Are you an optimist or a pessimist when clients change their job?

Several agencies have recently told me during my “Profitable Growth” workshops how their key client has moved on to another company. They now have a new senior client with whom they don’t have a relationship. Suddenly their biggest client which represents 30% of their business isn’t as ‘guaranteed’ as it was a few weeks ago. 

When clients change jobs this can be a challenging time for agencies. The pessimist thinks “we may lose this client” and the optimist thinks “a great opportunity to win a new client at the same time as continuing with our key client”. Where’s the truth? Both?!

Here’s 7 tips to increase your likelihood of retaining your key client and winning a new client. 

  1. Broader client relationships: Build relationships broader than simply your key client contact and their immediate team. Look for opportunities to get to know the rest of the senior team even if they’re not directly ‘relevant’ to your work. ie be friends with their CFO and sales director. So when your senior client leaves you have other supporters and fans.
  2. Tangible Impact: Make sure your impact on your client’s business is measurable and exceeds their expectations. (Yes the bar gets raised each year!) When briefed ensure you know what success looks like and what specific measures of improvement you need to achieve. Make sure there’s a strong business case for your work.
  3. Look into your crystal ball: Don’t wait for clients to leave. Ask yourself “if our key client left tomorrow, what would we wish we’d done 6 months ago to ensure we retain the business?” It’s easy to assume we will retain our clients next year. When new senior individuals join your clients this is often a key time to lose the client. Complacency is pernicious. When I’ve asked clients why they moved agency after quite a few years they often say “It wasn’t that the agency did anything wrong, we just didn’t feel as loved as in the early days”. Are your clients still feeling your love?
  4. Be a trusted adviser: How can you help your departing client be successful in their new role? How can you help them hit the ground running? Will they open up and share intel re their previous employer?
  5. First meeting with your new client decision maker: obviously do your research. Conversation not Presentation. Beware of going to the meeting trying to impress by showing all your work. It can come across as arrogant. Instead plan your conversation and your insightful questions to understand the new person’s thinking, their agenda, their plans. Is it business as usual? Or are they looking to shake things up and be a new broom? Actively listen to what they say (and don’t say) Be curious. How open are they to talk about future plans or are they guarded or cagey? Are they dismissive of your work or complementary? The new client’s previous agency/ies will see your client as their No.1 new business opportunity. Will your work be seen as stale or ‘safe’ to the new client? How does the rest of the client team see us – what’s their likely feedback to their new boss?
  6. Anticipate: their likely questions such as “Why should we continue to work with you?” “What’s special about your agency?” “What have you wanted to do but have been unable to do with my predecessor?” “If we increased your budget what would you spend the money on/If we decreased your budget what would you prioritise?” They may ask to see examples of your work for this client and/or other clients. Wait to be asked!
  7. Beware of over-dependence: No client so big you can’t survive without them. Ideally I’d say no client bigger than 12-15% of your revenue. If they are substantially greater than 15% think how you can reduce your ‘exposure’. Do you need to broaden your agency’s client base?

Optimist or pessimist? On reflection I think a touch of realistic paranoia with a sprinkling of positivity and optimism!

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