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Even in the best of times, agency marketing can be like performing a delicate dance. You’ve got to make sure you’re meeting deadlines and coming in on-budget, while balancing the needs of your clients against your own long-term business goals. You need to know when to turn on a dime and change up your approach, but also when to double down on a winning strategy — all of these factors (and more) will inform the creation of your own agency marketing best practices.

So with all of these variables to keep track of, it can be tough to figure out exactly what separates ‘good enough’ agency marketing from the very best of the best. There’s no magic bullet or secret sauce for successful agency marketing, but there are some highly effective techniques and best practices any firm can apply to maximize their reach, and bring in more clients and leads.  

Let’s review some surefire ways your agency can improve your marketing, earn more new business, and retain more clients. 

Michael Saba and Karissa Austin contributed to this post.

Agency Marketer's Guide to Client Retention

1) Set the right expectations with a marketing SLA

One of the most critical tasks in any agency-client relationship is setting the proper expectations for the kinds of services your firm will provide. Misaligned expectations can have serious repercussions for your business — the client’s hurt feelings might lead to them taking their business elsewhere, and the resulting negative word-of-mouth can impact your standing with current and prospective clients alike.

The best way to head off these problems before they begin is with the proactive implementation of a Service Level Agreement (SLA), a contract between firm and client that specifies in clear detail the services you will provide. Though these types of contracts were previously associated with service providers like IT companies, insurance agencies, and telecoms, they have become increasingly common among agencies and marketers for the peace of mind they bring clients.

At a minimum, a good SLA will contain an itemized list of the services your firm will provide the client, well-defined performance targets for your agency to meet, backup strategies or penalties if those targets are not met, clear deadlines for time-sensitive projects or campaigns, and dedicated hours during which your client can contact you.

And there’s very good reason why your business should make this extra effort: HubSpot reported in 2017 how companies that implement SLAs with their clients see a 36 percent increase in customer retention and 38 percent more sales, compared to firms that do not. So if you haven’t implemented SLAs yet — especially for your bigger clients — there’s no time like the present to get started.

2) Identify your ideal agency client with a customer profile

One of the key building blocks to agency success is the customer profile — the best agencies know exactly who their ideal client is, how they think, and what their needs and desires are. (And for large firms, a customer profile should already be part of your wider efforts around consistent brand positioning.)

One prime success story in customer profiling is Boomagers, an agency founded in 2011 by Peter Hubbell, an alum of marketing firm Saatchi & Saatchi. Most businesses and marketers consider the Baby Boomer generation to be a secondary market at best, or ignore them entirely. But Hubbell understood that Boomers will comprise more than 50 percent of the US population by the end of the 2010s, and that marketing to this demographic could be hugely lucrative.

Through a combination of internal brainstorming and external consulting, Boomagers zeroed in on this demographic and identified them as their ideal client. This helped Hubbell focus his agency’s mission, ensuring that everyone at his firm was working towards the same end goal: Being the best at marketing to Baby Boomers.

And their efforts paid off, because in six short years Boomagers has risen to become the premier US marketing agency when it comes to winning the hard-earned dollars of the Baby Boomer generation. Besides growing into a multimillion-dollar firm, Boomagers is also considered a key thought leader in their field and are regularly cited in outlets like NPR and the Wall Street Journal, and by prestigious thinktanks like the Council on Foreign Relations.

Identifying your ideal client doesn’t just make your agency’s job easier — it’s also great for business.

Read more about the benefits call tracking can bring to your agency: Call Tracking for Agencies

3) Implement a comprehensive lead scoring system

Experienced agencies know that good marketing isn’t just about bringing in a high volume of new leads and prospects. Equally important is making sure that quality leads — those most likely to convert — are coming in and then promptly being passed along to your sales team.

That’s why it’s mission-critical for your agency to implement a lead scoring system for the clients you represent. Lead scoring will look different depending on your field or industry, but there are still some universal ground rules:

  1. Define the behavioral and demographic attributes of an ideal lead (their income, how old they are, where they live, etc.)
  2. Build a scoring framework and create a formula that numerically quantifies a lead’s rating, based on your marketing attribution data
  3. Document your lead-scoring system and ensure it’s fully integrated within your SLA

By filtering out bad or unresponsive leads, a scoring system can yield immediate and quantifiable results for your agency, allowing your sales reps to focus their time and energy on the prospects that are most likely to convert or become repeat customers. Agencies that use a lead scoring system see a 77 percent increase in ROI over firms that do not, as MarketingSherpa reported.

There are even solutions that can automatically analyze, score, and sort inbound leads. Recent advancements in AI and machine learning (like CallRail’s own Conversation Intelligence features) can enable agencies and firms to score leads with minimal human input, allowing teams to instead focus on boosting conversions and ROI:

Analyzing call transcriptions

More leads and conversions mean more happy clients, which means more repeat business and better word-of-mouth for your marketing agency.

4) Choose a CRM that’s right for your marketing agency

Once your agency graduates out of the mom-and-pop phase and starts catering to more than a handful of clients, it’s time to implement Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. CRMs like Salesforce, HubSpot and Marketo are centralized databases used by businesses to store contact information, account data, leads, and other sales opportunities. Proper implementation of a CRM across your sales, marketing, and customer service teams will help streamline and automate the sales process, maximizing ROI and profits.

For mid-sized firms, a CRM helps centralize your customer data for easy access across multiple teams and devices — an invaluable edge as your business scales and grows. And for larger enterprise businesses, the sophistication of modern CRMs can perform advanced tasks like sending personalized emails, gathering data and insights from social channels, and providing a top-level view of how your marketing is performing.

An estimated 46 percent of sales teams store lead or customer data in physical files, a serious security risk that can likewise reduce your efficiency. There are likewise a vast array of eye-popping statistics that support the notion that CRMs are good for business: They provide an average of US $8.71 in ROI for every dollar spent on the CRM platform; CRMs can increase per-salesperson revenue by up to 41 percent; CRMs improve customer retention by up to 26 percent.

All that said, there’s usually a somewhat steep up-front cost to using a CRM, which might scare away smaller or mid-sized agencies. Fortunately, most of the major CRMs offer some kind of no-obligation trial so you can do some testing to see if a given solution is right for you. If you’re serious about growing your business, it’s well worth your time to bite the cost of a CRM for the efficiency and peace of mind it will bring.

5) Develop an agency referral program or partnership system

At its core, agency marketing is a relationship business — your firm is only as strong or lucrative as the bonds you’ve cultivated with your clients. Word-of-mouth can make or break your business, and forging meaningful relationships with new clients is every bit as important as strengthening ties with existing customers.

One of the best ways to both bring in new business and deepen your existing relationships is through a referral program, where current partners receive a one-off lump sum (or smaller ongoing commission) for directing new clients to your agency. Not only will this bring new business your way, you’ll also incentivize the clients making the referrals to stick around as long as possible and reap the full benefits of the partnership.

This is an agency marketing best practice that should be a top priority for you, because referred customers can generate real revenue for your business — at least 16 percent more than non-referred clients.

So if you don’t already have a system for partnerships in place, you can start by meeting with a trustworthy (and preferably local) client and laying out the terms of a mutually beneficial referral program. Once your referral program is up-and-running, you’ll be amazed at how much new business it can bring in.

A brief aside on the elephant in the room: Referral discounts

We often hear from marketing agency operations teams that referral discounts are not an option for professional services. Since these services have a higher price point, longer sales cycle, and are generally more ‘professional’ in nature, referral discounts seem both inappropriate and not cost-effective.

But you could easily make the case that neither of those preconceptions are true. For one, there aren’t many reasons why a happy client would be opposed to discounts or freebies — if you’re doing quality work with them, they’ll genuinely want to refer you to their friends anyway, and a bonus or discount is just a cherry on top.

That said, if you have a strained relationship with the client, they’ll likely see a referral discount as pandering and disingenuous. Be selective about who you offer referral discounts to, but also ensure you provide consistent service that makes all your clients happy enough to refer you to their peers on their own.

Secondly, a modest but worthwhile discount or bonus is cost-effective in the long run — as long as you price it accordingly and aren’t too lenient with the policy. For example, consider offering a 10 percent discount for a month’s worth of services for a long-term, low-spend retainer client. Wait to pay out the discount until the referral becomes a client, since this prevents your clients from abusing the system and can also lead to more qualified referrals.

For larger clients with significant spend, offering a percentage-based discount isn’t necessarily cost-effective. In these cases, consider instead offering them a free audit or other one-off service relevant to their needs. For example, if you handle paid media for a client who would also benefit from your SEO services, offer them a free site audit in exchange for a referral who becomes a client. Aside from earning a new client, you’ll also open the door for expanding your relationship with the referring client, too.

Learning how to juggle multiple clients at once is a big part of an agency’s day-to-day work. That’s why here at CallRail, we’re constantly developing innovative new tools like Account Center, which helps agency users manage multiple clients with simplicity and ease.

6) Link up with complementary businesses for referrals

Company partnerships are a less client-facing method of generating referrals. The key here is to find services you don’t offer, and have no plans of offering any time soon (or ever). A simple way to do this is to have your sales team consistently track service offerings your clients ask for often enough to be of note, but not so often that your CEO wants to invest resources into making it a full-fledged service offering.

For example, if you run a small agency strictly focused on web development but you have clients asking for SEO services, you could find an SEO agency partner who doesn’t offer web development. In doing so, you open up your pool of potential clients without having to rely on your own clients to do the referring. Plus, your agency partner already does some vetting on your behalf to make sure the client is a good fit, which makes for a bit less work on your end.

7) Be selective with your marketing case studies

It can be tempting to crank out case studies for any client that saw positive results with your company, but the most compelling ones come from clients who are well-known, have above-average results, or worked with you on particularly unique projects. (If you’re looking for some inspiration on this front, check our collection of call tracking case studies.)

You’ll want to highlight how your marketing services not only generated short-term revenue, but also helped set them on a long-term track to marketing success. And, of course, be sure to circulate your case studies on social media and via email.

If you work with large enough brands or operate in a niche market, there’s a good chance that the prospects seeing your posts and emails are familiar with the client in the case study. Even better, they may know someone who works there and ask them for more information about your marketing agency.