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Mar 20, 2023
How (Not) to Lose a Client in Ten Ways

When brands consider cost-cutting measures, marketing is often at the top of their list. For agencies and freelance marketing consultants hoping to maintain and even grow your client rosters, here's some relationship advice:


  1. Underpromise and over-deliver. Talking a big game during your pitch, then following up with mediocre service and work, is probably the number one reason clients leave. Be realistic about what you commit to and work your a** off to exceed expectations.
  2. Manage their money wisely. My first boss in advertising used to say, "spend the client's money as if it was yours." Every dollar matters, so make ROI the priority. Sometimes projects require more time or resources than you initially estimated. It happens, but you'll see it coming if you track costs accurately. Give the client a heads-up and options to stay within (or close to) the original budget—or provide the rationale for these additional expenses.
  3. Don't hold back. The reason brands outsource their marketing is to gain an outside perspective. If your client has an idea that feels off-brand, inappropriate or just wrong, tell them. (Pepsi's gigantic misstep in 2017 was a wake-up call for all in-house agencies.) Sometimes part of our job is to save clients from themselves.
  4. Listen more than you talk. Active listening "involves going beyond simply hearing the words that another person speaks but also seeking to understand the meaning and intent behind them." Look for nonverbal cues; they often speak volumes.
  5. Be creative. Agencies and marketing professionals should inspire and be inspired. There's always an innovative solution for content, media buying, email strategy, event executions, etc., so keep pushing the boundaries and bringing your clients new ideas while remaining relevant and on-brand. If you bore your clients, another agency will come along and dazzle them.
  6. Don't distort the facts. You can probably manipulate data to support almost anything, but don't. You'll erode your clients' trust if you constantly spin results to paint a positive picture. Instead, present an unbiased review of performance data or survey results; if things aren't looking good, have a solid plan for optimizing.
  7. Don't take them for granted. You've retained a client for a few years. Congratulations! Now, don't become complacent. Let them know how important their business is to you. Investing time and resources in client retention builds strong, productive relationships that often lead to referrals.
  8. Be transparent. For any relationship to succeed, transparency is critical because it translates to trust, and "once it's undermined, it's next to impossible to re-establish." If a campaign isn't performing as well as expected, or your proofreader missed a typo, own it—and offer a solution.
  9. Upsell appropriately. As you work with a client, you'll usually identify opportunities to increase your scope. Before you propose an upsell, read the room. Are the current marketing efforts working? Has your client mentioned concerns about performance or budget? If the time feels right to pitch new or increased services, quantify the benefits of adding more work.
  10. Evolve! Whether you're full-service or specialize in a marketing niche like social media, Influencers or email marketing, things are continually changing. Make sure you and your team keep pace with updates and have the latest certifications, where necessary.