How to Improve the Client Onboarding Process and Reduce Churn

Onboarding is the key to making a great first impression on a client. Gather the right information and lay the foundation for meeting expectations to put yourself on the fast track for retaining clients and revenue.

Read time: 8 min

Who this is for and why it matters

While agency owners are worn out from leading with a "Do more with less" mentality, their clients are facing similar struggles. Some agencies are taking months to approve proposals, while others are seeing clients slashing budgets by as much as 50%.

Reduced budgets lead clients to scrutinize their services and see what's truly essential. This leaves agencies scrambling to prove their service's ROI and convey their value in ways clients find meaningful.

Agency owners are already knee-deep in all things revenue and under immense pressure to stay profitable. A surefire way to do that is by retaining clients.

The challenge lies in fostering long-term working relationships that directly benefit the client's bottom line and keep them from churning—even in an ever-changing business landscape.

Create a bulletproof onboarding process to 'wow' clients from first contact

The solution to reducing churn, staying profitable, and scaling is an air-tight client onboarding process to make the right impression, fast-track results, and foster loyalty.

While the onboarding process doesn’t directly increase revenue, it does help retain it by reducing churn. Research from Zippia found nearly two-thirds of a company's business comes from its existing customers, and by increasing customer retention by just 5%, those companies increased profits up to 95%.

Pair that with the fact that acquiring new clients costs up to five times more than retaining existing ones and you'll find it (quite literally) pays to keep clients on board.

Onboarding is your first real project with any new client. It previews how future projects will be executed and shows clients how your agency will take the reigns to drive results. And it all starts during the onboarding process.

Knowing that you're making the most of every new client from a revenue and efficiency standpoint is the key to scaling your agency, despite turbulent economic challenges. Follow this four-step framework to bulletproof your onboarding process and secure quick wins in every new client relationship.

Client Onboarding Process TL;DR Diagram

Step 1: Set KPIs with clients for the onboarding process

Avoid treating your onboarding process like any run-of-the-mill checklist. Use this opportunity to deep-dive into the client’s unique situation even before the kickoff call to cut to the root of the work faster and solidify an early win.

This is only possible with the full picture of your client’s current state and the right KPIs to drive your strategy forward.

Joshua Johnston, Founder of the consulting firm HYDRA, says the speed to your first win is a major indicator of whether an agency will retain clients long-term, especially within the first 30 days. And if they don’t see results until day 60 or 90 days, it’s unlikely the client will stick around.

During the onboarding process, a thorough understanding of the client’s current financial state, previous campaign data, creative assets, and brand books will provide keen insight into their top KPIs and help your roadmap take shape.

Client Onboarding KPI Examples Graphic

Involve clients in setting goals and KPIs—even for the kick-off process—to reach common ground and learn what matters most to them. With those North Star metrics, your agency can take the reins in creating a clear road map for how the client’s current strategies will evolve going forward.

Agency owners implementing this onboarding strategy swear by it for the long-term success it’s brought their clients. For Joshua, it’s a key pillar contributing to the 117% average annual growth rate clients experience while working with HYDRA and the agency’s 3.8% churn rate.

joshua Johnston Founder of HYDRA Quote Graphic

This is critical for accelerating the time between starting and finishing the project—and then retaining that client. Even with solid KPIs and a detailed roadmap, you need to account for unexpected changes to maintain a positive client experience through out-of-scope requests.

Step 2: Account for scope creep to compromise on change requests

It's impossible to kick a soccer ball into a moving goalpost, and that sentiment rings true for every agency working around an influx of change requests.

You'll never hit the target if the scope of work or KPIs change—and while agency owners fully grasp this fact, it doesn't stop clients from throwing curve balls at the last second.

We can't predict when clients will make out-of-scope changes, but we can mitigate them by proactively budgeting change requests into the project scope. This is your safety net to "expect the unexpected" and keep scope creep at bay before it derails future projects.

Agency founder Chris DuBois said it best in his recent post. By agreeing on a "say yes" budget for un-budgeted requests, he's able to spot scope creep the second it appears while also helping clients stay aware of how changes track against their allotted budget.

chris dubois linkedin example

Mapping your "say yes" budget is only possible once you've gathered the right information during client onboarding, including financials, expectations, and KPIs. It creates the baseline for building your roadmap, defining the initial project scope, and identifying where it's most flexible.

Compromising on this touchy subject as early as the client onboarding process facilitates meaningful conversations between parties to avoid awkward "no's" down the road. This strategy creates documentation around your agency's change request dealbreakers without jeopardizing the project delivery—and, most importantly, your client relationship.

Step 3: Create feedback loops in the onboarding process to optimize client satisfaction

To secure early wins and retain clients, rely on frequent and fast feedback loops to instill confidence and reassurance in your path forward.

Every time you check your North Star metrics, circle back in with your client for feedback. Having your finger on the pulse of your client's expectations and needs ensures you're still on the same page, and there will be no surprises at contract renewal.

Feedback Loops Throughout Client Onboarding Graphic

Fast feedback loops aren't just for your benefit, either. While they help confirm your hypotheses, feedback loops also show clients you're invested in their goals and dedicated to continuous improvement.

A Salesforce survey found that 73% of clients deem prioritizing their needs as essential. Showing clients that you value their needs and feedback—even during onboarding—leads to the right deliverables faster and establishes trust to reduce the likelihood of churn later on.

Step 4: Implement collaborative documentation for full visibility

While email communication is still widely used between agencies and clients, it invites a ton of productivity killers into the onboarding process.

Collaborative process documentation provides clients with the visibility they need to access expectations, progress, and updates at all times. These solutions are tailored to asynchronous work to provide clear answers without any back-and-forth email chains.

Digital whiteboards or collaborative documents for live editing are a must. These tools have communication solutions baked into their functionality with features to chat, create comment threads, and share screen recordings from a central space.

Your clients want consistency, clarity, and convenience when engaging with your agency. Limit the number of tools needed to access updates, then make the process as simple as "rinse and repeat" using custom onboarding templates to duplicate your best practices.

This is the exact solution that the digital marketing agency Hawke Media used with new clients to decrease project delays by 70%.

Lauren Makielski HAWKE MEDIA Quote Graphic

Jumping through hoops is the last thing you want for your clients and a far cry from reducing churn. Aligning your communication process during the onboarding process makes the entire experience more manageable for clients.

Keep your process documentation simple and collaborative with onboarding templates like this one from ClickUp, so you can prevent chaos and save your agency valuable hours during your next client onboarding.

clickup customer-onboarding template

Start client relationships on the right foot

Effective onboarding processes are essential to gathering the right information and impressing your client. Show clients your agency is committed to setting and meeting the expectations that attracted them to you in the first place.

It's your first line of defense in nurturing a loyal band of clients and becoming an essential service, no matter how the business landscape changes. Increasing and retaining revenue will always be your agency's number one goal, but you don't have to face these challenges alone.

ClickUp Showcase White Horizontal Banner V2

Register for the ClickUp Showcase to connect with other agency owners looking for more efficient onboarding solutions. This group demo webinar takes the stress out of the face-to-face sales call, so you can participate as much or as little as you want.

See how our team of experts can bring this onboarding framework to life.

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