Client Retention Starts with Sales

Posted by Corey Smith on Nov 9, 2023 6:47:00 AM

Client Retention

Every company has struggled at one time or another with retaining clients. Just when you think you get the formula right something changes that blows everything up.  That change could be market conditions. That change could be something internal like a lost employee or a bad decision that ruined your revenue model.

I think the most common reason for a problem in client retention actually starts all the way at sales. Sales has the power to set expectations. If those are set properly, clients have a significantly greater likelihood of staying long-term. Of course, those expectations must be met.

Client Delight

Client delight, I believe is the core principle to client retention. If you have a happy client, that client will never want to leave you unless one of you outgrows the other. Even then, the relationship should stay strong long after the contract is over.

The following ideas are written from the perspective of a marketing agency. They have great applicability to any business-to-business company (particularly consulting services) and can likely be adopted for business-to-consumer companies as well.

Client Delight Begins in Sales

When you take the time to properly understand the goals of your client, you can begin to understand how to make them happy. Ask yourself the following questions about the relationship you are building in your sales process:

  • Does your prospective client have goals that you are capable of achieving?
  • Does your prospective client have budgets that will allow you to perform well?
  • Do you have the skill set available to you to fulfill your prospective client’s needs?
  • Does your prospective client have the capacity to trust you?
  • Do you understand what it will take to keep your prospective client happy?
  • Are you willing to turn away a potential client whom you are not qualified to make happy?

Client Delight is Confirmed at Onboarding

flywheelWhen your salesperson transfers your client to your fulfillment team, you have a glorious opportunity to solidify the relationship and thus further establish your ability to make your client happy. Ask yourself the following questions about your onboarding:

  • Do you clearly understand what your client is trying to accomplish?
  • Do you have a well-defined onboarding process that stems from your sales process?
  • Are you willing to back out of a contract if you learn that you are not capable of making them happy?
  • Are you willing to be the strong consultant when needed but allow them to take the lead as well?

Client Delight is Validated at Fulfillment

After you have signed your contract with your new client and after you have brought your client onboard, it’s time to actually do the work you are hired to do. Your ability to validate the reasons they hired you is the last part of making sure you are able to make your client happy. Ask yourself the following questions about your fulfillment:

  • Are you growing your skills to make sure you are equal to the challenges that will certainly come?
  • Are you willing to put in extra hours if you fail at reaching their goals?
  • Are you willing to ask the hard questions like, ‘are you happy’ or ‘what can I do to be better’?
  • Are you willing to transition them to someone else if you are no longer capable of making them happy?
  • Are you willing to encourage them to fire you if they are no longer a fit for whatever reason?

A Little Warning

Sometimes your contract is just doing what your client wants you to do. In other words, they set the strategy and then give you a list of tasks. If you are only fingers on keyboards then your client controls your ability to make them happy. You can do everything they ask but if they don’t reach their goals, you have the risk of them being mad at you. This is particularly true in the digital marketing space. 

People don’t know what they don’t know. They might think they understand how digital marketing works but in the end, they likely don’t understand as much as they think. The reason for this is that there are so many competencies that, unless they have a full-service team, they can’t possibly know. Even if they do, if they make a mistake and you perpetuate that mistake in your fulfillment, you are at risk of being a scapegoat. 

You may not change your approach based on this… but you should be aware of these potential issues. 

Wrap it Up

The ability to have a strong client relationship is one of the key hallmarks to a successful company. Your company culture needs to exude the attitude that you need to make your customers happy. Your customers need to be respected. They don’t want a discount when you fail. They want the job done right.

Oh, sure, there will be times when you need to fire your client because they ask too much of you… but in the end, that should be because you realize you are not capable of making them happy. You want to do everything you can to retain & delight clients that you can properly service and help find others who can help clients that you can’t. After all, if you try to be everything to everyone, you’ll end up being nothing to no one.

You might be interested in a couple of related posts:

- - - -

A note on the flywheel graphic above: HubSpot’s Inbound Methodology is an effective way to create meaningful client delight in your customer. Take a look at this page for more details. This post was originally written for my personal blog.

Corey Smith

Written by Corey Smith

Corey Smith is the founder of Tribute Media and serves as the Managing Director for Tribute Media. He is also the VP of Web & Creative for Hawke Media.