Kickoff meetings for customer onboarding projects

Everything you need to know to come out of that kickoff meeting looking like a star
March 7, 2021
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Krishna Kumar

A new project is a lot like setting out to sea. If all goes well, you could be cruising away - right on course, making all the right stops. Or, you could be in for a rocky ride - in survival mode, tossing and turning with little sense of direction. A lot depends on who you’re making the journey with - where you want to go, the way you want to get there, and how soon you want to do that.

Most projects, unfortunately, see a lot of the initial planning thrown to the wind - with enthusiasm giving way to disgruntlement and promises ending in disappointment. What could set the tone for this journey is your version of a cruise launch - the project kickoff meeting.  Done right, it’s an opportunity to establish common goals, build alignment on the purpose of the project, get all hands on deck,  and everyone excited for the way ahead. It is your chance to get the entire team on the right course from the start - an exercise in alignment, understanding, and lots of trust-building.

So, how can you run an exciting, effective, and inspiring project kickoff meeting?
In this 2-part series, we tell you how you can run the ultimate kickoff meeting - from planning and designing it, to running it like a pro - and some pro-tips to keep in mind at every stage.

A kickoff meeting is only as good as the planning and preparation that has gone into it. Here are eight steps that can set you on the right track.

Step 1: Setting up your project team

First things first, identify the team that’s going to work on the project with the customer. For a typical onboarding project, based on the size and maturity of your team, here are the functions that you would need to integrate: onboarding, delivery, customer success, and the implementation team.

Step 2: Handoff from sales and engineering

Get a handover of the project scope, Statement Of Work, key stakeholders, and any other relevant information. Below is the minimum information you need from each function at this stage.

From sales:

  1. Goals & objectives
  2. Stated functional requirements
  3. Value/ROI metrics as highlighted to the customer

From sales engineering:

  1. New features or functionalities
  2. Known constraints
  3. Past issues

This handy sales-to-customer-success handoff template can help you get started right away.

Step 3: Customer research

While talking to your sales team is a good start, go that extra step to understand the industry, the key stakeholders, their background,  their earlier challenges, history, and expectations, etc.

Step 4: Mapping the customer team

Based on your discussions and research, map out the key stakeholders at the customer end. Create a stakeholder mapping document that identifies the project sponsor or champion, business owner/lead, project manager, IT manager, information security lead, and the technical architect at their end.

Step 5: An internal pre-kickoff meeting

This is the most important step to ensure that your team feels prepared, confident, and bought in before meeting with the clients. This way, you have time to iron out the kinks, hear and address any concerns from your team, and work those into your kickoff agenda.

Make sure you involve team members in charge of onboarding, customer success, project management, and the implementation team. If it’s a high stake or complex project, you could also include your sales account executives or sales engineering to help address any concerns your team might have)

While it’s a good idea to keep this meeting flexible, make sure it covers the eight aspects mentioned below:

1. Client: Based on your initial research, take a few minutes to run through your client’s background and products, the project history, key executives, and their expectations.

2. Scope and deliverables: While the scope and deliverables would have been agreed upon in the proposal, break this down into specifics for your team. The scope should contain key milestones and features. Do this right in the beginning so team members can bring possible concerns about budgets and timelines if there are any.

3. Risks and issues: Use this time to discuss potential risks and issues that you want to highlight in your risk management plan in the actual kickoff meeting with the client.

4. Approach: Discuss your project management tools, any tech bottlenecks, etc.

5. Roles and responsibilities: Elaborate on roles and responsibilities. You could break the project scope into parts or phases and follow the RACI framework (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) to assign responsibilities.

6. Assets: Ascertain what you would need from the clients to get started. This could include team data, questionnaires, assets, login credentials, approvals, etc.

7. The kickoff meeting: Use this time to get inputs to define the agenda of the impending project kickoff meeting. For this, make sure that you:
(a) Communicate the goals and priorities of the customer
(b) Build consensus on the scope, deliverables, approach, and timelines

Step 6: The kickoff agenda

Based on your research and internal conversations, next comes the most important part of this phase. Here is a sample agenda for you to follow with the time assigned for each section.
1. Introductions - 10 min
2. Goals, ROI, priorities - 30 min
3. Blueprint walkthrough - 20 min
4. Rules of engagement - Processes, Tools, Risks - 20 min
5. Key personnel and steering committee -10 min
6. Resource commitments, assets, and approvals - 10 min
7. Next steps and Q&A - 15 min

Step 7: Scheduling and invites

Send out invites to the project team and key stakeholders at the client with the agenda. Make sure that the body of the email calls out who needs to attend, and their role in the meeting. Highlight the setting up of the steering committee in the project kickoff agenda and the role to be played by the executive sponsor or the project champion here. Ensure the client understands that the kickoff will not happen without these key team members joining the call.

We recommend following this up with a call or visit to your project champion to accommodate any feedback, or understand any concerns. This is also a great chance to probe for any apprehensions or talk about challenges they have earlier faced.

  1. Tip 1: A good way to set expectations and avoid unpleasant surprises or awkward conversations in the larger group setting is to send out pre-read attachments based on the current understanding of the goals, ROI, broad scope, timelines, and deliverables.
  2. Tip 2: Remember to keep your internal team looped in on any major changes at this stage.

Step 8: Identifying value delivery metrics for the kickoff

A great way to jumpstart your kickoff, this step helps the customer team see the actual value in the project - as a whole and through its multiple pieces. Your sales team’s pitch handoff is no doubt a good place to start, but for more on value realization, we have a detailed article on Value Metrics.

We highly recommend that you work with the customer to identify the metrics and ROI to measure against each section of the project.   The customer needs to highlight and present this at the kickoff so all teams know why this project is important and the value it brings.

Whether it is increased leads, better sales efficiency, automation of work, increased employee satisfaction, higher customer NPS, make sure that you tie this to an actual value.

Before D-Day

Once you have confirmed the date of the kickoff, it’s time to work on the details for the day’s agenda. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you finalize the blueprint and timelines to be shared:

1. The kickoff meeting is all about setting the groundwork in place aligned to the larger vision and goals. It’s not the time to make detailed scoping plans - this is something that is best done after the kickoff.
2. The customer must work with you to define and describe the goals for the project, so they can present it to their team in the kickoff meeting. For each customer team, make sure that you identify the ROI for their individual functions.
3. We recommend speaking to your POC to find out about any other ongoing projects and understanding the priority of these projects. This would help you plan better timelines in the kickoff meeting and save discussion time in the meeting.

Now that we've got the planning and prepping sorted, let's look at running a successful kickoff meeting, shall we?

More resources

  1. A 'Readiness Kit' for customer onboarding 
  2. How pre- and post-sales interactions impact your business
  3. Who should own customer onboarding?

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Srikrishnan Ganesan
Co-founder, Rocketlane

Love technology and start-ups. Your friendly neighbourhood CX and onboarding enthusiast. Follow me on Twitter @srikrishnang

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