Work with your clients to clearly define realistic goals.
Set a schedule for regular meetings (and ask for feedback!).
Celebrate successes and small wins.
Build processes that allow you to deliver better service.
Empower your clients to achieve their own success.
Many small marketing agencies are accustomed to a revolving door of clients. Every month, clients leave — and you’re left scrambling to fill the gaps.
So, why do so many clients leave these small agencies? In some cases, a client leaving feels natural: They needed help with a particular product launch or rebranding, and once that’s done, they’re ready to move on. In other cases, the departure is unexpected, and the results are that much more devastating.
Growing and scaling a digital marketing agency is tough. Even with great staff and a stellar reputation, you’re subject to the same variables that pose a threat to any agency’s profitability. The chief among these is client churn.
This is a struggle we at IMPACT know all too well. For years, we were a HubSpot partner agency working as hard as we could to deliver inbound marketing success for our clients.
The key, we’ve found, is to stop churn before it starts. From setting expectations to smooth onboarding, and frequent touchpoints and feedback, there are proactive steps your agency can take to support and delight your clients so they’re less likely to walk out the door.
Below, we’ll cover:
Why client churn is such a challenge for small agencies.
7 tips for client success to stop churn before it starts.
Setting up your agency for long-term success.
Free Guide: The Blueprint for a More Profitable Agency
Why churn is the problem few agencies can solve
Agencies everywhere are filled with smart, hardworking people who love to deliver success for their clients.
Still, many agencies we talk with are stuck in a familiar rut: They can’t seem to keep a steady book of business. Every few months, clients leave, sending major financial ripples that are felt by every corner of the agency.
Despite hard work, expertise, and a solid strategy, these small marketing agencies are suffering — and the results make it hard to grow, hire great staff, and effectively service clients.
Your clients hire you to do a job — to grow their leads with effective marketing campaigns — and if you can’t do that to their satisfaction, they’re going to move on.
Why is client churn a problem that so few agencies can actually solve?
Because it is not just one problem, but many. Some of the problems that cause client churn are:
Overpromising during the sales process: In an effort to sign new clients (and get paid), agency sales teams fail to set clear goals and promise the moon. Clients have high expectations that the agency can’t meet, causing frustration.
Inefficient agency operations: Small agencies might struggle to deliver a great customer experience. Communication breakdowns, missed deadlines, and poor planning make clients feel like they’re not receiving treatment commensurate with their investment.
Poor execution by the agency team: A small agency might struggle to hire and retain high-caliber employees. The result is that deliverables don’t meet expectations. Even great relationships can fall apart if the work is poorly done.
Agency instability: Any shakeup in agency personnel — due to turnover, promotion, leave, or anything else — can damage relationships and lead to client churn. At the same time, client churn leads to financial instability, which holds back raises and advancement opportunities for agency staff, resulting in more agency instability.
Turnover at the client company: If a key member of the client marketing team leaves, the replacement might want to start fresh with a new agency or take a new direction with the work being done.
Raising prices: Any time an agency adjusts its service catalog or raises prices, clients may decide to “shop around” for a better price, especially if they aren’t confident in the quality of work being done and results seen from marketing efforts.
Agency scapegoating: Sometimes clients just fire agencies because they can. An agency is an easy scapegoat when something doesn’t go well, even if it wasn’t the agency’s fault.
Any one of these could cause a client to churn — and this is by no means an exhaustive list.
With so many client retention challenges facing your agency, keeping your customers happy is a full-time job — as well it should be. We’ve found that the key to retaining your clients is to stop churn before it starts. Below, I’ll detail seven ways you can keep clients longer, turning them from churn risks to ambassadors for your agency.
7 Tips To Help You Keep Clients Satisfied
Successful clients are happy clients, and happy clients won’t want to leave your agency. Follow these steps to build a stable client list.
1. Align your sales and service teams
Overpromising in the sales process sets your team up for failure. If the client is expecting results or timelines that aren’t realistic, they’re never going to be happy.
Get your service team members into sales conversations as early as possible. Build your client relationships so that there’s a smooth handoff, fewer inflated promises or misconceptions about what working with you will look like, and a smooth onramp to start the onboarding process.
2. Improve your onboarding process
Signing a new client is exciting, and it kicks off a period of great activity — and stress. Your team must quickly get up to speed on the client’s business, industry, and competition.
If your service team has been involved in the sales process, you’re off to a good start, but there’s much more to do. It’s easy to lose a client in the early days of a contract. Every detail is scrutinized.
Drawing from past experiences, build a step-by-step onboarding process for all new business — and then share this with any new company you sign. The onboarding period is a time when it’s good to err on the side of providing too much information. The client wants to feel like they’ve made the right choice by signing with your agency.
3. Work with your clients to clearly define realistic goals
Your clients might have preconceptions about inbound marketing that include thinking that traffic is the most important leading indicator for success. Sure, traffic is important, but the wrong traffic won’t do you much good.
Early on in any customer relationship, you will need to play the role of educator. Set goals together, and come to an agreement about which metrics really matter for achieving their business goals.
When you help your clients avoid the lure of vanity metrics, you can save yourself from an impossible task — all while delivering better results.
A large number of clients who cancel do so because they started out with unrealistic expectations.
4. Set a schedule of regular meetings (and ask for feedback!)
Every client engagement should start off with a planning session, but agencies sometimes struggle to establish a steady meeting cadence.
From the get-go, schedule regular planning meetings where you can check in, course correct, and set goals for the future. These should happen at least once per quarter.
By breaking the engagement into manageable chunks, you can build a better strategy and chart progress more accurately.
At (or before) these meetings, ask for client feedback. Whether you use the net promoter score (NPS) model, a happiness score, or some other method, regular feedback from your clients helps you take their temperature and adjust your services to better meet their needs.
Before a client decides to fire your agency, there were almost certainly red flags that got missed. Feedback is a way of regularly checking in and monitoring customer satisfaction.
5. Celebrate successes and small wins
Digital marketing is a game of small wins and momentum. To retain existing customers, make sure they can see the small wins along the way.
This can take many forms, depending on the culture of your agency and the needs of your clients, but make sure you find ways to chart progress and celebrate results.
These are examples of milestones you might celebrate:
A first inbound lead.
An article ranking No. 1 in Google.
1,000 organic site visitors from search engines.
The client’s sales team closing a deal using marketing materials.
100 subscribers to the business’s YouTube channel.
The launching of a newsletter.
Whatever you choose to celebrate, make sure the client can see the progress that’s being made. Sometimes digital marketing can feel like the ultimate long game. Help your client take stock of their progress along the way.
6. Build processes that allow you to deliver better service
I know “build processes that allow you to deliver better service” sounds vague and general, but it underpins everything else on this list. Your clients expect great service, and you need to give it to them. You need to be expert communicators who always fulfill your promises and never drop the ball.
To do so, build the processes and oversight that makes sure nothing gets missed. If there’s an upcoming date for a major deliverable, what “soft deadlines” are necessary to ensure the project gets across the line?
If some of your client communications are in Basecamp and some are in email, how can you be sure nothing is getting missed?
If an account manager is on vacation, what happens when the client has a question?
To deliver full service, your team needs to be ready with an answer to these questions and a hundred more. Good service is the product of great attention to detail. Great strategy and expertise mean very little if things don’t show up on time.
7. Empower your clients to achieve their own success
At IMPACT, we struggled for years as a scrappy inbound marketing agency, dealing with all of the familiar challenges we all know so well.
As we addressed one problem, the other ones started solving themselves. Clients were happier, so our customer churn rate dropped. Happy clients recommended us to others, and our total customer count skyrocketed. Our profit margins grew, which allowed us to pay our employees better, which, in turn, cut attrition.
The key for us was shifting our mindset. Along the way, we built systems and processes for delivering exceptional service to our existing customer base. And we kept bringing on new customers as well.
You’re never going to completely eliminate client churn. Some turnover is inevitable — and it’s also healthy for your agency. New business means new opportunities for growth.
The key is minimizing churn and making it predictable.
Clients churn for any number of reasons, but chief among them is this: Their expectations were not met.
Meeting client expectations starts when those expectations get set in the sales process. With realistic goals in place, the client is set up for a long-term, successful engagement with your agency. From that point on, it’s up to you.
Deliver great service and frequently solicit feedback. That way, you’ll be seen as a trusted, essential partner for their long-term growth.