Spending quality time getting to know your client, their goals and capabilities, and getting them familiar with their team sets you up for a better client-agency relationship. Immersion workshops are the answer. Learn more about how to build a strong foundation with your clients in this week’s Whiteboard Friday presented by Heather Physioc.
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Hey, everybody, and welcome back to Whiteboard Friday. My name is Heather Physioc, and I’m Group Director of Discoverability at VMLY&R. So I learned that when you onboard clients properly, the rest of the relationship goes a lot smoother.
Through some hard knocks and bumps along the way, we’ve come up with this immersion workshop model that I want to share with you. So I actually conducted a survey of the search industry and found that we tend to onboard clients inconsistently from one to the next if we bother to do a proper onboarding with them at all. So to combat that problem, let’s talk through the immersion workshop.
Why do an immersion workshop with a client?
So why bother taking the time to pause, slow down, and do an immersion workshop with a client?
1. Get knowledgeable fast
Well, first, it allows you to get a lot more knowledgeable about your client and their business a lot faster than you would if you were picking it up piecemeal over the first year of your partnership.
2. Opens dialogue
Next it opens a dialogue from day one.
It creates the expectation that you will have a conversation and that the client is expected to participate in that process with you.
3. Build relationships
You want to build a relationship where you know that you can communicate effectively with one another. It also starts to build relationships, so not only with your immediate, day-to-day client contact, but people like their bosses and their peers inside their organization who can either be blockers or advocates for the search work that your client is going to try to implement.
4. Align on purpose, roadmap, and measuring success
Naturally the immersion workshop is also a crucial time for you to align with your client on the purpose of your search program, to define the roadmap for how you’re going to deliver on that search program and agree on how you’re going to measure success, because if they’re measuring success one way and you’re measuring success a different way, you could end up at completely different places.
5. Understand the DNA of the brand
Ultimately, the purpose of a joint immersion workshop is to truly understand the DNA of the brand, what makes them tick, who are their customers, why should they care what this brand has to offer, which helps you, as a search professional, understand how you can help them and their clients.
Do it live! (Or use video chats)
So the setting for this immersion workshop ideally should be live, in-person, face-to-face, same room, same time, same place, same mission.
But worst case scenario, if for some reason that’s not possible, you can also pull this off with video chats, but at least you’re getting that face-to-face communication. There’s going to be a lot of back-and-forth dialogue, so that’s really, really important. It’s also important to building the empathy, communication, and trust between people. Seeing each other’s faces makes a big difference.
Over 1–3 days
Now the ideal setting for the immersion workshop is two days, in my opinion, so you can get a lot accomplished.
It’s a rigorous two days. But if you need to streamline it for smaller brands, you can totally pull it off with one. Or if you have the luxury of stretching it out and getting more time with them to continue building that relationship and digging deeper, by all means stretch it to three days.
Customize the agenda
Finally, you should work with the client to customize the agenda. So I like to send them a base template of an immersion workshop agenda with sessions that I know are going to be important to my search work.
But I work side-by-side with that client to customize sessions that are going to be the right fit for their business and their needs. So right away we’ve got their buy-in to the workshop, because they have skin in the game. They know which departments are going to be tricky. They know what objectives they have in their heads. So this is your first point of communication to make this successful.
Types of sessions
So what types of sessions do we want to have in our immersion workshop?
The first one is a vision session, and this is actually one that I ask the clients to bring to us. So we slot about 90 minutes for the client to give us a presentation on their brand, their overarching strategy for the year, their marketing strategy for the year.
We want to hear about their goals, revenue targets, objectives, problems they’re trying to solve, threats they see to the business. Whatever is on their mind or keeps them up at night or whatever they’re really excited about, that’s what we want to hear. This vision workshop sets the tone for the entire rest of the workshop and the partnership.
Next we want to have stakeholder sessions.
We usually do these on day one. We’re staying pretty high level on day one. So these will be with other departments that are going to integrate with search. So that could be the head of marketing, for example, like a CMO. It could be the sales team. If they have certain sales objectives they’re trying to hit, that would be really great for a search team to know. Or it could be global regions.
Maybe Latin America and Europe have different priorities. So we may want to understand how the brand works on the global scale as opposed to just at HQ.
On day two is when we start to get a little bit more in the weeds, and we call these our practitioner sessions. So we want to work with our day-to-day SEO contacts inside the organization. But we also set up sessions with people like paid search if they need to integrate their search efforts.
We might set up time with analytics. So this will be where we demo our standard SEO reporting dashboards and then we work with the client to customize it for their needs. This is a time where we find out who they’re reporting up to and what kinds of metrics they’re measured on to determine success. We talk about the goals and conversions they’re measuring, how they’re captured, why they’re tracking those goals, and their existing baseline of performance information.
We also set up time with developers. Technology is essential to actually implementing our SEO recommendations. So we set up time with them to learn about their workflows and their decision-making process. I want to know if they have resource constraints or what makes a good project ticket in Jira to get our work done. Great time to start bonding with them and give them a say in how we execute search.
We also want to meet with content teams. Now content tends to be one of the trickiest areas for our clients. They don’t always have the resources, or maybe the search scope didn’t include content from day one. So we want to bring in whoever the content decision-makers or creators are. We want to understand how they think, their workflows and processes. Are they currently creating search-driven content, or is this going to be a shift in mentality?
So a lot of times we get together and talk about process, editorial calendaring, brand tone and voice, whatever it takes to get content done for search.
Summary and next steps
So after all of these, we always close with a summary and next steps discussion. So we work together to think about all the things that we’ve accomplished during this workshop and what our big takeaways and learnings are, and we take this time to align with our client on next steps.
When we leave that room, everybody should know exactly what they’re responsible for. Very powerful. You want to send a recap after the fact saying, “Here’s what we learned and here’s what we understand the next steps to be. Are we all aligned?” Heads nod. Great.
Tools to use
So a couple of tools that we’ve created and we’ll make sure to link to these below.
We’ve created a standard onboarding checklist. The thing about search is when we’re onboarding a new client, we pretty commonly need the same things from one client to the next. We want to know things about their history with SEO. We need access and logins. Or maybe we need a list of their competitors. Whatever the case is, this is a completely repeatable process. So there’s no excuse for reinventing the wheel every single time.
So this standard onboarding checklist allows us to send this list over to the client so they can get started and get all the pieces in place that we need to be successful. It’s like mise en place when you’re cooking.
We’ve also created some really helpful session discussion guides. So we give our clients a little homework before these sessions to start thinking about their business in a different way.
We’ll ask them open-ended questions like: What kinds of problems are your business unit solving this year? Or what is one of the biggest obstacles that you’ve had to overcome? Or what’s some work that you’re really proud of? So we send that in advance of the workshop. Then in our business unit discussions, which are part of the stakeholder discussions, we’ll actually use a few of the questions from that discussion guide to start seeding the conversation.
But we don’t just go down the list of questions, checking them off one by one. We just start the conversation with a couple of them and then follow it organically wherever it takes us, open-ended, follow-up, and clarifying questions, because the conversations we are having in that room with our clients are far more powerful than any information you’re going to get from an email that you just threw over the fence.
Sticky note exercise
We also do a pretty awesome little sticky note exercise. It’s really simple. So we pass out sticky notes to all the stakeholders that have attended the sessions, and we ask two simple questions.
- One, what would cause this program to succeed? What are all the factors that can make this work?
- We also ask what will cause it to fail.
Before you know it, the client has revealed, in their own words, what their internal obstacles and blockers will be. What are the things that they’ve run into in the past that have made their search program struggle? By having that simple exercise, it gets everybody in the mind frame of what their role is in making this program a success.
Search maturity assessment
The last tool, and this one is pretty awesome, is an assessment of the client’s organic search maturity.
Now this is not about how good they are at SEO. This is how well they incorporate SEO into their organization. Now we’ve actually done a separate Whiteboard Friday on the maturity assessment and how to implement that. So make sure to check that out. But a quick overview. So we have a survey that addresses five key areas of a client’s ability to integrate search with their organization.
- It’s stuff like people. Do they have the right resources?
- Process. Do they have a process? Is it documented? Is it improving?
- Capacity. Do they have enough budget to actually make search possible?
- Knowledge. Are they knowledgeable about search, and are they committed to learning more? Stuff like that.
So we’ve actually created a five-part survey that has a number of different questions that the client can answer. We try to get as many people as possible on the client side to answer these questions as we can. Then we take the numerical answers and the open-ended answers and compile that into a maturity assessment for the brand after the workshop.
So we use that workshop time to actually execute the survey, and we have something that we can bring back to the client not long after to give them a picture of where they stand today and where we’re going to take them in the future and what the biggest obstacles are that we need to overcome to get them there.
So this is my guide to creating an immersion workshop for your new clients. Be sure to check out the Whiteboard Friday on the maturity assessment as well.
We’d love to hear what you do to onboard your clients in the comments below. Thanks and we’ll see you on the next Whiteboard Friday.
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