The biggest factor in client retention is account performance. If you can’t get results for your clients, they won’t stay. It doesn’t matter how nice you are or how well you communicate (the second biggest factor in retention), a few months of losing money will drive any client away.

In spite of this, many agencies don’t understand how to help their clients grow. They think of growth in terms of their services and not in the context of how businesses actually grow

Some agencies don’t know how businesses grow, and they only know how to use a particular channel or they know a few marketing principles. Other agencies know it, but put the majority of the responsibility for growth on the client and just offer to run a service for them. 

If you’re struggling to sell your services to prospects and/or struggling to increase your rates, you may know these things deep down, but not know what to do about it. 

This was a busy week, so I expected to do a two-part issue to give myself time to write all I had to say. Then I wrote about 5,000 words before point number 4 and decided I had the opposite issue. I write long newsletter issues, but this is ridiculous, so you’re getting a four-part series. 


How To Actually Help Your Clients Grow – Part 1 of 4

Helping clients grow often takes more than you’re doing or even more than you’re willing to do. There are four crucial factors to growth that are often talked about as individual paths to success, but rarely as parts of a comprehensive system. Even more rarely are any of them implemented by agencies, whether individually or together.

The most growth agencies create for their clients is usually a result of finding a client with one or more of these factors and introducing another. 

The best agencies tend to do one or two of them intentionally and have found how to identify the right clients to leverage their skills.

If you want to leave every other agency in the dust, start mastering every one of these steps and implement them for your clients.

Factor 1: Understand Your Client’s Customers

This is a super vague idea that gets thrown around all the time. “Know your market”, “Do market research”, “Understand your customers”, and however else they want to say it. The tricky part is that nobody tells you what to understand about them.

How do you sum up an entire person? What about an entire market? You get a bunch of ideas about creating customer avatars and ideal personas, but knowing someone’s age and occupation doesn’t help you get into their head very well.

Yes, the more you know about a person the more you can speak to them in your marketing. But the best place to start isn’t with their demographics or even their psychographics. 

The best place to start is to understand their problem.

Here are7 ways you can dig into understanding their problem that will help you really understand how to market to them. If you do a deep dive into these 7 things you’ll be able to market to them whether they’re a 50-year-old female CEO of a SaaS company or a 23-year-old male bank teller.

1. Their primary problem that your client can solve

Why do people pay your client? I would imagine that they have a problem that they need solved. You may argue with me on this, but it’s true. Sometimes the problem looks like a problem. Their roof has hail damage and is at risk of leaking. They had their 5th kid and need a vehicle that can fit 5 carseats (we went with a Kia Carnival and are quite happy with it).

Other times, the problem doesn’t look like a problem at all. Maybe they saw a candy bar in a checkout lane and they now want it. The problem is unfulfilled desire (not the Muse song). Maybe they want to watch a movie or read a book. The problem is boredom or dissatisfaction with their identity (desire to live vicariously without risk or effort). 

Customers don’t always recognize their actual problem. No hot water is an easy problem to identify, but some of the examples above are not so obvious. Your job is to look at your client’s products or services and identify the “jobs to be done” or, in plain English, why their customers pay them for said products or services.

What is their problem?

They may have more than one, but this exercise is best tackled by starting with the primary problem and working outward to secondary problems, tertiary, and beyond. In cases of products, start with the problems or jobs to be done of the top selling products and move down the line.

2. How this problem causes them pain (i.e. pain points)

Now that you know the problem, you need to understand why having the problem is bad. Some problems cause immediate and excruciating pain. Things like a car accident or looking through your Facebook posts from 15 years ago. Other problems are less acute and can often stay in the subconscious mind until the brain deems them relevant. Things like wanting a candy bar or loneliness.

Knowing the problem you solve is great, but understanding how the problem causes someone pain is a crucial part of customer understanding. In the case of the car accident above, if your client is a mechanic you need to speak to the pain of losing their method of transportation. If your client is a personal injury attorney, you can speak to the pain of dealing with insurance companies that won’t pay. Maybe your client is a chiropractor and you need to speak to back or neck pain. How is the problem actually hurting them?

Pain is on a broad spectrum. On one side you have physical pain and on the other you have non-physical pain (mental and emotional). In the middle, you have less impactful and more subtle pain, whereas on the far ends the pain gets impossible to deal with (see graph below). Understanding whether your client’s market is feeling physical pain or non-physical pain should be easy enough based on the solution. Determining how acute the pain is may be harder if the pain is not physical. 

The spectrum of pain

The more the pain is felt, the greater the desire to solve the problem. The greater the desire to solve the problem, the more the person is willing to pay for the solution. This can make things tricky, because a low-pain, low cost problem is easy to solve, but also not very impactful and therefore easy to ignore. A high-pain problem may be worth solving immediately, but the price of the solutions are often prohibitive. 

Different markets can afford different solutions and may experience problems differently, so you can’t always copy-paste your customer understanding from one client to another. I like to use the term “relative cost”. For some, spending $500 to fix their car is exceedingly painful. For others, paying $50,000 in cash for a new car doesn’t require a second thought. Still others will happily pay $5 Million on a concept car.

For each of these examples, cost will still affect how quickly they decide to solve a problem. The more expensive something is, the less likely it is that people will buy it on impulse. They’ll have to consider more factors (especially true in B2B) and they’ll have to view the pain of spending all that money as being lower than the pain of experiencing the problem. Just remember that cost is relative (see additional graph below).

Buying journey length vs relative cost

Pain is also relative. A woman may choose to willingly undergo natural childbirth to avoid the pain of a needle. A man may leave a shoulder injury untreated for years to avoid the inconvenience of going to the doctor. It will be helpful for you to understand how your client’s market perceives their pain.

In yet another graph below, I show a few examples of solutions to problems based on their perceived pain as well as their relative cost. 

Perceived Pain Grid

Wanting to collect a rare and powerful s important to note that cost and pain are relative to each other as well. Tournament players of the aforementioned card game may see enough value in dropping $2,000 on a card that the price seems low. Likewise, the pain of losing in a tournament may cost the player $50,000 (actual prize amount), so it’s not that different from shelling out $2,000 on a marketing campaign to land a $50k project.

The more you understand the problems of the market, the more you can accurately asses their pain, the speed at which they’re likely to solve it, and the price they’re willing to pay for the solution.

3. How these pain points create emergent problems in their personal and professional life

Now that we’ve identified the pain that helped them notice the problem, let’s look at how that pain is changing their life.

Remember our car accident example from above? I mentioned losing your wheels, dealing with stingy insurance companies, and experiencing neck or back pain. Those are just a few problems that can emerge from a car accident.

The person who had the accident could be late for work and miss an important sales meeting which affects their finances. They could have injured children which would take them away from work (physically or mentally) as they care for their children and stress about their wellbeing and about medical bills. They could have friends, family, or coworkers mocking them over being a bad driver which could stoke deeper insecurities and further an existing need for therapy.

On a brighter note, they could have great insurance and need to buy a new car with better safety features. They could gain fresh perspective on life and look for a new job, join an online dating site, buy an instrument to pursue passions, learn to paint, or adopt a puppy.

Life is not stagnant. Every event leads to other events and every problem creates more problems when solved. We went from horse and buggy to cars and then we needed roads, gas stations, insurance, laws, standardized signage, mechanics, tire shops, car washes, and more.

Look at how each problem and its various pain points can lead to other problems in the customer’s work and in their personal lives. Work problems are often high pain, but personal problems are often the reason we work. Try to find and leverage both when you can.

4. What they think about when they think of life after their problem

Renowned marketer Ryan Deiss has said that people don’t buy products, they buy transformation (paraphrased).

Think about that next time you buy something. What are you thinking about when you first consider buying it? If it’s food, you’re probably thinking about how it will taste and how it will make you feel (while eating it, not afterward). If it’s a car, you may imagine driving fast or demonstrating control and mastery of the road. You may imagine showing it to others. You may imagine how much camping gear you can pack or fitting a kayak on top. You may picture driving across the country with your kids or pulling up next to your third grade teacher that said you’d never amount to anything.

So if people buy transformation, how something makes them feel, or identity, what do your client’s customers want from your client’s solution? You could write ads about what the product is or even how it’s different from the competition, but if you understand and focus on what the customers are really thinking about when they think about life after their pain, I can promise you your ads will resonate more strongly.

5. How familiar are they with the available solutions (Solution awareness)

All of this is assuming that you’re targeting people who are aware of their problem and are willing to solve it. It’s not worth your time or your client’s money to try convincing people to get help they don’t want. That said, sometimes people know they have a problem and don’t know what to do about it.

Google and YouTube are full of people looking for solutions to their problems. Sometimes they know what they want and search for things like “business tax strategist near me”. Other times they know their problem and search for the general solution with something like “where to file my business taxes”. If you market bookkeeping or accounting services to small businesses, you should look into how they’re searching for help. Is it mostly generic, solution-centric keywords? Are they searching for software to do taxes for them or for a specific CPA firm by name? Are they looking for free solutions by college students or for a freelancer?

Start by asking your client what other solutions exist for the problem they solve and which are most frequently used. Then do keyword research to double-check what they told you (if they knew, as many clients don’t). If the market is more familiar with someone else’s solution or a different type completely, you’ll have an uphill battle and will have to do more work to make your solution more familiar.

6. How familiar are they with the different advertising angles? (Market sophistication)

Have you ever had someone try to set up a meeting with you and you immediately knew they were a multi-level marketer? Maybe they said they were part of an “exclusive mentorship group” with a “mentor that was making millions with only a few hours of work per week”. It could have been that they “recently became a business owner” and wanted to share how easy it was to achieve financial freedom (usually without ever having tasted it themselves).

Regardless of their approach, you tend to recognize it because there are so many MLMs out there and they all have the same trainings. “Tell your family and friends. Reach out to everyone you know. Always look for opportunities when talking to strangers. Sell them the business model and financial freedom, not the products.”

The market recognizes all of these approaches and the desperate glint in their eyes and knows they’re about to be pitched. They’re familiar with all of the marketing angles. They’re what Eugene Schwartz would call a “sophisticated” market.

The more sophisticated a market, the harder it is to get someone’s attention and stand out. Every time someone finds a novel approach, marketers pounce on it and the market is bombarded with a billion copies of the same marketing message, tactic, ad type, etc. The market becomes numb to the message or approach and it loses some of its effectiveness. Not all, mind you. A message that works does so for more reasons than its novelty alone, but if someone knows they’re being pitched and isn’t ready to buy, your chances of influencing them (or even holding their attention) decrease dramatically.

Market sophistication varies based on many factors. How narrowly the majority of advertisers target will affect it because fewer people who are not ready to buy will see ads. The most familiar brands would dominate and everyone else would fight over the scraps. An example would be if everyone only ran bottom-of-funnel search ads with buying intent, then one advertiser ran a demand gen campaign to educate the market about the problem and their solution. The market would flock to them because of the novelty and added credibility and trust from the free pre-purchase education.

On the other hand, if every advertiser was using demand gen ads in addition to their BOFU search ads, they would become less effective. If you understand the sophistication of your client’s market, it will help determine the most effective paths to test. You shouldn’t abandon what is tried and true just because people are used to it. People crave certainty and if you give them what they expect they may be less likely to shy away from it. On the other hand, people also crave novelty. A good way to filter the confusion and determine which way to go is to base it on their level of readiness to buy. Those who know what they’re looking for and are ready to buy will prefer certainty. Those who aren’t sure what to look for will appreciate novelty more.

7. Their top 3-5 objections to paying for the solution

People don’t generally object to solving their problems. They often object, however, to paying for solutions to their problems. As mentioned earlier, if the pain of paying is greater than the pain from the problem, they’re not likely to buy. People give many objections on sales calls and there are many that are left unsaid, but they all tend to come down to the pain-to-value ratio.

Not everyone recognizes that, though. The root problem is often buried beneath the other problems and lowering price is not always an option. If you can mitigate the perceived risk of pain by acknowledging the validity of their concerns and providing a solution or valid counterpoint (often shedding more light on the implications of their existing pain), you are more likely to close the sale.

This applies to sales as well as marketing and is the reason FAQs exist on sales or checkout pages. The more objections you recognize and can legitimately address in your marketing and conversion funnel, the higher your conversion rate is likely to be.

To Be Continued…
Part 2 will come out next week. No spoilers! (It’s about offers)


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If you’re curious about how I work with agencies or if you’re frustrated with your agency’s profitability or retention of clients or employees, feel free to reach out to me and I’ll see how I can help. I never charge for the first consultation and if I can solve it in 30-minutes, there’s no reason to pay for my services and you walk away happy.

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