Why You Need to Onboard Clients Like You Onboard Employees

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We likely can all agree that new employees need to be onboarded correctly to succeed at a company over the long term. But I’ve also found over the course of running my PR firm that the same holds true for clients. If you want to have a successful, long-term partnership — and trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way — you and your client have to be on the same page.

You might be asking, why would you or the client agree to work together and sign contracts if you didn’t think you were the right business fit? Well, I liken it to dating (go with me on this). A mutual acquaintance may set you up thinking you’d be a good match (i.e., a business referral), and you have that first date (i.e., a discovery call). Both of you put your best foot forward and try to find those commonalities suggested by that mutual acquaintance. On the surface, you may be the perfect pair and agree to continue the relationship (i.e., sign contracts), but over time, differences will inevitably come about. Will this be the end?

Not necessarily, if you put in the work, and for clients, that’s where onboarding comes in — during that honeymoon phase after you’ve agreed to see where this goes but before any issues arise. Here are some key things to include in your process.

Related: 8 Types of Clients and How To Deal With Them

1. Discuss communication style

This is such a simple thing, but it starts so many relationships off on the wrong foot. Hand raised here! I’m a texter, and my PR team is used to getting a quick message from me here or there to address a high-priority issue that I don’t want to get lost in an inbox. Whereas some clients are totally okay with this, others do not want to ever receive texts. Some prefer calls, some like Slack, and others like the Bat-Signal.

Whatever the case, it’s better to know this up front than after the fact and with much irritation. For employees, communication style is often tackled in orientation meetings with those you’ll be working with the closest. I now make this front and center in our onboarding process for clients as well.

Related: 9 Productivity Tips That the 1% Know to Follow

2. Set clear expectations

It’s been my experience that deliverables and expectations are often mistaken for the same thing. For example, the contract may state the number of press releases and pitches we’ll send out, what press assets we’ll create, the type of media we’ll work with on the client’s behalf, and so on. Those are deliverables. Expectations include your client’s definition of success, the cadence of communication, action items from each of you, their internal processes and yours, and milestones.

Sure, some of these things will be discussed in some form or fashion before contracts are signed. However, after working through detailed expectations only for the client to back out at the last minute, I’ve learned to save the extended discussions for client onboarding.

3. Identify points of contact

Again, from the organizational chart to your specific chain of command to who to stay away from until they’ve had their first cup of coffee in the morning, it’s standard for employee onboarding to cover these basics. With clients, not so much. And that could be for a number of reasons. A client may start off with a great rapport with a particular team member, and you might just go with it, even if it’s not your typical process. You might not want to overload them with too many “do this, do that” directives at the start. Or (gasp!) you might assume this item was covered somewhere along the way.

But from personal experience, you will look much more professional if you square away points of contact through client onboarding and save yourself, your team, and the client time and frustration down the road.

Related: The Only Way to Win Over Customers Is to Become Their First Choice. Here’s How to Do It.

What a typical client onboarding process looks like

At my PR firm, we try not to make the client onboarding process overly complicated or time-consuming, but there are essential elements for each client. Once the contract is signed, we send an email thanking the client for choosing us and expressing how excited we are to partner with them. (Side note: you can never be too appreciative of your client’s faith in you.) Within that email, we share an outline of our onboarding process, which includes the following:

  • Points of contact and roles (on our end, and we request that the client supply the same on their end)
  • Communication and meeting preferences
  • How we will work with the client and their team
  • Expectations for the first two weeks, first few months, then thereafter
  • Items we need the client to complete like bios, branding overview, etc.

Then, we’ll schedule our first group call to go over these items in depth and introduce the team to one another.

Yes, client onboarding takes time, just like with employees, but as with any successful relationship, the effort is well worth it. Not only will you be more likely to achieve and exceed client expectations, but you’ll also be much more productive, enjoy the partnership even more, and have laid the groundwork for a long-term commitment. And for an entrepreneur like me, that’s a dream come true!

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