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Are you leading Customer Success Kickoffs (CSKO) to align and energize your teams? If you aren’t – you should. According to our recent CSLN panel of CS executives, Customer Success kickoffs help Success teams be more effective and empowered by recruiting champions, building alignment, and boosting morale. But if you’ve never designed and conducted an event, where do you start?

Emilia D’Anzica, Customer Success Leadership Network Governing Council Member, led a panel of seasoned Customer Success executives who shared their best practices for designing and leading effective “summits”. The panel included Sabina Pons, Vice President of Client Success, Support & Community at Mavenlink, Julie LaPlante, VP, Global Client Success at Bazaarvoice, and Tiesha Bursese, Global Head of Operations & Infrastructure at Square. You can watch the recorded event here on the Customer Success Leadership Network site.

Are Customer Success Leaders Conducting Summits?

Yes! 38% of the webinar attendees shared they had a summit in 2020; 34% of those held their summits virtually. Emilia shared that years ago, before summits were commonplace, she had to negotiate to secure a portion of the Sales Kickoff for Customer Success. While this may still be the case for some companies, times are changing, and more and more companies want CS leaders who can design and lead a summit explicitly for CS. 

Why Host a Customer Success Summit?

A summit provides many benefits that help the Success team and the company be more aligned and productive. Sabina shared three reasons for having an annual or semi-annual summit: 

  • A summit reaffirms the vision and mission of Customer Success and how that supports company goals
  • Summits help build team spirit
  • Lastly, they allow you, the CS leader, to surprise and delight your team so they know how important they are and how much you appreciate them

Julie invites executive leadership team members to participate in the summit to deepen their understanding of the Success team’s challenges. Being so involved in the summit helps these leaders become more invested in partnering with the Customer Success team. It helps “connect the dots” to ensure everyone focuses on the same priorities. 

Tiesha also noted a summit is an effective way to reinforce or fix alignment issues and introduce governance approaches you intend to use to stay on track. For example, do you have quarterly business reviews, retention and intervention programs, and so on? Aligning these points helps make the mission real and lets participants know the summit is just a beginning. A summit is an excellent way to introduce both the broader vision and the 3-5 outcomes the team is responsible for delivering in the shorter-term. 

Tiesha also reminded us to look not only at the quantifiable benefits but the qualitative ones as well. A summit is a great way to get everyone excited and invested in your mission. A well-executed summit noticeably improves morale. She includes Finance, Engineering, Technology stakeholders so they can see how Success will support the company’s big bets or strategic initiatives.

How Do You Get Support for a Summit?

The panel emphasized how important it is to plan ahead. One way to secure budget is by educating your CFO on the importance of having the summit. Julie recommends you create a compelling business case and have a narrative to frame it. The company wants to achieve some big customer-dependent goals, but what happens if we’re not aligned, and different teams focus on different things? CFOs understand opportunity cost and risk. 

All panelists agreed it helps to include senior leadership from other organizations in all stages of the process–from summit planning and design to execution and follow-up. When other leaders are included and come to understand CS better, they become champions and want to help them succeed.

 A recommended way to get executives involved is to survey them before the event to get their perspective on what they want to learn, and then survey them again after the event to validate that their expectations were met and capture any feedback. It’s important to collect and address any legitimate concerns they may have identified to keep them engaged and invested. 

Tiesha shared a notable experience in having Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square, involved in the planning and execution of her event. Dorsey is a famous and iconic Silicon Valley leader. The CS teams enjoyed hearing from Dorsey, and he benefited from the in-depth exposure to how the CS teams were approaching their mission. While most of us may not have a Jack Dorsey at our disposal, we do have CEOs and other influential leaders who make valuable allies. 

CSKO? Summit? What Do We Call It?

The consensus was clear–the preferred term appears to be “summit”. To some, CSKO sounds like a Sales kickoff that focuses on revenue. While revenue may be a component of a Success-led summit, it’s one piece of a broader, strategic mission. 

The concept of a summit may be more appealing as it feels more accurate. A summit generally represents the “top” and connotes a strategic meeting of leaders, and this is exactly the spirit of a Customer Success summit.  The summit should be a strategic event of leaders and teams to help align on a mission and plan everyone will follow. In the hustle and bustle of daily activity, it’s easy to lose sight of our destination–ensuring customers realize value. A summit reminds us where we’re going and why it matters. 

In a follow-up post, we’ll address the key question: “How do we design and lead an effective Customer Success summit?” The panelists shared great advice and many tips and on how to design and lead a winning summit. Stay tuned!