If you're an agency looking to build strong partnerships with your clients, a thorough onboarding process is essential. And one of the most powerful tools you can use to kick off this process is to create a client onboarding questionnaire.
By taking the time to gather information upfront, you can understand your clients' needs, goals, and pain points and tailor your strategy accordingly.
Yes, we know that there’s nothing like the feeling of landing a new client. You’re smiling, your team is smiling, and it’s time to celebrate.
But then something happens: The initial euphoria wears off, and you realize it's time to get down to business.
Getting new clients is great, but as we grow, onboarding can be so time-consuming. I look forward to having the onboarding over and a return to a normal work schedule.
– Linda Rooney, Founder + CEO, DandeLions Digital
It’s an all-too-common scenario. A growing agency has a flood of new clients in a short period of time, but their onboarding process is messy and disorganized. As a result, the agency struggles to understand their clients' needs and goals, and they often had to redo work that didn't align with their clients' expectations.
Communication is inconsistent, the reports don’t cover the metrics the client needs to see, and clients are left feeling frustrated and dissatisfied with the agency's services.
A messy start can significantly increase the churn risk of a client, and every agency wants to do everything possible to reduce churn.
All of this can be avoided by simply streamlining and improving the onboarding process. Although there’s no exact science to the client onboarding process, there are things you should do to improve the experience and ensure that every engagement gets off on the right foot as you scale your agency.
Whether you're starting out your agency or have been around the block, the questionnaire and tips we've included in this article are here to help you enhance your agency’s client onboarding process.
So, with that in mind, let's start with the basics.
What Is a Client Onboarding Questionnaire?
A client onboarding questionnaire is a document or set of questions that a marketing agency uses to gather information about new clients. The purpose of the onboarding questionnaire is to learn more about the client's business, goals, and needs, as well as to establish expectations and build rapport.
Typically, client onboarding questionnaires are sent to a client after they have signed on with the agency but before any work begins.
In general, the onboarding questionnaire will cover a range of topics, from basic contact information to more detailed questions about the client's business objectives, target audience, and pain points. It may also include questions about the client's past experiences with similar projects, as well as their expectations for communication and project management.
By using a client onboarding questionnaire, agencies can:
Establish a strong foundation: A thorough onboarding process can help build a strong foundation for the client-agency relationship. By understanding the client's business and goals, the agency can create a tailored strategy that addresses their unique needs.
Identify potential issues: The questionnaire can help identify potential issues or roadblocks upfront, which can help prevent misunderstandings or miscommunications later on.
Save time and resources: By collecting information upfront, the agency can avoid wasting time and resources on work that may not align with the client's needs.
By taking the time to gather information upfront, agencies can establish a strong foundation for a successful partnership and ensure that their work is aligned with the client's goals and needs.
Our onboarding was so messy that we knew we needed better processes. Now when a client onboards, it's all automated, and each client has a smooth experience.
– Joaby Parker, President, Cover3 Creative
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The Goal of Using a Client Onboarding Questionnaire
The primary purpose of an onboarding questionnaire is to better understand the specific wants and needs of the client and to improve the likelihood of providing a high-level experience and customer loyalty, leading to improved client retention.
Whether you have a small, medium, large, remote, or in-office agency, you want to identify the essentials for each of your employees and how to make it easier for them to do their tasks.
Client onboarding checklists and questionnaires are even more important if you have a full team. You'll want your account manager, SEO specialist, keyword researcher, content writer, social media marketer, and other significant members of your team to synchronize the tone, message, and goals of your new client.
And, as you get more clients, you'll need to identify who does what as well as when, where, and how.
Here are three reasons why client onboarding questionnaires are so important:
1. It Acts as an Official Welcome
When it comes to any working relationship, it’s critical to make a good first impression. A client onboarding questionnaire helps you do just that. Not only does a client questionnaire help you gather the necessary information to execute brilliant marketing campaigns, but it also shows the client that you are putting their needs first and are doing everything you can to understand their business.
Alongside the questionnaire, you can include material such as:
A one-page overview of your agency
A personalized note of introduction
A sample of the client reporting that they can expect to receive from your agency
Consider an onboarding questionnaire, along with this associated information, to serve as your formal welcome package during the onboarding process. It may seem like a small thing to you, but it highlights your agency’s dedication, customer service, and attention to detail.
2. A Good Client Onboarding Process Sets Clear Expectations
It’s safe to assume you discussed the scope of your arrangement during the client discovery meeting, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve set clear expectations.
Wherever it falls in your process, a client onboarding questionnaire allows you and your clients to get on the same page before day one of your engagement arrives, managing clear expectations and focusing on delivering them.
For example, if you’re providing the client with SEO services, include questions such as:
What are your SEO-related goals, both short and long-term?
Have you ever worked with a digital agency in the past? How would you rate the results?
How do you measure SEO performance (e.g., would they prefer a monthly SEO report or a live SEO dashboard)?
If the answers align with your approach and what’s included in the contract, you’re good to go. However, if you notice a change in tone or scope creep, you can discuss points of concern to clear the air and set better expectations.
Setting expectations is one of the best ways to create a great first impression. You might have a kick-off meeting with your client, and it would look bad if you forgot to ask about certain account access, which product or services they are selling the most, or which one they would rather focus on.
Your client might end up canceling your contract if you constantly go back and forth with them about things that you should have known and asked upfront.
Our clients love their customized reports on data based on what they are most interested in understanding for their specific business. We start with a template for our new clients, and during their onboarding, we ask what their top KPIs are. We make sure to include those on the first page for them.
– Christina Cypher, Director of Marketing, Click Control Marketing
That way, you can avoid running into crazy client requests, like this:
Remember, your client is running a business. They most likely hired your agency to handle their SEO, social media, and marketing needs because they do not have time to do it themselves. So don’t waste their time with repeated requests that can be handled at all at once during the onboarding process.
3. It Provides You With More Information
You spend a lot of time narrowing your target market to ensure that you’re selling to the right prospects. You also collect targeted information during the sales process.
But even with this approach, you’ll never have all the details you need unless you ask for them.
Let’s say you want to expand your agency to provide local SEO services at a state level versus your local neighborhood. You’ve gained a new client, but competitor research can only go so far if you don’t know the area well.
Your client might know some insight as to who they are going against. Maybe the top competitor isn’t providing quality customer service, and they lean toward your new clients. Or if your new client is losing their customers, they might know which competitor is scooping them up.
Client onboarding questionnaires are a simple way to collect a variety of information that you can use to better understand your client and their expectations.
And as mentioned earlier, the questionnaire is here to help your team won't lose track of each client's goals and better provide goal tracking initially. You'll also have this information on file in case one of your team members forgets.
Which leads us to the next section…
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What To Include in Your Client Onboarding Questionnaire
The key to success is to customize the client questionnaire to suit your agency’s needs, all while making it simple enough for a new client to complete in a timely manner.
The questions you ask in your client onboarding questionnaire will vary depending on your agency's specific services and the needs of your clients. However, there are some common questions that are useful to include in almost any client onboarding questionnaire.
Who are the day-to-day contacts for the projects? And who should be contacted in case of an emergency?
What specific objectives do you hope to achieve through your partnership with us?
Who is your target market? What are their demographics, interests, and pain points?
Current Marketing Strategy
What is your current marketing strategy? What channels and tactics are you currently using to reach your target audience?
Do you have any existing brand guidelines? If so, can you provide them to us?
How would you like us to communicate with you? What is your preferred method of communication?
What is the scope of this project? What specific deliverables do you need from us?
What is your budget for this project?
For a complete list of questions (to get you started), download the Client Onboarding Questionnaire template.
Download Your Client Onboarding Questionnaire Template
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By the time you’re done, you should aim for 15 to 20 questions that fit into four basic categories:
1. Client Information
Who is the primary point of contact for this project?
What is this person’s contact information?
What’s the preferred method of communication?
Who is the backup contact in case of an emergency?
Do you have any supporting documents or account access to share?
Google Search Console
Google Business Profile
Google Ads, Bing, Facebook, and other ad accounts to add to your client reporting.
Social media accounts
Other accounts you need access to
2. Marketing Information
What is your company’s vision for the future and mission statement?
What are your short and long-term goals as a company?
Who is your target audience?
What are your target geographic locations, languages, and spelling preferences?
Who are your top three to five competitors?
How are your products/services solving your potential customer's problem?
Do you have an existing brand style guide?
Where are high-res versions of your logo saved?
Do you use a specific font for your marketing & branding?
3. Project Information
What goals have you set for this project?
What metrics will you track to measure results?
Do you have a deadline?
Have you previously tackled a similar project, either in-house or with another agency?
Do you have a specific timeframe in mind for how long this project will take?
What elements will you need our agency complete vs. what will be provided by your team?
4. General Information
What excites you most about working with our company?
What can we do from a customer support perspective to ensure that you get what you want?
How did you find our company? Online search, referral, social media?
How often would you like to receive updated marketing reports?
While these questions pertain to almost every client, you’ll want to customize these—and add others—based on the agreed-upon services.
For example, if you’re a digital marketing agency providing a client with SEO services, include questions such as:
Are you familiar with your website’s current search engine rankings and traffic?
What tools do you use or have you used to track SEO related metrics, such as backlinks, search engine rankings, and traffic?
What SEO work have you completed internally or with the help of another agency?
Asking these targeted questions provides greater insight into the specific services you’re providing.
When we're onboarding a client, we ask what their KPIs are, then we ask them to help us connect their accounts to our system. We show them what we're going to track, how we're going to track it, and what they can expect.
– Ruben Roel, President, Investigator Marketing
What Not To Include In Your Questionnaire
There’s not much that fits into the “what not to include” category, as it’s up to you to decide what’s best for you and your client. However, there are things you can avoid to increase the likelihood of receiving detailed answers.
Don’t make these onboarding questionnaire mistakes:
Questions that require the respondent to put too much time into providing an answer. For example, “Where do you see your business in 20 years?” This question requires the client to think deeply about their business objectives and consider how they want to grow and evolve over time. Depending on the client's level of experience or the complexity of their business, they may need to do additional research or consult with colleagues before they can provide a meaningful answer.
Questions the respondent won’t be able to answer, but will instead have to pass through to a team member. For example, “What version of WooCommerce (or other server-related questions) does your eCommerce store currently use?” This question requires technical knowledge that most clients don't possess, especially if they're not in the web development or IT industry. Instead of expecting the client to provide a detailed answer, the agency should assign this question to a team member with the appropriate technical expertise.
Questions that have no clear answer. For example, “What is the one North Star metric your business runs on?” While the question is important for the agency to understand the client's business objectives and measure the success of their marketing efforts, there may not be a single "right" answer to this question. The client may have multiple metrics that are equally important, or they may not have a clear understanding of what metrics they should be tracking.
Remember, new clients aren’t always in a position to answer every question you throw at them. They’re hiring you to help answer some of these questions.
Take, for instance, the question, “what metrics will you track to measure results?”
You have a clear idea of how you’ll do this internally, but your client may require some education as to what makes the most sense.
Maybe they’ve hired you for email marketing-related tasks, such as help growing their email list. To them, the only thing that matters is the number of people on the list. But to you, other metrics, such as open rate and click rate, are every bit as important.
Agency Tip: If a particular question continually goes unanswered or causes confusion, consider rewording it or eliminating it from your client questionnaire.
What Tools Can You Use to Send Your Client Onboarding Questionnaire
Once you’re happy with your client questionnaire, it’s time to distribute it. There are several tools and ways to do so, including:
Email +a Google Sheets version of the client onboarding form
If you’re new to the world of client onboarding, forms, questionnaires, email, and Google Sheets are often the fastest way to get started. This entails:
Create your questionnaire as a Google Sheet (you can just duplicate it for the next client)
Sending it to your primary point of contact via email
Requesting that they complete the onboarding questionnaire and email it back to you
While it’s fast to create and send, this method often presents challenges in regards to collecting data and distributing it to your team.
For more efficiency in that department, software like a Google Form or Typeform is typically the better choice for creating a client onboarding form. Benefits include:
More flexibility in regard to how you share the onboarding questionnaire
Easier for your client to complete and return
More convenient to share with your team
Use templates to customize your questionnaire
As with the questionnaire itself, how you distribute and collect client information is ever-evolving. Experiment with a few strategies to find the one that’s best for your agency and your clients.
However, always ask your clients if they are comfortable filling out a client onboarding form or if they prefer to have a Zoom meeting or an in-person meeting to answer these questions. The focus of the onboarding process is to attend to your client's needs and should not be based on your agency’s convenience.
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Best Practices for Sending a Client Onboarding Questionnaire
Once you've created your client onboarding questionnaire, it's important to use it effectively to set the stage for successful partnerships. Here are some best practices to follow:
Send the questionnaire to the client at least a week before the kickoff call to give them ample time to complete it.
Offer additional support and guidance to help clients answer difficult questions.
Use open-ended questions to encourage clients to provide detailed answers.
Regularly update and refine the questionnaire based on feedback and results from previous projects.
Use the completed questionnaire as a reference throughout the project to ensure that your work is aligned with the client's needs and goals.
What To Do Internally With a Completed Questionnaire
Good news: You've just received the questionnaire back from your client,and you now have more client information than you ever thought possible.
It’s time to put it to use.
1. Review the questionnaire thoroughly: The agency's project manager or account manager should review the completed questionnaire to ensure that all questions have been answered and that the client information provided is complete and accurate. If any information is missing or unclear, the project manager should follow up with the client to clarify.
2. Share the questionnaire with the appropriate team members: Depending on the scope of work, the questionnaire may need to be shared with multiple team members. For example, if the project involves both SEO and PPC, the questionnaire will need to be shared with both those teams. The project manager should ensure that everyone is aware of the client's needs and goals.
3. Develop a client brief: Based on the information provided in the questionnaire, the agency should develop a client brief that outlines the client's needs, goals, and expectations. This document should be shared with all team members involved in the project.
4. Set up a kick-off call: A kick-off call should be used to confirm the information provided in the questionnaire, clarify any details, and ensure that everyone is aligned on the project scope and timeline.
5. Save the questionnaire and client brief in a central location: You’ll want to be able to revisit the questionnaire quickly and easily throughout the client’s lifespan with your agency, so store the completed questionnaire and client brief in a central location, such as a project management tool or a shared drive.
The first few months are vital in determining if your new client will stay with you and generate higher customer lifetime value, or not. So sending the questionnaire to your team and notifying them so they can start the onboarding process is crucial to getting results fast, and keeping clients longer.
In today's competitive marketplace, taking the time to create a client onboarding questionnaire is a critical component of building successful partnerships with clients. Client onboarding questionnaires can help to establish clear goals and expectations, ensure that the client's needs are met, and create a strong foundation for future collaboration.
By asking the right questions and tailoring the onboarding process to each client's unique needs and goals, agencies can build trust, establish credibility, and create long-term partnerships that benefit both parties.
Creating client onboarding questionnaires doesn’t have to be a long, laborious process. They can be an exciting way to welcome your clients to your agency.
Just be sure to leverage automation when you can so your team members can focus on getting results, not chasing clients for their client onboarding form.
Like this article? Find out how to effortlessly onboard multiple new agency clients in the video below!👇
Chris Bibey is a freelance writer and content marketing consultant based in Pittsburgh, PA. For 10+ years, Chris has provided content creation and marketing services to entrepreneurs, companies, and agencies spanning a variety of industries.