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Onboarding for Happier Clients and Higher Profits
Why You Need to Formalize the Client Onboarding Process at Your Agency
Onboarding can make or break your client relationships, yet many agencies lack a formal — or even an informal — process for it.
This webinar covers:
- How onboarding drives profitability, client (& team!) satisfaction
- The ‘magic question’ you need to ask often
- Introducing new tech during onboarding – including marketing automation
Agency Consultant - Sakas & Company
Karl Sakas (@KarlSakas) is an ``agency process geek`` who helps agency leaders solve their biggest business problems. He's advised agencies on six continents about operations, strategy, and leadership. An international speaker, Karl is the author of Made to Lead, The In-Demand Marketing Agency, and 200+ articles on agency management.
Director of Onboarding - SharpSpring
As Director of Onboarding at SharpSpring, Brett works with a team of specialists to deliver a comprehensive and flexible training program for new partners. He’s an avid believer in the value of marketing automation and is dedicated to helping partners achieve long-term success.
No time to watch? Read the full transcript here.
Brett: Okay. Let’s go ahead and jump right into today. Welcome, everyone. My name is Brett Tobin. I’m the Director of Onboarding at SharpSpring. For those of you who join these sessions consistently, you’re probably used to seeing my brother Bryan, our Usability Manager around these sessions. I’ll be joining today and taking over for him because the topic is in line with my role at the company. And what we’ll be covering today is onboarding and really how to create happy clients by putting a process in front of them.
Brett: So just to quickly go over who is in the audience today. We’re doing this demonstration both or SharpSpring partner agencies, for those who might be considering marketing automation and working with SharpSpring in the future, and for those in-house marketing professionals, directors, VPs, who are really coming on the call to kind of just share knowledge. If you look to our goal to the right, what we’re trying to do is really just learn how to optimize the client onboarding process by putting a structure in place. The goal of this session is to share some best practices and to provide some real-world stories. Lines are muted so we can go through the demonstration but we do want questions to pop in. And we have someone managing the chat line as you ask the questions on the side. You can submit those via the chat box or on Twitter via #SharpTweet or tagging us @SharpSpring.
Brett: Post the session, the recording will be available for those who’d be interested to listen to it. And we’re also gonna ask a few surveys throughout the course of the demonstration today to get some feedback on what your thoughts are in regard to onboarding and our demonstration. If you look to the right, we actually are gonna be doing another SpringBoard Live session for our partners only, inline to streamline your press release distribution. And we’re going to have an upcoming webinar about leveraging offshore resources to expand your agency which will be later on April. If you have questions about possibly joining us for a future presentation, you’ll see Nicole Levy’s email in the bottom right. And she’s the person that you can reach out to for information on that topic.
Brett: So just to do a quick round of introductions, as I said, my name is Brett Tobin. I’m the Director of Onboarding here at SharpSpring. As this is a joint webinar, we’ve kindly been joined by Karl Sakas. So Karl is an agency consultant, really works all over the globe, has clients on six different continents. And Karl’s specialty really is using process to overcome human nature. And Karl has been kind enough to pop in and join us. And Karl, if you like, I can let you kinda flesh out that introduction of yourself.
Karl: Brett, great to be here. I love helping agency owners, having been the Head of Business Operations for two agencies, working in the industry for past 20 years, starting as a web designer in the days of dial-up and IE3. I’ve worked with hundreds of clients at this point. I’ve made some poor decisions along the way that have informed making better decisions, working with clients, and I’m happy to share key points around that today.
Karl: Today, ultimately, is about onboarding but the message is really about creating happier clients so that you can improve profits at your agency or, if you’re working with in-house clients, keeping people happy. And ultimately, when your clients are happy, you know, everyone else ends up being happy too.
Karl: And, Brett, if you don’t mind delegating keyboard access, I think, it should be… There we go. Alright, we’re good to go. So you heard a bit about me. You know, I mentioned the idea of overcoming human nature. You know, life gets busy. Things get in the way. The reality is there are a lot of things that come up repeatedly. You know, if you’re working with new clients on a regular basis, you are going to onboard them, and if we can do a smoother job of that, everything is gonna go better. Stick around to the end. We have some bonuses for people who are listening live, some free giveaways. You’ll hear more about that at the very end of the session today.
Karl: I mentioned that I’ve learned some of my client onboarding lessons the hard way. Let me share a story from earlier in my career. I started working as a project manager at a digital agency. And, you know, whenever you start a role, you’re typically inheriting some projects that are midway through. And one of those clients, one of those projects was an Olympic athlete. I was really excited. I was like, “Wow, I’m working with an Olympic athlete.” But we had not done a good job of onboarding her in the first place. And ultimately, we ended up in a circumstance where we were starting the project, we’re starting to do the work, everything was booked before we had a signed contract, much less a deposit. That ultimately did not go smoothly. And in that particularly case, we ended up getting paid $500 after doing $4,000 of work. Could have been a lot of worse. Based on that experience, I resolved to improve how we onboarded clients and you’re hearing the highlights of that from the past 20 years.
Karl: Why does client onboarding matter? Well, a few things to consider. First, it’s about profitability. When your clients are onboarded smoothly, that tends to prevent all kinds of problems later. And, you know, when you prevent problems and reduce extra work on your end, that helps profitability. You can produce a shorter sales cycle. If you have a strong onboarding process, that can actually be part of your sales conversations. So, if people have had a bad experience with another agency before, you can show them how they’re gonna have a great experience with you. Happier clients, of course, that’s always a good thing, and your team is gonna be happier too. You know, no one likes working with unhappy clients. Onboarding helps make that a lot easier.
Karl: If you’re running an agency on a day-to-day basis, there are ultimately only two ways you can grow. One is to bring in new clients, that’s new business development. And the second way is to upsell your current clients to get them to add additional services. Of course, you could, long-term, acquire another agency to grow but that’s not in the scope for today. So, you know, here’s the challenge when you have unhappy clients. Not only are they not going to be upsold, they may fire you altogether. And if you have a new client and they aren’t unhappy, you know, things might start out okay but eventually, they’re gonna wanna leave. When it comes to growing your agency over the long term, you know, ultimately, that’s a combination of thought leadership marketing to get the word out about what you’re doing and then marketing automation to stay top of mind in front of your ideal prospects.
Karl: In my work, I do a lot of speaking, writing, other things. And occasionally, people will reach out and they’ll say, “I heard you speak at such and such event a year and a half ago. I signed up for your newsletter or updates and I finally need your help.” You know, without marketing automation, thought leadership is ultimately limited in what you can accomplish. When you start doing better client onboarding, you’re gonna start seeing an immediate impact in improving your relationships. And for sure, it’s a lot easier to grow if you have clients that stick around rather than churning through new clients all the time.
Karl: We have a poll and I’m curious to hear, what is your process like now when it comes to client onboarding? We’ve got three options. One is, “We don’t have much of a process.” Another one is, “We have some process, like an onboarding checklist,” for instance, or, “We have and practice a comprehensive onboarding process.” Looking forward to hearing your responses on that. We’ll share those and then I’ll compare those to what I typically see in my work with clients based on working with over 200 agencies in 26 countries so far. All right. Survey says about a quarter of the respondents say, “We don’t have much of a process. ” Two-thirds say, “We have some process, like an onboarding checklist.” And 10% say, “We have and practice a comprehensive onboarding process.” Well, that’s great to hear. The advice that I’m gonna share today is gonna help you improve things. So if you don’t have much of a process, that’ll help you get to having some process. If you’ve got some process, the goal is to help you create a more comprehensive process. And if you’re in that 10% that have a comprehensive process already, I bet you’ll hear a few suggestions that’ll make life easier.
Karl: And let’s take a look at how those results compare to what I typically see across agencies in general. When it comes to no process, typically, I’m seeing about 20%. So we’re a little bit above that here in the group. Some onboarding process, around 60%, so pretty similar there. And then extensive onboarding process, I’d say about 20%. So we have 10% on the line and that makes sense because you’re here to learn more. In my experience, there are ultimately three parts to a strategic onboarding process. I’ll share each of those three and then dig in a bit deeper. And as a reminder, you will get a recording if you’re listening live. You will get a recording of this afterwards so you can refer to things.
Karl: Here are those three things to consider. First, client experience, or CX. Second, boundaries, specifically setting and maintaining boundaries with your clients. And finally, logistics, sorting out all the details to make things go smoothly. Let’s take a closer look at each of these three core components of strategic client onboarding.
Karl: Client experience. Clients have choices. You know, they can work with many different agencies. What do you do to make them feel special? It’s not just by getting the job done. And there’s a concept called warmth and competence, which comes from a book called “The Human Brand.” And the idea is that competence is getting the job done, getting things done on deadline, minimizing typos, things like that. A lot of agencies focus on that, that’s a good baseline. But, you know, your clients expect things to be done on time and without typos. Warmth is a way for you to stand out further. Warmth is showing your clients that they’re special, that you appreciate working with them, that it’s not just about the money. Or if you’re working with internal clients, it’s showing that, you know, it’s not just you’re working with them because you are required to work with them. By adopting warmth and competence as a policy for your team, you’re gonna keep your clients happier. And if you check out the book “The Human Brand,” you can see more about that topic. I also have a blog post at sakasandcompany.com.
Karl: Consider, when it comes to improving client experience, almost every one of your clients is going to have a boss. Sometimes it’s a boss’s boss and potentially even more. If you can help your clients manage up, that is manage their boss’ expectations about what to expect, they’re going to be a lot happier, you know, because everyone wants to look good to their boss. If your client happens to be the owner of their own organization, their own business, well, there are still probably some people they’re reporting to in some way. Maybe they have a business partner that they need to be accountable to, maybe there’s a board of directors. The more you can do to make your client look good to their boss or their other stakeholders, the more you secure your role as a partner to your client rather than a vendor or service provider. And I found often my clients say, “Well, I wanna work with bigger clients.” The bigger your clients are, the more hierarchy and the more politics you’re gonna run into. The better you can make your client look, the better your relationship will be.
Karl: You also wanna provide, when it comes to clients’ experience, a safety valve. So you may or may not be your client’s day-to-day contact but the idea is that you want them to have the phone number and email address of someone more senior than the day-to-day contact to reach out if they’ve got a problem. You know, think about your own experience. You know, if you’re unhappy in your interaction with somebody who’s providing client service, you’re not always going to say it. But if you knew that you could reach out to their boss and say, “Hey, I’m really frustrated with such and such,” that’s a lot better than you’re just firing the organization. So when you’re working with clients, make sure they have some way to reach out to someone senior to share concerns. You’ll be glad you got that call rather than the call that they are firing your agency.
Karl: Second point after client experience is around setting and maintaining boundaries with your clients. Part of that is managing expectations. Clients don’t like surprises, well, at least not negative surprises. You know, things like, “Oh, we’re over budget,” or, “It’s delayed,” or, “That’s gonna be more expensive,” or, “We forgot to do such and such.” When you can manage their expectations about what’s coming up and what’s happening and what’s not happening, they’re gonna be a lot happier. And that starts with the onboarding process. For instance, you can use templates as you’re following up with people. No need to reinvent the wheel. Letting them know, “Here’s what’s coming up. Here’s what’s coming up after that.” You know, almost a nurture series, whether you’re using marketing automation to send it or you’re doing it manually, you don’t need to rewrite the email every time.
Karl: Another area for boundaries is using policies. You know, you can make a policy about anything but, for instance, that could be things like what is billable versus what is not billable. What is your response time? For instance, in my work coaching agency leaders, my response time for coaching email questions is two business days. And sometimes I’ll respond faster but the key is that I’m setting the expectation that two business days is typical rather than, you know, hearing back within an hour every time someone sends a question, although sometimes I do.
Karl: And you also need to focus on managing scope. You know, scope creep is really frustrating when you’re the person providing the service. And my seven magic words to kill scope creep are, “Would you like an estimate for that?” You know, a client asked for something, it’s on the scope, just ask, “Would you like an estimate for that?” It shows that it’s on the scope. Some of the time, the clients will say, “Oh, it’s extra, never mind.” Other times, clients will say, “Sure. Yeah, let me know what the estimate is and then I’ll consider it.” And then in a small percentage of cases, clients will say, you know, “Estimate, wait, extra? I thought this was included.” That’s not a fun conversation but now you have an opportunity to sort that out in terms of reconciling what’s included versus not. It’s a lot better than doing the work and then realizing later you’re not gonna get paid.
Karl: After client experience and boundaries, the third area of strategic onboarding is logistics, working out all the details. You know, clients are like toddlers in the sense that clients like structure. They wanna know they’re in good hands. They wanna know that you’re not just making it up for the first time. That includes having checklists and templates for a variety of areas, for instance, your welcome messages, for instance, setting things up in your project management system, templates for getting their billing info so you can send them an invoice. This is especially true as you start working with larger clients that use purchase order systems. If you haven’t worked with a client with a PO system before, it can be very painful. And if you don’t have a PO, you’re not going to get paid. Though, conveniently, you could have a process and checklist to make sure you have all that info before you start doing the work.
Karl: One of the most powerful tools to securing logistics and improving client onboarding is a tool I call a pre-kickoff survey. Let’s take a closer look at that pre-kickoff survey. Most agencies are doing kickoff meetings, that’s a best practice. Pre-kickoff surveys are a next practice, something that top-performing agencies are doing, something that not everyone is doing. If you can start doing it yourself, you’re gonna stand out. In a pre-kickoff survey, you’re sending questions to key stakeholders at your client organization, your day-to-day contact but also other people as well. Maybe their boss, maybe if you’re working with a marketing team, you might send that to their head of IT as well, get their perspective on things. And here are some examples of questions. One might be, “How do you define success? You know, a year after launching things, what does success look like?” One person might say getting one lead a week. Another person might say getting 100 leads a week, things like that. Knowing where people are coming from, you can now use kickoff to reconcile the differences. You also wanna know what has their past experience been like doing work like this. Did things go smoothly? Did they not? This is an opportunity to help show how you are different and how you have solutions to resolve the problems they may have had in the past. Now, remember, your clients are coming in with baggage of their past relationships. How do they like to communicate? Some people like email, some people like phone, some are indifferent. Knowing what your client prefers is gonna make them happier. If you’ve got a client who really prefers email and you’re calling them all the time because you don’t know they prefer email, they’re gonna be frustrated and vice versa. If you’re always sending them emails and they really just wanna talk with you, that’s gonna frustrate them as well. For more examples of pre-kickoff survey questions, you can go to sakasandcompany.com/pre-kickoff-survey. Brett has some information about key things to keep in mind from his experience onboarding at SharpSpring. Turning it over to Brett.
Brett: Thank you, Karl. And, you know, the position we’re in at SharpSpring is really unique because we’re not only ourselves onboarding clients onto a piece of technology but we’re also looking to imbue that knowledge that Karl has been referencing, which is then how to onboard your own clients and keeping all this information in mind. So what we like to do, when we’re teaching our clients how to bring on clients of their own and how to present onboarding, is really focus on a hands-on versus hands-off approach. And to define what we mean by that is that some of our agencies involve their clients in an onboarding where the end goal is that the client themselves is gonna be using the tool, and getting in, and logging in, and using the functionalities every day. Or other agencies simply maintain the SharpSpring platform for clients, where an onboarding is light and more focused on the functionalities we’re displaying to them.
Brett: In the former example, the hands-on approach, what we really need to focus on is providing that same full onboarding that Karl has been talking about so those clients aren’t in a position where the people who are working in the app every day have not had the opportunity to play with all the tools, to test out the different functionalities. And really, if they don’t feel confident and they don’t feel comfortable in the platform they’re working with, what we’ve seen is that they’ll leave and then there isn’t that sense of trust built up, there isn’t that sense of comfort either in the application or working with one of our agency partners.
Brett: So our focus at SharpSpring is to go through what it’s like to onboard from the perspective of one of our partners. So you see the question at the top, “How many tools are you onboarding?” Everyone comes into the platform with a different set of goals and interests and needs. Karl mentioned asking the client directly what they define success as. So for someone who wants to generate one new lead a week, we might not need to be as focused on building landing pages or on complicated form strategy. We might just need to get an email into an inbox and get someone converting and clicking through to our page. So we wanna make the process as digestible as possible as well. When we’re dealing with a robust platform, it’s often a little bit easy to get lost inside all of our functionalities. So as the client, you know, what are you most interested in? What do you need to see happen in the first few weeks of working with us? And based upon those responses that you get, put together a customized and comprehensive plan that slowly rolls out each new functionality in a logical fashion.
Brett: I’m a big fan of breaking down onboarding into sessions because it sets a really good expectation with clients about what we’re gonna cover at any given time. If I click forward to the next slide, this is an example of something we’ll actually present to one of our agency partners. And while we try to keep the process as customized and as flexible as it needs to be, I think that it’s often great to provide a structure to flex off of. So while certain clients might come in with experience working in another platform or with another marketing automation tool, and we can jump past the basics, it’s never good to assume that what something is called in our platform will be the same functionality in another platform. So we don’t skip past anything that turns into a critical item that we missed later on down the line. If anyone has any questions or any interest in learning more about SharpSpring onboarding, Nicole is gonna drop a link to our onboarding blog series on our website that you can check out. It has some great information from top to bottom about what’s involved around onboarding, how it differentiates from other players in our space. And we actually are right in the middle of a four-part blog series that’s covering everything that we want to cover throughout our onboarding process. So I’d ask anyone who’s interested to check those out. Some really great content.
Karl: Brett, I love the table there because ultimately, when people see that, that’s showing we’re organized, we’ve got a process. That’s an example of adding design. You know, you didn’t…when someone sees that, it’s like, “Well, they didn’t just make that up five minutes before the session.”
Brett: Or if they did, they’re really good at design, Karl.
Brett: Then, Karl, if you’d like to kind of finish up with a recap of what we covered today.
Karl: Absolutely. As a reminder, we’ve got those three key areas if you wanna create a strategic onboarding process. Those are, again, the client experience. I mentioned that warmth and competence topic. This is a good tweetable moment, by the way. We’ve got all three things in one slide. Warmth and competence show clients it’s not just about getting the job done well but that you care about them as clients. Second piece is boundaries, including setting expectations. Now, what your clients should expect, what’s coming up, what’s not coming up. You know, sometimes you run into surprises. I once had a client who announced the launch party for their website before we were finished with the site. And I had to explain that, “Well, no, things might come up. Let’s push that out.” And then logistics, working out those details. You know, there are a lot of details in our work. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. And if you do just one thing based on today’s session, that would be adding that pre-kickoff survey to your process. The exact questions will vary but you can see some examples from the link that I shared earlier.
Karl: I have a challenge for you before we go into Q&A. And my challenge for you is this. In the next month, make one change in your onboarding process. If you currently have no process, well, think about what are some checklists you could add so you’re not reinventing the wheel. If you have some process, maybe it’s time to implement a pre-kickoff survey to help take things to the next level. And if you’ve got a really strong process already, think about things that I’ve mentioned that you might be able to add to make life easier for you and your clients. Just one thing is gonna make a big difference.
Karl: Now, looking forward to hearing your questions. I know we’ve had some questions coming in. I believe we also heard from some people beforehand who weren’t able to join live and ask that we handle those. We’d love to hear them.
Brett: Sure, Karl. Let me go ahead and read these off for you. We have a few back to back to back. First question is, “I’ve been thinking about sending an unannounced gift that would arrive at the client’s place of business right before the client kickoff call or client call onboarding. Any stories of success around this? If I do this, any thoughts around whether I should brand the gift so they think about us each time they see the gift or is that too heavy?”
Karl: Some of it depends on the circumstances of the client relationship and their budget and things like that. Here’s what I do and what I recommend for my clients. Instead of sending a gift when you get started, send them a note instead. So I have branded Sakas and Company note cards. They’re through MOO. They have a line called Luxe. So these are these really thick things that have a colored sandwich in the middle of the card. The cards are not cheap. The cards are about $2 a piece. But you know, they’re branded. My design team did a great job. And ultimately, it’s, you know, looking forward to working with you… You know, looking forward to helping you and your team get results. And, you know, that alone, that is a great a way to stand out. Typically, I’ll save client-related gifts for later in the relationship once I know things are going smoothly, going well. I think the note alone is a good way to get started. I did do something at year end last year. I found a company based in the UK that creates liquor Advent calendars. So, you know, calendar with little…but behind the door, instead of pieces of chocolate, there were bottles of alcohol. And they have all kinds of options. You can choose the liquor of choice. From a price point, though, that went to my largest and most appreciated clients rather than the people at the very beginning.
Brett: And, Karl, I’m gonna ask my own question. Maybe you could drop in the chat what the name of that company is for the Advent calendar. I think there might be some interested people on the line.
Brett: Okay. Let’s skip into another question that we’ve got from someone on the call. “We have a current client where we didn’t get off on the right foot. Is there something we can do or is it too late?”
Karl: There absolutely is something you can do. And ultimately, you’re having a fresh onboarding meeting. You know, basically, a new kickoff meeting. And I would start by being honest, by calling it out to say, you know, things aren’t going as smoothly as we strive to do at our team. And, you know, we’d like to do a reset. You know, no charge, you know, and we’d like to reset things, get things off on a good foot again. I did the version of that as an agency project manager where I inherited a client that I’d heard was pretty difficult. The previous PM was leaving the company and her comment was like, “Yeah, you know, they never get back to me. I don’t know what’s going on. You know, they don’t seem to like us.” And so I used that opportunity becoming the new contact for the client to introduce myself, do a new kickoff. And one of the questions I asked was, “How does this work fit into your list of priorities?” She laughed and she said, “This is like number nine on my list.” Suddenly, it all made sense. The reason that the client was unresponsive was this just wasn’t a priority for her. And it turned out she just needed to make enough progress so that, every quarter, she could give an update to her manager, you know, part of managing up about what had happened. So as long as my team was getting some things done and I had a roundup for her a week or two before her quarterly update was due, she was happy. That also made my life and my team’s life easier because we weren’t so stressed out about not hearing back or about trying to get things done faster than the client really wanted.
Brett: Excellent. Thank you, Karl. We have another couple of questions I would like to address. “So when should we do the pre-kickoff survey and who should get the survey?”
Karl: In terms of recipients, it should go to your day-to-day contact at the client. It should go to their boss. It should go to other team members from their team who’ll be involved in working with you. And it should also go to other relevant people in the organization. The one example I mentioned would be maybe you’re working with the marketing department but their IT team is involved. Well, get perspective from their IT team about where they’re coming from. And depending on the size of your organization, you’re ideally getting feedback from someone fairly senior, potentially the CEO, if it’s a small organization. It might be someone below the CEO if it’s really a big client. Ultimately, you’re trying to get perspective from different people so you know where they’re coming from. You know, one of the most frustrating things you can do in marketing when you have an agency is you do the work, everything is going fine with your day-to-day contact and maybe their boss too and then the CEO suddenly shows up and does a swoop and poop. They show up, they’re like, “Oh, I don’t like that. Change it,” even though everyone below them has signed off on it along the way. That is really frustrating. You may end up having to do…well, certainly rework things, and then sometimes, you’re having to say, “Well, you know, you approved it. You’re gonna have to pay for redoing it.” So that’s really frustrating. So the more people you can have involved who care about the work you’re doing, doing the pre-kickoff survey, the happier you’re going to be later. In terms of timing, I would recommend that you send it after they’ve signed the contract, after you know that they’re moving forward, you know you’re going to get paid, and then before kickoff. Depending on the culture of the clients, that helps determine what some of the turnaround time is. You know, if it’s a very slow-moving organization, you might need a week or more on that. If they’re really quickly moving, you know, maybe just a couple of days would be fine. My recommendation would be ask your day-to-day contact what they recommend because they ultimately are the expert on the client’s culture.
Brett: Excellent, Karl. We have one last question thus far unless anyone else submits any. That’s going to be, “You mentioned warmth and competence. My client-facing team is warm but they struggle with competence. How can I help them improve?”
Karl: It would help to get a better sense of the ways in which they struggle. But, you know, here are some things I commonly see. One is that the team at the agency doesn’t understand the client’s business. That is maybe they understand marketing really well and the work they’re doing but they don’t seem to understand what is unique about the client’s business. One great solution to this is to subscribe to newsletters and other publications in your client’s industry or industries. This is part of why I like specializing my client vertical because then you just focus on one area or a couple of areas. For instance, as an agency director of clients services, one of our clients was a cosmetic dentist. And as I working with them, I was subscribed to Dental Economics, and Dental Office Management Today and things like that. There is a trade publication for every industry. My accountant’s office used to be down the hall from the North Carolina Professional Loggers Association. I mean, it was like one guy who was doing everything but, you know, they had a newsletter. You know, if you have a client who’s in logging, you should be getting the newsletter. So, knowing the client’s industry, not just being good at marketing is helpful to show that, you know, you’re aware of what’s going on in their industry. If it’s competence struggle and, you know, struggle related to, say, managing details, it is worth looking at how you divide workload in your team. You know, a lot of agencies will have, say, an account manager or a project manager who’s doing a bit of everything. My approach is that account management is different from project management. Account management is keeping clients happy and upselling them our work. Project management, in contrast, is getting the work done smoothly and profitably. And then you also have your subject matter experts. And the challenge is people tend to be good at one of those rather than the other. And if you have people trying to do everything, manage the projects, manage the retainers, and to keep the clients happy, they’re gonna be better at one of those than the other. So it is worth looking at your team structure and staffing model, you know, as to how you have that set up.
But, you know, if someone is struggling with details, you know, ultimately having checklists, having, you know, other pieces to make it easier so that people don’t have to reinvent the wheel every single time, that is ultimately gonna make life easier. And I have a link that I’m sharing in chat about team structure. That’s about my account manager versus project manager versus subject matter expert difference. You know, if that didn’t capture the question in terms of improving competence, it was something else, feel free to send me an email. We’ll have my email, firstname.lastname@example.org… I’m glad to point you to an article that’ll help on that.
Brett: Excellent. And it seems that we have a couple more questions, Karl. One’s kind of a follow-up to that one. It doesn’t reference onboarding or beyond but the question is, “Can you talk a little more about how to recover unhappy clients?”
Karl: Some of it certainly depends on why the client is unhappy. You know, if you made a specific, kind of, grievous error, I would start by taking responsibility for the error. You know, it’s one of those, you know, showing that you’re taking responsibility, that you’re sorry that it went like that. And then going from there, giving clients the chance to vent, giving them a chance to share why they’re frustrated. Once you’ve had a chance to address that, then you can focus on, well, okay, now what do you do? How are you going to fix it going forward? You know, it’s worth considering that, when a client is unhappy, you know, a lot of agencies will jump to the idea of, “We need to get them a refund. You know, if they’re unhappy, we’ve got to give them their money back.” And sometimes that is true. I once was involved in a situation where I was helping an agency through a small claims lawsuit and that was the case where the client was unhappy. A few years earlier, the client wanted a prorated refund of like $3,000. The agency refused. Well, a couple of years later, they got sued in small claims court and ultimately ended up paying more than if they had just given them the refund in the first place. I’m sharing an article in chat on don’t automatically offer a refund. And I’ve identified a number of things, seven things in particular, that they might want instead of a refund. So start by taking responsibility. Let them vent. Explain how you’re going to prevent things from going poorly in the future and then move forward.
Brett: And Karl, excellent. We actually had a separate question that kind of follows up on that related to how to best assess that happiness. And if I could chime in and ask, you mentioned two concepts earlier on in the call, both in setting a scope and then asking for their definition of success. So what I might ask is how do you use those questions to better assess someone’s happiness?
Karl: Well, when it comes to expectations, if you know what success looks like…and keep in mind that, from a client perspective, success is both professional success but also personal success. What are they trying to accomplish? I recently did some reverse engineering for one of my clients where their biggest client just got a new CMO. And the guy has been kind of elusive. They’ve never met him. You know, it sounds like he’s never in the office. He works remotely. So he’s not physically there, generally. You know, and they’re concerned that, based on some other team departures, they’re at risk of losing the account and that’s a valid concern. And one of the things I did was I looked at his LinkedIn profile, you know, doing some reverse engineering. What does he seem to care about? And I noticed certain trends. He seems to be focused on specific accomplishments, focusing on his experience at big brand names in the past and a particular focus on innovation. And ultimately, my advice to clients was if you can position yourself as a partner in meeting his goals, you’re gonna come out ahead. That way, you’re not the agency that his predecessor hired, you’re now the agency that is going to make him look good and make his life easier. And you don’t know what those goals are, or at least on the professional side, people may not share their personal goals till they feel pretty comfortable with you. You can’t help them on that until you know what they’re trying to accomplish.
Brett: Excellent. Thank you, Karl. We have one last question in thus far. And it’s something that’s pretty near and dear to SharpSpring since we work with a lot of small to medium business type clients. And the question is how do we handle when someone from the client leaves midway, and I’m assuming throughout the onboarding process, and a new person is assigned to that project?
Karl: I would start with them assuming that you’re at risk of losing the account in the sense that they don’t know you. You know, ultimately, you know, they’re not sure what you expect. Depending on how the departure and the staffing change went, you know, if it was abrupt, they may be frustrated that…you know, they’re like, “Oh, I’ve got more work to do.” And they see you as the source of their increased workload. So I think starting by acknowledging that, you know, any transitions like this can be challenging but, ultimately, you’re there to make life easier for them and to help them out. That’s certainly where I’d start.
Brett: Okay. Well, we’re gonna go ahead and move forward. I wanna thank everyone on the line for joining the call today. You know, there’s a lot that we covered, both myself and Karl. And if you’d be interested in continuing the conversation as you see in the top left, you can reach out to us at my email address, Karl’s email address in the bottom right. If you have general questions about SharpSpring, you can reach out to us directly. And then, Karl, if you have anything else to chime in with before we sign off.
Karl: If you are interested in more information, I’ll follow up. Otherwise, I have all kinds of free advice at sakasandcompany.com. Feel free to sign up and I’d love to share.
Brett: Excellent. Well, again, thank you, everyone, today. We’re gonna go ahead and sign off.
Karl: Thanks, everyone.