How Publishers and Agencies Can Best Retain SMB Clients

Image Credit – David Gyung/

In their efforts to keep up with the fast-paced business landscape, small businesses face a major challenge: competing in crowded markets with limited resources. This has prompted an increasing number of SMBs to seek external marketing services in order to focus on their core operations.

According to a recent survey conducted by our team at vcita, 70% of SMBs outsource their marketing needs and 52% anticipate increases to their marketing budgets in the upcoming year. This underscores the value of specialized expertise and external providers within the intricate and ever-evolving digital network of marketing.

While this presents a significant opportunity for marketing agencies, it also comes with a daunting challenge – client retention. While it may be relatively easy for marketing agencies to secure SMB clients for one-time projects like website development, convincing clients to stick around is far more difficult.

Tough Circumstances

There are several factors that complicate SMB client retention.

For starters, many publishers and agencies are fighting over the hearts of the SMB market segment, creating an ecosystem of stiff competition.

Secondly, small business budgets often fluctuate, with prosperous periods where they can afford marketing organizations more stringent periods where they may consider cutting back on retainers. Despite the substantial financial capital small businesses devote towards marketing services, marketing budgets are still tight – 80% of SMBs that utilize outsourced marketing providers allocate $3,000 or less per month for those services.

Lastly, in light of how expensive it may be to outsource marketing services, small businesses expect to see immediate payoffs. Accordingly, companies often switch providers or discontinue marketing services altogether without giving marketing strategies a sufficient chance to take hold.

The Roadmap to Retention

So, how can publishers and agencies foster long-lasting loyalty from SMB clients? Here are five practical strategies that can significantly bolster client retention.

1. Offer services that are in most demand

The first step is aligning services with the actual needs of SMBs. Our survey revealed that the marketing services that are most frequently outsourced include paid search advertising (23%), social media management (19.4%), email marketing (16.6%), paid social media marketing (15.4%), and web development (15.2%).

If your organization doesn’t offer these services, they should consider adding them.

2. Assist with customer retention

Marketing organizations are not alone when it comes to grappling with customer retention – many of their SMB clients face similar issues. Most SMB owners know that it’s cheaper and simpler to sell to existing clients than it is to win over new ones. 47% of our survey respondents said they prioritize deals with current clients.

However, not all SMBs have the know-how to achieve this. By helping them generate repeat business and maximize leads, marketing agencies are more likely to solidify long-term relationships. What’s more, it’s an opportunity for agencies to generate significant growth since most tend to place greater emphasis on lead generation than helping SMBs close additional deals with existing clientele.

3. Invest in loyalty-boosting services

While one-time services like website development and design are crucial for client acquisition – 88% of survey respondents agree that it’s vital to complement such services with evergreen offerings that foster long-term client relationships. This could mean providing ongoing consulting services or a suite of business management solutions that cater to the daily needs of SMB clients, such as email and SMS marketing tools that help SMBs nurture leads and close additional deals.

If a publisher or agency lacks the in-house resources for developing such tools, they can consider outsourcing or adopting a white-label solution to provide continuous value.

4. Deliver quick value

SMBs often suffer from cash flow challenges making them unable to wait for long-term results. That means that if a marketing agency doesn’t deliver swift results, they will lose their business. Our survey showed that 67% of small businesses that outsourced marketing services in the past year switched providers within six months or less, primarily due to a lack of revenue-driving results. However, high-value marketing strategies often require time. Fortunately, there are several ways marketing agencies can facilitate loyalty in the interim.

The first is by starting with low-hanging fruit. By delivering successfully in one area, clients are more likely to have patience for results in others.

Another is by celebrating small victories – that is to say, marketing agencies should make a habit of notifying clients of the value they are providing on a frequent basis. For instance, in addition to generating promising leads, it’s crucial that marketers ensure their clients can feasibly connect the dots from those leads to successful deal closures to boosts in their revenues.

Small businesses’ loyalty can also be secured by demonstrating in-depth knowledge of their operations. Afterall, it’s not uncommon for SMBs to feel their business procedures and networks are misunderstood by external agencies. Marketing firms must therefore invest time in familiarizing themselves with various verticals.

To further encourage loyalty, marketing agencies can help clients access new tools and services, whether or not they are part of their core offering.

5. Be a strategic partner

Operating a small business can be a lonely and demanding endeavor.

External marketing organizations can help fill this void by becoming an integral partner in a client’s journey. They should proactively engage in ongoing communication and conduct regular check-ins to assess their progress. They should go the extra mile and provide guidance even if it falls outside the scope of their declared services.

Our survey found that 17% of respondents switched their external marketing provider due to a perceived lack of genuine partnership. By investing in strong client relationships, marketing agencies can fortify their position and avoid poaching by competitors.

Mission Success

Retaining SMB clients ranks among the top challenges for digital marketing agencies. From budgetary and time constraints to unrealistic expectations, small businesses can be difficult to hold onto.

Nevertheless, SMBs are willing to invest in marketing and engage external providers for marketing services. By aligning with their needs, delivering swift value, and becoming true partners, marketing agencies can maximize the customer value of their SMB clients.

By: Rich Hargrave, Sr. Director, Partnerships, U.S., vcita