6 Client Retention Red Flags All Agencies Should Know

In today’s world of digital marketing, our clients have endless choices when it comes to their marketing agency. Client retention is one of the most important aspects of running a successful digital marketing agency. It’s our job to not only deliver results to our clients but to become a trusted consultant and advisor for their future marketing efforts.

However, things don’t always go as planned, and it’s not always easy to convince clients to spend their marketing dollars with us. Usually, there are signs that are left along the way that your client relationship might not be working out. Follow these 6 red flags that all agencies should be aware of, and what to do about it, when it comes to client retention.

1. Your Project Doesn’t Have Measurable Goals

This is by far the most important red flag. If your marketing project has no measurable goals, how can you possibly be communicating the value of your project to your client, let alone pitching to renew or for more budget? Ideally, when you first kick off a project, goal setting should be one of the first initiatives you tackle together with your client.

Action Item: If you find yourself 3, 6, or more months into your project and have no measurable goals, I suggest taking a step back and getting on the phone with your client. Ask them about their goals, and how they’re being measured internally for success. What’s important to your client, conversions, new leads? Start with a range and get more finite from there, documenting your goals and progress over time.

2. Client Has No Visibility Into What You’re Doing

This one sounds pretty obvious, but when you’re in the thick of a project, it can be easy to disregard your client’s involvement. Does your client know what stage of the project plan you’re in? Does your client have visibility and buy-in on your strategy? Do you have regular communication with your client on that strategy? If your client has no visibility into your project, how can they possibly communicate what’s going on to folks internally who pay the bills?

Action Item: This can be tricky depending on your client’s personality and approach as a marketer. If your client has no visibility, you’re going to want to get on a call with them or schedule an in-person meeting right away. The goal of this meeting will be to have a less-tactical conversation, reviewing the current state of the project at a high-level. Review goals, progress to goals, accomplishments, and most importantly any questions your client has. Also, review how you want your client plugging in moving forward to establish a closer working relationship in the future.

3. Client Point Of Contact Has Changed

Things happen, it’s business after all. Client points of contact move on, get promoted, and we sometimes find ourselves working with an entirely new team on the client-side. This can be frustrating not only for the agency but is surely frustrating for the client as well. Moreso, sometimes these new folks come in with their own strategies that might not include your agency or have other previous agencies they prefer to work with. You might find your partnership at risk in this case.

Action Item: Act like you’re starting the project over again. New personalities to learn, different marketing approaches to consider. If you find yourself with a new client point of contact, take the time needed to get them up to speed. Schedule an in-person meeting, finding out their goals, and what they plan to bring to the team. Collect all materials to date and present it to them, sharing your approach, strategy, goals, and questions you have for them. Do your homework, too. Who is this person and where are they coming from? Speak their language as much as possible.

4. Client is Not Engaged on Calls

This is a big one. And if you’re not listening between the lines, this red flag can easily be overlooked. We so easily fall into our routines, call the client, list out the status of items, and go on with our days. But, calls are the most important times we have with our clients on a regular basis. It’s important to listen for clues that things might not be going as well as we think. Interested in hearing more about reading clues? If you don’t pick up on these clues, you may find yourself in a client retention fire.

Action Item: If it sounds like your client is not engaged on your calls, this might be happening for a myriad of reasons. Some could be that they’re personally very busy and stressed out, or that their boss just gave them some bad news. Or, your client could be distracted by something else going on internally that they haven’t let you in on yet. The solution? It depends. Depending on your client’s personality as you know them, it’s your job to understand if this is just an off day, or if something bigger is going on behind the scenes. My recommendation is to raise this up to your manager and work with them on a plan. You might decide together you want to get on a call with your client to dig in further or offer to take something off their plate.

5. Performance Is Not Being Communicated to Client Leadership Team

This goes back to my first point above, about having measurable goals in the first place. That’s definitely step one. But what about if you do have measurable goals, and they aren’t being communicated to your client’s leadership team? After all, they’re the ones who are most likely making the decisions to renew with your team or give you more budget next year. If your client’s leadership team isn’t in the know on the project’s performance, it’s going to be significantly harder to pitch for more budget.

Action Item: Get an in-person meeting scheduled with your client and their boss / executive team / decision-makers. Work with your client point of contact closely, understanding how their leadership team likes to see information presented to them. Learn what questions are appropriate to ask, and when to ask them. Share results and how you want to continue expanding in the next year. Think of this meeting as a pitch meeting.

6. Acquisition or Financial Troubles for Client

This red flag is usually out of your hands as an agency partner, but if you are truly a consultant for your client, there’s always something you can do to keep supporting them. Sometimes, you’re on a call with a client or in a meeting with them, and you might hear rumblings of acquisition, or they might flat out tell you everything. Or, your client might not even tell you at all and you read about their corporate financial troubles online.

Action Item: If your client is being acquired or in financial trouble, that doesn’t necessarily mean your agency is automatically being kicked to the curb. I’d suggest bringing this to your manager, and coming up with a plan together. You might decide it’s time to have a discussion with your client on the phone, or your client may come to you asking to pitch to continue together. If you have measurable goals and those goals are being communicated upwards, it might give you a better shot here. However, sometimes this is completely out of our hands and the timing might be off. Transparent communication with your clients in these situations is key.


As agency marketers, it’s not always possible to predict all of the red flags and signs that might be telling us our client relationship is on the rocks. However, being aware of these red flags in the first place is important, so you can sniff out other possible flags throughout your partnerships. Have other red flags we didn’t discuss today? Let us know below!


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Alex Landro
Alex Landro
Associate Director, SEO