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Agency Onboarding Strategy: How to Get It Right and Why It Matters

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Updated on:
February 15, 2024
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Building lasting relationships with clients starts with a smooth onboarding process. The simpler your team can make it to work with your agency, the more likely you are to have returning clients and generate more leads. While successfully gaining a new client is cause for celebration, don’t be too quick to start the party. Without removing friction from the client-to-agency onboarding journey, you could end up with a customer who is quick to badmouth your company.

From setting the client’s expectations to effective communication, every step of this early stage is critical. This is your chance to create a great, lasting first impression. Let’s take a closer look at why improving agency onboarding matters and how to get it right every time.

Onboarding Clients Is the Start of a Beautiful Relationship

Your onboarding process is crucial to the overall success of your agency. Making clients feel welcome and presenting your agency as a trusted entity is the start of a lasting and profitable relationship — for both parties. Agency onboarding strategies should follow sharply defined workflows, be consistent from client to client, and provide everyone with all the information they need to progress.

Cementing the foundation of that relationship is simpler with solid onboarding strategies. Some of the first key information you provide your clients could include:

  • Your chosen communication methods and frequency
  • Your corporate values
  • Key processes the client needs to know
  • Points of contact within your agency and those team members’ responsibilities
  • Contact person for concerns or questions
  • Expected response wait time

If you’re giving clients access to collaboration tools, providing the usernames and passwords for these platforms should be a priority. Likewise, collecting the contact details of other project stakeholders and arranging regular updates is critical. A consistent client intake form that you use for all incoming customers can help here.

All the above actions have a dual purpose. Effective communication and clear expectation setting help move projects along more efficiently. However, agency leaders should also understand that proactively speeding up the onboarding process changes a client’s perception of the agency. Even clients who only use the agency once may comment on how easy and intuitive the startup process was. Comments like this help improve a firm’s reputation and build better relationships with all its clients.

Benefits of Focusing on the Agency-Client Relationship This Early

You might think onboarding is too early to worry about building meaningful client relationships. After all, investing time and money into early-stage clients is less profitable than focusing on existing clients, right?

In truth, it’s a balancing act. You definitely shouldn’t neglect existing clients in favor of a 100% focus on new business. It may cost up to seven times as much to obtain a new customer as it does to retain an existing customer. However, your business cannot grow without new clients. Putting strategies in place to make onboarding easy for both you and the clients helps achieve this balance.

Onboarding is also an ideal time to gather useful feedback. Yes, feedback is important even in the first few days of your client partnership. Specifically, you can ask your clients what they would change about the agency onboarding experience and what they loved. It’s just as important to celebrate what you’re doing well as it is to pivot when something doesn’t work.

Bonsai makes it easier to capture feedback at every step of the client journey, including onboarding, with one of their many free client feedback templates.

A screenshot of a Bonsai template for creating a feedback form designed to gather input on the agency onboarding process.

Another major benefit of focusing on your agency onboarding strategies is that you have an opportunity to set the tone for the ongoing relationship. As mentioned, your values and communication style should be evident even during initial communications. Clients get to learn your company’s personality, how you get things done, and how you report on successes.

What Clients Think About Poor Onboarding Journeys

Your onboarding process is the first impression clients have of your firm. They don’t know at this stage if you’ll bring them success. They may even have nothing to compare their experiences to if they’re just starting out themselves.

Creating an experience that “wows” clients here is a way to generate positive word of mouth. Conversely, poor onboarding drives clients away and can damage your reputation.

As an analogy, think of the other key onboarding process you’ll go through, like recruiting new talent. You want your new employees to have a great experience and to feel like they’ve joined an ambitious, organized company that values their input and skills. Making the onboarding process as frictionless as possible creates this impression from Day One.

Conversely, failing to consider the impact of staff onboarding processes is a major cause of employee churn. In fact, employees who don’t feel valued during agency onboarding journeys may not even show up for their first official day of work. They’ll also advise their peers against working for you and discuss their experiences in multiple forums.

Translate that example into client onboarding. A poor onboarding experience is one of the top three reasons clients and customers leave providers and go to a competitor. Clients will also likely share what they hated about the process, making it tougher for agencies to generate new leads.

Do Onboarding the Right Way: 9 Best Practices to Implement

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to prevent dissatisfaction during the onboarding process and mitigate negative press. These nine best practices for client-to-agency onboarding can be implemented in most agencies and should reduce friction with ease.

1. Set a Clear Onboarding Timeline

Clients want to know exactly when work will start and what you’ll focus on first. Create a standardized onboarding timeline that shows exactly when you expect to follow through on the rest of the tasks in this list. Make sure this timeline is flexible to add any additional responsibilities the agency wants you to take on. This could include other meetings with external project stakeholders or internal specialists.

Utilize checklists and project management tools to ensure you include every aspect of the onboarding process in your timeline. Bonsai has several ways to support an agency onboarding process, including creating clear timelines and assigning tasks to relevant collaborators.

A screenshot of Bonsai showing screens that help manage onboarding via project tasks and timelines.

An effective client management solution like Bonsai creates clear, easy-to-follow timelines that can keep clients and agency personnel informed.

2. Create Strategies to Gather Assets

Whatever industry your agency works in, you need certain assets from the client prior to starting work on their projects. Assets can include login details for Google Ads, their social media accounts, and various other data sources. The client may also have existing reports and databases critical for the project.

Work out what assets and data you would need regardless of the client. Create a checklist that you use for every onboarding journey. Make it editable so you can add items that are unique to particular clients.

3. Record Relevant Data Accurately

Once you’ve gained access to the assets you need, make sure you have tools in place for data retention and organization. Accurate record-keeping allows you to personalize your approach to each client. You can communicate how they want, as often as they want, and with the right team members. Collecting and recording relevant details also ensures you don’t have to keep asking for access codes and other login details.

More than 50% of consumers state that they’ll give repeat business to companies that provide a more personalized experience. Create a bespoke service for each client using effective data collation and organization.

4. Make Day One Meaningful

Ideally, all aspects of data gathering and asset collation should occur as early as possible. “Wow!” your clients by doing the bulk of your onboarding admin on Day One, and you’re laying the foundations for a positive relationship.

Aim to get your contract signed on the first day and set meetings to complete any remaining onboarding responsibilities. Be prepared to answer multiple questions and have a list of resources ready for curious clients.

5. Confirm Communication Strategies

Day One is also the time to let clients know exactly who you are and why they’re talking to you or your agency-client relationship manager. Take the first steps toward adding some personality to your agency-client relationship. Up to this moment, your relationship is purely based on a sales journey. This is the ideal opportunity to add a human face to your agency and set your clients at ease.

One way to establish your relationship is to confirm how they like to communicate. Do they prefer email or video conference? Perhaps they only want to speak on the phone. Ensure you note their preferences and be respectful of their needs.

It’s also important to consider how often the client wants contact. Would they still like a daily check-in call if you have nothing to report? Or are they happy with a less frequent contact schedule? Asking these questions during onboarding sets expectations for everyone involved.

6. Introduce Clients to Key Personnel

During the first few days of any client onboarding, make sure they know who they can talk to about particular subjects. The team members you could introduce them to include:

  • Team managers
  • Social media marketers
  • Designers
  • Project leads
  • Complaints managers

Ideally, you won’t have to employ the services of this last personnel member too often. However, you’re showing confidence and transparency by letting clients know how to make a complaint. This builds trust from the earliest stages of your relationship with this new client.

7. Explain Processes Where Appropriate

You’ll go through numerous processes with every client. We’ve already touched on several, like gathering essential data and communication strategies. The client-to-agency onboarding journey is the ideal time to prepare clients for exactly how you do things.

For example, you and your clients should discuss invoicing and payments many days before the first invoice is produced. Your client wants to know how often you’ll invoice them and how those invoices might be broken down. They’ll also need to know how long they have to pay and how to make those payments. You could even consider providing a point of contact for any billing queries.

A screenshot of an invoice template from Bonsai, helping agencies remain consistent and keep clients informed during agency onboarding.

Letting clients know how and when you’ll invoice them is an important part of the onboarding process. Bonsai provides invoice templates that ensure consistency and clarity throughout the client journey.

Providing a new client with a screenshot of a sample invoice lets them know what to expect and helps protect them from scams. With Bonsai’s smart invoicing software, you can also attach timesheets and other assets to invoices so the client understands exactly what they’re paying for.

8. Be Clear on How You’ll Deliver Results

Another process you’ll have to discuss is how you show your results. Clients work with agencies to leverage expertise they may not have in-house. They want professionals with their fingers on the pulse of the latest trends and technologies. That’s why 45% of businesses have increased how much they outsource in recent years.

With that in mind, agencies have to find effective ways to deliver reports on success — or the lack thereof. During the onboarding process, discuss with clients the different ways you can showcase progress on a project. Decide in collaboration with the client which method suits them best. If possible, provide examples so the client knows what to expect.

9. Let Your Company Culture and Values Guide You

From creating a timeline to delivering results, you should connect every aspect of the client journey to your agency’s core values and company culture. If you have a focus on inclusivity, you could give the clients the option to proffer their pronouns and give your own. Likewise, if one of your corporate values is sustainability, you might encourage Zoom meetings rather than traveling to multiple disparate offices.

You can also impress your clients by researching their values and incorporating them into the projects you complete for them. This is why it’s vital to work with companies whose values align at least partially with your own. If your values or company culture are worlds apart, you could find that irreconcilable differences arise.

Consider noting key agency onboarding documents with your values. This could even be part of your branding strategy. Use intelligent software platforms to imprint all relevant files with identical branding to reinforce your company’s culture throughout everything you do.

Checking Your Agency’s Tech Stack for Onboarding Excellence

All the above tasks are simpler with the right tools and software. However, choosing client management platforms holds its own challenges. Your agency onboarding technology should make client journeys smoother, not add additional intricacies.

Ideally, a single platform should provide everything you need, from client documentation and contact details to project scope and timelines. Many agencies use a customer relationship management system (CRM) to record client details and engage collaborators.

While there are many CRMs for agencies to choose from, the best platforms are ones with multiple features and connections to relevant data sources. Look for tools that provide task management, financial software, and client portals.

Be Open to Feedback

Whatever software you choose, one of the most important things you can do is actively engage with your clients to obtain feedback. If you don’t get feedback during the onboarding journey, as we recommended early on in this article, don’t give up. An End of Project survey can include questions about the early stage of the client journey. Ideally, it should request feedback on what went well and what could go better.

A screenshot of a Bonsai template of an End of Project survey useful for gathering data on the agency onboarding process.

Make sure your feedback isn’t just a box-ticking exercise. Collaborate with leaders across your agency to understand which areas require change and implement client suggestions where appropriate.

Your Agency Onboarding Strategy Is Smarter With the Right Software

For clients, agency onboarding should be a frictionless process that encourages them to seek further services from that agency. For client relationship managers, onboarding strategies should allow them to gather data quickly and cement meaningful partnerships. Achieving this means focusing on communication, collaboration, and transparency. The right software and tools make all these aspects simpler and more intuitive for everyone involved.

Statistics show that 63% of clients will consider the ease of the onboarding process when deciding on providers. That’s nearly two-thirds of clients that could be potentially driven away by a lack of focus during this early stage of the relationship. Make sure you’re optimizing your onboarding strategy by investing in CRMs that create positive experiences.

Bonsai provides a feature-rich CRM, financial software, and numerous resources that help build agency-client relationships right from the start. To find out more, sign up for a free account and trial here.

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