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How to Reduce Churn at Your Marketing Agency and Stop Losing Clients

December 11th

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A lot of web design and digital marketing agencies offer marketing services for clients.

For agencies that just focused on website design, it can be a great channel to grow your agency to another level.

Ongoing marketing services can provide significant recurring revenue for your business.

But, of course, you have to be able to earn and keep that business.

You have to be able to successfully market for those clients to keep them happy with your services.

One problem agencies have to deal with is “churn”.

Losing clients with these big recurring services.

You can’t successfully grow your business if you can’t both keep your clients and consistently add more.

And keeping clients that you are providing marketing services for is a different beast entirely from working to keep clients satisfied who you are providing web design and/or hosting and support for.

You may be thinking, “What if we keep growing like crazy – is churn so bad?”

Yes.

It’s a small world.

Clients leave reviews.

There’s a quote that I find appropriate. Warren Buffett said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it.”

I’ve seen agencies in “growth mode” that would take on every client they can, even if they knew or should have known that the client would end up quitting after their initial contract was up.

And those agencies have terrible reputations in the niches they serve.

At some point, you run out of clients to swindle.

At some point, word has gotten around, no one wants to work with you, and your agency is going to flounder.

So, let’s break down what you need to do to better retain clients that you are doing marketing for.

Productize Your Services

You cannot provide consistent, great service and scale if your services are ill-defined.

You need to productize your marketing offerings.

We’ve written a ton about productizing your services, and, in fact, have an entire course about it.

For marketing services, it’s pretty much the same as web design services.

Whether you are doing SEO, PPC, social media, or email marketing – there should always be specific deliverables.

Each month a client will get X.

That can include a monthly analytics report, some amount of time building or enhancing their campaigns, and more.

But, it should have a fixed scope.

This way, you can provide the service consistently to a growing number of clients.

If it isn’t repeatable and scalable, you shouldn’t be doing it.

Coming along with this, you need documentation.

Every step of every process you do needs to be written out.

Ideally, someone with minimal training in what you do should be able to follow your instructions and provide your services.

Now, I know that it can take years to get expert-level knowledge of SEO and Adwords.

But not everyone on your team needs to be an expert.

If you can document your processes, and train your team, you will be able to provide better, consistent, repeatable services to your clients that provide consistent results, keep your clients happy, and keep your clients using your services through the years.

“Productizing is great and all, but what else besides productizing our services will help us keep clients?”

A business can have productized services, but still produce lousy results that ends up with clients churning.

You may have a system for management and growth, but the system is a piece of the puzzle, not the whole thing.

Productizing is the blueprints to a building, but it’s not the metal, wood or the nails.

Productizing your services alone isn’t what’s keeping clients happy.

So, let’s talk about what else you need to do to keep those marketing clients happy.

Regular Client Phone Calls

This one big time.

This is probably the single-most important thing to keeping clients.

For our agency, once we started adding this to our workflow, it dropped our churn drastically.

When clients are working with you, paying you hundreds to thousands of dollars each month for your marketing services, they need to know that you understand what they’re going through, and they need to feel like you are working with them as their partner.

In running an agency, I learned this lesson firsthand, and heard other agency founders repeat this lesson back to me.

In theory, you think “If I just provide great results, clients will stay.”

But it’s not that simple.

Often, clients are being pitched by competitors.

These competitors make bogus claims that they can help those businesses “Rank #1 in Google” or that the businesses are throwing money away in advertising.

Your competitors are doing everything they can to create doubt in the mind of your clients to make those clients leave you and hire them.

And even if you’re killing it for your clients, they can be susceptible to your competitors’ compelling messaging.

So, one way to help squash this doubt is consistent contact with your clients.

For us, that was a minimum of one phone call per month with the client to review their campaigns, provide advice for next month, and hear about how it was going on their end.

I know that some other agencies have regular calls each week or every other week with their clients.

At our agency, for example, we could see how many leads we were generating for our clients, but because our clients were service businesses (not ecommerce), we didn’t know exactly how many sales they were making from the leads we generated.

So, we needed these touch-points to get feedback on how to improve the campaigns.

But, the frequent touch-points also served to provide feelings of security with our clients.

Just by having these calls with them, they felt like we were working hard on their campaigns.

Obviously, we were.

But, even if we didn’t have these calls, we would have been working on their campaigns.

However, the client wouldn’t have necessarily known that.

With marketing services, sometimes the clients can’t see the results right away.

If you do some link-building or run a new A/B test, it can take awhile to get the benefit.

And, your client may not know to attribute any uptick in traffic or business specifically to your agency.

So, the frequent touch-points help in that regard as well.

it makes the client really feel like you are an extension of the client.

Almost like you are their in-house marketing team.

It makes for better communication.

It helps you spot and avoid potential pitfalls or issues down the road.

And it keeps them invested in working with you.

How to Implement Regular Client Calls

So, there are a few ways you can set the regular calls up.

Not just the day and time, but also, how your agency handles the client calls.

First, let’s talk about scheduling the client calls.

Scheduling Recurring Client Calls

My first recommendation is to have a regularly scheduled call with your client that you set up at the beginning of your engagement.

When they first sign up with you, have them agree to a set day and time every month (or every two weeks, or every week, whatever you end up on).

Create a recurring calendar invite that they accept.

So, whatever it is, “every Friday at 3 PM” or “every first Tuesday of the month at 10 AM”, have it on your calendars.

If they need to reschedule or cancel a particular time, no problem.

But having the same time consistently makes you part of their regular rhythms.

It’s constant, and it keeps them engaged with you.

Scheduling with an App

If the client can’t agree to a regular call at the outset, what I’d recommend instead is, whenever you send the client a report (each month or each week or whenever), let them schedule a call with you to review and discuss the report.

You can do this with a call scheduling app. Using a service like ScheduleOnce, Calendly, or Acuity lets your clients schedule a call with you. As for which app to use, they’re all great and do the job well.

The software looks at your calendar, sees when you are free, and lets people create calendar appointments.

You can choose to only allow clients to schedule time in certain windows, if you are free.

If you are setting aside specific time windows for client calls (which you should), you can say to your scheduling software, “Let clients schedule calls with me between 3-5pm on Tuesday or Friday, so long as I do not have another appointment at that time.”

For me, getting call scheduling software was a huge time-saver.

I’m sure you’ve done the “dance” where you go back-and-forth with someone via email to try and schedule a call or meeting.

This software completely saves you from having to do that.

Usually I’ll send an email, “Hey, let’s have a call, use my call scheduler – [link to my scheduler].”

And this saves us from 3 more emails of manually checking our calendars and picking times.

Set Aside Time Blocks for Client Calls

Also, you can and should block off regular time for client calls.

If, for example, you want to schedule your time so you spend Monday and Tuesday on SEO campaigns, Wednesday and Thursday on PPC campaigns, and Friday on client calls, setting up these recurring calls with clients for all on the same day helps you better budget your time.

Having client calls scattered throughout the week at completely random times can kill your productivity.

So, we made sure to block off certain days and times each week when we’d have client calls.

Show Your Work

In our agency, we made sure that every client got a report each month.

That report broke down the analytics, traffic, and call tracking, and compared it with the previous month.

The report also had a notes section with our feedback on the report.

In the notes section, we could share insights, call things out, mention some of the work we did.

Oh, and if you’re looking for a good reporting app, i would definitely recommend Agency Analytics. It’s a great all-in-one reporting platform.

Some people like Raven Tools or others. We liked Agency Analytics because it’s comprehensive. It integrates with our Google Analytics, Adwords, and call tracking software. It had most all of the data we wanted in one place.

And, with an app like Agency Analytics, you could schedule reports to generate each month. So it would do a lot of the work for you.

All you’d need to do would be to provide some additional analysis, add your feedback, and send it off to the client.

Before we used Agency Analytics, we used to build reports manually for clients.

It would take us several hours to do a report for each client.

We’d go to Google Adwords, export data, format it.

Then we’d go to Google Analytics, export data, format it.

Then we’d go to Moz…

And so on.

It took forever.

It was the most comprehensive reporting we could do, and showed the client a lot of data and insights.

But, it wasn’t worth the time.

Agency Analytics had most all of the data we needed.

What it didn’t have, the clients didn’t care about so much.

Ultimately, we went from taking several hours to build an individual report, down to 10 minutes.

And that time saved was worth everything we paid for with the reporting software.

Don’t Take Clients that are Destined to Fail

This was also an important lesson for our agency.

Know what clients you can get results for, and don’t sign on clients that you know won’t be happy in 6 months or a year from now.

This can be really tough to figure out, especially for a newer or smaller agency.

At my agency, it took us awhile to figure out.

But, we learned over time what type of clients we could do awesome work for, and what type of clients we would end up not meeting their expectations.

And we flat out refused to work with a lot of clients.

We told them, “We can’t get you the results you’re looking for. No one can. We won’t let you hire us because we know you won’t be happy with what we deliver for you.”

And it saved us a lot of work, headache, and ultimately churn.

After we stopped taking bad clients, we stopped losing bad clients.

Importantly, this let us work on our marketing messages to potential clients, and make stronger pitches to the clients we wanted to work with.

We built case studies geared towards the type of clients we were doing great work for and the types of clients we wanted.

And that helped us get more of these clients.

That winded up with us getting better results for our clients, keeping more clients in the process.

Set the Right Expectations on Day 1

Hopefully you didn’t sell too hard.

Hopefully you didn’t tell the client, “Hire us and we’ll get you to Page 1 organic in Google for the search, ‘business’.”

Because if you sold a client on a result you won’t be able to achieve, then they won’t stay with you long-term.

And if you keep shedding clients, word will get around, clients will leave negative reviews online, your reputation will suffer, and it will hurt your business’ long-term prospects.

So, make sure that clients know from the beginning what they should expect.

SEO doesn’t work overnight.

You know this.

The client needs to know and, importantly, needs to understand this.

Anyone saying “We will get you to Page 1 organic in 6 months” is telling a twisted half-truth.

Sure, you might be able to get to Page 1, but it will be for a non-competitive long-tail keyword that the client won’t value.

That won’t result in meaningful traffic, and the client will feel like you took advantage of them.

This means that you have to make sure your salespeople aren’t making exaggerated claims.

You might find that means going against competing proposals is tougher, but we actually found the opposite.

At my agency, we positioned our salespeople not as “salespeople”, but as consultants.

We would be 100% honest with our sales prospects.

We would explain to them the process, educating them, and also getting past the clients’ “objections” in the sales process by calling out exactly what competitors were doing.

This impressed them, and built trust.

The trust helped us win more clients, and built a strong foundation for our relationship moving forward.

It ensured that the clients trusted us and our judgment, and weren’t skeptical.

At the outset, clients can either trust you or be skeptical.

If they’re skeptical at the outset, it makes it harder for you to do your job without scrutiny from the client.

They’ll “give you a shot”, but you better deliver above-and-beyond results or they’ll leave.

If they trust you from the beginning, you can work with them much easier.

And it makes long-term retention much more likely.

This Stuff Seems Like a Lot Of Work to Retain Clients

Now, it’s definitely a bit more work to provide these regular reports and phone calls with clients.

The regular phone calls definitely take a lot of time.

But, they also contributed significantly to keeping churn up.

So, if you know that you are going to need to spend more time generating reports and having calls with clients, you need to charge enough.

First – find out your cost.

Find out how much time you are spending with clients each month, on average.

Find out your “cost” for that time.

If you have an employee / contractor, a marketing manager doing the work for clients, find out how many clients they can work with at capacity for their salary, divide that by the amount of clients, finding out how much it costs to serve a client, generally.

For example, if you have a marketing manager whose salary is $4,000 per month, and they are able to serve 10 clients, it costs you $400 to serve each client per month.

Add in cost for your tools and software, and you can find out your total cost per client.

Once you find your cost, price accordingly.

Make sure that you have a good margin on the services you offer, and price accordingly.

At our agency, our services and deliverables evolved over time.

We ended up increasing the amount of and cost of work we did per client, because we saw it lead to better results.

But, before long, we had more and more clients, but our profits weren’t increasing drastically.

So, we dove into the margins.

At our price points, how much profit were we making on each client?

We found that some of our oldest clients were actually losing us money!

So, we had to either provide them less service (and potentially not getting them as good results), or increase their rates.

Make sure you don’t price too low.

Don’t just aim to cover your cost of service or time.

Aim to price your service so that you will be profitable.

And don’t forget that you’ll need to factor in many other costs beyond just “time”.

If you are running a business, you’ll need to factor in rent and insurance and administrative costs, not just the cost of the employee who’s performing the work.

And if you are the agency – if you are a solo – make sure you value your services appropriately so you can grow.

If you price too low, you will be stuck with clients that take up a lot of your time but don’t allow you the ability to hire contractors or help to get you past the point where you are working “in” your business rather than “on” your business.

If you are the entire agency, then you can end up always being stuck doing client work, unable to take time off because clients are paying specifically for your time and your cost structure might not enable you to hire outside help.

In this process at our agency, we ended up losing some clients when we changed our pricing.

But, it was much better than spending time on clients that were actually costing us money!

Some Tools We’d Recommend to Retain Your Marketing Clients and Reduce Churn

One last thing.

If you want to reduce churn, your agency will need to be using the right tools.

We talked a bit about reporting and call tracking tools, but there are several tools that were part of our agency’s arsenal that helped us keep clients happy.

And you should definitely check them out, as these tools can make sure your clients are satisfied and stick with you.

I wanted to take the time now to list them all out

Call Scheduling

Call scheduling apps let clients or partners or sales prospects (anyone your business works with really) schedule calls with you. This saves from having to go back-and-forth with them via email to set up a phone call. It’s super-efficient and has saved me dozens of hours over the years. Apps I recommend including: ScheduleOnce, Calendly, or Acuity.

Agency Analytics

As I mentioned before, I recommend Agency Analytics for client analytics reporting. It creates PDF reports for your clients, showing them data from Google Analytics, Adwords, call tracking, and more.

Wordstream

For managing clients’ Google Adwords campaigns, our agency used a service called Wordstream. It’s an Adwords management platform that allows us to easily build, manage, and improve clients’ paid advertising campaigns in Google Adwords and Bing. It’s not a free service, but after using it for a month, we saw how much time it ended up saving us, and have been using it ever since. It helps us quickly analyze and work on campaigns, easily seeing keywords we need to negative out or add, what bids and ads we should change, and helps us copy and edit ad groups and campaigns quickly.

CallRail

For doing “call tracking” so clients can see exactly how many leads you were able to generate each month, we use CallRail. Callrail assigns you phone numbers that you can add to different campaigns. Every time your client gets a call at one of your tracking numbers, it logs into CallRail. At the end of the month, you can show to your clients, “As you see from this call tracking report, our SEO (or PPC or whichever) campaign generated 100 calls from potential clients.” This tool has been indispensable for our agency.

Offsprout

Building, optimizing, and working on client websites necessitates a platform that can work with you. So, our agency used the Offsprout page builder. It let us easily spin up new landing pages for ads with high-converting page templates, create new blog posts and content for our client SEO campaigns.

Feel free to comment below with your thoughts. We appreciate the feedback.

Photo credits by Štefan Štefančík, Hannah Wei, William Iven, Todd Quackenbush

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