While agencies tend to be early adopters of the latest tools and tech, it’s not always the same for clients. Here are 5 actionable tips to onboard your clients to new software tools and processes, so you can all get on the same page and deliver amazing work.
Project managers spend a lot of time thinking about how to manage client work more efficiently. When balancing multiple projects, budgets, and deadlines, there is always something vying for your attention. So when PMs find a collaboration tool or process that can level up an existing workflow and give them back time in their busy day, they tend to jump in feet first. Onboarding your clients to new software and systems, on the other hand, may be a different story.
While tech-savvy agency teams tend to be early adopters, it can be challenging to onboard clients to new software or processes. Put yourself in their shoes — they know what to expect from their existing tools, and their internal team has been operating this way for a while. Why would they want to change?
Even more, they may be working with multiple vendors who each require a different process. And you’re asking them to learn a new way of communicating, or download yet another software tool for just one project? They don’t have time for that, they’ll say, and prefer the routine that’s already been established. Your client is stuck in the comfort zone.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a common adage that comes up here. But what if the process is broken, and they just don’t know there’s a better way?
How can you help your client understand and embrace new ways of working together? Here are five ways to onboard not-so-tech-savvy clients with new tools.
First, you need to make sure you and your client trust one another. Reflect on your relationship with the client: How long have you worked together? Do you have a history of successful project launches? Have you successfully navigated setbacks together in the past?
Relationships built on trust are more than just transactional — you understand each other on a deeper emotional level. You know their pain points and preferences, and you can anticipate their reactions ahead of time.
Trusting relationships feel like you’re working together towards a common goal. Danielle Scherr, Project Manager at Webflow agency Edgar Allan, describes it as “feeling like we’re all on the same page.”
Trust is critical to client management, especially when introducing change to a project. if your client doesn’t trust you, they won’t feel confident trying something new.
When introducing a client to a new process or tool, consider starting small. Converting a team of three to a new way of working is much easier than a department of 23.
Consider picking a client team where you speak to all team members regularly. You already know each person individually, and they have a direct line of communication with you when questions or issues arise. They’ll feel more comfortable reaching out to you, and you’ll be able to respond quickly.
This also means that you, as the PM, will retain control of expectation-setting and education, rather than putting the work of onboarding others on your client’s plate. Another plus: working on something new together with a small group builds a sense of teamwork. Everyone has a voice.
Analisa Silverstein, Project Manager at Hello Amigo, shares her perspective on that teamwork feeling with the client: “It feels like ‘We’re doing this together.’ There’s ownership and transparency on both sides.”
Share Your Excitement
When in doubt, share your own enthusiasm for testing out a new way to collaborate! Excitement can be contagious.
As the project leader, PMs often feel like they need to have everything buttoned up before presenting it to the client (and sometimes that’s the right way to go about it). But if you have a client that trusts you, and a small team to onboard, it’s okay to say something like “I’d love to try a new way of doing QA, can you help me out?”
Include why you’re excited (“I heard about this tool at a conference and it has rave reviews,” or “This app has saved us a week already”) and how you think it will improve the client’s experience (“You can comment directly on the website and get across exactly what you’re thinking, and avoid managing feedback in spreadsheets”).
Danielle Scherr, Project Manager at Edgar Allan shares her view on how the tool or process itself can unlock that feeling. In regards to her agency’s use of Punchlist, she continues, “It’s also a feeling of excitement. The client is excited. You feel like you had a really well-coordinated transition and collaboration. Being able to reduce that friction — from our company, our files, all the way through to their company — has made a tremendous difference.”
Great project managers balance having fun and getting things done. Don’t be afraid to show your excitement once in a while — it can spread to your client, and they can then evangelize your new-and-improved workflow across their team.
Give a Demo
One of the best ways to get non-tech-savvy clients on board to a new software tool or process is to give them a demo yourself.
If it’s a system or process, show them where to look for key information, describe the anticipated time from start to finish, and let them know how you’d like them to communicate. Even provide a checklist of steps in a document to make it simple.
If it’s a tool, walk through it from a user account (not from an admin account) so things feel familiar when they log in. Take time before the demo to set up the workflow or seed the tool with an example project that’s relevant to your client’s work. During the demo, you don’t want them to drift off, wondering how this will apply to their brand.
This demo is also another opportunity to infuse your excitement. “This is my favorite feature because it allows us to view the website on different devices…just toggle mobile, tablet, desktop with a click.”
You can demo the tool in person, during a weekly video call, or through a recorded video that they can watch on their own time, using an async tool like Loom.
Let the Data do the Talking
Finally, it’s hard to disagree with cold, hard data. Clients’ first reaction to change can often be emotional, but logic kicks in when they see the proof. Show them how this will tangibly impact their business goals.
If you want to push your clients out of their comfort zone, look for numbers that will support a change in the status quo. Reassure them that the change isn’t based on assumptions, and show them you’ve put in the work to find the data. For example, “We used this project management tool on a recent project and were able to launch the website one week ahead of schedule.” Or “This process has already saved us X hours — time we were able to reallocate to your highest-priority items.”
If clients are particularly resistant, consider setting a timeboxed, data-driven goal and reassure them that the change doesn’t have to be permanent. “My goal is to try this tool for 4 weeks. If we don’t meet our goal of a 5% increase in webform submissions in that time period, we’ll revert to the old process.”
Related Resource: Free Client Onboarding Checklist (with Templates)
New Tech Doesn’t Have to be Scary
It isn’t always easy to nudge clients (or anyone) out of their comfort zone. By spending time identifying the right client team members to onboard, sharing your enthusiasm, showing examples, and backing up your idea with data, you can get buy-in on a new way of working that will save everybody time and stress. Use these tips to onboard your clients to new tools and processes, and turn them into efficiency advocates who make your agency’s job easier.