John Lincoln

The Right Way to Conduct Client Onboarding

It’s typically much harder to find new clients than to keep the ones you have. That’s just one of the many reasons why you need to properly conduct client onboarding.

So do yourself and your business a favor: fine-tune your client onboarding process. In this article, we’ll show you how to do just that.

The Right Way to Conduct Client Onboarding

First impressions matter. New clients will get a read on your company during those initial engagements. If they don’t like what they see, they could bolt. And if they don’t, they might hang around for a while as reluctant participants. In that case, you’ll get money from them but you probably won’t get referrals.

What Is Client Onboarding?

Briefly: onboarding is the client’s introduction to your product or service. During the onboarding process, clients will become familiar with what you’re offering. They’ll also get a first glimpse at how your product or service helps them. You can think of it as employee onboarding, except for clients. The best companies train new employees about their policies and procedures. They also give them a dose of corporate culture. Other companies opt for a “baptism by fire.” That is, they have no formal onboarding process and instead just put new employees at their desks on the first day of work and tell them to get busy. That’s not the best approach, though. It’s also not a great idea to treat new clients like old clients. They need a little TLC and hand-holding once they’ve first signed on.

The Importance of Client Onboarding

Let’s look at the importance of a great client onboarding program. First, it will reduce your churn rate. If you’re unfamiliar with the phrase “churn rate,” it’s a corporate buzz-speak for “the percentage of people who sign on to your service and then quit later on.” Basically, client retention is the opposite of churn rate. The more you retain clients, the lower your churn rate. When you have a formal onboarding process that sets expectations, establishes goals, and gets everybody on the same page, you’re less likely to disappoint your clients. When you make them happy, they’ll more likely hang around. According to Bain & Company, a 5% increase in client retention can increase profits from 25% to 95%! Another great reason for a helpful onboarding process is that it gives you an edge over the competition. According to a HubSpot report, 43% of agencies say they don’t have the free time to handle administrative tasks such as client onboarding. That’s probably why 16% of them are having problems keeping clients. The same report says that 23% of agencies fail to meet client goals.
Client Onboarding
Client Onboarding
You can move ahead of competitors who don’t have a great client onboarding process by showing your clients outstanding care. That will help your bottom line as well. Oracle has a study showing that 86% of consumers will pay more for a better customer experience. Even more eye-opening: 89% of consumers started doing business with a competitor because of a poor customer experience, according to the same research. If we want to get really wonky, Harvard Business Review has a study showing that managing the entire customer journey is more important than getting positive feedback at certain touchpoints when the client interacts with your company. “In our research and consulting on customer journeys, we’ve found that organizations able to skillfully manage the entire experience reap enormous rewards: enhanced customer satisfaction, reduced churn, increased revenue, and greater employee satisfaction,” the report says. “They also discover more-effective ways to collaborate across functions and levels, a process that delivers gains throughout the company.” An outstanding client onboarding process is the first step in that customer journey.

Start by Laying a Foundation

The first thing you need to do is get to know your client. Before you have any kickoff parties, before you write any welcome letters, and before you start working on any projects, it’s important to learn everything you can about the client. Start by understanding the client’s industry. If you have people on your team who are already familiar with that industry, and they have some cycles available for additional work, it’s usually best to assign the client to those folks. Next, get to know your client’s business model. Answer the following questions:
  • What product or service does the client offer?
  • What is the client’s unique selling proposition (USP)?
  • What problems does the client’s product or service solve?
After that, take a look at the client’s approach to marketing. Answer these questions:
  • What marketing channels is the client currently using?
  • Who is the client’s target market?
  • What segments are within that target market?
  • How well has the client’s approach to marketing succeeded?
  • What are the customer’s pain points?
Next, get a look at the competition. Find out how the client’s competitors are positioning themselves within the market. You should find out if your client had a previous working relationship with one of your competitors. If so, find out why the client left that company. That information will speak volumes about the kind of service you need to provide. Also, get a read on the client’s company culture. That will sometimes influence your marketing campaigns.

Client Onboarding: Send a Welcome Letter

Give your client the warm and fuzzies right out of the gate with a welcome letter. Spend some time on getting the verbiage right because it’s one of the first impressions that your client will have of your business as a client. In addition to the welcome letter, include a package that lists all the info you’ll need. That will help set expectations. If necessary, include the legal documentation and contracts with the welcome letter. It’s usually best to keep that stuff separate, though.

Educate Your Team

The next step in the client onboarding process doesn’t even involve the client. If your business is a typical service-oriented organization, you’ll likely assign a team to work on the client’s project. Then, you’ll periodically contact the client yourself to find out how things are going.
Client Onboarding: Pick Your Team
Client Onboarding: Pick Your Team
Pick that team wisely. As we’ve seen from above, it’s a great idea to assign team members who have relevant industry experience. It’s also smart to find people who can easily align with the client’s company culture. If the client “connects” with your team members right at the outset, you’ll more likely create a positive customer journey. Let everybody on the team know his or her role. Spell everything out clearly so that there won’t be any problems later on. The last thing you want to do is introduce your people to a client when folks on the team aren’t even sure about what they’ll be doing. That’s going to cause the client to lose confidence in your business very quickly. Also, make sure your team knows everything there is to know about the client. You can do that by highlighting what you gleaned during your info-gathering session as described above. Your team members should also know something about their team members. Hand out printed copies of LinkedIn profiles so that people on your team know who they’ll be working with.

Give Them Access

Another important step: give the client access to any information systems they’ll be using. In some cases, even if you provide written reports once a month, you might let clients use an admin console to check on the progress of their project. Make sure you provide the client with the proper credentials to access that application. By the way, that is another great way to get the edge over your competition. A lot of agencies don’t have an application that clients can use to see if the team is hitting the specified key performance indicators (KPIs). Also, if you’re going through any kind of formal training session with the client (for example, teaching them how to use your awesome application), make sure you send the client the link to the training session.

Client Onboarding: Set up the Initial Kickoff Call

Next, set up the kickoff call with the client. Invite all key players from the client’s side as well as team members who are assigned to the project. Ideally, you want to be in the same room with the client. If possible, set up a real meeting that includes everybody. Unfortunately, though, that’s not always possible. We live in a global economy, after all. So feel free to punt and hold a teleconference. Just make sure you use hardware and software that’s reliable.
Client Onboarding: Use Reliable Software Like GoToMeeting
Client Onboarding: Use Reliable Software Like GoToMeeting
You don’t need a technical glitch during your kickoff call. During the call itself, welcome the client aboard. Then, introduce every member of the team who’s assigned to the project. Let team members talk a little bit about themselves. They can summarize their work experience with a 30-second verbal resume. Then, get into an overview of the whole project. That should include a discussion about goals. Once that’s done, you’re past the heavy lifting. It’s time to ask the client if there’s anything else the team needs to know about the business or the project. Usually, you’ll pick a couple of odds and ends that the team will need to keep in mind as they do their day-to-day work. Finally, remind the client about the upcoming training session. Once again, make sure you get buy-in that the right people will be there.

Set Goals

The next step comes from Business 101. You have to set goals. Why? Because that’s how the client will measure your success. Let’s say you set a goal to increase the client’s monthly leads by 20% within the next six months. The client can check the monthly lead counts in six months to determine if you’re delivering on promises. If you are delivering on promises, then the client will be happy. If you’re exceeding your goals, then the client will be ecstatically happy. That’s when the client becomes an evangelist for your brand. So spell out measurable, quantifiable goals clearly. Also, make it clear to team members how you’ll measure the results. It’s important that everybody is using the same tool for that purpose. Keep in mind: you should create the goals with participation from the client. That’s how you’ll know that the goals are in line with the client’s objectives. There’s a balancing act here. If you set very aggressive goals, you might make the client happy at the outset, but you could disappoint in the long run. On the other hand, if you set goals that are too easy to reach, the client might get demoralized at the beginning. You need to set goals that you can reach and will give the client a noticeable improvement.

Send out the Meeting Notes

Sometimes, things get lost in translation. That’s why it’s a great idea to have someone take notes on the meeting and send out the minutes once it’s over. Usually, the project manager handles that task. In some organizations, though, there’s a designated meeting scribe. However you do it, make sure that those notes get sent to every team member and all the relevant people on the client side. That’s just another way to make sure that everybody is on the same page.
Client Onboarding: Send Meeting Notes
Client Onboarding: Send Meeting Notes

Client Onboarding: Send a Handwritten “Thank You” Note

It’s also important to add a personal touch to the client onboarding process. Do that with a handwritten “Thank you” note. This one of those “extra mile” things that takes just a little bit of time but can reap big rewards. You’re letting people know that you care about their business when you do it. Besides the obvious “thank you” in the note, let the client know that you’re happy to be working with them. Also, tell them that you appreciate the trust they’ve placed in your business.

Follow-up Phone Call

A week after the initial kickoff meeting, call the client. Find out if there’s anything else that the client needs or if something was missed in the initial meeting. Remember: one of the best ways to keep a client happy is to make sure that the channel of communication stays open. There’s not much that clients hate more than not having their phone calls returned. Also, use the follow-up phone call to see if there are any initial challenges. That way, you can get out in front of them before they spin out of control. After that first call, you’ll probably only need to contact the client once a month to find out how things are going. That interval can vary based on the nature of the client and the kind of business you’re in, though.

Wrapping It Up

Your client’s journey begins with the onboarding process. Use that process to put the client at ease, set expectations, and make sure that everybody agrees on the scope of the project. Add that to some great delivery and your client will likely recommend your services to others.

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John Lincoln is CEO of Ignite Visibility, one of the top digital marketing agencies in the nation. Ignite Visibility is a 4x  Inc. 5,000 company. Ignite Visibility offers a unique digital marketing program tied directly to ROI with a focus on using SEO, social media, paid media, CRO, email, Amazon and PR to achieve results. Outside of Ignite Visibility, Lincoln is a frequent speaker and author of the books “Digital Influencer” and “The Forecaster Method.” Lincoln is consistently named one of the top digital marketers in the industry and was the recipient of the coveted Search Engine Land “Search Marketer of The Year” award. Lincoln has taught digital marketing and Web Analytics at the University of California San Diego since 2010, has been named as one of San Diego’s most admired CEO’s and a top business leader under 40. Lincoln has also made “SEO: The Movie” and “Social Media Marketing: The Movie.” His business mission is to help others through digital marketing.

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