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How These Two Agencies Tackle Client Onboarding

So you’ve got a new client, now what? That’s the question we’ve been tackling over the last couple of weeks in a series of articles about agency onboarding.

In my first post, we addressed the vital question, What Is Client Onboarding, Anyway? We’ve got an awesome, totally FREE downloadable guide to onboarding called the New Client Kickoff Playbook. Next, our guest writer, Jami Oetting from AgencyPost, talked about the 5 Key Elements of an Effective Onboarding Process. Then, Monica dived into the 7 Biggest Client Onboarding Mistakes You Could Be Making, and how you might go about fixing them, and she also tackled onboarding from the client perspective, looking at 5 Things Creative Agencies Are Dying To Tell You At Kickoff. And this week another guest, James Blumer from the Businessology Agency Podcast, offered up part one of his Guide to Implementing Onboarding at Your Agency.

In today’s article, I’ve talked to two agencies about their onboarding process, so that you can see how to put all this advice and ideas into action. Let’s have a look at how these two agencies tackle onboarding.

Client Onboarding at Planit, Baltimore

Planit Agency

Planit deliver strategic, digitally-minded revolution for global clients, including Marriott International, AGCO, Royal Building Products and Mally Beauty. Sarah Quackenbush, Director of Client Engagement for Planit, explains why onboarding is vital to her team’s success;

“The onboarding process is beneficial for the agency and the client because it lays a strong foundation for the relationship. Utilizing the checklist internally and externally together sets up an open line of communication at the forefront while also setting expectations, timelines, goals, budget and more for both the agency and the client.”

For Planit, their onboarding process follows four distinct steps:

  • Due Diligence: This first step is focused on collecting information necessary to get the relationship up and running. Planit utilizes an onboarding checklist that is also given to the client to ensure a smooth and successful onboarding process.
  • Program Set up and Asset Gathering: Graphic standards, logos, fonts, voice and tone documents, images, account management software tracking schedules, estimates, costs, and more, FTP implementation, project management tool setup and training for the client, and other tools as needed set up.
  • Agency/Client Development: Strategic branding and campaign planning, beginning with the brand summit and continuing until the official launch.
  • Go Live: This includes all of Planit's tracking, reporting, and optimization efforts that will be used to inform future communications efforts and the ongoing relationship.

Ames, Scullin & O’Haire Agency, Atlanta

Ames, Scullin & O’Haire Agency

The aim of the game at Ames, Scullin & O’Haire is to connect brands with people, and people with brands. The award-winning branding agency has a prestigious client list, including Mitsubishi Electric, Priority Payment Systems, Seagrams Ginger Ale and the Georgia Aquarium. With brands as diverse as these, managing Director Patrick Scullin understands the importance of getting to know each client before starting a new project.

“There is a reason clients are reluctant to change agencies very often,” says Patrick. “It is a painful process. Since starting an agency almost 18 years ago, the loyalty of clients who have bad relationships with their previous agencies has been astounding. Yet, I guess the pain of the known devil is less than the imagined pain of a new one. Not unlike why someone stays with an abusive partner.”

When Patrick’s team gets a new account, they do the best they can to establish that open and honest relationship right from the start. “This can be difficult. Candor is often in short supply because people want to be nice or are reluctant to be blunt, but we use creative work to begin vetting emotions, beliefs and prejudices about ways to communicate.”

Here’s how Patrick’s team approaches onboarding:

  • Understand Culture: Early on, the team likes to use a tissue session of creative work to help gain a better understanding of the new client’s corporate culture. The team will take an assignment, say a new campaign direction, and surround a problem with possible solutions. Using rough ideas and concepts as a way to better understand the client’s mindset.
  • Discovery: Through this process, the team discovers the roads that have been explored already by the client, and any areas that have been rejected or vet hidden land mines. (“We’re a blue company, not a red company. The founder hates the color red!”).
  • Detailed Research: The team dig deep into available data and research to gain an understanding of the marketplace and the consumer mindset.
  • Develop Candor: This informal, “conceptual” process helps the firm establish a candid relationship with new clients and shortcut potential problems. It’s also invaluable in helping frame potential strategies or areas of interest for further research and understanding.

Advice for Agency Onboarding

As you can see, these two processes are very different - one is quite structured, whereas the other is very loose and freeform. Both work for the agencies, but both demonstrate some of the core features and outcomes of a successful onboarding strategy.

When planning your onboarding process, Sarah advises agency owners to remember why they’re doing it in the first place; to get to know the client. “Take the time to build a relationship with your client and their key players. The most important thing for an agency to do is to get to know the personality of your client and build a relationship with them, face-to-face.”

Patrick agrees. “It’s our job to act as brand therapists. The black and white statistics and facts about the business and its competitive set are easy enough to comprehend, but the personalities of the corporate management and how it is manifested in the brand's voice is a completely different matter. We have no vested interest in trying to sell or push a particular agenda. Our goal with onboarding is corporate psychoanalysis –– gaining a better understanding of our client(s).”

However you’re onboarding clients at your agency, one thing seems to be key; the client and their needs must be at the centre of the process. How does your agency kickoff process match up?