5 steps to onboarding a new client without meeting in person

  • Expanding your business while working remotely can be challenging, especially when it comes to onboarding new clients.
  • Create a kickoff toolkit — a compilation of service agreements, checklists, timelines, and visual tutorials — to send to your new client before scheduling a formal meetup to virtually introduce your team.
  • Make sure your client is set up with the proper communication channels and tools to efficiently collaborate and offer feedback on tasks.  
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Many companies, mine included, send personnel to meet new clients and host onboarding sessions in person. This is an exciting and pivotal time in a new business relationship; your team has poured themselves into acquiring a lead, building trust during the sales process, and negotiating contract terms. You want the next step to launch you seamlessly into your new working relationship.

For an overwhelming number of companies worldwide, cumbersome yet necessary precautions, including travel restrictions and social distancing guidelines, have stymied physical meetings. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic has in many ways put a magnifying glass to the general insignificance of geographic barriers in business. With client onboarding now partly or entirely virtual, here are some of the best practices to follow when you can't be in the same room.

1. Elicit confidence, comfort, and excitement

Working with a new vendor or partner is unfamiliar territory, even without the challenges brought on by a worldwide pandemic. Those first several weeks or months of a new business relationship are the time to demonstrate to your client why they made the right decision in hiring you. Do this by continuing to build their confidence in your ability to deliver on the promises made during the sales process.

Creating a kickoff toolkit is a great way to get everyone organized and on the same page. It should be easy to follow and include components such as your service agreement and scope of work, client intake forms, checklists (with timelines), terms and definitions, training guidelines, material requests (including size and format requirements), next steps, and plans for scheduling a follow-up call to make sure everything is clear.

If you want to take it to the next level (you do), consider tailoring the email template to the specific client, for example, by reflecting their branding. Such efforts may be unnecessary but will almost certainly make new clients feel welcome, seen, and taken care of.

Read more: Leaders who've managed remote teams for years share how to successfully onboard a new employee virtually

2. Establish communication turf and frequency

Collaborative tools and project management software options are plentiful, and everyone has their favorites. Will you use one central platform for all communication or jump between several on the basis of the topic or task? Will there be open-ended communication via chat functionality or should questions and requests only be sent via email? How often will you have phone or video conference calls?

Establishing communication methods during this startup period will pave the way to a smooth transition from the beginning of onboarding to the go-live date, and well into the future. With this approach, a weekly program setup call, for example, neatly evolves into a weekly program status call.

3. Tackle technology requirements

Depending on what industry you serve, there are any number of software programs and technologies you'll need access to in order to optimize client communication and operations. Many of these tools and resources necessitate creating, storing, and sometimes sharing login details. I cannot underscore enough the urgency of keeping this information secure. PCMag just published a roundup of the top password managers, but always let your IT support guide your process.

4. Develop visual aids

The preference for and reliance on video as a means for consuming information is growing, and, in fact, in a survey of more than 300 senior-level executives at US companies, 59% prefer to watch video when given the choice between video and text. To that end, take stock of which written materials can be converted into engaging videos.

A good example would be software or other technology training that is new to the client; it doesn't require any onscreen talent, just visual representation of the information and a voiceover, which can be recorded internally, outsourced by a professional, or computer-generated.

Read more: Read the onboarding guide GitLab uses to manage its fully remote 1,200-person staff and ensure new hires thrive from day one

5. E-introduce the team

It's nice to put a face to a name. Even if your team does video introductions, consider sending an organizational chart introducing each team member with their title, a photo, and perhaps a little background information that includes the services they'll be responsible for.  

An unexpected benefit of virtual interaction is how quickly everyone has adapted to it. Pre-pandemic, it was not uncommon to speak with a colleague only via phone or email, sometimes never seeing or meeting them at all. Now, we are literally inviting them into our homes with our families, pets, and other elements, and what we're finding is that this leads to more meaningful human bonds, which can help strengthen collaborative efforts.  

Nothing will ever wholly replace being in the same room together, but virtual onboarding is the present standard and likely that of the future. Staying organized, communicating clearly and consistently, and being proactive and responsive will make new clients feel confident, cared for, and in control as you embark on a successful partnership, together.

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