When you live in the exciting world of B2B sales and marketing, that’s business-to-business for the layperson; it’s very important to have a defined process for client onboarding. I know, I know….I hate buzzwords, too. But onboarding new clients properly is the best way to ensure account longevity and more importantly, your client’s happiness. The latter of which will ultimately determine the success of your business. So why is it important? When does “client onboarding” start? Does it involved paddling them?
Fortunately, most businesses I have come across do not initiate new clients in the fashion of Greek organizations on college and university campuses. Seriously though, think about the last time you purchased something and think about how that experience was for you. Was it quick and easy or did it make your life more difficult? Now, in the B2C (business-to-consumer) world, you don’t hear the term client onboarding being used because of the quick, transactional nature of the sale. You buy something online with a few clicks or keystrokes, exchange cash at a registered checkout, or use your credit card and then it’s over and done with.
With B2B, sales cycles for some high level service providers may be as long as two years! This is common with software companies or for managed service companies that offer outsourced IT, accounting or marketing support. Generally speaking, the bigger the deal, the longer it takes. So inherently the transition from prospect to client is more complex.
And then that moment comes, the one that makes people like me tick; the exact instance when the prospective client says, “Yes!”
In cases such as these, imagine if once you signed the contract you didn’t hear from your sales rep for two weeks? What if you signed off on general terms and conditions and you then received a more convoluted legalese contract that contains new surprise items, or that is in conflict with what you agreed upon? What if you had to start jumping through hoops because they need you to do all these crazy things to facilitate their “process”?
Keep in mind, doing business with other companies needs to be a partnership, and it needs to be win-win for both sides. So you shouldn’t expect to just sit back and do nothing; but it would be nice, wouldn’t it? When you think about client onboarding, focus on how to make that process as smooth and easy as possible for them, not necessarily for you. Of course, making it easy for you (equitable to the business buzzword sustainable) requires analysis and planning, as well as the flexibility to adapt to the unique facets of your new client’s business rules and operations. This will happen over time if you create a formal process for client onboarding that allows you to tailor the experience to their values and pain points.
Things to consider with client onboarding
Who are the primary points of contact for both you and your client? Who will be talking to who in order to get things done? How is information being disseminated to the client, and how are requests for information and/or access being handled? How does the client prefer to work and communicate? Answering these questions is how you manage your client’s expectations and it starts with accurate, timely communication.
How do you formalize your business agreements? Is it on a handshake or do you require your clients to sign an actual contract? This is a critical juncture of the client onboarding process and is an opportunity to show that you are a professional, savvy business partner. This is also the time to determine how the financial terms of the agreement will be fulfilled. Will you require payment up front, or a deposit to get started on the work? Will you accept a check or credit card?
Professional service contracts are the typical way B2B agreements are formalized. This is where you would outline the financial obligations of the client and fee structure. Do you want them to pay 50% down and 50% upon completion? Are you extending credit terms such as Net 30 or Net 45? Is this an arrangement where a set fee is paid monthly on a certain date? This is obviously something you don’t want to screw up.
Also, be sure that you update your CRM (client relationship management) system to convert this account record from a prospect to a client. At this point you need to also make sure the accounting, project management and marketing systems are updated.
Now that you have built some infrastructure on which to service your client, and financial terms have been met, you can start to earn your money. There is no time to waste when it comes to performing for your client. In some cases, you will continue with the information collection and research phase, in others you will dive right into executing. Again, this depends on your business’ products and services and your target audience. Do you need to interview senior management or any key staff members? What about any of your client’s VIP customers? Also, be sure to make it known to the client what the roles and responsibilities will be for your team members.
The Icing On The Client Onboarding Cake
Lastly, show your enthusiastic gratitude for the opportunity your company has been given. Thank you cards are nice; my old printing company always implored us to send them out to new clients. When it comes to client onboarding on Milk Street, we try to continue to tailor the experience by sending the client something that shows we were listening all along. Perhaps you picked up on the fact that your client enjoyed a particular type of cigar. Send a few directly to their office. Maybe your client told you how much they love cheese. You can subscribe them to the cheese of the month club. This is basic Sales 101 stuff.
You worked so hard to close the deal, don’t drop the ball now. Be sure your shiny new client has a clear understanding of what doing business with you and your company will look like, what is going to be expected from them and what they can expect from you. If you can accomplish this, you will have a much easier time retaining that client when it comes time to renew their contract.
If you would like to hear more about client onboarding, check out our podcast live on Monday, July 18th at 1:30pm EST or download it on iTunes!