Spoiler alert: It’s not!
If you were to ask 10 market research business owners what keeps their repeat clients coming back, nine of those 10 will say, “It’s because of the good work we do.”
To be fair, if you do lousy work, your clients won’t become repeat clients. But the reality is that most all firms do good work. It’s table stakes these days. There’s nothing unusual about it. Just to ‘be in the game,’ you’d better be good at what you do.
And if you were to ask those same 10 owners what percentage of their clients they lose each year, they’ll underestimate significantly. Guaranteed. We’ve been doing ‘churn’ analyses for years for our clients and an annual loss of 20, 25 or even 30% of a client base is fairly common. The trouble is that the ‘churn’ gets masked by the acquisition of new clients and those lost clients just seem to fade away with time.
So, if you have a moderately high churn rate and doing good work is a prerequisite for success, what can you do to ensure that your clients become repeat clients… and keep returning for a long time to come?
We have a few recommendations…
#1. Develop and maintain genuine relationships with clients.
Get beyond having just project conversations and get to know them on a professional and personal level. Remember the old saying, “All things being equal, people do business with people they like… all things not being equal, people still do business with people they like.”
#2. Expand the number of connections on both sides.
Often, the relationship with a good client involves one person from your firm and one person on the client side. But what happens when one of those two people goes away? Answer: nothing good!
To keep that from happening, get to know multiple contacts on the buyer side (here’s a blog post about how to do that effectively). In addition, make sure that more than one person from your firm is involved with each client. That way, should your key employee leave, the person replacing them will be well-known to that client.
#3. Keep in touch.
Most clients work with you intermittently, usually with several months in between projects. All too often, during that downtime, you’ll focus on the work in front of you and forget about those clients that are between projects. That is, you get arrogant and assume that your good work is enough to keep them coming back. And when you’re not in their ear, guess who is? You got it… the competition!
To keep that from happening, create a ‘touch point’ program to ensure your clients hear from you/see you frequently and consistently. (For details on this idea, read this blog post.)
#4. Be different.
Put yourself in the buyers’ shoes… “If the work you do – the data collection, analysis and reporting – and the way you do it – the cost, quality and turnaround time – are ostensibly the same as every other research firm, why should we stay with you?” And they’re absolutely right!
Not only does being grouped with everyone else give clients a reason to leave (or no real reason to stay), it will keep potential new clients from coming to you in the first place. In our eBook, ‘Why Should I Choose You? How to differentiate your firm in a crowded marketplace,’ we outlined 12 ways to stand out from the competition. And the big four are:
- Industry focus: Establish and build an expertise in a certain vertical industry (e.g., automotive, healthcare, technology, etc.).
- Methodology focus: Become the go-to firm for certain types of work – e.g., online qualitative, ethnographies, mobile surveys, etc.
- Application focus: Specialize in certain research applications, like new product research, patient satisfaction surveys, website usability, etc.
- Market focus: Somewhat similar in nature to an industry focus, when you focus on a particular market segment (e.g., Hispanics, Women, Children, Physicians, etc.), you can position your firm with a unique expertise that others won’t have.
By the way, if you’d like to receive a copy of the complete e-book by email, just drop a note to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
#5. Offer financial incentives.
Some firms will use dollars and cents to try to ensure repeat clients… usually by being the low-cost provider, or offering volume discounts or rebates. And there’s nothing wrong with these… they can be an effective way to build loyalty.
However, if you go down this road, keep three things in mind:
- Make sure you have a business model that supports these lower-profit-margin activities.
- Be sensitive to the fact that not all companies or industries will allow these kinds of incentives.
- If a buyer comes to you because of price, you can assume, at some point, that they will leave you because of price.
As 2022 draws to a close and we start talking about and planning for 2023, make sure to build in some client-retention strategies for next year. I’ve seen it reported that it’s 5-25X more expensive to find and acquire new clients them to keep existing ones… so make ‘repeat clients’ your #1 priority next year.