Getting New Clients Or Keeping Current Clients?
It’s an age-old question, if I just had a couple more new clients I’d be great or if we could just hold onto our current clients we could grow. Truth be told? You better be awesome at both if you want your inbound marketing agency to grow. If you can’t land new clients at a clip of one a month and you can’t keep the clients you have—you’ll be in a hamster wheel that never ends.
Those challenges you have now—not getting paid regularly, not being able to hire, dealing with challenging clients and you having to wear 20 different hats is going to be your future. Until you can bring on new clients and hold onto your current clients—you better get used to it. What you’ve been doing isn’t working. It’s time to do something different.
Being good at getting new clients and keeping current clients takes a unique set of skills. Here’s how we drive four new clients a month and keep a 90% retention rate for our inbound agency clients.
Create A Unique Sales Process
I’ve been talking a lot about this lately and working with a few agency owners on just this topic because clients are telling us, “you won the business with your sales process.” All those details you think they care about like experience, or tiered partner level, or number of employees. They don’t mean much if your sales process is weak.
Along the same lines, you don’t have to be a Diamond HubSpot partner if your sales process is designed to make your prospects feel safe and give them a remarkable experience. Be hard on your current process. How good is it? Does it make your prospects feel safe? Are you educating them? Is it collaborative? We recently won a $200,000 engagement because our process was collaborative and the competing agency quoted the same number without getting to know the prospect. The prospect told us. “How could they know what to quote us before getting to know us.” It makes sense.
I’ve been doing a lot of writing about this topic since we published our research on why clients chose agencies. Here’s another article with more details on how to set up a remarkable sales process.
Lean In On What You Do Well
It’s hard to be everything to everyone, especially when you’re a small shop. You don’t have to offer everything your clients need. Offer what you’re really good at and let another shop handle what you’re not great at. Knowing what you do well and what you don’t do so well is very important to keeping clients.
There’s a trend here you can sell into. A lot of companies are looking to work with a handful of specialists. They don’t want one agency who does everything. They’re ok with a couple of specialist agencies. You can share this configuration with prospects and encourage them to bring in experts in a few different areas. Now you’ll be signing new clients and keeping current clients because you’re not promising to do work you don’t know you can deliver.
Set Realistic Expectations
Nothing is more important to keeping clients happy. If, as the inbound marketing agency owner, you can’t define their expectations upfront and then make sure you’re capable of delivering on them—you’ll be in trouble. Here’s the rub, clients are going to have unrealistic expectations and you’re going to be tempted to promise to deliver even if you know they’re unrealistic. Not because you’re bad, but because you're optimistic. Don’t do that.
Tell them their expectations are unrealistic. They could be unrealistic based on the budget they’re investing with you or they could just be flat out crazy high expectations. You have to tell them the brutal truth, even if you lose the deal.
Ask every prospect, every client these exact questions before every single engagement. “What do you expect from this partnership. What numbers, what kind of response time, what kind of relationship are you looking for, what results, what timeframe?” These all MUST be talked about and agreed on upfront. You’re their partner, not their vendor—don’t be treated like a vendor. If you don’t like their expectations, pass on the deal.
Try To Be Selective
Speaking of passing. You have to pass on some deals. You won’t be a fit for everyone you meet and some people who want to hire you won’t be right for you and your team. You should practice these phrases,
“I’m not sure we’re the right partner for you.”
“Your level of investment doesn’t match your expectations.”
"You seem to have a good idea of what you need done and we usually help our clients figure that out.”
“You’re expecting us to take you from zero to 60 in just a few weeks, that doesn’t typically happen.”
"The strategic initiative we’re discussing is more like a marathon, not a sprint. You should be ready for a 12 to 24-month commitment to properly plan, build and optimize your new marketing or sales machine.”
These are designed to push away the bad prospects and get them to rethink their perspective. If they change, you can consider them as prospects, but if they can’t—let them move on and torture another agency.
Treat Your Clients Fairly And Expect Them To Treat Your Fairly
I’m less concerned about you treating them fairly as I am about them treating you fairly. One technique I like when clients aren’t happy is to ask them what I can do to make them happy. Often what they suggest is less than I was about to offer. They win and we win. They like that I asked and they feel like they got what they wanted. But like I said, most of the time I think agency owners (at least those I know) are already treating clients fairly but the clients are not treating you fairly.
Some clients think they’re job is to get you to do as much as possible for the money they’re paying. Wrong. Others think you should drop everything and take care of what they need, when they need it. Wrong. Still others think deadlines are your problem and they can take as much time as they need on their end, expecting you to hit deadlines even when their actions delay the project. Also wrong.
You’re a partner, not a vendor. Vendors sell hot dogs from carts on the corner. Agencies are strategic partners who deliver high value work that has strategic business impact on your client’s business. Make sure that’s how they see you before you start working together.
Yes, lose. You’re not going to win every time you work with a prospect. The key is to lose early. You don’t want to work on a deal for a month only to lose at the end. If you’re not going to get full consideration for any reason, pass. If they want a vendor, pass. If they don’t have a budget that matches their expectations, pass. If they don’t seem nice, pass. Spend as much time as possible with those opportunities you have the best chance of closing.
Practice, Practice and More Practice
Some of these suggestions are going to feel uncomfortable. Some of the phrases and questions I provided are going to feel strange to you, initially. Anytime you do something new it feels strange and uncomfortable. Most people give up. It’s too hard to change. Please don’t. Please practice, practice and keep practicing until it feels like you’ve been doing it and saying it for years.
This goes for some of the new marketing techniques too. You might be new to inbound. You might be adding new tactics to your set of services and you don’t have a lot of experience with those. No worries. Just stick with it, keep practicing them. Practice them on your agency first. Make mistakes on your own agency. Take what you learn and then operationalize that for your clients. Don’t give up and don’t get frustrated if you make a mistake, learn from the mistake and keep pushing forward.
Before you know it, you’ll be killing it.
Do you really want to grow? I mean really want to? You’re going to have to make some changes. I know a lot of owners who say they want to grow their agency but they’re not willing to make the changes necessary to drive growth. Doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results is the definition of insanity. You’re better than that.
The eight ideas here aren’t going to instantly transform your agency. But if you put them down on a whiteboard and stare at them every single day, making sure you follow them and make decisions that align with those ideas—you will grow your shop. You’ll start closing more new customers and you’ll have happier clients who stay with you longer. You’ll grow. You’ll make more money and have people to help you take care of your clients.
Start Today Tip – You need help. If you could do this on your own, you would have already. The good news is there are people who can help you. More good news? That help is cheap. No matter how big or small your agency, you can afford to get the help you need. Any agency owner can afford to invest a few hundred dollars a month to help hold onto retainer clients and sign new retainer clients valued at thousands of dollars a month. Close out the year with a big uptick and get ready to make 2018 the best year yet.
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