Do you throw new customers into the weeds as soon as they sign the contract? I’ve seen that happen before: Customers dive deep into the undergrowth, get tangled up with a bunch of technical details about their implementation, then seek a lifeline from Customer Support. When customers are left to figure things out on their own, everyone suffers.
That’s why the Kickoff stage is so critical. The Kickoff stage of the Orchestrated Onboarding framework keeps customers from getting lost, prevents excess support tickets, and sets up a working partnership with you and your customer to smoothly reach success.
The Kickoff Stage
The purpose of the Kickoff stage is to provide a clear structure for how to partner with your customers throughout the implementation. During Kickoff, you’ll get specific about how to reach the goals and objectives you captured and validated in the success plan. The Kickoff also the sets the tone for progressing through the Adopt, Review, and Expand stages of the Orchestrated Onboarding™ framework, which is shown below. Orchestrated Onboarding is a workable process that improves communication across internal teams as well as customers to ensure the renewal in the beginning of the customer relationship when it matters most.
Notice Kickoff is the third stage, in the framework above. The Kickoff is unique from the second stage, Handoff. While the Handoff is about relationships, building trust, and the big picture goals and outcomes, the Kickoff is about the details of implementation and adoption. Don’t get tempted to roll the Handoff and the Kickoff stages into one to “save time.” While the Handoff stage transitions the relationship from the pre-sales to the post-sales teams, the Kickoff stage shifts focus from big picture strategy to the tactics of onboarding and implementation.
Milestones, deliverables, and visuals
I work with companies that sell complex software. For success to be possible, there is data to migrate, APIs to connect, customizations to be made, and new processes and technology to learn and use. These can be formidable for new customers, especially when they aren’t tech savvy. Your new users are likely overwhelmed in the early days of purchasing a new solution and all that it entails for their business.
When you throw long task lists and complicated requirements at new customers, they can’t process the information. That’s why it’s important during Kickoff to show them the big picture, literally, of what you are kicking off. I like to include visuals to help users process all this information more easily. I map out a simple image with the milestones of the journey ahead, then build on them as we progress. I often use the smart art features in most presentation applications. See the example of my Trusted Advisor Framework below. In addition, include simple diagrams that illustrate the integrations and connections required to go live with your product to make them as easy to digest as possible.
Of course, the Kickoff generally involves project plans for implementation and adoption to cover all those important tasks. These plans might be delivered through sophisticated onboarding software, project management tools, or simple spreadsheets. Clearly map out the phases of implementation, the roles and their responsibilities, what blockers need to be removed or managed, and the timelines and dependencies.
Keeping customers accountable
“You’ll want to emphasize the role your customers play in achieving their own success,” shares Joey Coleman in his book Never Lose a Customer Again. To keep customers accountable, I recommend dedicated onboarding software that provides everyone visibility into the onboarding and implementation plan. Assign customers tasks so they know exactly what is required of them and when, and ensure they see the progress of your partnership. The focus is to start the implementation journey as partners, ensuring customers know what’s expected of them.
The Kickoff Meeting
During the Kickoff meeting you clarify how customers are to be involved with you and your teams. Because the Kickoff centers on project plans, roles, responsibilities, timelines, and deliverables, invite those who are ready to roll up their sleeves and dive into details. Most likely this includes the team leads on the customer side—you don’t need to include the business sponsors. It’s good practice to have the CSM lead the kickoff meeting, even when other teams like onboarding and implementation are involved. This is to cement the relationships with the people who attended the handoff meeting. Share an overview of the tools you will use to track and manage progress and keep everyone accountable.
Point customers in the right direction
A well-defined Kickoff is like a well-lit road with signposts pointing customers in the right direction. Customers aren’t left to find the right path on their own, dwell in worry and doubt, and then call you when they have a problem. Instead, you provide a clear framework for how to work together to reach their goals. Customers relax because they don’t have to figure anything out on their own. In the next article, we’ll dive into the meat and potatoes of onboarding—the Adopt stage.