When a digital marketing agency jumps from 20 to 160+ clients, that’s a growth worth celebrating. KlientBoost founder and CEO Johnathan Dane was psyched, but his fixation on retention made him wary of becoming complacent.
When the agency reached about 100 clients, there was a virtual revolving door of incoming and outgoing clients. Johnathan knew that if it kept up, growth would stagnate—if not decline. The problem was that conversations with staff about putting systems in place didn’t result in action.
There were few training materials, so best practices weren’t being followed. There wasn’t any activity monitoring to catch problems or mistakes before they exploded.
So, Johnathan chose to slow down long enough to develop a customized approach to agency management that would replicate the things that attracted KlientBoost’s clients to begin with—his style and approach to the work.
He and his leadership team used data to inform everything from training staff and account management to automating chunks of the project workflow.
The internal systems that empower staff also feed real-time data into his “God-view” dashboard. Now he and the leadership team can see what’s really going on in a quick glance.
This God-View data dashboard provides a snapshot of the information Johnathan and his leadership team use to get a sense of how staff are performing against client goals.
Trends, high-performing staff, missed deadlines, shifting priorities—all of these things, plus more, are quantified in data points that trace back to the standardized workflows each department follows.
Data, not guesswork or “gut reaction,” makes it possible for him to deal with the reality of:
- Tracking goal execution in real-time
- Identifying early warning signs of potential problems
- Quantifying the successful process of efficient staff
- Targeting training/process needs
Johnathan walked us through the realization that there was a problem, what he did to remedy it, and how data-driven decision making plays out in his agency on a daily basis.
Bonus action list: [sg_popup id=”207″ event=”click”]Get our 1 page PDF summary[/sg_popup] of action items you can take to grow your marketing or PR agency based on Johnathan’s advice.
The Problem: Stymied Growth at 20-30 Clients
KlientBoost, a PPC marketing agency that also builds and tests creative landing pages, was able to attract and retain clients because Johnathan was a hands-on leader. He worked directly with clients. His small team could handle just about anything that came up, but he was available when they needed assistance. That worked fine with 20-30 clients.
While they were growing they’d lose a client now and then, but it wasn’t a big deal. The number of new clients was greater.
When the agency reached the 100 client mark, Johnathan noticed the account director (who oversaw the account managers) morphed into “a firefighter.” Account managers weren’t able to prevent or address problems, and there were no systems in place to catch issues early.
“You’re losing clients at a rapid enough rate, to where it’s really slowing down growth and starting to compete with the rate at which you’re adding clients,” said Johnathan. “If that nets to zero, there’s no growth.”
Doing a “post-mortem” on why a client left, either via direct feedback from the business owner or researching internal documentation, Johnathan and his leadership team eventually found the source of the problems. By then it was too late to repair some damaged relationships, but he could use what he learned to prevent a repeat performance.
The Solution: Johnathan’s 3-Part Strategy to Rescue Client Retention
Johnathan looked at the process of delegation from him to his staff and how it failed to replicate his ideas and his style—the essential foundation for future growth.
Johnathan Dean, founder and CEO of KlientBoost, works closely with his entire management team to oversee growth.
He saw problems, but he also saw highly successful account managers who retained clients. The problem was collecting quantifiable information on both. So, he needed two things:
- An agency structure that would replicate the successful process (eliminating avoidable mistakes).
- A simple way to collect and quickly review data related to workflow: the God-view dashboard.
He explained that he knew systems alone wouldn’t work. Everyone had to be “on the same page,” and that started with him. As the CEO, he needed to define “the page” he wanted everyone to be on, along with every aspect of the style and approach he wanted his staff to replicate.
1. Execute a CEO Brain Dump
Articulating what informed Johnathan’s approach to the business—everything from sales to retention—had to get from his mind and onto paper. He described it as “a slow process that took time.”
With the mistakes that angered clients in mind, he thought about how he would have handled those situations. He identified what was missing—be it training or misinterpreting his instructions—and identified trends. Those ultimately revealed the most important priorities he needed to work on.
- A common language—Everyone was using the same words, but there were multiple interpretations of those words and the processes they explained. A “common understanding” was essential.
- Integrated systems across departments—Staff in various departments were getting things done, but performance was inconsistent, and mistakes occurred when employees in different departments should have communicated easily (e.g., when documents or info moved from sales to client managers). Standardizing workflow, including automating everything possible, would improve consistency.
- Data to track implementation—Data was difficult to find and compile. Implementing systems that could generate data on important activities (e.g. project tracking software that compiles task statistics—such as completion date and time, duration from start to finish) would support real-time data reporting and automate data compilation. Data could then be easily accessed and used for analysis and reporting.
- Consistent and ongoing training—Training materials were limited, so staff didn’t have access to enough “how-to” information. Creating a structured, ongoing training process that tracked with workflows would keep practices consistent and hone the skills of the entire workforce.
All of these components were developed and implemented gradually, and they’re continually being refined.
However, even if he managed to get his entire team on the same page, the client was another matter. Absolutely everything pivots on client goals, he said, so those had to be non-negotiable. Not even the client could mess with those, so Johnathan had to make sure the clients were as disciplined and focused as his staff.
2. Stop Letting Clients Slow You Down
Johnathan decided to take an unusual approach to executing client goals—he doesn’t let the client get in the way. Because KlientBoost has to deliver the results, they drive the execution of the work. Period.
An Expectation Agreement establishes the rules of engagement. He described it as a, “You should feel so lucky to work with us mentality” that reinforces the responsibilities KlientBoost takes on in their partnership.
“We’ve had issues where a client doesn’t respond, and we’ve been waiting for a week and a half while the clock is still ticking. They’re still paying us, but we’ve lost a week of optimizations,” he said.
So the agreement has rigid parameters that are non-negotiable.
“You’re going to show up on time or you’re going to reply within one business day. And if you don’t, we’re going to move ahead with what we think is best for you. And we’re not going to worry about it,” explained Johnathan.
The initial proposal lays out the first set of 90-day goals with a date for achieving those goals.
The Starting Action Plan is a list of 10 action items (low-hanging fruit) that the sales person identified. Johnathan described it as “a tactics list” of things that are implemented immediately to move “the needle faster” to achieve the first set of goals.
The KlientBoost staff executing these activities follow a standardized process to make sure “everyone is on the same page.” When account managers take over, they’re positioned to do what they do best—get results.
3. Create a ‘God-View’ Data Dashboard
Doing a “post-mortem” on why a client left revealed important information that went beyond missed deadlines.
“We would see the client manager did the work, but the execution was wrong so it would fall short,” he said. “We would never be able to audit, and come back to say, ‘How do we change your training and make sure this doesn’t happen again?’ That’s how it should be done.”
Using that hindsight, Johnathan and his leadership team built a standardized process for executing successful PPC campaigns (more detail about this to follow). He also found software programs to automate, collecting dozens of data points to quantify and monitor the health of the process.
The data compiled in the God-view dashboard is used to:
- Monitor weekly goals for managers against quarterly goals for clients.
- Identify weak points that need attention.
- Quantify what successful managers are doing (in order to coach managers who are struggling to complete the same tasks).
- Track staff training module completion and test scores.
By tracking weekly tasks against client goals, KlientBoost is able to catch small issues before they have a chance to get out of control.
Using account management as an example, Johnathan explained how this works.
Account managers set weekly goals that must be accomplished by the end of that week (a week runs Monday-Sunday). These are shared with the client and tracked in Asana—a project management software.
Deadlines for each task are set and can’t be changed, so there’s no “cheating” by creating a new task. There’s a method for postponing a task if other priorities need to come to the fore.
Staff teams—called pods—consisting of two account managers and one designer, have weekly meetings to develop strategies to meet weekly goals and plan for upcoming tasks.
And every two weeks, there are Growth Team Initiatives meetings. Every single client is reviewed and progress toward reaching goals is considered.
“We have winner and loser ratios on every single tactic that we’re doing for that client. So we talk about things like, ‘We’re not trending toward the goal that we set. What can we do to pivot more?’ We can also see CRO (conversion rate optimization), designer’s win/loss ratios on their tests based on confidence levels,” explained Johnathan.
The God-view compiles data connected to all of this activity, making it possible for the leadership team to see at a glance how individuals, teams, clients and departments are performing.
Johnathan explained that his team is better able to meet client goals because standardized workflows and clear expectations build in the freedom to be creative. And how!
Potential problems that might impact the upcoming week are addressed in a constructive way.
And Johnathan is able to provide constructive support and resources the staff needs to operate at peak performance.
Scaling to Grow
The number of clients who leave KlientBoost has dropped dramatically, but Johnathan wouldn’t say the revolving door is out of commission just yet. They’re still learning and refining processes.
The God-view dashboard continually provides the information Johnathan needs to monitor staff performance, status of delivery on client goals, and refine the infrastructure they need to consistently deliver high-quality results.
That important lesson about getting caught unprepared for the next level of growth keeps him looking for ways to improve the systems so that they can also grow with the company.
Staff training, step-by-step procedures, document templates, and standardized presentation principles (all the way down to how emojis are used) are just a few of the examples he gave of the “systems” he continues to work on.
Consistency is key, according to Johnathan. Whether it’s an emoji or a conference call number, all staff uses proven practices to present the “KlientBoost way” of doing business.
He used a meeting invite to illustrate his point. The conference call number included in a calendar invite looks the same regardless of who sends it. And if it’s off in the slightest, “I’m going to come down on you like a hammer and make sure we’re consistent,” said Johnathan.
“We have 160 clients now, so we know we have tried-and-true blueprints,” he said. “Everybody gets trained at the beginning, so they have these tools at the ready when they hit that problem or when that one thing doesn’t work.”
Everyone—from account managers and designers, to marketing and accounting staff—know and use these internal systems.
“It’s cool to have systems. It’s cool to have data. But if it can’t be actionable, it means nothing,” said Johnathan. “Instead of being the whiz-kid thinking of what to do and telling people what to do, we come to the agreement together. We come to the understanding together and dissecting the problem together so that we all feel like we’re investing in a solution together.”