Losing Clients: How Digital Marketing Agencies Can Deal with Losing a Client

Losing Clients: How Digital Marketing Agencies Can Deal with Losing a Client
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Losing clients is a natural but inconvenient part of running a digital marketing agency. There’s not a single agency out there boasting a 100% client retention rate – and there will probably never be one. Not all clients are looking for a long-term relationship and sometimes, despite your best efforts, client partnerships dissolve. That’s just life in the competitive world of digital marketing. When it comes to losing clients, the key is how you handle the situation and how you react to each individual client loss.

If you want your agency to continue to be successful after an important client takes its business elsewhere, you must learn from any mistakes that were made so you can understand, rectify any issues if required and move forward. Picking you and your team up, dusting off your pride and recovering from the loss means facing the fact that some things might have to change so you can improve.

Here’s how you can better cope with losing clients, as well as some tips on how to prevent them from taking their business elsewhere in the first place.

Why Do Clients Leave?

Before you can look at improving your client retention rate, you must first examine why you might have lost an account in the first place. Swallow your pride and ask yourself if you’ve committed any of these mortal client sins:

Not living up to expectations – Perhaps your agency was a little ambitious in its initial client pitch and never lived up the promises it made when trying to win over the client. It happens. Maybe the client’s hopes were simply too high in the first place, with unrealistic demands that couldn’t be met by any agency. This also happens. Either way, managing client expectations is an important part of client retention. Failing to accomplish this can lead to an exodus of valuable clients. The moral of this loss is not to be afraid to take charge and push back if a contract hinges on unrealistic deliverables. Instead, determine a way to set expectations when you scope out the campaign and err on the side of conservative. It’s better to surprise and delight than disappoint.

Lack of or conflicting communication – All agencies should have a single point of contact for each client. That team member should be fully informed on the status of the client’s campaign and be able to answer (or quickly find the answer) to any questions the client might have. This means that individual team members working on the nitty-gritty of the project need to meet regularly and keep the main client point of contact informed of the project’s status, any issues, deliverables and other items that may impact the overall quality or timeliness of the project.

This main contact should also be proactive in how they communicate with the client, responding to messages promptly and ensuring that they’re kept up-to-date whenever the status of the campaign changes in any way. Without this essential communication, clients can feel out-of-the-loop on what’s going on with their campaign and may be tempted to look elsewhere.

Prizing deliverables over results – One of the trickiest parts of running any digital marketing company is ensuring that your deliverables are not just fluff, even though the ‘fluff’ might be the sexy stuff that wins the girl. Deliverables are not a place for marketing jargon or outlandish claims. Each deliverable should have a genuine, measurable impact and clearly relate to the client’s business and digital marketing campaign goals. If you’re not able to show how your deliverables have contributed to their success, what reason does a client have to stick around?

Client Exit Interview

The Power of the Client Exit Interview

If you’re not actually sure why the client has left your agency, it’s worth conducting an ‘exit interview’ just as you would with a departing staff member. It might mean an awkward 20 minutes listening about your agency’s failings at a time when wounds are raw, but it could also produce a wealth of incredibly useful information that helps you retain clients going forward. Make an exit interview part of your client loss process. Start out by asking what they liked about your services and your approach – you’ll gain some valuable positive feedback that you can pass onto your team.

Then move onto the tougher questions like: What could we have done differently? Were your expectations met? Did we communicate effectively with you? Were you satisfied with our deliverables? What didn’t you like? The answers to some of these questions might be uncomfortable, and you might learn some painful home truths about the real state of your agency. These issues can often be missed if you’re the agency owner, a director or a manager. Talking with your exiting clients will also provide and excellent opportunity for learning and progression, which you should certainly take into account.

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Winning Back a Client

Based on the answers the client gave during their exit interview, there’s sometimes still a chance you may be able to win them over and convince them to stick with your agency. Here are a few tips that may help you persuade these clients to either continue using your agency or at least leave the door open for future business opportunities:

Keep the connection – You lose nothing by keeping in touch with your old clients, except maybe a few minutes out of your working day every now and again. This doesn’t mean emailing them every day or even every week. Just drop them a line every few months and check in with them. If they’ve released a product, won an award or made the news for some reason, reach out and congratulate them. This keeps the lines of communication open, and it won’t be such a shock when you eventually get in touch with the goal of winning them over again.

Offer something special – Your ex-client knows your services. They know what to expect, and they know how much they can expect to pay for it. Or so they think. By offering them a discount on a “special” service or package, you’re giving them something to consider. Assess the client’s needs and make an offer based on what you feel would appeal to them — but make sure you know your own worth. After all there’s no point in offering an unrealistically low price for a service when you would make little or no profit. That’s not good for anybody.

Write off the no-go clients – Inevitably, there will be some clients you won’t ever be able to win back – no matter how much the split hurts. Try to write these clients off right away and minimize the time spent trying to convince them to come back. That way you and your team can focus on finding better suited clients.

One Final Tip to Remember…

There is one final caveat to add here. Not all client losses are actually a loss. Sometimes, you have to make the executive decision to walk away from a client. If your experience working with the client was unpleasant, if they were late making payments or settling invoices or if they couldn’t agree on the best approach to take, maybe it’s time for both sides to call it a day. The integrity of your agency must come first. If you feel like you’d be compromising yourself in any way by asking a client to return or offering them a discount to do so, wish them well in their future ventures and prepare for an amicable, but necessary, parting of the ways.

Tell Us What YOU Think

How do you handle it when you lose a client? Do you do a post-mortem or “lessons learned” with your team to identify what went wrong? What types of things have you learned by losing a client? Do you have a client exit interview? We’d love to hear from you, so leave your comments and questions below!

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4 thoughts on “Losing Clients: How Digital Marketing Agencies Can Deal with Losing a Client”

  1. Great article and I particularly relate to the exit interview strategy. It can be not just awkward but down right hurtful to learn that all your hard work hasn’t been appreciated. It can be a very bitter pill to swallow but important to realise that either you were working on the wrong things, or maybe your client had no idea what you were doing.

    1. Hi, Warwick…

      I agree. When you lose a client — it hurts! (And it’s sometimes difficult to not take it personally.) An exit interview will (hopefully) help you improve your services, processes and client relations for future clients. Thanks for your input!

      Sherry

  2. Really interesting article Sherry. We’ve been really focusing on this here at Bowler Hat as we feel it’s really important to understand why the client is unsatisfied. There is a great little book to read called ‘One Trick Ponies Get Shot’ which I have only just finished reading myself. It’s fairly short but is an interesting read and talks about how clients notice improvement, not value. So if the improvement rate of your one tactic is starting to decline, it’s important not to look like you are just doing ‘maintenance’, even if that maintenance is tremendously valuable.

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