You nailed the pitch, closed the account, and now it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Everyone on your team is ready to dive in, and the client couldn’t be happier to have an agency bringing fresh ideas and new energy to the table.
As you probably already know, quite a lot. The client onboarding process might seem cut-and-dried, but there are a lot of moving parts to manage to ensure the relationship gets off to a solid start. The groundwork you and your team lay in the first 90 days with a new client will either support a profitable long-term relationship, or lead to frustration and flopped projects.
To help you avoid the financial and psychological pain of a botched relationship down the line, we’ve put together a list of common client onboarding missteps to avoid at all costs. Read on to make sure your agency is doing everything possible to prevent the new relationship from going sour before it even has the chance to get off the ground.
6 Client Onboarding Mistakes to Avoid
1) You don’t set realistic expectations or goals.
Right from the start, agencies need to manage expectations with their clients — even (or perhaps especially) when it feels uncomfortable. Remember: It’s always better to under-promise than to over-promise.
Setting reasonable expectations begins with discussing what your client wants to achieve, and comparing it to what your agency is actually able to deliver. Think of it like a venn diagram: In one circle, you have your client’s dream website, and in the other circle, you have your agency’s area of expertise. During the kickoff, it’s up to your team to find the overlap between the two circles, and set goals around that.
If you don’t set reasonable, attainable goals from the get-go, your clients will fill in the blanks themselves — and you’ll find yourself being held accountable for achieving too much in too little time. It’s better to explain from the beginning that it isn’t realistic to build a fully-functional lead-generating powerhouse website in 2 weeks, rather than explain why your team couldn’t deliver later down the line.
2) You aren’t transparent about your team’s process.
During the kickoff meeting, it’s typical for agencies to provide a estimated timeline of the project — usually explaining the different phases or components that the team will be working on. This gives the client a good idea of what to expect during the process, but it might leave some critical information gaps.
To make sure the client fully understands all the work that goes into the project, it’s beneficial to give them some basic information about your team structure, and go more in-depth on how your team actually functions.
It might seem unnecessary at first to get into these nitty gritty details, but full transparency about your team’s process and work schedule will make the client more understanding if anything goes wrong — such as a deadline being pushed back or a request taking longer than expected to be addressed.
Transparency also means telling the client upfront how your team handles uncomfortable issues like out-of-scope work and billing, so it isn’t a surprise to them if these issues arise in the future. It’s always better to address these details as early as possible to avoid potentially relationship-killing drama in the future.
3) You don’t build rapport with the client’s team.
Amidst all the housekeeping, scheduling, and project management that goes into onboarding a new client, it can be easy to forget that your new clients are just people — and people like to converse and connect.
The key to establishing good rapport is to keep momentum going after the initial meeting or call. Starting with the kickoff, make a conscious effort to establish common ground by asking open-ended questions and learning as much as you can about your new client. Once you have a feel for how your client likes to communicate, focus on keeping that positive energy going through subsequent meetings and check-ins.
Developing a positive rapport doesn’t just make meetings less awkward, it also helps foster an early sense of trust and understanding between your team and your new client. If you stick solely to the technical details of a project and fail to relate on a social, human level, you could be setting the relationship up for avoidable tension or stress.
Any project setbacks or other potential issues that arise in the future will be much easier to diffuse if you’ve already put in the work to cultivate an authentic connection from the beginning.
4) You under-communicate in the first few weeks.
Over-communication is better than under-communication — especially in the critical first weeks of a new client relationship. If you under-communicate or lag in your responses early on, you’re basically saying that the project isn’t a priority for your team.
During the kickoff meeting, establish how your client prefers to be contacted (Phone? Email? Carrier pigeon?) and who your main point of contact will be. It’s important to decide on a clear communication framework right off the bat, so there’s no confusion about who will be contacting who, and when/how the check-ins will take place.
In the early stages of the project, keep your new client consistently in the loop — even on decisions that seem minor to your team. This shows the client that you’re fully committed to providing clear, actionable information throughout the project.
Worst case scenario? The client asks you to update them a little less frequently. At least they know now the project is meaningful to you, and you’re taking it very seriously.
5) You don’t ask useful questions.
You probably already learned a lot about your new client during the pitching process — whether through research or directly interviewing them — but once the deal is closed, there’s still a lot more to learn.
Now that you’re essentially part of the client’s team, you might be privy to more sensitive information about their business — information that can help you better understand and accommodate their needs and goals. The key is asking the questions that get you the relevant information you need.
Start by asking questions to assess the client’s existing marketing assets, e.g.: What marketing tactics have you found success with in the past? How do you currently generate leads? If you’re working on a website redesign project, check out these 90 questions to ask before getting started.
If you don’t use the onboarding period to ask insightful questions, you could encounter information gaps further into the project. Ask your questions upfront to get a clear picture of your client’s business and marketing program before diving into the project.
6) You don’t provide immediate value.
Never underestimate the positive impact a well-executed quick win project can have in the early stages of a new client relationship. As you probably know from experience, real marketing results can take a long (long) time to see, and all the time spent waiting for numbers to rise can make clients restless — particularly when they’re fresh off the exciting promises of your agency’s winning pitch.
A quick win project in the first few weeks of the relationship can demonstrate your agency’s capacity to provide value, and validate the client’s decision to pick you. It can also help clients feel more comfortable when bigger projects take a longer to produce tangible results, since they’ve already seen your team succeed before.
A quick win project doesn’t have to be a big strain on your agency’s time and resources. Consider developing a content offer or auditing the client’s existing marketing assets to identify new opportunities. For more advice on creating a quick win project early on, check out this article.
What client onboarding mistakes has your agency made in the past, and what did you learn from them? Share with us in the comments.