Have you ever developed a WordPress website for a client who for all intents and purposes received everything outlined in their contract, yet when their next project or website refresh came along, took their business elsewhere?
It can be a very frustrating process. Developing a website for a typical client is never as easy as it appears at the outset. There are countless hours spent behind the scenes, testing, debugging, optimizing for mobile devices, compressing images – the list goes on and on.
It’s these little nuances that clients are rarely aware of. It often seems as easy as picking a theme, tweaking a few colors, adding some content and calling it a day. Cha-ching! If only it were that easy!
Understanding what makes our clients tick and learning how we can keep them happy in the long term is the key to developing strong relationships. And strong relationships are what help drive repeat business, referrals and a large percentage of revenue – especially after a few years in business.
The Acquisition Trap
It’s rare to find yourself in a situation where you don’t need or aren’t interested in taking on new clients. For many developers, it’s a fine balance that involves managing current projects and generating new leads. It is, however, easy to fall into something called “the acquisition trap”. It’s a place where you become so focused on creating new sales funnels, searching for leads and converting new clients that you forget to take care of what’s right in front of you.
Once your client has signed their contract and your focus has shifted to deliverables, it can be easy to forget about the importance of building the relationship. That’s where things can start to fall apart. We tend to think that we lose clients because of some singular event, but often it happens slowly over time.
We’ve all been in the position of experiencing buyer’s remorse. Doubting a recent purchase or commitment never feels good and it’s not a feeling you want to impart on to your clients; at least not if you’re hoping to keep them around for the long term.
The key to helping your clients feel good about their decision is to make sure you blow them away with great service, starting the minute they sign your development contract.
Are You Too Focused on Acquisition?
There is some fear within the WordPress development industry that what we offer clients has become something of a commodity. We’re experiencing price pressure from a variety of different angles, and at times it seems like there is always another developer willing to accept the same job for 50% less than what we need to charge. There is an overwhelming feeling that we always need to use price to create a competitive edge.
That way of thinking is flawed, and as soon as you start to focus on developing a customer retention strategy, you’ll see why. Don’t become so focused on attracting new clients that you forget to take care of the ones who helped get you to where you are today. By developing a retention strategy that focuses on delivering over the top value and building relationships, over time you’ll develop a competitive edge that becomes tough to beat – regardless of your price point.
If you search online you’ll find differing opinions as to the actual value of long-term client relationships. Some reports, like this one from Harvard Business School, report that an increase in retention by just 5% can translate to an increase in profits that ranges from 25% to 95%. True, that’s a pretty big spread but, even on the lower end of the range, it’s still impressive.
Others, like this PDF article from Ipsos Loyalty, seem to indicate that while it’s possible that acquisition costs are higher than retention costs, the old data upon which these assumptions are made is flawed, subjective and a recipe for disappointment.
You’ll have to make your own assumptions and base your decision upon your own results. My experience has indicated that client retention is worth much more than the time and effort required.
Shifting Your Focus To Retention
There are three simple steps that contribute towards creating a framework for a great retention program and the nurturing of client relationships. The actual steps you take can be fine-tuned for your business model, as long as you drop them into a system that is geared towards success. Here they are:
- Put Your Plan In Writing. As a developer working by yourself, you have a little bit of flexibility here – your plan can be short and in point form. However, if you have support staff or a VA, you’ll need to develop a standard operating procedure in order to assure continuity.
- Test, Optimize, and Refine. Just like how you spend time optimizing your website and sales process for conversions, so too should you be optimizing your client retention process. Experiment with different ideas and techniques. Try different value added services, newsletter frequency, monthly versus weekly reporting and more. Your goal is to find something that works for you (profitable) and your client (valuable).
- Ask for Feedback. As a developer, we have a tendency to think we always know what our clients need. On one hand, we want to provide expertise and guidance. On the other, we need to make sure we are always listening to our clients’ needs. We can’t help solve their problems if we don’t what they are. Build client feedback into your retention program!
7 Ingredients To Make Your Client Retention Program More Effective
The exact features of your client retention plan are up to you to decide, based upon the services you provide and what you think your clients will find valuable. However, there are some general principles that you should consider, all of which I believe are a core component of developing long-term client relationships:
1. Describe Your Desired Client Experience
You’re probably familiar with Apple products (who isn’t). As what is arguably one of the most famous brands on the planet, you might be interested to learn the extent to which Apple has gone in order to develop the ideal customer experience. There is not a single step in the whole process that hasn’t been meticulously crafted. No, you don’t need to be as meticulous as Apple, but you should at least write a paragraph or two that describes how you want your clients to feel about their interactions with you and your company.
2. Develop a Communication Policy
I have no reservations in saying that communication can play a pivotal role in your ability to nurture long-term client relationships. We’re not talking about how you choose to communicate. Email, hangouts, telephone – it all works, as long as you use it.
Keep an open line of communication with your clients and never leave them wondering about the progress of their project. It takes literally 60 seconds to shoot off a quick email update at the end of the day or week.
If you’re working on something that has a deadline attached, put yourself in your client’s shoes for moment. With a deadline approaching, they’re probably worried and stressed out. A quick note from you letting them know that everything is on track is 100 times better than silence until the last minute.
I can’t stress this point enough. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Used properly, it can be a major competitive advantage!
3. Provide Ongoing Value
Figure out what your clients find valuable and provide it. Not for free, of course. It should be built into your pricing structure, but consider keeping a few aces up your sleeve. Receiving unexpected value can be a nice surprise.
You might consider the ways in which you can provide ongoing value. This goes back to the idea that typically, we are too focused on acquisition. Much of your content is probably geared towards bringing new leads into the sales funnel. But what are you producing for your existing clients?
Once clients are on board, have you considered building a client portal – a place where your clients have exclusive access to your knowledge? This can work well for you too. Instead of having the same conversation with each client about the importance of content marketing, you can create a quick ten minute video that explains how it might benefit their business along with a case study. Make it a win-win!
4. Become an Indispensable Resource
We all hate scope creep. Just make sure you’re not too quick to dismiss an opportunity that might make you seem indispensable. Taking 30 minutes to help a client solve their website crisis can make you pretty (in)valuable – especially if it helps them grow their business.
Here’s a real life scenario to consider. A recent WordPress update caused a conflict with a client’s portfolio plugin. Out of the blue, the portfolio on their website stopped functioning. The developer of the plugin was working on a fix but it was several days away. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue except for the fact that this particular client had a meeting lined up that afternoon with a potential $5k customer and she desperately needed to be able to show off her portfolio. As a developer, it would be easy to shrug it off and blame WordPress or the plugin developer, but think about the loyalty that might be garnered by dropping everything and creating a new portfolio for your client just in time for her meeting.
5. Take an Interest in Your Client’s Business
Your clients should be more than just a file number. Treat them with respect and take an interest in their business and personal well-being. Nurturing a long-term relationship means having a purpose that runs deeper than just money. If that’s your only motivation, building any kind of long-term relationship is going to be an uphill battle.
6. Reduce Your Workload with Automation
Much of what we’ve covered so far places an emphasis on personal interactions. That doesn’t mean I’m not a huge proponent of automation. As long as it’s used properly and you are maintaining a “human” component, fill your boots and automate away!
If you’re going to grow your business, automation will need to play a role in that process. The exact tools don’t matter – Infusionsoft, MailChimp, MailPoet – just keep it real and avoid the “set it and forget it” mentality that has become so prevalent.
7. Make Yourself Available to Your Clients
It’s tough to build a relationship with clients if you never make yourself available to them. We’re not talking about billable hours either. This is the good old-fashioned “give me a call anytime you want to chat about business” kind of availability. These are the conversations that transcend short-term business relationships and create long-term friendships.
My goal with this post was to provide some real insight into the process and work that’s involved in building and nurturing long term client relationships. It’s a topic that I’m pretty passionate about. You probably noticed a real absence of “use this tool” or “try this gadget”.
None of those things, to be blunt, contribute a darn thing toward building long-term relationships. For that you need to rely on hard work, communication and people skills.
What is your number one challenge when it comes to nurturing winning client relationships? Share in the comments below!
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