Like any smart agency, my consultancy has based our financial models around retainers. These clients are committed in both time and money for the duration of the engagement. They're our bread and butter, and hell would have to freeze over before we moved away from them.
But it's not all romantic strolls on the beach and ironclad contracts. This "retainer or bust" mindset isn't going to serve anybody for the long haul. You need more to get more out of these engagements, and so do your clients. If your clients aren't learning and outgrowing your services, you're failing them.
When you help your client flourish and succeed - and then potentially move on - the relationship you've formed in the process will easily replace the eventual loss of revenue as they refer peers to your organization knowing they will receive the same valuable empowerment.
Here are three ways to help your clients succeed and become top referral assets:
Make client growth the main goal.
When you're working with a customer, time should be spent producing value (a la guidance and deliverables) but it should also be spent teaching. In our business, a client will often come to us when they want help implementing, using and maximizing marketing or sales technology.
As we help them dial in their processes, we're also helping them learn the ropes. We're empowering their people -- not just teaching them how to create a campaigns. We give them guidance and opportunities to practice and grow and fail -- and then grow even more.
Eventually, it's possible that we empower ourselves right out of a job. And that's okay.
We don't want to face the fact that someday they may not need us. Yet, if we're doing our jobs, we should absolutely and intentionally help them outgrow our services.
You might be thinking of all the revenue you'll be abandoning if you prepare your clients for life on their own beyond your services. But that's not true. You're actually creating a hope of engaging them in a secondary fashion later, in the way that they truly need you, while also adding them as part of the most badass referral network you can imagine.
After all, if you've gotten them to a point where they can handle it all on their own, they've seen some solid success--and they'll be enthusiastic about telling their friends. This will benefit you, revenue-wise, far more than keeping a client as your knowledge hostage just to milk a retainer longer than necessary.
Benchmark to get clues into their longevity.
A piece of this equation has to do with being in the know about your clients' status as you're working with them. If you run -- or are part of -- a client-facing team, you should be aware of how capable or how behind a client is in each area of your engagement. One of the best ways to stay on top of this is by benchmarking.
If you measure where they are when they come to you, and systematically update indicators of their progress, you won't be shocked when they say they don't want to engage with your company any longer. Instead, you'll be nodding your head and saying,
"Yeah, I wouldn't expect anything different." On the flip side, if a client is consistently stagnant with their progress, you'll readily have this insight and be able to better support them toward success. You can't afford not to benchmark.
Be their lifeline, again and again.
Just because you're focused on growing your client until they're thriving doesn't mean they hit the road after that. In fact, switching from a retainer model to a maturity model means that you have the chance to now re-engage a customer in a new way.
The price point will be lower, of course, but is meant to give them a support-based engagement they can lean on when the going gets tough. And it's all but guaranteed to get tough; there's no way your client can ever be as much of an expert in your field as you are. So there will be a time (or many times) when they need you, and you want to be right there waiting to help them out.
Transitioning to this role happens when your customer becomes a real brand advocate for you, mentioning your business' name to the people in their rolodex who might be in need of your services.
When you shape your customer lifecycle and nurture the relationship with the long haul in mind, rather than dropping them once they don't need the full scope of services, you're rightly seen and turned to again and again as a true champion of their success.