The first 90 days with a new client are the most influential for a marketing agency but also the most fragile. Those first three months can make or break your relationship with the client and your long-term growth opportunities.
Onboarding is a vital part of that early-stage work. Shorten and perfect your client onboarding process to build trust and a lasting client relationship.
We spoke to 15 extremely successful marketing agencies, including Embertribe, Chirocandy, SkyTale, and Problem Solver Consultants, who have onboarded thousands of clients in the last couple of years.
Based on their feedback, we've identified 7 crucial onboarding steps to ensure your client onboarding process sets you up for success. Following their advice, your process will help you build the long-lasting relationships your agency needs for consistent MRR.
What is client onboarding for agencies?
Agency onboarding is the process of welcoming new clients and setting up everything you need to work effectively on their projects. A defined workflow for welcoming clients to your agency will start the working relationship smoothly and efficiently.
A great onboarding process is a way to build trust and rapport with your new clients. Onboarding often includes goal setting, information sharing, and team introductions. Get your onboarding process right, and you'll reassure clients they are in safe hands and that you are the right people to achieve their goals.
Why is great onboarding important for client relationships?
When you onboard new customers, it's a preview of your service and what it’s like to work with you. Mediocre agencies don’t pay attention to the onboarding process; great agencies understand the importance of making it as smooth as possible.
A solid onboarding process has a notable ripple effect. Solid customer onboarding makes your clients feel confident you know what you’re doing. Presenting this image is crucial to reassuring clients they invested well and that you can deliver the expected results.
Confusing customer onboarding processes can contribute directly to churn and lost profits. Customer churn has a direct impact on your bottom line. Studies show that reducing churn by as little as 5% can significantly improve profits because it’s typically much cheaper to keep current customers than to acquire new ones.
With an effective onboarding process, you’ll not only see a reduction in client churn but also set your agency up for word-of-mouth referrals and encourage clients to keep investing in your service.
7 steps to build an effective client onboarding process
Without further ado, here are the 7 steps that will set your client relationship up for success. To make this super actionable, we've also included some templates, so you can apply each step to your agency right now.
1. Get the contract signed
Congrats, you’ve finished the sales process and sealed the deal with a new client! While a verbal contract is great, you’ll want to formalize the agreement so you can get to work as soon as possible.
The contract provides clear expectations of what you’ll deliver, avoids miscommunication, and ensures both parties are happy with the agreement.
Send the contract as part of your welcome email. Offer the client a warm welcome and give them any necessary preliminary information.
Points to include in your contract:
- Deliverables - the exact service you will provide the client.
- Timelines - how often will you deliver the service, and how can they measure it?
- Duration - what’s the agreed time frame you’ll work for the client, or does the contract roll monthly?
- Confidentiality - in most cases, the client will retain ownership of the assets; the contract should outline who owns the content. Reassure the client by including your policy on what happens to assets once you stop working together.
- Termination - how far in advance does the client need to notify you that they want to terminate the contract?
- Terms and Conditions - what other t&cs does the client need to know when signing up to your agency?
- Payment terms - Be clear about the payment terms - how often will you bill the client, and how can they pay (eg. credit card, bank transfer)? Most agencies ask for payment upfront (for the first 90 days). Make it clear that you can’t get to work until you receive the first payment.
You can find some example marketing agency contracts and downloadable PDFs here.
2. Get to know the client
So you’ve formalized the relationship with a signed contract; now it’s time to understand your client’s needs more deeply. This can be through a client questionnaire, but it is even better to have an in-person (or zoom) conversation with the main stakeholders. Depending on the company's size, this could be the marketing lead, salespeople, client success teams or even the founder/CEO.
The goal in this initial stage is to understand the client's goals, their customers (personas), the customer's pain points, the business’ positioning, and the competition.
Rather than just starting out with a client questionnaire (like most agencies do), the best agencies use the insights from the initial conversation and summarize them in their own words. This shows the client that you understand their business and challenges, which gives your client more confidence you’re the right agency for the job.
Once you report what you learned to the client, you can then ask them to fill in the blanks in your client questionnaire and add what you missed. This is a great way to ensure you fully understand the client’s marketing needs and are on the same page about the business goals.
Questions to ask in the initial conversation:
✅ How would you describe the business to a potential new client?
✅ How does your product solve your customer’s problem?
✅ Who is your ideal customer, and what are their goals, desires, challenges and typical demographics?
✅ Where do your customers hang out off- and online?
✅ What are your top 3 goals for this collaboration, and what’s your timeline?
✅ What is your current cost per acquisition (CPA) and customer lifetime value (CLV)?
✅ How will you measure success with this project?
✅ Have you worked with an agency before, and what did they deliver?
✅ What’s your company's mission?
✅ What are your long-term goals?
✅ What sets your brand apart from competitors?
✅ Which marketing tools are you currently using, for your content marketing and social media?
✅ What’s your most successful acquisition channel?
✅ Do you have a brand identity, tone of voice, and brand guidelines you use in current marketing campaigns?
Once you have the information you need, you can start to build a picture of how you can help the client and attend to their priorities.
A thorough initial conversation will demonstrate your professionalism and willingness to understand your client’s struggles. They will feel listened to, which will help start the relationship on the right foot and make you stand out from other agencies.
Pro tip: After the initial onboarding, ask for feedback on how the onboarding experience was for the client. Asking your client which questions they found most relevant can help you improve and reiterate the onboarding process for every new client.
3. Get access to client accounts
Getting access to client accounts is often where the process gets muddled. There is no standard procedure to access multiple assets, and new clients often get overwhelmed with providing the necessary information.
Take Louis-Paul from the agency Helpy media, for example; he told us that their process was always:
"A big ass email detailing everything we needed access to.”
You likely need access to your client’s advertising, CRM, analytics and social media accounts – and the only solution seems to be overly detailed instructions and back-and-forth emails disrupting what should be a seamless transition.
Most agencies we’ve spoken to get stuck at the same bottleneck when with new client onboarding. Not being able to access client assets can reduce client trust in the relationship and become frustrating for both parties.
Mike Ruffing of Problem Solvers Consultants shared that during the two weeks it took them to get asset access, he had a client complain:
“Why am I paying for this when you haven’t done anything yet?”
That’s the last question you want when working with a new client. You want to demonstrate efficiency and value for money from the first touchpoint.
Even when the time it’s taking to get access isn't your fault, you don't want sticking points in the process to be a reason clients lose trust in your capabilities.
But it is hard, because most clients don’t know how to give you the right access, and it’s not their fault either. Processes such as giving access to Facebook assets are complicated and business owners have more important things to take care of than staying on top of the newest Facebook interface. Luke from SkyTale Digital told us:
“We sent online forms for people to fill out their personal login info. They didn’t know how to give us the access we needed.”
So, is there a way to get access quickly while impressing the client with the most professional experience?
Yes - the best agencies use Leadsie to achieve this.
Leadsie avoids the back and forth. All you have to do is share the Leadsie access request link with your client. They’ll open the link, log into the account you need access to, grant permission, and you’re ready to go:
Instead of waiting hours or days to get connected or having to jump on a Zoom call to describe where to click, your client can give access hassle-free. And equally important, you can begin your work immediately, showing your client they can rely on your agency to get things done.
4. Conduct an audit
Once you have access to your client's advertising, social media and marketing analytics accounts, it's time to get to work.
Audits are essential to onboard a new client. They allow you to assess the overall health of the client’s web traffic, social media accounts, and acquisition channels. The audit can help you identify which channels work best and which need the most attention. You’ll also identify any mistakes your client is making and which activities are draining money with little ROI.
An audit provides an overview of how much work is to be done and offers tangible figures to report to the client.
Your audit will also provide a baseline from which you can measure your success. In future reports to the client, you can always compare your results with the initial audit. It’s a simple way to prove your value to the client and show how your implemented strategies are paying off.
To conduct the audit, we recommend using a standard template such as a Google Presentation or PDF, go through a checklist and customize the recommendations for each new client.
5. Internally brainstorm ideas and strategy
Your audit provides the starting point for identifying the client’s priorities. You can use it to discuss strategy and tactics internally with your team.
Using the insights from your initial call, the answers from the client onboarding questionnaire and your audit, you can map out the client’s growth strategy and initial campaign ideas. This data will also help you propose KPIs you will use to measure your work.
Once you determine the client’s most pressing needs, you can assign the right team members to lead the account. It’s best if one or two people manage the account so the client has consistency and doesn’t need to speak to a different person every time they interact with your agency.
By using one or two account managers, they’ll be able to gain a deep understanding of the client, along with the ins and outs of how their business functions. If those people can demonstrate deep knowledge of the business, it will reassure the client and encourage them to keep working with you beyond the first 90 days.
By this stage in the onboarding process, you should know enough to build a comprehensive report to give feedback to the client and impress them.
6. Host a kickoff meeting
A kickoff meeting, either in person or via video, is the opportunity to introduce the rock-star team you’ve selected and to present your strategy. This stage in your onboarding process helps to build personal relationships, camaraderie, and trust.
The kickoff meeting is also an excellent time to ensure everyone has the correct contact information of the important stakeholders on each side. Organize a welcome package that includes information on your workflow, a timeline for deliverables, and details on how you will communicate with the client going forward.
In the kickoff call, you will present and discuss the strategy you’ve put together and outline an action plan for the next 30, 60, and 90 days.
Use our client onboarding checklist to give some structure to your kickoff meeting:
✅ Share access to your project management tools, such as Asana, ClickUp or Monday.
✅ Define the exact tasks you will do in the next 30, 60, and 90 days (for example, create X number of new Facebook ads or set up and manage a Google Ads campaign).
✅ Outline the exact assets you still require from the client - logos, imagery, templates, etc.
✅ Agree on KPIs and how you will measure them and follow-up.
✅ Confirm how you will communicate progress and how often you will check-in with the client. Will it be via Slack, Discord, email or a call? Who is the client’s main point of contact?
✅ Do you need to set up weekly or monthly meetings, video calls or will you share progress via Loom videos?
7. Set up dashboards to measure KPIs
The final stage in your onboarding process is to set up client dashboards so both parties can track progress. You will agree on KPIs in your kickoff meeting, so set up dashboards that go into depth with measuring those KPIs.
If you´re using a spreadsheet or Google Sheets, create a primary tab that pulls the data and makes it easy to interpret. This way, as soon as the client opens your dashboard, they’ll have an overview of your work.
Using Google Data Studio is another free tool with plenty of free templates which connect to your clients’ data sources, such as Google Analytics or Facebook Ads, so you can automate your reporting for them.
If it’s easy for the client to see the wins you’re getting, they’ll continue to trust in your work which is crucial for client retention. Remember, client retention is of utmost importance in the first 90 days as it’s when they are most likely to churn.
One last tip from our agencies: Don’t only show your output (success) metrics, but also the actions you’re focussing on.
For example, if your aim is to increase your new client’s SEO, you are going to create a number of blog articles. As building SEO rankings takes some time (possibly more than 90 days), it’s important your client sees you’ve written different articles to drive performance. The success metrics may not yet show the results they expect, but demonstrating the steps you've taken can help put them at ease.
Same goes for paid activity - while you’ll typically see impact faster, finding a winning creative will take time. Make sure you present the journey of your strategies so you can manage client expectations right. Well managed expectations will contribute to an overall positive client experience.
Congrats, you’ve successfully onboarded your new client! Now it’s time to get to work 😉
Make a great first impression and reduce your client onboarding time by hours
Leadsie helps you make a great, professional impression and saves you and your client precious time in those vital first 90 days.
As Luke from SkyTale Digital says about Leadsie:
“It’s helped us streamline our onboarding which helps us retain clients and get their ongoing billing started.”
Getting quick access means you can reach milestones faster, show the impact you’re generating and ensure high client retention.
With Leadsie, you can quickly access Facebook pages, Ad Account, Instagram, TikTok Ads, Google Analytics, and Google Business Profiles and more. If the client doesn’t have some of the accounts you need set up already (such as a Facebook ads manager), you can create them directly through Leadsie.
Giving access is as easy as a few clicks- your client clicks your access link, logs in and confirms access:
Try a 14-day free trial of Leadsie and experiment with how it can help your agency make a great first impression. Enter your email below to get started.