The 5 Key Ingredients of a Success Plan

In researching Arrows we've spoken with dozens of success teams and gotten insight into their onboarding process. Many of these teams use success plans to aid the onboarding flow, keep everyone aligned, and get customers to value faster and more cleanly.

Benedict Fritz

August 10, 2020

7 minutes

In researching Arrows we’ve spoken with dozens of success teams and gotten insight into their onboarding process. Many of these teams use success plans to aid the onboarding flow, keep everyone aligned, and get customers to value faster and more cleanly.

Here are the 5 key ingredients we’ve seen for a success plan:

  1. Goals
  2. Outcomes
  3. Key Players
  4. Important Dates
  5. Consensus

Let’s walk through each of these one by one:

1. Goals

The customer’s high level goal is the reason they bought the software. Most often it’s a pain they’re trying to solve, or an aspiration they’re trying to fulfill. It’s the job-to-be-done by your product. Some examples:

  • We want to decrease churn
  • “We want to make our lives easier by automating some tasks”
  • “We want to improve organizational communication”

Different organizations will often buy the same software for different reasons. This goal can easily be lost both on your end, and the customer’s end. On your side the goals can be lost in the handoffs between sales, success, implementation, and any other teams interacting with the account. And on the customer’s end, the person who purchased your product with a goal in mind is often completely different from the folks implementing the product, or actually using it in the end.

The customer’s high level goals are the North Star of your onboarding process. Keeping them written down in a success plan will remind everyone that there’s mutual buy-in.

2. Outcomes

High level goals are critical, but how do you tell if they’ve been achieved? This is where outcomes come in.

This is the most challenging piece of a success plan (and the easiest to skip), but do your best!

An outcome is best when it’s something that is explicitly achieved, or not. An example:

  • Goal: “automate repetitive tasks for the success team”
  • Outcome: “grow the average number of accounts a CSM manages from 15 to 25 without reducing time to value.”

Without a high level goal, you don’t know why you’re doing something. Without an outcome, you don’t know if you’ve accomplished your goal. What impact are you trying to have?

It can be scary to pick an explicit outcome that you’re shooting for: what if the customer doesn’t get there? As with many things that are scary, this process is mostly scary because it’s explicating a decision that’s already being made.

This is also an opportunity to find out what the customer’s preexisting expectations are. Are they expecting your product to be a silver bullet that magically saves their company? If they’re overoptimistic, reel them in a bit. You know the value your product has, and it’s your job to help your customers realize that value. Don’t let overoptimistic expectations set you up for failure, and don’t let pessimistic expectations mute everyone’s motivation for progress.

Tracking outcomes will also make any reviews and future meetings much easier. Similar to being overoptimistic, it can be easy to move the goal posts of what success with your product looks like. Having outcomes written down in a success plan will make it easy to look back and point at all the progress that’s been made!

3. Key Players

So you’ve got a high level goal and some outcomes, but who is going to make all of this happen?

Write down all of the key players involved in the onboarding, both on your side and the customer’s side.

Your success plan should be a source of truth for both you and the customer. Someone who has no familiarity with the onboarding project should be able to pick it up and understand what is going on. And that will inevitably happen! Don’t underestimate the potential for turnover, changing roles, and re-orgs during an onboarding.

It’s also easy for folks to assume that someone else is responsible for something. Be explicit: who is driving what parts of the onboarding and is ready to take responsibility?

4. Important Dates

The last big piece of clarity in a success plan is around timing. Will this onboarding take one week, or will it take three months? Similar to setting outcomes, you provide valuable expertise here.

Given the customer’s size, and implementation complexity, realistically how long will the onboarding process take?

If you have a month long onboarding, what needs to happen by the end of the first week for everyone to feel like they’re on track? If something that’s supposed to happen on week one hasn’t happened after week two you have strong evidence the onboarding is going to take longer than expected.

You can think of dates as guard rails.

Dates will slip, it’s inevitable. But a short-term date slipping as an opportunity to adjust. It’s a lot better to re-align and figure out why things aren’t progressing as expected after two weeks rather than six.

5. Consensus

The last and most important piece of a success plan is consensus. This is not necessarily something that you’ll put on the action plan itself, but it’s the most important ingredient of the whole process.

Are you and the customer in agreement on all parts of the success plan?

If the customer doesn’t understand the success plan, or doesn’t agree with any part of it, it’s worthless.

A success plan is a map to a journey: you’re going somewhere for a reason, with specific outcomes, enabled by you and the customer, over a certain period of time.

If you don’t agree on any part of that journey, the customer will inevitably look up and wonder what the heck they’re doing.

But with consensus, over the days, weeks, and months of onboarding work, everyone can always look back at the map and know exactly where they’re going.

Tying it all together

With these 5 ingredients you have everything you need to make a great success plan!

Create your plan in a document you can share with your customer. You can do this with a Google Doc, PDF, or a purpose-built tool like Arrows. Using Arrows will also let you easily track progress through the onboarding and lifecycle of each customer, automatically send email reminders for tasks, and give you a dashboard where you can see where all of your customers are across your organization.

It’s best if you create an outline for the success plan before getting on a kickoff call with the customer. Once you’re on the call, share your screen and write down the customer’s goals, outcomes, key players, and dates, creating consensus as you go. Once you have a filled out success plan, send it to the customer, and keep if somewhere you can easily reference it.

And with that you’re ready to rock! Bring out the success plan during onboarding to keep things on track, meetings with your organization to show where customers are expecting value, and quarterly business reviews to show what outcomes have been achieved. You have a map to a successful relationship with the customer, now it’s time to just walk the path you’ve laid out.

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