As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. For the average managed services provider (MSP), that chance comes once your client signs on the dotted line. Managing the client onboarding stage is a must, because once this process begins, your client sees your service delivery team in action for the first time. Do it right, and you will quickly establish trust and confidence. Get it wrong, and your client relationship may be short-lived.
Client retention is an essential component of being a successful MSP. In essence, this is why I’m authoring this client engagement series; to help you increase your retention and revenue through onboarding strategies and best practices. In my previous post, I left you with five important questions to consider from your client’s perspective. Let’s take a deeper look at how this exercise can help you set the stage for long-term success with a new client from the outset of your onboarding process.
Five Client Onboarding Questions
As a quick refresher, your homework was to think about the following five questions:
- Do you prepare your client for onboarding? If so, how do you tell the story of their first 90 days with your company?
- What are clients trying to achieve with you? (Hint: not what they need from products/services)
- What are the desired outcomes? Are those clear to the client before beginning the journey with you?
- What does initial success look like? Do you close the loop and communicate this to the client when it happens?
- How does the client know when onboarding is complete and was successful? Who tells them and how?
Were these questions challenging to answer from your client’s perspective? If you are like the many MSPs I’ve talked to, the answer is yes! Of course, you know exactly what items should be on your checklist to get a new client up and running. You know how that process should flow internally and when it is complete. However, it’s very hard to articulate what your client’s desired outcomes are, what initial success looks and feels like to them, and how they perceive their first 90 days.
This is an exercise I highly recommend while evaluating your onboarding experience for potential improvements, because it requires you to change perspective; to put yourself in a new client’s shoes and experience your onboarding process as they would.
Demonstrating Value: An Exercise
In my experience, taking the time to walk through your client’s journey will give you great insight into gaps, areas of improvement, longer term projects that will greatly enhance the experience, and signature items you currently do that make you different from the competition. This exercise is how you will know if your value is shining through or if you need to be more explicit in your value communication. After all, value is the foundation for the relationship you desire with your client. Starting out on this path will mitigate the client’s tendency to request data on time spent and tickets worked because they will have a different perspective on your purpose and the partnership.
To complete the exercise, you and/or someone responsible for client onboarding should collaborate to document each step of the onboarding process. Use the template below as an example:
As you can see, all the client facing milestones and internal steps are documented on the timeline. Key events to include are: contract signature to signal onboarding kickoff; any email or in-person communications with the client, trainings, assessments of the client environment; internal checklists of tasks, executive review or follow up. When you are finished, you should have a nice visual map of the internal and external journey through onboarding.
Is Your Journey Client-Centric?
Now, take a moment and look at the big picture. Does this journey reflect your business’ core values and culture? Have you communicated the right information at the right time to the client? What does this journey feel like to the client?
If you know there are changes to be made but don’t know where to start, here are my top five value-driven tips for enhancing your client onboarding. These are extremely easy to incorporate, using the resources you already possess, and will help to convey your value and work to build relationships with your clients and leave them feeling happy with choosing you as their MSP.
1. RapidFire Tools Network Assessment
Use this resource during your sales cycle or at the beginning of onboarding to assess your client’s environment. When onboarding is complete, run the assessment again for a comparison. Share these results with your client to demonstrate your value and provide peace of mind that you’re delivering on your promises.
2. Client Onboarding Checklist
Don’t you want to start the relationship off with correct expectations? Use a client onboarding checklist to establish expectations around timing, activities, responsibilities, and the value you will be offering at every step. Provide this up front in a welcome packet and then refer to it often throughout the onboarding process to demonstrate consistency and build trust.
3. On-Site Training
Establish this step as a requirement and position it as a differentiator. Providing training to the entire staff allows you to be viewed as a trusted adviser and partner. When you go on-site, be sure to bring food! Bringing food helps in two ways—subconsciously, you are creating “happy” feelings that the client and staff will associate with your business, and you are also creating a relaxed, fun environment where relationships can grow and people feel comfortable asking you questions. (Hint: this is where you can begin to understand their business, what their goals are and where you can provide even more value in the future.)
4. 30 Day Drop-In or Call
Put this as number two on your client onboarding checklist and schedule for 30 days after contract signing. Your goal for this meeting is to assess your client’s experience thus far and reiterate the value of your services. You can do this by checking in with their experience, asking for feedback, reviewing the client onboarding checklist for any open items remaining, sharing an update with them on their environment (using #1 from above to show a comparison) and close with next steps or things to consider based on your interactions from the on-site training.
5. 90 Day Review
This review should be scheduled at the 30 day drop in or call and should include your key contact and the owner, finance lead, office manager, etc. The goal of this interaction is to continue to assess how your client is experiencing your business and gather feedback to improve. You will also want to come prepared to discuss key areas of their business and where you have added value. Most importantly, take a moment to let them talk. It is imperative that you understand their business and their goals (both company and individual) so you can offer the right services at the right time. These conversations lead to a stronger partnership, and by knowing where you can help meet their growing needs, you’ll be able to add even more value in the future.
I hope you’ve found these onboarding best practices helpful. Implementing these will allow you to set the right expectations and ensure you are delivering value from day one. Check back in next month when we’ll dive deeper into some of these important client touch points and provide templates to help you put these processes into motion!