Winning a new client is one of the best parts of running an agency. Seeing that signed contract come in is validation for all the early mornings, late nights and unhealthy volume of caffeine consumption. You should just sit back and pat yourself on the back; right? Not really. Now is one of the defining moments in your client relationship. Your — and your team’s — actions over the next few days will determine whether you have a fantastic partnership for the long term, or if your dream win turns into a living nightmare. We’re talking about how you approach the client onboarding process.
If you have a loose onboarding process – or no process — in place when a new client hits the agency books, you need to up the ante and create a solid onboarding ritual. This plan/process is a crucial part to a happy and healthy client relationship. Here are our four ways you can successfully onboard a new client, plus a few tips to make these strategies your own.
1. Start before the contract is signed
We know it may sound counter-intuitive to start onboarding a client before they are actually a client, but laying the groundwork during the sales pitch means you’ll be off to a flying start when your new account gives you the green light. There are several ways you can approach this, but the very first step is to think about how you can transfer your knowledge of the client to the future account manager on your team.
At this point, no one knows the client better than you. To prepare a winning proposal, you had to take time to find out what makes the client tick. You have gotten to know the business and understand what problems they face, what their goals are and how your agency plans to move their business forward. This is a goldmine of intel that can help get your new account up and running smoothly and efficiently.
If you keep detailed sales notes, this information can easily be transferred into an internal briefing document to bring the whole team up to speed. When the account gets going, this means everyone is on the same page and knows exactly what the client was promised, the scope of work and what they are working towards. This isn’t enough to fully complete a client onboarding process, but it is a very good place to start. This document could take the form of a team email in the early stage of the process or be uploaded to an internal intranet or project management system.
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Depending on how your sales pitch is delivered and how many rounds of client interactions you have before winning the account, you may also want to consider looping in the person you’ve picked to lead the account. Inviting that person to sit in on a late-stage sales meeting or listen in on a final conference call can get creative juices flowing and give your team lead an intro to the client and vice versa. This is a particularly effective method because it means the two parties don’t go into the working relationship as strangers and there isn’t such an abrupt transition from sales team to account management.
2. Get your paperwork in order
Your client onboarding process will doubtless vary somewhat depending on the type of client you are bringing on board. Carrying out an induction for an SEO client will differ from a web design win. Both will differ from a content marketing win or a reputation marketing account. The key is, for each of the services or types of contract you offer, to have a representative, useful and structured set of paperwork in place. This can take the form of a questionnaire or briefing document. It could include a phone call script or meeting questions. The important thing is that you have a reliable resource you can turn to each time a new client joins your agency.
Moz has a great local SEO client onboarding questionnaire that you can use as a template to start your own onboarding off on the right foot. You might want to adapt this by adding or removing questions based on what your winning pitch entailed.
Ask yourself what information you’re likely to need for at least the first three months. What access, keywords or resources do you need from the client? What do you need to understand about their business to deliver on your promises?
Another key thing to do is make sure your paperwork is shareable. Your team will need to collaborate and the completed briefing documents, questionnaires and phone interview transcripts should be centrally available. If you have an intranet for client work, attaching a copy to the relevant record is a good place to start. If you have a project management tool such as Basecamp in place, you might want to upload it there too. A cloud drive, Dropbox or secure company server could also be put to work. The important thing is that everyone who needs access to the information has it on demand.
3. Get your internal team on board
Onboarding isn’t just reserved for the client. Successful relationships also incorporate an element of team onboarding. If you have recorded your notes and looped in key colleagues as laid out in point one, this part of the process should require no more than 30 minutes to one hour of your time. Essentially you want to introduce the campaign and get your team fully briefed on the account ahead of time. Eric Pratt of Revenue River Marketing suggests directing your team to LinkedIn profiles for key client contacts. You might want to add other social networks as relevant or prepare a folder of reading material such as recent press coverage or competitors to study.
4. Follow up in a month
To complete your client onboarding, schedule a follow-up call or meeting at the end of month one – with your team and your client. This is a chance to check in and make sure everything has gone according to plan, nudge clients for any additional info you might need based on your work so far and confirm that they’re happy with the new direction their account is taking.
What do you think?
What methods do you use to successfully onboard your new agency clients? What pitfalls should be avoided? What questions should be asked? We’d love to hear your thoughts so share your comments with us below.