Client Retention Strategies To Grow Your Business

In the service industry, a focus on client retention is an absolute requirement. To get a new client takes an immense amount of time, money, and energy invested upfront before they typically begin to provide any return. Once established, your business depends on keeping that client as long as possible – if not for life!

If a client is lost, it will have harmful effects on team morale, decreased profitability, and even worse – damage your reputation!

Learning how to focus your efforts on a client retention culture will dramatically improve profitability, build a positive reputation, and continue your business in an upward growth direction.

To assist you with retaining more clients, growing your business, and increasing profitability, we put together these key client retention strategies you need that to keep your clients longer and build your company to the next level. 

Applying the right attitude and proper action will allow you to begin retaining more clients and scaling your business successfully. After all, success is not measured by the amount of clients you have, it is measured on how profitable you are.

1. Client Retention Starts With You

To help clear things up, client retention is your ability to keep a client coming back for more. It is your ability continue working with that client or customer over and over again.

The emphasis is on YOU, meaning it is your responsibility to take ownership no matter what level you are in the organization. This is even more important the further up the ladder you go.

Your Attitude is Everything

Your attitude is what sets the path on if that client stays or goes. A leader of a firm must have a 100% client retention attitude and no exceptions. Without this mindset, excuses will come up, exceptions will be made and the client will be lost. It all comes down to what you are willing to tolerate. 

If an organization’s leadership allows for excuses and tolerates any possible reason why a client was lost, that mindset will end up destroying the underlying goal with the team, and that goal is profitable sustained growth.

There should be no excuses and only one attitude that this client is for life. If a client is not critical, you should not be doing business with them in the first place.

A Client Is For Life Philosophy

When you are engaging a potential client, and working to gain their trust, you must approach each an every client as a for life relationship. Your attitude will set this path on if that client will keep coming back to you or not. Your goal is to keep them for life!

Applying the client for life philosophy allows for you to look at each engagement as a relationship looking to flourish together. You are their partner and will assist providing new value and innovation pushing to accomplish your shared goals together. 

You must look at each client as a for life relationship because repeat business is what creates profitability and sustainability.

2. Pick Your Clients Wisely

There is an endless list of potential clients out there for you, but not all of them are the right client for your business. You must find the right clients that match your business model in order for you to be successful. 

A client that does not match your defined typical client and matches your terms will always become more of a burden than you originally anticipated. Bad clients end up becoming black holes of destruction on your business draining profits, decreasing employee morale, and most devastatingly destroying your business’ reputation.

Not every opportunity is a good opportunity, so pick your clients wisely.

Define Your Client

When you are seeking improvements in client retention, start with defining the type of clients that fit your model. Work with the key leaders within the organization to assist brainstorming what that client should be. 

Your organization may need to niche down further to give your business more focus, or maybe you should standardize your terms of client engagement. Each client you engage should require the same amount of defined effort and resources if you are seeking to scale the model in the future.

Some possible examples to consider:

  • Quantitative qualifications – Only engage clients that match a threshold (i.e. annual revenue, size, etc…)
  • Qualitative qualifications – Only engage clients that provide qualitative benefits (i.e. positive reputation, referral ability, market category, etc…)

Overall, defining the right client and right terms will give more clarity and focus for your team in order to succeed.

Mold Existing Clients to Your Terms

After defining the right clients for you and creating the right terms they should abide, you are on your way to increasing your client retention.

For your existing clients, work with them to negotiate any new terms needed in order for you to be successful. Seek a solution that provides a win-win for both of you. A note here, a successful negotiation is one where you are willing to walk away if it does not go the way you want.

The whole purpose here is you need to be successful in order to do your job right, thus your clients need to work with you to match that criteria.

Exit Bad Clients

For any clients that do not match your definition or cannot meet your terms, it is best to exit these relationships. It is far better to have a client wish they could continue doing business with you than to be fired by them.

Your reputation is critical to your organization’s success and its essential to pull out of any no-win situations as soon as possible. It is not worth risking your reputation for a few extra dollars in profits.

3. Manage Client Expectations

Being able to manage your client’s expectations is absolutely critical for your success. A client will not come back again and again if their expectations are not met.

A client’s expectations are set based on prior experience and all forms of communication provided to them. This is especially true during the sales process when your client is learning all about your offerings and envisioning how the relationship will work together.

Align On Expectations

Going into a new client relationship, it is absolutely important to align on all expectations. This must happen on both sides in order for everyone to have a full understanding of what is to be provided.

The most important rule to understanding a client’s expectations is to ASK

This practice should be done during the kick-off of an engagement, and continue throughout the life of that client. As the business progresses and evolves, plan for some expectations to change.  Setting up a 30-60-90 day expectation plan will assist with aligning on all upcoming expectations.

Always act in the best interest of the client as they should be your interest as well.

Start According To Expectations

Especially at the start of an engagement, is important to realign as some expectations may have changed. For example a new decision maker may have come aboard since the sales process started, business requirements could have changed, or assumptions could have been made.

It is best to expect there will be expectations you were not aware of. Here you will have to work with the client to renegotiate for alignment to your terms and abilities, or set up an exit plan if unable to come to alignment. 

If you find yourself running into delays or other issues that conflict with the success of the engagement, revise your process in order to meet all expectations. For example delay some of your standard operating procedures if needed in order to meet essential steps or deadlines in the process. 

Continually Check-in

Throughout the engagement, communication and transparency is essential for overall success.

Conducting a weekly, monthly, or quarterly review will allow for both sides to realign on all expectations as well as discuss any new advancements that may have changed. Using communication and influence will assist with managing expectations but note, you will never be able to control them.

Overall clients will judge your performance on what they expect to happen and not on what actually happened. Be prepared to clarify any expectations throughout the process.

Avoid The Expectations Paradox

While exceeding client expectations is a good thing, it could also cause harm in the long run if continually over exceeding. This is known as the expectations paradox.

When expectations are continually over exceeded, a new bar of expectation will be set with the client where over exceeding is the standard. Eventually when your organization is unable to continually over perform, the client will be disappointed.

To prevent the expectations paradox, push to slightly exceed expectations each time but do not continually over exceed. If you find yourself in this position, reiterate with the client that you are now performing up to the aligned expectations previously agreed upon.

4. Focus On Relationships

The world we live in is based off relationships. When seeking to increase client retention, we must change our view of how we look at a client. A client is not the company name or building it resides in, but instead it is the people who make up that organization we call a client.

In order to increase client retention, it is essential to build a strong amount of rapport with each individual within the organization. This can be done through a mix of several approaches noted below.

Build Trust through Nurturing Relationships

Building and establishing a level of trust between you and your client is the base for all relationships. When trust is established, you will be able to move more freely within the organization acting as a partner.

Trust takes a long time to establish and can all be lost in a second, so be mindful on how your team acts.

To build trust between the client and your organization, focus on consistently implementing the following specific behaviors:

Candor is your ability to tell the client what they need to hear even through it may not be what they would like to hear.

 Competence is your ability to deliver exceptionally without falling into the expectation paradox trap.

Concern is your ability to treat the client’s business decisions as if it was your own business.

Establish Multiple Relationships Within Your Client

When engaged with your client, it is essential to establish more than one contact to hold the relationship together. If only one relationship exist, there is a high risk for potential loss of the client.

For example if the client executive sponsoring the engagement is removed or elects to move on, there is a high risk the relationship will not continue. Instead focus on integrating a Web of Influence between the two organizations.

Web of Influence

Similar to a zipper being pulled up joining two disjointed pieces together, the Web of Influence joins both organizations together on multiple levels. 

Within the web of influence, each team member is matched with their respectful counterpart. Also within the web, each team member will also be connected to an individual both one level higher and one level lower than them. 

This level of integration between both organizations allows for clear communication, transparency, and in depth integration. After all, most communications happen in the hallways rather than the conference rooms.

Without a web of influence in place, the relationship is at high risk if any of the key members depart either organization.

Exhibit from What Your Clients Won't Tell You and Your Managers Don't Know by John Gamble and Steve Wurzbacher

Build A Customer Relationship Database (CRM)

To further strengthen your relationships, spend the time to get to know the people within your client organization. It is recommended to set up a customer relationship management system (CRM). 

The CRM system will allow you to keep track of your clients throughout their career. Also if anyone happens to change on the client assigned team, this tool will help get them acquainted sooner than later on the basic details.

With your CRM system in place, ask clients about some personal details such as birthday and home town that would allow your team to connect on a more personal level. This approach applies the human factor and assist with establishing rapport. 

Here are some example items your team could inquire an track as you get to know your clients:

  • General Details (Phone, Email, Title, Department)
  • Important Dates (Birthdays, Anniversaries)
  • Interest (Hobbies, Leisure Activities)
  • Relationships (Marital Status, Children)
  • Past History (Home Town, College Attended, Area of Study)
Building a CRM database also allows you to stay in contact with your clients after they may elect to move on from the organization.

Continue The Relationship Afterwards

After a client engagement comes to an end, keep your client relationship going. If a client departs an organization, or if the contract comes to completion, maintaining a positive relationship with that client will always open more doors in the future.

For example if the client moves to a new organization, they might open the door for you to continue working with them again.

Overall, the relationship does not end when the engagement  ends. It will continue into the future where that client may become a great reference for you, and open many doors.

5. New Business Is Not The Focus

It takes 3 new clients of the same size to equal the revenue of one existing client. – This is when you take in account all sales and startup costs associated.

It does not make sense to focus on new clients until after you have met the expectations of the existing clients. Chasing new business prevents you to perform your best for the existing clients.

Success is based on profitability, not based the number of clients you are able to get.

6. Document Your Success

As the life of the client continues with you, people in the organization will change. Your successes and the memories of those successes stay with the individuals leaving the organization. 

To sustain a strong reputation with the client, it is essential to track all successes. 

Failures will document themselves as people remember, but your successes will go forgotten.

Also having a document trail of successes will support the overall value you have brought forward to the client further reinforcing your need to continue the relationship.

7. Changing Decision Markers Requires Revisiting the Account

When leadership or any key decision makers change in the process, the account faces possible jeopardy of loss. Be proactive in this case and get back together in front of the account to review and realign. 

Typical reasons you should be prepared to discuss with the new decision makers are:

Budget changes are one of the most common reasons why engagements are terminated. This could be due to the client realigning on their needs.

To be prepared for this, make sure you have had open discussions with the client to understand any financial limitations and work with them as needed. There may be a need to renegotiate the engagement.

When a client does not understand your value, it is time to pull out all documented successes recently had. This review must show both quantitative and qualitative value your team provided.

Sometimes the execution and overall delivery of a solution is not up to the expectations of the client. A technical delivery would include your ability to bring forward new innovations they client did not previously have.

If you run into this issue, sit with the client’s decision makers and align on where any technical delivery gaps currently exist. Proactively discuss how you will work to resolve these in the near future.

If you are not meeting client expectations the client will begin seeking your replacement.

Use your weekly, monthly, or quarterly business reviews to get insight on where expectations are not matched. If you find yourself unable to meet these expectations, sit with the client and outline what needs to be done in order to correct this.

Remember client expectations are set based on prior experiences and what was communicated to them at the start of the engagement.

If your Web of Influence is not tightly threaded, you may face a gap in your ability to secure that client. When a new client decision make comes in, immediately set up time to build your relationship with that individual or any other new members.

It is possible the new decision maker has a past relationship or alternate preference. 

The best approach here is to once again review the value your organization has been providing the client and the expected future value still yet to happen.

The most important aspect to retaining your client here is to get in front of them as soon as possible and realign on any possible changes or needs. Never leave client retention to chance and take ownership before it is lost.

Provide A Time Machine Report

A great method to provide any new client decision makers on the team, or anyone looking to get caught up on your engagement is to provide a “Time Machine Report”.

The Time Machine Report provides a summary of the engagement thus far, highlights all the successes, and outlines where you are going in the future. This report is your tool to highlighting all value delivered and 

Realign on Budgets and Seek Approvals

As noted above, one of the most common reasons an engagement is terminated is due to budgetary reasons. For example a change in budget, or termination altogether. 

When sitting with the new client decision makers, get aligned on all upcoming budgets and seek approvals. This will give you the green light to continue moving forward further retaining the client.

8. Assess Your Performance

Your ability to understand how your team is performing both before and after an engagement is beneficial towards your client retention process. 

Conducting assessments on both during and after an engagement provides insight on adjustments to the business model, identify gaps, and most importantly prevent future repetition of any mistakes previously conducted.

Assess During Client Engagement

As a proactive measure to ensure client retention, assessments and evaluations are to be conducted throughout the engagement. This process would involve quarterly or annual reviews assessing the following areas:

  1. Are all client expectations being met?
  2. How is the quality of all relationships?
  3. Are you properly meeting all technical aspects and delivering up to all service levels?

Additionally a neutral third party could be used for these evaluations in order to prevent any bias reporting.

Conduct A Postmortem

After a client engagement ends, a Postmortem should be conducted within two months. The process would include all contributing team members involved with the previous client engagement to assess the following areas:

  1. Where did you fail to meet expectations?
  2. Where did your relationships fall weak?
  3. Where did any technical aspects fall short?

With a postmortem review, your team will be able to identify where your team did not meet any of the following areas above. Mistakes can only be corrected after they are acknowledged.

 

9. Share the Lessons Learned

Success is accomplished through a process of failures and corrections. Applying lessons learned so the past mistakes will not be repeated. Educating your team on those past failures and what works well will certainly improve client retention.

Focus on educating your team on how to manage the balance client expectations through relationships and technical delivery.

 

Technical Delivery

This is the process bringing forward new innovation and overall value that the client did not have previously. This also includes overall execution success as well.

Nurturing Relationships

Relationships are critical to the overall success of the engagement. Focus on educating your team in these areas.

Expectations

Expectations are what set the stage for an engagement's success. Being able to balance this between relationships and overall delivery are critical.

10. Closing Is Just As Important As Starting

A critical area most individuals do not think about is properly closing down an engagement.

If your engagement is coming to an end, closing down is just as important as starting. This is where your final interactions are on display for all to see and your actions will be remembered for years to come. Although the engagement may be over, the client relationship will continue.

Assist With The Transition

In order to preserve the client relationship as well as keep a positive reputation in the market, work with your client on any transition that may be required. Do not immediately pull out of the engagement until after the client is satisfied with the transition. A poor transition is not only harmful to the client, but it will reflect poorly on you further resulting in negative side effects on your reputation.

Focus on making the transition as smooth as possible showing you are their partner the entire way. When things turn out later where they need you again, you will be the first one they think about. 

Past clients also make great references!

11. Client Retention Is A Daily Activity

Client retention is not a one time event but instead a daily practice. Through delivering the technical value and securing the relationships, client retention is an everyday process. This is not something you ever leave to chance, it is something you are 100% committed and engaged with on multiple levels.

The End Date Is Never The Renewal Date

Never wait to begin renewal discussions until the agreement is about to expire. This is the absolute worst possible time is to begin renewal discussions. By waiting until the contract is up for renewal will lose you the incumbent advantage and valuable time securing your partnership.

A note here, a contract end date is something anyone can find out, including your competitors, thus they will be working even harder when they know your agreement is coming up for expiration.

Be prepared for your competitors to exploit any potential weaknesses they try to find, and you must be prepared to do the same to them.

Do not let your competition in the door and leverage your relationship and success to retain your valuable client!

Additional Resources

If you would like to learn more about client retention, below are some additional resources to assist you along your path.

by John Gamble

Known as the nations leading client retention consultant, John Gamble tells the story of the clients for life philosophy.

This book is a great quick read that covers the key aspects to client retention. If you are looking to improve your client retention and bottom line profitability, check out this book.

by Kevin Stirtz

Kevin Stirtz provides a great book providing 6 powerful steps you can do to keep customers coming back. Starting with customer loyalty, Kevin provides real-world tips, tricks, and examples on how you can build your customer base. The book as been very useful and will give you some valuable suggestions that you can use immediately.