How to Run Your First Customer Kickoff Call as a Customer Success Manager

How to Run Your First Customer Kickoff Call as a Customer Success Manager
Ashna Patel

In business, first impressions matter. Especially when you're talking to your customer for the very first time. I still remember my very first kickoff call. It didn’t go as expected. In fact, I FAILED horribly!

Dog missing the ball funny gif
  • I didn’t prepare the right types of questions.
  • I lacked knowledge about the company.
  • I was nervous, stressed, and unconfident.

In essence, I failed because of one simple thing - a lack of preparation.

After licking my wounds, a friend suggested that I read Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager. Since then, I started using project management techniques to prepare, drive, and follow up on all my customer calls.

Maybe your first live interaction is coming up. Don’t fret! It’s easy to kick off the relationship on the right foot. It just takes some correct preparation and knowing what to avoid.

Let’s walk through it together.

What to expect during your kickoff call (Initiate)

"Don’t try to tell the customer what they want. If you want to be smart, be smart in the shower. Then get out, go to work and serve the customer!" - Gene Buckley & Anna Segova

There is no perfect recipe for kickoff calls; It’s a mixture of best practices + intuition. But this call is the first step on your journey towards onboarding your customers and driving adoption.

It’s a chance to:

Understand where you are

Identify where you need to go

Delegate your action items

You’re not the only one setting expectations and coming with an agenda. Your customers are as well. So it’s important to be aware of the expectations of your stakeholders either prior to or during the call. Understanding these expectations accelerates the relationship-building process.

Even with the right preparation, your call may not go the way you planned. Here are some typical things you can expect to happen. Hint...what can go wrong, does. So get ahead of the game!

👉🏽 Expect delays and communication challenges

👉🏽 Expect to adjust your agenda on the fly

👉🏽 Expect technical questions

👉🏽 Expect to say NO when necessary

👉🏽 Expect no shows and unexpected attendees

Preparing for your kickoff call (Plan)

This is your opportunity to do your homework. There is no perfect recipe for this and every organization works differently. But the clearer you can get about the customer's expectations, the faster you can present solutions. And the faster the customer sees an ROI.

Here are some steps to get you through this process.

  1. Find and read through any notes on the customer, such as handoff notes, demo call notes, CRM notes, etc. (click here to download my hand-off template)
  2. Schedule a handoff call with your internal stakeholders (the sales rep, implementation team, the solution engineer, and anyone else that has relevant information regarding your customer). When gathering knowledge, here are a few things to discover:
  3. WHO are the stakeholders? Key players? PMs?
  4. WHY are they interested in your solution?
  5. WHAT outcomes are they looking to achieve?
  6. WHEN is the deadline for this?
  7. HOW will this all play out? Next Steps?
  8. With the help of your sales rep, schedule an external kickoff call with your customer.
  9. Create a slide deck or visual presentation. Here is an example you can use.
  10. Create an internal outline with bullet points and talking points.
  11. Send an email to all parties involved (internal & external) with the agenda & what to expect during the call.

Running your kickoff call (Execute)

“A well-defined Kickoff is like a well-lit road with signposts pointing customers in the right direction." (pg #61 of Onboarding Matters by Donna Weber)

The kickoff call is your chance to shine in front of your customers. It’s also your chance to get everyone on the same page about your joint action plan.

After a lot of researching, experimenting, failing, and reflecting, I created a framework to help me run my customer calls more smoothly. Feel free to use this during your next kickoff call. 👇

Client Kick-Off Meeting Dec

As displayed in the image above, this framework helps you focus on your key objectives.

  • WHO: Start with gratitude & introductions. Go around the room and get to know your stakeholders.
  • WHY: Discuss why you are on the call. What goals matter to your customer? What does success look like for them?
  • WHAT: Discuss expectations that need to be set for both parties to have a successful partnership. Are there any potential roadblocks? What can you help eliminate?
  • HOW: Begin to build a plan towards reaching your milestones. Who’s involved in this process? What technical help will be needed?
  • WHEN: Discuss the important dates involved with reaching your milestones.

These are just starting points for your discussion. Every customer is different. Hence, it's impossible to have one framework for every time of call. This framework is meant to be flexible for you to discover what is important by asking: WHO, WHAT, WHY, HOW & WHEN.

Protip: Remember to reserve the last few minutes of your kickoff call to state how grateful and excited you are for their partnership.

Closing the kickoff call loop (Monitor & Close)

Your communication with your customer is not complete until you send them a thorough recap email. Don't just assume they will remember, follow up on it!

  • What was planned?
  • What happened?
  • What is going to happen?
  • WHO’s got the monkey 🐵?

“WHO’s got the monkey ?” seeks to answer:

  • What tasks are left to accomplish?
  • Who will be responsible for what action item?
  • When will we connect again to continue the process?

Make sure to present your information in simple terms. It's not about making it pretty, it's about making it easy to consume. Some tips here:

  • Add bullet points where possible.
  • Highlight dates/names/important sentences or words.
  • Underline objectives and link resources.
  • Use "@" to call out names.
  • Add emojis to make it fun.

Additional Resources:

  • To download my follow-up email cheat sheet, click here.

Final thoughts

The more prepared you are for your call, the more confident you will become. Having confidence helps you ENJOY the call rather than seeing it as another tedious task.

Remember, it’s not about checking off the tasks on your agenda. It’s about having a valuable conversation and making sure all parties involved are on the same page.

It took me a while to figure out a framework that worked for me. Maybe this will help you or it may lead you to discover your own framework. Learn to adapt, evolve and change your approach as time passes. The perfect kickoff call is the one where you and your customers both leave excited and with a smile on your face. Always AIM for that.

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