Professional Services package to accelerate integrations, customizations, and implementation
-Add a data analyst to your staff to improve data insights
Once you align with your customer and everything is documented in the success plan, have the business sponsor or point of contact (POC) sign-off to confirm they understand the plan and the identified risks. Provide access to the success plan to all relevant stakeholder so everyone stays on the same page. Most likely this means attaching the docuement to the account record in both your CRM and CS platform. Success plans are living documents, so keep them handy and update them along the journey. Save each version as a new copy or enable change tracking to keep a record of what was originally agreed upon. During business review meetings, it can be valuable to refer back to previous versions of a customer success plan in order to contextualize the current state of the account.
A customer success plan is often the missing link in a successful, consistent onboarding program. Partnering on a success plan with new customers helps them realize value from your product more quickly. When goals, roles and responsibilities, timelines, and risks are documented and signed-off, you improve customer accountability and have greater chance of a successful onboarding and implementation. This also means your CSMs have a proactive cadence to guide customers to their goals.
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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. Download a free chapter of Onboarding Matters and additional resources from the book here.
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