To grow and scale an agency, you need to regularly close deals with new clients, and be ready to start delivering results. A new client onboarding questionnaire makes sure you and your team have all the information you need up front to make a strong start.
Templating every process in your business, from getting leads and signing new clients to deliverables and communications, provides a big boost to productivity and quality. The more standardized and repeatable your processes, the fewer manual steps you’ll have to take, and the more consistent your results will be.
On the other hand, reinventing the wheel for every client and project wastes time and risks missing important steps — losing clients instead of getting referrals. Establishing standard procedures allows you to make more money, faster, and alleviate a lot of stress in your business. This is true as you start an agency, and even more so as you grow and hire a team.
A great place to begin is with your new client process, including the all-important client onboarding questionnaire.
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What is a Client Onboarding Questionnaire?
A client onboarding questionnaire is a series of questions that help you get to know a new client and the key information you’ll need for the project. This can be as global or granular as you want, but should include basic questions that you ask every client.
Onboarding questionnaires should include things about the nature and size of their business, any digital properties you’ll be involved with, and anything relevant to the scope of work you’ll be doing.
For instance, if your services involve managing their finances, there should be a standardized set of questions to provide you with organizational/structural insight, accounts you’ll need to access, and any records you’ll need to actually get started. For a marketing agency, questions might cover branding, competitors, and customer demographics.
Although client onboarding questionnaires will vary from business to business, ideally, they should integrate with your project management software. In a perfect world, you could have the fields on a digital onboarding questionnaire populate in a client information portal or at least have the right fields to provide you with info that can easily be manually input where you need it.
Thinking about the info you need and where it needs to end up are two great points at which to start your own questionnaire.
Why a Great Client Onboarding Questionnaire is Important
A great client onboarding questionnaire will make your life easier. And if that’s enough, it will strengthen relationships with your new clients, setting a confident tone for your working relationship.
While you still want plenty of facetime with a new client, this tool maximizes that time. You don’t want to spend precious, first moments with a client collecting data. Here are some reasons that a client onboarding questionnaire is a good idea.
It shows your commitment to your new client
Whether your agency is new or old, professionalism is a high priority. If you have a well thought out, highly useful and comprehensive onboarding process, it will leave no doubt in the client’s mind that you mean business.
Putting in the work to develop slick, streamlined processes will give the right impression from the very beginning. Clients will know you pay attention to the details, and you care about their unique circumstances. And impressing clients enough that they refer their friends is one of the best ways to get more clients.
It gives the client clear expectations for the project
When a client has to make the investment of time to fill out onboarding documents, they understand the thought and effort you apply to your work. The info they supply will illustrate the actions you are going to take.
As you move forward into managing projects for them, it will be clear how the data they provide is used to gain a competitive advantage or fulfill tasks with ease.
It gives you valuable information to work with
At the end of the day, a client onboarding questionnaire is a tool that benefits your team. Chasing after a client for answers and making multiple contacts to get details — this is time better spent elsewhere.
As you cultivate the perfect onboarding materials, you’ll capitalize on the freshness of a new client’s energy and willingness to share. The more times you send these out and get them the back, the better they’ll get, because you’ll cover every base imaginable and get all of the information you need.
The Client Onboarding Process
Again, the client onboarding process is something you need to take seriously. As an agency of any kind, your service to a client has to compete with companies who are likely larger than you are.
Even if you are still figuring out how to get your first clients, putting some thought into your onboarding process is worthwhile. Here are some factors to include in your client onboarding checklist, beginning before a new client signs, right through to the first deliverables.
Determine why the client is hiring you
Depending on the scope of work your agency does, clients may hire you or your team for various reasons. Client onboarding will clear up exactly what the client’s expectations are and outline the scope of work you are agreeing to.
Some agencies are hesitant to include limits in a project proposal, or clarify specific deliverables. A carte blanche feels like it has the potential for more income. That’s not the case. It’s far preferable to excel in highly measurable, detailed tasks at the beginning.
If you do specific, defined assignments well, it will lead to more work. Spell it all out from the beginning and you’ll set yourself up for success.
Learn how to write a business proposal that covers all the essential details, while focusing on the value and benefits of working with you.
Schedule a meeting to present your proposal
Many agencies struggle to close. Even after the close, it can then feel like a chase to get a client’s attention or move forward with work.
This is all avoidable if you’ve onboarded the client correctly. A solid and professional onboarding process will take all of the gray and make it black and white. As part of your sales process, present clear, detailed proposals.
Schedule a meeting to give clients an opportunity to fully discuss and understand your services before they sign. Before the project officially kicks off with the onboarding questionnaire, nobody should be left with question marks about what’s to be expected next.
Clients should know what they are responsible for in terms of payment, providing information, and access. Likewise, they should know what the next steps will be and what to expect from you. Having a discussion about these details ensures a smooth start (and minimizes the risk of unpaid invoices).
Establish a productive working relationship with the client
Great client onboarding allows you to hit the ground running. You don’t lose a week or two trying to get agreements sorted or projects detailed. As long as you’ve got your ducks in a row and you get the info you need, your working relationship will get off to a highly productive start.
This is a great way to start out. In the early stages, after negotiating rates and signing up, clients need reassurance that they made the right choice. Even the most relational agency in the world still needs to produce, but results take time.
Onboarding effectively starts your working relationship out on the right foot, shows the client that work has begun, and clears the way toward a mutually beneficial partnership.
Provide a Progress Report After 1 Month
Great onboarding should include clear protocol for communication. Although it can feel like a make-work project to create reports and presentations for clients, it’s essential to let clients know what you’ve been working on. This is even more true for long-term projects that may take weeks or months to produce concrete results.
Agencies that have templated presentations for progress reports are a step ahead. If you have standardized data sets, this is even easier to report. But even if all of your client work is fairly customized and unique, you can assemble a report that will showcase what you’ve accomplished.
This is another reason it’s important to have clear marching orders and expectations up front. You can’t deliver measurable results on an open-ended task. It’s best to have something “in living color” to put before a client. This is your best bet for cultivating confidence in your work.
Questions to Ask New Clients
So, you know that you should have a templated client onboarding questionnaire and that clients need to be effectively onboarded for a productive relationship. But, what questions should you ask new clients?
There will, of course, be heavily niched agencies who have some obvious and specific questions to ask. Here are the categories to consider as you put together complete client onboarding questionnaires:
Get basic information about the business
This may sound like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many agencies have to hit up a search engine to find a client’s address for invoicing. Collect all of that basic business information on your onboarding questionnaire.
You also want to be sure you get first and last names, titles, and contact info for anyone with whom you need to communicate. Find out who the decision-makers are on various aspects of the work. This ensures that you are connecting with the right people in a professional way.
Learn what level of access your client is comfortable giving
For many agencies—like marketers and accountants—you need a lot of logins to client systems. The way you gain access is going to vary.
Some clients may already use a third-party system (like Lastpass) to share access. Larger companies may have an IT department to create secure access for you. Some people may prefer to just hand over passwords, although you should remind them to use a secure method.
Either way, figure out how you’re getting into the client’s software and make sure you have the information to do so.
Learn a client’s main competitors
Client onboarding questionnaires need to attend to the housekeeping considerations, listed above, but should go way further. For instance, if you’re an SEO agency or digital marketing agency, it’s going to be important that you get a list of client competitors.
Of course, who they think they’re competing with and who they’re actually competing with online could be two different sets of businesses. But getting them to list out their competitors will give you a ton of useful information to get started.
Do they have specific competitors?
Some agency clients will have broad offerings or numerous departments. If this is the case, they will have more than a single list of competitors. If, for instance, they have both B2B and B2C offerings, you’re going to want to know who their competitors are in each category.
What is their target audience?
Most companies have done at least some demographic research. If they are selling anything, there should be a loosely defined sales funnel in which the target audience is defined. If they are well-developed, they may even have segmented it out. Any target audience data they have will be useful to you.
What results are they looking for when hiring you?
It can’t be said enough: as an agency, you need to get ahead of client expectations. From the very outset, defining what a client can and can’t expect (and what results they should look for) will provide the right context for doing business together. Find the right way to ask this and do so on the questionnaire.
What level of commitment the client wants to have in your work
Coming back to communication, there should be clear guidelines set for how and when you discuss the work and report on progress.
Sometimes, agency owners or agency employees get too personal with clients, giving out personal numbers and texting at all hours. While this level of access may be fine, it may not be.
You can include questions on client onboarding materials to make it clear how often they should expect to hear from you, and what your standard response time is. Also mention when and how you expect to hear from them, and any “off” hours they should be aware of.
You don’t have to work 24/7 to succeed as an agency. But whatever hours you choose to be available, you should stick to. Make it all clear from the get-go and you’ll avoid frustration.
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about client onboarding questionnaires.
How do you talk to a client for the first time?
Client relationships can be one of the best things about owning or running an agency, and the way you communicate at the start sets the tone of your working relationship. You should be intentional about how frequently and in what way you communicate with new clients. In your eagerness to meet all of their needs or answer all of their questions, you don’t want to set a precedent for 24/7 access. It’s important to consider your actual availability, how communication is done and how you want to discuss projects moving forward. The good news is that you get to call the shots. Just make sure you do so on purpose and from the start, so there aren’t any miscommunications later on.
What are the first steps in the client onboarding workflow?
One of the first steps to client onboarding is a client questionnaire. This can be an automated step in which you send a standardized questionnaire to a new client, getting info from them about their business. Other steps in the initial client onboarding process include getting a contract signed, agreeing on payment methods, setting up account access and defining workflow.
How do you automate the client onboarding process?
The client onboarding process is one of the easier agency tasks to automate, because it should be pretty easy to standardize. You can use software, like Google Forms or Typeform, and send a link to each new client. You can also integrate these questionnaires with your CRM or project management software, to automate recording client responses within client profiles or projects.
Why is client onboarding important?
Onboarding a new client is important because it sets the flavor for your relationship. You want to cover all of your bases and be as professional as possible. If you structure all of your systems correctly, you can spend the valuable facetime you get in meetings with a new client getting to know them. This goes a long way toward providing them with a service they can’t live without.
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