Ready to boost client retention? Make each client the Hero!

Written by: Karl Sakas

As humans, it’s easy to think of yourself as the Hero, with others as your supporting cast. But to succeed, make your client the Hero—with your agency as their trusty Guide (aka Helper or Mentor).

Why? Everyone wants to be the Hero of their own life. When your agency makes each client the Hero, clients want to keep you around, to help them reach even greater success.

Making your client the Hero is about practicing Servant Leadership in agency-client relationships.

It’s easy to focus on ourselves—but that’s the wrong attitude when it comes to serving our clients. As motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”

You’ll still have boundaries with clients—being the Helper doesn’t mean everything’s free or that you’re available 24/7, and you can still be the Hero outside of your client relationships—but this selfless attitude can pay dividends to you and your agency.

Let’s explore the origin, why it’s important, and how to apply it at your agency.

Background: The Hero’s Journey

The whole “Hero” concept comes from mythologist Joseph Campbell, in the framework now known as the Hero’s Journey. In 1949, Campbell summarized the idea:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

Sound familiar? The “Hero’s Journey” is a highly popular storytelling framework. Countless books and movies are based on the structure—Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter series, and even the SpongeBob SquarePants movie. More recently, Donald Miller has adapted Campbell’s ideas to his StoryBrand framework.

Heroes need Guides (aka Helpers or Mentors)

Digging deeper, the Hero typically needs a Guide. The Hero saves the day, but they can’t do it without their Guide’s assistance.

Here are characters who’d count as Guides:

  • Yoda (Star Wars series)
  • Dumbledore (Harry Potter series)
  • Q (helping James Bond)

More granularly, here are Helpers from popular stories:

  • Han Solo (helping Luke Skywalker in Star Wars)
  • Hermione & Ron (helping Harry Potter)
  • Samwise Gamgee (helping Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings)
  • Dr. Watson (helping Sherlock Holmes)
  • Patrick Star (helping SpongeBob SquarePants save the princess)

Technically, Helpers are on-the-ground sidekicks to the Hero, while Guides are early-stage advisors who point the Hero in the right direction.

In theory, your agency is both Guide (when you’re doing strategy and training) and Helper (when you’re doing implementation). For more on that, learn about agency service business models. But let’s not overcomplicate this—either way, you’re making your client the Hero.

Why make your client the Hero?

One of my former bosses liked to say that my #1 job was to “make [him] look smart.” He was only half joking—when you make your boss (or client) look good to their boss or their board, you become a critical ally.

Think about professional relationships where someone put you first, to help you look good. That’s a good feeling, right? And you wanted to keep working with them, if you could.

When agencies struggle with client retention, the root cause is frequently a failure to prioritize both the clients’ results and the clients’ perception of those results. (These are two different jobs.)

Whether intentional or benign, neglect creates attrition. If a client thinks you aren’t focused on their success, they aren’t going to stick around.

Sometimes this means breaking things into bite-size chunks, to help clients help you. As a mentor once advised me, “If you want someone to do something, do it for them.”

Agencies may be able to succeed without making their clients the Heroes, but assuming your agency is your primary financial asset, think carefully about whether you want to take that risk.

How can you make your client the Hero?

This is primarily a mindset shift to having your primary goal be your clients success. When you make your clients successful (and set boundaries and charge fair rates), your agency will be successful, too.

Here are ways good agencies make their clients the Hero throughout the entire agency-client lifecycle:

  • Focus marketing on how you help clients solve their biggest problems. When I shifted my website focus from my services to the agency business problems I solved, I saw a big jump in inbound lead quality.
  • Focus the sales process on understanding each client’s situation and pain points. Look for ways to understand where your client wants to go—ideally both personally and professionally. Keep your sales proposals client-centered.
  • Focus the client onboarding process is on making them comfortable. Prepare clients for a successful engagement that makes them look good to their boss—including helping them avoid content delays.
  • Focus client strategy on meeting each client’s goals. Note that I mean their goals, not what you think their goals should be. (You can try to persuade them, but their work is ultimately about them, not you.)

Your sales proposals are the first time your prospective clients can judge whether you make the relationship about them rather than you.

When I pitched a previous boss on becoming a part-time contractor—so I could launch what’s now Sakas & Company—I sent her a two-page proposal. After making it all about how she’d benefit, I included just one bullet (at the end) on how I’d benefit. Her only question? When to start.

Whom should you enlist at your agency?

Everyone—adopting “make the client the Hero” requires the entire agency’s help.

Start by enlisting your management team to get their buy-in. Once you address their concerns and get them on board, you can roll-out the mindset shift—if you need to make a shift—to the rest of the team.

It’s important that your marketing, sales, and other public-facing efforts reflect the shift. You can’t make your client the Hero when their pre-client experience suggests otherwise.

How can you test or otherwise confirm you’re doing it right?

Look at your latest blog post, or the latest issue of your agency’s email newsletter. What percentage of the content is about promoting yourself versus truly helping your clients? Ideally, your content is 90% about them and (at most) 10% about you.

In your client satisfaction surveys, you can ask about this to confirm it’s working. For instance, on a scale of 0 to 10: “I feel the agency puts me first” or “I feel <AgencyName> puts my interests before its own.”

Look at your latest sales proposal. What percentage of the proposal covers how the client could succeed… versus your self-promotion?

You can even look at this on a per-email basis. Look at the latest email you sent a client. Is it about helping them succeed—to make them the Hero—or is the email about you? It’s fine to advocate for yourself, and to be firm on scope and budget—but making things all about “me me me” is bad for client retention.

Wait—when do you get to be the Hero?

As a manager, you’ll ideally practice Servant Leadership—which means you’re the Guide, while your employees are the Heroes.

You don’t have to adopt Servant Leadership—but it creates a more sustainable relationship, because it highlights giving first rather than taking. This tends to build loyalty and boost team performance.

Making you the Hero

Outside of those client and employee relationships, you’re all-clear to be the Hero. After all, it’s your agency and your life.

I have a competitor who seems to see himself as the Hero—you can see this in his branding and content, which reflect an “I’m the Hero” interior monologue. In contrast, my goal is to make you the Hero—as an agency consultant and coach, I see myself as your Guide, not the Hero of the story.

Question: What steps can you take to make your client the Hero at your agency?

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