March 16, 2023
Navigating Economic Headwinds: 3 Strategies for Marketers to Boost Client Retention in 2023
For most professional services firms, periods of economic uncertainty bring a renewed focus on shoring up and strengthening existing client relationships while also identifying ways to bring more value to the organizations that have already placed their trust in your firm. In other words, client retention and organic growth take priority over new client acquisition – or at least maintain an equal footing.
As a marketing leader, you can play a key (and maybe even surprising) role in supporting the deepening of the client relationships that are vital to your firm’s long-term well-being. After all, you’re the steward of your organization’s brand promise. And by empowering your internal relationship leaders to deliver that brand promise consistently and effectively, you can directly impact your firm’s bottom line.
To that end, here are three strategies designed to help you serve your internal teams as they work to reinforce their high-value client relationships — and a look “under the hood” at Greentarget’s formalized approach to client service.
1. Codify Client Service Behaviors that Promote Retention
Defining and documenting your organization’s unique approach to client service is a powerful exercise and can serve as a roadmap to navigating economic uncertainty. A good place to start is among your primary relationship leads whose clients tend to be steadfast and have increased their investment in your firm over time.
Some relationship managers are truly exceptional at what they do. They anticipate their clients’ needs and always seem to be one step ahead. But do you know what specifically they do differently than their peers? And have the leaders within your organization made it clear that other client-facing members are also expected to live up to the high bar these shining stars set?
Years ago, an advisor to Greentarget talked to us about the concept of “unconscious competence” – the idea that while it may not be explicitly documented, we had developed a “way of doing things” that was understood by most within the firm but not formally expressed. He encouraged us to formalize our approach to client service which evolved into an effort we refer to today as the “Greentarget Way” of client service.
A first step for your organization might be codifying the behaviors your high performing relationship managers regularly and consistently exhibit. Their “unconscious competence,” so to speak. To do so, try asking questions like:
- How often do you interact with clients? What does your client work look like on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis?
- What’s your philosophy around client service? In what ways do your behaviors align with our organizational values?
- How do you maintain empathy for clients while also protecting approved budgets? What’s the right balance between setting and exceeding expectations?
- How do you anticipate your clients’ needs? What actions do you take to stay ahead of their business challenges and the industry trends they’re adapting to?
- Tell me about your best client relationship. What makes it so?
Based on what you learn, you can leverage these insights and begin to spell out the behaviors that promote trust and establish credibility. The more relationship leads you speak with, the more you’ll be able to spot commonalities and patterns across key client accounts which will allow you to create best practices that scale across your firm. And in the process, you’ll create the opportunity to position the firm’s marketing team as a valuable resource to your internal clients for insights on successful client retention and growth strategies.
2. Underscore Your Firm’s Role as a Trusted Authority and Advisor
It’s common for clients to scrutinize everything when they’re feeling the pressure of a challenging economic environment. After all, uncertainty can cause even the savviest business leaders to panic. And when they feel unsettled, clients may question your firm’s methodologies, attempt to pivot away from overarching priorities and strategies, and expect your relationship leaders to respond immediately to any and every top-of-mind issue they throw your way.
Now is the time for your relationship managers to lean into — and demonstrate — your firm’s authority.
Again, this requires you to codify and champion the behaviors that help your clients see you as the high-value partner you are. When it comes to emphasizing your firm’s ability to serve as an expert advisor, these behaviors may include:
- Taking time to deeply understand each client’s vision for 2023 and the strategic objectives they want to reach
- Making recommendations and providing advice that aligns with those overarching objectives
- Pushing back against projects and requests that might ultimately distract the client from reaching their big-picture goals
- Keeping the client focused and centered around business-critical tasks
- Invest in a “voice of the client” research initiative to understand the critical challenges and pain points that your firm can help address
Of course, you can also underscore your firm’s expertise by doubling down on your owned media efforts. For example, you might develop and promote a series of case studies that showcases specific ways your team used their unique positions of authority to solve clients’ trickiest business challenges. Or, you could help key leaders write articles, research reports, and other collateral to share a compelling point of view on issues that impact your industry.
Regardless of the approach you pursue, your marketing orientation and instincts can be a tremendous asset for relationship leaders within your firm who are challenged to navigate economic uncertainty and contraction. Now’s the time to move beyond the traditional boundaries of marketing and communications by exploring new ways to serve and support the relationship leaders who drive your firm.
3. Create an Internal Rallying Cry Around Client Retention
As a marketing leader, you are also your firm’s “chief repetition officer.” It’s your responsibility to continually beat the drum about your firm’s priorities and keep your team energized around your common goals.
Setting a client retention goal at the beginning of a new year is a good start. But to achieve the results you’re after, you’ll also need to develop creative ways of reinforcing your firm’s commitment to delivering your brand promise.
This can be as simple as encouraging your practice group leaders to carve out a minute or two in team meetings to share anecdotes and stories about how they’ve provided excellent client service. Or you might infuse every piece of internal communication with updates and reminders about your client retention goals and the specific behaviors that support them.
Whatever the case may be, look for ways to repeatedly communicate that providing excellent client service is a key strategy to thriving during a downturn and provide the examples that illustrate those behaviors.
Draw Inspiration From The Greentarget Way
At Greentarget, we’ve spent more than a decade defining and refining the brand promise we deliver to clients. As a result, “The Greentarget Way” has become an integral part of our team culture. Every employee knows what it takes to live out our ideals when working and collaborating with clients.
The Greentarget Way lays out a seven-step approach to client service. Each step maps to specific behaviors that members of our team are expected to embrace in their client work. For example:
|1. Identify the problem, challenge, or opportunity||• Ask “how can we help?”|
• Look to peers for lessons learned and best practices
• Get uncomfortable – we are creative problem solvers
|2. Understand the objectives||• Ask insightful questions|
• Focus on the details
• Bring a “yes…and” attitude
|3. Empathize with the audience||• Ask the right questions to learn everything you can about audience needs|
• Stay on top of industry trends
• Be open to pivoting and changing course
• Avoid assumptions and be willing to test your theories about audience preferences and behaviors
|4. Build the strategy||• Take calculated risks|
• Deliver fresh thinking
• Trust your reservoir of experience
• Ask colleagues for help
|5. Craft the narrative||• Be authentic and credible|
• Work to build connections with the desired audience
• Execute with vigilance, diligence, and purpose
|6. Distribute across channels||• Deliver results|
• Build personal connections with media, clients, and peers
|7. Measure and assess||• Track appropriate KPIs|
• Recharge and gain a fresh perspective before the next project
• Ask insightful questions about how results impacted the client’s business
This is a brief overview of our in-depth and comprehensive approach. But now that you see what’s possible, how might you develop a similar strategy to improve your firm’s client retention rate?
We’d love to help you think through a model that will enable your firm to deepen and prioritize your high-value client relationships in light of your mission and values. So if you have questions, just reach out.