It’s a common story. A client approaches an agency with a basic outline of their project. The project manager quickly gets to work, creating a project outline representing what they believe the client requires.
The client signs an agreement with the firm and they get to work. After a few weeks, they present the initial project concept to the client, only to discover… it is nothing like what the client envisaged.
The problem wasn’t that the client didn’t like the work. It was the fact that the work produced by the firm didn’t align with the client’s project requirements. A more thorough discussion was required to fully understand what the client wanted in the first place.
The solution to this often-repeated dilemma is proper client onboarding. Here are some details on what this process entails and why it is important.
What is Client Onboarding?
Client onboarding is a process designed to ensure that the details of a project are fully understood — by both the client and the agency. It builds trust with the client, protects the agency against scope creep, and provides several other benefits. The steps commonly included in the client onboarding process are:
1. Initial client meeting
This meetings involves the client, the project manager, and any key personnel who will be involved in the project. Ideally, this will be a face-to-face or teleconference meeting.
This goal of this meeting is twofold. The first objective is to obtain as much information about the client and the project as possible. The second objective is to begin building trust with the client, by introducing your business and explaining how you would tackle the project. Some aspects that should be discussed during this process include:
• Introducing your team to the client
• Learning more about the client’s business and their current business objectives
• Gathering information about the project from the client
• Identifying project deliverables and a general timeline of action
• Specifying how you deal with scope creep
• Answering any client questions
• Setting client expectations
• Explaining next steps to the client
2. Provide a welcome package
The welcome package is designed to educate the client and build trust. It also makes the client feel like they have made the right decision in talking with your company about their project. There are several items that can be included in a welcome package:
• Key details of the project (helps the client know you understand their requirements)
• Information about your business, including contact details, key personnel, emergency contacts, and so on.
• Case studies which are similar to the client’s project
• Promotional material for your services
• Any client homework like client questionnaires or project timeline confirmation
3. Client onboarding questionnaire
Questionnaires are a useful tool for ensuring you have received all of the information you require to meet client expectations. The questions included can range from basic client details through to specific goals for the project. You can include a general questionnaire with the welcome package or send a customised version later on. Here are several questions you might wish to include in your questionnaire:
• Confirmation of client contact details (email, phone number, postal address etc.)
• Who should the firm liaise with for different aspects of the project?
• What does the client consider to be the most important objectives of the project?
• A year after project launch, what will success look like? What are the numbers?
• What are the logins and passwords for software & tools being used?
• Who referred you to us?
The answers to these questions should put you in a position where you are ready to start work. You know everything about the project, you understand the key deliverables, and you know who to contact for more information.
4. Proposal development, contract, and payment
Once you are certain you fully understand the project, prepare a proposal detailing what your contribution will be. Send it, along with a contract and payment details, to the client. Once you have received payment, you can begin work.
5. Regular contact
As you continue working on the project, maintain regular contact with the client to inform them of its progress. Keeping them in the loop will ensure they remain onboard and fully engaged in the process.
The Benefits of Client Onboarding
The advantages of client onboarding are numerous and include:
Managing client expectations
It’s important understand that most clients will have a very limited understanding of what services you can provide, how much they will cost, and how long projects can take to complete.
Onboarding ensures you get a chance to fully explain the process and give the client a clear understanding of what they get for their money. The client also has a chance to express their ideas and expectations, which gives you the opportunity to identify any misunderstandings before they lead to conflict.
Onboarding gives you a clear path to follow
The onboarding process gives you a crystal clear understanding of what a project entails. You know exactly what is expected from the client and how much time you have to deliver it. It will be much easier to schedule the project which helps you ensure it is completed on-time and on-budget.
Less risk of scope creep
Every agency has had to deal with scope creep at some point. It can extremely frustrating, costly, and time-consuming. In most cases, it occurs as a result of clients not understanding what they want to achieve from their project. They start with one goal, then realise that they actually meant to have another goal.
Onboarding helps you avoid scope creep because:
• Clients must clearly identify the end goals of the project at the start of the project
• You have had a chance to ask detailed questions about the project’s success criteria
• The contract clearly indicates what the project entails and how scope creep is handled (it’s amazing how less likely scope creep is when there is additional financial cost)
• The client understands exactly what is included in the price
More trust and credibility
Onboarding gives you a chance to showcase the strengths of the business. The client will:
• Discover how professional your business is, as displayed by a comprehensive onboarding process
• Get to meet your team and begin developing strong working relationships from the outset
• Understand exactly what they will get from the arrangement
• See the office in action and understand the types of skilled professionals that are available
• See case studies which highlight past success
Thanks for reading. Now that you know the value of client onboarding, you can begin developing a process that works well for your business and the types of clients you are dealing with. Remember that developing a good onboarding process will take several iterations, but the incredible value it creates for your agency makes it worthwhile.