Automating potential leads

New leads for your agency or freelance business are great, but they can eat up a lot of time. And worse, when you’re super-busy with projects, you tend to put off dealing with them until you’ve got no work and it turns into a feast-famine cycle. Using a client onboarding process can help you save time from the normal back and forth of turning leads into customers.

Here’s what a potential customer onboarding sequence might look like:

  1. Client finds your site, loves your work and emails you. They send you a vague and long winded explanation of what they think they need… sometimes in what seems like a dead language, covering everything from what they ate when they started their business to what their mother thinks of their current website.
  2. You email them back, asking for clarification on at least 5 of the points they made and ask them to fill in a project planner that you attach as a Word doc.
  3. They fill it in and email it back to you (they probably used Comic Sans or Papyrus—but this is a judgement-free zone).
  4. You review their answers and email them back to set up a call.
  5. They go back and forth with you 2–4 times to pick a date and time that works for you both to talk.
  6. You chat on Skype or Hangouts and figure out what they really need, if there’s a good fit and if you should proceed to create an estimate.

All in, that can take 5–6 hours (if you’re lucky). But what if you could take all but the call off your plate? Well friends, you can… with a little thing called automated onboarding. It’s one of the three types of automations every business should have, which also includes drip campaigns.

What is onboarding?

Onboarding is a term that started in HR departments back when fax machines were a thing, and was quickly adopted by tech startups and growth hackers. Onboarding is really just the way you get folks from “I’m interested” to “Hey now, I’m a client”. It works by considering three things:

  1. Accommodation: giving people the knowledge to make a decision. I.e. “Should we hire you?”
  2. Assimilation: completely unrelated to the Borg, this is how you make the right people feel like they’ve come to the right place. I.e. “Based on what I’ve just learned, YOU are the person/company I want to hire to do X for me.”
  3. Acceleration: helping them make the decision to work with you as quickly as possible. I.e. “Based on the short document I just read, I know what you can and can’t do for my business, so I’m ready to hire you.”

Now let’s look at how you can automate those previous 7 steps, so that you only have to get involved at the final stage. If that sounds enticing but you’re worried about automation taking the human touch or your personal brand vibe away from the process, fret not. I’ll show you how to create a win-win scenario where the client gets the information they’re after instantly (even if it’s 2am and you’re asleep) and you get to vet potential leads without using any of your time or focus.

How to automate an onboarding process for new leads

  1. Client finds your site, loves your work and fills in a simple form that’s connected to your Mailchimp list or (better yet) a group within your Mailchimp list.
  2. They’re immediately sent a welcome package that includes a PDF. The PDF covers the types of clients you work with, your pricing, some success stories and the services you do and don’t offer.
  3. At the end of the PDF there’s a big, linked button to fill in a project planner. If they click it, they’re taken to a page on your website that’s got a pre-made Typeform embedded on it.
  4. Once they’ve filled in your project planner, they’re taken to a success page with a single link – which points to your booking calendar on your site, with an Acuity scheduler embedded on it. This booking calendar integrates with your Google Calendar, so it knows when you’re busy (removing the back and forth “are you free at X time on Y date?”).
  5. The confirmation message gives them your Skype handle, so all they need to do is get the reminder email (from Acuity) the day of and add you on Skype.
  6. Because they’ve read your welcome PDF, they’ve filled in your project planner and they’ve followed the instructions to book a call to talk about your project, all you have to do for every single lead you get is open up Skype when you get a reminder and do the call.
  7. Optional: use Zapier’s Mailchimp to Google Sheets Zap to save each new lead to a spreadsheet. From there you can track your notes and how far along in the process they are (i.e. Have they paid? Have they signed the contract? Are they waiting on anything from you?).
  8. Optional: use Zapier’s Acuity to Mailchimp Zap to add them to a custom group on your list, which could then trigger further automations.
  9. Optional: use Mailchimp’s goals to track if leads do not go to the page on your site that has the Typeform OR the page that has your Acuity scheduler (so you can send  follow up emails via automation).

Common objections to automating your potential lead and client onboarding process

“I’ll lose leads”
The great thing about onboarding automation is that you don’t need to remember to keep the process going. Sometimes your inbox might be so full that a lead or two falls through the cracks. If your onboarding process is automated, you don’t have to worry about that, especially if you use Mailchimp’s goal tracking and send automated follow ups if they don’t get further in your process.

“I don’t want new leads to feel like I don’t care or that I’m a marketing robot”
The thing with automating onboarding is that you’re free to stay on brand and in your tone of voice for every automatic step. You’ll only come across as insincere or like a slimy robot if you don’t add personality to each step.

“It’ll take too much time to set up”
Yes, it can take a few hours to setup a fully automated customer onboarding sequence that goes beyond the basics of Mailchimp. But if you think about it, even if only a single lead goes through that process, you’ve saved those hours already. Then imagine if 20 leads go through the automated process, you’ve saved yourself around 100 hours.

Automation takes time and planning to work. But once you’ve got it setup and running smoothly, the sky’s the limit to what you can do, what you can offer potential leads and how much time you can save. So what is onboarding? A time saving trick every business should put into practice.