Growing your agency is a huge priority, right?
A fantastic way to do that, alongside delivering top-notch work, is to build strong relationships with your clients. After all, they’re the people bringing in revenue and keeping your agency profitable.
But relationship-building is tough; especially when it’s a business-orientated one.
How do you build strong client relationships, nurture existing partnerships, and prove you’re always on-hand to help?
In this guide, we’re sharing the answers.
Why are agency - client relationships important?
If you’re a start-up agency that wants to grow, there’s no doubting you need strong relationships with your current clients - even if you only have a handful.
Why? Because relationships build trust, and that’s a key factor in any purchasing decision.
Your clients want to know you’ll deliver incredible work, and get results from their investment in your agency, way before they put pen to paper on your contract.
Relationships with current clients help with that.
Not only can they vouch you’re doing a great job (and that they should hire you, too), but maintaining strong relationships with current clients also increases the likelihood of retaining them.
And, when the average marketing agency spends $141 acquiring each new client, it’s a surefire way to make sure each client you’re bringing on-board is as profitable as possible.
You’d be mad to miss-out on the benefits that client relationships bring to an agency!
How to build (and maintain) strong client relationships
Now we’re on the same page and understand the value of client relationships, you might be questioning how you can build them.
Spoiler alert: It’s more than just hopping on a phone call once a month, and filling your 15-minute conversation with small talk about the weather.
You’ll need to be smart about the communication you have with each client.
Here’s a 7-step guide to building and maintaining strong relationships with your agency’s clients.
1. Understand your client and their language
One of the most important things to consider is whether your client understands industry jargon or not.
If they don’t and you sprinkle marketing abbreviations like “CPC” or “CPM” into your communication, it could be confusing - and that won’t help your mission to be seen as the super-helpful agency!
That’s why you should fully understand your client and the language they normally use beforehand - whether that’s through a discovery session before signing a contract, or analyzing the messaging in their emails.
For example: When I delivered my pitch, my client asked what “CPC” meant. Now, in my emails, I won’t assume they know other advertising-related abbreviations, so I’ll say “cost per acquisition” instead of CPA, and explain what it means.
That way, I know they’re taking value from my advice, and understand what I’m talking about - and not letting my knowledge go over their head.
Andrew Fein, Founder and Marketing Director of SATURN, also thinks it’s important to speak with your clients on a personal level:
“I think it is extremely important to build a personal relationship with your clients. Step one is simple, GET TO KNOW THEM! What sports teams do they like, music, theatre, etc. I always schedule a dinner with new clients after signing so I can get to know them, exchange stories, and show that I am grateful for them. (Sending them a bottle or tickets to a show on their birthday is often my second move, depending on what they like).”
2. Set realistic expectations from the outset
If you’ve held a discovery session to get to know your client before they sign a contract and handover their cash, use it as an opportunity to get to know your client and what they’re looking for - while also setting realistic expectations.
There’s nothing worse (or trust-breaking!) than not getting the results you expect when you’re paying for them, right?
Your clients will feel the same.
But by setting realistic expectations with your client from the outset, such as:
How long it’ll take to see results
Office hours, or when you’re available to take a call
What you’ll determine as “success”
...they won’t be concerned when things don’t go according to their plan.
Let’s say you’re an SEO agency, for example. It’s an industry known to take a while to see notable results, which is why you’ll need to say something like this in your initial pitch:
“We’ve found it usually takes 3 months to start seeing results from an SEO strategy, and around a year to start significantly impacting sales.”
That way, if results don’t come instantly (like clients usually expect), they won’t panic or lose faith. If they know that’s normal, and since you’ve communicated that from the beginning, they’re more likely to trust your process.
3. Share your knowledge as much as possible
It’s easy to charge or bill a client for asking questions. In fact, some agencies build the time they’ll likely spend answering questions into their proposal.
But try to steer away from the “charge for your knowledge” motto, and aim to provide your clients with as much free education as possible.
Not only does this help you to prove you know what you’re talking about, but clients are more likely to trust you if you’re always on-hand to offer value (without handing over cash to receive it).
Molly, of Molly Ho Studio, sums this up perfectly:
“When you give away good content, trust and credibility is built. You are no longer just another voice on the Internet. You are a trusted and reliable voice that they’ll come to know, love, and share with others. And over time, they start to see that you know what you’re actually talking about and that you genuinely care.“
So, how can you become a fountain of knowledge for your clients?
Here are a few ideas:
Create an “email me anytime” policy, and spend a few minutes putting together a list of resources that can help your client with whatever they’re struggling with.
Write blog posts on your website that cover a handful of questions you’re frequently asked, and send clients the direct link if they ask about it.
Run or attend workshops to educate local people, and invite your clients.
That’s bound to make a strong reputation for your agency, and prove to your clients that you know your stuff.
4. ...and back-up your knowledge with data
What better way to demonstrate you know what you’re talking about than to prove it?
But by “prove it”, I don’t mean using convincing words; I mean sharing hard data that shows you’ve done it before - provide information that can’t be argued.
(It’s no surprise that 80% of marketers use data to manage their agency relationships.)
When you’re giving away knowledge, you could share data such as:
Case studies for how you’ve done something in the past, and the results it drove.
Industry statistics to support the strategy you’re explaining.
Let’s put that into practice, and say your client isn’t sure on how they can grow their Twitter following without a huge budget.
Rather than saying “I know this will work”, give your client confidence by explaining you’ve done it before - and grown a previous customers’ follower count by 80% with just a £50 budget.
You’re much more likely to believe in them now, right?
Geoff Griffiths, Managing Director at Builtvisible, seconds this. He says:
“Being honest with a client can be daunting when the answer isn’t immediately pleasing for them, but once you have all the data you need as an expert to offer a coherent opinion you believe is completely in their best interests as an individual as well as an organization, don’t hold it back. Others will, and you will be remembered for it.”
5. Refer them to your network if you can’t help
Is your client asking for something you don’t offer?
It’s a common occurrence in the agency world, but it can be tricky to handle - especially when you’re a niche agency that only offers a select range of services.
But if your clients ask you for something you don’t offer or have experience with, try to avoid politely saying you don’t offer it; ask around to help them find someone who can.
For example: If you run a social media agency and your client is asking for a website redesign, scan your network and find other people (whether that’s a freelancer, or another agency) who offers it as a service.
Don’t cut corners and send them the website of the first company you find in a Google search; the company you’re referring your client to needs to be someone you trust to deliver a good job.
If you don’t, and you’re referring them to an agency who doesn’t meet the same strict quality guidelines as your agency does, you’ll be tarred with the same brush for recommending them - even if you’re not the one carrying out the work.
Be honest, and only recommend people you trust - as Lucy Kirkness, Managing Director of Pandable, explains:
“In order to build strong and lasting relationships with our clients we adopt completely open and transparent communication. Our best clients trust us completely because of this, and because they understand that we always have the best interest of their project in mind. These are also our most successful partnerships / projects.”
They’ll be appreciative of the help because they won’t need to spend time searching for another reputable company, and get your agency in their good books.
...Even more so if you can introduce them personally to get the conversation going!
6. Don’t limit client communication to email
How much time do you spend checking your emails every week?
The average worker spends 28% of their entire workweek reading and answering emails and it can often feel like a chore.
Don’t add another lengthy email to your client’s to-do list, if you can help it.
Instead, take the conversation away from email and arrange face-to-face conversations to build more personal connections with your agency’s clients.
Arrange to meet-up with your clients, and visit each other’s office (if you’re within travelling distance). You can make a day of it - giving them a tour around your city, and inviting them to visit the team who’re working on their account.
Here’s Amanda Thomas, Owner of Konstruct Digital, explaining why they’re such a huge fan of arranging face-to-face meetings with their agency clients:
“We always like to meet clients at their office. Whether they're a plumbing company, a retail outlet, or a university - going to their office is an important step in understanding their company culture.
Our team feeds off the enthusiasm entrepreneurs express while they're in their domain, and we help bring that to their marketing. We see ourselves as an extended part of our client's marketing team and *feeling* their culture is a critical step in solidifying that relationship.”
If you’re unable to meet in-person, turn email conversations into face-to-face interactions using video conferencing tools like Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts.
Doing this will cut the time you would otherwise spend going back-and-forth with emails about a topic, and help you make sure you’re putting things across in the right way.
Not to mention the fact you’ll get to know your client much better!
7. Expand relationships across both teams
Client relationships shouldn’t just be between you (the agency owner) and your client (a marketing manager or business owner).
Try to build relationships across both teams, and get everyone talking.
That includes your agency’s:
Staff delivering the work
...and the people who’re working in-house on your client’s side, such as marketing executives.
Why? Because bridging the communication gap between both teams allows you to work in harmony.
Your entire team will get to know the client you’re working with, which will help your team create the incredible campaigns your client is looking for - while not just relying on your relationship to form the perfect partnership.
Final thoughts on building profitable agency - client relationships
Now you’re fully equipped with a list of things you’ll need to build strong client relationships, there’s only one thing left to do.
...Put it into practice!
Remember to go above and beyond with the free knowledge you’re sharing, set expectations from the minute they become a paying client, and always be open to communication - as Sam Allcock, Owner of PRFire, summarizes:
“Keep in regular contact, connect with them on social, and comment on whatever they are sharing. Always send relevant information and not spam.”
You’ll soon build a loyal army of clients who are willing to vouch for you when you’re pitching to your next dream customer!