Create a VIP Client program to stay top-of-mind with past clients

Written by: Karl Sakas

Do you currently have a way to [scalably] nurture your past clients, and other fans of your agency? If not, you’re missing revenue growth opportunities—for referrals and for follow-on business. And getting started is easier than you might think.

Consider creating a systematic way to stay in touch with current and former (“alumni”) clients. That is, find a way to keep you top-of-mind when referral opps come up, or someone’s situation changes (new job, bought-out their annoying business partner, decided they want to exit, etc.). This helps differentiate your agency, to stand out from the competition.

Your VIP list might include current clients, past clients, and referral partners—and perhaps even former employees. In this article, I’ll share what I do—and share tips to help you create a customized VIP program that fits your agency.

What I Do: My “VIP Client” Program

Since starting what’s now Sakas & Company in 2013, I’ve looked for ways to provide VIP-style benefits to my clients. It’s part of creating a boutique client experience. You can thank clients for their business while delivering added-value your competitors can’t touch. Even if it’s a small program, you’re saying clients are special and appreciated.

In 2017, I created an official “VIP Client” program with a range of benefits. “Program” is somewhat loose; it’s an email list in my marketing automation platform, plus a contacts list in Gmail.

What are the benefits? Clients get monthly timely tips, invites to monthly VIP office hours for free consulting advice, free access to tools, and more. But it started with just the monthly VIP emails.

I love that it requires almost zero incremental effort relative to each person (aside from, for instance, manually forwarding HARO PR opportunities). You still want to reach out to people individually—but including a “one-to-many” solution creates a backup, in case you get distracted or forget to reach out.

Want to create your own version of a VIP program at your agency? Read on!

How to Create a “VIP Client” Program at Your Agency

Your VIP program will be unique to your agency. To help you customize your program, consider the following 12 points.

  1. Decide why you’re creating a VIP Client program. Is this primarily to stay in touch with current clients? Stay top of mind with past clients? Keep in front of referral partners? Stay in touch with former employees? I focus on current clients and past clients who’ve done ongoing services, plus a few “Friends of Karl.” I don’t have specific referral metrics, but I also have a very long time horizon—I think about relationships over the next 30 years.
  2. Decide who’ll get access to the VIP program… and who won’t. I focus on clients who do Executive Coaching and/or medium to large-sized consulting projects—people who’ve chosen to make a five-figure investment in their agency. Your criteria can evolve over time. For instance, I initially excluded people who did one-off consulting calls. But I’ve broadened the group to include people who’ve done the new multi-call series.
  3. Choose a sustainable cadence, a tone, and a primary “owner” of the VIP program. If you can’t do monthly, do quarterly. And decide whether it’s all business or you want to give a peek behind the scenes. Is the tone serious, playful, or something else? This also includes choosing the person who’ll lead the VIP program (perhaps you as an owner, or maybe your head of accounts), since they’ll be the face of things.
  4. Decide what’s useful to your unique lineup of VIPs. If you’re not sure, ask them. (It’s always a good idea to ask clients for input anyway.) In my case, it’s getting free access to my advice, including opportunities to get free consulting.
  5. Reserve time to execute the “VIP client” plan. How much time will you need? Once you get things started, you can probably run the program in just a couple hours a month—a nominal amount. But it may take longer to get started. If you find you’re spending 10+ hours a month on your VIP program, consider the current and future ROI on that time.
  6. Consider electronic and “one-to-many” benefits. If you have electronic benefits, consider sharing those with VIP clients first. For instance, I sometimes share preview access to key articles with my VIPs. I also share new information products with VIPs, at a hefty discount (or even free of charge). I also do monthly group VIP “Office Hours” (an exclusive version of my public Agency Office Hours). Since the group is smaller and more exclusive, people get more time for advice.
  7. Decide how you’ll “market” the VIP benefits. I don’t really market my VIP benefits, because I want clients to be pleasantly surprised. In contrast, you might prefer to make the VIP benefits part of the marketing and sales process—as a differentiator versus your competition. But be sure you can deliver what you promise; I’d rather underpromise and overdeliver.
  8. Document the process to onboard new VIPs. My client onboarding process has 20+ steps, including certain pieces around VIP onboarding. I delegate portions to my team and handle other parts myself. However you approach it, you need to keep things going once you start.
  9. Decide if you’ll need an “offboarding” process, too. I don’t drop people from the VIP list, unless they request it as they transition away from leading an agency. (For instance, I’ve had that after I help clients secure an exit… and they’re no longer an agency owner.) My VIP list includes people who haven’t paid me money in years… and that’s OK with me.
  10. Don’t take it personally if people don’t engage every time. I have some clients who choose not to use their VIP benefits… but when I ask if they want to stop getting the updates, they usually confirm they want to continue.
  11. Pay attention to feedback from your VIP clients. I formalized this in previous years by creating a Client Advisory Board. I gathered the board several times a year to get their feedback… and did special calls with them to help them grow. But consider that your best clients are likely to be on your VIP list… and your VIP clients are likely your best clients.
  12. Decide how you’ll approach sales pitches within your VIP content. I’m light on sales pitches. VIP clients get early access to programs like my Agency Leadership Intensive and the “Work Less, Earn More” bootcamp (including a modest discount). And I occasionally remind VIP subscribers about my client referral program (where they and the new client each receive benefits). But with my 30-year time horizon, I figure things will happen when they happen. That may not be the right approach for you; decide what’s right for your VIP program.

Getting Started: What Next?

Feeling overwhelmed? That’s OK. Remember, you can start with a simple email list—with a monthly or even quarterly update. As you get traction, you can expand the benefits and/or the frequency.

And if things don’t take off, you can always discontinue the VIP program. But I think you—and your clients and past clients—will be pleasantly surprised. Let me know how it goes!

Question: How do you stay in touch with your agency’s “alumni” clients?

Book Cover: "Work Less, Earn More" by Karl Sakas

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