20 Sep 2017

Account Diaries: Onboarding

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Your phone buzzes and before you can digest what that means your thumb has already swiped right and your eyes are gazing at the screen. Weeks have passed leading up to this moment. Countless hours dedicated just to get here—you got the date! This was not just a tinder, swipe right - swipe left scenario, no this is the big leagues. You put pen to paper – well fingers to keyboard, but you get it. You took a look under the hood at what differentiates you, your principles, and where you stand. Compiled everything you had into this one package and sent it away for others to review and page through. Hopefully, they would like it, but one never knows. But today you received your validation, that hard work and introspection has paid off.

You all know we are not really talking about online dating here, right?

This scenario pretty much describes every new business pitch, ever. Hours upon weeks of work, striving for perfection to draft a response that answers all the questions from the proposal. Then you send it off hoping the prospective client likes you. Sometimes you get the callback, and sometimes you don’t. In the case that you do win the account after more hours of presentations and pricing proposals — your work has only just begun. Because while you put everything you had into that proposal, the client still doesn’t know you nor do you know them.

Open the door now for onboarding. Where everything must start, you roll up your sleeves and sit down face-to-face to discuss your client’s problems. Really, instead of using a conference room we should just give everyone a chaise lounge to sit back. Because onboarding is basically psychiatry. Whatever you uncovered while working on the proposal or whatever was disclosed is just the tip of the iceberg. Now is the opportunity to onboard like a doctor. Ask questions, listen, and then repeat. Avoid all inclinations to problem solve or discuss potential solutions, this is NOT the time.

Onboarding is a time to listen and learn. Save your problem-solving skills for when you are back at the office, they won’t do you any good until you have discovered your clients real needs and real pain. Your work will prove your knowledge to the client, not some magic bullet you throw out in the middle of your first meeting. If you can listen, really listen and ask meaningful questions your new relationship will get started on the right foot.

Here are a few additional tips for a successful onboarding meeting:

  1. Listen – we just said that, but it should be the first in the four rules here.
  2. Don’t spend the time while your client is talking thinking about a response, instead go back to tip number one.
  3. If you can, try to have all the key stakeholders in the room. It helps to hear multiple point of views.
  4. Schedule more time then you think you need. You can always end a meeting early, but you don’t want to cut good conversation short.

Take all your learnings back to your team and debrief. You may have more questions and you have more work to do. But you have taken the first leap into what will hopefully be a long and collaborative relationship!