Efficient workflows and established processes are the key factors in having a successful agency-client relationship. In fact, according to Wordstream’s State of Digital Marketing Report, one of the biggest challenges of an agency is getting new clients, retaining them, and managing time.
Since word of mouth and client referral is at the top of acquiring new accounts – high-quality client onboarding experience is the number one factor you can optimize to improve sales.
A survey conducted by MediaSense, ISBA, and Ipsos Connect shows that just over half (52%) of marketers are fairly happy with the service they receive from agency partners, but only eight state they are ‘very satisfied.’
I thought we should talk about the client onboarding more. Over the course of this piece, you’ll receive a step-by-step guide for a superb record, find out what are the best tips & tricks, get a full checklist, and learn about the best practices.
What is client onboarding?
It is the process of introducing new customers into your business stream, workflow, processes, and the tools of the trade. Well organized and structured client onboarding will help your agency get better marketing results.
Efficient client onboarding will help you set up needs and expectations. Also, it will communicate the next steps, KPIs, marketing goals, and clarify the overall project for the client as part of your client management processes.
If you don’t have a proper client onboarding process, you might worsen your agency-client relationship, waste time, miscommunication, and can result in major PR crisis.
Any project or campaign that has no clear direction or communication on both sides will never stand a chance. I have spoken with hundreds of agencies in the past few years and have learned about their best practices.
Client onboarding stages
Clearly written processes are the best way to go about working with a new client. You’ve researched your client, sent in a business proposal and won them over. Don’t just leave them alone now, waiting for things to happen. Your goal in client onboarding should be to design consistent, repeatable processes that work for everyone, both teammates and the clients.
As an example, we’ll take an agency that signed up a new client to create a social media Christmas campaign for this year.
Client questionnaire & documents review
One of the most important parts of your onboarding process is learning about your client’s needs. Every client has different challenges, and automating the same workflow for all your clients will result in money, effort, and time spent.
The first stage of client onboarding starts with making sure that everyone is on the same page. Just like you’d want in an employee onboarding process. Confirm that the client has signed the documents, contracts, and all the other formal details. Next, you’ll need to make an assessment of your client brand, company, team, needs, and challenges they’re trying to solve.
You can make a client onboarding questionnaire template in a tool like Typeform, Jotform, or SurveyMonkey and include these questions I prepared for you:
- Company Name
- Company Website
- Who is the main decision-maker? What’s their e-mail?
- Briefly explain what you’re trying to achieve with the social media Christmas campaign?
- What’s your main goal for the campaign? (conversion, brand awareness, etc.)
- How would you describe the tone of your brand?
- Describe your target audience
- What other social media campaigns have you done in the past? What’s your feedback on these? How did they work out?
- What are some common misconceptions about your brand, product, services?
- What type of feeling do you want your customers to associate your brand with?
- Please name three competitors? What are you doing better than them?
- Please name three brands you love
- What three brands you enjoy their social media presence?
- What three brands you think do social media poorly?
- What is your preferred deadline?
- How closely do you prefer to work? Do you want daily/weekly check-ins? In-person/email/phone?
- How does your ideal agency-client relationship look like?
The client onboarding questionnaire gives you the chance to learn more about your client – goals, past experience, results, and expectations. It’s the stage when the client communicates most. The more clearly your client will answer, the better information and communication flow will happen.
Next, it’s time to define the workflow and tools of the trade. This stage is even more important. It clarifies all the other details, sets up the tone of the project, presents the team, workflow, processes, and the next steps.
Assign your team any necessary reading materials, be sure they have access to the assessment and contract, and provide any notes available on your client. Once your team knows your client’s desired outcomes and objectives, they will be better prepared for the client kickoff call.
After the client has completed the questionnaire, set up the first kickoff call with them as part of your new client onboarding process. Send them an automatically weekly meeting at a time that fits you best. Since we already mentioned that collaboration and coordination is the key in an agency-client relationship, one of these tools for video chats is Zoom.
Zoom is a well known modern enterprise video communication platform with an easy, cloud interface for video and audio conferencing, collaboration, chat, and webinars across mobile devices, desktops, telephones, and room systems.
It allows for multiple people to join the call; and empowers people to communicate easily.
Also, don’t forget to send the schedule of your meeting so that everyone knows the agenda prior to the meeting.
Real-time communication & updates
E-mails are great solutions. However, they’re not created for the real-time digital era. You can obviously use Messenger, Whatsapp, Telegram, or many more apps, but they’re not gonna make you look professional.
Therefore, solutions like Slack or Chanty are created to fit digital agencies perfectly. It helps you create a separate channel between yourself and the client to have private conversations and discuss the matters of the project in real-time, with no back-and-forth e-mails involved.
Alright, the next stage is the first meeting. Everyone is on board. Stay positive and nail this conversation. Next, you want to present the team and other important stakeholders. Here are some important client onboarding best practices to do just that:
- Introduce your team members, and make clear what do they do day-to-day
- If you’ll be presenting something on the screen, move this into a separate tab or folder and be prepared for something to go wrong. It’s technology, after all, happens to all of us ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- Shed light on a few questions and confirm you understood the answers they left in the questionnaire. Often, written information might get easily interpreted – it doesn’t hurt to check.
- Mute your speaker when the client is speaking to remove noise
- Speak loudly and clearly. If you notice that you are speaking quickly, pause and slow down.
Agencies often might feel overwhelmed with all the projects they’re running, and each client thinks their own project is more important and unique. Nobody wants to wait too long for the deliverables.
When setting up the contracts and agreements – ensure you add some realistic deadlines that also give some buffer time in case something comes up or won’t work. If something changes, communicate this transparently to the client immediately and adjust the project timeline.
One easy way to do this is through a work management tool that allows you to create a simple enough project schedule to be understood by all stakeholders and the project team alike. In a work management tool for example, task durations can be projected on a timeline with dependencies between them to account for the work logic and any potential delays (in the form of lag time).
Same goes for milestones, which signal major deliverables to pay attention to. When done, export the project schedule as a PDF/PNG file to act as a baseline or share it with your clients as a way to update them on the project progress.
There are different work mananagement tools that can handle this,
One example is the project management tool from monday.com.
Address any concerns of your client in a swift manner. If the agency is not responding quickly enough, this might raise concerns about the success of this initiative and agency performance. That’s not something you want in your feedback survey, right?
Setting up the tone of the project now, discuss the expectations of your client, speak up about the goals, ideas, and what are the next steps of the project. It’s perfect timing to present your interest in performing the project and share some thoughts on that. Also, discuss your current processes, such as starting with a mindmap and mood board.
Mind maps are designed to help you focus on all the ideas running in your head without any distractions. It’s a graphical way to represent ideas and concepts. It helps agencies structure information, better analyses, and generate new ideas. In the mind map, you will use the keywords shared in the client questionnaire.
First, you start in the middle with a blank page, writing or drawing your ideas. Then, you start developing subtopics around the central topic – social media Christmas campaign. Afterward, you start connecting these dots with each other and start shaping the theme. Mind maps help with note-taking, brainstorming, problem-solving, planning, and firing up your creativity. You can easily create a mindmap using a flowchart tool like Visme. Drag your bubbles onto your page, connect them to each of your ideas, and quickly flesh out your brainstorm. With these tools you also get a window into client aspirations, helping you hone your content marketing efforts.
Moreover, mood boards are another method to coordinate your ideas and collaborate with your clients more efficiently during the client onboarding stage; here’s how to create one.
A mood board is a type of collage consisting of images, text, and samples of objects in a composition. It can be based upon a set topic or can be any material chosen at random. A mood board can be used to convey a general idea or feel about a particular topic and will help you brainstorm multiple marketing activities you can perform.
Get (back) to work
Typically, this is how many independent agencies around the world are helping their clients succeed. It requires just a bit of understanding of communication, coordination, process, and setting up the next steps. Remove any obstacles in your agency-client relationship – help your customers understand what you’re presenting and how you’re doing that.
Also, learn to listen – hear what their customers are saying, but also discuss internally with your team members. Moreover, check what their competitors are doing, what do they lack in social media conversations, and how can you beat them with a stunning campaign.
Check-in with the clients frequently, make surveys a part of your integral process and connect feedback sessions with the most major milestones. Let’s wrap this up with a client onboarding checklist:
- Confirm that the client has signed the documents, contracts, and all the other formal details
- Sent the onboarding questionnaire
- Invite them on Slack
- Send a calendar invite for the kick-off call
- Present the team, tools of the trade, workflow,
- processes, and the next steps
Start the mindmap
- Make a mood board
- Start working on the project
- Repeat & succeed
Conclusion: Everything You Wanted to Know About Efficient Client Onboarding
Creating a one-time client onboarding process is great; however, to ensure the likeability of new clients coming and leaving happy, you need to build a long-lasting happy relationship and demonstrate early on that you’re the right partner for this job. Build organization, planning, and order as a core value of your client onboarding process.
It will help you scale your business easier. Onboarding sets the tone for each clients life with your brand. An initial positive experience significantly increases the odds that a client will remain with you long enough to become profitable – Sujan Patel.
Moreover, evaluate your projects after it was delivered. A clear workflow will make your clients happier, but you can’t improve if you don’t have any feedback. Send a survey to your client to ask for their thoughts, ideas, and a 1-10 evaluation of the work.
According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 84% of B2B decision-makers begin their buying process with a referral. The more you satisfy the customer, the merrier.