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By Donna Weber, author of Onboarding Matters: How Successful Companies Transform New Customers Into Loyal Champions

I worked with a company that provides a learning technology solution. One of their customers told me it was challenging to migrate from their existing platform to the company’s platform. After battling on their own with an aggressive go-live date, they were dismayed to discover an implementation package was available that would have made their lives easier. They told me they would have gladly paid extra for the assistance but didn’t know it was available. In this situation, a success plan would have immediately captured the need for additional expertise. Success plans guarantee a smooth onboarding and implementation for both you and your customers. 

What Is a Success Plan?

A success plan is a single place to capture customer goals and your approach for reaching them. The plan is a document that includes best practices and quick wins while addressing gaps and risks. It’s similar to an orchestral score—a document that shows what is played by each instrument in the orchestra. It helps the conductor know which instruments will contribute at any time, so they can bring them together for a seamless experience. 

Why Use a Success Plan?

How many times have you sold a product and then realized your new customer doesn’t have what they need to implement it? When you don’t discuss important issues upfront, you quickly run into trouble. Rather than waiting until you are bogged down with challenges and blockers, guarantee a smooth onboarding with a success plan. You provide everyone a big-picture perspective and, most importantly, address concerns and risks that might throw onboarding off the rails.  

I find success plans so valuable I use them when I work with companies. I take the important information I gain from the stakeholder during the sales journey and generate a success plan, leveraging the template below. Then, during the handoff meeting with my new client, I review the success plan with the stakeholder and core team to validate and clarify objectives, timelines, and priorities. We capture who’s responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed in a RACI model; document risks and an escalation process, and track each team member’s contact information to ensure easy access as needed (which is a great way to add additional contact’s details for each account).

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. So, I recommend you start working on the success plan during the Handoff stage of onboarding. During the internal handoff, you capture all the important details about the deal as well as the information customers convey to pre-sales teams. Then, when the deal closes, you validate the details during the customer handoff. Leverage this success plan template to get started.

Success Plan Template:

What to Do with Your Success Plan

Once you have this valuable plan what do you 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 system of record that spits out a gorgeous report, start with a basic document. That’s what I use when I begin engagements with my clients. Add yours and your customer’s logos, just like in the template, then attach it to the account record. 

Whatever you do, make sure you don’t just send a blank success plan off to your customers for them to fill out. Working through the success plan together fosters trust and the beginning of a partnership with new customers. For this reason, during the customer handoff meeting, you complete the success plan, not start it. 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 of how you might address risks and gaps:

We spoke about a September 30 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. Most likely this means attaching it to the account record in your system of record. 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 a greater chance of a successful onboarding and implementation. This also means your CSMs have a proactive cadence to guide customers to their goals. As the team at a company that provides large event and venue management software shared with me, “We’ve been using the success plans and they really ‘upped our game.’ Our customers get tangible wins and they see us as true consultants now.” 

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. Learn more at