Effective Customer Onboarding for Agencies (+ Checklist)

Effective Customer Onboarding for Agencies (+ Checklist)

So you’ve just landed the next big client for your agency? Congrats!

But don’t rush popping the champagne just yet. Kick off the project with the proper client onboarding. This will help you define your strategy, lay the foundation for a fruitful relationship, and set both you and your client up for success.

In this post, we’ve gathered some of the best practices for effective client onboarding and ready-to-use checklists from established agencies, including Belkins, Omniscient Digital, Quoleady, Respect.Studio, and GrowthMate.

Why do you need proper customer onboarding?

There are many things that could go awry after you seal the deal with your next client. Insufficient communication or unrealistic expectations can turn any project into a trainwreck pretty fast. These are just some of the many challenges agencies face when working with clients.

Having proper onboarding at the earlier stages of your cooperation can help you prevent most of the issues down the road. Here are 5 reasons you should have a formal customer onboarding process at your agency:

  • Improved project management and transparency. When everyone involved in the project understands their role, has the right tools at hand, and knows where it’s all headed from day one, running a project becomes so much easier.
  • Clear and regular communication to avoid any misunderstandings. Whether you use email, team chat, recurring calls, or simply share access to the reports dashboard, the way you organize your communication from the start will play a huge role in the success of your project.
  • Better goals and expectations management. Having realistic goals, deadlines, and deliverables laid out for the team and approved by the client at the kick-off will help you stay on the same page (and avoid any conflicts down the road).
  • Higher probability of success. Instead of troubleshooting various problems and challenges that may stem from the lack of client onboarding and project planning, you can focus on the strategy and deliverables.
  • Stronger relationships and increased client retention. All of the listed benefits make it possible for your agency to become a reliable partner to the client and build a lasting, profitable business cooperation.

Client Onboarding Checklist & Questionnaire for Agencies

Make your customer onboarding smooth and effective with a ready-to-use checklist (+ questionnaire) based on the hands-on expertise of established agencies.

5 elements of an effective customer onboarding process for agencies

When it comes to welcoming new clients and ensuring a smooth kick-off for your agency’s new project, a well-structured client onboarding process is essential. 

Whether you’re only planning to create a client onboarding checklist for your agency or want to improve your current process, here are the 5 key aspects to keep in mind.

1. Questionnaire or interview

First of all, you should have a clear understanding of the client’s business, strategic goals, and specific expectations for them to consider their collaboration with you a success. While you might have gotten part of this information during the sales process, including the discovery stage, there are always more details to uncover.

There are two ways to do that: by using a questionnaire or having an interview call with the client. You can choose either of the formats, based on your own or your client’s preferences. Just be sure to have the results recorded and shared with all involved parties for future reference.

2. Internal research and strategy outline

Aside from the information provided by the client, you should also do your own research to get a bigger picture of their business, industry, as well as audiences they are targeting. This often allows agencies to discover some additional ICPs and not-so-obvious use cases or come up with creative outreach tactics

This research paired with the client’s input will shape the best strategy for this specific project. Put all of your findings, assumptions, and ideas in a deck along with the objectives, deliverables, and project timeline so you can discuss it with the client and get their approval.

3. Onboarding call

Next, present your project strategy and vision to the client to get their feedback. This step is essential to make sure you’re on the same page and agree on the details of your future cooperation.

It’s important to have everyone involved to attend the call so you can introduce all key stakeholders and agree on the main points of contact on both sides. You should also plan an internal call recap with the team to make the necessary adjustments in your strategy and lay out the next steps accordingly. Once you have agreed on the strategy and goals/deliverables, you can task your team with the corresponding activities and set the deadlines. 

4. Project setup

This is a huge part of every new project at an agency that includes a variety of organizational and technical arrangements, including domains/mailboxes/phone numbers purchase and setup (authentication and email warm-up) and software setup, i.e., creating dedicated accounts in your CRM, sales engagement, automation tools, etc. 

Speaking of the tech setup, the specific activities could vary depending on your agency sales stack and collaboration capabilities offered by the tools you use. For example, Reply has various roles and permissions that allow agencies to easily manage their projects. Moreover, there’s also a comprehensive agency dashboard with detailed KPI charts and lists, user/team performance metrics, etc.

5. Test run 

Before you officially kick off the project and ramp up your efforts, it’s best to have a test run.  For example, you can collect the data for the first batch of leads and deliver it to the client within a few days to see if they have any questions or comments. 

Another thing to verify in advance is the draft email templates and suggested sequence flows you plan to use with those leads. This will help you make sure that your strategy is in line with the client’s expectations and the messaging matches their brand image and style. The way you plan and run your outreach from the start will have a direct impact on the quality of the prospects you deliver to the client.

Take advantage of Reply’s core capabilities  while enjoying additional features and perks.

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Best practices (and things to consider) for smooth client onboarding

While the processes may differ depending on a number of factors from the kind of services you offer to the project specifics, there are certain things that help you lay a solid foundation for a successful partnership.

We asked a few established agencies to share their best practices for a successful client onboarding process.

Have a clear picture from the start

What makes an onboarding process successful is a smooth start and a clear picture of the entire process. Certainly, this initial stage is all about understanding the client’s goals, their customers, and the competition. But the onboarding itself is way more complex than a spreadsheet with questions. 

Try leading with an intro conversation where you walk your client through the entire process. Listen to what they have to say and what they expect from your cooperation. At the end of the day, it’s not how much you know about your client but how well you’re able to leverage this information to address the problem they’ve asked you to deal with in the first place.

Oleksandr Robeiko, Head of PM at Respect.Studio

Visualize and document every aspect of the process

Here are some of our best practices for smooth client onboarding:

  • Deadlines & communication. Setting clear deadlines is critical for client onboarding since it defines expectations and facilitates a smooth and efficient process. By explicitly specifying the schedule for each phase, both the customer and the internal team can coordinate their efforts and resources accordingly. Deadlines help to manage expectations, eliminate misunderstandings, and preserve accountability. When customers are informed about the timeframes for each stage of the onboarding process, they may plan their own resources and make timely decisions.

Insight! By informing the client about the delay, you look way more professional than by missing the deadline and pretending that everything is all right.

  • Visualize the onboarding process. Visualization of the onboarding process allows both the customer and the team to understand the sequence of activities and dependencies and ensures that all important tasks are completed. The visual depiction also aids in describing the process to the client, allowing them to understand the overall structure as well as the effort required from both parties.
  • Frameworks for every aspect of the game. Having a solid process in place will ensure that every onboarding aspect is addressed and polished to perfection. Frameworks lay the groundwork for consistency and continual growth by documenting lessons learned and implementing feedback. At Belkins, we framework everything starting from client communication protocols to data collection processes. That’s how we provide a high-quality onboarding experience for every client.

To sum up, setting explicit deadlines, visualizing the onboarding process, and developing frameworks are all critical components of client onboarding. They help to ensure effective planning, efficient execution, and consistent quality, which leads to successful client relationships and beneficial outcomes.

Yuriy Boyko, Head of AM at Belkins

Set and communicate the expectations

Smooth client onboarding comes down to two things: communication and setting expectations. We ease the handoff between Sales and Client Success by sending an onboarding email from me (CC’ing the salesperson who closed the deal and the lead strategist on the account) within one day of signing the contract. This email provides clear action items so clients know what to expect between closing and kickoff and what we need from them in the meantime – access to certain tools, invoice information, etc. 

This email includes a client onboarding questionnaire through which we gather information to inform our initial research and discovery process. This document also allows us to set expectations and lay groundwork for our work with clients, enabling them to come prepared (mentally and physically) to our strategy meetings.

Allie Decker, Co-founder & Head of Client Success, Omniscient Digital

Build relationships with the clients

Some businesses believe erroneously that they start to work with their clients only when they are progressing toward a goal. At GrowthMate, we believe it begins way earlier – at the client onboarding stage.

We start with a cooperation roadmap with a client and use it to craft a comprehensive presentation. Usually, we add a strategy, details of an agreement, and questionnaires if needed. Eight to 10 slides should be enough to make sure you and your client are on the same page.

Come prepared not only business-wise but also, I’d say, “people-wise.” Research your client’s location and their interests – a healthy curiosity about backgrounds usually pays off big time.

After a presentation, if the client is ready to move on – communicate the deadlines. At GrowthMate our rule is to deliver initial results (in our case it’s backlinks) in a very short period of time for a great impression and the “wow” effect.

Overall, you have to create a system with clear steps for both sides and make sure to follow it. Great systems never fail and are the backbone of your success stories.

Andriy Zapisotskyi, Founder at GrowthMate

Create consistent workflows within your team

When onboarding clients, it’s important for us to ensure they go through a smooth, transparent, well-structured process with no need to jump through hoops. We strive to create a similar experience for all our clients, creating consistent workflows throughout the agency. 

We are usually guided by a few principles that help us achieve effective client onboarding.

  • Consistent attention, care, and communication. You should never leave a client hanging, wondering what’s the next step to take. They should stay in the know about all the steps of the collaboration process, and understand what’s happening when, who they’ll be communicating with, how often, and what’s required from their side. 
  • Clarity and transparency about the collaboration process. This will help avoid future surprises and misunderstandings. We let our clients know how the results will be measured, what the reporting period is, and what they should expect as a result. When we are dealing with a brand new website that obviously is going to take a long time to get SEO results, we mention it to the client from the jump to avoid giving them the illusion of instant success.
  • Learning as much about the business as possible. We strive to understand how the product works, the pros, cons, pricing, audience, etc. We get on the same page in terms of the product as we build trust with our client by speaking the same language. To get there we usually schedule a product demo call with a client’s team, sending detailed questionnaires for a client to fill out, asking about their buyer persona, competitors, and their expectations from our collaboration.

Olga Mykhoparkina, founder and CEO at Quoleady

Client Onboarding Checklist & Questionnaire for Agencies

Make your customer onboarding smooth and effective with a ready-to-use checklist (+ questionnaire) based on the hands-on expertise of established agencies.

Final word

Implementing an effective customer onboarding process is vital for agencies looking to provide exceptional client experiences and drive business growth. By following the key steps and best practices outlined in this blog post, you can streamline your onboarding process, enhance client satisfaction, and establish a solid foundation for long-lasting relationships. 

If you’re still not sure where to start with your own onboarding process, use the handy checklist provided in this post as a reference. 

Remember, a successful onboarding experience sets the tone for the entire client journey, so investing time and effort in crafting a seamless onboarding process is well worth it. Here’s to happy clients and prosperous agency-client partnerships!

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