Your step-by-step guide to agency client onboarding
Continue reading below and access the free client onboarding checklist & downloadable templates.
Keep reading to discover:
- Why a defined onboarding process is so critical in minimizing churn and increasing customer lifetime value
- Mistakes to avoid for successful agency client onboarding
- Step-by-step process to ace your client onboarding every time
- Sample client onboarding process with Vendasta’s Business App
- A downloadable checklist to improve your agency’s onboarding process
Scale your agency
The process for client onboarding in your marketing agency is the crucial first impression clients will have regarding what it’s actually like to work with you, establishing the tone of your relationship moving forward.
It’s an opportunity to inspire confidence that they made the right choice to work with you and to establish a positive and long-lasting working relationship.
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The more clients and employees you have, the more crucial it becomes to have a reliable, repeatable system in place that ensures a positive client onboarding experience every time.
Reduce client churn
A 2021 survey of respondents ranging from SMBs to large enterprise corporations across industries including SaaS, digital consultancy, and IT services identified poor onboarding, lack of engagement, and insufficient support as being among the top 5 factors impacting client churn. All of these factors can be meaningfully addressed with an effective client onboarding process.
In fact, the same survey identified customer retention as the biggest benefit of effective customer onboarding.
Online marketing agency doubles revenue in one year with Vendasta
Insights Media Solutions not only doubled revenue in one year with Vendasta, but the agency also boasts a 100% client retention rate. Read the case study to see how Vendasta’s custom-branded client portal, Business App, gave them the tools they needed for client success.
Improve customer lifetime value
An excellent agency client onboarding experience will set the tone for a positive working partnership and establish goodwill toward your agency. The positive impression you establish during this crucial early stage makes clients more willing to continue working with you even if hiccups or unexpected circumstances occur because you’ve already convinced them that you are seriously invested in their success.
The result? Longer relationships, translating to higher average lifetime value (LTV) of clients for your agency.
Customer lifetime value calculation template
Get the template to empower you with quick and simple customer LTV calculations.
Increase client advocacy
Despite the many innovations in digital marketing we’ve seen in recent years, word of mouth remains a powerful force driving sales, with 64% of marketers agreeing that it’s the most important form of marketing.
Happy clients will be the best advocates for your agency.
Your client onboarding process is the perfect time to exceed their expectations and make the most of your one chance at a first impression.
Rather than overwhelm clients with too much information, focus in on what you need to get started, which is almost always related to what you need to get your clients in the system. ‘Do it in stages’ is such an important piece.”
Platform Implementation Manager, Vendasta
Before our step-by-step guide, let’s first go over some marketing agency client onboarding tips to keep in mind to ensure you don’t repeat these common pitfalls.
1: Take the time to create a repeatable process
Much of the stress and disorganization that can accompany client onboarding when scaling your agency comes down to a lack of standardization. If you’re in a position where you’re reinventing the wheel for every client and trying to come up with the best way to get them set up, you’re wasting precious time and resources on something that can be done once and reused. You’re likely also missing important onboarding steps, resulting in more back-and-forth and confusion.
A standardized, repeatable onboarding process ensures that every step is covered for each client. This leaves them feeling satisfied with the experience and confident in your agency’s competency to deliver results.
So, what does a repeatable marketing agency client onboarding process consist of?
Standard timeline: Your onboarding procedure should include a standard timeline for completing every step.
When onboarding, know not just the day-zero and day-one things, but think beyond. What is your next week going to look like and what is your next month going to look like? “Know that even if they’re not asking questions, you should follow up with your clients because that’s how you’ll retain them.”
Platform Implementation Manager, Vendasta
Expectations document for building websites
Check out Vendasta’s expectations document for building websites for an example of how to set standard timelines for your product offerings.
Reusable assets: It should also include a collection of reusable assets that you can slightly adjust as needed on a client-by-client basis.
A plan: Finally, make sure it includes a plan for what will be covered during onboarding and who will be responsible for it.
You might be wondering how to automate your client onboarding process. Many parts of your process can be automated so that you only have to do the work once, and all your new clients can enjoy the benefits. For example, you can set up your online client portal to include all important assets so that clients can access them at any time, as well as introductory content such as a welcome video and other important walkthroughs.
2: Assign clear tasks to everyone involved internally
If a client gets the impression that your team doesn’t communicate effectively about client onboarding tasks, the implication may be that you won’t be able to effectively collaborate on client projects either.
Poorly defined roles during the marketing agency client onboarding process give clients the impression that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing within your agency. Worse yet, this can easily happen without your team members being aware of it, perpetuating the problem.
For example, an account manager might repeat introductory content that the sales team has already conveyed. The client may not say anything about it but will be left with a general impression of poor organization.
This can be easily combatted with a bit of forethought:
- Write out a documented process that every role involved in onboarding has access to.
- Identify every action item in your process, and assign it to a specific person.
- For every step in the client onboarding process, identify the learning objectives or takeaways that the client should be left with.
It’s better to err on the side of being very detailed with this document since it is internal and you don’t have to worry about overwhelming the client.
3: Centrally document client communications and onboarding progress
Just as you don’t want your teammates to unintentionally repeat themselves, your client shouldn’t have to reiterate important information repeatedly for every contact at your agency. They should feel confident that if they’ve clearly conveyed something to one person, that information will be transmitted to everyone who needs to be in the loop.
This is a critically important consideration because it can have a significant impact on how much a client will trust your agency. If they don’t trust that their needs are well-understood, how can they be confident that they will be met?
To impress your clients with your stellar internal communications, make sure to set up a central way of documenting all important information they provide. Your sales CRM software may be the appropriate place to do this, or you can create an internal document for each client where meeting notes can be stored and accessed by everyone.
At every stage of the client onboarding process at which the client is being handed off to the next person at your organization, these notes should be reviewed. This ensures that no matter who jumps into the onboarding process, no important communications will get lost.
4: Make clients feel appreciated and welcome
All this talk of standardized processes and how to automate your client onboarding process may leave you wondering whether your clients will feel like just another number. By combining some automation and standardization with personal, manual touches, you can ensure that all clients receive the same excellent onboarding experience while also feeling personally welcomed and appreciated.
For example, you might:
- Have an automated email sequence as part of your client onboarding, as well as a range of standard content, assets, and documentation in your white-label client portal.
- Set up a phone call where someone from your agency personally welcomes your new client and expresses gratitude for having chosen your team for the job.
- Invite clients to respond directly to emails, even if they are part of an automated sequence, with any questions or concerns they have.
Finally, ensure that every client has a go-to primary point of contact that they can reach out to at any time if they need personalized attention. That might be the person who makes the welcome call, for example.
The nice thing about combining automation and manual communications is that you can tailor your approach depending on the client. You can invest more personalized time for high-value clients, while smaller clients will still get a complete, thorough onboarding.
5: Share essential educational resources early in the process, but don’t overwhelm
In the process of creating your onboarding procedures, you’ll likely create a range of valuable assets that convey information about your agency, the tools you use, and how you and your clients will work together. You may also have a range of relevant content already created in the form of blog posts, videos, ebooks, and other assets that you might also want to share with your clients.
As tempting as it may be to provide all this information upfront, it’s essential to show respect for the client’s time and be realistic about how much information they can take in at once. Prioritize the content and training materials from essential to nice-to-know, and start by sharing only the most valuable and pertinent assets in the initial phases of onboarding.
Use an agency client onboarding email template and drip this content to your clients a little at a time. Your client portal can be a place where they can access information at their own pace and on their own time.
6: Have a conversation; don’t just talk at your client
There’s a lot of information you want to convey during client onboarding, so naturally, your team’s focus will largely be on communicating clearly and effectively. However, it’s worth remembering that your clients likely have questions and concerns even if they’re excited about working with you.
This is especially true as they gain more knowledge about your platform and services. The onboarding phase presents a key opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of your new client’s problems and pain points so that your team can be in the best possible position to address them.
Ensure team members incorporate some of the key principles of active listening to make clients feel heard. These include:
- Determine the right questions to ask when onboarding a new client
- Paraphrasing client questions or concerns to ensure they are understood
- Showing empathy by acknowledging the importance of their pain points
Like all communications, these should be documented centrally for your whole team to access. Ideally, add all communications to your centralized task manager.
7: Repeat the most important information frequently
Wait a minute: didn’t we have another tip about avoiding repetition? Yes, but there’s a big difference between unintentional repetitiveness that results from members of your team not knowing what has already been covered, and regular, intentional reiteration of key information to ensure that it is easily recalled.
People are busy, and no matter who you’re onboarding, they likely have many other tasks on their plate. During client onboarding, repetition is essential for committing information to long-term memory, so by working key information into multiple stages of your process, you ensure that both agency and client are on the same page. Information you’ll likely want to repeat includes:
- Your process for delivering their project
- Key dates and timelines
- Vital information you need from your client
- Key metrics, or how you will measure success
If you’ve had client onboarding experiences where you’re confident information was conveyed but the client still misunderstood, you know how damaging this kind of communication breakdown can be for trust. It’s important to consider any client misunderstandings as your responsibility, not their fault. If they misunderstood, it’s a good indication that the information should have been conveyed more clearly and frequently.
8: Remember: Client onboarding is a marathon, not a sprint
Agency client onboarding is the first phase of establishing a working client-agency relationship.
Maintaining a client-agency relationship is an ongoing process, not a one-time event.
The best client relationships will bring long-term revenue and fuel growth for your agency for years to come. But in order for this to happen, plan on having plenty of follow-ups throughout the first year and beyond. This ensures that expectations remain aligned and mutually understood. It also allows you to catch small problems before they snowball into bigger issues that can potentially lose you the client. This is a great opportunity to create agency client onboarding email templates. Add these follow-up emails into your project management system to ensure your team is given reminders to reach out at regular intervals.
Agency client onboarding email templates
Use these email templates to kick off the initial meeting with your client, follow up on the action steps you went over in your initial onboarding discussion, and check-in frequently to reduce client churn.
The standard client onboarding process that you create should include regular reviews at intervals that make sense for your business. These might be monthly or quarterly, in addition to larger, in-depth reviews bi-annually or annually. Schedule these as soon as you start working with a client. During these reviews, make sure to build in some additional education or training on things that may not have been covered during the initial onboarding, but that might be of interest to your client.
Know that even if they’re not asking questions, you should follow up with your clients frequently because that’s how you’ll retain them.”
Platform Implementation Manager, Vendasta
A major goal of your level-setting meeting is to ensure that client and agency expectations are aligned.
This way, you can avoid the miscommunication and disappointment that can potentially cause clients to jump ship.
Step 9: Establish regular check-ins
Remember, client onboarding is not a one-and-done event. It’s an ongoing component of customer success management that educates and engages your client while keeping the lines of communication open. This helps ensure your expectations are well aligned.
After your level-setting meeting, you’ll likely be ready to start digging into client work.
At this point, even if your team is busy working away at their project, your client can easily be left wondering what progress, if any, is being made. Setting up regular check-ins helps you get ahead of any client concerns. It also gives them peace of mind that their success is a priority for you.
Depending on the complexity of your project, you can determine a check-in interval that works for you. However, early in the relationship, you may want to opt for weekly check-ins even for simpler projects. These don’t have to be long: a brief email or phone call can suffice. Update your client on how you are progressing on the delivery of their project. As you get into a rhythm, you can adjust down to monthly meetings if these start to feel excessive.
Remind your clients that they can also see progress and ask questions at any time in your client portal.
Set a clear cadence for your client communications. Decide how often you will need to talk to a particular client and set the expectation from the get go so that it’s not like, ‘Okay, you gave me $3,000 and a list of things to accomplish. Goodbye, I’ll talk to you next year when I want your contract to renew.”
Platform Implementation Manager, Vendasta
Download your client onboarding checklist
Client onboarding isn’t something you should leave up to chance. Without an established process in place, you open yourself up to:
- Unnecessary stress
- Underwhelmed clients
- Unwanted churn that seriously cuts into your profits
When scaling your agency, these problems can become increasingly frequent as you find yourself responsible for more clients, and more onboarding, than before. A thorough onboarding process with well-defined tasks and roles takes the stress and uncertainty out of this crucial first phase with your new clients.
Get your client onboarding checklist
Download your step-by-step client onboarding checklist here, share it with your team, and start creating your own foolproof agency onboarding process. You’ll wonder how you managed without it for so long.
Scale your agency in a sustainable, repeatable way
Scaling sustainably is one of the major challenges faced by established agencies. As more clients are added to your roster, it becomes challenging to maintain the same level of personalized attention on which you built your business.
The marketing agency client onboarding process is a crucial point in your agency-client partnerships. Done correctly, it can lay the groundwork for a positive, long-term, and profitable working relationship.
As a Vendasta partner, you can access the all-in-one platform and tools you need to build scalable, repeatable processes, along with a white-label software marketplace of new products to sell, and an online client portal that will help you onboard and retain clients for the long term.
Vendasta’s Business App is the single most important piece of business for your clients. One login for everything you provide— products, services, reporting, invoices, marketing, and communications.