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If you want to run a successful digital marketing agency, your #1 job is to foster a group of happy, long-term clients. Unfortunately, this can be quite a daunting feat.

With paid search, it’s usually easy to demonstrate your value early on. Whether it be all the heavy lifting that goes into an account buildout or hefty clean-up for an account takeover, it’s often clear to clients that they’re getting their money’s worth during the first couple of months…and then, you hit the dreaded plateau that account managers are far too familiar with. Once an account is in good, working condition, it’s nearly impossible to improve at the same rate you were at the outset.

Of course, PPCers know that this is nothing to be alarmed about, but clients rarely share this sentiment. So, how on earth do marketing agencies retain clients for the long haul? Here are six customer retention tips from the best and brightest in the industry on how to maintain long-lasting client relationships at your agency.

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To build this list, I turned to a handful of seasoned experts, all of whom work at, own or consult for successful SEM agencies. (A ton of people weighed in—thanks, guys!—but I wasn’t able to include everyone’s feedback in the post. If you’d like to see more of what this crew has to say, tune in to this Twitter list.)

Client Retention Tip #1: Make Sure Your Understand Their Business Goals

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It’s impossible to deliver great results for your clients without having a firm grasp of their business and company goals. Aside from simply learning the ins and outs of their product offerings, Robert Brady says that it’s also critical to learn what they define as success.

As digital marketers, it can be tempting to measure progress using the KPIs that we deem most important. However, our clients often have no idea how these metrics relate to their businesses. Take the time to help them understand how paid search can impact their business plan and connect their goals with PPC-based KPIs. Ultimately, their goals should drive your strategy.

I love Michelle Morgan’s philosophy that, even though the account manager may not be a direct employee of their client’s company, they should still be thinking of themselves as “the same team with the same goals” with the mindset that, “we win together, we lose together.” With both parties focusing on the same goal, you will form a strong, loyal relationship.

Client Retention Tip #2: Connect With Clients on a Personal Level

People who manage paid search for a living are chameleons of sorts. We’re mathematicians when it comes to bidding strategy, creative writers when it comes to ad copy and we even channel our inner developer when it comes to setting up tracking codes. Yet, how often do we think of ourselves as customer service agents? Far too many practitioners overlook this component of the role, which is a hazardous mistake.

Perhaps Aaron Levy put it best when he said that the key to keeping clients is to “Be their best friends! Learn their birthdays, their kids names and (best of all) how to get their bonuses.” This may sound silly, but taking the time to get to really know your clients can go a long way. Rather than dreading check-in calls, they’ll look forward to chatting with you and giving you updates on their business. Even more importantly, these personal connections can help to ensure clients stick with you if account performances goes south, as they’re likely to be more patient as you work to turns things around and more forgiving about account snafus. James Spittal goes as far as to recommend having regular face-to-face meetings with clients, to further strengthen the relationship. If you can’t meet them in person, consider giving video-chatting a whirl.

Client Retention Tip #3: Communication is Key

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This was, by far, the most resounding response from the PPC community. Establishing an open line of communication with clients from the get-go pays off in dividends. Melissa Mackey recommends spending time with the client to truly establish the goals and scope of the project at its outset. This gives you the opportunity to manage their expectations early-on.

From there, experts urge account managers to meet with clients regularly—not solely to deliver status updates, but also to learn what’s new on their end. Marina Obsivac stresses the importance of listening to your clients. Through these conversations, they will reveal what’s important to them, giving you the opportunity to pivot your strategy to meet their needs.

These meetings are also a perfect opportunity to introduce new strategies and experiments to your clients. Amy Bishop points out that, if you can establish a sense of trust with the client ahead of time, they’re more likely to be open to trying things when you present new ideas. When you have their buy-in, even if the new approach doesn’t produce the results you had hoped for, they’re more likely to be patient as you work to get performance back on track.

Client Retention Tip #4: Bring on the RIGHT Clients

According to our Director of Search Marketing, Tony Testaverde, one of the best ways to keep your churn rates in check is to be selective about who you bring on board. At WordStream, if we consider a prospect to be high-risk, we pass on the sale altogether. The reality is, the juice just isn’t worth the squeeze.

Established agencies should take the time to reflect back on their cancelled clients in search of common trends. This will help them identify issues that their teams can work on internally and may highlight client attributes that indicate a high-risk sale.

Here at WordStream HQ, our agency team has implemented a strict RFP process for all prospects. Before we agree to taking on their business, we do an in-depth assessment of their current account, business and PPC goals. Check out this list of our guidelines on when to say no to a new client.

Client Retention Tip #5: Take Their Temperature

This one is hardly rocket science. Rather than anxiously wondering whether your clients are happy with your services, be straightforward and ask them directly. Not only is this a great opportunity for you to get their feedback on your company’s performance, it demonstrates your commitment to giving them a positive experience.

Happy or not, they will appreciate having their voices heard. If they’re happy campers (congrats!), you can rest assured that they’re stable for the time being. If they’re displeased with your services, getting it out in the open is key. Once you know that there is a problem, you can discuss the root of their frustrations and make plans to change things.

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There’s a myriad of ways to attain this data. Here at WordStream, we use Net Promoter Score (NPS) Surveys to assess our clients’ happiness. NPS is a customer loyalty metric based on a ten point scale. Customers are asked a single question—“How likely is it that you would recommend WordStream to a friend or colleague?” Since we’ve found that these scores directly correlate with customer lifetimes, we put a lot of stock in the results. If a client responds with a 9 or 10, we consider them to be a promoter. 7’s and 8’s are neutral, meaning they’re not a high churn risk but definitely need extra attention to get them into the “safe” zone. Anything below a 7 qualifies the customer as a detractor and we immediately develop an action plan to get them back on the right track.

While it’s useful to capture this data, the best thing about these surveys is that they spark conversations about how the client is feeling and what we can do to better serve them.

Client Retention Tip #6: Prove Your Success with Regular Reporting

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One of the best ways to show that you’ve made great progress in a client’s account is to prove it with cold, hard numbers. Damon Gochneaur urges agencies to think of themselves as profit centers, rather than vendors. Take ownership for leads and revenue that you generate through reporting. Of course, providing some form of reporting is a no-brainer for most agencies. In fact, you probably have this baked into the contract for your services. The problem is—far too many miss the mark with their reports.

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I LOVE WordStream’s PPC Success Report for its image-heavy, easy-to-understand format.

A good report should be both easily consumable and relevant to the client. As Scott Clark points out, it’s crucial to understand the KPIs that matter to the client first. Then, you can provide reports that show how you are impacting those measurements. Remember, your clients are not likely to be well-versed in PPC terminology. Even if they’ve picked up the basic lingo, they may not understand how each metric interacts with one another. So, your reports should help them connect the dots.

Now, there are certainly situations in which you may not achieve the results you are hoping for. Many experts urge account managers to be fully transparent in these circumstances and pad these numbers with more information. For example, Ryan Toner recommends showing AdWords and GA reports together to paint a fuller picture of what’s happening with your traffic. Providing commentary is important, too. In some cases, these disappointing results may be completely outside of your control (think: landing page issues, seasonality, etc.) and it’s important to highlight this for your clients.

In general, I recommend following James Svoboda’s super comprehensive approach to reporting. He suggests including “everything that you’d say to a client in person” in your reports. Sure, they might not read them the second they hit their inbox, but this ensures that your commentary is there whenever the client does read them.

Have more client retention tips for budding agencies? We’d love to hear them in the comment section below!