Client Onboarding: Follow These Four Steps for SuccessDuring the next several weeks, I am going to spend some time talking about one of my favorite topics: client service. 

Client service is like the Cinderella of the communications industry.

It’s crucial for everything we do.

It’s fundamental to our success and that of our clients…

And yet, we often spend very little time thinking about the actual art and science of it.

We spend endless hours breaking down the mathematic equation for the perfect tweet, but throw client service around like it’s common sense.

It’s not.

Sure, some people are going to naturally be better at it than others, but there is a lot that can and should be learned.

So I’m going to try to play fairy godmother to client service and break down the actual technical side of this forgotten aspect of our jobs.

Bring me a pumpkin and some glass slippers and let’s go!

Client Onboarding Is Your First Impression

Let’s start at the very beginning. 

Client onboarding is perhaps one of the MOST important client service processes, and also the one most often not put in place effectively. 

There are four important parts of any client onboarding process:

  • The transition
  • The internal
  • The external
  • The follow-up

Client Onboarding: The Transition

Depending on how your business development process is set-up, there is a pretty high chance the person who leads business development will not be part of the team who manages the client once they’re brought on.

In an agency, you’ll transition to the client team.

In a product or SaaS, the salesperson will normally transition to the customer care team.

Unless you are a solopreneur, the person a prospect gets to know during business development often won’t be the person who leads the actual execution of the campaign—or at least the only person.

What you DON’T want to do is just throw them over to the other team with no transition plan.

That’s when clients feel deceived.

This is the case even when it is clear throughout the process you will not lead their account.

You need a transition.

You can do this in a couple of ways.

Bring the Team In Early 

During the business development stage introduce the team or person who will lead the account to the client.

  • The pros: the prospective client gets to know the team early on. This could both help them sign AND ease the transition.
  • The cons: it uses up your team’s time when the prospect might not turn into an actual client. You also need to make sure your team’s presence will improve the prospect’s excitement and trust in your organization, not the opposite.

The size of the potential account, the relationship with the prospect, and the planned scope of work will determine if this is a good option.

And, if so, who from your team should join.

Be Part of Onboarding

Don’t just drop ‘em like it’s hot once you get a signed contract.

Be part of the onboarding process.

That way you can naturally transition a client over to the team who will do the work.

If you choose this option you need to make sure you treat it like a transition time.

You are there, but your team leads.

The new client needs to see that you trust your team and they know what they are doing.

If you lead everything, you’ll be right back where you started.

Whichever option you choose you must, must, must set expectations about who will lead what, when the transition will happen, and what role you’ll have moving forward.

Client Onboarding: The Internal

Internally your team needs to get up to speed on the client, scope of work, goals, and other information.

Your team should never, ever, ever, get on a call with a client without knowing as much as you do.


One more time with feeling: Ever.

Just because they were not part of the business development process doesn’t make it OK for them to show up unprepared.

It looks unprofessional and makes the client feel like there is no internal communication.

Even worse, it looks like no one other than you cares or understand their business.

And that’s bad.

Very bad.

The best way for your team get caught up quickly is to have them do the work actively vs. passively.

Instead of reading notes, look at tasks such as a SWOT analysis, industry overview, brand perception analysis, or target market analysis.

The client team should write the agenda for the initial launch call.

Ask them to think about the client and the goals of the project, not just memorize.

All of these things are useful for your work and help your team understand the client by actively learning.

Client Onboarding: The External

Once your team is up-to-speed, you need to collect all necessary information from the client AND clearly outline what they can expect.

Externally, make sure the client knows the who, what, where, when, why, and how of your work for them:

  • What’s being done?
  • Who is doing it?
  • What’s the expected timeline of activities and deliverables?
  • What are the goals for the initial launch period?
  • What are the longer-term goals of the campaign overall?
  • How will you communicate with them—and how often?
  • How should they communicate with you?
  • What’s the timeline to see success (because everyone thinks things will happen quicker than they will).

And so on…

This should be delivered to them both in writing and verbally on a call.

You must do this and make sure you are very clear.

Three months down the road if the client panics about something they thought was supposed to be done, but hasn’t been, you can refer to the discussion and document.

We laid out the timeline here and also discussed it on our call on X date. Let’s jump on a call and discuss how your timeline or needs have changed and see what makes the most sense in terms of our priorities.

Or something to that effect.

Gather Information

You also need to get all the information you can about them, their internal structure and dynamic, what they’ve done in the past, what’s worked, what hasn’t, who their market is, what they think their biggest obstacle is, and logistical info such as their content management system and their analytics. 

Here is a sample agenda of what we normally go over on our launch calls.

Client Onboarding: Follow-up

The final step in a successful client onboarding process is the follow-up.

There need to be set intervals where the client knows you will check-in and can discuss what’s going well and not so well.

Depending on the project, normally it makes sense to have a 30-day check-in and then 90-day check-ins after that.

This is a time when the client can speak about the good and the bad, away from the team doing the work.

It’s important to help you and your team improve.

And it’s crucial for the client to know they’ll have a chance to vocalize and resolve any issues.

It makes them feel heard and in control.

Client Onboarding: The First Step Toward Successful Client Relationships

There you have it, four steps to successful client onboarding.

You really do only have one chance to make a great first impression, and client onboarding is that chance.

What other tips do you have for successful client onboarding? Tell us in the comments below.

Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is chief marketing officer for Spin Sucks, an integrated marketing communications firm that provides strategic counsel and professional development for in-house and agency communications teams. She is a weekly contributor for their award-winning blog of the same name. Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

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