{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Client Retention with Brooke Sellas

In this week’s In-Ear Insights, we continue our exploration of client retention strategies in the current global crisis. Katie and Chris chat with Brooke Sellas, founder and CEO of B-Squared Media, on her best tips for client retention and loyalty. She delivers insights about which industries are doing more with digital marketing, how she manages scope creep, and practical tips for managing crisis communications to clients.


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{PODCAST} In-Ear Insights: Client Retention with Brooke Sellas

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Christopher Penn 0:02
This is In-Ear Insights the Trust Insights podcast. This episode of In-Ear Insights is brought to you by spin sucks. If you work in communications or public relations you’ve heard of the peso media model paid, earned, shared owned, pioneered by Gini Dietrich and a team at spin sucks. take the next step and level up your career by earning a professional PESO model certification from Spin sucks at Syracuse University, and an eight week online course you’ll learn PESO model strategy, effective use of all four media types, how peso forms the foundation of your overall communication strategy, and how to tie communications to business impacts like lead generation and overall business goals. When you complete the course, you’ll earn an accredited certificate from Syracuse University’s si Newhouse School of Public communications, a powerful tool for setting yourself apart and above in the job market. Learn more about the certification today at Trust slash pay so that’s Trust slash p s. o A special note from the editor. In this episode, our guest had a few internet hiccups. We’ve edited out the dead spaces, but there will be a few times when it seems like some words got skipped. Don’t worry, it’s not you didn’t miss anything. Now on with the show. In this special episode of In-Ear Insights, we’re doing a series talking about customer and client retention with some of the most successful agency owners we know. Today’s guest is our friend and colleague book sells founder and CEO of b squared media. Brooke is co host of The Marketing companion has taught as a professor at SUNY Berks, New York City and as founder of the Hello conference. So welcome, Brooke. To kick things off. We want to talk about your experience with Client Services. Katie.

Katie Robbert 1:40
So obviously, Brooke, I love talking to you. I love having you here. And so the conversation came about because Chris and I had been talking a lot about client retention, you know, during times of crisis, but also just in general and realized that it was really just a big topic and an opportunity to talk about best practices for college. Client retention scope creep going above and beyond those things. So, Brooke, let’s just kick it off with how long have you been personally doing client retention in some way, shape or form?

Brooke Sellas 2:12
I guess since we got our first client, which would be about eight years ago in May, we’ll have We’ve been in business for eight years. So I guess, I worked but as part of the marketing team, that was part of our job to make sure that we retained the clients that we had. So I would say for longer than eight years in total, but on my own for eight years.

Katie Robbert 2:35
So customer service in general, and basically making sure that you know, got it. Um, you know, a big thing that we’ve been talking about, and I would love to get your take on it is how do you prevent against scope creep? So for example, you know, obviously, we’re in just this very weird place right now where you just want to go above and beyond to make sure everybody He’s happy. But you still have to protect your team and your resources. So what are your tips for scope creep? What does that look like in your world?

Brooke Sellas 3:11
Yes, there’s really two sides of that. For me, it’s the operation side on the back end. And then obviously, on the front end, that would be the client side. But on the back end, the way We service all of our accounts is through harvest, which is an app that clocks time. So even on retainer services, there’s a certain amount of time that’s allotted, based on the team time the tools that that client uses the the scope of work that they have. And so the team can actually see inside of harvest where they are in those monthly hours based on the retainer so they can see when they have and actually the system emails everyone involved, including the project managers, when you’re when you’ve hit 85% use of the time. So that’s kind of the background way and then on the front end way I mean, we get, we get asked to do something, whether it’s scope creep, or the client says, Hey, I’d like to pay for it, probably on a weekly basis. So it’s a lot of management on the front end of me kind of hand holding the project managers and helping them understand how to feel those questions. But most of the time I have them, send them to me so that I can just say, like, hey, that’s wonderful that you want this extra report that’s going to take us three days to put together that’s not in your agreement. Here’s what I want to do. And again, I’m not mean I look at their account, if we’re, if we’re not anywhere close to using the hours that are allotted. We’ll go ahead and do that free account, but I’ll make sure that I say like, Look, we really haven’t used You know, a lot of time on other things this month, I’d like to go ahead and take that extra time that we have and put that towards this report for you. Or on the other side. If they’re over. It’s like hey, it already says in the agreement, that anything extra cost extra at our hourly market rate. So we’re going to charge you XYZ for this report. Is that okay? Would you like us to move forward? So it just depends, you know, I try to really be fair, but firm, firm, but fair.

Christopher Penn 5:17
How do you have you looked at, or considered reconciling the idea of selling time versus selling, like a finished product of some kind, where the client is like, you’re not tracking ours? because ours don’t scale? Well. Whereas something that was more of a thing like, hey, there’s a report, this report costs, you know, $3,000, and to the client, it doesn’t they have no visibility into whether it takes you three days or three minutes to create the thing as long as they get the value out of it. Have you looked at Have you had that discussion internally?

Brooke Sellas 5:51
Yeah, you know, previous to using harvest and kind of doing things the way we do them. Now. We were more like on a value based system and It didn’t work well, just for the way that were set up. I don’t know if it’s our culture or what it was exactly, I couldn’t tell you. But basically, I wasn’t making any money. I was running a business and my clients were very happy and the retention was there, but I wasn’t making any money. So, you know, I had to make some changes internally to ensure that margins were met. And I could actually walk away with a paycheck at the end of the year. So that’s why we kind of moved to an hourly based system or time time based system. Okay.

Katie Robbert 6:30
So, obviously, you know, I’m going to use the phrases, you know, these are uncertain, unprecedented, whatever, these times are. Challenging in times of crisis, so obviously, crisis happens, you know, whether it’s at a global scale or whether it’s just you know, someone is having a personal crisis, or something is happening inside of the company, as an agency owner and obviously being mindful of, you know, the number of hours How do you go above and beyond? How do you keep your clients happy? When there is a crisis happening? Do you just, you know, throw the scope out the window and say, whatever you need, we’re here for you? Or are you really trying to be mindful so that you’re not setting the wrong expectation of, you can have whatever you want, whenever you need it, as long as you’re, you know, kicking and screaming about it.

Brooke Sellas 7:23
Yeah, so we have had an uptick in scope creep, especially during this time, and I’ve been very lenient about it. Because the way the way I approached the whole COVID situation was, um, you know, 70% of my job is sales. And I really like that part of my job, but what I thought was best for me to do is to focus on the clients who we have now and to focus on what we have. So I really have stopped focusing on sales and I focused on our current time, they need an extra meeting to talk about this, that or the other. I’ve also We also created a client only FAQ page where we would take in all of the questions that we’ve gotten from clients about scope creep or renewals or pausing their services or whatever it may be. What content do I put out during this time, and we’ve put together a special FAQ page that they can visit that we’ve constantly update and put data on. And then we’re also offering all of our clients no matter what their level of service or free listening report so we are running some of our listeners around the Coronavirus and COVID-19 conversations. And we’re sending every client a free report every month based on that information. So we are kind of pushing the the limits of what what I guess. Normally it would be called scope, but in my mind, it’s just trying to let them know like, Hey, we’re here in this time of need. We want to be your partner and this time of me we want to add value in any way that we can. And so far Fingers crossed, knock on wood. All those things, rub your lucky Rabbit’s but you know, we’ve only lost one client and our clients. A lot of them have actually picked up and services for adspend or other small projects. And I think that’s because we’ve made it clear that we will go past, you know, boundaries to serve them right now.

Christopher Penn 9:16
That’s interesting, because I’ve heard that from a few other folks in the ad space in particular that they’re busier than they have been ever because there’s more people online. Are you seeing that trend as well?

Brooke Sellas 9:27
Yeah. So it’s really interesting. It depends on the industry. You know, we serve as far as click through rates and impressions and things like that. But then in other industry, we things things drastically move up in way of impressions and clicks and cost per click moving down. So it depends on the industry. But for instance, our clients and healthcare and staffing who are talking about jobs, especially healthcare jobs right now are seeing a lot of interaction and engagement. Financial clients of ours are seeing a lot of an interaction and engagement online shopping, a lot of interaction and engagement. But then we’ve seen things come down, obviously, in the event space or in, we have a client who’s nonprofit who does housing in New York City. Well, they’re obviously not seeing a lot of interaction and engagement at this time. So I think it just depends. But it’s worth testing because if you are in an industry that hasn’t been hit hard, and you’re seeing that interaction engagement, we’re seeing so many more click throughs and so many more conversions for much less I would say like 30% less of what it would normally cost us.

Christopher Penn 10:38
I had heard that as well that ad costs were down as a lot more inventory available and a lot of companies had pulled back or just shut off spend entirely. When you’re talking to clients about you know what’s happening, how much information do you give them? You know, you say like, Hey, we’re seeing this this trend down of you know, Facebook cpms you No falling through the floor. Do you find that for client retention purposes, they appreciate the more strategic counsel as well.

Brooke Sellas 11:08
The more surgery surgeon, you cut off at the end of

Christopher Penn 11:11
more strategic Counsel of like, here’s what we’re seeing Data Wise.

Brooke Sellas 11:14
Yeah. So what we’ve been doing lately is we’ve been kind of including a summary to the Wait, let me back up. The way we we do our advertising reporting, in general is that every week we send a summary, hey, here’s how here’s how your ads are doing. We recommend pausing this putting more money in this leaving XYZ. inside of that weekly summary. We’ve been sending deeper dives, I guess, based on what’s happening right now. So we’re seeing in your industry and uptick of this or decreased adspend, meaning we should maybe consider increasing the budget here. And yes, I think we’ve had our clients listen. In one case, for instance, we had a client who was spending around $20,000 a month on adspend. And they’re now spending up over six figures a month on adspend, just because they’re seeing that return Turn on investment. So now I can’t just say it’s, you know, we’re not just giving general insights. Uh, luckily, the ads team, not me, they’re way smarter than I am. But the ads team is going in there and really deep diving on some of the audiences and interest and click throughs that they’re seeing and giving them very specific information.

Christopher Penn 12:22
Are you seeing a change in the type of work that you’re being asked to do by clients during this? You know, you? Obviously you do focus a lot on ad spending and advertising and things. But are you seeing other like more unusual types of work coming in?

Brooke Sellas 12:36
No, I think what’s funny, though, is that we we get asked constantly about like web design or landing page design or things like that. And we’ve always said, No, no, no, no, no. And now, we’re getting asked and we’re saying, Okay, you know what, we’ll take this on because we do have the ability, we just always wanted to kind of stay focused on an inner lane, but right now, just just Trying to be like that partner and that source for them feels really important. So we’re saying yes more often to those smaller requests that we would normally say no to.

Christopher Penn 13:09
Gotcha. How often do you rely on partners like other agencies to fulfill stuff if someone comes in that’s like way out of left field

Katie Robbert 13:16
all the time?

Brooke Sellas 13:18
Because again, I mean, for me, if it were up to me, I would really want to stay in my lane. You know, social media management, advertising, customer care. Those are the three things I really want to focus on. If somebody today even came through and asked us about content marketing, it would not be something I would want to say yes to if somebody came through and asked us about data, our audience research, obviously, I’d refer them to you because it’s not something that I think we excel at. We do within our little three areas. But outside of that, I just wouldn’t touch it. I’m just not one of those people who feels like fake it till you make it is a good business strategy. So all the time I’m not interested in trying to do what I cannot I love what We do and I want to kind of stick to those if we can.

Katie Robbert 14:03
Well, that definitely explains why you’ve been in business for eight years. So having been through crisis before, maybe not at this global scale, but obviously clients have crisis all the time. What are some of the things that come up? So it sounds like you’re someone who’s like very prepared, you have a plan, you have your scenarios of If this happens, do this. But what are some of the things that have been like a curveball for you over the years? What are things that people don’t expect to have to be prepared for during a client crisis?

Brooke Sellas 14:36
I think probably the number one thing that comes to mind as you’re saying this, the Boston Marathon bombing comes to mind I can remember vividly when that happened. And I was actually at a client office when it happened. And I was, you know, texting with my team saying pause all of the content immediately. So You know, to make sure that nothing was going out that wasn’t appropriate. And I think I see this all the time with big brands too, you know, with the software that we use, we have the ability to go in and literally hit the pause button on all content, so nothing goes out anywhere. And I it’s not that difficult. And we’re so small. It’s so funny to me sometimes to see these big companies running commercials or running social media posts or ads that just seems super insensitive. Right after something big happens. Like I don’t understand why people don’t just immediately hit that pause button. We paused our own content for about two weeks ago, when this all hit and regrouped and slowly started posting again, and we kind of shared that advice with our clients. Not all of them took that and that’s okay. You know, we’re not the end all be all but I think it’s okay to pause, which I think a lot of people have a hard time doing. And I also think it’s okay to turn back on at some point with an adjustment to your content. intent, which I think a lot of people are still having a hard time doing to.

Christopher Penn 16:04
What guidance Do you give to clients about that about deciding what and when?

Brooke Sellas 16:10
Yeah, so on the basic side, let’s just say we do what we call a seesaw report, where we look at the top three and bottom three performing post every week. And we’re kind of then taking the trends and patterns that we see we’re noting them every week, and then we’re looking for those micro changes or patterns to help make content better and better over time. During something like this, what we tell clients is pull back and focus on what’s most valuable to your clients. So like for our healthcare clients, obviously, right now it’s about telehealth, or how can they get that appointment with their dentist or with their gi if they need it? What’s the protocol for coming into the office? It’s kind of filtering through those those questions that we’re getting and then telling the client Hey, we’re getting a lot of questions about Can you give masks out from your office? Do you have extra masks, or only omo are they only available for patients. So we need to create more content that addresses this. For our larger clients, we use social listening to hone in on those key words and phrases that are happening. And that makes it a little bit easier. Because the AI kind of brings that information back. And we can just send a report to the client to help generate the content that is happening. And it makes it super simple for the client to because it’s like a giant word cloud around their brand industry, our competitors and you can be like, Look, the big word says we should be talking

Katie Robbert 17:35
about. Well, so you mentioned AI and I know that you do a lot of Chatbots setup for your customers. How have you seen Chatbots utilized it during all of this? Like is it the same? Is it different how nimble these chat bots need to be to address the changing questions like you had mentioned that you created? A client only FAQ, but it’s not just the it’s not just your clients who are interacting with these bots that you’re setting up.

Brooke Sellas 18:07
Yeah, so um, we funnily enough have turned off all of the bots that we were running for our clients. Because right now we feel like the human interaction is most important. So, um, the bots that we were running for a few of our clients have been turned off and aren’t being utilized, especially the bots that were for advertising or advertising related or assisted bots. And they’ve been paused and I don’t know when they’ll get turned back on. It’s just kind of a case by case basis for the clients who have bought set up to ask those FAQs. It’s kind of being revamped now to add some of those COVID related questions to the menu so that the bot can answer those people think I and Chris will probably like laugh and attest to this, but people think that like a boss could just have like this, like actual conversation with you. And that’s not how it works. You You have to add in all you have to build that bot to like say when it needs to say based on certain keyword inputs. So it’s not just like oh


starts having the conversation.

Katie Robbert 19:15
I am shocked that it’s not that simple.

Brooke Sellas 19:19
It’s not magic,


Christopher Penn 19:26
When you talk to other agency leaders, what are you hearing from your peers? What are you hearing from other folks about what they’re encountering? Because obviously, every agency is going to be different. Every client base is going to be different.

Brooke Sellas 19:38
I’ve heard unfortunately, a lot of scary things. I’ve heard people have lost a lot of business. I’ve heard a lot of my agency friends talking about you know, filing for some of the government support. And honestly, it just makes me feel I’m so grateful and lucky that we have the team that we have, and then we have the clients that we have, and that we’ve been able to kind of sustain through this whole thing so far. And I wish I knew why that was.

Unknown Speaker 20:11
What’s the diff?

Unknown Speaker 20:11
Yeah, I think

Brooke Sellas 20:12
it’s culture. I think it just comes down to you know, when we hire people to work with us on our client accounts, and on the projects that we serve, we really look for those people who are cheerleaders and hand holders and pop, you know, positive Polly’s. And I do think that makes a difference. Because, you know, if we were fearful and scared, and I’m not positive in our communications with our clients right now, I think that might have a very different outcome than where we’re sitting today.

Katie Robbert 20:46
You know, it’s interesting, because I know you and I know you well, and it’s not that you don’t have those emotions that you’re not afraid and that your people on your team are not afraid. But what I’m hearing you say is the culture that you’ve been Build is very much this is the professional front that we are presenting to our clients so that we’re not bringing any of those emotions to them, like we can feel them as people. But on behalf of our clients, here’s how we’re going to present ourselves. And I think that that’s so smart because it says that your clients are getting consistency, it that they know, you know, when they come to you and say I have a question. They know what kind of quality of service they’re going to get. They’re not going to say, oh, man, if I call Brooke. She’s just gonna start like, talking about all of these crazy things and gonna get me all twisted up. No, they’re going to call you because you’re going to be positive, you’re going to be frank and direct with them, but you’re going to do it in a useful and valuable way.

Brooke Sellas 21:46
Yeah, we we are very honest, I think we don’t put up a fake front. You know, when I sent out the email letting clients know that we have this special place for the FAQs and some of the reports and the data that we had for them to download around. You know, listeners for the Coronavirus, I said, I’ve been writing the email I’ve been toiling about how to write this email to you. And the only way I can think to be is on it thing, which has been bananas. You know, I have several friends who have contracted the virus that I’m very worried about. And at the end of the day, though, all I can do is continue to deliver what I think you need, and this is what I think you need, because you’ve been coming to me with these questions. So here’s this resource for you. Obviously, your clients love you, you love your clients. Do you have, you know, sort of that your Do you have your bacon moment of here’s my best tip for client retention. I think constant communication. I really do. I think it’s all about well, it’s two pronged and this is this goes into communication too, but setting those expectations from the start, you know, our agreement sets those expectations. We talked about the deliverables and what to expect with those deliverables, what’s outside of scope and what that looks like. And then just making sure that you’re checking in, you know, on the back end, we literally have scope check ins, so that all of the project managers are kind of checking in on the scope, and making sure that we’re not breaching that in any way. Harvest helps us stay on track with that. And if we see that we’re, you know, creeping outside of those boundaries, then I step in and go and have the conversation. I think, maybe that’s one of the things that clients like, I know clients like it is they get they have a direct line to me. I’m always available. I’m not some like

Katie Robbert 23:35

Brooke Sellas 23:36
far, far away. I don’t I don’t even look at myself as like the owner or the CEO. I’m really part of the team and everybody has a direct line to me.

Katie Robbert 23:46
I think that makes a lot of sense. And it probably just helps reinforce the level of community, you know, and teamwork that you’re building, because your clients, their partners, they’re not like people that you’re doing work for. I think that that in terms of client retention does make a difference. If the client knows that like, no, I can talk to this person, honestly. So I think that you know what you’re doing. And the community that you’re building is so great.

Brooke Sellas 24:13
Thank you. And that’s why we have to stay small too, because

I don’t know if that’s scalable. But hey, I like being small. I’m not here to make like all the money in the world, although I would like some money to pay my bills. No, I don’t. It’s I’m not trying to build some big giant thing. I really am just trying to like, do what I do well and help people.

Christopher Penn 24:35
Really cool. All right, where can we find you online? Where are the places people can go to learn more about you and what you do?

Brooke Sellas 24:41
The best place to find myself or b squared media is b squared dot media. So it’s a not com. It’s actually b squared and then dot media. And on Twitter or Google, you could just search Brooks Ellis, BROK, e, s e s it’s like the easiest Greek name on the planet. Search for excellus. And I’m pretty sure I’m the only broke fellas out there so far so you’ll be able to find me that way too.

Christopher Penn 25:11
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