The Importance of Client Onboarding
The client onboarding process is a vital opportunity to demonstrate confidence and professionalism. Successful client onboarding instills in your new customer a sense of excitement and trust. Securing a new client may feel like the end of a long process of seeking, wooing, and making a great impression. But it’s not time to celebrate just yet. This next step is arguably the most crucial: the way a new client is onboarded will set the tone of this new professional relationship.
What Is Client Onboarding?
Client onboarding is the process of bringing a new customer into your business. This is your opportunity familiarize your client with your products and services, and demonstrate that they have made a good decision in bringing their business to you. You can build confidence between parties, set expectations that help to prevent scope-creep, and build goals together. A few simple steps will create a strategy that will turn new clients into long term clients.
Submit a Proposal and/or Contract
Once you have moved into the “let’s work together” phase of the relationship, it is important to set the stage properly. Depending on the type(s) of business, you may begin with a proposal or jump to a standard contract. Either way, there needs to be a mutually understood agreement – in writing. Although it can feel awkward, both parties benefit from being on the literal same page. This agreement outlines several key points:
- All parties agree to the terms of the agreement – this is more than a list of desired qualities, this is a professional agreement that provides the terms of the relationship.
- Set expectations – so that the client knows what they can expect from you, and also so they understand what their responsibilities are in turn, so that all can be successful.
- Payment details – outline what your invoicing practices are, when payment is due, any down payment that is expected before work can begin, or any retainer expected to be maintained for work to continue. Timely invoicing and payments should ensure that work continues as scheduled, and help the client understand what will occur if these payment expectations are not met.
- Property rights – keeping in mind what items of value will be produced, and make clear who owns those valuables. This includes documents, products, intellectual property, and anything else that is a product of your work.
Consider creating a standard questionnaire form for your business. Find an appropriate balance of asking for information necessary to begin work, and information that gives you a better sense of the client’s business needs and desires. But be cautious that you do not ask so much in this initial questionnaire that the client is overwhelmed. Some items might be better addressed at the Kick Off Meeting. Your standard questionnaire might include:
- Information that will be necessary for you to do the work you have agreed to do, such as log ins, access to vital documents, key point of contact.
- Recent accomplishments of the client’s company.
- Client’s short-term goals, perhaps long term as well.
- What is a current challenge to the client’s business?
Welcome Gift or Letter
If your business wants to really make an impact, consider acknowledging the new working relationship with a small gift or a hand-written card welcoming them into your organization. Be aware that some companies have policies against accepting gifts over a certain dollar value and you do not want to a nice gesture to turn into a cumbersome burden for them. Consider something simple like flowers, cookies, sticky notes and pens with your company logo.
It is helpful to schedule at least a kick off meeting and possibly a follow up meeting, regardless of when it will occur, get it in everyone’s calendar right away. This solidifies the perception that the relationship is serious, and the work has begun. Send a reminder to the client 24-48 hours before the meeting prompting them to organize any preparations for the meeting.
Kick Off Meeting
A face to face meeting is ideal for this, even if it never happens again after the initial kick off meeting. Assembling people together further reinforces the earnestness of the parties, as well as putting faces to names. Have a meeting agenda that is appropriate for this stage.
- Make introductions. Here the client gets to meet the members of your team that are assigned to working with them. Likewise, your employees meet the client’s team. Include any relevant chains of command.
- Set communication expectations, such as method (email, phone, video conference, etc), turnaround time for responses, how often parties are expected to communicate.
- Overview of business or project goals.
- List of deliverables and timelines.
- Next steps. Perhaps schedule future meetings.
Check Up Call
Whether prefaced with an email or not, a phone call from you (or the principle contact on your team) to principle client contact should be at the 30 day mark. This is your opportunity to demonstrate accountability and receive feedback on how the project/work is proceeding so far.
- Are needs and expectations being met?
- Is communication flowing accordingly?
- Are we on schedule to meet the set goals?
- Are there adjustments that need to be made?
Everyone wants to make a good first impression. First impressions may fade if the reality does not live up to it. As you can see, client onboarding is your opportunity to make a lasting impression.