Agency management consultants, The Agency Works, recommend that 75% of an agency’s income should come from existing clients. It's the cheapest way to win work after all. But if you’re not proactively trying to get more work from exiting clients, you stand to miss out on a lot of sales.
In this piece, we share proven techniques for upselling to existing clients. Not the outdated cold hard sell tactics but value-led ideas that are beneficial to both your agency and your clients.
In a busy agency, it’s easy to see a brief, get a quote together for that exact brief and start work. But by doing this you’re likely to be missing out on extra work.
If a client has you working on a project, they probably don’t have your expertise in house. So when they produce a brief, it’s based on their understanding of what’s possible rather that their expertise in the field. Spending time listening to your client and digging into what they want to achieve, rather than what they think should be done, can be amazingly beneficial to you both.
It’s likely that once you know what your client wants to achieve, as the experts, you can think up a better solution. Maybe you can expand on the project for better results or cover off more scope of their wider project than they anticipated. For example, do they know your agency does digital advertising as well as websites?
Take their brief and really dig into what results they want. If you make genuinely valuable suggestions and have proven yourself on past projects (or prove yourself in future) then this isn’t selling, it’s being helpful and pro-active.
But suggesting more work does mean a larger quote and you don’t want to put the client off. One way to approach this is to offer tiered options:
This is a great way to showcase your abilities and get your client dreaming about the possibilities without presenting a singular scary quote. Studies show that when faced with three options, people lean towards the middle one. This is because when they’re presented with a more expensive option, the middle one seems reasonable. If nothing else, this approach will let your client know what could be done in subsequent phases.
The primary role of an account manager is to support clients and ensure their projects run smoothly. It’s all about relationship building and if an account manager is good at it, they’ll get promoted to account director. Then boom, overnight it’s all about revenue building and targets.
We’ve heard of account directors going on courses to learn how to sell. They’ve made it through the ranks based on their relationship skills and now it’s all about sales. It can feel very jarring for the account director and the client. As really, an account director rarely chooses that career because they love sales.
There are two ways to solve this issue. Firstly, don’t sell, just nurture. Secondly, don’t wait until someone is an account director to teach them how to gain sales through this nurturing technique.
Part of an account manager’s relationship building technique, should be to offer pro-active solutions that are aligned with what the client wants to achieve and their budget. We mentioned this above in relation to a brief, but it doesn’t have to only happen at brief stage. This can and should organically happen as part of the relationship. It isn’t selling, it is understanding the client’s motivations and aims to help them get the best results. Most clients would kill for an agency who offers this valued support, it can actually feel frustrating when an agency partner isn’t pro-active.
This feels a little obvious and simplistic but if everyone is focused on not over-servicing and charging the client for work delivered, then this has the same impact as upselling.
Of course, you can’t charge a client if something simply took you longer to complete. Or because you have an inkling that something you’re working on is out-of-scope. You need to be able to prove that something is out of scope or that your client has changed the brief.
This is where a complete agency management system like Synergist can really help. Firstly, the resource schedule gives everyone clarity on when over-servicing is happening. Documents, such as scope and brief can be attached to scheduled work so everyone has crystal clarity on what they should be doing and what’s additional work. Getting this information early puts you in a very strong position to stop over-servicing. You can identify over-servicing, then tell your client exactly why it has happened and by how many hours. This opens the door to an honest conversation in the early stages. And given you can provide evidence your client is likely to mind paying for these extra hours.
It’s worth also considering that sometimes overservicing is just habit. There is a such a focus on pleasing the client that it organically happens because everyone is encouraged to say yes. Creating a commercially aware culture in your agency can really help combat this. It can also set team members up early as they progress through the ranks, as we mentioned earlier. Teams need to have a commercial understanding around keeping clients happy within the context of charging for time.
It’s easy to win a piece of work from a client and focus on that. Then when that project’s over, another piece of work comes in from the same client, so you shift focus to that. But sometimes you need to pause from the day-to-day and make sure your client understands what your agency can do, rather than just what you are doing. Tell them about other areas of the agency and the effectiveness of these departments.
Of course, this starts with having clarity internally on the direction the agency is heading in and the skills available. Make sure everyone understands your agency’s unique strengths and position within the wider market.
It goes without saying that if your work knocks a client’s socks off, they’re going to come back for more. You don’t have to over-service or bend over backwards to please a client, just produce really great work that gets them the results they’re after.
A lot of the tips and tricks within this piece boil down to having a commercial awareness within your agency. Getting everyone thinking about opportunities to grow clients and projects and teaching teams how to do this in a natural and mutually beneficial way.
This is such a crucial part of agency life, where there isn’t a sales team or role bringing in all new business from scratch. In an agency everyone has to spot opportunities, be these opportunities for more work or to make more profit on existing projects.
If you’re interested in hearing more about this commercial focus, you may enjoy our piece, How to raise your agency's commercial awareness.