But then a few days later a call comes out of the blue. The client serves notice. You’re flabbergasted. How can this be? You’re absolutely killing it. Or, you thought you were.

I’ve heard variations on this story a thousand times. There are instances, of course, when the factors that led to the decision are entirely outside of your control. But there are also times when losing the client is wholly avoidable.

The problem with a typical stats report is that it only tells half the story. An upward trajectory in traffic, conversion rate or even revenue does not necessarily translate into the business metric that matters most – profit.

Neither does a stats report typically reflect what really matters to the client, over and above the agreed key performance indicators, such as traffic.

The ‘value spectrum’

This is perhaps best explained by something I came across in the book ‘Discover Questions, Get You Connected’. With a couple of my own tweaks / additions, I think it perfectly encapsulates the principle of value where agency / client relationships are concerned.

 Three layers of value

Let’s say you offer Pay-per-Click (PPC) as a service. A prospect has a specific need, in that they want to increase brand awareness, traffic and sales. You are one of thousands of agencies, freelancers or consultants who could set up and manage a campaign to meet these goals. 

Whilst the difference in performance between the worst and best suppliers might be significant, there’s a huge middle ground where this difference is marginal. 

As a result, the prospect is probably going to look for the cheapest solution. Who can blame them? There is very little to distinguish one supplier from another. 

But let’s say your agency has a lot of experience in the prospect’s sector. Combined with this, you are also able to demonstrate how you’ll deliver a better ROI than your competition with your proprietary tools. Now we’re starting to get somewhere – there is some added value in your offering.

However, this might not be enough to win the business. Most so-called USPs (people, tools, transparency, for example) are not really USPs at all, not in the mind of the prospect anyway. Instead, they’re invariably hygiene factors; the minimum standard expected, if you like.

This is where the right-hand side of the ‘value spectrum’ can make all the difference, especially in a market saturated with suppliers all broadly offering the same thing. That’s because value is not ‘one size fits all’. Instead, it is something that is unique to each client / agency relationship. 

Value comes in many forms 

Value does of course include the tangible results you deliver. But if this is the extent of the value you create for your clients, I’d suggest that makes you easily replaceable, irrespective of how good those results are.

The mistake many agencies make is that they only seek to understand value in the context of the business. Whilst this of course matters, companies don’t buy your services, people do.

It’s therefore equally important to understand the issues or challenges faced by the individual (or individuals, if several stakeholders are involved), along with the specific outcomes they are looking to achieve by working together. I can assure you these will differ every time. 

For example, the fact that your key contact wants to build their knowledge and show off an award-winning campaign so that they can get that all-important promotion won’t be something that features in the RFP. Equally, it’s unlikely to be insight that somebody will simply offer up. 

Questions, such as…

  • What are your priorities?
  • Where would you like to be in six months?
  • What obstacles are you facing in getting there?
  • How will you measure the success of our work together? Can you put a value on it?
  • How can we make your life easier?
  • How do we make you look good?

…should therefore feature as part of the information gathering and qualifying process (and at regular intervals once the client is on-board). Variations of these questions are used to establish value in the context of the business, something that Blair Enns articulates wonderfully in this article.

The important distinction is that you are also looking to establish what is valued by the individual.

You’ll need to build a certain amount of trust and rapport before posing such questions. You are asking somebody to open up and reveal their needs, desires, motivations and concerns. 

But when you understand what really matters to the prospect and put it at the centre of your solution, planning process, reporting and reviews, you will find yourself an invaluable strategic partner, as opposed to an easily replaceable commodity. This does of course assume you actually get the client to the ‘promised land’. But if you don’t know what the promised land looks like for the client, how can you expect to help them get there?

Where are your clients on the ‘value spectrum?’

If you see a lot of client churn, it might be because you’re not winning the ‘right’ business in the first place. It might be that you’re just not very good at digital marketing. But I doubt that’s the case. 

It’s more likely a failure to initiate relationships where ‘created value’ drives everything. 

An exercise I have my clients do is to be completely honest with themselves and plot where each of their clients are on the ‘value spectrum’. More often than not, they sit on the left and in the middle.

This is no bad thing. It might be that certain clients just aren’t right and they should let them go. Or, it initiates a set of actions to better understand their clients, using the insight to build stronger, relationships that benefit both parties in equal measure.

So, take a look at the image above. Where do your clients sit?

If you work at a digital agency with a presence in the UK, why not enter Econsultancy’s Top 100 Digital Marketing Agencies?