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5 Unexpected Changes Your Agency Will Experience After Implementing Client Onboarding

creative agency client work

Maybe you are picking up what I'm putting down. So be it. But implementing onboarding into your agency will force some changes on you that you need to be aware of. Onboarding is a strategic, mature move for an agency and thus must be done with intention and an understanding of your purpose as a company.

Here are 5 often unexpected changes that may surprise you as you implement onboarding into your service-based firm.

1. With slower onboarding comes slower cash flow

The cornerstone of onboarding is to change the speed by which you interact with new customers. Slowing down is a key component to proving high value. But it is often a surprise when the agency owners I coach are surprised with the effect this has on cash flow. Be careful here - going slow is the right path ahead, but it does have consequences on the money and how you are paid.

The cash comes in slower (but often in larger amounts) than before. Another often surprising effect of onboarding is that you stop winning all proposals. Why? Because you are aligning, and alignment is about working with the right customer, not just any customer.

As you build out your onboarding process, and begin working with awesome customers, you will become comfortable with a percentage of the number of proposals you win. That is, you may start to notice that you only win around 55% to 60% of the proposals you quote. This is because you are aligning and have stopped taking every customer that walks through your door. Slower cash flow will inevitably be a result.

2. You will divide your client base between legacy and right clients

Coaching agency owners is most fun when they are tracking with me, and are ready to make real changes in their businesses. They are maturing, and it's great to see them blossom. If I can convince an agency as to the importance of onboarding then they will often begin to apply onboarding from that date forward to all new clients.

In essence, they've taken a strong stand to change their business moving forward. And at that point, all new clients that they bring in are more right than they have ever been. But, at the same time, the old clients have become legacy clients. Legacy clients are clients "that have been handed down from the past." These clients believe different things, expect different things, still think like they've always thought. After onboarding is implemented, they may begin to annoy you and your team. You may even build new internal processes around serving the newly aligned clients.

But the legacy clients won't willingly go through these new high value processes. What has happened with the bifurcation of your client base? Essentially, in one fell swoop, you have placed your clients in two boxes: aligned clients and non-aligned clients. If unaware, this division and attempt to serve two different types of clients in the same firm will make it harder to serve everyone in the firm.

3. You may shrink before you grow

Obviously, as cash flow slows, so does the intake of new customers into your agency. Your sales efforts will produce better results, but not necessarily faster results. Be prepared for this! Again, you will be working with two different sets of customers now. It is often hard to manage a company with two different types of customers under your business model.

One counterintuitive growth strategy is to begin eliminating the legacy clients from your client list. Many agency owners struggle with this when I work with them on firing their clients. But if you've been transformed as an agency, it is often a healthy mature move to disassociate with the legacy clients. In a sense, they've become an anchor, holding you in the past.

I'm talking about pruning here. I am an advocate of pruning clients from your agency. Firing clients is a healthy thing to do, but few do it. If done properly, pruning can free your agency to serve to it's fullest capabilities, free your team to show off their real talents and make everyone happier with the results you can achieve for aligned clients. Becoming more strategic often means shrinking in order to grow the right way.

4. Onboarding will force you to narrowly define your customer.

We have already addressed this above, but implementing onboarding in your organization will force you to know who your customer is. Can you define your customer? If you can't, then you can't design a process to bring the right ones in. Not only must you know your customer, you will be forced to define them in a narrow way if you are going to build an effective onboarding process.

The purpose of onboarding is to stop bringing in every client you bump into. Thus, the purpose of this potent process is to not only attract new customer, but also detract the wrong ones. Some parts of my firm's onboarding process are referred to as Barriers to Entry, signaling that they are hurdles a customer must jump to demonstrate their commitment to the value we are offering to the marketplace.

Though counterintuitive, asking a customer to jump 'hurdles' entices the right customer to move forward, while signaling the wrong customer to go away.

5. Onboarding will highlight your need for a new business model.

Ultimately, we are making high value promises when we decide to implement onboarding into our agencies. Onboarding processes are not for the high volume, low price commoditized business models. Assuming you are not in the commodity business, I assume the promise of high value is the message you want to send your potential customers. If that is so, then the internal model of how you capture, create and deliver the value you are promising will most certainly have to change.

For example, to offer high value services will require more mature, stronger, wiser leaders on your team. And these people simply cost more money to hire. But new team members may be what you need to change in your organization in order to serve people that were onboarded under a 'high value' positioning promise.

The Danger of RFPs

Let's address one last issue many of you may be thinking about already. If you are an agency of significant size, then you may respond to RFPs (Requests for Proposals) in your work. I'm not saying to stop doing this, but you may have noticed in this article how difficult it is to align with customers when they are responding to RFPs. Working in a world of RFPs is not about alignment.

Those creating RFPs are typically seeking the most inexpensive route toward build a feature set for a predetermined outcome. In onboarding, you want a customer to come to you as an open book, ready for you to lead them to their most perfect solution. In essence, in onboarding, you are asking your customer (your partner) to dream about what future they want to create together with you. Alignment through onboarding can achieve this, but these processes are often thwarted when RFPs are involved.

Let's end where we began. What if I told you about a process you could implement in your agency that would increase trust with your customers, allow you to lead them and assert your high value? These are real possibilities you can have in your firm if you begin implementing onboarding. We discussed what it is and how it may surprise you and your organization, but it is well worth the sacrifice it may take to realize it's benefits. In fact, I believe onboarding is a new process that allows us to demonstrate greater care for our customers.

Though some clients may not appreciate its blessings, those customers that are aligned with who you are and what you stand for will thank you by writing a larger check. And with that larger profit, you will turn around and offer greater value with a better team, doing more transformative work.

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Jason Blumer
Jason is the Chief Innovative Officer of his firm, Blumer & Associates, CPAs, where he leads a team that works in a Results Only Work Environment. He focuses heavily on business coaching, while his team meets the technical and compliance needs of their creative clients. Jason co-hosts two podcasts, the Thrivecast and The Businessology Show, and he speaks and writes frequently for CPAs and creatives. Recently, Jason was featured in the Challenger's Almanac along with Seth Godin, Simon Sinek, and other leaders. Jason loves to watch documentaries on just about anything and is working on his personal bests in Crossfit several times a week. He lives in Greenville, SC with his wife and their three daughters.

Jason Blumer