Signing new clients can be hard, and it’s often quite a bit less glamorous than Mad Men’s booze-soaked soirees would have the public believe. But it’s satisfying work, too — if you know what you’re doing.
That’s where onboarding comes in. Your experience will probably differ somewhat from the wine-and-dine approach depicted on television, but it’s no less important. How you speak to your clients, and what you do to prepare for a long collaboration, is some of the most important work you’ll do.
Below is a small handful of tips to keep in mind for your next meeting with a prospect — and how you can be sure they’ll stick with you for a long time to come.
Thoroughly Understand the Client’s Existing Assets
No matter how long your firm has been in business, you’re going to be fielding calls from potential clients from every stage of growth. Some will be starting out, while others might have years of campaigns and assets for you to paw through and learn. What you do with what you find can set a quality foundation for the work still to come.
Make part of your onboarding process gaining access to, for starters, their social accounts and any other part of their web presence. You’re going to find some things going well, and probably a few things going not so well. You’ll certainly find ways to bring your own knowledge and expertise on any shortcomings or omissions you might find. In short, your job is to find what needs improvement and then demonstrate that you have the skills required to remedy them.
And I do mean demonstrate. Talk about more than your world-class firm and its past successes — show tangible proof that you know what you’re doing. Show off benchmarks, case studies, statistics and success stories. If you do, they’ll take you much more seriously as you promise to safeguard their financial future.
Set Realistic Goals
After you’ve worked with your new client to build a thorough understanding of their assets and current status, the hard work begins. You must put a plan in place and choose goals. This is where many folks get stuck.
Part of the problem comes from overpromising or overestimating the scope of your expertise. You might be trying to sell them an infographic design package or an overhaul for their main website. But are you playing to your strengths? Don’t try to be all things to all people.
Make sure you:
- Make promises that your skillset can deliver
- Have enough data to create realistic and achievable projections and goals
- Create goals alongside your client — the two of you might value different things or have different perspectives
If you’ve worked with your client to fully understand, on both sides, where they’re coming from and where you still need to go, the goals you create will be attainable, appropriate for the client and in line with your firm’s key skill areas.
Don’t Apologize, and Don’t Focus on Your Shortcomings
Maybe it doesn’t need to be said, but there are certain words and phrases that new clients don’t want to hear. One of them is “I don’t know.” Another one, believe it or not, is “I’m sorry.”
When you’re courting and onboarding new clients, you shouldn’t feel like you’re walking on eggshells every time you open your mouth, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an artistry to speaking with another company’s representative. Apologizing can be seen as negative and problem-oriented, and it will generally not set a good tone.
It probably sounds like an academic difference, but swapping out “I’m sorry” for “Thank you for bringing this to my attention” could make a big difference. It lets you keep expectations in step with your capacity and skillset, but it also positions you as responsive, humble and collaborative.
Part two of not apologizing is not dwelling on your shortcomings. Yes — there will be moments when the client asks for something you’re not prepared to provide, but you helped build your company in a particular way because you thought it was the best way to do so.
Remember this as you onboard your new prospects and move them toward a commitment. They’re experts in their field, just as you’re an expert in yours. If they ask you for something that’s outside your wheelhouse, don’t apologize — instead, tell them honestly why that’s so. If you do things differently from what they’re expecting, make sure they see why your method is the best method.
Check in on a Regular Basis
Signing on the dotted line is a big deal, but it’s only the beginning — not the end. We’re talking about onboarding here, so references to what happens 30 days or a few months down the road might feel like we’re getting ahead of ourselves, but it’s important.
You’ll deal with a primary decision maker during your onboarding process. To be blunt, they hold the future of this collaboration in their hands. You’re obviously committed to keeping them around for a while — but the feeling has to be mutual.
So, as part of your onboarding process, it makes sense to lay out key milestones for checking in with each other. Milestones can include soliciting feedback on what’s been going well and what hasn’t, and taking stock of the still-new relationship. There are two reasons the first of these checkups should happen no later than 30 days after signing a contract:
- It will set a precedent for both regular contact and for transparency, which is a big reassuring move that any new client will appreciate.
- It will ensure you have all the facts as you move forward.
Both parties must share their findings and be honest about how things are progressing.
Keep Them Coming Back
Stay committed to following these suggestions each time you onboard a new client, and you’ll set yourself up for success. This is hardly an exhaustive list, and plenty of other opportunities will crop up along the way, including the personalized touches that enamored clients love to mention in reviews and testimonials. Send Christmas cards, ask about your clients’ families, and show you care in small, consistent ways.
Strategizing and planning are crucial, but clients appreciate a personal touch as much as they appreciate competence in a marketing firm. Use your head to onboard them, and use your heart to keep them around. If you do that, you can’t go wrong.
About the Author
Lexie Lu is a freelance web designer and blogger. She enjoys researching the latest design trends and always has a cup of coffee in close proximity. She manages Design Roast and can be followed on Twitter @lexieludesigner.