Customer Management

What is Client Onboarding?

Client onboarding is the process of bringing on a new client to your business. It's your opportunity to build a relationship, address concerns, get the client up to speed and start the project on the right foot.

The importance of client onboarding

A poor client onboarding experience will have clients feel like they made the wrong decision and may ultimately cause them to leave.

On the flip side, an outstanding client onboarding experience can have a profound impact on your business:

  • Less churn: Clients are at high risk of churning in the first 90 days. If you can build a relationship and demonstrate value early on, they're more likely to stick.
  • More efficiency: When you create a solid repeatable process for client onboarding, you'll create efficiencies and be able to scale your business.
  • Happier clients: When you get your working relationship off on the right foot and have a clear plan of action. Your clients will be happier, which also means a better client satisfaction.
  • More clients: If you can delight your clients early on you have a much better chance at a good relationship, upsells and referrals down the track. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 84% of B2B decision makers begin their buying process with a referral.
  • Ensures compliance: This varies by industry but when you have a repeatable onboarding process you can ensure that the legal side of signing a new client is taken care of.

If you want to achieve everything above, you need to systemize and improve your client onboarding process.

Client Onboarding Process (7 Steps to Success)

This process may change depending on your business. These steps are a guideline to follow, but they aren't written in stone.

1. Proposal, contract and payment

In general, you shouldn't start doing any work until you have a signed contract from the client. Otherwise your client is not legally bound to anything, which means you could put hours and money in to a project with no return.

Once you're notified that the client has paid and signed the proposal and contract, you can move on to the next step.

2. Client onboarding questionnaire

An onboarding questionnaire is the best way to get client information. This is your chance to get everything you need to get the project off the ground.

Here are some things to include in your client onboarding questionnaire:

  • What is your business information? (address, phone number, etc.)
  • Who will be our main point of contact?
  • What would make this a successful project to your business?
  • Have you worked with a similar company in the past?
  • Bonus: ask for referrals at the bottom of the questionnaire, maybe your new client has a friend or colleague who could use your services too

3. Assign the client and get the project rolling

Once you have this information you can now assign the client to the team taking over. Make sure the lead point of contact has some commonalities with the client so they build a strong relationship.

Have a meeting with the team taking on the client and debrief them with all of this information:

  • Project summary
  • What would make this a successful project for the client
  • A rough timeline of the project
  • Any research you have on the client
  • What is needed from the client to complete the project

All previous communication with the client should also be shared with the team. Ideally all of this information will be in your CRM or client management software.

Once the meeting is over, the project should be launched in your preferred project management system or workflow software. If you usually invite clients to collaborate in the project, now is the time to do it.

4. Have a client kickoff meeting

This is the meeting that gets it all started. Everybody (including the client) should be excited and ready to get this project off the ground. Client kickoff meetings are a key place to build trust with clients and set the tone for the rest of the engagement.

These are some of the things you should go over in the client kickoff meeting:

  • Introductions between the client and the team
  • Business goals for the client
  • Cover major deliverables and responsibilities including a timeline of action
  • What happens in case of scope creep?
  • What are the next steps?
  • Q&A at the end

By the end of the meeting you should have built a strong rapport between the client and team, eased any doubts from the client and have clear action items to take the project forward.

5. Provide a welcome package

After your kickoff meeting make sure the client gets some sort of welcome package. This is an opportunity to educate the client and reinforce their purchase decision. Make them feel special—a little effort goes a long way!

It can be a mix of both digital assets and physical products. Your package of digital assets can include:

  • Your 'business cheat sheet': A document that your client print and reference for any information they need on your business. This can include regular business hours, location(s), contact information, emergency contact number, typical response times and FAQs.
  • Homework: Are there any resources that your client has to read in order to get the most out of this project? It could be a series of articles that will help them understand what's going on.
  • Case studies: Have you delivered great results for similar companies in the past? Share their stories with your client.
  • Welcome video: Creating a welcome video can be a great way to get your clients excited about working with you (see example below). This isn't limited to digital agencies! It's even better if you're in a 'boring' industry and find a way to get your clients fired up.

Also be sure to send your client something physical as well. You don't even need to be in the same country to send your clients something meaningful.

6. Checkup call

You should have a checkup call with your client 30 days in to make sure everything is running smoothly with your team and client. This is your opportunity to make sure that nobody has dropped the ball during the onboarding process.

Remember that customers are far more likely to churn in the first 90 days. If you can catch mistakes early, you'll be able to keep more clients.

The checkup call is also a great time to nudge clients for more information or documents that they may be slow to give you. Sometimes an email just doesn't cut it.

7. Refine and improve the process

After the client is fully onboarded set a date to check back with everyone and make sure everything went as planned:

Were there any unanswered questions in the onboarding questionnaire? Did a client really like the swag you provided? Are you still waiting on the client for anything?

Your onboarding process is a constant work in progress that can be improved. By collecting data you can improve the process based on fact and not feeling.