A good client onboarding experience sets everyone up for success.
At Column, we kick off each new client onboarding process with 16 crucial questions.
These questions uncover everything from your expectations and constraints to your existing efforts and level of stakeholder buy-in.
While our client onboarding checklist won’t entirely prevent unforeseen events, it helps both sides plan for them and ensure your success.
The client onboarding checklist we use at Column
To summarize, here are the 16 questions divided into five buckets:
Stakeholders and team
- How much does the CEO support content-led growth?
- Which other stakeholders should be involved in this process?
- Is there a clear content marketing team structure?
- What are your business objectives?
- Who’s your target audience, and what are their pain points?
- What resources and constraints exist?
- What’s your current content strategy, and what’s worked so far?
- Any audiences, industries, topics, or formats we should focus on?
- What content do you admire, and what do you least want to work on?
- Is there any existing content we can repurpose or optimize?
- How do you currently track content success?
Processes and tools
- How do you prefer to communicate?
- Do you have brand guidelines?
- What tools are you most comfortable with?
- What timelines and deadlines should we know about?
- How do you see the business five years from now?
Let’s dive into the onboarding checklist in detail.
Part 1: Stakeholders and team
1. How much does the CEO support content-led growth?
For us, this is the most critical question. Everything else hinges on the answer.
Content-led growth works best when supported from the top. Having buy-in from key stakeholders, including the CEO and marketing leader, is essential for the success of content marketing.
You’ll know there’s top-level support for content-led growth when the CEO:
- Is willing to invest resources (a content team and budget) for content creation and promotion
- Is open to testing different content types and formats to see what resonates
- Actively provides feedback and input on content marketing
- Is active and visible online as the brand’s first ambassador
- Is committed to measuring and analyzing content success
- Understands content’s role in driving business growth
Without the CEO’s support, it can be challenging to secure the resources and budget needed to execute a successful content strategy.
The CEO’s buy-in aligns content marketing with the company’s goals.
2. Which other stakeholders should be involved in this client onboarding process?
Content is neither free from vested interests nor immune from accountability.
- A marketer may need content to attract more leads and brand awareness, while a sales rep may need it to close deals more easily
- The VP of marketing needs content to drive customer acquisition, while the CFO needs to see positive ROI from content spending
- If the CEO is heavily involved in the content marketing process, they may want regular updates or to contribute thought leadership content
- If SMEs drive much of your customer acquisition, we may need to go beyond the marketing team and involve domain experts
Understanding the involvement and interest of key stakeholders aligns everyone and improves project management.
3. Is there a clear content team structure?
A clear chain of command within the marketing or content team ensures better coordination, alignment, and accountability for each team member.
A defined team structure reduces friction with sign-offs and provides everyone with a clear point of contact.
If there’s impending turnover, clear handover processes ensure each new team member can continue the work.
Part 2: Business strategy
4. What are your business objectives?
Content marketing is only as valuable as the business goals it supports. At Column, before we launch any content marketing project, we want to understand your end goals. Is it to:
- Harness demand among a specific audience?
- Generate leads for a short-term campaign?
- Support the work of another department?
- Raise broad awareness of your solution?
- Penetrate a new market or territory?
Understanding your goals during the customer onboarding process allows us to tailor our content research and strategy recommendations to your business’s needs.
For example, if the business needs short-term lead generation, we may produce more direct-response content to support that goal.
If demand generation or category creation is a larger priority, we may take a more long-term view.
5. Who’s your target audience, and what are their pain points?
A core aspect of our content marketing approach is crafting content to address pain points. Content that addresses and alleviates pain points resonates more.
Our keyword research approach is tied to your audience’s Jobs-To-Be-Done (JTBDs), as we’ve found that to be more effective than trying to rank for an arbitrary list of keywords.
Suppose a fintech client’s target audience is small business owners. We may suggest producing content that addresses cash flow management or new customer acquisition over articles on the latest technology trends.
Content tailored to your audience’s pain points drives more conversions.
6. What resources and constraints exist?
Time, resource, and legal and compliance constraints hamper the type and amount of content you can produce. Knowing these limitations helps us plan more effectively and develop creative solutions.
For example, if you have a large team and budget for content production, we may suggest producing more high-quality videos or thought leadership content.
If you’ve got a limited budget, we may suggest repurposing existing content or sourcing user-generated content.
Regulatory constraints also matter. If you’re in a heavily regulated industry such as finance or Medicare, we may want to ensure legal counsel reviews all content before it’s published.
Part 3: Content strategy
7. What’s your current content strategy, and what’s worked so far?
Almost no company comes to us without having tried some form of content marketing.
Whether this was the founder attempting a few blog posts or a freelance content marketer writing case studies for the sales team, there’s almost always an existing process for using content to communicate with customers.
Our job is to understand that process to gain a better starting point for future content marketing and build on existing successes.
Let’s take your content channel strategy, for instance. If you’ve had great success with LinkedIn, we might choose to focus your content strategy around LinkedIn until we’ve built a scalable content engine.
If, on the other hand, you’ve struggled to gain traction on Twitter, you might want to consider other, more fruitful content marketing channels.
Knowing what’s been tried before (and what’s worked) helps us determine:
- What insights to incorporate into our research and planning phase (e.g., customers love your newsletter)
- What channels to discard (e.g., you’ve tried and failed at Twitter multiple times), and
- What new approaches to suggest (e.g., an industry research report for PR)
Understanding yesterday makes for a better tomorrow.
8. Any audiences, industries, topics, or formats we should focus on?
No two businesses are the same — even those in the same industry serving the same customers.
We’ve worked with CRM companies that diverge wildly in their customer acquisition content models and with productivity tool startups that serve different audiences.
Perhaps you sell a productivity tool for investment professionals or a CRM specifically built for the medical industry.
Selling different products requires a tailored approach, and each audience resonates with different content strategies.
Executives, for example, may prefer email digests of industry news delivered with incisive analysis, whereas more casual users may avoid them.
Younger audiences may prefer TikTok videos, whereas an older audience might not hang out there much.
You make good content by serving the right audience in their preferred formats on the right channels.
We’ll touch on audience focus during the customer onboarding process to ensure we’re aligned on who you want to reach.
9. What content do you admire, and what do you least want to work on?
Your largest competitors likely publish effective content you can emulate, especially if it aligns with your business goals.
For example, if whitepapers get lots of press coverage and drive sales in your industry, you may consider publishing a whitepaper yourself.
Alternatively, you may want to borrow an email marketing format from an e-commerce brand you liked.
Creativity often comes from outside your domain, so feel free to share samples of other great work you’ve seen to include in our content audit and research.
On the other hand, some clients would rather avoid certain content types, even if they’re effective. We once worked with a product-led no-code startup that wasn’t thrilled about SEO content filling up their blog.
Apparently, listicles and comparison posts (which drove real traffic) cluttered the blog reading experience for their team and investors, who preferred to read updates and thought leadership content.
Your preferences may or may not align with best practices in your industry, but understanding these preferences helps us create something your team and customers enjoy that drives business results.
10. Is there any existing content we can repurpose or optimize?
Creating new content is costly, and there’s often existing content we can repurpose or optimize. Repurposing content can save time and resources while still achieving marketing goals.
For example, you can turn blog posts into a whitepaper, transcribe videos into podcasts, or optimize existing SEO content to help it rank higher in search results.
Content repurposing ensures you get the most bang for your buck.
11. How do you currently track content success?
Everyone ultimately tracks content ROI based on its impact on the bottom line, but the sub-measures used may differ from business to business.
This has implications for how we create and track content at Column, plus the tools we’ll use.
For example, if you primarily focus on website traffic as a measure of success, we may want to produce more SEO-driven content to support your marketing goals.
If press mentions are more your success metric, that may call for more thought leadership content or research reports.
However, knowing your current success metrics allows us to suggest new ones as well.
For example, if you currently track success primarily through website traffic, we may also suggest incorporating lead generation metrics (such as form submissions or email sign-ups) to get a more comprehensive view of your content performance.
Additionally, we may recommend using Google Analytics or Ahrefs to track and analyze your content performance, including how it impacts conversion rates and customer lifetime value.
Part 4: Processes and tools
12. How do you prefer to communicate?
Some clients avoid Zoom calls but happily respond to emails at night. Others never check their inboxes but are always active on Slack.
Clients communicate differently, and understanding how you prefer to be reached is crucial to keeping everyone updated.
For example, if a client prefers to communicate via Slack, we may want to set up a dedicated channel for both teams. If Zoom is more effective, we may devise a weekly meeting schedule for check-ins.
13. Do you have brand guidelines?
Each brand has a personality, as defined by its brand guidelines. Your brand’s ‘voice’ may be lively and funny, like Slack, or decisive and empowering, like Intercom.
Your content must match your brand voice or risk audience dissonance. Clear brand guidelines help us ensure all content aligns with your company’s messaging and tone.
This includes guidance on your brand’s color palette, typography, imagery, language, and the do’s and don’ts of each.
14. What tools are you most comfortable with?
You likely have a specific way of crafting, editing, publishing, and tracking content already.
Some businesses may prefer to use Google Analytics, while others prefer spreadsheets for content tracking.
One client may prefer writing in Google Docs, while another client abhors the idea of collaborative writing (“Don’t look at my unfinished draft!”)
Using existing tools may make work easier (e.g., continuing with Adobe InDesign for social posts) but may slow down the design process if there’s a better way (say, Figma).
On the other hand, introducing a new tool may improve productivity (e.g., switching to Asana for project management) but incur additional costs (e.g., buying user licenses).
Part 5: The future
15. What timelines and deadlines should we know about?
Timelines and deadlines rule content. Things are always happening (or about to happen), and content must be timely and relevant to current and future events.
Take timelines, for example. All content plans must consider upcoming launches and growth expectations.
If we’re planning an email campaign for the next eight weeks, but you’ll need content support for a new territory launch in three weeks, that may require more resources or to divert existing ones.
If the business expects a 25% web traffic increase in 12 months, that may call for intense SEO to meet the growth quota.
On the flip side, deadlines can drive content production in a different direction. If there’s a key industry conference in two weeks and you need a research report to present at the conference, that may require all hands on deck.
Foresight greatly helps with resource planning and ensures your content gets enough attention.
16. How do you see the business five years from now?
Your business will change over time and introduce new opportunities and constraints. This future vision must be incorporated into your content strategy so we can plan ahead of schedule.
Examples of business change include:
- Expansion plans: Will we need content around a new feature, program, or sales territory?
- New products or services: Do we have SEO content planned for them yet?
- Target audience changes: Should we begin building partnerships early?
- Team growth: Will there be new reporting lines soon?
Understanding tomorrow helps us plan better today.
Steal our client onboarding checklist
The above are questions we might ask during the client onboarding process. Not all of them may be relevant to you, and there may be others we uncover during the call.
By taking the time to understand your needs, goals, and resources, we can ensure our content marketing efforts are aligned with your overall business goals — and that your customer experience goes smoothly.
If you’re an agency owner, feel free to steal our client onboarding template to improve customer retention.
We advise adding such an onboarding document to your knowledge base to help your customer success team deliver a better welcome package.
There’s nothing more important than kicking off a client relationship on the right foot — especially during the crucial onboarding meeting.
If you’d like to work with us, this customer onboarding questionnaire gives you an idea of what we’ll cover during your onboarding workflow. You’ll likely get some version of this onboarding checklist in your welcome email.
We deliberately don’t have a separate customer success team (everyone on the core and freelance team works on content), but we’re big on meeting client expectations and ensuring customer satisfaction.
Get in touch with Column for B2B content that drives growth.