Here at AgencyAnalytics user onboarding is a frequent topic of discussion, but onboarding isn't just for SaaS companies. Onboarding clients is crucial for agencies to start a client relationship off on the right foot.
The first impression you make on a client has a major impact on how they perceive the agency as they work with you, and it could even determine how long they stay with the company.
These guidelines will help you improve your onboarding process, both for your clients and for your team.
What is Client Onboarding?
In case you're not familiar with the idea of client onboarding, let's review it quickly.
Jennifer Bourn summed up client onboarding as the process in which:
New clients acquire the necessary knowledge, understanding, and tools needed to be a good client. A service provider or team acquires the necessary knowledge, understanding, and tools needed to be a good service provider.
In other words, client onboarding is a process of providing the necessary resources for clients to work with your agency, and in turn, increases the likelihood of clients being satisfied and long-term customers.
The goal of client onboarding process is to ensure that both you and the client are on the same page in terms of deliverables, expectations, and so on. A properly onboarded client understands the value of your services, knows the project's timeline, and is confident that you're going to deliver.
Why A Client Onboarding Process Is Essential
Your onboarding process sets the tone for your future relationship with a client. A well thought out onboarding sequence makes clients feel like they're with the right agency, while a scattered or nonexistent introduction can leave clients feeling confused and frustrated.
Obviously, there's a huge difference between the two—and that difference can significantly impact your agency's reputation as well as your customer lifetime value.
Onboarding also gives you a chance to talk with each client and get a thorough understanding of their expectations and goals. A client relationship that doesn't have clear expectations is doomed for failure, so make sure to set expectations in terms of deliverables and timeline upfront. For example, SEO rankings typically don't jump to page one overnight and your client needs to understand the timeframe and scope of the project.
If onboarding goes well, you and the client will establish some clearly-defined shared goals that keep both of you focused, realistic, and happy with the other.
A good onboarding process (as well as a good follow-up process) can head off relationship-damaging misunderstandings. As an agency owner, a client onboarding process gives you a chance to set proper expectations, work more efficiently with a client, and last but not least, set the tone for any future interactions with them.
In other words, onboarding helps you just as much as it helps the client.
Step 1: Welcome Message
Start the onboarding process as soon as possible. When you're welcoming and proactive, your new client feels confident that they've made the right decision. You'll get to work sooner when you take care of all the introductory details right away.
Get started on the right foot by sending your new client a warm welcome email.
Tell them how thrilled you and your team are to be working with them and provide any relevant information, including contact details, copies of contracts, information about your policies, and what to expect next.
Introduce any team members that they will be in contact with and let them know that they will be following up shortly with more details.
Each email you send a client should indicate the next steps. Clients want to know the process is always moving forward and what they can expect. The biggest mistake you can make during the onboarding process is leaving clients in the dark.
A sample welcome letter from acquire.io
As you welcome the client and move through the onboarding process, keep your own records up-to-date. Save a copy of any communications you send to the client, and add any new information you get to your CRM system right away.
Step 2: Gather Information on the Client's Business & Industry
It's likely that you know a good amount about the client's business and industry from the sales process, although it's important to expand on this in the onboarding process and gather any missing details.
There are a number of different ways you can gather information such as forms, phone calls, or emails.
Since we're talking about creating processes that can scale, I recommend sending automated forms or document questionnaires. They have the advantage of being reusable and there's less risk of losing information you get in writing.
Wufoo is a tool that lets you create forms online. Source
No one really likes filling out forms, but if your client understands why this is an important step, they'll be more likely to give you useful and thorough information.
Emphasize that you'll be able to help them most effectively if they give you a good window into the inner workings of their business, as well as their own thought processes and goals.
So which questions should you ask? That will depend partially on each client, but in general, it's a good idea to gather information in the following areas:
Information about the client's vision for their business. Ask both general and specific questions here. For instance, what are the client's goals for the next year, or the next five years? How do they measure success? What kind of audience are they trying to attract?
Information about communication. Who is your point of contact at the client's business? Should you direct different types of communication to different people? How often does the client want to meet with you and review progress? Who should you contact about technical issues?
Information about their background in marketing/SEO. Have they had SEO agencies before? How was the experience? What keywords do they want to rank for? What are your current strategies for generating leads/traffic?
PointBlankSEO has also compiled a brilliant list of client questions you should be asking. Be detailed. Otherwise you risk missing key parts of the client's business.
Step 3: Schedule an Onboarding Meeting
Once you've gathered the initial information, it's a good idea to schedule an onboarding meeting to review everything to make sure you're both on the same page.
Once you've made your introductions with the client, you can start discussing their goals, needs, and expectations in greater detail. Use this as your opportunity to dig deeper into what the client has already told you. If there's anything you need clarification about, now's the time to ask. It's a good idea to write up a list of the points you want to go over before the meeting so you don't forget anything.
Your first meeting is also an ideal opportunity to tell the client more about your own work. Explain your methods, and let the client know what you can do for them, as well as what you can't. Tell them what you expect from them in terms of communication and cooperation. The goal should be to make sure you, the client, and any important members of your teams are on the same page about the projects you'll be working on together.
Create or review any timelines, milestones, and deadlines you'll need for the projects you're working on. Make sure you and the client both understand how you're going to measure success. Discuss which KPIs are most important to the client, and build a game plan that you're both comfortable with.
AgencyAnalytics offers custom marketing dashboards to keep clients up-to-date on KPIs
Discussing business is important, but don't forget to be friendly, too. Build as much rapport with the client as you can during this first meeting. If they leave feeling like the meeting went well, they'll be more likely to communicate with you later if they need something or have questions.
Step 4: Get Your Team on Board
Onboarding isn't just about the client—it's also about your team. Make sure everyone on your team is filled in on the new client, including relevant details about their business and which projects you'll be working on for them. Everyone needs to understand what is expected of them and when.
Hold a brainstorming session with anyone who's going to be involved in the new client's projects. Come up with as many ideas as you can for how you'll help this client achieve their goals. You and your team will get valuable inspiration, and your team will gain a better understanding of the client's business.
Your onboarding process shouldn't be quite finished after your first meeting with a new client. After some time has passed, send them a follow-up call or email. Ask how they like working with your agency, whether they've experienced any problems, and whether they have any new questions for you. If they do have questions or concerns, do your best to resolve those immediately. In general, it's good to follow up with a client two weeks to two months after your first meeting.
A good onboarding process gets you off to the best start possible with a client, increasing your chances of staying happy with each other. While putting together a great onboarding plan might take some work upfront, it will save your team time and help your agency run more efficiently in the long run. If you haven't worked on your onboarding process much yet, start now—the more new clients you welcome, the easier it will become.