By Tim Conder

You’ve just been handed a new customer, and it’s your job to officially start the relationship. Your entire organization has put the customer in your hands now, expecting that you can keep the enthusiasm of purchase alive and establish roots for an enduring relationship. Your kickoff meeting sets the tone for implementation, and the future of the customer relationship. No pressure. Right? Without making this more stressful than it needs to be, you should recognize the importance of doing Kick-off well, and remembering some basic guidelines for making it the start of an enduring relationship.

Who Needs to Know How to Do a Kick-off?

Customer Success Managers are responsible for Kick-off. As is the case with most of what CS does, it’s valuable for the sales team to understand how Kick-off is done so that they can set expectations for customers.

Putting Kick-off in Context

Kick-off is the first customer-facing interaction a CS team has once a new customer is landed. It’s not the first time a CSM meets a customer. That may (should) happen near the end of the sales cycle. And, it should definitely NOT be the first time a CSM learns about a customer’s reasons and goals in purchasing. While the sales team may have been the customer’s first impression of your organization, Customer Success (during Kick-off) becomes the second, and enduring impression. Customers should be excited to get started, so keeping that energy alive and getting them to first value quickly is key to a successful Kick-off

Guidelines for Kick-off

Capitalize on the customer’s excitement in purchasing

Even if the sales process seemed taxing at times, the customer has made the decision to buy your solution, so they want to get into it quickly. Don’t do anything to deflate their excitement.  Be a cheerleader. Celebrate their decision to purchase by setting a near date for a kick-off meeting. Don’t let time or organizational fatigue (over the sales experience) diminish your enthusiasm for bringing on a new client. Pick up right where your sales team left off by reassuring your customer they made a wise decision.

Know your two-fold agenda

Kick-offs are for information gathering, as well as for expectation setting. Consider the twofold goals of Kick-off:

  • Further discovery of customer’s goals and current state
  • Expectation setting for moving forward

Use the Kick-off to confirm that both you and your customer understand why they bought your solution. Conduct a managed “re-discovery” to allow them to articulate their reasons and goals. Then, to ensure that neither of you encounter surprises down the road, set realistic expectations for moving forward with implementation. Review the parameters of the contract and be clear about the frequency and duration of meetings that will happen during implementation. (i.e. no more than 1 hour long and at a cadence that won’t make them feel as though they are drinking from a fire hose or waiting for further knowledge to move forward.)

Be prepared to make a strong (second) impression

Kick-off provides Customer Success teams the opportunity to strengthen your company’s position. The last thing you want to do when handed a customer is lose the momentum that sales has set for the relationship.  Being prepared demonstrates commitment, and customers want to know that your team is committed to them. Here are a few specific things you can (should) do to demonstrate how prepared (committed) you are:

  • Send a quick introductory (templated) e-mail introducing yourself and setting expectations for the first kick-off meeting (1 hour with as many stakeholders present as possible in attendance)
    • Note: Consider that each meeting/touchpoint with a customer is part of an iterative, agile relationship, and should have a concise agenda that is informed by collaboration and agreed upon priorities.
  • Follow-up with a calendar confirmation and agenda
  • Review the contract to know what was sold and to whom (role in the company).
  • Meet with the sales team to understand motivation, key players, promises made, etc. (and any observations the sales team may have about internal dynamics that could have an impact on adoption)
  • Conduct your own client research so you know who they are, what they do, etc. Think about what you would want to do with your solution if you were them.
  • Coordinate internally with professional services team and configuration team to make sure everything is ready to go
  • Prepare (use template) and review Kick-off deck and support materials needed for Kick-off meeting

Remember that you are the leader

Take charge of Kickoff by starting with introductions and a review of the contract. Then initiate a controlled discovery session, allowing your customer to define what constitutes successful implementation for them. You should then be prepared to outline suggestions for forward progress toward their goals. Know ahead of time what input, projects and dates you need from them so that you can create an appropriate schedule for implementation. In other words, know what you know and what you need to know to be able to lead Kick-off. Your customer is expecting this from you.

Some examples of questions you may want to address:

  • What is the one thing we must get right to make this worth undertaking?
  • How does your organization define success?
  • What aspects of your internal culture or the external environment could endanger this engagement?
  • How can we exceed your wildest dreams?

Keep things moving forward

Follow through on your commitments. This does NOT mean following up, or checking in. That can just be annoying. Know what each stakeholder (including yourself) needs to do before you meet again, and make sure you’ve followed through on your commitments. For instance, did you:

  • Send an e-mail summarizing the meeting?
  • Register designated participants for user training?
  • Schedule the next meeting?
  • Coordinate with your internal resources as promised?

Following through on what you promise sets an example for your customer, and mutual follow-through is essential in a trusting and sustaining relationship.

What Do We Learn Through Kick-off?

Kick-off is the first opportunity your customer gets to experience how your company delivers, and we all know how important first impressions are. Don’t skimp on enthusiasm, preparation, and follow-through. They will serve you well in setting the stage for a positive customer experience, which is core to a sustained relationship.

Tim Conder is the VP of Customer Success at Bolstra. Prior to joining the leadership team at Bolstra, Tim had his own Customer Success consulting business, eServeo, where he built a comprehensive set of best practices around the full customer lifecycle – from acquisition to onboarding to renewals. These practices have formed the foundation of Bolstra’s platform and assurance service offerings.