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You only get one shot to make a good first impression. In marketing, that one shot is the onboarding process, where you welcome a new client into the fold and begin setting the wheels in motion for a successful campaign. A well-designed onboarding process will help set expectations both for your team and the client, while a poorly planned one could sour client-agency relations.
The secret? Keep it simple. In just three phases, you can successfully onboard a new client, ensure a successful campaign launch, and cement yourself as an agency they’re going to stick with.
Related: 5 Ways to Ease New-Client Onboarding
1. Define the terms of the campaign before you start doing the work — no exceptions
I usually have two or three meetings with a potential client before they sign on. The first is a standard introduction, and the other one or two are longer discussions about their own business goals and how I can help achieve them. Then, I take everything I’ve learned and draft a proposal with a campaign that I think would serve them well. Before we go any further, I have them look over the contract thoroughly and agree to the terms.
You do not want to run a campaign without established terms of service. Failing to do so could allow a client to walk away over failure to meet unreasonable demands. Your clients might be business experts in their field, but they aren’t marketers. You should be the one defining the terms of the campaign: Selecting the best social media platforms for them, whether or not they need long-form content, generating ideas for advertising and more.
My advice as you’re planning your proposal: Think big, start small. Reel them in with a simple starter campaign, and then pitch appropriate upsells when it comes time for them to renew. For a starter campaign, my go-to is two social media platforms (content and advertising) and one digital service like email marketing or podcast production.
Whatever you choose, present it to them, take into consideration any adjustments they suggest, and get a signed contract. If they’re on the fence, say “It seems like you need a little more time to think about this. I’ll leave this contract with you and circle back in a few days.” Reach out in five days or so, and if they don’t respond, it wasn’t meant to be — at least not yet. However, I’ve had many clients ghost me for a few months and then come back when the time was right and sign the contract.
Related: Eight Client Onboarding Practices You Should Ditch Right Now
2. Have a pre-campaign meeting to establish needs and timelines
Once a client is officially signed on, the first thing I do is introduce them to the team that will be working on their campaign. It’s important to make these introductions and establish these points of contact early in the process. Otherwise, the new client will go to you for any concerns no matter how trivial or easily solved.
With the relevant team members and the client touchpoints together in one Zoom call, we begin to establish the goals of the campaign, define what each side needs from the other and when they can get it. Here’s a list of the deliverables that are nailed down during the typical pre-campaign meeting:
The lead account manager and the client decide on a time to get together and establish access to all social media profiles, the backend of the client’s website, their email marketing program, Shopify and anything else.
The creative team and the client choose a time to have what we call a “storytelling meeting” — basically a long interview with the client to get an idea for the desired visual and verbal presentation. This meeting typically lasts about 90 minutes.
Make sure they have access to our communication tool — we use Basecamp, because it has separate client and internal sides. I recommend training the client to only communicate through Basecamp, Slack or whatever you use. It’s so much easier than email.
Finally, I walk the client through what my team will be doing for the next few weeks: a website analysis, competitor analysis, keyword research, a SWOT analysis, the first round of creative and more.
Once that meeting is over, I send them a report and a welcome email that covers the same information. One, because it’s just a courteous and professional thing to do, and two, because if they start emailing you asking “where’s X, where’s Y?” you have the agreed timeline in writing.
Related: 5 Ways Your Agency Can Improve the Client Experience
3. Take three weeks to a month to get your research and initial content together
I try to put a month lead up on all campaigns, to give my team time to get all of the aforementioned meetings done, gather all of the data and generate the reports that will build out the client presentation, and create all of the content with time for improving and refining if needed.
In the past, my method was to get things done as quickly as possible, so the client would have the campaign pieces in front of them instantly. But nobody does their best work under those conditions, and all it does is give clients the idea that we’ll scramble to move mountains every time they ask.
Quality takes time — I recommend that you don’t sacrifice that time just to impress a client who has already signed on. When work is produced on an unnecessarily tight deadline, it usually shows in the final product.
The onboarding process is important. It sets the expectations for the client, introduces them to the team, establishes goals for the campaign and results in the first impression of what your team is capable of. Refining it down to these three relatively simple steps will remove room for error or disorder and ensure that all clients will start their campaigns knowing that you’re an efficient, productive agency that cares about their business.
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