The fight for agency territory is getting fiercer by the day.
Salesforce—the biggest CRM player—has 1,939+ partner agencies across the world while its relatively smaller competitors like ActiveCampaign (3,000 partners) and HubSpot (2,801 partners) lead the race.
The above examples are a dipstick into a subsection of agencies that are focused on RevOps. And then we have consulting firms, certified resellers, channel partners, revenue-sharing partners, and more.
The barriers to entry for agencies have lowered.
And given the current economic conditions, the agency partnership model is more attractive than ever. However, clients are just one bad experience away from leaving one agency for another.
With great competition, comes great challenges.
Much like in SaaS, consumers don’t have any obligation to stick to your agency unless they are getting the results they want.
The only sensible solution to this growing challenge is to build an immutable agency-client relationship that no competitor, recession, or other market forces can break.
The good news is, you might already have most (if not all) of the ingredients you need to bolster your client relationship. You just need to reorganize your resources, rejig a few processes, and—most importantly—shift your mindset to be more valuable to your clients.
To be fair, it’s a fraction of the work you do for your clients. Therefore, it’s well worth investing time in strengthening your relationships with clients if it means all-around prosperity.
Ways to improve your client relationships
Here are seven guaranteed ways to bolster client relationships and improve your business bottom line regardless of whether it’s a new client or accounts that are considering extending their contract with your agency.
1. Overpromise and overdeliver
Mediocrity is a sneaky disease in business—especially when things start to feel comfortable. The 'underpromise and overdeliver’ (UPOD) advice is bad for business because it encourages complacency. It makes the average acceptable. And if you follow the UPOD principle, you will soon be in the same sloppiness as 95% of other agencies in your industry.
In fact, here’s what Aditya, our CEO says about it:
If you want to play in the premier league—and build a top-notch client relationship—you have to overpromise and be through to deliver them.
This obviously doesn’t mean making tall promises to your clients that you can’t keep. Set clear goals and expectations with your clients from day one so that there’s no room for disappointment later. Understand their existing business problems and give them a step-by-step breakdown of how you will help them solve them. Contrary to conventional wisdom, clients today want to be privy about the processes you will take and not just the final outcome.
Once you are aligned with clients on the processes and the results—leave the UPOD mindset behind. Instead, adopt the “shoot for the moon and land among the stars'' mantra. Go above and beyond your RFP, contracts, or whatever form of agreements you have signed with the clients. Energy is infectious—when you put all you can into a client project, they will eventually match your wavelength and happily play along with you.
But be warned: when you overpromise, you have to be okay with not being able to deliver 100%. And that’s okay because clients can tell agencies that go all-out from the mediocre ones.
At the end of the day, it’s the effort that counts. And even better if you can improve the efficiency across the board.
2. Don’t bite off more than you can chew
This might sound like a contradiction to the “overpromise and overdelight” approach we discussed above—but it’s not.
There’s a difference between pushing the envelope on projects you have undertaken and spreading yourself thin across accounts that exceed your team’s bandwidth.
For most agencies, it’s tempting to say “yes” to every new client that shows up in your pipeline because of the feast and famine cycle: you are overbooked some months of the year and you hear crickets the rest of the time.
This is especially true if you’re an early-stage agency that hasn’t found lucrative retainer opportunities with big-ticket clients. And that’s even more reason for you to think about improving the relationship with existing clients.
Just because there are business opportunities doesn’t mean you should grab each one of them—especially if you are not in a position to scale your operations. It’s a death wish to take on commitments you can’t fulfill.
Instead, revisit everything we discussed in point #1. Focus on providing deep value to your existing clients so that you can make more profit by focusing on a few key clients instead of trying to boil the ocean.
For agencies, saying “no” is a sensible business strategy. Be ruthless about rejecting opportunities that don’t fit your expertise, politely decline projects that come with overbearing scope creep, and avoid clients who lowball you on a project’s budget. Saying no to opportunities that don’t align with your agency’s values gives you control over your business in the long run.
Let me cite an example to drive this point home. Wieden+Kennedy is a Portland-based ad agency with branches all over the world. It’s most famous for working with brands like Nike, Anheuser Busch, Samsung, and Montblanc—basically household brands that everybody has heard of.
The agency had Bud Light (Market cap: $90.827 billion) as one of its key accounts for a long time until last year. That’s when the Bud Light management decided to re-open its contract for other agencies to bid.
Instead of fighting for the bid (despite having an advantage because of their working relationship), team Wieden walked away from the millions of dollars worth of deal potential because they felt the client’s sudden change in direction undervalued their past work.
[The agency-client relationship is] a little bit like dating; you can show up as the person you think somebody wants you to be, or you can be who you are and see if it works. We would rather say, “go forth” and wish them the best of luck, instead of trying to fight and pretend to do something we don’t do.
- Neal Arthur, CEO, Wieden+Kennedy
You might say it’s easy for a global brand like Wieden to pass up such deals. But it’s always worthwhile letting go of opportunities that aren’t in your best interest no matter how big or small your agency is.
3. Communicate regularly and effectively
Customer churn for many reasons, and failing to communicate is one of the top reasons for them to abandon your business. In any relationship, effective communication is the key to an effective partnership.
As part of setting clear expectations for the clients, have defined processes around how you will communicate with them, how they can reach out to you, and how frequently will those communications take place.
Most agencies assign an account manager to a client and schedule monthly or quarterly meetings to touch base with the clients. If you want to build deep, meaningful connections with your clients, go beyond such tokenism.
Thin from your client’s point of view: they want to be kept in the loop about what’s going on with their projects. Some clients want to be actively involved in the processes while others want to be able to ask questions and make changes to certain things in a project. Agree on the cadence and communication norms at the beginning of every project and give the clients what they want.
If you have a client-centric approach, give them one of the many options to communicate regularly:
- Emails, Slack, or other channels for daily updates
- Regular calls to discuss project-related developments
- Reports or other forms of data insights about ongoing projects
- Quarterly business meetings to go over the results and outcomes
Meetings are one of the most effective ways to collaborate with clients—but you have to be careful about not going overboard. If meetings are your choice for keeping in touch with clients, use a conversation intelligence tool like Avoma to mine critical insights from each of those conversations.
Avoma records, transcribes, and analyzes conversations so that you can gain deeper visibility into the client conversations and learn how to improve those conversations. It lets you facilitate account handoff, share account insights with all teams across the org, and identify potential churn signals.
4. Choose the right tools to collaborate with clients
In today’s digital business landscape, your communication with the clients will happen mostly in the virtual plain—and likely in asynchronous cycles. And thanks to the widespread popularity of SaaS, you have apps that can help you work closely with clients in almost any category you can imagine.
Here is a list of SaaS tools that we highly recommend you to collaborate seamlessly with clients.
Google Workspace has a suite of cloud-based productivity and collaboration solutions to help your teams create, store, and communicate information. It solves your everyday simple productivity problems to complex workflow needs. For instance, here are a few examples of the things that you can achieve with Google Workspace apps for your agency:
Use Google’s Gmail client to personalize your business email address to reflect your agency’s branding. For instance, if your business website is www.coolagencypartner.com, you can get branded email addresses to match your domain such as firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
With Google Drive—store, organize, and share files on the cloud. Drag and drop files from your computer or download the files in your Drive to your computer in a seamless manner.
For everyday productivity, make use of Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, and Google Keep. For real-time communication and collaboration, you have Google Chat, Google Meet, Hangouts, and Jamboard.
Google Workspace integrates with a wide variety of CRM software so that you can easily add leads, monitor email interactions, and manage different tasks—all from within Google’s app ecosystem without switching to another tab.
Google Workspace perfectly fits the workflow requirements of most agencies. Most importantly, Google’s apps are extremely easy to use, reasonably priced (paid plans start at $6/user/month), and provide a high degree of collaboration.
ClickUp offers a suite of apps that allows you and your clients to manage various projects under one roof ranging from task management, document collaboration, spreadsheets, goals tracking, wikis, chat, process automation, and team-specific templates for all kinds of projects—the list goes on and on.
It’s an all-in-one productivity suite that's well-known mostly for its project management product but has a wide variety of offerings ranging from word processing to CRM.
Unlike other project management apps that offer team-specific project management capabilities (e.g. JIRA for engineering vs Trello for creative teams), ClickUp brings all team projects together in one place—while still letting teams and individuals control access and visibility into their projects.
For most businesses, the sudden transition to remote work set up during the peak of the pandemic was a challenge to collaborate closely within and outside their teams. But businesses that chose Slack were able to converge their communication under one roof.
One of Slack’s nice features is ‘Slack Connect’—the ability for remote businesses to create shared channels for agencies, freelancers, or other third-party vendors. These channels look and feel exactly like one of your internal Slack channels.
In fact, here are some statistics on the improvement in efficiency when marketing teams collaborate with agencies on Slack:
Slack Connect allows your agency teams and clients alike to:
- Collaborate and discuss changing priorities in real-time
- Exchange project-specific feedback asynchronously and in one place
- Search through channels to reference past conversations and data points
- Fill the geographic and time zone gaps between them, if any
- Automate workflows and approvals to meet time-sensitive project deadlines
Taking all of its capabilities into consideration, Slack’s self-proclaimed road to fame as “your digital HQ” is actually well-deserved.
Avoma is an AI-powered conversation intelligence platform for revenue-focused businesses. In the context of agencies—that means sales, marketing, and account management.
The leaders across sales, marketing, and account management can use Avoma to get a high-level overview of their team’s performance, offer concrete feedback and coaching, and build a strategic agency playbook.
Feature-wise, Avoma helps you do everything that you need to when it comes to planning, capturing, and analyzing critical client insights.
The customer-facing teams in agencies often have multiple conversations with prospects and existing clients across phone calls, web conferencing tools, and emails. You don’t want the client details to be scattered across disparate tools like calendars, handwritten notes, sales call logs, CRMs, and email inboxes.
From the business point of view, that’s a lot of multitasking that often leads to unfocussed conversations, missed client details, and lost revenue opportunities. Avoma’s comprehensive AI meeting assistant capabilities solve this by letting you automatically record, transcribe, take AI-generated notes, and analyze every conversation that you have with clients.
Did you notice a common thread among these collaborative software? Most of them are all-in-one software—the way forward for modern businesses to simplify their tech stack and do more with less.
5. Be their strategic partner—not just a vendor
The level of strategic involvement that agencies and their clients share with each other is the difference between a good relationship and a great relationship. Good agencies do everything the clients expect out of the relationship—it’s a straightforward transaction between them and the vendor.
However, if you want to deepen your relationship with clients, it’s not enough to be a vendor—you have to try and be a strategic partner in their growth.
Assume that you are a critical part of your client’s company and a potential lever to their growth. Offer them your business expertise based on your experience dealing with previous clients—even if it’s beyond the scope of your partnership.
Become an indispensable extension to your client’s organization by contributing to their business from a strategic level. It helps you build a powerful moat against any competitive threats that can jeopardize your partnership.
For instance, many clients end their contracts with agencies when they start building out their in-house teams. But if your agency can give the clients the value that they can’t get elsewhere—not even from the in-house teams—they will be eager to continue the partnership.
A great way to improve your client relationship at a strategic level is to solve their problems proactively. Another great tip is to create an automated feedback loop with your clients. Most agencies are receptive to their clients’ feedback—there’s nothing new in that advice. But the agencies with an edge seek feedback even when the clients don’t offer it explicitly.
At Avoma, we talk to dozens of agencies that reinforce this practice.
In fact, our agency customers love Avoma’s workflow especially the automated note-taking, CRM updates and more importantly the enabling of the feedback loop within the agency in the form of comments, snippets and playlists.
6. Have a client success playbook
To improve your agency-client relationship, you will need to replicate your success with a few clients in other relationships. And building a client success playbook is a perfect recipe to scale the best practices of one account to many.
The best thing about creating a playbook is that it automates several parts of your relationship-building process—like templatizing meeting conversations, training your account managers, and understanding the different touches clients expect.
Here’s an example of what that means. Let’s say you are a Singapore-based Salesforce partner company that has an impressive set of B2B tech companies in the North American region. You recently bagged a deal with a rapidly-growing company that has secured a Series D round of funding and needs development help in setting up the right tools to meet its new growth mandate.
If you are able to earn a 10 out of 10 from this client, it’s a sign that there are things that worked for them (and your agency) in this relationship. It also means you should curate and extrapolate those best practices for you to boost your relationship with other clients from similar domains—and the same location.
Once again, a conversation intelligence solution like Avoma is a great fit for you to facilitate this goal. Avoma lets you organize your client conversations in easily digestible and accessible formats (e.g., audio, video, and text) so that your teams have insights to refer back to when they are onboarding a new client.
Here’s an example of how you can pull this off. Avoma offers Playlists as one of its features that lets you add new meeting recordings under a playlist. People across your agency can subscribe to playlists, create their own playlists, and listen to client conversations at their own pace.
Just like how Spotify lets you organize your favorite songs in your playlists and have multiple playlists, you can create separate playlists for outbound sales calls, client onboarding, monthly check-ins, objection handling, etc.
Organizing conversations in this fashion doubles as a searchable knowledge base—a library-like organization of information that’s handy when you are looking for specific data and insights.
You can also leverage these carefully organized conversation nuggets to train new account managers and other client-facing recruits to accelerate their ramp-up process. Instead of wasting weeks shadowing a more experienced team member, new recruits can just refer to the playbook (or glean through the knowledge base) to learn everything about the product, past clients, and other common issues at their own pace.
7. Offer smooth onboarding and offboarding processes
Customer onboarding is the origin point of the customer lifecycle after your agency and clients officially shake on an agreement. It helps you make a great first impression and sets the tone for everything that’s to come in your relationship with the clients—you can’t afford to give it a lukewarm treatment.
Give your clients a great welcome experience from the get-go. Create a standard client onboarding template to offer an above-average and consistent induction experience with you. Remember that the client chose to do business with your agency—start demonstrating the value of working with you to validate that decision.
When you don’t have a defined onboarding process for new clients—or if it’s a tepid welcome experience—it makes your clients question their decision and plants a seed for churn later in their customer journey.
Here’s a simple three-step onboarding process that you can build to offer a delightful client experience:
- Create a clearly-defined, step-by-step onboarding process
- Offer frequent (e.g. weekly once) touches for the first month
- Give them a rundown of what’s to come during the entire project tenure
There are nuances to each of these steps, but those are the three high-level steps you should incorporate into your client onboarding program.
Now on the flip side, you should make peace with the fact that everything that begins has an end—including the time clients spend with you on a project. Customer offboarding happens for many reasons: when their expectations are not met, when the scope of a project is over, due to budget issues on the client side, and so on.
If clients are churning away because of bad customer experience or due to unmet expectations, try to understand the reason behind their decision so that you can avoid casualties like that with other customers.
If they are ending the contract for some other, it’s business as usual. In any case, have a thorough offboarding program to offer them a memorable break-up experience. Make sure they feel valued even when they have decided to part ways with your agencies.
There are several benefits to giving them a stellar farewell experience. For example, you can use the opportunity to understand how the clients perceive your agency and the work you did for them. Clients are more open to voicing their raw feedback when they are about to leave a brand. Therefore, the offboarding program is a golden opportunity for you to capture their valuable feedback—either good or bad.
Secondly, it allows you to leave the door open for the clients to come back to you when they have similar project requirements in the future. A formal offboarding process earns you the trust that you appreciate the opportunity to work with them and would love to work with them again in the future.
To improve your client relationship, rise above the ordinary
No matter which industry your agency operates in, there are plenty of other players scrambling to earn the business of the same target market. And the number is only going to grow bigger as more big-league software vendors expand their partnership programs to newer players. Needless to say, the agency space is going to get extremely competitive in the near future.
Improving your client relationship is the only insurance you have against the cut-throat competition in such a business environment. Build a client-centric business culture and make every opportunity to interact with them count towards strengthening their trust in you.
Start by leveraging your client conversations to refine your client retention strategy.
Use Avoma to analyze your customer meetings and extract actionable insights to apply to your client interactions.