Working with clients in an agency is often an adventure. In this article, I would like to show you a simple but powerful tool to keep your clients happy and save you a lot of time. It's all about spending less time on repetitive and avoidable tasks and focusing on the most important things.
How an onboarding funnel works will be explained in detail in this guide. Let’s take a moment first to consider two common areas of friction between customers and service providers.
Typical points of friction between customers and service providers
Area #1: Onboarding new customers
Until you've finally got everything you need from a customer, you may have sent multiple passwords back and forth, held several zoom meetings, and made countless phone calls. Even then, you might not be completely satisfied with the images, target group descriptions, or texts provided by the customer. For us at least, these were situations we often faced after winning customers for our marketing services.
The information you need for onboarding obviously depends on the services you offer. As a marketing agency, we needed different things than a designer or video producer would have. More on this later.
Area #2: The actual work with the customer
Once the onboarding procedure was over, the real work started and, naturally, it wasn't always smooth sailing. Few people talk about it openly, but most agencies will have experienced dissatisfied customers. This doesn't mean the agencies have delivered poor results but rather that expectations were not properly discussed beforehand.
By this, I mean that certain questions were not addressed. How will we communicate? How do you work best? What kind of results can I expect as a customer? For my part, I would get annoyed if a customer simply called unexpectedly and disturbed me while working or sent me a message on WhatsApp.
The customer, on the other hand, was annoyed that I didn't answer and was dissatisfied that a requested change to the website was only implemented three days later and not on the same day. A classic example of a communication problem!
I felt I was bending over backward for my customers, working long nights on the redesign of their website (even though this hadn't been agreed upon at all) and yet the customer wasn't always satisfied with the results or the communication between us.
Despite doing everything that was asked of me, I kept losing customers because they were unhappy with the way we were working together.
What I was missing:
As the provider of the services, I can set the rules for working together.
If a customer has no rules, they will simply test the boundaries of what you will accept. This isn’t necessarily done consciously. To avoid disappointment on both sides, it is therefore important to clarify the expectations with questions including:
- When can I reach you? When are you unavailable?
- How can I reach you? Are there any channels you don't use?
- When can I expect changes to be completed?
- What exactly does the contract include and exclude?
- When can I expect results? (e.g. from SEO, PPC etc.)
- What results can I expect?
- What will my emotional journey look like? (explanation below)
If these questions aren't mentioned or discussed, the expectations of each party can be very different.
The friction from onboarding and working with the customer is relatively easy to solve. Moreover, you don't need to buy any costly software solutions; you just need your existing website and half a day.
How is this supposed to work? - with an onboarding funnel
The concept of an onboarding funnel
An onboarding funnel is easily to create and has two jobs:
- To request information you need for your work.
- To set expectations and thus ensure good collaboration.
Here is an example of a landing page from our onboarding funnel:
You can see a landing page with a video and text. In this case, the video explains how to set up the Facebook Business Manager and add the agency as a partner. Now imagine this with more pages, each of which has different videos and asks for different information from the customer.
To go from page 1 to page 2, the customer simply clicks on "Continue to next step". They are then taken to the next video which also contains a task. This is rather simple to set up from a technical point of view. You can automate quite a lot with Zapier automations. More on this below.
Of course, you don't always have to use a video, a form or text might be enough in some scenarios. This will become clear when you look at exactly what you need from the customer. The first step is to get the information you need to do a good job.
The structure of content in your onboarding funnel
The required information will naturally be different for each agency and, if an agency offers different services, it might be a good idea to create a separate onboarding funnel for each service.
Here is an extract of information that a web design agency may need:
- CI, colors, fonts
- Logos / pictures from team Dropbox links
- Website and hosting access
- A list of the products offered and a description of the desired target group
A Facebook marketing agency could request the following information:
- Access to the advertising account
- Images of products and the team
- Access to Google Analytics and Shopify
- Description of the target group / a form filled out with these details
Depending on what exactly your core services are and for which services you want to create an onboarding funnel, you should always create a checklist with all the things you need from the customer.
While some things are easy to otherwise ask for, e.g. a Dropbox link for the company logos, others need more detailed explanations.
Take the target group, for example. How do you define a target group? Work with templates and examples in the video so the customer knows what to do. The more help you provide, the sooner you will get exactly what you need to work.
After gathering all the information you need for onboarding, you now have the opportunity to make working with your customer a time of harmony and positivity - instead of descending into chaos and losing customers despite your best efforts.
You need to set expectations for two areas:
On the topic of communication, you should first be clear with yourself how you want to approach it. It’s a good idea to avoid using WhatsApp with customers as it's a very direct, emotional, and impulsive means of communication.
Emails should always be longer than one word and voice messages don't belong in emails. No one expects a reply to an email within minutes or hours and it is much easier to find information later, even if your cellphone isn't working.
The way emails work is simply more expedient. It's much easier to keep a cool head with an email than with WhatsApp or other direct messaging services. We also don't use Slack with our customers.
You should also clear yourself some time to fully concentrate on your work. While I personally find it difficult to stick to, I have noticed I'm much more productive when I’m not checking my emails every few minutes.
Communication rules that have worked well for us are:
- The only communication channel is email. This means any WhatsApp or SMS messages received will be answered by email.
- Calls only by prior arrangement.
- Emails are only answered in the afternoon.
Once you've sorted this out for yourself, you can move on to the results.
Here is an example of how expectations about results can be visualized:
Important: Prepare the customer for what to expect in a worst-case scenario and when to expect it. The lower you set the expectations, the better it works out for you in the end when the customer is positively surprised. In the above examples, you see not only the results but also the customer’s emotional journey, i.e. how the customer may feel during the process.
Now, when a customer starts getting impatient to see results a few weeks in, they're unlikely to send you an angry email. Instead, they understand they're in the second step of the process. As you’ve already set the expectations, they'll know it's fine to not see results at the beginning.
Let's face it, this is the case with most services. With Facebook Ads, you need to test what does and doesn't work. If you knew beforehand as a marketer what was going to work, you'd probably have the online shop instead of an agency.
In other areas such as SEO it takes a certain amount of time (usually up to a year) until all the effort you've put in starts to come to fruition. For websites, videos, designs and marketing strategies, this period is often shorter but appropriate expectations are important here too.
The technical structure
Let's now look at what tools we need to make this all work from a technical perspective.
In principle, we need a landing page with a title, video, text (e.g. with a link to a form), and a button to get to the next landing page.
It's a good idea to build one landing page first and then simply copy it, depending on how many steps are needed in the funnel. A landing page represents one step in the funnel.
Example: Steps covered in your onboarding funnel
- Landing page: The onboarding process explained
- Explain to the customer what is going to happen during the next 20 to 45 minutes. This includes how to get to the next video and why you do the onboarding this way and not in person. (The customer saves time as they can follow at their own pace and get everything explained much more precisely than on the phone, for example).
- Landing page: CI / Colors / Text
- Link a form for your customer to complete. In the video, click on the form yourself and explain how to fill in each point.
- Landing page: Target group / Content
- Also work with a form here and explain the content. You could also use worksheets and show examples of good target groups.
- Landing page: Expectations
- Explain how the cooperation will work, what the emotional journey of the customer is, how the communication works, and when you are, or are not, available. You can also reason that phone calls are by appointment only so you can concentrate fully and achieve the best possible results for the customer. You'll be surprised by how many people are happy with this approach.
- Perhaps explain whether there will be reporting and, if so, in what form. For PPC services in particular, your results, i.e. generating leads or sales in the online shop, can be seen immediately. This is not something you necessarily need reports on. An agency colleague once experimented and simply left out reporting. As he was delivering good results, there wasn't a single complaint from his customers.
Reports are usually not read anyway, especially by small companies. It sounds crazy but it's true. I recommend giving it a try and spending the time saved optimizing the results or the quality of your service.
- Landing page: Add to Business Manager
- Show how to add your agency to the Facebook Business Manager and, if necessary, how to set it up in the first place.
- Landing page: Conclusion and link to the appointment tool to make a kick-off appointment.
- In the kickoff meeting, you can go through the customer's questions together and start your collaboration. This phone call should now last about 20 minutes instead of the two hours it could have taken without an onboarding funnel.
This is just an example - your funnel can certainly be longer or shorter. For example, if you use Slack as your communication tool, you can still ask for an email address in the onboarding section to invite the customer to Slack.
After the customer has completed onboarding, you can use the tool "Zapier" to automate a lot of what was previously done manually.
For example, you can automate:
- Create a Google Drive folder for the customer that they can access directly with their email address.
- Create an Asana project where important customer information is imported.
- Send a Slack message to your developer informing them about the new customer, including a link to their Google Drive folder where all the information is located.
A screen share is the easiest way to show you what the technical setup can look like so here's a video of me walking someone through the process:
The technical possibilities are vast. It's important to keep things simple, however, especially at the beginning. The hurdle to implementing the process can be very high at the start.
Instead of aiming to start directly with the perfect onboarding funnel, first take the expectations into account, request the important information and then improve your funnel over time.
For every tool you use, you need to first consider the topic of data protection and, if necessary, seek legal advice. The Privacy Shield has been struck down by the ECJ, so you need to exercise particular caution with US services.
What if my customers are all too different?
As an agency, you may have many different customers and projects. In this case, it makes sense to create several onboarding funnels and start with the most important or most booked services.
But there could be a bigger problem lurking here: the structure of your business may be far too complicated. Offering a huge range of services and managing dozens of target groups and projects from multiple industries can make it exceedingly difficult to scale your agency.
"To reach a new level of scaling, you must reach a new level of simplicity." - This is something my mentor told me many years ago. It took a long time for me to understand what it means.
Do like the sound of an onboarding funnel but doubt it would work for you as you offer too many different things? Are these without a real focus on a core service or a concise target audience? If that's the case, it’s not the onboarding process you should tackle right now, but the focus of your business.
Conclusion: Personal contact vs automation?
In the end, the question remains: Is it okay to start a working relationship off with an automated onboarding process? After all, the clients want to work with me and not a machine. My answer is "yes" and "no". First and foremost, customers want results. They don't really care how they get them. A personal relationship is, of course, hugely important and that's exactly what an onboarding funnel gives you more time for. It frees up time from routine tasks but the human element remains.
A customer recently told us:
"Feedback from the first customer regarding the onboarding form we used for all logins, data and target group questions etc. - based on Alex's idea: "What a great onboarding form!" - Our experience: The customer uploaded all brands assets etc. to the Google Drive folder themselves and sent us the completed form without any problems. This spared us a lot of emails and phone calls. The procedure is ingenious!"
On that note: Try an onboarding funnel yourself and create space to use your time more sensibly - and free up more valuable time to spend with your team, your employees or by yourself. If you have any further questions, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment under this post. I hope this article has given you some ideas!