We all know that it is easier and cheaper to turn an existing customer into new business than to acquire a completely new customer. This is as true for agencies as it is for other businesses, though we often forget this
Of course, we know that client retainer management is not the only challenge small marketing agency owners face on a daily basis. But for now, let's take a closer look at customer acquisition and retention, one of the most common problems agencies faces, and think about how they can best be managed
First You Catch'em: Customer Acquisition
Marketing and sales present problems for small agency owners. They find marketing too time consuming, and the very idea of entering the world of sales too scary. While they can cover marketing needs by assigning one or two tasks to their staff, like writing blog articles or social media marketing, sales are still taboo. At professional conferences, only networking is usually covered as a way to acquire new customers.
This is a shame, because marketing techniques can make a huge difference in generating high quality leads. Inbound marketing, for example, could be a great help. For agencies, the following marketing techniques work especially well:
- Blog articles focusing on the pain points of your target audience
- Optimizing search engine for content
- Sharing articles or other content on social media
- Ensuring that articles contain calls to action (CTA) in articles, which lead to marketing offers/enticements (eBook)
- Using cost-effective advertising of marketing enticements (e.g., Facebook Lead Ads)
- Offering eBook downloads for additional content and scheduling an appointment for in-person or online meetings
- LinkedIn also offers opportunities for lead generation, for example, with social marketing automation software.
All of the above could be efficiently planned and implemented by the agency's staff (or with outside help).
There are marketing agency owners who just record 5-10 minute podcasts and then have their staff publish them, write articles from them, optimize them for search engines, and share them.
This is efficient use of the CEO's time because they are involved at the beginning of an internal marketing project, then again at the end, when there are serious enquiries and sales opportunities.
Planning internal projects should be as vigorous as 'real' projects for clients. You need to identify project leaders, and define tasks and milestones, and — to ensure maximum efficiency — use a timesheet and project management system designed specifically for smaller agencies.
Then You Keep'em: Client Retainer Management
Once you have a new client, you need to be able to keep them. Sadly, client retention management is a weak point for many agencies. While customer retention should be an important part of an agency owner's day-to-day tasks from day one, this is unfortunately not often the case.
Let's look at what drives client retention (i.e., what should agency owners do to retain more clients):
- New client onboarding
- Planning projects in advance
- High quality, accurate work
- Detailed reporting on a monthly basis
- Managing customer relationships effectively
- Moving more clients to monthly fee or retainer status
New client onboarding
Someone must deal with every new customer, and you can make it easier for that person by developing and using templates. If there is a guide with concrete steps to follow, no-one will miss anything that could be important, and your whole team will look more professional in the eyes of the client.
Planning projects in advance
Project planning is what every agency should do. Even though small agencies may struggle to cope with all the day-to-day work, which seems to leave no time for planning or forward thinking, it is possible to do both if you have the right tool at hand to help plan projects quickly and accurately. You should know:
- When a project starts and how long it will last
- The key project milestones
- Dates set for monthly meetings with the client
- The main tasks — as far into the future as we can see
This framework allows an agency to plan any project efficiently and execute it according to plan.
High quality, accurate work
This kind of work is probably the reason that clients stay with any agency for the long term. If clients can expect — and receive - quality work and positive results, there will be no reason to change.
Accuracy is the basis of quality work and can only be achieved by planning and measuring working time. Even if you do not charge by the hour, it is worth measuring how long it takes to complete the tasks in the project. That information can help you understand and optimize processes and achieve higher profits.
Detailed reporting on a monthly basis
It is well-known that clients do not always read monthly agency reports. However, it is important for agencies to report the results of each project. These reports should be available in writing, but you should also try to arrange a time — in person or online — to present the client with the key findings and suggestions for further action.
Managing customer relationships effectively
Although agencies seldom use CRM, timesheet and project management software can be very useful for storing key information, planning meetings and milestones, and adding written notes to projects and tasks.
To retain clients, it's important to see clearly the issues faced by each client month by month, to know how any issues were resolved, how much work was involved in each kind of project, and whether there were excessive costs. This is the information every agency owner needs in order to address problems early and take positive steps to keep their clients happy.
Moving customers to hourly fee or monthly status (retainers)
If there are no other solutions, agencies will pursue fixed-fee, one-off projects, which may, in the short term, appear to bring in more revenue. Unfortunately, these short-term solutions involve short-term thinking.
A much better solution for these agencies would be to sell services as a package, with a monthly fee (i.e., a retainer). The fee could be fixed or hourly, but the point is that it is a monthly fee. In this case:
- The services you offer would become products
- More services would be saleable
- Services could be implemented more accurately and easily by the agency, based on similar previous projects
- Costs could be more optimized
- It would be easier to plan and implement projects
The factors above all pay a role in winning the struggle to keep existing customers. With the right tools (project management and time tracking software) and a well-organized work process, there is no struggle, just an easy-peasy, professional, and practiced way of planning.
As the owner of a smaller agency, you need to take the time and effort to retain existing customers and look for opportunities to generate new business from them. This is much easier and cheaper to accomplish than starting cold with potential leads. If you take the same care with your existing clients as you do chasing new leads, they will reward you with the kind of loyalty, that will grow with each project you undertake.