The ability to effectively upsell clients is what separates stagnant agencies from fast-growing agencies.
Many industries have mastered the art of upselling. Fast food chains ask if you want to super-size. Auto repair shops push for higher end oil, parts, and maintenance plans. SaaS products suggest higher end offerings and a barrage of additional features.
But when it comes to digital agencies, the tactics can be less obvious. The industry is young and a lot of us are still figuring it out.
Which is why we polled 16 agency owners to get their best advice and strategies for successful agency upselling so that you can take advantage of your greatest asset: your current clients.
What is Upselling?
Upselling refers to encouraging clients to purchase additional services or premium offerings on top of what they currently pay for or subscribe to.
For an agency, this typically looks like adding ongoing services to an existing retainer.
Think: a client is on a retainer for PPC (Google Search Ads, Facebook Ads, etc…). You see an opportunity to boost organic engagement with a content strategy, so you pitch adding a few pieces of monthly content to their retainer.
Or perhaps you perform a couple one-time projects or audits, but you’re able to convince the client to commit to ongoing services.
This is upselling 101.
Upselling allows your agency to glean additional revenue from existing clients, rather than spend resources getting new clients.
“Upselling to existing customers is so much easier than trying to sell something to someone new. As long as your existing customers are satisfied with the service, they will often go with what you suggest,” says Ryan Scollon.
Sean Clancy of Edge Marketing adds, “It creates a higher yield from the same client, and may reduce the pressure on getting new clients.”
Consider all the effort that would go into marketing, selling, and onboarding 3 or 4 brand new clients in a month. And then consider the effort that would go into convincing 5 or 6 clients to increase their budgets by 50%.
When you take all expenses, time, and effort into account, most agencies are going for the latter.
And the best part? Upselling isn’t only a way to make more money. If you’re good at producing results, it’s the best thing you can do for your clients.
“Upselling doesn't just make sense for an agency - it makes sense for your clients,” says Gabriela Covay of Bright Valley Marketing.
Nicholas Kirchner of Margle Media adds that it can shift your clients’ perspective of working with you: “Upselling your clientele can be the difference between being seen by your client as a transactional firm, meaning strictly providing X for Y dollars, or being seen as a long term partner.”
All that said, upselling is an art.
Pick up the phone out of the blue and tell your client, “Hey, you should spend more money with us,” and let me know how it goes.
So what’s the secret?
7 Strategies for Successful Upselling
Here are seven proven strategies from agency owners to help you expand more accounts and grow your agency.
1. Keep an Open Line of Communication
This simple tactic has worked wonders for agencies. Why?
It’s low-hanging fruit. All you have to do is remain in consistent communication and wait for the opportunities to arise.
Gabriela Covay recommends, “Make sure you talk to your clients frequently - and not just via email but over the phone or, ideally, in person. You'd be surprised how much information your client ends up sharing with you about their business and the challenges they're currently experiencing. During these conversations, ask thoughtful questions about their business. Show them you're really interested, and that you're invested in their success. Clients are usually happy to share more about their business. Once you uncover a pain point, see if one of your agency's services can help solve it, and then pitch it to your client.”
You may be surprised to learn how many of your clients are already considering some of the other services you offer.
“The key to all of this is communication. Schedule a quick monthly call and you'll be surprised at what they tell you. There have been many times where they mention that they are looking for a content agency or a social agency and didn't realize that we also offer those services,” says Ryan Scollon.
No need to be pushy or visit your client with brochures – just stay in regular communication and keep your ears open to opportunities.
2. Let Your Client Get Their Feet Wet
Many clients are hesitant to dive into the cost of a massive retainer. But once they’ve tiptoed in and seen success, they’re a whole lot more likely to write a big check.
Debarshi of Quantilus Innovation Inc. suggests, “What has been successful for us is to establish an initial vendor relationship with a smaller project, for which the barrier to entry is lower, and to then expand it to the other more lucrative projects after successfully delivering on the first project or two.”
“Once a campaign has had proven results, expanding into different services in order to broaden a client’s digital net is a natural progression,” adds Geoff Hoesch of Dragonfly Digital Marketing.
So even if you can’t sell a client on everything you want up front, be okay with a smaller piece of the pie, knowing you can upsell later.
3. Prove ROI
Maintaining a good relationship might be the best way to retain a client, but proving results is the best way to sell them on more.
Zach Boyette of Galactic Fed says, “Clients are ready to hire you for more services once you've proven that you can deliver results. If you're looking for a good time to recommend something new, it's best to do it when you have meaningful data in hand.”
If you’re not working with the C-Suite, your client will almost always have to get higher spend approved by their boss. And because you don’t have a relationship with their boss to fall back on, you’ve got to be showing results.
“Show ROI - clients are only interested in what they spend, and what they get in return. Showing them the ROI will give them the tools to show off to their boss, as everyone has a boss to impress/answer to,” says Sean Clancy.
Once you’ve shown ROI, time your asks appropriately.
“Once we have maxed out and have seen positive results in one area, I always recommend an additional area. And because the client has been happy with those previous results, they are almost always open to trying something new,” adds Jeff Moriarty of J Moriarty Marketing.
Brian Town of Michigan Creative agrees, “I like to upsell a client after we have done a good job for them for at least six months. ‘Look what this has done, now if we add this little piece, watch out!’”
Show results. Then ask for more money in order to show more.
4. Know Their Needs Before They Do
Anticipating your clients' needs is one of the best ways to master the upsell. And the best way to anticipate your needs is to understand their business like it were your own.
“Get into the clients’ heads. What are their marketing objectives? The client’s overall business objectives? Personal goals? Once you understand your client and their manager/boss, you can approach upsells in a more strategic way,” suggests Kent Lewis of Anvil Media.
“Understanding a client's business inside and out is key to helping me find a good fit for them, product-wise,” adds Joseph Karasin of Posh Detroit, “My clients in the legal field are going to need different products than my clients in e-commerce and retail. When upselling, I typically like to approach it from a solution standpoint. Answering the question "why is this the best for me, right now" from the customer's perspective goes a long way in selling a product.”
When you know your client's long-term goals, it’s easy to pitch additional services as you go, because you already know what they’re after.
5. Upsell Complementary Services
Many agencies have discovered the easiest services to upsell are those that complement the primary service.
“I’ve always found that upselling complementary services around your firm's core competencies is best. Is there a service that may not be a priority when the relationship starts but becomes one as work is progressing? For example, we may be doing paid social media for a client, but we then discover through data that after the campaign has run for a week, that changing the website layout would increase the conversion rate by 2%, resulting in XYZ new revenue,” says Nicholas Kirchner.
Zach Boyette adds, “The best opportunities are in complementary, adjacent spaces - areas that are a legitimate value-add for the client, which they may not have tested much yet. It's always important that the upsell is still the right, logical move for the client given their goals and budget constraints.”
No need to force random, irrelevant services. Seek to offer additional services that supplement the primary offering.
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6. Make Sure the Client Needs It
The fastest way to lose trust with clients is to pitch them things they don’t need.
Hannah Laird of Edge of the Web recommends authenticity, “Be genuine. Don’t just go for a quick win and get clients to sign up for a service that isn’t going to bring them value. That is a surefire way to lose a good client. You should only upsell services that you think clients will benefit from, and in the long run, they’ll respect your opinion and trust you to do more for them - a win for everyone!”
The goal shouldn’t simply be to increase revenue, but rather to add value.
“Don't think about expansion opportunities as "upselling" or "increasing client revenue," rather, look for opportunities to further expand impact with a client given other adjacent areas your agency specializes in,” says Zach Boyette.
And even when the client does need it, don’t be pushy.
“My advice to those within an agency looking to upsell clients would be to not oversell. Sometimes it's better to slowly lead the conversation towards an additional service or to drop hints that looking at XYZ may be beneficial at some point in the future,” recommends Matt Tutt of Winston Digital.
7. Involve Everyone
Upselling can’t be reserved for your sales or business development team. Anyone who touches the account should be on board – even if they don’t communicate directly with the client. Non-client-facing team members can always pass ideas along to account managers.
Anthony Chatfield of Lead Connect Marketing agrees, “Everyone in the agency is involved in this process, from strategist and account manager who speak to the every day to the design and development team - if there's a natural opportunity to provide value, improve results, and grow their business, we present that in a natural way that allows us to add revenue from existing accounts.”
Upselling clients is an all-hands-on-deck effort.
Everyone Wins with Upsells
Upselling clients is a valuable skill for all agencies. And if you offer valuable services, everyone wins.
You get revenue and your clients get growth. And that’s a perfect recipe for agency success.
So get to upselling.