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? There is such a process and many are implementing it to the benefit of their agencies and their customers. It's called Onboarding.
Known by other names such as Strategic Client Section, onboarding does the great work of aligning your agency with a customer before you begin your work.
We've been discussing the power of onboarding on my podcast, The Businessology Show (sponsored by WorkflowMax). This theme originated from the software product industry, as technology companies sought more deliberate and effective ways to onboard their customers to use their product. Building processes around this important topic increased the customer lifetime value of customers trying out the software vendor's products.
Now, it's time to apply the powerful processes of onboarding to service-based agencies. I've been building my onboarding processes for a few years, and it's power is becoming foundational to the existence of my firm. To start the discussion of onboarding, let me state how I define it:On·board·ing /än bôrdiNG/ – the process of identifying the right customer, aligning them with your firm's purpose, seeking discovery of what they need, and properly preparing them to be priced.
Let's discuss the various areas of this definition ...
Identifying with the right customer
This has a lot to do with proper positioning of a firm's messaging to it's potential customers. Oddly enough, though agencies do this well for their clients, they struggle focusing on this within their own organization. So let me tell you what you tell your customers - you must be able to define your customer before you can align with them. You need to know your target market.
For example, being "full service" or offering a "wide range" of services is an attempt to align with the whole world does not work, and may be why you are struggling to bring in the right customer that trusts you. Customer identification is key to implementing onboarding into your organization.
Aligning with firm purpose
After identifying a potential customer, it's time to align with them. In today's changing world of agile, experimental business models, we must now seek to align, not sell. And how do we align with them? We seek to serve those who believe what we believe.
This is decidedly moving beyond a 'target market.' Wise creative professionals are making bold promises online, and forcing alignment discussions with their new potential customers. They know the higher they raise their flag of brand promise, the greater chance the right customer will self-identify and purposely align with their agency. No alignment, then no sale.
Alignment is the new cornerstone to great experiential service. Stop selling, start aligning.
Seeking discovery of customer needs
In my upcoming eBook on this topic, we discuss the beliefs around discovery. A few beliefs are "you don't know what your client needs," and "your client doesn't know what they need." Obviously, there is a wide range of truth in between these two statements. Some clients have a pretty good clue about what they want. Similarly, you may be able to surmise a client's needs right when they walk in your front door.
But all technical web/branding issues and marketing campaign requests are ultimately human issues. As humans, we take our burdens, fears and past experiences into our relationships with our digital agencies. To that end, the wise creative professional will never take a belief or statement for granted - they will vet it out, seek more information and probe until they know what their client's real needs are.
Requiring discovery with your clients is the attempt at selling knowledge, and forcing the client into deeper discussions. The wise creative professional knows that these intimate interactions always end up with new information the agency can use to build the right things for their customers.
Preparing them to be priced
This part of my onboarding definition is often overlooked. In fact, this part has surprised me as I've built my own onboarding processes. I've been surprised how important it is to prepare a new customer to receive my price. If I want to claim high value in my firm, and price accordingly, an aligned customer must be prepared to receive my price. It simply takes time to gain the trust needed for me to deliver a high price.
I often rail on the dangers of hourly billing, and this is one of the many reasons. Hourly billing allows you to jump into serving a customer just a few hours after you've met. Hourly billing allows you to act fast; but speed is the enemy to proper onboarding.
Onboarding is about preparation. Preparation for a relationship, for transformation, for high value and for high prices. Don't gloss over the value of slow, and the danger of speed.
In my next article, we’ll look at 5 unexpected changes that come about as you implement an onboarding strategy.
Image from 38 Minutes Creative Agency