If you live the agency life, you know that doing great marketing work is only half of the battle. The other half of the battle is comprised of many small struggles, and it’s different for everyone, but all agency people have one problem in common– client retention. So, just how do you stop your marketing clients from canceling, anyway?
There’s no magic answer to that question. But that’s true for almost everything about marketing. If there was a magic bullet solution to get customers in the door, we’d all be out of a job. Instead, no two agencies are the same. I’ve even heard there are some agencies where dogs don’t roam around the office freely, and not a single ping pong table can be found.
No matter your office situation, client retention is important. It’s much more costly to bring in a new client than it is to retain a legacy client. Courtship is always a resource-heavy endeavor. You can’t ignore your clients once they’re on board, of course, but it’s less stressful to work with existing clients than it is to bring new clients into the fold.
Or, at least it should be. If you’re reading this, client cancellations are a real source of anxiety for you. And that’s completely normal. Client retention is a huge concern for many agencies– a majority of them, I’d wager.
To help ease some of your stress and stop your marketing clients from canceling, I’ve put together seven client retention ideas I’ve used in my own experience as an agency person.
There’s obviously a lot to say about this topic, and there are way more than seven ideas out there. In fact, I’ve probably smuggled a few more than seven ideas into this blog post. You’re welcome.
Regardless, I’m going to go at a brisk pace and offer some further recommended reading at the end, just in case you’re still hungry for customer retention ideas.
Onto the first tip!
Don’t Make Your Clients Feel Stupid
This one should be obvious, but hear me out. As marketers, we often forget that not everyone knows what we know. Your average business owner, or even their own marketing staff, doesn’t have much time to read Duct Tape Marketing or HubSpot’s blog daily, or even weekly.
I know most marketers don’t ever mean to be condescending to their clients, but we often make people feel stupid and/or ignorant without realizing it. And they’re not stupid or ignorant– they’re just specialized in non-marketing disciplines, while we’re focused on marketing.
If you need to explain a concept, a buzzword, or a strategy, do it with kindness and thoughtfulness. Don’t get up on a high horse– answer questions as they come, and don’t get exasperated when the answers seem obvious.
It just comes down to actively treating your clients with respect, especially when you feel like they “don’t understand” what you’re trying to do or say. In almost all cases, they’re more than capable of understanding anything you throw at them. When there’s a knowledge gap, think back to your favorite teachers in high school or college, and think about how they encouraged you to learn.
Act like a trusted teacher, not a marketer.
If It’s Valuable, Add It On or Cross Sell It
Once you have a solid relationship with your client, and you know they value your work, it may be time to add on more services, or cross sell them on other products.
You should never add on services without their consent, or sell so aggressively that it makes your client uncomfortable. But if a client is already enjoying the benefits of your PPC and social media marketing services, they’ll probably also benefit from your inbound marketing or remarketing services, as well.
Every agency sells different services. If your standard package includes every single one of your in-house services, consider cross-selling helpful software. This could include multi-purpose software like HubSpot, reputation management software, or any software that integrates into their own CRM software.
No matter what you add on or cross sell, it has to make sense for the individual client. It has to be something they’ll see results for.
I liked what the HubSpot blog had to say about add-ons and cross selling:
“You should have a list of services and add-ons that are of value to clients but don’t belong as part of your typical retainer package. These are services and projects you can add to the monthly cost of your client contracts as the client becomes more advanced in his marketing outreach efforts. These could also be used to drive more results for a particularly important campaign.”
They go on to give several suggestions about what you can add on to increase client retainers, but they also express how these additional services add real value. It’s a good read.
Here are a few of their suggestions:
- Website chat service integration
- Call tracking
- Predictive lead scoring
- Retargeting campaigns
- Surveys and customer feedback campaigns
If your clients feel like they’re getting more value for their money, they’re more likely to stay. If you can provide customer feedback, or help them score employee performance, for example, you’re adding value beyond your standard marketing services.
If you’re planning to upsell, thinking strategically instead of tactically is a must. Even if you’re just hoping to keep a client for more than a few billing cycles, it’s an important distinction to make.
Tactics can include:
- Social media marketing
- Influencer marketing
- Guest blogging
- Holding a contest and/or giveaway
- Responding to negative online reviews
Think about it this way– if you offer a new tactic, such as social media marketing, to your client, they may not see the value.
“Oh, you want to take over my Twitter feed? That’s another thing I don’t see the point in. I’d be better off paying someone to dress up like a gorilla and hold a sign outside my storefront,” they might say.
Instead, make a plan. “We’ve developed a strategy to increase your organic search traffic by 30%” is much more valuable than “We’d like to place some ads on Google.”
Here’s HubSpot again:
“Too often, agencies rely on trying to upsell clients on a tactic: we could handle your social media marketing, we could build you a new website, we provide content creation services, etc.
Stop talking about tactics. To grow the size of your client accounts, approach them with ideas for improving sales, increasing retention, creating a better customer experience, increasing conversions, etc. Speak to them in business terms.
Even if they don’t buy into the first few suggestions, show them that you are thinking not about what other services you can tack onto their monthly contract but how you can help them grow their overall business in the next quarter or year.”
This works even if you’re not planning on upselling. Providing a strategy and a goal proves your services are valuable, and that you’ve thought beyond simply just applying your services to their project.
Tell Them More About Themselves
Let’s talk about social media again for a moment. People post on social media because they want engagement, and because they want to know what their followers think of their ideas, products, and services.
They want to know what other people think of them.
Your clients want to know what their customers think about them.
Provide all of the data you can, but package it in a way that doesn’t make the client feel overwhelmed.
If a certain kind of social media post gets more engagement, tell the client about it. Let them know why their followers appreciated that content. If a certain type of blog post gets more views or comments, let them know why. Put it in terms of their brand, not in terms of your work.
“Your readers really seem to like it when you illustrate how you follow a project through with high quality photos, they love your work. This post got 80% more views than anything else we did this month, and even had some unsolicited social media shares. They love seeing you in action.”
“That last blog post we wrote for you was pretty good. I hope we can do more like that in the future.”
That’s not so great.
With reputation management, you have even more of an opportunity to show your clients what people think of their company. Feedback from real customers is valuable, and it’s much easier for a third-party to solicit honest opinions from real customers than it is for the company to solicit that feedback itself. That’s just one more example.
If you can show your client what their customers think of them, backed up by data points, there’s real value there. Show your client how their customer base is reacting to their marketing efforts as much as you can, and focus on their brand. Don’t just focus on what you did– focus on the reaction your work earned from their leads and customers.
Let them know what people think about them.
Anticipate and Automate
If you want to stop your marketing clients from canceling, you need to anticipate their needs. You also need to help them streamline both their day-to-day operations and their interactions with you.
In both cases, you’re basically working hard behind the scenes so they can go about their lives without much interruption.
Let’s focus on that predictive problem solving first. Client Heartbeat calls it anticipatory service.
Here’s their description:
“Anticipatory service is a proactive approach to customer service. Instead of waiting for problems to occur, a company that implements anticipatory service can eliminate problems before they happen.”
If you’re using an automated social media posting service like Buffer or HootSuite, check in on it to make sure things are being posted correctly on your client’s behalf. If you have access to their CMS, make sure WordPress is updated and that all plugins are running smoothly. Check their online reviews daily. If they host a big event in town, collect feedback from their customers to use as future social proof or testimonials.
Do anything you can to stop problems before they happen and make their lives easier. Automation can help with those efforts, as well.
If you can set up an automated email marketing process for your client, do it. Take another task off their plate. Automation saves time and resources. That’s one of the main reasons I founded RevenueJump.
Here’s another great insight from Client Heartbeat:
“Companies that leverage automation are able to minimise downtime and keep clients’ networks performing at their best.
Companies are typically bound by contracts that guarantee their services and make them accountable to clients. By leveraging automation tools and streamlining repeatable processes, companies can better meet their commitments.”
Help your clients meet their commitments. Help their marketing efforts run so smoothly they don’t even need to think about it.
The less your client has to think “What did those marketing guys do this time?” and “What am I even paying them for?”, the more value you’ll provide.
Expectations, Service, and Courtesy
Managing expectations is another key aspect of client retention. It’s easier said than done, of course. As an eager marketer, you’ve probably promised the entire world to a client at least once. Either you can’t realistically deliver everything under the sun, or it allows the client to always think you’re doing a subpar job.
I’d be willing to wager that it’s happened to all of us.
Be upfront with what you can and cannot do for your clients. If they don’t think you’re a good fit, it’s probably best they choose another agency, anyway.
If your client knows what to expect, and you meet those expectations, they’re likely to stay on for more billing cycles.
And here’s the key differentiator– if you set expectations and exceed them, your client will be blown away. It’s simple stuff, but when we’re caught in the hectic grind of delivering results, it’s sometimes easy to forget.
Customer service is another big part of meeting expectations. Even if you deliver results, your clients won’t feel good about staying with your agency if you don’t treat them right.
Here’s how MarketingWizdom defines exceptional customer service:
“Key facets include: dedication to customer satisfaction by every employee; providing immediate response; no buck passing; going above and beyond the call of duty; consistent on-time delivery; delivering what you promise before AND after the sale; a zero-defects and error-free-delivery process and recruiting outstanding people to deliver your customer service. Extraordinary service builds fortunes in repeat customers, whereas poor service will drive your customers to your competition.”
Make sure everyone on your team, from your receptionist to your CEO, wants your client to succeed. If, for some reason, your client talks with your non-client facing social media specialist over the phone, the client should walk away feeling listened to and cared for.
If everyone at your agency knows who the client is, and treats them with care and respect, they’ll be much more reluctant to switch to your competitor.
MarketingWizdom also notes that treating your own team with courtesy and respect will ultimately enhance the client’s experience, as well:
“[A courtesy system] involves speaking to colleagues politely and pleasantly, without sarcasm or parody, and treating them at least as well as you would want them to treat your customers. This will help your team to feel worthwhile and important, which makes for pleasant social contacts at work. It also motivates them to provide extraordinary service, encourages them to be consistently pleasant in all of their dealings and to relate to customers in a warm, human and natural manner. This results in better, warmer, stronger, more trusting relationships and longer term bonds with your customers.”
If everyone on your team feels good about the project, understands the client’s expectations, and feels like they’re an equally-valuable part of your marketing efforts, you’re set up to deliver great service and exceed client expectations.
Communication and Relationships
I know you’ve already read about building relationships and good communication a thousand times, so I’ll try to keep this brief.
Be transparent with your communication. If you mess up, own it. If there’s a problem, let the client know as soon as possible. Accept responsibility for your mistakes, and have a plan to move beyond and recover from your mistakes– and let the client know you’ve learned from your follies.
Relationships are a bit trickier. Not every client wants a best-friend or buddy-buddy relationship with their marketing agency.
If they prefer less communication, only contact them with your numbers for the billing cycle, or to inform them when there’s either a mistake or actual exciting news. Respect their space.
Here’s what the Harvard Business Review has to say about interactions:
“There’s no correlation between interactions with a customer and the likelihood that he or she will be “sticky” (go through with an intended purchase, purchase again, and recommend). Yet, most marketers behave as if there is a continuous linear relationship between the number of interactions and share of wallet…
In reality, that linear relationship flattens much more quickly than most marketers think; soon, helpful interactions become an overwhelming torrent. Without realizing it, many marketers are only adding to the information bombardment consumers feel as they shop a category, reducing stickiness rather than enhancing it.”
Don’t bombard your clients. They’re already pressed for time. Hearing from you shouldn’t be an annoyance– instead, they should be excited to hear from you, because that means they’re about to see some results.
HRB also notes that interactions don’t build relationships– shared values do.
From HRB’s consumer survey:
“Of the consumers in our study who said they have a brand relationship, 64% cited shared values as the primary reason. That’s far and away the largest driver. Meanwhile, only 13% cited frequent interactions with the brand as a reason for having a relationship.”
Find common ground with your values and go from there. Don’t pester your clients. Communicate at their pace, and respect their boundaries. When you make a mistake, immediately own it and fix the damage.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t send holiday cards or take your clients out to dinner– you should. But they hired you because they want marketing results, not because they want to talk on the phone for three more hours every month.
Conclusion and Further Reading
These are just a few client retention ideas that have worked for me. There are dozens more ideas out there, and you can read more about any of these ideas, as well. But if any of these seven tips struck a chord with you, it’s time to act.
Marketing agencies thrive because of legacy customers. It’s expensive and time-consuming, and not to mention stressful, to onboard new clients every month just to stay afloat.
To grow and become more profitable, you need to stop your marketing clients from canceling and keep them happy.
Here’s some additional reading:
- Four Reasons Why Proactive Customer Care Means Customer Loyalty
- 20 Customer Retention Strategies
- To Keep Your Customers, Keep It Simple
- 10 Tactics For Increasing Your Customer Lifetime Value and Loyalty
- 11 Ways to Improve Client Retention & Loyalty
Thanks for reading!