What Your Customer Onboarding is Missing: Success Plans

Updated: Jan 2



A customer of a company I work with struggled to migrate from their existing platform on their own. After battling with an aggressive go-live date, they were dismayed to find out consulting services would have made their lives easier. They told me they would have gladly paid for this offering, but they didn’t know it existed.


How many times have you sold a product and then realized your new customer doesn't have what they need to implement it? Even with your awesome Customer Success team in place, it’s hard to onboard customers when they don’t have the right staff and when sales reps don’t include the right services in the deal. I know you’re excited to move forward with onboarding, but when you don’t capture customer needs and expectations up front you quickly run into trouble. Rather than waiting until customers are bogged down with challenges and blockers, guarantee a smooth onboarding and implementation with a success plan. 


What is a success plan?

A success plan is a single place to capture customer goals and how you will reach them. It is a document that describes best practices, resources, and quick wins. The success plan also addresses gaps and risks. You share this blueprint with customers to make sure you both agree on where you are going before you get lost in the technical weeds. Most importantly, this document gives you a place to address concerns and risks that might throw the project off the rails. ServiceSource emphasizes, "An effective Customer Success Plan mitigates potential problems with onboarding, adoption and operations, and it provides everyone with a big-picture perspective.”


How to create a success plan

Customers tell me how annoying it is to share their objectives with sales reps and then to repeat the exact same information with their new Customer Success Manager (CSM). I recommend you introduce the success plan before the deal closes to capture all the juicy information customers convey to pre-sales teams. Your Sales Engineer is a great person to populate the success plan before the deal closes because they have a good understanding of customers goals and objectives, as well as the technical requirements. The earlier you start the plan the more likely pre-sales teams can determine when a prospect requires consulting services and training and then include them in the deal. Nobody likes to push a contract through legal for approval and then find out two weeks later at the kickoff meeting they need another sum to cover offerings which the sale rep failed to mention.


When the deal closes, transfer ownership of the success plan from the pre-sales to the post-sales team. Ideally the Sales Engineer meets with the CSM to review what was already captured as well as any insight they have; this could be included in the internal handoff.


What to do with your success plan

Once you have this valuable plan what are you going to do with it? First of all, this is a customer facing document, so make it look appealing. While it would be ideal to track important customer information in a customized object in your CRM or in a Customer Success (CS) platform that spits out a gorgeous report, start with a word or google document. Add yours and your customer’s logos, then attach it to the account record in your CRM or CS platform. Leverage 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 meeting with your customer, make sure you review and update 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. This could include a lack of the right resources like having a data analyst on the team or a dedicated administrator for your system. Other risks might include hardware needs that must be purchased before you can move forward on the implementation. Here’s an example for how you might address risks and gaps:


We spoke about a 9/1/2019 go live date. 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 sign-off to confirm they understand the plan and the risks addressed. Provide access to the success plan to customer teams to keep everyone on the same page. Mostly likely this means attaching it to the account record in your CRM and/or CS platform. Success plans are living documents, so keep them handy and update them along the journey; save each version as a new copy to keep a record of what was originally agreed upon. During business review meetings leverage this valuable record of goals to review and track progress.


Why wait for new customers to have problems?

The success plan is the missing link in an orchestrated 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.


Success Plan Template