August 03, 2021 | Blog

9 Steps to Improve Your Agency's Client Onboarding Process

Ask any digital agency what their favorite part of a client relationship is, and you might be surprised at how many say “the very beginning.”

Illustration of female giving a good review

That’s because the process of client onboarding—getting a client relationship up and running smoothly—can be one of the most fun, most rewarding, and most gratifying parts of the job… if, that is, you know how to do it correctly.

If you’re still in the camp of those who don’t feel quite so comfortable when starting a client relationship, don’t worry: you’re not alone. Fortunately, we’ve figured out a few easy steps to follow to ensure your onboarding process is smooth and efficient.

do your research

Do Your Preliminary Research

Your time with a client is valuable, both for your agency and for your client’s team members. That’s why it’s always a smart idea to start each conversation with enough knowledge about your client to skip over the introductions and early info gathering. The more knowledge you can bring to the table up front, the more valuable that time together will feel. 

Want to really impress a client? Come into the relationship knowing more about them than they know about you—bonus points if you tell them something about their business even they didn’t know before.

circle up with team

Circle Up Your Internal Client Team

Whether you’re a small agency or a large marketing shop, it’s always a smart idea to have a clear team in place to handle every client. It’s usually a good idea to set this team before the client relationship even begins: when you’re creating your proposal, think about who on your team will be engaged with the project, and what everyone’s roles will be. 

Having your team’s division of labor established from the get-go will not only make onboarding easier, it’ll also give your client the confidence that your team is ready to move forward from the very beginning. Plus, it’ll give a clear line of sight to your internal processes and how your agency plans on getting things done.

sit down and chat

Sit Down and Chat for Discovery

Discovery is one of the most important parts of any client onboarding process—and, if you’re doing it right, also one of the most enjoyable. 

This is your team’s chance to really dig deep into the client’s goals, their history, their previous wins and losses, and their “moonshot” aspirations for far into the future. Discovery is really where that preliminary research (see #1, above) comes in handy: by cutting down on valuable face-to-face time spent on the basics, the more time you’ll have to learn more about each other, and set a vision for what’s possible. 

Don’t forget: discovery is a two-way conversation. It’s easy to fall into focusing solely on the client during these conversations, but it’s crucial to remember this is the client’s chance to get to know you. Keep it personal, keep it light, and make it a group gathering—the more your client can see the people behind the magic, the more they’ll see you have their back when things get moving.

create communication channels

Create Your Communication Channels

While discovery might be that crucial first big meeting between your teams, what really counts is how you keep that conversation going in the long term.

This is a great time to establish clear lines of communication between your client and your team. Decide which of your team members will be responsible for direct contact with the client’s team, and what the best ways to reach them are. 

  • Need quick access at regular intervals? Set up a Slack channel.
  • Want to have detailed records of all communication? Emails might be your best bet.
  • Is that “human touch” a big part of your process? Phone calls or Zoom are the way to go

set up access

Set Up Access to CRM, Social Accounts, Website, and Analytics

Now comes the nitty-gritty of client onboarding: plugging all of the client’s data, history, and understanding into your agency’s processes. This bit can be a little intimidating, but with good communication and a little flexibility you’ll be just fine.

It helps here to have an established onboarding checklist, so you can be sure you have all the steps in place. Here are a few of the big ones: 

  • Is the client information added to your CRM? Do you have a central source of client information for the whole team to reference?
  • Is your team connected to your client’s website? Do you have backend access? What about their Google Analytics, Tag Manager, or other plugins?
  • Do you have the right access to their social media accounts? This can be trickier than you might think.

Make a plan

Make A Plan & Set Your Benchmarks

Once you’ve had a chance to sit down and start communicating, it’s time to get to business setting a clear path forward. This is where all those discussions with your client about their goals and their history make an impact.

Write out an Understanding Document, to clearly spell out the goals of the partnership. This will help you take stock of what impact your agency needs to make for the client, and what resources you might need to help make it happen.

A critical piece of this process is also benchmarking, or recording as much current and historical data about the client as possible:

  • Is the goal to boost website traffic? See how much they’re getting right now, and what they’ve seen in the past.
  • Want to pump up their social presence? Get a feel for their follower churn rate, amd their current engagement on social posts. 
  • Focused on raising brand awareness? Send out a few surveys to see just how familiar your target audience is with your brand. 

Having this important context can really help guide the development of your strategy moving forward—and help you know whether or not you’re making a positive impact.

Gather your assets

Gather Your Assets

Once you’ve connected the wires and swapped those passwords, it’s time to get into the brand itself: images, language, and the whole look and feel.

Create a space where your client can share creative assets quickly and efficiently. Whether it’s a Dropbox account or directly into your project management software, having a shared workspace can be a crucial timesaver for your team.

  • Does the client have existing photos, graphics, or other assets? Create a shared Google Drive or CRM folder to organize these for quick access.
  • Is there an existing brand guide for designers and content creators to follow? If so, share it! If not, consider creating one—it’s a great way to keep everyone on the same page.

Establish regular progress updates

Establish Regular Progress Updates

We all know the feeling when a project is well underway, everybody’s busy, and things are moving fast—it can be easy to get swept up on both sides. That’s when communication has a bad habit of slowing down. 

That’s where regular, scheduled progress updates can make a big difference. This doesn’t have to be a huge affair; grab a half hour each week (or however long you need) and just run through the big picture items.

Having these scheduled for the same time each week is an easy way to integrate the time into both yoru schedules. Plus, having a deadline in place for your agency can be an effective way to keep focused and improve your estimation process.

Launch and stay connected

Launch & Stay Connected

When all the hard work of preparation and knowledge gathering is done, it’s time to set sail. It’s an exciting time, and one where your client is sure to feel a mixture of emotions: happiness, excitement, and (likely) a little bit of fear.

This is totally natural, and the best way to make your client feel at ease and in control is to keep communicating. Will there be unexpected hurdles? Almost certainly. Will you learn from them? Yes—and better to learn those lessons together.

Don’t forget: when your agency partners with a business, their hard work is in your hands. You owe it to your partners to stay honest and keep things transparent. It’ll make heading into your upcoming success feel that much better.

Ready To Get Your Partners Started?

There’s a lot of opportunity out there for agencies, and the best way to get started is to do just that—get started. 

We know: we’ve been there plenty of times, and every time we get started with a new client we go through the same onboarding process. Fortunately, we’ve gotten into a really good process for getting client relationships up and running. You can too.

Need a hand getting a plan in place? We’ve worked with agency partners for years doing just that. Let’s chat and get your team set up for onboarding success.

Megan O'Keefe

Let's Put Our Minds Together.

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