Customer love lessens when a launch lingers.
This chapter concerns the Launch domain of the Bow Tie:
You just closed another deal. Awesome! Now what? With receipt of a signed agreement, the stopwatch begins on a customer’s satisfaction half-life. Your next steps are vital. To keep satisfaction high, you now must initiate an efficient, successful launch.
“Launched” does not mean “flipped the on switch.” “Launched” means “customer happy.”
Launch requirements vary, depending on your company’s business model. For a B2C e-commerce site, launch happens with the click of a mouse. For a complex enterprise B2B SaaS or licensing sale, a six-month project to ensure integration, training, and user adoption may be required. In general, companies operating B2B business models from Mid to Very High LTV tend to sell products that require a launch. When a launch is required, your new customer expects brisk execution.
What does that execution look like? First, your product must technically plug into the customer’s legacy environment. Then your customer’s employees must begin to use the tool inside their native workflows. This combination of technical and human launch factors underscores that there are, in fact, two launches:
- The technology launch
- The people launch
To deliver both successfully requires that you:
- Define the launch workflow — Tightly define your launch workflow with a precise sequence of customer engagement steps (managed in the CRM system or some other tool)
- Minimize human steps — Automate as many steps as possible
- Track customer launch status — Track launch status and act on delays
- Document technical requirements — Document in detail all technical integration requirements for all supported permutations of customers’ legacy technical environments
- Instrument usage indicators and define launch — Instrument usage indicators and define what “launched” means regarding user adoption (number of users, level and frequency of usage, etc.)
- Train the launch team — Train your launch team to handle all use case permutations with confidence
Define the Launch Workflow
The on-boarding of a new customer touches multiple company systems, such as contracting, pricing, sales incentives, the product system, billing, accounting. So it’s crucial that the technical steps and data handoffs are clear.
Launch workflow definitions must be rigorous to support effective execution.
Here’s an example:
- Launch stages exist at the product item or package level
- These stages identify the service status (not the billing status) of the product item or package
- The first launch stage is “opportunity / negotiate”
- The “opportunity / negotiate” stage begins with the choice of a product item or package from the price book and an online contract generated and presented to the customer for signing
- The “opportunity / negotiate” stage ends when the required order entry data fields are complete and the contract is approved, indicating that the product item or package is ready to move to the “closed won / launch pending” stage (the system defines all order entry data requirements and specifies who approves contracts)
- When multiple product items and packages are listed in one contract, each of these exits the “opportunity / negotiate” stage at the same time, since contract approval marks the end of this stage
- The “closed won / launch pending” stage begins when a contract is approved for a product item or package
- The approval triggers all appropriate product provisioning tasks in the CRM system and the billing system
- The technical launch processes commence and are complete when the product item or package is active for a customer
- At this point, the technical launch step turns to system active; this is the end of the “closed won / launch pending” stage
- The “system active” stage begins when a product item or package turns active
- The product item or package remains active independent of billing status
- The training of executive, administrative, and functional users is initiated and completed
- The “system active” stage ends when the product item or package moves to “users trained / system live,” “pending paused,” “paused,” or “cancel pending”
- The “users trained / system live” stage begins when product usage has hit the required threshold for user adoption and usage frequency
Notice the level of rigor in this documentation. This rigor is at the heart of an effective configuration of systems and execution of the on-boarding process for new customers. Along the way, workflow bottlenecks inevitably emerge, but they can be minimized. Best practices to compress the launch timeline include:
- When customer data and system access approvals are required for successful technical integration, capture these data elements as early as possible in the launch workflow — ideally in the first post-sale meeting
- In the first post-sale meeting, ask your customer to appoint a technical lead to be your primary point of contact (has necessary skill / authority / responsibility / time). If relevant, invite your pre-sales field team into the first post-sale meeting to ensure a seamless handoff to the Customer Support team for your customer.
- Have a clear roadmap and checklist defining every sequential step — ideally supported by an online tool that tracks step-by-step completion. Assign owners and responsibilities for all members of the launch team — both your team and your customers
- If a step is not complete or if too much time passes between one step and the next, make sure the system triggers action alerts to the launch rep and management
No matter how tightly defined the launch process, customer launches will sometimes go “off the rails.” For those situations you need plays:
- What is the success play for “customer unable to use the product after launch”?
- What is the success play for “customer unhappy with launch process”?
- What is the success play for “too low percentage of users trained”?
If you establish plays for the most common “off the rails” scenarios, then you are prepared to get the customer back on track quickly.
Minimize Human Steps
Automate everything possible. Remember that each human step is a potential failure point. Where human steps are required, measure activity and results at each step and drive continuous improvement. The fewer actions required by a human, the faster you’ll launch. A rapid, error-free launch assures high customer satisfaction.
Track Customer Launch Status
The customer is considered launched once the customer is happy — and properly using the product. All too often, especially at scale when tens or hundreds of customers are simultaneously in the launch process each month, some customers can get stuck. In the chaos, you lose track of them, and they stay stuck for too long — creating customer frustration. If you wish to avoid that disaster, it’s critical that your dashboards signal the status of every customer’s launch stage and set off alarms when a customer slips past the normal time window for a given stage.
If you catch launch slippage quickly and take immediate action, you’re more likely to get the customer back on track. Otherwise, your customer will be on the way towards cancellation.
Here’s an example of a launch team dashboard:
In the above example, the data shows four blocked customers (customers B, C, H, and J). Another two — G and M — were temporarily blocked, but then were brought back on track. We can also see that stages 2, 4, and 5 (especially stage 5) seem to be places of recurring issues (stage 4 exhibits regular slowdowns, and 2 and 5 seem to be major bottlenecks). If this pattern is observed over a sustained period, it indicates the need for redesign work.
By carefully tracking the status of each launch at a customer by customer level, you can quickly catch and recover the “black hole” customers, while discovering stages in the process that might benefit from a redesign.
Document Technical Requirements
For many companies, especially B2B SaaS companies, your software must fit into the customer’s legacy environment. Integration with other software systems is required. To execute a successful integration, you must have:
- Total clarity as to every technical integration requirement for every supported use case permutation
- Identified the necessary sequence of steps to meet these integration requirements
- Built these steps into a checklist sequence that your launch system follows
- Required testing at multiple stages in the integration process to confirm successful completion of each stage
- Defined test failure protocols, including technical escalation procedures
Instrument Usage Indicators and Define Launch
The proof of your product’s value is usage. If you offer a B2B SaaS product used by executives, administrators, and functional users, then you need to compare each customer to a “healthy customer” standard on dimensions such as:
- The % of users trained by user type
- Frequency of use by user type
- The % of purchased seats utilized at all
- % of features used at all
A launch is successful once your data tells you the right users are using the product at a predefined level of success.
Train the Launch Team
The launch team usually sits inside the Customer Success function. Its mission is to deliver a successful integration of the product into the customer’s technical environment, and to successfully onboard all users (executive, administrative, and functional) such that these users show a pattern of use that at least meets minimum thresholds.
The required skills of the launch team depend on the requirements of a launch. Based on your business model and your product, it may be a simple plug-and-play process. Or it may require complicated steps demanding advanced technical skill to execute. Tools are useful in supporting this process. Depending on your business, tools such as Gainsight, Totango, Pendo, Aptrinsic or others may be relevant in providing insight into customer launch and usage adoption. Your staff design and recruiting efforts must match the skills to the problem. The customer’s first post-purchase impression of your company and its products will depend on the people you choose for this team — so choose well.
Assuming you have a talented team in place, it is best practice to train and certify them regularly. Create competency levels: “assistant,” “regular,” “senior.” Ensure that people earn their progression. Above all else, make sure each one of them is fully ready to interact with the customer.
Top talent is most important at the top. Your director of customer operations (head of the launch team) must be a process champion, a data hog, a fitness trainer, and an execution fanatic. Anything short of “excellent” is not good enough.
Precision yields perfection.