If your marketing agency has been around for some time, you likely already know that not all client-agency relationships work out. But when losing one client can mean the difference between making payroll for the month or having to let someone go, retaining a long list of clients that are happy with your services becomes a vital part of growing (and sustaining) your agency.
When you have a good relationship with a client, they feel great about working with you. They are more likely to stay with your agency longer, invest in it more often, and recommend your agency to other prospects.
But how do you build healthier relationships with your clients? And how can you make them feel like they can depend on you to meet their needs without sacrificing your own?
Here at IMPACT, we take a lot of pride in helping our clients thrive with our They Ask, You Answer approach to inbound marketing, but we’ve also had our fair share of difficult relationships over the years. Now, after a decade of practice — and lots of failures and lessons learned along the way — we find ourselves looking down the path toward some of our most successful years to come.
In this article, we share with you the lessons we’ve learned when it comes to building a bigger, more profitable client base, including:
Tips for how to improve your client-agency relationships.
Strategies to save a client relationship that is already strained.
Common client-agency relationship mistakes to avoid.
You will walk away from this article knowing exactly how to get your relationships started on the right foot and have a smoother time leading clients faster and more easily toward success.
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Tips for how to improve your client-agency relationships
If you want to build a strong relationship with your clients, the bottom line is it all comes down to trust. Your clients need to trust that you’ll deliver on your promises consistently and support their business goals.
There are a few ways to approach this that might vary, depending on how you run your agency and what your clients need from you. But in general, building a successful agency by fostering good relationships happens in three main ways:
1. Be clear with your client about expectations upfront
One of the most frustrating experiences for clients is when they think they are getting one thing, but then after they start working with you, they actually get another.
This “bait and switch” breakdown in communication often happens during the sales process when expectations are set about deliverables and results, and this can make your client feel like you’ve lured them under false pretenses.
To avoid this communication blunder, be diligent about spelling out exactly what your team will deliver and how. This way, you and your clients can be aligned from the start.
For example, if the client isn’t happy with your agency’s deliverables, will you refund the client? Will you redo the work? On one hand, your client expects high-quality work. On the other hand, if you spend a lot of time redoing work, you can be in a situation where you’re basically working for free, which is far from ideal.
You also don’t want your client to question the value of your work, which means they’re questioning whether or not they need you.
For this reason, make sure what you provide to your client is what they need and that you both agree to the plan ahead of time.
Again, it all boils down to trust. As long as you keep delivering what both parties agree to, your clients will continue to trust in your ability to help them.
2. Be strategic with your staffing
When it comes to building a good rapport with clients, you want to make sure you have the right people in the right seats at the right time.
If you consistently employ entry- or mid-level talent that can’t go toe to toe with your client’s senior staff, they might not be able to hold an authoritative stance in the relationship. And if they’re servicing an account with someone who doesn’t respect them, that relationship will automatically be at a disadvantage.
The director of IMPACT’s Certified Coaching Program, Dia Vavruska, weighs in:
“I ran into this issue early in my career. If you don’t have the experience or authority to lean on, clients can sniff that out immediately. That’s a really quick and easy way to deteriorate trust in the relationship.”
So make sure the client-facing staff you do hire has the skills and know-how to navigate the client-agency relationship confidently and with purpose. Your client wants to feel like they’re in capable hands. Make sure they are!
3. Be mindful about instituting too much change
There are times when your agency will need to increase prices, change your service offerings, or adjust your business model. You might also find yourself having to manage staff shortages and lots of turnover.
These things happen often for businesses that are adapting and growing, especially if those changes are happening fast. The trick here is making sure you minimize these changes or communicate them as early as possible. Your goal should be to set your clients’ minds at ease so that if changes happen, you’ve got them covered and it won’t affect the quality of the work or relationship in a negative way.
You never want to catch your clients off-guard — and you should never let them find out on their own, especially after a change has been made.
A little courtesy for your clients here can go a long way in helping them feel good about doing business with you and preventing any possible misunderstandings.
Strategies to save a client relationship that is already strained
There’s nothing more frustrating than learning your agency dropped the ball or might have taken on a bad-fit client. And when that translates into a client having a bad experience working with you (trust us, it happens), there are steps you can take to try to salvage the relationship:
Complete a thorough assessment of the situation to properly diagnose the issue(s). Is it the talent on your staff? Is it the expectations you’re setting? Is it the types of clients that you’re bringing on? For instance, when clients rely on your agency’s work to keep their doors open, they can become desperate and angry, regardless of how great your deliverables are. Taking a good, hard look at the entire picture will help you be sure you’re diagnosing the right problem.
Do your best to assess whether or not there is a level of trust that remains that you can lean back on. If there was little trust in the relationship to begin with, then you know you’re starting from the ground floor.
Send in a skilled communicator who can engage in dialogue with your client. This is where lots of communication training comes into play (such as the skills we teach in our They Ask, You Answer Certified Coaching Program). Again, you want to know your team can hop on a call with a C-level executive and have a direct conversation with them that drills down to the root of the main issue, comes up with the proper solution, and builds more trust.
If your employees don’t have these skills, it’s much more difficult for your clients to feel enough vulnerability with your staff to engage in an open and honest conversation.
However, if your client is not receptive to or willing to have an open dialogue with your staff, it’s a good indication the client isn’t a great fit for your agency in the first place.
Common client-agency relationship mistakes to avoid
Sometimes, when situations arise that place a burden on our relationship with our clients, we do all we can to make them right. But there are some instances when we can go too far, or when we think we’re helping the situation, but we’re actually making it worse.
When you’re managing your client relationships, these overcompensations could put your agency in a difficult position.
Comping services/redoing work
We all want to provide our clients with incredible services that hit the mark every time. But when a client is unhappy with your work or it isn’t what they expected, offering to redo that work free of charge can land your agency in a sticky situation where your client will start to expect free work.
While it typically comes from a well-meaning place (you want to do right by your client), if your go-to becomes delivering another “thing” or comping the service, your clients will think they can get free work out of you or wonder if what they’re paying you is equivalent to the value they receive. (They might think, for example, “Why did you charge me so much on the original project if you’re able to do it again for free?”)
The problem here is it can lead to a massive loss of profitability and overworking your staff. You’re essentially devaluing your work.
Instead of comping your work, have an open and honest conversation with your client about what went wrong and admit where you fell short. Correct your work within those parameters, but without slipping into the vicious cycle of redoing everything for free.
Too many staff changes
When a client doesn’t seem to be jibing with your staff, it’s tempting to think, “Oh, we'll just put someone else new on the account.” This can also be a challenge for agencies that experience a lot of turnover.
The issue here is it can be a lot for your clients to work with someone new. Sometimes it feels to them like they’re starting from scratch. And besides, you might not be fixing the actual problem.
This could lead your client to a place where your agency is changing things around thinking it will solve the issue, but instead, you’re distracting them from the failure of your previous strategy by having them chase after the next shiny thing.
If your client doesn’t have a good relationship with your agency, and you’re not addressing the root cause early, you could find yourself having to go back to the drawing board, which can lead to a substantial loss of time and money.
Too many asks of your clients
It’s a trap that’s easy to fall for: We want feedback from our clients, but there is a point where it becomes too much.
For example, in an effort to help our clients, we might ask them to:
Provide us with feedback.
Take a survey.
Attend an event.
Sign up for training.
While these might sound like normal, helpful things to do, if it’s too much, your clients will start tuning out communications from your agency.
As Dia explains:
“The real value comes from being intentional about the things that you're asking people to do. We’re all very busy, and the moment that they start tuning you out is where you start chipping away at that relationship.”
Whether it’s having five different people emailing them, or any other breakdown in communication, too many contact points make it difficult for your client to communicate and work with you.
Consider coaching your clients to do the work (instead of doing it for them)
As marketing agencies, many of us feel like we have to provide and be everything to all our clients at the same time in order to succeed. But as an inbound marketing agency, when you plan — and do — the work for your clients, it will always be difficult to build good relationships with them.
There are a few reasons this is true:
Your team members will be spread so thin trying to be everything to everyone that they will inevitably burn out.
As the ones responsible for your clients’ results, you will always be on the line for another business’s success.
You will always have to answer to your clients and be moving mountains to make them happy.
With our They Ask, You Answer Certified Coaching Program, we teach coaches, consultants and marketing agencies how to improve their client relationships and bandwidth by coaching the businesses you work with.
Our Certified Coaching program will help your agency:
Learn an effective framework that will help you become a more effective agency that leads your clients toward incredible growth faster.
Find your niche and set yourself apart from the overcrowded agency and inbound marketing strategy landscape.
Pave a clear, simple path to strengthen your team’s communication skills and value.
After completing the program, your agency will gain immediate access to dozens of courses on our IMPACT+ learning platform, in addition to a community of like-minded professionals who are always there to support you as you build those long-lasting client relationships your agency needs to grow.