We all know the statistic when it comes to client retention for businesses (let alone agencies).
It costs way more to get a new customer than it does to keep an old one. And in digital marketing, the longer you keep a customer, the better job you can do for them.
In some cases, you can't even get into the super-fun, super-helpful stuff until you've been with a client for awhile.
So I decided to start hunting around for agency owners who knew how to keep a client. I wanted to know what their "client retention secret sauce" was.
Here's what I learned.
Ditch the contracts
"If our clients aren't getting value," says Steve Ryan of RyTech LLC, "there's no reason to lock them into a contract. The relationship just gets sour at that point."
Ryan's not the only one to say it. In his October 2018 interview with Grade.us, Phil Rozek of Local Visibility System said the same. Rozek wants clients to come back because they like what he's doing, not because they have to.
There's a psychological element to the strategy. Nobody enjoys feeling trapped. Contracts create a small, sour seed in your client's mind. Even if you're the greatest digital marketing agency ever.
Not convinced? How loyal do you feel to your cellular provider? The one who locked you into that two year contract? Are you going to see what other providers have to offer when that contract is up, even if you haven't had any problems with your phone?
If you're like most people, chances are you'll at least look.
Contracts breed suspicion. Relationships breed retention.
Or, as BJ Enoch of SocialSEO puts it, "Removing the shackles of a contract and empowering a client to leave at any time seems to reduce anxiety and friction.
Feedback we've gotten from clients has told us it instills a greater degree of confidence in them. It tells them we're so confident in what we do, we don't need a contract."
SocialSEO reports a 95% monthly retention rate on a 2-year life cycle. Their no-contracts strategy appears to be working.
And really, do you want to hold on to clients who don't want to do business with you?
Train and educate your clients
Every single person who works in this industry knows the frustration.
You need something from your clients to get a job done. Maybe it's a photograph. Or a piece of information from a subject matter expert.
Whatever it is, you can't do your job right if you don't have it, and all you're hearing are crickets. Bonus points if the client later gets mad at you because you didn't finish the thing.
According to Kent Lewis, President and Founder of Anvil, "Responsiveness equals stickiness."
He adds, "Eventually the lack of momentum leads to the relationship ending unnecessarily."
And so, Lewis says you have to be the one to manage the problem. Even if it seems like it's all in the client's control.
Seems unfair. But turns out? It's doable.
How do you do it? Lewis recommends building trust and respect with key contacts on the client side.
"Key contacts are often willing and able to overcome communication and implementation gaps."
For more insight into developing key contacts, look out for my upcoming interview with Dan Petrovic. Dejan SEO uses a similar strategy.
Train your agency employees for client retention
Ryan recommends working to refine your business on a regular basis. RyTech has an 85% retention rate. A process of constant revision helped to make it happen.
"It's fine tuning our processes, our reporting. Understanding what our clients think and need as ROI, and what metrics they're most engaged in and curious about. Making sure we're managing our scope and services to meet those expectations."
One way to do this is to understand your client's world. For example, RyTech works with larger companies. That means they're working with marketing directors, not business owners. Each of those marketing directors has someone else to report to.
This has informed RyTech's marketing process. RyTech's reports make it simple to show their bosses the ROI. This, in turn, makes remaining with RyTech an easy decision for the directors.
Be human, not some agency drone
Be people helping people, not Agencies Serving Clients.
You don't have to go so far as sending a birthday card to every client if you don't want to. God knows most digital marketers are already working 90 hour weeks at is is.
You can. Some do. But you don't have to.
But often, taking steps to humanize client contact is enough.
"No templates here!"
And this is about more than choosing different words for every email.
"We make sure to get to know clients on a personal level while keeping things professional. It's important to us that our clients see us as family, and not just as a group of people who they hired to take care of their marketing."
The personal emails are actually personal. LeanRank is talking to each client like you or I would talk to an old friend.
Wardini credits this attitude as the number one reason for LeanRank's high retention rate.
Remember the golden review rule
If you've read any of my past articles about review management you know I've got a philosophy. There is no such thing as a strategy that saves you if you're not delivering good service in the first place.
What applies to 5-star reviews applies to 85%+ client retention rates, too.
"Reputation matters," says J. Brad Wilke, Co-Founder and owner of Smarthouse Creative.
"From our perspective it's about trust, and it's about a job well done. And it's about being as transparent and as authentic as possible."
Wardini agrees. "We always make sure to give our 100% to client projects, and strive to surpass not just their expectations, but also our own."
And on this point, at least, it turns out the secret to client retention isn't so secret after all.