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Onboarding new clients is like a first date. The unknown for both parties can be daunting. Nervous even though you may have done this before. Panicking not to miss any important details. Ensuring everything is done with accuracy. What will be the defining moments?

Under the pandemic restrictions and even under the ‘new normal’, first-time daters have had to get super creative to maintain a strong first impression and reinforce the other’s choice that turning up was the right decision. In marketing, it’s exactly the same. It’s fundamental that we show that the investment in us was the right one with a defined onboarding process in this distanced world. Decision-making is even more detailed than it was before.

Before we go any further, it’s important to remain in the ‘now’ and not make the common mistake at this stage of being focused on what’s ahead. Future marriage or family. Project success or account growth. It’s easy to get sucked into that mindset, but do not make that mistake. All good things are worth putting the time and effort into and client onboarding should be a good process that you revel in.

 

Why is client onboarding so important?

With distancing restrictions, there is an even bigger need to create strong foundations for a long term relationship built on trust, empathy and integrity. Without those foundations, and just like a first date, when times are hard, things will crumble very quickly. We’ve seen a lot of articles about ‘over-communicating’ with clients through Covid-19. There is never a more important time than now to over-communicate with clients than when onboarding. Ask yourself: do they understand everything thoroughly? If their colleague asked about us, would they be able to relay this information to them competently?

One of my top tips is to standardise your process. Most burger chains tend to serve burgers that look and taste the same wherever you go (giving away my weakness!). Client onboarding processes should be no different. Yes, there is the ‘fill in the blanks’ that you will customise and personalise to clients based on their unique situation (not everyone orders the same drink with their burger), but the overall process should remain consistent for all clients.

Part of this unique process, especially under the ‘new normal’, is to exchange feedback throughout the entire onboarding process. Agencies may be onboarding in ways they never have before and the same can be said for clients. Listen to their feedback as well as providing your own. It’s two-way communication, so doing this often keeps the flow between you and improves trust. They aren’t the only client you will work with and vice versa, so although you make each other feel that way, feedback is so important to measure improvements.

The reason I discuss the onboarding ‘process’ rather than the ‘stage’ is due to the fact that it’s exactly that, a process. Throughout, you should set milestones for success to ensure there is a feeling of achieving something amazing together right from the start. This process may be more complicated under current restrictions. Goals may change, but you need to keep moving, so listen carefully from the kickoff.

We see the perfect place for listening is prior to that kickoff. This is something that is very often missed! Don’t assume once you have a signed an agreement that they are entirely onboarded and focused on you. Setting expectations early and ironing out any concerns before the kickoff is something we feel is incredibly safe for both parties. It means when going into the kickoff there is a plan that sets everything in motion. It’s not the ‘beginning’ though, so remember that. While these may have been done in person previously, how are you going to pivot this piece to ensure you don’t drop the baton?

My final point is to go back to basics. The old adage is that people buy from people. That is still true even if the relationship dynamic has to change for now – or maybe, in some cases, for good (in a distanced format). Still plan to acknowledge all the questions, fears and challenges that clients have. That’s so important for agencies. As before, this will help with those initial quarterly plans – uncovering quick wins and staying organised for that client specifically. That should not change during a pandemic. Stick to that process because one size does not fit all.

In summary, spend the first quarter getting to know your client like you would your first date, and even more so under pandemic restrictions. Bring them into your systems, understand what their expected results are. Follow through communication cadence for each stage of your onboarding process. This will help you build the trust required and now, more than ever, establish an excellent basis to form a successful relationship that works for both over the long term.

 

Jamie Clifton is head of commercial and strategy at Bolt