Working in an agency can sometimes feel like a revolving door of clients. They come, stay for a while, and then leave. At that point, you probably won’t see that client again, usually for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of work you provided them. That is just the nature of working in an agency.
Luckily, working at UpBuild has given us the chance to re-engage with many of our past clients and optimize our process for doing so.
Why Clients Leave
Clients choose to end their relationships with us for a variety of reasons, including:
- Lack of budget — This is the big one. Budgets change, get cut, get reallocated, etc. and often when a client doesn’t extend their initial engagement, budget is a factor in that decision.
- Change of direction — Maybe the client has hired an in-house SEO, or has decided organic search isn’t the best channel to focus on. Maybe they’re investing deeply in another channel, and need to move funds accordingly (see “Lack of budget”).
- Shifting timelines — When a client is planning to rebuild or redesign their website, they may have a “freeze” period where they’re not updating the old site anymore, but the new site isn’t ready to be optimized. We’ll often see a client at least pause services during these times.
- Unsatisfied clients — Rarely (at least at UpBuild), you get a client who won’t re-engage because they were not happy with the previous engagement. Often this is due to misaligned expectations, changing business needs, or sometimes even a personality clash
The first three reasons are mostly out of your hands. You can try to combat the lack of budget by reducing costs or engagement terms, but most of the time, it’s an all or nothing deal with their budget. They either have a big enough budget for a full SEO campaign, or they don’t have enough budget to make SEO worthwhile. No matter how great a job you’re doing, there’s not much an agency can do about changing internal priorities or timelines, either.
The last reason is more in your control, but even then, sometimes engagements don’t work out.
Even in cases where we lose a client, we always consider the chance that they’ll come back to us at some point when the time is right. Because of that, it’s important to end an engagement on a positive note, and let the client know you’re ready to work with them again once the client is ready.
Benefits of Re-Engaging
Returning clients can be the best clients. First of all, if a client is coming back to work with you again, they most likely enjoyed the previous engagement and were happy with the results. If not, they are at least confident that the issues of the prior engagement can be overcome.
Kicking off a new engagement with a returning client is easier, because you already know each other, or at least you already know each other’s businesses. You have a good understanding of the client’s website and model (despite changes that might have come up, which we’ll discuss later), and you likely know some of the players involved in the campaign.
Decide if You Want to Re-Engage in the First Place
While we mentioned three reasons a client might not want to re-engage with you, there are often reasons you, as the agency or consultant, wouldn’t want to re-engage with the client as well. Remember that a consultancy project is a two-way street, and both parties should be on the same page; otherwise, results might suffer.
With that said, when a former client wants to re-engage, think long and hard about whether you want to do business with this client again.
Since we heavily vet and vote on each client at UpBuild, we generally do not have issues with re-engaging with a past client. But because things can change between engagements, we vote on returning clients again if it’s been more than a year since our previous engagement with them ended. This gives everyone a chance to weigh in on a past client (and gives new team members who might have come on since the engagement ended a chance to vote) and decide whether we believe further work will be beneficial to everyone involved.
Plenty of agencies need to take every opportunity for work that comes their way, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re lucky enough not to be in that position, then really consider each and every client—new and old—to ensure your engagement has the best chance at success.
Re-Engaging a Past Client
When re-engaging with a client, we have a few goals:
- Re-establish trust
- Identify current, past, and emerging paint points for the client
- Get up to speed on industry/business changes
- Discuss any issues that might have previously come up during the previous engagements, either with you as a consultant or anyone they worked with in between your engagements
- Try to assemble the same team the client last worked with
Each of the tasks above can help ensure re-engaging with a past client goes as well as possible.
While the previous engagement might not have ended on a negative note, it is still essential to re-establish that trust between the client and the vendor.
Re-establishing trust is vital because this is still a business relationship, even if you’ve worked with the client before. Not every business can handle misspending of marketing budgets, so the client needs to know that you—as the agency— is going to deliver on what is agreed upon.
Identify Past, New, and Emerging Pain Points
When deciding to work with the same client again, it’s key to make sure you fully understand why they’re reaching out again. It’s crucial to gather insights on what their pain points or concerns were during the last engagement and decide how you will approach them during the new engagement. This is also a great chance to identify pain points that could arise in the near future.
Get Up to Speed With the Client’s Industry Changes
Whether the last time you worked with the client was three months or 12 months ago, your team should get up to speed on industry changes that could affect your work moving forward.
This includes talking with your client about changes that could impact marketing efforts, but also should include your team doing its research to see if the client’s specific industry has had any search-related shifts or emerging terminology that you’ll need to take into consideration.
Discuss Issues That Came Up During the Last Engagement
One of the best parts of re-engaging with a client is you’re not going into the engagement cold—you’ve worked with these people before, so you can act upon your prior experience.
This can manifest itself in many ways, like understanding the client’s communication preferences, how long it takes to get tasks handled, expectations of certain stakeholders, etc. All this knowledge puts you at an advantage in terms of making this engagement a success.
Look through prior call notes, emails, internal discussions your team has had about the client, etc. Anything and everything should be leveraged to help the engagement proceed smoothly.
At UpBuild, we do our best to try to develop relationships between the client and its UpBuild engagement team. We try to integrate to the point where we feel like we’re an in-house SEO on your team. Because of that, if a client comes back to UpBuild, we do our best to try to put the original team back together for that account.
We’ve generally had good luck with the senior team member having an opening at the right time, but if they don’t have capacity, we make it work. The new team will meet with the last team to get caught up to speed on the previous engagement, and then we can always go back to that team for a question down the line.
This might seem like played out advice, but don’t burn bridges because previous clients could easily become clients again in the future.
If you really want to nurture the relationship in case it ever returns, make yourself available to the client even after they leave. When a client is leaving UpBuild, we try to make it clear that we’re still there for the client if they have a random SEO or marketing question. While we prioritize paying clients obviously, we still want our past clients to succeed even if it’s not with us, so we’re always there to bounce ideas off or provide a resource that might help them get where they want to go.