How to Onboard New Clients When You’re a Marketing Agency

You’ve just signed on a major client in your marketing agency.

I mean, they’re the client…

… they have a huge budget — more moolah for you to work with than your last five clients combined — and they can keep shoveling it in once you show results… 

… the team you’ll be collaborating with is great — they’re tech-savvy, open to new ideas, and they’re not afraid to experiment with emerging marketing tactics & strategies… 

… they went through your funnel without a hitch — they found you, your marketing agency came recommended, and they were a true SQL that you easily closed.

Everything looks hunky-dory, right?

Well, fast-forward a month, and… BOOM!

You’re constantly clashing with the client. They’re snail-pacing your Google Ads approvals. They’re not sending in design creatives. A new decision-maker has emerged who’s making everything 10X more difficult than it has to be.

When you don’t onboard marketing clients, this guy ends up calling all the shots.

This is a nightmare situation that unprepared agencies find themselves in.

It’s also a situation you could have easily avoided.

How?

Well, instead of leaving the details flapping in the wind, you could have onboarded this marketing client before deep-diving into the work. You could have learned all about them — their sales process, their culture, their way of doing things — to set yourself up for success.

It’s a mistake you’ll never make again…thanks to our new  and effective client onboarding guide for agencies.

Ready to become the marketing agency everybody is raving about?

Let’s get to it.

Contents

What is Client Onboarding, Anyway (Why is It Important)?

Let’s start with the basics.

What does client onboarding mean when you’re a marketing agency?

Well, client onboarding is no different in an agency setting than it is anywhere else. It’s a structured way to welcome new clients. It is a way to leave a great first impression by showing the client that you’re pumped and ready to take on their work. It’s also an opportunity for you to ask all the right questions, get all the necessary information, set expectations, and demonstrate your level of commitment to a successful outcome.  

In most cases, new client onboarding is formal but it’s not rigid. Top marketing agencies inject a bit of personalization into every specific process. This makes every client feel special and build personal relationship with them.

More than anything, however, onboarding is your chance to line up all the ducks in the row before you get to work on a project — agree on scope, communication, and collaboration.

Hey, marketing agencies — time to ask Donald some important questions!

As for why client onboarding is important?

Do you mean, other than the nightmare scenario I already described? Where is the lack of information and cooperation in making it impossible for you to do your job?

Well, let’s put it like this…

You’ve hired a home cleaning service. They got in. They cleaned your house top to bottom. They got out.

Only…

… they used cleaning supplies you’re allergic to. They didn’t bother to understand your organizational system, and they didn’t tell you anything about theirs. In the end, your house is clean, but nothing is where it should be. You’ve spent a good 20 minutes looking for your tea mugs. And now your eyes are watering because of the darn fumes.

Are you satisfied?

Of course not.

Without onboarding, your potential clients face the same headaches.

If you don’t ask the right questions during onboarding, you can’t guarantee that they’ll be 100% satisfied.

This reflects on you, big time. You’ll lose the client. You can say goodbye to any potential referrals from them. And they can do some serious damage to your reputation.

On average, it’s 5X easier to sell something to an existing satisfied client. For them to be satisfied, you need to know the what, the when, and the how of the service. And they need to know what they can expect from you every step of the way.

How to Onboard a New Client to Your Marketing Agency – 5 Steps You Should Follow to Build Better Relationships

In this section, you’ll find five steps you should include in your client onboarding experience.

While this is not a one-size-fits-all onboarding checklist for agencies, it is what we recommend you use if you don’t have a process in place. As time goes by and you figure out what works for you, you can easily tweak things to meet the specific needs of your agency.

The five steps we’ll go through in this guide are:
  • learn as much as you can about the client’s company culture
  • prepare and send out the client onboarding questionnaire
  • put together a team, clarify roles, and make introductions
  • streamline processes and comms with software
  • prepare for an amazing kick-off meeting

Let’s dig in.

1. Dig into the Client’s Company Culture

The first thing that you need to do is find out how the client does things.

Most marketing agencies are laid-back creatures with an egalitarian structure. Your new client might not be the same. They might expect you to follow certain procedures. Or to go through a rigorous approval process for every new campaign, no matter how small in scope. Or to double-check things with legal before you tweak ad wording or design.

If you want to give a good start to your relationship with the client, you need to know these things.

Here’s how you get that info:

  • Hop on a culture discovery call — although you’re dealing mostly with the marketing team, it’s the HR department that’s going to be helpful here. Schedule a quick call with someone from HR, and ask the questions you need to ask. Be open and upfront — tell the person you’re chatting with that you want to know more about how things are done in their organization.

 

  • Sniff out silent decision-makers — sometimes, there will be someone in the organization who quietly keeps an eye on everything. This person can derail your projects without being directly involved in them. Find out who they are, what makes them tick, and what could turn them into either a foe or an ally. If they’re there — and there’s a chance they might get involved — make sure you leave a good first impression on them and get on good terms.

 

  • Compile a short document — outline everything you’ve learned so that your account team is prepared. Make sure to emphasize any potential roadblocks that might result because of a culture clash — eg. the client is slow at approving copy because they want their legal team to look at it. If this is the case, stress that copy and creative changes need to be sent for approval sooner than it’s customary in your agency.

Respecting the client’s way of doing things means you’ll get on their good side early on. You won’t frustrate them during the execution phase of the project, and they’ll be more ready to cooperate. Also, you’ll find those areas where the client is willing to compromise so you’ll know what’s negotiable and what’s just a waste of your time.

2. Prepare & Send Out an Onboarding Questionnaire

Before you kick things off, you’ll need your client to answer some concrete questions. Now, depending on the type of work you’ll be doing, these questions will differ.

Your best bet here is to divide them into three different categories:

  • Basic questions: company information, department information, current marketing projects, contact information, contacts of team leaders, and similar.
  • Project questions: marketing goals, project-relevant contacts, timelines, competitors, metrics that will be looked at, and similar.
  • Access and communication questions: where is the bulk of collaboration happening, how are documents formatted and sent, what client accounts and tools you need access to, and similar.

A lot of this will be covered in your signed contract. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cover it here.

Contracts might be signed by the head honcho of their marketing department.

That person may or may not be involved with this particular project. This is why you need to know what the people you’ll be working closest with think.

3. Put Together a Team, Clarify Roles & Make Introductions

For this one, I’ll assume you’re not running a one-person show. If you are, feel free to skip this step.

The success of large-scale agency projects hinges on how well you put together your core team.

The most critical role in this process is that of a project manager.

Ideally, they’ll be tapped in early in this process and be the person responsible for executing steps #1 and #2 outlined above.

After you define the scope of the project (and you go through client questionnaires), you can focus on adding the necessary roles.

This will depend on the type of the project but, in most cases, you can expect to need a marketing strategist, a copywriter, a content team, a design team, a media buyer, a PR specialist, and a social media wizard.

You need to provide all of them with client details so having that culture document and the filled-out questionnaires comes very handy here.

As soon as you define your team, make the necessary introductions. While face-to-face meetings are preferred, a Zoom call will work just as well. In most cases, you’ll want one team-client meeting so that everyone can put a face to a name.

After that, pair your team members with those people on the client-side that they’ll collaborate with the most, and let them figure out the frequency and the intensity of their meetings.

4. Use Software to Streamline Document Collection & Comms

You’re going to be requesting (and sending) a lot of documents…

Voice and branding guides. Scope of work documentation. Proposals. Contracts.

Sure, you can use email for this. You can also expect those emails to get lost, ignored, deleted, or end up in someone’s spam folder for a week.

Let’s face it, email communication is not a good fit for project management. Too many people chiming in.

Too many versions of documents cluttering up the conversations.

Too many possibilities for things to be shelved and forgotten, lost in translation, or misplaced.

What you need here is dedicated software that will help you streamline document collection, approvals, and cross-team communication. There are a lot of options out there, but I recommend a tool that packs a lot of functionality while still being easy to use. (Hint — it’s Clustdoc).

Now you’re (almost) ready to organize that kick-off meeting with your client.

How Magcast teams scales content publishing all around the world.

5. Prepare For & Execute an Amazing Kick-Off Meeting

Before you do, however, make sure that you prepare your team — you don’t want the meeting to turn into a lot of thumb-twiddling and awkward stares.

Pour through the information that you’ve collected. You also need to create a meeting agenda, prepare and vet your questions (don’t ask anything that’s already been satisfactorily answered in the questionnaires), and invite the client to submit their questions a couple of days prior.

A tentative kick-off meeting agenda might look like this:

  • Housekeeping items — do a tech check to make sure everyone is unmuted, the Zoom is recording, and similar. Go through the introductions — who is who and the purpose of the meeting.
  • Open with client questions — go through the question list that your client submitted. Check if anything was unclear during previous meetings and the questionnaires.
  • Go through goals and timelines — reiterate the goals of your project, agreed-upon timelines, and any potential roadblocks.
  • Review the tech stack — go through the tools that you’ll be using during the project. Double-check that you have access to everything you need.
  • Agree on primary deliverables — what are the first things that you will tackle? Discuss priorities with the client to make sure that you’re managing expectations and they have clear expectations of what you’ll deliver.
  • Ask your questions — if there’s anything that came up during the meeting that you need to address, now is the time.
  • Briefly run through the meeting minutes — use the last few minutes of the meeting to go through everything that was agreed on. Repeat what the client can expect from your team in the immediate future, and tentatively agree on the date and the time of your next meeting.

Onboard Your Digital Marketing Clients in a Flash with Clustdoc

Yes, client onboarding seems like a lot of work.

But… only to the uninitiated.

Smart agency owners like yourself know that it saves a lot of time in the long run. And that it results in happier clients and a fatter bottom line.

And that’s what you’re after here.

Set yourself up for success by using Clustdoc. Not only will you save time during onboarding — you’ll also ensure that you’re able to support your team (and your client) through every stage of the project. Collect and store documents. Grant easy access to team members. Set up workflows and reminders to keep everyone on track. Clustdoc does it all so that you can show to your clients that they made the right choice. And now you will, too.

Recommended reading: 7 tips for Optimizing Your Customer Onboarding Processes

Customer testimonial: How Magcast teams scales content publishing all around the world.

Clustdoc — Best plug-and-play onboarding automation for small business. Try it out today.​