The Ultimate Guide to Client Onboarding

What does it really take to build a client onboarding process that prevents churn and builds loyalty? Read this post to learn not only our proven process, but the ultimate guide to creating a successful client onboarding process as well. You’ll appreciate just how different and detailed this is from other books and resources available online.

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When it comes to getting new clients, make sure you’re paying attention to the way you bring them on.

Evidence shows us again and again that making sure clients have a great experience is the best way to hang on to them for the long haul. This is just as important at the beginning of the engagement as it throughout the rest of their time with your company.

The Harvard Business Review reports that if you can prevent 5% of your clients from leaving, you can increase your bottom line profit by 25–95%.

The U.S. News & World Report states that 82% of clients leave one business and go to another because of client service issues, and it all starts with how they are onboarded.

At Uhuru, we’ve seen and assisted with our clients’ onboarding processes of their customers. And, subsequently, touched hundreds of thousands of accounts. We not only help clients with the onboarding process ourselves, as it’s part of the buyer’s journey—we take an extremely hands-on approach—and today, you will reap the benefit from our experiences.

Definition – What is Client Onboarding?

So, what is client onboarding?

It has a lot of definitions. The simplest one is: the experience a new buyer has after purchasing, typically constructed as a sales-to-delivery handoff.

Take a look at our own numbers and the results of others’ onboarding processes. We’ve seen how crucial it is to make sure this is done right. Continue on to get Uhuru’s favorite tips, tricks, and best practices on how to implement a proper client onboarding process. By the end, you’ll know just what to do in order to build great relationships—and maintain them.

Secrets to Building Great Business Relationships Through Client Onboarding

When you’re beginning any relationship with a client, how you start is usually how it will continue to go. So if you don’t have systems or intention in this client onboarding process, oftentimes it leads to misalignment or upset clients. Or, realistically, just two teams that will be working together but aren’t in sync from a company perspective.

This is why we put together the following 10 foolproof secrets to successful client onboarding. It’ll provide you with a checklist, or a cross-reference, toward your own client onboarding process.

Client Onboarding Tip 1: Personalize the Experience

The first thing that we’ll highlight is the need to personalize the experience. This doesn’t mean all communication is manual—you can absolutely personalize the experience through automation. Generally, we’re looking at a 50/50 structure, or possibly 70/30, of manual versus automation.

That can mean using marketing automation technology with contact properties that auto-propagate information so the messaging looks personalized. Or, it can pertain to sales team members who serve as client service team members and have tasks such as:

  • Scheduling calls with clients
  • Welcoming them to the company
  • Being available and happy to help them
  • Clearing up information
  • Setting expectations

Personalizing the experience can be done both in a manual and automated format when implementing client onboarding.

Our next tip will jump into the power of utilizing micro and macro.

Client Onboarding Tip 2: Do Micro and Macro Well

A lot of people focus on the “micro” in client onboarding. This includes the emails that they’re sending, the scripts that they’re communicating, kickoffs, follow-ups, and net promoter scores.

Really, you want to look at it from more of a “macro” perspective. The lifetime value of a client is much greater than the initial transactional value. You have to take into consideration the experience the client is going to have with your company over the lifetime they’re with the company.

This makes you reassess your client onboarding. In most cases, you need to re-onboard not only clients, but the people who are doing the onboarding as well. You need to retrain them and make sure your process is up to par.

Generally, what we’re looking to do is make sure you’re considering the lifetime value when constructing your client onboarding system. And that duration, the length of that lifetime value, has components of onboarding repeated and embedded throughout.

Coming up next, we’ll talk about why it’s important to educate, teach, and prepare the client for what’s to come.

Client Onboarding Tip 3: Educating, Teaching, and Preparing the Client for What’s to Come

This deals with realizing that the information they’ve been exposed to, typically in the sales process, is valuable but incomplete. Usually, if you have a content marketing engine within your company, you’ve already built the resources—for your prospects, your clients, and the industry.

You want to bake deliberate recommendations of things they should read into the client onboarding process. This includes blog posts and other online resources that help them fully understand the company they’re working with. They need to understand the services they’re getting and the people they’re teaming up with in order to facilitate a general knowledge about how we’ll be moving forward together.

We’re going to touch on some of this later on, through the step-by-step guide we share below concerning Uhuru’s process. For now, let’s examine the value in ensuring everyone is crystal clear on their role.

Client Onboarding Tip 4: Make Sure Everyone Understands Their Role

This one isn’t just about the client onboarding, it’s also about how the team that’s assisting the client through this onboarding process contributes productively. You want to have specific roles tied to each stage of the client onboarding process. Spell out the expectations for a role’s contributions and the takeaways the client should have.

As an example of this, let’s bring back the sales-to-client-services role handoff. Is the salesperson responsible for the initial kickoff call of the engagement? Or is that something that client services is supposed to handle? If that call is not part of a documented process within the overall client onboarding experience, then the handoff can get fumbled. In turn, this can lead to confusion, complications, or a lack of communication. These things certainly don’t help the company start off on the right foot.

Since we’re discussing preventing impediments in general, we also like to make sure we’re not frustrating the client. This is a given, but you may not even realize you’re making one of the most common mistakes.

It’s time to make you hyper-aware of a tactic that shows the client you’re really listening to them (because everyone likes to feel heard).

Client Onboarding Tip 5: Don’t Make a Client Repeat Themselves

On the other side of the coin, who doesn’t hate having to repeat themselves? The fundamental rule here is if the client has clearly stated something during the sales process, they shouldn’t have to say it again. Therefore, you need to have a way for information to transfer to different people within this client onboarding process.

We do this a few ways. One is by using our customer relationship management (CRM) software, which we can utilize to do things like:

  • Update and document the contact record
  • Create custom properties that communicate different things that exist within that organization
  • Make detailed call notes that then break down what happened—make sure you note who was involved and why any given element was important

Then there’s client handoff documentation, which we call the company profile. This is where we explicitly write down all the information that needs to be transferred to the next team. This creates a situation where even though people are new, the conversation can continue simply and seamlessly. Most importantly, the client won’t have to repeat themselves about what they’re doing—or what they’re focused on, or what’s important to them.

Keep in mind, fully gaining the client’s trust can be key in this relationship. Another thing that will put your company in the best light is having a smooth handoff at each stage. Yes, first impressions still matter.

Client Onboarding Tip 6: A Smooth Handoff at Every Stage

A smooth handoff, though it sounds very similar to “don’t make a client repeat themselves,” is actually different. A smooth handoff isn’t just about the information and knowledge that’s been passed. It’s the way in which you articulate the handoff from one person to the next. Oftentimes, companies and their people don’t give an introduction or context to the next person stepping in.

To ensure that you have a smooth handoff at every stage, you need to be certain that a few things are overtly stated from the beginning—especially when you’re dealing with multiple people. Go over:

  • The introduction of who this person is
  • A brief explanation or definition of their role
  • What the client needs to know about that role and this person
  • Precisely how they will be working with each other, moving forward

This goes for each member involved in the client onboarding process. Processes are always smoothest when everything is made clear from the get-go and everyone’s on the same page—both internally and with the client. Next, if you haven’t heard of an onboarding “Sherpa,” now’s the time to learn.

Client Onboarding Tip 7: Provide Each Client with an Onboarding Sherpa

Sherpas aid you in the trek up to Everest, right? They’re the guides. So when you provide each client an onboarding Sherpa, you want to make sure that someone is following them all the way through that journey. This is so they can keep track of them, even if there are different people involved at different stages. Usually, this person will be the first point of contact—the one who built the initial rapport through the sales process.

A lot of companies have a handoff. However, because of the way salespeople are incentivized, they don’t have a lot of interest to continue following up. Not being focused on the happiness and successful client onboarding of accounts can lead to poor communication.

Thus, by making the sales rep the client-onboarding Sherpa, you’re incentivizing them and making it really easy for the client to communicate at any given stage. Even though they’ve had other people take the lead on that onboarding stage, they still have a “buddy”—a trusted advisor who they can reach out to. This employee is someone who was with them since the beginning and acts as their guide throughout their entire experience with the company.

At this point, you should visualize climbing up the mountain with your client. Let them know you’re never going to leave them hanging. You aren’t just their business partner, but also their safety net. Remember, you want them to feel that they can be comfortable throughout the entirety of their journey with your company. Not solely in the beginning.

Client Onboarding Tip 8: Continue Your Client Onboarding Beyond the Start Date

A lot of companies fail at this with customer success through to customer service. In our reference for this, we’ll call it “client success” and “client service.” Just as the client onboarding starts before the engagement starts, it doesn’t end when the engagement starts.

The onboarding actually starts prior to it kicking off and continues well beyond that kickoff day. Let’s go back to where we referenced lifetime value. When building out the automated and manual processes to support this client onboarding experience, take longevity into account.

We’ll break that down as an example below. But for this section, we’ll highlight a pro tip: You want to schedule 30-day, 60-day, 90-day, quarterly, and bi-annual/annual follow-ups. During these follow-ups, you will ensure that more information is being communicated and that you’re level setting. You’re really onboarding a client for a long period of time, thus increasing the opportunity for referrals. A positive experience means a collection of positive reviews.

Seeing to it that the client onboarding process continues beyond the start date is extremely critical for your success.

Now we know we said no one likes to repeat themselves, but since the client always comes first, we’re going to highly recommend that you repeat yourself frequently to ensure your expectations and those of the client are aligned. This may sound a bit hypocritical, but if it creates a positive feeling for your client and a bit of an annoyance to your team at most, then it’s worth it. Allow us to explain.

Client Onboarding Tip 9: Repeat Yourself Frequently to Ensure Their Expectations are Aligned

The client’s expectations must be aligned with what you are doing. Even though you communicate something, you’re usually talking to a company—or really, a person, who has a full-time job, a family, and a lot going on beyond the relationship they have with the company that they brought onboard.

For this reason, it’s very critical you repeat yourself to gain commitment (or, conceptual commitment). We call it a verbal contract—a confirmation that we are on the same page, that we understand. This helps level set the engagement. Therefore, even though you’ve said it before, you want to bake into the process. Remind them of things along the way that are extremely useful or valuable to them having successful onboarding and engagement with your company.

We’ve touched on how this is all a two-way relationship, but let’s dive in a little further with our next piece of advice. Everything shouldn’t simply be dumped on your company for your team to just try and figure out on your own. You are all skilled at your craft, but you’re not mind-readers. Your client needs to know what you, in turn, expect of them.

Client Onboarding Tip 10: Your Client Needs to Know Your Expectations of Them

This is because, just like theirs, your expectations are typically an indicator of how successful they will be in the client onboarding process with your company, in the engagement, or with the collaboration of the two companies.

Which means using phrases like:

  • “This is what we’re going to need from you.”
  • “This is when we’re going to need it by.”
  • “These are the things we are going to focus on that you shouldn’t worry about.”
  • “This is the level of commitment and communication cadence that we need in order to be successful in our working relationship together.”

That wraps up our 10 favorite secrets to foolproof business relationship building through successful client onboarding. The following chapters are going to get into step-by-step guides on how you can start implementing some of this for yourself, your company, and your clients.

Client Onboarding Process Steps

The steps for the client onboarding process have two main components—high-touch and low-touch. The process you’re going to implement will be based upon what your clients need. Again, you’re using custom approaches. Also, realize that it’s very typical to have both high-touch and low-touch strategy within a company. It’s also standard to put the client through an appropriate onboarding for them, for what they need, and for the people involved.

Client Onboarding Step 1: Sales Conversion

The first step in the client onboarding process is the first sales conversation. The first sales conversation is where we initially communicate information that’s critical to a client being successful at not just moving forward with us as a company or moving forward as a client, but the engagement itself as well.

If we think of the way we structure the sales process and the information we provide as a significant part of our client onboarding process, it changes the way we use our sales team and present information. Here is the simplest way to break it down:

  1. The client onboarding process starts with your sales process, and however many steps exist within.
  2. The second part of that process is the sales-to-delivery handoff, which is constructed during a meeting—internal or client-facing, depending.
  3. The third part is the kickoff. Now even if it’s a very straightforward business model or your service model and/or the kickoff don’t have as much enthusiasm, note that how you kick off dictates the energy moving forward.

Speaking of the kickoff, let’s jump right into the second main step of our client onboarding process. It’s all about the power behind that launch, which should provide the fuel to propel the client through the rest of their journey in their partnership with you and your company.

Client Onboarding Step 2: Kickoff

The next major step is to have a really energetic, informative kickoff. This process deals with whatever service you’re rendering and whatever offer you’re providing them, as well as your delivery procedure. You need to embed information—such as blog posts, guides, checklists, team introductions, and anything else that enriches what the client knows about your company—as you start moving forward in some form of engagement.

The client onboarding process should then have a 30-day, 60-day, 90-day, and a quarterly or annual touchpoint for the sales rep, or from someone in client success who’s ensuring that you’re clearly communicating how you provide value. These are also the times to inquire about and remove any impediments that may prohibit them from being successful with you as a company.

After further breaking down the main steps involved in the client onboarding process, we’re now ready to share with you what types of onboarding software we recommend as an expert in this area.

Software will help you do the kinds of cumbersome things you shouldn’t have to do on your own in this day and age. Oftentimes, when trying to do everything manually, people find there’s more room for error—plus, it takes too much time, effort, and resources to get things done when you’re not making use of the right tools.

Client-Onboarding Software

It’s worth noting that any examples provided below will be specific to HubSpot’s software. We utilize HubSpot, but there are actually a lot of tools you can use for client onboarding. Most of the time when people research client-onboarding or onboarding software, they’re going to find employee-onboarding software—there is simply more demand associated with this keyword and service.

When we look at specific client-onboarding software, we really have to factor in a lot of the project management—or activity management—tools that exist, such as Redbooth, Trello, Basecamp, and Jira. These are all activity management software programs that allow you to create tasks, assign them to the client and to your own team, and ensure that they’re getting done in a timely fashion.

It’s important to note that you can use marketing automation technology to do this, which is what we suggest people use before they start assigning an onboarding tool and training people through activity software. The latter can be a lot, so we do want to focus on marketing automation as a way to fill in that automated portion of the client onboarding experience we referenced earlier.

We’re going to examine the automated programs we just talked about further, as there are a few key differences that we want to break down here for you.

Uhuru’s Proven Automated Client-Onboarding Process

The first aspect of the proven automated client onboarding process will be the welcome email automation. You may be taking advantage of this opportunity already, and if you’re not, you might realize it’s what’s been missing all along. Once people start using this option and realizing how beneficial it can be, they generally don’t want to go back to their old ways.

Welcome Email Automation

Before we get to the welcome series email, we need to have a marketing automation tool in place. For this example, we will share with you Uhuru’s HubSpot account and show you the workflow that’s been constructed.

When constructing this, a trigger is critical for starting the series. Yes, a sales rep can send the welcome email, and there should be a manual communication at the point of deal close. But again, we’re talking about the automation part and leveraging technology to make this automated and more efficient.

So right now, in this example, you’ll see a form that would be submitted on account and billing.

Account & Billing

The key to this step is making sure you have a landing page. On a HubSpot landing page, there will be a form that collects critical information to create a client account. We create sections—primary contact, billing contact, decision-maker—and collect all information critical to invoicing the client, scheduling kickoff calls, scheduling stakeholder interviews, etc. (Essentially, all the details needed in order to be productive.)

And if you’ll notice, the page also highlights things what they need to do right away and instructions for them to follow. It also sets the expectation that they’re going to be getting in the client onboarding process, i.e., that you will start sending emails. This whole landing page is the trigger that starts our automated workflow in HubSpot, and there is a series of emails that follows after submission.

Welcome Email

The first email that they receive is a welcome email. This welcome email is meant to confirm items that were discussed in the sales process and prepare them for the meeting, or next step, in any way, shape, or form necessary. This may include what to bring to the meeting, who should be involved—we even specify the attitude to bring to the table and what not to bring.

Right away, we advise the new client to start reading useful content. This deals with how we work—meaning the pace, the cadence, and the rituals that we execute on. Therefore, this is a really important step on which we start all accounts. This is also how our agency uses Scrum for agile marketing. Take a look at the images below to get a sense of what this could all look like.

Create a new campaign

Email Settings

Email

Select Recipients

Welcome Email

The welcome email is also your opportunity to show them very clearly how important communication and getting in sync are to your company. This email is sent from the sales rep that closed the account. In marketing automation technology, we call that the “contact owner.” So, each of these goes to the corresponding account that was closed by the sales rep. They seem personalized and are received very well by clients.

Those visuals should help to start putting things into perspective and give you a clear idea of what this process entails. Now for the onboarding form.

Client Onboarding Form

This is virtually the same thing. The client onboarding form that we have is the form you saw above—and the form is the trigger that sends the series.

If you want to expand on the form after the welcome series, the welcome series email has five emails that go out right up until the kickoff date. Then there’s a delay of 35 days, at which point you’d hold the 30-day review we mentioned previously.

Next in the workflow, we create a task for the sales rep to follow up with the team about how everything is going. The final stage of this onboard series is a recommendation. It’s basically a referral—an up-sell via word-of-mouth associated with the performance of their program. Feedback is always important to achieve change through constructive assessment. Thus, we’ve built in another touchpoint of asking for feedback for the future.

So, we’ve heard the numbers, stats, and taken the measurements, but why should you listen to any of what we said in the first place? Why is it that the way Uhuru does this works so well? If you’ve made it this far in the article, stay with us just a little longer, as we clue you in on some more of our secrets.

Why the Way Uhuru Does Client Onboarding Works So Well

First and foremost, we’ll say we know it works—but it always needs to be improved.

The irony in implementing systems at this level is you will always have clients who want more, who need more. And you can provide more. We know it works well because we’ve done it differently—less sophisticated and less systematic—in the past. And what we’ve found is that this specific process creates an environment where the client feels very comfortable communicating. No matter what, we’re always going to have difficulties while onboarding clients or bringing on new accounts, but our onboarding limits impediments.

It’s just natural human behavior for two people, two companies, to come together to do something. The key to this is creating an environment where the client feels comfortable communicating how they feel—positive or negative. The more you communicate, the more you understand them during the client-onboarding process; even if they’re unhappy with something, you’ve created an expectation of hyper-communication.

Therefore, you usually get the sound bites and feedback regularly enough to address it and decrease churn. With this system, you decrease the number of unhappy clients who ultimately leave.

What’s the Best Next Step for Your Organization?

Let us know in the comments: Do you have a documented client-onboarding process, and is that onboarding process working? If you’re not sure if it’s working, that’s a sign that it may not be structured in a way that enables optimization based upon the experience you’re putting your clients through.

And in that case, don’t wait—come and get an assessment from Uhuru.

We recommend the client-onboarding experience as a part of the buyer’s journey. It’s a part of a client’s journey with your company; if the onboarding experience isn’t dialed in, it’s likely you have what is called a partial funnel (instead of a full-funnel). A full-funnel is where we’ve taken the stages of the buyer’s journey and understood the most value we can deliver at each stage, then built systems, content, information, and procedures around delivering that value at every stage.

So if this resonates with you, you feel you have a partial funnel, or your client-onboarding process is minimal or ineffective, reach out to one of our team members. As a part of our initial conversation, we’ll do a surface-level assessment of what it is you’re doing online. Then, we’ll learn what you’re looking to improve before working together to figure out the best next step for your organization.

Uhuru is always here to help.

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