A marketing agency needs to do a lot of things right to win and retain clients, starting with customer onboarding.
The first and most important part of working with a new client is the onboarding process.
If you do it right, you'll set the right goals for the client and get them excited to work with you. If you do it wrong, they will wonder if they made the right decision to work with you.
Today, we're going to show you a client onboarding process for your marketing agency.
What you will learn
- What the marketing agency client onboarding process is
- 7-step checklist for onboarding your marketing agency clients
- How to improve the client onboarding process
What is the marketing agency client onboarding process?
The client onboarding process is the path that a client takes upon signing a contract, where a marketing agency collects information about their business, goals, and processes to market their products and services.
The onboarding process starts when a client signs a contract and an agency starts sending out the first deliverables.
The goal of an agency's client onboarding process is to set expectations, set ground rules for working together, explain what will be delivered, and make the transition from sales to customer success as smooth as possible.
There are different types of onboarding:
- Onboarding a client who has no previous experience with marketing
- Onboarding a client who switched from another agency to yours
- Onboarding a client who already has a marketing department in-house but needs support
Why is the client onboarding process important for marketing agencies?
The customer onboarding process is important for digital marketing agencies because it allows both parties to understand each other and set expectations for the relationship.
It is not sufficient to produce excellent work.
It is also essential that the consumer be satisfied with the relationship.
Customer onboarding is one of the first interactions that your client will have with your agency.
It can set the tone for your relationship and establish first impressions. And as an agency owner, you want to ensure that you impress your clients at every opportunity you get.
Often, agencies make the mistake of treating the onboarding process as an afterthought.
And will only have a quick kick off meeting to onboard a new client.
Think of the customer onboarding process as a continuation of your marketing pitch.
Most new client agency relationships begin with a 3 month trial period. It can take the first 2-4 weeks for campaign implementation, design and approvals.
That means that you're essentially working to impress the client in just 8 weeks.
In that time, you are expected to make progress and exhibit results to continue the contract. This can be increasingly difficult in some niches and for some channels.
Use every opportunity to make a good impression that can help retain your customer on a longer contract. This is how client onboarding processes are crucial to your agency's growth.
They can help keep a client for longer and improve your average LTV.
In essence, customer onboarding is important to:
- Set the right expectations from the start
- Demonstrate your agency's value to their business
- Reduce client churn
- Establish a plan for the future
7-step checklist for marketing agency client onboarding
Onboarding customers correctly is key to starting your relationship on the right footing. It's a good idea to have a checklist that you can go over instead of writing things from scratch every time you have a new client.
A checklist can quicken your process and ensure that everyone on the team is on the same page. They're easy to understand and implement as well.
Here is a 7 step checklist for onboarding marketing agency clients
1. Assign an account manager
Account managers are like the receptionists in your marketing agency hotel. They are the first point of communication for the clients with your agency and they know everything about the work that is done for that account.
Usually, one client has one account manager.
On the other hand, one account manager has multiple clients they manage at a marketing agency. The account manager's responsibilities include:
- onboarding the client
- introducing them to the marketing agency's standard operating procedures
- understanding the needs of client accounts
- communicating with the client about the progress of their work
- informing them about important changes to their account
- being on standby to answer the marketing agency client's calls, emails and other types of inquiries
Before anything is done, introduce your client to their point of contact at your marketing agency.
That way, they know whom to get in touch with.
If you're an established marketing agency with many clients behind you, you should have a dedicated account manager for a specific industry or channel.
It's also handy to assign a manager who best aligns with the client's communication style and preferences. Having an account manager can signal to the agency that you're professional and have your operations aligned.
2. Ask questions
Sharing a client questionnaire is a crucial part of a solid client onboarding process, as it allows you to get more familiar with the client and their needs.
A new client questionnaire with a series of questions about the client's needs and expectations can help keep you both on the same page faster.
You should still conduct as much research as you can into the client's industry, competitors and target market.
This will help you extract information to build buyer personas and content strategies.
However, a client's input can be crucial to insider insights and quicken your research process.
Some client onboarding questions are:
- what are your main marketing and sales goals for this quarter/year?
- what do you think is the main unique selling point of your product or service?
- who are your main competitors and what should we know about them?
These are just some examples to include in your client questionnaire.
The more, the better. It may sound tedious to ask the new client all these questions, but you'll be able to align and meet client expectations more easily.
You can create questionnaires in something as basic as Google Forms or with tools. Or use Google Docs or something simple.
3. Integrate them into your tools and CRM
No client's onboarding is complete until you have all of their information.
A customer relationship management tool stores all the client information, so you have it readily available at all times.
Create client accounts in your CRM and then add relevant details like the industry, company size, contact information, billing, and contracts.
It helps keep client onboarding streamlined, and it gives you a place to find the most important client information.
You may also use tools like Excel or Airtable if you are a smaller agency and don't have as many clients. Larger agencies will benefit from CRMs that store data in one place.
An effective client onboarding process will also include them in your project management tool.
As a part of the new client onboarding process, this step ensures that you add the new clients to their own projects and assign goals, tasks, and deadlines.
You can use something like Asana, Trello or even Notion.
Your new client usually does not have access to your project management software, so this is strictly for internal purposes.
4. Assign a team
Assign individual team members to the account so that they are informed about the new client, the project, and the workload.
Assigning specific members to new clients will determine roles and responsibilities for marketing campaigns.
This means adding personnel such as:
- paid advertising managers
- content marketers
This portion of the client onboarding process is primarily for internal use, but it is essential for making your team aware of new clients' needs.
They can take a look at the client's business, website, social media accounts, backlink profile, and whatever else they need to be ready for the kickoff meeting.
5. Schedule a kick-off meeting
Schedule a kickoff meeting with the new client to ensure that you are both on the same page.
A scheduled kickoff meeting gives clients a chance to:
- ask questions about your process
- clarify their answers from the onboarding questionnaire
- give you more information about their customers, sales process, and goals
- go over the signed contract
- grant access to their web properties
A meeting encourages interaction and will help you uncover insights that may not have been covered in the client onboarding questionnaire.
Avoid skipping this step in client onboarding, even if you know the client.
Ideally, the meeting should be set within a few days of signing a contract to get started quickly.
6. Welcome your clients
A welcome kit can be a nice personalized touch in your client onboarding checklist.
You can determine what to include in a welcome kit based on the information gathered from your kick off meeting and questionnaire.
This can be a literal, physical package with some swag and agency merchandise, or a digital package in the form of an email or a web presentation.
Your client's welcome packet may also include the following:
- an outline of the collaboration
- the list of people in charge of their project
- the tools you will be using for working on their project
- the agreed communication channels and rules
- the schedules for sending out reports
- the agreed meeting times
It's important to personalize the kit instead of a standard kit that all your clients will receive.
Think of the welcome package as a gift hamper.
A little decoration and novelty goes a long way in establishing a solid client onboarding experience.
Use it to communicate important bits of your collaboration while also expressing your gratitude for their belief in your agency.
7. Update the client frequently
If you're just starting off with a new client relationship, it's a solid idea to have meetings at the beginning.
That way, you can personally update them about your progress and your working relationship.
Your account manager or marketing manager can clarify the main direction of the work, goals, key metrics, and everything else the client may worry about.
Reporting and updates are a continuous part of dealing with clients and aren't just restricted to customer onboarding processes.
Set aside time for meetings within the first month or two, and it will pay dividends as you forge a deeper relationship.
It's important to have as much personal interaction as possible when the relationship is new. As the client becomes more comfortable with your agency, you can share updates with them via online channels like Slack or email.
The more you work with a client, the less frequently you may have those meetings. However, the first few weeks are crucial, so set aside time to be there for the client.
5 tips to improve your client onboarding
As we've seen, good onboarding will set you and the client up for a strong collaboration. Even though onboarding is a routine process for every new customer, investing your time and effort to welcome customers can pay off in referrals and a longer relationship.
Here are some ways you can improve your client onboarding process:
Understand the client's challenges
Remember that a client is approaching you because their knowledge of marketing is far from perfect. This means that most of the time, they don't know what they want to solve or how, but they do know they have a problem.
For example, they may think that they need SEO to increase their lead generation.
However, an initial discovery call may reveal that a leaky sales funnel is causing much of their qualified traffic to get lost in the cracks.
You may find that their limited knowledge of digital marketing hinders their ability to effectively communicate their problems.
Putting yourself in the client's shoes can help you uncover opportunities for growth and improvement.
Understand what they're telling you and what they aren't as well. Supplement your understanding with research on their industry and services.
Marketing agencies often make the mistake of categorizing clients into industries and niches, viewing them all under the same lens.
Taking a more personalized approach to empathize with customers can help improve your client retention figures.
Ideate internally before the kickoff meeting
You don't want to use kickoff meetings for brainstorming and ideation. Your meetings must share or extract information and set the tone for your collaboration.
Make sure to gather your team and have an internal meeting before the mandatory kickoff meeting to discuss the client's needs, expectations, budget, and any other details to present a strong plan of action.
Iron out any misconceptions and answer questions that your team has.
This will lead to a good experience for the client because they will arrive at the meeting with your team already familiar with the scope of work, timeframes, and other information.
Additionally, it will allow for more productive and efficient discussions during the meeting.
Approaching the kickoff meeting on a unified informed front can also impress a new client and display expertise.
Customer relationships rely on communication.
Updating your client is one of the easiest ways to meet client's expectations and show them that you are working on their account.
Besides reports, schedule regular catch-up meetings to see if the client needs something or if they have any questions.
Once a month should be fine, as long as you also send out weekly client reports.
These meetings are a chance for clients to ask questions, get clarification on processes, deadlines, and KPIs, and see the actual people that deliver the work for them.
They are not very time-consuming, but these meetings can do wonders for client retention and satisfaction.
You could also let the client get in touch through other means of communication, such as email.
If you want to be more accessible, you can add their team to your Slack workspace so that they can reach out with quick questions and comments.
Lead with ROI
When dealing with clients, remember that they're looking for evidence of success. This is especially important in the beginning of your relationship.
Even though you will be indulging in several digital marketing activities, it's best to prioritize those tasks that have an immediate effect on ROI.
The main goal is to get the client to realize the value of your services by demonstrating how much money you're making for them in return.
So for example, you may be doing SEO for a new website. One of the first things you want to do is target any low competition keywords and drive backlinks to them.
This will help them get indexed quickly and start bringing in some traffic that you can show the client.
Remember that you are on a tight leash with a new client at the beginning of your relationship.
They have trusted you enough to sign your marketing agency on, but will now judge you based on results. Signing a new agency is also a challenging time for the client and they will be looking for early validation of their decision.
Leading with results in the form of conversions, traffic or sign ups can help earn their trust.
Your client will want to know how things are progressing based on a timeline.
It's important for you to display progress at regular intervals.
Adopt a show and tell approach because customers will want to see your work.
This can mean sharing a list of activities that will be accomplished at a certain point in time.
For example, a website redesign project could have the following checkpoints:
- week 1: collecting client data and design materials
- week 2: ideation and wireframing
- week 3: creating the first mockups
- week 4: sending the design drafts to the client for feedback
- week 5: implementing the design
- week 6: finishing the website
Something as simple as this allows the client to be aware of the work being done ahead of time. However, don't make promises you can't fulfill, and always try to underpromise and overdeliver.
Communicating progress is an important part of your marketing client onboarding checklist. Don't just wait for the big results and tasks because they'll take time.
Share all kinds of progress, even if they're little activities that may not have taken you a lot of time.
Think ahead of your meetings and show your customers that their campaigns are moving forward everyday.
- The onboarding process is a crucial step in client-agency communication and allows both sides to establish healthy grounds for communication
- Assign the client to an account manager and send out a questionnaire to get information for the project
- Add the client to your CRM and project management app, then assign team members to the client and schedule a kick-off call
- After that, start the work and update the client frequently about progress through reports and meetings
- The best way to improve the onboarding process is to truly understand their needs, and you can do that by listening to them during discovery calls and finding out what they actually need from your agency
Don't underestimate the impact of keeping your clients happy on your agency's growth. While your customers will be most impressed with results, and there's no substitute for those, starting them on a strong note can help your relationship.
A good onboarding process will impress your clients and reinforce their decision to choose your marketing agency.