How Agencies Can Execute on Strategic Selling

“I hate selling.” I hear that so often from agency owners and agency leaders. I especially hear it from junior agency staffers. I think the key to solving this problem is moving away from “I hate selling” and moving toward “I love helping others succeed.” My years of agency experience have taught me that the most successful agencies have a specific mindset. They have embraced the art of being the very best at understanding their clients and have a deep desire to make their lives easier and better. The agency business is a relationship business; it’s about putting the needs of your client front and center. Your success is based on their success. Their good days are your good days; and conversely, their bad days are your bad days. So, if agency success is about building great relationships, I would pose to you that for agencies, executing on strategic selling is very much like dating. If that’s the case, then imagine thinking of the prospect the same way you think about a prospective date - that person you’ve wanted to date for oh, so long. As you get ready to make the ask… what’s first? The answer: the first thing is understanding the prospect. Strategic Selling Requires Understanding the Prospect First and foremost, remember that you must think about this from their viewpoint – the viewpoint of the prospect. What’s on her mind and how has the landscape changed since the last time she looked for agency services? Budget and headcount pressures are enormous in most companies today There are heightened expectations that marketing supports sales – it’s no longer enough to simply produce great creative Sales and revenue are typically the top marketing success [...]

By |August 28th, 2018|

Be Wary of the New Business Development Director With the Legendary Prospecting Network

There is a great dilemma many agency owners face time and time again: Do you hire an internal new business development person for your agency with solid sales experience (and a price tag to match), or an inexperienced individual that’s cheaper, but seems driven/teachable? The former example is certainly a potentially sound investment, although not always feasible, and the latter doesn’t traditionally have a great success rate unless an agency is willing to put real work behind their training and possesses the requisite patience to see the process through. That’s probably why the average new business director at an agency lasts about eighteen months. In my first example, you have likely experienced this in some form or another. That person with experience in one vertical and an abundant network of prospects within that vertical; or the other kind, that person with the fabled “ultimate agency new business Rolodex.” And sometimes, you run across someone with both deep experience in a vertical and an abundant network. These kinds of hires occur often and I don’t blame agencies for it. They can work but, in far too many instances, that new business director with the legendary prospecting network hire ends up flaming out. In fact, I recently spoke with an agency principal on this very topic, and she gave me permission to share her less than desirable experience with you. So, here goes. The Legendary Prospecting Network When my agency owner friend initially hired this new business development guru with the “legendary prospecting network,” the big draw was, of course, that huge network. There were assurances, apparently all in good faith, that success would result from that network. It sounded promising, but unfortunately, it was not in [...]

By |August 21st, 2018|

3 Steps to Stop Inflicting Help On Your Agency Team

The aroma of vegetable soup wafted up the stairs to my office. Moments later, my wife called, “Dinner’s ready!” “Mmmmm … I love homemade soup,” I thought. Rushing down the stairs and past the pantry, I spied a tube of crackers, grabbed them, and headed for the dining room. My wife sat at the table, waiting for me, smiling. Her smile vanished as she saw the tube of crackers. “Oh, this isn’t good enough? I really tried to get everything you like. I even brought out the oyster crackers …” Confused, I looked at her. Then, I looked at the table. She had arranged a beautiful spread of crackers, sliced cheese, chips & dips, salsa, veggies and grilled sandwiches to go with our soup. And there I stood, tube of crackers in hand, inflicting help. Acting Without Asking Inflicting help occurs when the helper acts in a way they feel as helpful but the recipient does not. It often stems from the helper not asking if, how or when someone would like to be helped. Instead, the helper jumps in and acts without asking. “But, I was only trying to help!” I was trying to comfort her. “I didn’t know you had all this out. I smelled the soup, saw the crackers, and grabbed them to be helpful.” We quickly sorted things out and went on to have a great meal together. Looking back, it was an interesting interaction, and it holds some lessons for agency managers. Because too often, well-meaning agency owners or managers inflict help on their teams. And when we realize what we’ve done, we might exclaim, “But, I was only trying to help!” Step One — Stop and Look Inflicting help is almost [...]

By |July 31st, 2018|

Hey agency owner — are you noticing the signs?

I’m writing this note from South Africa, where I am on a photo safari vacation with my daughter. We’ve spent the better part of a week in the bush, coming face to face with prides of lions, serene giraffe, wild dogs right after a kill and even some mating leopards! (And yes...that elephant is THAT much bigger than that Land Cruiser!) I’ve been fascinated to watch how our rangers and trackers scan the dirt for tracks, examine the foliage to look for breaks and even test the temperature of dung to determine what animals are nearby and how long ago they came through.   The clues are so subtle that it’s amazing when they spot them. But the rewards that come from that attention to minute detail is the difference between an incredible game drive (or survival in different circumstances) or it being just a lovely drive in the woods. It made me think about our own business and all of the subtle clues that our clients, prospects, and employees give off.  I wonder how many of them we blindly walk by, about to enter into a danger zone we’re not expecting?  I think most agency owners are very astute at picking up the signs — unless we’re moving too quickly and are too distracted to be present.  Which is pretty much every day. So what are we missing? One of the traits of the tracker and ranger that took me some time to get used to is the speed at which they work.  Slowly.  Sometimes painstakingly slowly.  As a Type A kind of guy, I was pretty antsy in the beginning.  But then I began to understand the method to their madness and saw [...]

By |July 24th, 2018|

4 Questions to Ask Before Calling Your Talent Recruiter

Planning for growth or adding new services to your agency inevitably leads to “we need more people!” Of course, having a dependable, hard-working staff at your business is key. A talent recruiter can be a great asset in the new hire process, but before you dig out those job advertisements, or call your favorite talent recruiter, ask yourself these 4 critical questions:  Do you have a management problem or a hiring problem? Did the last person leave because of their manager?  Do you have a turnover problem or a not-enough-turnover problem, or a little of both?  Full time? Part time? Or is there a productivity problem that could be addressed by training the current team (or replacing a weak performer)?  Do you have an “up-and-comer” who would love to take on new duties, and view this new opportunity as a reason to stay and grow with your company? These are the four most important questions you can ask before you call a talent recruiter, and my bet is that you haven’t asked them about your agency team in a long time. So let's go through each one and how it can impact your need for a talent recruiter. 1. Management problem or hiring problem? The “management problem” is the number one reason people leave their jobs, and it often concerns the trusted employee who’s been with you for a long time (perhaps since the beginning). They “have your back” and “run the place” so you can get out there and grow your business, but is their management style costing you good employees? You may be aware there are issues with the way they handle day-to-day management issues—and you need to re-engage with individual employees to find [...]

By |July 17th, 2018|

How to Scale Your Agency — Overcome the Wizard Complex

At UGURUS, a business school for digital agencies, my team and I spend thousands of hours a year consulting and coaching owners in groups or one on one. Our aim is simple: To help you achieve freedom in your business and life. One of the ways we do that is by helping digital agency owners work ON their business, not just IN them. “When you recognize that the purpose of your life is not to serve your business, but that the primary purpose of your business is to serve your life, you can then go to work on your business, rather than in it, with a full understanding of why it is absolutely necessary for you to do so.” -Michael E. Gerber, E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It For agency owners, achieving freedom usually means: Working fewer hours (less than sixty is a start) Making more money (getting paid a healthy salary) Sitting in fewer seats (helping you do better work) There’s a commonly-accepted fallacy out there that most entrepreneurs are working towards an early retirement and days filled with sitting on the beach drinking fruity cocktails. However, most entrepreneurs I meet love the work they do, and have no intention of retiring early. The standard definition of the term “exit” in entrepreneur-speak is to sell your business, but most agency owners I meet aren’t anywhere near this point. They haven’t built a company that is worth anything beyond themselves. They’re involved in every aspect of the business from generating leads, converting those leads into clients, and delivering the work. They’ve built themselves a job. A stressful. Demanding. Underpaying. J-O-B. For these owners, “exit” means being able [...]

By |June 26th, 2018|

How to Find Top-Level Freelancers to Help You Grow Your Business with Nathan Hirsch

One of the most common challenges agencies of all sizes are facing right now is finding the right people to add to the team, especially as it relates to learning how to find freelancers who are capable of doing the great work that agencies require. Client budgets and programs are growing, agency new business is getting a little easier and so everything should be rosy. But when you don’t have the right team to get the work done – it’s frustrating and frightening.   Ten to fifteen years ago, the prevailing attitude was that agencies needed everyone under one roof. After all, the work is so collaborative. But when the recession hit and people had to reduce fixed expenses to survive, many agencies who swore they would never try to manage a network of freelancers or hire someone virtual crossed over and did just that. Not only did they survive it – but it opened up many opportunities to serve clients in new ways.  Fast forward to today – whether you are in a big market with lots of talent (and lots of competitors for that talent) or in a smaller market that just doesn’t have enough qualified bodies – finding and keeping the right team is a serious struggle. Most AMI agencies have a pretty robust freelance pool and are versed in knowing how to find freelancers. 75% have some sort of flex hours where people either come in early/leave early, come in late/leave late or have some sort of non-traditional work week, be it fewer than five days a week or a full work week but they work from home one or more days. In terms of remote employees, I would say that [...]

By |February 8th, 2018|

Your boat can only carry so much weight

Agency owners are, for the most part, some of the bravest people I know.  They have put everything on the line to start/own their agency and every day, they face and move past tough decisions. But if there’s an Achilles Heel for most owners, it’s the staffing issue, especially if your agency has hit a rough spot. It’s ironic but in a typical agency, the higher a person’s salary, the less billable client work they do. They’re running a department, doing admin work or chasing after new clients more than serving your clients. I’m not suggesting their work isn’t valuable. It just isn’t billable. What balances that out is that most of your younger, less expensive employees are very billable. Their billable hours cover the non-billable hours of the more senior staff.  If you look at all of the hours your agency employees (including the owner) works — you need to be at 60% billable overall.  Most agencies struggle to get into the 50-55% range.  Which is why you aren’t making the kind of money you’d like to make. Unfortunately, many of you are out of proportion. You’re over-staffed in general and in particular, you’re top heavy. You might have a large leadership team or multiple owners. On top of that — you’ve got an employee or two (or more) who have been with you for a very long time. You’ve given them regular raises and now, if you’re honest with yourself, they’re overpaid.  Odds are, their skills sets and energy aren’t really what they used to be. But you feel a loyalty to them and so they stay. You’ve been okay with a net profit that’s nowhere near the ideal range and you’ve stayed [...]

By |February 6th, 2018|

Diversify Your Staff For Deep And Meaningful Results For Your Clients

Despite its roots in liberal San Francisco, Uber lacks equality. Uber's diversity report revealed minorities are underrepresented, especially at higher positions. Blacks and Hispanics fill only a small percentage of company roles, and other Silicon Valley giants have similar demographics. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau discovered Silicon Valley’s workforce is 2.2% black and 4.7% Hispanic, which are minute compared to other tech hubs' workforces, like Houston (11.9% black and 12.6% Hispanic) and New York (7.3% black and 9.6% Hispanic). These companies have received poor PR for their homogenous workforces, but it’s important to identify why diversity is so important in the first place. Pepsi was criticized earlier this year for its commercial that unintentionally belittled the Black Lives Matter movement, and the marketing team behind it was, in part, to blame. A recent poll found 42% of marketers feel the brands they work for don’t reflect a racially diverse or contemporary society in their marketing efforts. Clearly, there’s room to improve here. Still, it’s never a good idea to hire minorities for diversity’s sake. Diversity brings value to a company through its connections to a broader range of customers and clients. Especially for advertising agencies, customer connection is the name of the game. Who wouldn’t want more? Unfortunately, agencies aren’t known for being the most diverse workplaces either. These days, clients can catch agencies off guard with questions and conversations about diversity. Mad Men painted the advertising industry as overwhelmingly white, male and heterosexual; many clients want to know whether that’s still the case. Agencies need to be on their toes and explain how they’re representing other genders, ethnicities and sexual orientations. It’s No Longer Just A Man’s World Researchers who study diversity break it down into two [...]

By |November 15th, 2017|