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5 Key Elements of an Effective Onboarding Process

You’ve felt it, haven’t you?

That confusing feeling of, “Now what?”

You just landed a new client. Nice work.

The time for self-congratulation is over.

It’s time to get to work, but you have no idea where to begin. There were so many meetings, and multiple goals, hopes, and dreams were discussed.

You need a process for onboarding new clients — one that establishes action so you can create results sooner.

You Need to Build Trust — Now

Working Hard-onboarding

A repeatable process for onboarding is about more than making your life easier.

A client signs on the dotted line because he believes you can do what you say you can do — increase traffic, grow leads, create more customers, etc.

If you’re late getting out of the starting blocks, then you make it easy for your new client to begin to doubt his decision.

And this is not how you want to start any long-term relationship.

With a clear and defined onboarding process, you will:

  • Build trust and credibility
  • Show that you are invested in the success of the client
  • Prove that this is the start of a long-term relationship
  • Set that expectation that the client’s engagement in the process is important

Consider this: Why are Netflix’s shows like “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards” so successful?

One reason is that they are obviously well-produced dramas with intriguing storylines. But Netflix also plays into our cravings for having things immediately. There’s no waiting for the next episode to air in three weeks. It’s the same core idea with Amazon Prime.

Do you think your client’s excitement during the sales process will continue for weeks without any forward movement with their project?

It’s not likely. Your client wants to see immediate action — and results.

Here are five key elements to consider during the onboarding process:

1. Get the Inside Scoop

First, there are some housekeeping things you need to take care of. You will need an inventory of accounts and the login information for those. Create a document or spreadsheet where you outline all the information you need. Appoint an internal team member to own this information. Any other team members who want to access the client’s account should go through the account owner.

You will also want to sync up with the company’s accounting department. While you will have set payment terms during the sales and contract phase, you should discuss with the company’s accountant how invoices are handled and whom you should contact if there is an issue.

If you are managing the client’s web presence, then you will also want to discuss the process for making updates to the website with the customer’s IT department or consultant. Create a strong relationship with this person. You will need his assistance and trust when executing on digital campaigns.

2. Set Some Ground Rules

Setting expectations is necessary for a relationship that relies on honesty and trust to survive. The client should know what type and how often you will communicate updates to his team. If you do this through a project management software, then you will want to outline how the client can keep track of the project and what type of updates he or members of his team should sign up for.

Finally, it’s also time for the client to put forth his expectations of your team. Do weekly phone calls or a summary email work best? What type of turnaround time for reviews can the client adhere to? How will the client communicate information about your agency or firm to internal stakeholders, like the CMO or CEO?

By understanding these details, you can give the client the information he needs to make his entire team advocates for your company. And by clearly expressing what you need to be successful, you will increase your credibility and authority as a marketing partner.

3. Perform a Marketing Audit

While you may have reviewed the client’s current marketing presence during the sales process, it’s time to do an in-depth study.

What are they currently doing? What’s working?

What have they done in the past? What was a success, and what failed?

Dive into the brand’s on and offline presence to discover how it finds, attracts, and interacts with both current customers and prospects. Find what the company excels at, where it is floundering, and what the missed opportunities are.

4. Kickoff Meeting

The kickoff meeting will set the tone for your relationship. Most likely, it will be the first time your agency team and the client’s team gather in one room to discuss the hard work ahead.

The ultimate goal should be to establish that to be successful the next few months require collaboration and honesty.

To do this, prepare an agenda and send it to the client prior to the meeting. Also include your goals for the meeting. What does your agency hope to learn during the kickoff, and how will it use this to devise an action-oriented plan?

Depending on your sales process, you can use this time to define SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time bound) goals, uncover the current challenges the client faces, or review the marketing audit you performed.

If this information was solidified during the sales process, then you should review the information to make sure everyone is on the same page.

5. Buyer’s Personas

Does your client know who his ideal customer is?

Many clients claim to understand who buys from them and why, but the truth is that too few businesses have actually done the research and interviews that will help them understand a customer’s want, needs, and preferences.

Buyer personas can help with this. They are fictional, generalized representations of your client’s ideal customers.

To create buyers personas, you first need to gather more information about the client’s customer base.

Add qualifying questions to forms or conduct a survey of the client’s email subscriber list. Talk with the sales team to determine how they qualify potential customers. You can also interview the client’s customer — both current and previous. You’ll want to understand why someone decided to cancel his service or discontinued buying from the brand.

By discovering background information, demographic data, attitude, and pain points faced by the client’s customers, you can begin to segment buyers into specific groups — all in the effort to create more personalized and relevant marketing.

Make It Seem Easy

Starting a new client relationship is hard.

You have a lot to prove, and you might just be tempted to jump in and start working on a project right away.

Take the guesswork out of those first few weeks by solidifying an action-oriented onboarding process.

You won’t have to wonder — or worry — about how to get started in the right way.


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Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting is a content strategist at HubSpot and The Agency Post, a publication for advertising and marketing professionals.

Jami Oetting