For an agency, there are few better moments than when a new client signs on the dotted line of a contract. But once that ink has dried, an important stage of the client-agency relationship begins: The onboarding process. Handle it the right way, and you’ll lay the foundation for a prosperous relationship. Handle it the wrong way, and you can ruin that relationship before it even begins.
12 Client onboarding mistakes that marketing agencies make too often
From using hurtful words to forgetting critical questions, it’s easy to doom the relationship between your agency and new client during the onboarding process. Here are some common mistakes that can lead to poor performance, and in some cases, a loss of business down the line.
You don’t brush up on your vocabulary
It’s possible to lose a client’s respect, and even business, in just a sentence. Phrases like “to be honest” can offend and “I think” can undermine your authority. To ensure a smooth onboarding process, it’s best to cut them out of your vocabulary altogether. A few other language tips:
- Steer clear of negative universal statements starting with “never” and “always.” These can unfairly generalize your client’s behavior.
- Small words are better for conveying big ideas, and studies show they even make you look smarter.
- Don’t use the phrase “does that make sense?” It can unintentionally make your client feel stupid.
For more tips on words and phrases to eliminate from client conversations during the onboarding process and beyond, check out this blog post.
You don’t demonstrate your value quickly
Clients are, unfortunately, often skeptical of whether you can actually produce positive results for their business during your relationship, even if you’ve showcased high ROI with case studies from similar relationships. By providing a quick win, you can prove you’re capable early on.
Since you’ve likely already completed an audit of your client’s marketing materials and processes, you’re in a position to identify low-hanging fruit. Where can you invest just a little effort to boost campaign performances greatly? Where are they making the most glaring mistakes?
A great place to start is by making sure your clients are driving traffic to dedicated post-click landing pages instead of their homepage, and ensuring that those post-click landing pages load quickly. Just a few seconds increase in load time can get them 50% more traffic.
You don’t define “success”
To succeed at accomplishing your client’s goals, you first have to define them. What does “success” mean to your client?
When you ask that question, most often you’ll get a vague answer like “more traffic” or “better conversion rate.” But, that leaves too much open to interpretation. It’s important to transform those statements, with your client’s help, into specific and measurable goals.
Ideally, unless your agency is in control of the entire marketing funnel, those goals are tied to top-of-funnel metrics like traffic and leads. Bottom-funnel results, like sales, will be the responsibility of your client’s team. If they can’t close, and your agency’s success is tied to their ability to, you may find yourself on the hook for poor performance that had nothing to do with your team.
Brian Rotsztein, who runs an SEO company and a web design firm, explains how he sets goals during the onboarding process:
“We divide projects into a step-by-step process so that clients don’t get overwhelmed. By establishing buyer personas and gathering data about where the target audience spends their time online, we’re better able to define objectives and anticipate consumer needs.
It’s important to understand what the realistic expected outcome could be for the campaign. When you have mutual understanding and respect, it’s significantly easier to collaborate and make adjustments to achieve client objectives and get a better ROI.
Brian’s goal-setting process brings up another important key onboarding mistake to avoid…
You don’t collect important company data
Setting measurable goals and accomplishing them is impossible without access to key client data. If “more traffic to the blog” is what you’re being tasked with delivering, you can’t determine how much more is realistic is without knowing things like current traffic levels, sources, and buyer personas.
When 85SIXTY’s Steven Price brings on a new client, he collects as much data as possible, regardless of how seemingly unrelated it is to his team’s goal:
One thing that differentiates us is our approach to organizing our client's data no matter what channels we are executing. We generally build a data warehouse that aggregates information from a broad number of often siloed channels - media, website, ERP, POS, CRM, etc. - so that we can better understand the impact of our efforts across the true KPI's of the business.
That process, he claims, helps him provide “better insights back to the clients and allows them to start asking questions that they previously may not have been in a position to answer.”
And when they start asking those questions, many times other projects present themselves. With a warehouse full of data compiled from every part of the customer journey, Price shows clients where their problems are. Then, he offers to fix them with additional services.
You don’t take the time to school your client
Many times marketing agencies take for granted that they can understand key performance metrics and the processes they’re tied to.
For example, you know that both lead quality and quantity are related to form length and fields. You know that, while longer blog content often performs better, the reason isn’t strictly length. It’s that longer content tends to have more valuable and in-depth information.
Your clients, on the other hand, may not know those things.
Why are you suggesting tracking the KPIs that you are? Why are you recommending a complete website overhaul? Without an explanation, your clients might think you’re trying to run up the bill with unnecessary projects.
Take a brief moment to explain why you’re doing what you are. Transparency in communication is key to fostering a good client-agency relationship.
You don’t determine a communication schedule
It’s important to, first thing, determine how often your new client wants to hear from you. Will they expect a weekly, or biweekly report on KPIs? When they send you a question or idea, how soon can they expect to receive a response?
Set up a protocol for any communication situations that may arise going forward. Give them an idea of how to contact you if an issue is pressing (call if your website is down), and how to reach you if it’s not (email may work fine in this instance).
Putting these systems in place beforehand will set up expectations on both ends of the relationship, and, in part, lay the foundation for smooth communication going forward. That foundation is incomplete if…
You forget to agree on preferred communication channels
There are lots of ways to communicate with your client, and each business will have its preference. Day-to-day, how will you get in touch with them? Email? Slack? What about weekly meetings?
Once you’ve decided how often you’ll be in touch, it’s crucial to decide which tools you’ll use to do it. A messaging service like Slack can be helpful when you and your client need to communicate instantaneously. For meetings, though, conferencing software like join.me might be preferable.
It’s important for you and your client to know where you can find each other, and to agree on tools you can both access and use easily. This way, you avoid the annoying “How does this work?” and “Which number do I call?” questions that usually come when someone is unfamiliar with a tool. Speaking of…
You don’t define what tools you’ll use
As the technology landscape grows, so do the combinations of software that businesses use to accomplish key objectives. Problems can arise when either you, or your client, don’t understand how to use those tools. So it’s important everyone involved in the relationship is well-versed on them.
For example, if you’re a content marketing agency that uses Google Docs to write your client’s blog posts, it’s important they know how to suggest changes to the document with the software.
If you create post-click landing pages with the Instapage Collaboration Solution, it’s important your clients know how to comment on design elements and share them with team members.
These technologies should be agreed upon beforehand, and you should give your clients access to hubs of information where they can learn how to use them. You should also exchange any relevant passwords and permissions. But that’s not all you should do…
You don’t set workflow expectations
It’s one thing to know how software works, but it’s another thing to know how it fits into the agency-client relationship. Let’s use the same content marketing example above.
Before you send over a blog post draft in Google Docs, how will it be assigned? Will you use Asana to manage projects? Trello? Where will you find keyword information? After it’s written, how soon should the client make edits to ensure the piece publishes on time?
All these questions and more should be addressed if your client expects to have a hand in the end product. Your workflow needs to be detailed extensively so you know who to send what to, and how it ultimately gets approved. That leads us to another mistake many agencies make during the onboarding process….
You don’t collect critical contact information
The person who hires an agency shouldn’t always be the agency’s go-to contact. If the client has their own in-house marketing team, many times it’s easier to cut out the middleman and go directly to whoever the work pertains to.
Why send the business owner a draft so they can forward that draft to the content marketing manager? Why ask him for a list of brand colors when you can ask his graphic designer directly?
Collect a list of relevant contacts and save time by reaching out to them directly. The business owner or chief marketing officer likely doesn’t have the time to serve as an agency-client conduit.
You don’t ask for brand guidelines
Questions regarding things like brand colors can be cut out directly with brand guidelines. At Instapage, ours tackles everything from big issues like legality and brand voice, all the way down to very specific ones like serial comma usage.
To avoid unnecessary lines of questioning and more serious problems that involve the company’s legal team, it’s best you ask your client to provide you these upfront.
You don’t set invoicing and payment timelines
Late payment is all-too-common in the agency world. We know of at least one that was stiffed $150,000. To make sure your clients pay on time, let them know when they can expect to be invoiced, and how soon you’ll expect to be paid.
Sticking to that schedule is crucial to maintaining agency profitability. Will you operate on 21, 30, or 60-day billing cycles? The expectation needs to be set early, and that includes penalties for late payment.
How do you avoid client onboarding mistakes?
Avoid making these mistakes during the onboarding process by documenting past challenges and improving based on client feedback. By incorporating the insights into an intake form, you may find, as Bourne Creative did, that it does more than ease onboarding:
Many of our clients when they return out initial questionnaire share with us that just filling out the questionnaire alone is a tremendously valuable exercise. Many tell us that this is the first time they have thought about their business this deeply and in this way.
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