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Client Management Strategies for Agencies to Build Better Relationships

Good client experiences in the agency world aren’t always the norm. Here’s how to make them yours.

Good client experiences in the agency world aren’t always the norm. Here’s how to make them yours.

Horror stories about poor client experiences make the rounds online, in friend circles, and between colleagues. These stories can include anything from a lack of communication to being scammed out of money for deliverables. Either way, your brand reputation extends beyond just your work; it encompasses the entire client experience.

One of the best things you can do for your agency is give your clients a great experience from the start. But managing clients in an organized manner isn’t always easy, especially if you’re just getting started.

For 20 years, Basecamp has helped agencies of all sizes make client management easier with software loaded with project management features. During that time, we’ve learned what it takes to manage clients in a way that leaves them happy and excited to recommend your agency to others.

In this guide on client management strategies for agencies, we’ll cover everything you need to know about working with clients effectively, including:

  • Onboarding clients
  • Communication strategies
  • Agency project management software
  • Invoicing and payments
  • Client relationships
  • Client management FAQs

With that, let’s dive into what you need to know to build lasting relationships with your agency’s clients.

Start with Business Principles

You can’t effectively manage your clients if you haven’t yet figured out how to manage your business. The principles you hold and how you operate behind closed doors impacts how your clients are taken care of.

Your standards become your employees’ standards. Which means you’ll have to codify how you work:

  1. Decide how you’ll get things done: What’s your mode of operation? Do you make a couple drafts of your work (web pages, blogs, social media posts) and get client feedback before finalizing, or do you do your best work and ship it off to the client, making small revisions when necessary? These decisions impact your client’s expectations, and therefore your team’s work.
  2. Figure out how you would respond to certain situations: Say a client wants an extra two revisions on something they’ve already met their revisions quota on. How does your team handle that? Who do they go to when they don’t know how to handle it? Document these decisions for your team to reference when they come up.
  3. Find the line of when you need to fire a client: Not everyone is destined to work together forever and you’ll have to fire a client eventually, but what will determine that? What is the criteria? Knowing this can help your team alert you to these lines being crossed and keeps your roster full of clients you and the team like working with.
  4. Determine the operating principles you use to make decisions: Most established (and growing) businesses have guiding principles or values. Ours are right here. It helps remove decision fatigue when we can reference these. Does it align or not? The choice is easier.
  5. Decide who is the go-to when it comes to saving a client: Not everyone is a fit to talk a difficult client off the edge. It helps if you have a dedicated person in charge of the challenging conversations that can get emotionally heated. They’ll be able to communicate empathetically, notice trends, and bring that to the team to iterate and improve.

There are more areas to focus on, but these will get you started. When everyone in your organization is on the same page, client management becomes infinitely easier.

Elements of Client Management & How to Do Each Well

Maintaining your client roster is one of the best ways to grow as an agency. When you’re constantly trying to add new clients just to keep up with the status quo, that’s less time and energy you can put into serving your current clients, research and development for the services you provide, and general growth strategies.

But keeping clients means giving them a great experience. That starts with quality client management.

1. Onboarding

After the initial call and agreement to work together, the onboarding process is the first time you get to show your client what it’ll be like to work with you. First impressions matter.

If your client onboarding is messy, unorganized, and they have to email five times just to figure out how to see the project’s progress, you’re off to a rough start.

We cover client onboarding here, but this is a brief of what you need to include:

  • How and where to communicate what they want delivered
  • Where they’ll receive the work
  • How and who to communicate with for updates
  • When you’ll invoice
  • How you accept payment and when it’s expected
  • Any account logins or accesses
  • Any other expectations, guidelines, or questions they need answered

Preferably, you’ll do this all at one time in an organized manner that includes an email and a phone or video call to make sure everyone understands.

2. Communication

If you’re not intentional about managing client communication, your relationship will fall through the cracks. They need to be able to reach out and connect with someone should they have questions or to change something you delivered.

It’s really easy to think, “they’ll just ask if they need something.” But ask who? Through what medium? Can they reach out in an email or will you ignore emails because your business is forgoing the distraction of emails altogether?

If they’re ignored and you deliver work they don’t like, will they be charged extra for doing it again? That’s a quick way to create a client that’s difficult to work with.

There are a lot of options to manage communication, here are some popular ones:

  • Use the project management software and add your client to it, keeping all communication in a single place
  • Use an internal communication software like Slack and create a channel for each client
  • Set expectations for where to go and what timeline they will hear back from you

This guide to client communication has more suggestions, but honestly it isn’t as complicated as people often make it.

Communicate. Listen. Make it easy for them.

3. Agency Project Management Software to Keep Clients Organized

Every good agency needs a project management program to help them stay organized. A system of Google folders, emails, Facebook messages, or other communication softwares just won’t cut it.

When you try to do everything in various places, you’re bound to make mistakes, not communicate with clients, forget to give feedback, and so on. It’s a huge mess waiting to happen.

The best agencies recognize that the key to keeping clients happy is leveraging a tool to stay organized. That’s why thousands of client-serving agencies choose Basecamp. It’s a single space to stash all conversations, deliverables, feedback, and more, so work stays hyper organized. Everything you need to do your best work is built right in.

While a Basecamp dashboard can be customized to fit your agency’s specific needs, one of the easiest ways to get started is by simply turning each one of your clients into a dedicated Basecamp project. From there, you can select your tools, add folders for all your deliverables, and invite clients directly to the space, so all of you can work together with fewer emails and meetings.

4. Invoicing & Payments

You need someone to manage this system and ensure you’re sticking to the expectations you set for this process. Your invoicing should happen on the same day and if payment isn’t collected from your client by the agreed upon deadline, that person needs to follow up and make sure it does.

Depending on what type of invoicing software you use, you may be able to automate this and schedule invoices to be sent out at the same time each month. Just be sure to update any of the information based on changes beforehand.

5. Client Relationship & Ongoing Work

There are a couple different instances where you’ll need to step in and actively manage the client relationship:

  1. When things are going poorly: How do you manage when a client is upset with the work? You’ll need a process for managing when clients are unhappy. Figuring out a person or system that’s replicable and easy to follow for each client manager is your best bet for longevity.
  2. When it’s time to end the relationship: Who communicates that a client is being fired and how is this handled? Who announces it to the team? What work do you deliver or finish from that client?
  3. When it’s time to renew a contract: If your agency goal is growth, you’ll want to retain as many clients as possible. Prioritize deciding how you want to move through the contract renewal process in order to minimize churn.

Obviously you’ll be communicating with clients all the time, but these are three key moments where you’ll want a specific plan to manage them. The fact is, you’re not just a business. If you want to keep that client around, you have to build a relationship with them. And that extends beyond “Here are those blog posts you asked for!”

How to Build a Successful Client-Agency Relationship

Successful client-agency relationships are the product of many factors. Here are some of the most important ones you should focus on if you want to build better client relationships:

  • Clear communication: Effective communication is vital in any business relationship. Poor communication, misunderstandings, or lack of clarity can lead to frustration and diminished trust between the client and the agency. That’s why we loaded Basecamp with tools to make it easier to communicate and share information with your clients, without unnecessary meetings and overflowing email inboxes (you can learn more about these tools in our Guide to Client Communication).

  • Understanding client needs: Clients need more than just great work from their agency. They need great work that supports their goals and objectives. If the client and agency have different understandings of project scope, goals, or deliverables, it can lead to dissatisfaction and disagreements. Set clear expectations from the beginning. It’s vital that agencies understand their clients’ needs, and develop work that supports these outcomes.

  • Transparency: Trust is a critical component of successful client-agency relationships, and trust comes from transparency. Agencies should always be clear about their capabilities, their output, their timelines, and their prices. The last thing a client wants is an unpleasant surprise from their agency.

  • Results-driven approach: Successful agencies focus on delivering results and achieving the client’s objectives. Setting measurable KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and regularly reporting on progress helps to demonstrate the agency’s effectiveness and creates a sense of accountability. Ultimately, your agency will be judged on its ability to deliver results. If you consistently fall short, it will have a noticeable impact on your client relationship.

  • Flexibility and adaptability: Client needs often change over time. This can be due to new leadership, new competition, new products, or any other number of factors. Agencies need to be flexible, and adapt to the changing needs of their clients. Yes, it’s easier to “set it and forget it” - but the best agencies know that a successful long-term client relationship is fueled by their own ability to grow with their clients.

  • Cost and Budget Consciousness: Cost is a significant factor in any business relationship. If the agency exceeds the agreed-upon budget without providing sufficient justification, it will diminish the client’s trust in the agency’s capabilities.

  • Timely delivery and responsiveness: Meeting deadlines and delivering work on time is crucial for maintaining trust and confidence. Agencies must manage their projects effectively to ensure timely completion of tasks and projects. And like it or not, when you work with clients, you need to adjust your cadence to fit their needs. The more responsive you are, the more comfortable and content your clients will feel placing their work in your hands. That’s why it’s important to find a tool that canstreamline your client communication needs.

  • Long-term focus: Successful agency-client relationships are built on long time horizons. Agencies should avoid any practices that focus on their own short-term gain, and instead focus on how to serve their clients not just this year, but for many years in the future.

By incorporating these factors into their approach, agencies can cultivate strong, lasting, and mutually beneficial relationships with their clients.

Client Management for Agencies FAQs

What do clients want from their agencies?

Clients want several things from the agency, the most important of which is delivering results. All good work is in service of some sort of outcome, and clients are looking for an agency that can deliver tangible results, helping their business gain an edge over the competition.

In addition to results, clients also want agencies that offer transparent communication, industry expertise, a unique creative lens, and alignment with the client’s brand. And of course, a client wants all of this at a price that falls within their budget.

What is the most critical factor in the agency client relationship?

Trust is the most critical factor in an agency-client relationship. A client isn’t just risking money when they hire an agency. They’re risking time and their existing brand reputation. There’s an opportunity cost that comes with hiring an agency, and as such, it’s crucial that agencies earn their clients’ trust early and often. Without it, the relationship will always be fragile.

Clients that trust their agency are more open to new ideas, act upon agency recommendations, share sensitive information and data that helps the agency improve its work, and give their agency a longer runway to find a strategy that works. Trust is also a core component of agency client renewals, helping agencies retain their clients year after year.

What is the role of client servicing in maintaining a positive client agency relationship?

Servicing clients is a crucial part of running an agency and maintaining positive client-agency relationships. Since each client is unique, the way an agency services them will look a little different from client to client. But all agencies should focus on the basics, including:

  • Understanding your client’s needs
  • Clear communication
  • Setting proper expectations
  • Delivering work in timely manner
  • Proactive problem solving
  • Regular “temperature checks” of the client
  • Establishing trust

The more of the basics your agency can master while servicing clients, the stronger your client relationships will be.

What you should do now?

  1. If your team needs a collaborative tool to keep clients happy and organized, try Basecamp free for 30 days (no credit card or commitment required)
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