Agencies and businesses alike have experienced their fair share of challenges in 2020. It’s pushed agencies to think outside of the box, remain flexible and innovate as the state of the economy and consumer landscape has consistently ebbed and flowed.

In the final months of the year, agencies’ top priorities will be client retention and winning new business for 2021. Sprout’s Agency Partners have been working hard to get ahead of the curve so that they and their clients are in the optimal position for success in the new year.

There’s no one solution that fits all, but we asked six leading agencies to share their best advice about effectively growing their business, building stronger client-agency relationships and increasing client retention throughout the year and into 2021. Read on and take note of how your agency might apply the same approaches for your business.

1. Balance flexibility and stability

Giraffe Social Media, a UK social media management agency, has recognized the impact of the pandemic on its clients and their industries. In addition to refocusing their social strategies to accommodate the 2020 climate, they reimagined their client retention strategies and embraced more contract flexibility to alleviate the burden that some of their clients felt.

“Retention and growth within existing client bases will always be easier than capturing new business, so agencies need to balance flexibility with stability when it comes to contract terms. We’ve offered pauses on service delivery, as well as temporary contract reductions. The same flexibility is required when pitching to prospective clients too. We’ve offered contracts that reflect and accommodate for the uncertainty many businesses feel right now.

A lot of businesses have had to adapt to new restrictions and guidelines, so agencies need to invest in and offer services that meet the current demand. For us, this has meant getting creative about the ways we can work with a business, by offering specialized training, webinars or consultancy contracts.

Other successful approaches to gaining new business during tough times include offering a referral program to our existing clients and strengthening the relationships we have with our partner agencies, who have been invaluable in helping us gain new business.”

– Kate Istead, Head of Operations, Giraffe Social Media

2. Innovate around client needs

RyTech provides digital marketing solutions that help their clients keep up with the ever-changing digital landscape. In 2020, that landscape has been particularly rocky, but innovation and creativity have helped us maintain and strengthen our client-agency relationships.

“2020 has taught us how to innovate. Customers are spending more time online and on social media than they ever have before. Our agency has been able to grow and retain clients by being flexible, offering extended monitoring hours, creating more visual content, advising clients on their comments in current events and more.

We’ve used the Sprout Smart Inbox to organize and  assist with medical clients’ customer service efforts on social, allowing us to increase the monthly contract. Other new clients are also excited to get started to maximize their social media presence because they know the importance of it.”

– Beth Ryan, CMO, RyTech LLC

3. Deepen your connection with clients and be a true partner

The team at So Interactive, an independent digital agency in South Africa, knows that building meaningful client relationships gives them a deep understanding of their client’s brand requirements and objectives. In 2020, that focus became even more important.

“Client relationships are the heartbeat of our agency’s success, especially in a COVID-19 climate where businesses are very vulnerable. I believe that if you do not know how the cogs move in the machine, it is difficult to identify why they are not moving.

We have been focusing a great deal of our time on connecting more personally with our clients and collaborating with them to move the needle on their business. This has included re-aligning strategy, creative and media to yield better results. We also scaled up our Client Services team to better serve our clients and offer more strategic advice. By maintaining consistency and quality with the delivery of our services, we are living up to our promise of building a partnership.”

– Darren Mansour, Digital Director, So Interactive

 4. Stay nimble and test new strategies

Ingredient, a food marketing company, helps brands both big and small share their stories and connect with customers. Even though many of their clients faced new challenges and uncertainty in 2020, Ingredient has the recipe for success.

“Ingredient has been working with our clients who are scrambling to adjust to the new normal. By proactively sharing ideas and helping to create new messaging strategies, we’ve been able to connect our clients to their consumers in a way that is timely and relevant. The result? All but one of our clients has given us new assignments in the past quarter.

It may seem counterintuitive, but now is the right time to try something new. We are using B2B social media platforms, like LinkedIn, to reach new clients. We’re also staying in touch with partners and finding ways to help each other out. When people already know your company and trust the work you do, it often shortens the sales cycle.

Finally, it’s especially important to be nimble. Clients may be reluctant to sign large contracts or take on a big project at the moment. We are exploring ways to flex our business model by starting small or taking on quick assignments that can pave the way for larger engagements.”

– Catherine Gillis, Chief Growth Officer, Ingredient

5. Offer something completely new

Alpha | BRAVO helps clients get control of their social media presence and “#BrandLikeYouMeanIt.” Knowing that their existing and prospective clients were facing significant challenges in 2020, they created an entirely new program to support their evolving needs.

“Small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) have been hardest hit this year. With lower sales volume and fewer staff, marketing budgets have dwindled. Clients need to see results quickly, which is a tough ask when it comes to social.

Still, economic downturns are known to bring about massive change and growth! That’s why we’ve developed a new program that allows SMBs to take the reins of their social media efforts, supported by our expertise. The aB Op.ti.mate program gives SMBs full access to our Sprout Social dashboard so they can upload images to the asset folder, write and schedule posts, monitor reviews and mentions, and more. Our team provides strategy, consulting, proofreading and editing services to ensure their efforts are on-brand and on-strategy. It also gives them priority access to our team of designers, content writers and strategists for any additional needs they might have. Not only does the Op.ti.mate program benefit SMBs, but it is helping us win new clients during an economic downturn.”

– Beth Newton, Co-Founder, Content + Social,  alpha | BRAVO

6. Provide the right support with the right technology

Branding Bear is a boutique marketing firm specializing in brand solutions for small to mid-sized businesses and nonprofits. Working remotely was an added complication to the existing challenges all agencies face—winning new business, building client relationships and expanding their business.

But by revamping the way they work and leveraging technology, they’ve been able to remain efficient and picked up new clients along the way.

“There’s no playbook for what’s happening right now. As agencies, we have to be ahead of the curve to support our clients as they pivot and shift their marketing efforts quickly. No matter their industry, the right tech stack is the most important time-to-value factor for our client’s survival. We’ve adapted by getting really good at setting these platforms up for companies, using this tech alongside them as an agency partner and teaching them to use it. This is how we are winning coaching and consulting clients as we all navigate through this epic shift.

This is the secret formula:

1) Sprout Social. Clients need a revised strategic plan and digital marketing strategy with updated OKRs to meet the current crisis head-on. For this we utilize the power of Sprout to listen to their audience, expand their scope and interact with their tribe using keyword targeting and empathy.

2) Asana. Companies need to make the jump to digital-first ASAP. Asana’s cross-collaboration platform allows seamless remote work while keeping goals, projects, teams and tasks on schedule while all stakeholders stay in the loop.

3) Slack. Forbid the teams to use their email for anything but client communication (if that). Slack is a collaboration hub that lets your team and any outside partners or clients communicate as easily as being face to face, but also integrates with Asana.

The beautiful part of this revamp is that it’s relatively inexpensive and both Asana and Slack integrate with the tech our clients are already using. This means no more chain emails, lost communication or lack of accountability. We all work smarter, with fewer people and from anywhere in the world.

This is the future of work, and we are ready for it.”

– Jacque McHugh, CEO, Branding Bear

Become an Agency Partner

When universal challenges emerge in the agency world, having a network of support is like having a port in the storm. Sprout’s Agency Partner Program is a connection point for agencies around the world seeking resources, sales support to grow your network and a community of unmatched social and marketing expertise.

Come grow with us! Learn more here.