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How to attain a month-over-month 98% retention rate for agency services

Main Street Digital gives up their secret sauce for retaining customers

Alisa Cromer
One way to do it. Here are some better ones.

With a claim of a 98% month-over-month retention rate for a digital services agency whose revenues have grown ten fold in a few short years, Morris Publishing Group is on to something.

Mark Lane, VP of Sales, Morris Publishing Group, describes it as compounding - or the ability for small annual sales of $400 a month, week after week, to accumulate like an annuity. But only if they are retained.

And while month-over-month does not neccesarily stack up to year-over-year, it is an enviable metric.

The following is a checklist of the most critical elements in ensuring maximum retention of clients purchasing digital services, and rules that can apply to other media sales:

1. Annual contracts on credit cards

The combination of annual contracts on credit cards is a foundational start to a high month-over-month retention rate. But it's just a start.

2. Separate sellers from customer service managers

Hiring a separate centralized bank of customer service managers on retention goals is key to success. Sellers can focus on selling goals, while the customer service managers have only one goal: Keeping the customer by providing "over-the-top" service with a clear focus on creating an ROI.

3. Staff customer service adequately - and keep control of the interaction with the customer

Companies that want real retention need to invest in it. Although back-end fulfillment of digital services at Morris is handled via a white-label partnership with LocalEdge, LocalEdge does not interface at all with customers. 

Instead, the customer service managers handle all client communications, and are staffed at a ratio of 9 customer service reps/ten digital hunters, or about 1 CSM to 75 merchant customers (although some serve all customers in a narrow niche such as SEM/SEO management or copy writing).

Is it more expensive? You bet. Put another way, that's about $400,000 per customer service manager - but extends the life time value of those accounts and frees up the sales hunters to focus on acquisitions.

In fact, investing in customer service managers has been so successful that part of this approach is being extended to the core media company.

4. Retention as an explicit, aspirational mission.

Main Street starts with the articulation of the mission of over-the-top customer service. Tracking retention goes without saying - what's measured is treasured. But leadership also articulates a compelling financial case: That with long term contracts and high retention smaller sales compound to big revenue streams, week after week, year after year. 

5. Communicate when and how the customer prefers

This seems simple, but many digital service companies tell the customer how they will be communicated with and when. Flexibility is a key to keeping customers happy. Some customers prefer a weekly call, some a monthly call. Some prefer email, text or phone. So use a great CRM to keep up with the right kind of communication on a schedule that works for the customer, not a one-size fits all set of call logs.

6. Results tracked via a dashboard accessible by the customer

Without a dashboard it's impossible to adequately prove results. This was proven early on when Morris launched it's first SoLoMo packages, selling 30 of them quickly and then losing them all. There is no way to either prove results, optimize campaigns, or have intelligent, efficient conversations with the customer without an adequate universal dashboard. The dashboard provided by LocalEdge comes from ClickFuel, whose integrations are basic but may be enough for many agencies. TapClicks also makes an elegant customer-facing dashboard that has the advantage of more integrations - one of the most important factors in selecting a dashboard, if all the media and services are not integrated, the team still doesn't have a truly centralized report. The point is, for digital agencies, if you don't have a universal dashboard, retention is going to suffer. Get one.

7. Pro-active optimization

Another key to customer service management is proactivity in optimizing campaigns - and communicating suggestions for improved results to the customer. With the dashboard and a separate, focused, customer service team on a schedule of calls and optimization, what seems complicated becomes routine. These are not standard "How's it going calls" but reviews of results and prompts as to how to make the campaigns more effictive, ie  "Let's try this... or what if we switched this to this."   Media who use a third party fulfillment agency may assume an optimization schedule that is not happening, or fail to communicate with the customer; so make sure the CSM's are active in the optimization process.

8. Managed hand-off to the CSM,  with early introduction, framed as "white glove treatment"

At Main Street Digital, they call it "a warm hand off." The key is bringing the CSM into the discussions with the customer early and communicating that this will be part of the "white glove treatment." What customers don't like is a fast close with a hand off to a third party that they have never met before and who does not fully understand the business objectives they have just spent so much time explaining already. It always helps to describe the CSM as "our best one" or "best one in your kind of industry." 

9. Keep ROI as the metrics

"ROI is the number one goal for retaining our customers. In short, if they win, we win. It’s about that simple," says Mark Lane, VP of sales at Morris Communications. Sales reps and customer service reps are trained to understand how the customer will calculate ROI for their marketing, and work towards calculating and increasing it so that the campaigns are always showing a postiive number. ROI calculators help - make sure the CSM's are trained to calculate the average annual value of a customer, and conversion rates for leads so that the cost per lead and revenue per leads are numbers that can be addressed early and often. 

Read also   Agency 2.0; Mainstreet Digital Grows Ten Fold in First Two Years, andsee Four Tips on Running a Work From Home Sales Force.

Many thanks to Mark Lane, VP of Sales at Morris Publishing Group for sharing his expertise with us. 

retention, sales, morris, lane, main street digital