We’ve talked over and over about how important client retention is, but it’s hard to quickly and clearly articulate how to retain clients.

It’s all too easy to think “I’ll just get great performance and they’ll stay”. The reality is that it’s not that simple. 

Way too many agencies have lost clients that were growing like crazy from their efforts. Back when I worked with OMG Commerce, they would constantly be taking new clients from larger agencies who were getting them good results. Whenever I asked why they were looking for a new agency (good way to spot red flags), they’d usually mention communication or a relationship problem.

The truth is that a lot of agency relationships are broken in the first few weeks.

Part of the problem is that agencies don’t view it as developing a relationship to take on a new client. It’s just offering a service and increasing revenue.

Every client enters their relationship with your agency with hope and fear.

They hope that they made the right decision and that you’ll help them achieve their goals.

They fear that they made the wrong decision and they’re just going to waste their time and money, and that they’ll lose their job, business, etc. 

They trusted you enough to give you their money or to risk their position in their company, but their trust hasn’t solidified. They haven’t worked with you, so they can’t know for sure if you’re able to help them. Even with referrals from someone they trust that has worked with you, they can’t know for sure that you can help them in the same way because they’re different. 

There is no time more impactful for building trust in your client relationship than during onboarding.

Onboarding Is The Beginning Of Make Or Break

You have a ton of things to do for them and may have a lot of moving parts to set up, so it’s easy to focus more on doing the work than on giving a play-by-play to your new client. However, you should think about it from their perspective.

They decided to work with you instead of the other possible options and took the aforementioned risk. They paid you (this is usually done up front in agencies). Sometimes they get a kickoff call or welcome email. Then: crickets…

Even if you told them it could be 5-10 business days to setup the account, they don’t see all the work you’re doing.

They paid you and now have up to 2 weeks to just sit and think about all the things that could be going wrong. Is anyone working on the account? Will it be done on time? Will it be good? Did they get scammed? Leaving a new client alone with their thoughts is a recipe for disaster.

There are a few things you’ll want do make sure to do in your onboarding process that will give you the best shot at setting a strong foundation for retention:

  1. Frontload the client’s action items 
    After they sign the agreement and pay, the client is more engaged than they’re likely to be in a while. After you get up and running they’ll feel better about it and get back to work, but at the beginning they’ll actually feel more useful and better about working with you if you give them things to do and keep them focused on you.

    This is where you gather all the information you need to run a successful marketing effort for them. This is where you get access to everything you need to access; all the accounts, dashboards, platforms, softwares, etc.

    It’s best to do this in 1-2 interactions if possible. If you reach out and ask for access to Google Ads and Google Analytics, then ask for Google Tag manager access 3-4 days later, it’s going to make you look sloppy (it’s even worse if you ask for demographic data or customer personas after a kickoff call).

    Get the client involved early, let them contribute and share their expertise. Make sure they know it’s a partnership and that you need their knowledge and experience to get the most out of the marketing. This helps them feel secure in their role as a vendor manager, business owner, marketing director, etc. 

  2. Tell them what you’re going to do and give a timeline
    In the absence of information, the imagination reigns supreme. If you tell the client what to expect, they won’t have to wonder. If you tell the when things are supposed to happen, they won’t email you asking for updates every couple of days.

    This is generally done during the welcome email. You explain how long the setup process generally takes (often 5-10 days for PPC setup), then give a super high-level overview of what you’re doing. This should just be a bullet list of objectives. You can, and should, reference any tasks from audits you’ve done prior to closing the deal. Possible line items could include: Audit the account, audit the data plumbing, restructure the ad groups, fix the conversion tags, keyword research, build landing pages, write new ad copy, etc.

    It’s also generally a good idea to tell them when to expect updates from you, which leads us to the 3rd onboarding suggestion. 

  3. Schedule updates every 3-7 days
    Depending on how long the setup should take, be sure to schedule updates so the client never gets the chance to reach out and ask how things are going. If they have to ask how things are going, the seeds of discontent are already starting to take root.

    If you start with fixing conversion tracking and restructuring ad groups based on search intent, send them an email when that’s done and let them know what you’re working on next.

    Finishing ad copy is a great excuse for an update because it’s usually wise to ask for review and approval anyway. As a side note, I like to state in these emails that if you haven’t heard back from them in X days, you’ll consider it approved and push it live. This encourages them to actually review it to prevent delays and the subsequent blame game.

    If what you’re doing is one thing that takes a longer time, send an update once a week to let them know it’s going well or if there have been delays. Don’t hide it when you run into problems or holdups. Transparency cultivates trust. 

These 3 points are simple ways to improve the communication with the client. There are also a lot of things you can do to improve the employee experience during client onboarding while setting them up for success, but I don’t want to write more 3,000+ word newsletters. 

Free Onboarding Process

That said, here’s a link to an onboarding process you can use or reference for ideas. It has links to resources like onboarding questionnaires, welcome email templates, internal client info docs, and more. 

Tweak it to fit your needs, but pay attention to how each step is focused on internal or external communication.  

The internal communication tasks are designed to collect and store information for reference, making it easy for your current and future employees to find all the info they need quickly and in one place.

The external communication is designed to develop the budding trust in your client relationship by communicating early and often the value you’re providing and demonstrating organization, progress, and quick wins.

Be sure to check the notes for each subtask, as they explain the “why” behind each one. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it’s less obvious.