By Laura Petrolino
Once many years ago I was dating a guy (or…correction, had freshly broken up with a guy) who told me I’d make a a great sports fisherman (fisher-woman?), because once I caught my prize fish I just threw it back (I believe he also added “or left it to die on the boat,” out of a bit of bitterness) and went on to find other fish.
While at the time I didn’t find this analogy entertaining or useful, I remembered it a few days ago while thinking about the client onboarding process.
(Because for some reason my amusing dating history always seems to be useful to inform professional insights.)
Think about it….
We endlessly discuss how to find, woo, and convert prospects.
We agonize over the buyer’s journey.
We spend a lot of time crafting business development strategies and nurturing potential new clients.
But then we get these newly prized clients, who we worked so hard to impress, and essentially leave them on the dock.
Client Onboarding Is Part of the Buyer’s Journey
Client onboarding is part of our buyer’s journey, and needs to be seen that way.
And while your client evaluates you all through the business development process, it is during that first onboarding period where you really lay the foundation for the relationship.
Which means you can either lay a solid foundation, which creates a long, happy client partnership—and potential referral source for other opportunities—or you can throw down some cinderblocks and be forced to build upon a shake foundation for the rest of your relationship.
Client Onboarding Goals
Your goals during the client onboarding process should be:
- Education and a deep dive into the client and their business.
- Team integration (for both your team and theirs).
- Set relationship and project expectations.
- Provide a timeline of events (which includes both the onboarding and post on boarding period).
- Outline agreed upon project goals.
This way both your team and the client know what to expect from the relationship in everything to communication protocol and who is responsible for what.
Set Expectations from the Start
Just as with any relationship, expectations need to be set as to what each party can expect and requires from each other to be successful.
This means both large scale and the details of communication and response.
We always review the following at the very beginning of the relationship. We find these are some of the areas where client relationship are most likely to go astray when not clearly defined in the onboarding process.
- Response time: We will respond to all communication within 24 hours (Monday through Friday), although it’s normally much more quickly. When a client knows your response time, they tend to not panic that you aren’t going to respond to something and therefore don’t send endless emails or panicky calls. As we all have, many clients have dealt with relationships where they’ve sent emails that have gone without response for days, or even weeks. Our clients know we will respond and respond promptly. They also know the best way to contact any of us, should they have an emergency that needs response ASAP, is through text or phone. By laying out these guidelines and expectations from the start communication runs smoothly.
- Timeline: Both the timeline during client onboarding and after the initial period is complete. Often the onboarding process requires a different timeline of events than will occur during full execution of a project or service. This is fine and a client in general knows this is to be expected, BUT you must clearly outline what this timeline is so each side is aware of what is to be expected. Otherwise your team might be hard at work laying out the foundation for a successful project, doing due diligence, and extensive research or strategy development, all while a client becomes increasingly agitated at lack of external momentum. It is your responsibility to explain each step of the process and why these phases are all necessary for success.
- Transparency: We are extremely transparent with our clients on what we are doing, what’s working, what’s not, obstacles we are encountering, and any other piece of information we come upon while launching or working on their project. We keep clients updated on activities and findings in weekly reports and review everything on weekly or biweekly calls. We let clients know this protocol from the beginning so they feel confident they will have at least weekly reviews of what is going on, what we are doing, what we need from them, and any other important info that needs to be covered.
- Responsibilities: Who is responsible for what? Client relationships are partnerships, which means they are two-sided and, to be successful, the client must also follow through on their side. We outline responsibilities clearly from the beginning and then re-review them through weekly updates. It is very important for clients to understand that ultimate success or failure requires them to follow through on their responsibilities, as well.
The final, extremely important building block of a successful client onboarding is team integration—both your team and theirs.
This requires a blog post of it’s own (which I have in my line up to write next), but I wanted to make sure it was covered briefly here.
Your Team: In most cases the entire team working with the client will not have been involved during the prospecting period. This means, those who do, will have a lot more information and background knowledge than the rest of the team does about the client, their needs, and even nuances important to the relationship. A process must be developed to translate this and keep a clear, open dialogue about the client as more information is collected through each interaction.
Their Team: Helping their team transition and understand the partnership, project, or service, and their relationship to it is crucial. Many amazing products or partnerships fail because the client team was not considered in the onboarding process. It is important to take the time to understand their needs, motivations, and an obstacles to a success.
Client onboarding is a important first step in a happy, healthy, and successful client relationships.
Don’t throw your prize client back into the water or, worse, left to die on the boat.