A Guide to Growing Your Agency by Upselling Clients

Upselling Clients: 2016

You've closed the 'big deal' with a client. You've migrated them to Shopify using a pre-built theme or whipped together a beautiful little custom one. They're live, they're happy, and you're paid.

You quickly feel the buzz wear off after you realize "that might be it" with the client. No more money coming from this account, so you'll have to jump back on the "sales grind," and hope you can muster up another deal. Or, does it have to be that way?

In the client services world, it's easier to sell an existing client than a new one. Embrace this thought — it's important to your sales strategy that you make upselling existing clients as much of a priority as closing deals with a new one. Even just an extra $1,000 of work per month, could result in $120,000 of sales for smaller agencies who work with just 10 clients.

When you start to play with those numbers, you start to see how increasing average monthly/annual spend, and the total number of active clients, can go hand-in-hand. A four-person agency with a $500,000 overhead could cover all of their costs with just 25 clients, spending $20,000 per year.

For many of you, those numbers might be within closer reach than you realize, should you simply make a stronger effort in upselling your existing clients. At its core, ‘upselling’ is the practice of selling add-on or additional services to your clients, after your primary or initial project has been delivered. Think of it as the ‘accessories’ that come with a website — and these accessories can help you make more revenue as a web designer.

Sell by the numbers

So the question, of course, is how do you upsell existing clients?

It's unlikely that you'll be able to convince them to completely redesign their website every single year. How then, do you drive additional work throughout the year? It's important to think about this from the client's perspective.

What services can you offer them that will help them grow their business? Generally, you need to demonstrate how you can help them accomplish one of three things:

  • More money
  • Less costs
  • Less time involved managing their website.

If your upselling efforts can align with one of these three goals, then it's more likely that your client would be interested in moving forward.

It's not always as easy to correlate a design change with a direct impact on one of these three major numbers. Rather than focus on those direct metrics, it might be more realistic to focus on indirect metrics that should influence those three key numbers in the long-run.

For example, sales are influenced by conversion rate and average order size, among other things. Consider scoping out additional work that's aimed at improving these two numbers, and provide some before/after analytics to demonstrate that impact. We'll explore how this can be applied across a variety of 'support engagements' in the following section.

Focus on optimization

Upselling clients on follow-up work is as much about branding that work as it is about scoping it. How you position your upselling is highly influential on how clients will determine its worth. To expand on the idea of aligning work with metrics, you might consider packaging that work around the idea of on-going optimization.

The term itself, optimization, implies both an ongoing effort as well as something that's aimed at a long-term positive impact. It carries a lot more cachet than traditional 'support', even if it includes the same types of services. These services will seem even more impactful when you can bucket them in meaningful and clear groups.

We've found that the following buckets of 'optimization services' can be well-received by clients:

1. Conversion optimization

Conversion optimization is the practice of adding functionality to or tweaking the user experience to further increase the likelihood that customers will make a purchase. Although this practice can be quite broad, we generally view it as the process of introducing best practices to an ecommerce website that are often proved to drive sales.

Some of these best practices include abandoned cart management, email capture pop-ups, or live chat widgets. Most all of these are easily added via Shopify Apps with minor customization or integration work required.

Many ecommerce companies simply aren't aware of the various tools available and are ripe for being exposed to these minor changes that can have a major impact on their business. What's great about conversion optimization is that it is clearly tied to the conversion rate metric, making it easy to position as a value-added service.

You might also like: Strategy Meets Technology: 4 Prime Targets for Conversion Rate Optimization.

2. Performance optimization

Performance optimization is the practice of decreasing the load speed of your website to get customers directly to your various products/pages as quickly as possible. There is quite a bit of research to demonstrate that the longer it takes for your website to load, the higher attrition you'll likely see with your users.

By decreasing this load speed time, you're in-turn, increasing the likelihood that customers will stick around and potentially make a purchase. As Shopify store owners continue to grow their stores and add various apps, the need for performance optimization is ongoing. Tools like PageSpeed Insights and articles such as this one can make performance optimization something you can easily add to your range of services.

Just like conversion optimization, you can easily measure the impact of any performance optimization tasks directly through any improvements in your client's website's load speed.

You might also like: How to Optimize Themes for Performance.

3. Search engine optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing your website to rank for specific queries within search engines such as Google. SEO is a massive industry that has ever-changing best practices for those who want to truly rank in the top ten.

Putting the content and link building aspects of SEO to the side, there are some basic technical best practices that can easily be offered to your clients. There are a number of apps that make basic practices such as adding alt tags to images and evaluating your page META information easy.

You'll also want to make sure you have Google Search Console and another rank tracking platform in place so you can measure your search engine results. You can easily demonstrate your impact on SEO through any increase in organic traffic or increases in specific terms that your client's website ranks.

You might also like: SEO | Help Clients Improve Their Search Rankings.

4. Marketing optimization

Marketing optimization is the practice of creating and testing collateral on your website to aid your client's marketing efforts. In addition to the very targeted channel of search engine optimization, there is bound to be a variety of other channels your clients are utilizing to drive traffic to their websites and increase sales. Popular channels include social media, email marketing, and paid advertising to name only a handful.

Each of these channels tie into the website in some regard. Most will drive users to some sort of landing page on the website. This provides a massive area for optimization as you design, develop, and test different landing page formats and messages to better align with your client's marketing. Landing pages are a great candidate for A/B testing, using platforms such as Optimizely, as you experiment with different elements within the landing page.

You might also like: A Short Tutorial for Running A/B Tests in Shopify with Optimizely.

5. Analytics optimization

Analytics optimization is the practice of adding and expanding a website's analytics capabilities so you can continue to gather more and more usable data to inform your design/marketing decisions.

New analytics tools come out all of the time and existing ones are improved on the regular. It's important that clients utilize the latest analytics platforms and have them configured properly to ensure the data being captured is actually usable. Your analytics offerings can go beyond basic behavior tracking through Google Analytics and include other best practices such as A/B testing, session recording, customer profiling, and more.

Not only could your client support services include implementing these various tools, but also reporting this data and helping your clients interpret the meaning. The practice of analytics optimization might not directly impact a specific metric, but it’s vital for accurately capturing data on any other services you offer your clients.

You might also like: 5 Simple Google Analytics Reports You Should Create for Every Client.

6. Maintenance optimization

Maintenance optimization is the practice of keeping your website 'buttoned-up' from a security and up-time perspective.

Luckily, Shopify covers 95% of everything needed to keep your website secure and running well. That being said, there are a few other routine tasks that are worth offering your clients and very easy to automate through the use of apps and third-party platforms.

We'd suggest that all support plans include backups, security monitoring, 404 error tracking and downtime monitoring. Although this bucket of services might not have as strong of an impact on metrics, you could still likely prove value in any decrease in 404 errors, increase in up-time or decrease in security issues.

You might also like: 3 Essential Tips for Refactoring CSS Without Losing Your Mind.

Stick to a model

Once you've figured out the range of services you might want to offer to upsell a client, you'll also want to consider how you'll structure those services. There are certainly a variety of models, but some of the more popular for on-going support work include:

1. Hourly

Hourly is exactly what is sounds like, billing the client for each hour of work. This is a fairly traditional model that's favored by many agencies. It's especially popular for support-related work as those types of tasks are often tackled within a few hours each.

The benefit of an hourly model is the transparency and fixed-margin associated with the work. The drawback is the additional admin of more frequent billing and potentially scrutinizing clients that like to question why certain things took a certain amount of time.

The key to using the hourly model effectively is having a good time-tracking system in place, such as Harvest.

2. Retainer

The retainer approach is also based on billing by the hour, but rather than billing 'as needed', the client pre-purchases a 'pool' of hours. This pool is then drawn against as tasks are completed until the hours run out and can then be 're-upped'.

The benefit of a retainer model is the upfront cash and the reduced amount of admin time in estimating and billing one-off requests. The drawback is that the cash paid upfront is technically a 'liability' until the work is actually performed.

The key to using the retainer model is being 'proactive' in suggesting support tasks so you can 'work through' the retainer you have with the client.

3. Recurring or subscriptions

The recurring or subscription model is similar to a retainer, but provides a bit more predictability in how support is handled. Rather than a pool of hours drawn against as-needed, it's a set pool per month/quarter/year that is often a 'use it or lose it' situation.

The benefit of a recurring model is the on-going billings that can greatly improve cash flow given the consistency. The drawback is that clients often have higher expectations given the steady amount they're paying on a regular basis.

The key to using the recurring model is to continue demonstrating value to the client so they're excited to keep that retainer active.

4. Flat-rate

At times, it might just be easiest to scope out a larger number of requests all together and offer a flat-rate model for addressing support. This works well if clients are willing to let requests 'stack' in queue or if the request(s) they have is just larger in nature.

The benefit of a flat-rate model is that it both guarantees a fixed-cost to the client, while also allowing you to potentially build up your margins on a project. The drawback is that you'll need to ensure clients don't sneak in change requests outside of the originally agreed-upon work.

The key to using a flat-rate model is being highly detailed in the project scope you put together and in how you manage that scope during the engagement.

5. Performance-based

One final model that's worth considering is a performance-based pricing structure. Rather than charging clients hourly or on a flat-rate basis, you'd agree on the 'value' associated with the work you'll tackle.

The benefit of a performance-based model is that clients are only paying for results they produce and you have a chance to participate in the upside of any results generated from your effort. The drawback is that any unsuccessful work will go uncompensated.

The key to using a performance-based model is to be clear on what metric you're trying to improve for the client and exactly how the payout structure will work.

6. Additional revenue streams

One last consideration to make in your upselling strategy is the introduction of third-party partners and vendors where you could earn a referral fee.

Shopify, along with many app developers, offer affiliate referral payments based on the recommendation of their software.  This can be a great way to add recurring revenue with minimal work.

Simply identify some of your go-to solutions and determine if there is an affiliate/referral relationship opportunity. Once setup, you could start seeing a few extra hundred, or even thousand, dollars a year per client in referral fees.

Pitching the client

Now that we've explored the value of selling against metrics, the various types of support services, and billing models, it's important to examine when and how we should actually pitch these services.

Generally, we find clients fall into one of two primary buckets. They either start off as a 'project client', such as building their initial store or tackling a major marketing campaign, or they come in directly as a 'support client', someone just looking for support on their existing website. The 'support clients' are relatively easy as they're specifically coming to you looking for a support offering. The 'project clients' are a bit harder as they might be thinking that their one-off website investment should be enough to last them for a while.

When it comes to selling 'project clients' on additional support, there are two ways you could consider pitching your services.

1. The insurance model

The first is the 'insurance' model. Any good product, whether a car, computer, or fridge, all come with optional 'extended warranties'. These are all pieces of technology that are subject to issues given use over time. There is no difference with your website either as technology evolves and bugs occur. Pitching support services either prior to the start of a project or immediately following it as a 'warranty' on their investment can often go a far way with clients.

One major aspect to the 'project client' relationship is the direct communication channel they have with your team. Typically, you'll be providing proactive, on-going updates throughout the project. Many clients really enjoy this sort of access and response time. A specific strategy for pitching the 'insurance' model could be the continued communication they'd be able to maintain with your team. You might consider explaining that clients on some sort of dedicated support contract, gain priority turnaround and quicker response times. This can demonstrate the added value with an on-going support relationship.

2.The iteration pitch

The second model to consider is the 'iteration' pitch. Beyond just ensuring things don't break, any business is bound to experience change over time. Their messaging will evolve, their products will change, and they'll need to adjust accordingly. Positioning your support offerings as a way to help clients with this 'iteration' is a great way to upsell on additional services.

The key to selling the 'iteration' model is to gain a sense for the frequency/volume of change you could expect from the client. If they're 'tinkerers' or heavily data-driven people, they're likely a great candidate for this sort of pitch. Iteration is all about ongoing experimentation rooted in incremental improvements to the site. Play on their interest in change and show how on-going support could be the root to their growth.

In either model, it's always more effectively to bring these options up prior to the start of a project. Explaining your support offerings early in your relationship with the client ensures they're not 'surprised' once they're project is complete. It also plants a seed in their mind during their project that might allow you to 'anchor' any out-of-scope requests as 'phase two' items that could easily be addressed with your support offerings.

Don’t overlook the impact of upselling

It's important to realize that selling your clients does not stop after the first sale is made. Things may get easier as your relationship deepens, but it's up to you to continue to drive sales with the client.

You can't overlook the value of investing a few unpaid hours throughout the year into upselling your clients on follow-up work. Over time, this can help make your business more predictable, and get you out of the mercy of the 'inbound gods,' where lead flow might vary from month to month.

We want to hear if you upsell clients and what tactics you find most effective. Let us know in the comments below!

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