How to Build (and Maintain) a Killer Client Roster

Agencies typically suffer from client turnover rates that severely detract from profitability. Experts say that today the average client tenure is less than three years or that half of all agency-client relationships will last less than two years. I have to brag that our agency typically keeps clients for much longer–a source of immense pride for us. Before I get too puffed up, I should admit that not all of our client relationships are shining models of perfection. But we have learned key lessons over the years, been inspired by others, and gleaned five ways to build – and keep – a top-notch client roster.

Shared Vision of Success

At the onset of the agency-client relationship, it often seems like the synergies, good will and future possibilities are limitless. But a clear, shared vision of success can be the difference between a short-lived, unsatisfying relationship and a flourishing, long-term one. This vision can be qualified (improve awareness, preference) and quantified (increase sales by X, add X new customers). We include these key performance indicators (KPIs) in the partnership agreement. Ask the client how they will decide whether to retain the agency next year, what criteria will you be judged on. There’s your KPI.

Make Them Successful

In most cases this means make them money. But it could also mean bringing an issue to the forefront of public discourse, changing the company image or attracting key partners. If you have a shared vision of success, then this should come naturally. Make sure you point out the small wins on the road to huge victories. It will help them enjoy success on a day-to-day basis and highlight the agency’s contributions.

Stay Tuned

Stay tuned in to your clients, their industry and their challenges. What’s going on in their world? What keeps them awake at night? Know your direct clients’ current and past roles; their strengths and weaknesses. If you haven’t yet figured out what style of communication works best with your client, have them take this test. Read articles, blogs and trade publications to know the trends and the competition, and so that you can bring them ideas. Stay abreast of the leadership team and their priorities.

Over Communicate

Tell the client what you’re planning to do, tell them you’re doing it, and tell them when you’re done. Be out in front of project status and make sure your client knows the important parameters like who, what, where, when and how much. Err on the side of too much communication. We use the trusted weekly status document and call (if needed) to make sure everyone is aware of milestones, progress and to-dos.

Client Best Interests First

Always put your client’s best interests first. In most cases they coincide with yours. Even when they don’t, your fundamental duty is to represent the client organization. In one worst-case scenario, our client wanted to rupture the agreement because of funding issues. We allowed them to do this, although it put a strain on agency income projections. In the end, the client came back, referred us to many other prospects and remained a loyal, valuable, longtime partner of the agency.