Episode 384

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To continue on the sales theme this week, we’ll dissect everything you need to know about winning and retaining right-fit clients, honing in on your agency vertical, and strategizing your agency growth plan.

Our guest, Corey Quinn, has a 25-year track record of extraordinary success as an entrepreneur, sales leader, and CMO for a $150M+ company. Today, he helps B2B SaaS and Agencies grow from 7 figures to 8 by doing less, not more.

In this episode, Corey will share some wisdom from his successful business career to teach us how we, as small agency owners, can implement an effective agency growth plan. He’ll teach us how to keep right-fit clients on our roster and establish a vertical that gets even more customers coming to you for your expertise and fantastic customer service.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

agency growth plan

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Growth and retention strategies that are applicable to small agencies
  • Honing in on your agency growth plan
  • The power of niching and word-of-mouth connections
  • Leveraging both inbound and outbound sales tactics
  • The common mistakes people make when trying to increase sales
  • How much time an agency owner should dedicate to biz dev
  • Why specializing in specific customers and industries works so well
  • 2 or 3 things you need to have exponential growth
  • Sales strategies that will have new customers coming to you for work

“To get an intimate and better understanding, we have to ask who the buyer is and what their primary pain point is that we're solving. That has to start with the owner.” @coreyquinn Click To Tweet
“If you look at the research, they say that only 5% of a market is actively buying at any one point.” @coreyquinn Click To Tweet
“We knew a lot about the internet, and we also knew a lot about their business. So we were able to solve problems for them that they didn't even realize that they had yet.” @coreyquinn Click To Tweet
“One of the first things we did as a team was to begin to change the culture from an inbound only to an inbound and outbound.” @coreyquinn Click To Tweet
“The way that I've seen businesses like Scorpion grow dramatically and quickly is ultimately through word of mouth.” @coreyquinn Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Corey:

Resources:



Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Agency Management Institute community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money, and keep more of what you make. The Build a Better Agency Podcast presented by White Label IQ, is packed with insights on how small to mid-size agencies survive and thrive in today’s market, bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute back with you again for another episode of Build a Better Agency. And we are going to continue on the theme of sales this week. And in fact, that’s actually the focus of the Agency Edge Research Series for 23. So as I’ve been promising you, I’m going to open every episode for the next few weeks telling you about a different speaker that we’re going to have at the Build a Better Agency Summit in Chicago, May 16th and 17th. We would love to have you join us. But one of the speakers actually is going to be myself and Susan Baier from Audience Audit. As you know, for the last decade, we’ve partnered with Audience Audit every year to go out into the field and do some proprietary research.

This year our focus is asking people who hire agencies, so clients, founders, business owners, CMOs, directors of marketing, those sort of folks, what makes them decide to spend more money with their current agency, what gets them to expand the scope of services or the volume of service or the depth of service. We’re going to really explore what gives them the confidence and the nudge to spend more money with you. And so we are going to unveil that research, those results at the summit. In the past several years we’ve waited until September to release our data when we were at Content Marketing World, but we’ve decided from now on we’re going to launch them earlier in the year at the summit. So that’ll always be the very first place you can hear the latest results of our survey.

We’re excited about this topic. It’s one that I know a lot of you are thinking a lot about. As you know, we teach that 60 to 70% of your net new revenue every year should come from existing clients. And so that takes a plan and an understanding of the client’s business. And we’re hoping to give you all kinds of insights with this research about how you can upsell your current clients. It’ll be great content for agency owners, agency leaders, department heads, especially around account service and creative, digital. We’re excited to unveil that for you at the summit, and we hope that you’re there to join us so you can hear what we find out. All right, that’s the summit thing.

So here’s the deal. If you want a ticket, head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com, Build a Better Agency Summit is the first navigation button on the left. You can grab it and buy your ticket. When you buy your ticket, also grab a hotel room because that room block’s going to sell out. Tickets are going to sell out, room block are going to sell out, so please don’t wait too long. We really want you with us. So please join us. Let me tell you a little bit about our guests. Corey Quinn was the CMO of an agency called Scorpion, and he’ll tell us more about Scorpion and what they were all about. But when he got there, they were doing in gross revenue, about $20 million in sales. And six years later when he departed, they were at $150 million in annual sales.

We’re going to talk about what they did to scale that fast, and then we’re going to talk about how, obviously they were a larger agency than many of you, probably not of all of you. I think they started off with about 100 people, but many of the tactics they used to grow are absolutely applicable regardless of your agency size. And he’s got some very down and dirty tactics of what they did to grow their book of business, and by the way, have an incredibly high retention rate of their existing clients. It wasn’t just a turn and burn where they’d sell and then the people would leave, sell, people would leave, they were retaining their clients.

I want to really dig into that and find out what they did and how we can take it and apply it to our agencies as well. All right? So let’s get him on the show. Let’s go. Corey, welcome to the podcast.

Corey Quinn:

Hey, Drew, super excited to be here.

Drew McLellan:

Tell everybody a little bit about your history, and we’re going to be talking about scaling your business, growing your business, and how you came to have this expertise.

Corey Quinn:

Absolutely. The full background is probably too much time too that we have today, but I’ll give the relevant background for this audience. I’ve been in an entrepreneur, business owner, then salesperson, then marketing, and then most recently I was the Chief Marketing Officer of a company called Scorpion, which is a digital marketing agency that targets SMBs, small, medium sized businesses, more specifically local service businesses like attorneys and home service businesses. And during my time there, I started in 2015 and I left at the end of 2021. During that time we took a business from about doing about 20 million in annual reoccurring revenue. It was a 100 person company, it was a 100 agency, I should say at that time. And it had a nine person sales team.

And by the time I left in 2021, it was a 1000 person agency, had 100 people in the sales team and we’re doing about 150 million in annual recurring business. And so during that time, it was a time of a tremendous amount of growth and excitement and learnings both by myself, the company. And so what I’m doing now is now that I’ve stepped away from that role, I’m now working with businesses and CEOs and founders who are looking to scale and grow, leveraging some of the learnings that I picked up along the way, specifically at my time at Scorpion.

Drew McLellan:

I’m assuming if you grew that rapidly, so we talk about agencies that they sort fall into two categories. One is the artisanal bakery, like everything is custom, and someone walks in and says, I want a lemon poppy seed cake in the shape of SpongeBob. And they say, we’ve never done that before, but we’ll do it for you. As opposed to the Wonder Bread factory, which is, look, we make bread and we make white bread, wheat bread and whole wheat bread, and you can get them in 10 slices or 20 slices, and that’s all we do. I’m assuming with the kind of rapid growth you had, you were more of the Wonder Bread factory than you were the artisanal bakery. Is that accurate?

Corey Quinn:

Well, I’d be lying to you, Drew, if I said we were perfect in that. But yes, you’re correct. We would call it the assembly line. We would have creative salespeople who would get a sale that wasn’t the attorney or the home service business eventually that we had built the assembly line for. And of course every time we did that, we put the Buick in the Tesla assembly line, it would break the whole assembly line, right? It would cause a lot of problems. But yeah, it was a discipline that we realized we needed to create if we wanted to grow to the size that we wanted to.

Drew McLellan:

So as you were saying, everyone has different feelings about growth and rapid growth. What was the impetus to the desire to grow that big, that fast? Was it just to get to a sale?

Corey Quinn:

The business is a founder led business. So the founder still there today, still the CEO. And he is a very ambitious human being who really has a big appetite to help a lot of businesses. He’s really driven by the desire to have an impact, positive impact on businesses. And by the time I had gotten there, the company had grown to, as I mentioned, 20 million with a customer attention rate of about 93%, which in agency life for SMB focused customers is very, very rare. It’s very rare.

Drew McLellan:

Amazing.

Corey Quinn:

And he had built this lightning in a bottle, and he wanted to find a way to use that formula that was working so far at the 20 million level, about 1,000 customers. How do we grow that? How do we expand that while maintaining the quality and the care for the customer as well as the retention rate?

Drew McLellan:

Let’s talk about some of the strategies, both the growth strategies and I think the retention strategies, because we talk a lot about the fact that for an agency, 60 to 70% of their net new revenue should be coming from existing clients.

Corey Quinn:

Correct.

Drew McLellan:

So sales comes from both existing clients and new clients. Let’s talk about some of the strategies that you deployed that are applicable for an agency of five people or 20 people or 50 people, because most of the listeners are nowhere near 1,000 people, and most of them probably aren’t even at 100 yet. Let’s talk about the existing client base first. What was in place that had such a high retention rate?

Corey Quinn:

What I walked into when I joined the company in 2015 was a business that was largely focused on a single vertical, which is attorneys and specifically personal injury attorneys, criminal offense and family law attorneys. And the business, what the product was is every new personal injury attorney would come in, they’d get a brand new website, they would get SEO, they would get PBC. And then eventually as the business grew, started in 2001, which was the early days of the internet, the service offering expanded with the internet, but eventually that turned into things like social media management and paid social and video and all those things.

And so a couple things that I inherited when I stepped into that business was, that was working really well, was, number one, they had a tremendous care for the customer. The dynamic at that time, and even still to today, attorneys are not particularly interested in becoming experts in marketing. They’re not particularly becoming experts at SEO. However, the world that we were living in and continue to live in was one where this part of their business became more and more important to their ability to grow and be effective. So what that means is the old days it was the yellow pages and networking, word of mouth, maybe a billboard. Now it was this concept of you have to have a website and you have to do SEO.

And so this was something that they had to find a trusted partner to be able to help them to be able to handle. That’s sort of the basic piece of it. The deeper part of that is that because we were specializing in attorneys and we had teams of people on the operational side, sort of the delivery or the client success side who were responsible for managing these clients, we would build the team so that we would have teams who only focused on personal injury attorneys. And over time, that team really began to understand the true nature of a personal injury attorney business. And so our ability to add value beyond just number of leads or number of clicks, went into really business consulting, where we would have a new personal injury attorney come in who didn’t know anything about the internet.

Well, we knew a lot about the internet, we also knew a lot about their business. So we were able to solve problems for them that they didn’t even realize that they had yet.

Drew McLellan:

Corey, what I’m hearing you say, and my listeners have never heard this from me, is that there’s power in niching and really focusing on a line of business, whether it’s an industry or an audience or a deliverable that allows you to be both business consultant and marketing partner.

Corey Quinn:

I would say yes, only if you care about retention and if you care about word of mouth, which is everyone.

Drew McLellan:

And growth, right?

Corey Quinn:

And growth.

Drew McLellan:

But other than that, if you don’t care about those…

Corey Quinn:

And the evidence was clear to me when I arrived at Scorpion that they had organically built this, and then the challenge was, well, how do we take what’s working in the legal vertical, maximize that, and then how do we, what’s next? And so we had to take that journey to figure out, well, how do we continue to grow revenue outside of attorneys without changing the dynamic and the success formula, if you will, that we had had created in the attorney market.

Drew McLellan:

So retention was, A, getting to know their business better. And then it sounds like having client service or account service people who were then engaging with them beyond just selling them stuff, but also talking about their business, talking about results, and then driving strategies to increase results.

Corey Quinn:

Correct. And so it became less of a transactional relationship and more of an advisor relationship where we were the experts on attorney marketing, and we could help them to think through and answer questions and solve problems and all these things that they had no experience with or familiarity with or even comfort with. And so it-

Drew McLellan:

Or desire to have any of those things, right?

Corey Quinn:

Desire. They want to be in the courtroom arguing the case in front of the judge, they don’t want to have to deal with this stuff in many cases. And so that concept expanded beyond the client services and into marketing and into actually sales where we would actually help to train salespeople to understand the true nature of a personal injury attorney business. And so as a salesperson who only sold into personal injury attorneys, they knew the big players, which is a relatively small market, even though there’s a lot of attorneys in the US, relatively small market, the people who everybody knows, if you could mention that way, well, they’re our customer too, or we know them or be able to talk at that level, begin to talk like an insider, be able to use their language.

What that does is that it helps to lower the friction in the sales process that exists no matter what, and it communicates, Hey, you could trust us because we understand you, we speak your language. And by the way, we specialize in solving the specific problems that you have, not the generic problems that you have, but the specific problems that you’re dealing with.

Drew McLellan:

So on the sales side, was it just dialing for dollars? Because that’s some exponential growth. Other than you had a lot of sales people, which obviously you did, what were the practices that you think led to that level of success in that very short period of time?

Corey Quinn:

Back in 2015, I joined right after we had hired a new head of sales. And the dynamic of the business at that time was that Rustin Kretz, who is the founder, and CEO of Scorpion had built the team, the company at that point, 100 people, very organically by hiring friends and family and people from the neighborhood where he grew up, high school buddies. And they were able to get that business to the 20 million level. But at a certain point, I think he realized that he wanted to bring some people who had different backgrounds in. So I came in on the marketing front. I have a previous background in agency on the sales and marketing front. And then he had brought in a sales leader from ReachLocal, which is sort of a long term agency that had been around for a long time as well.

And so that person, Jamie Adams and myself, he represented sales. I represented marketing. What we inherited was a nine person sales team that was subsisting exclusively on inbounds. Right? So the order takers, the traditional sales team, which is, there’s no right or wrong in my book, but if you wanted to grow quickly like we did, we couldn’t just wait for the phone to ring. We couldn’t wait for an inbound form to be filled in order to grow exponentially. And so what we had to do, one of the first things that we did as a team was to begin to change the culture from an inbound only to an inbound and outbound.

And one of the ways we did that was, there was a lot of things we did, but from a very tactical perspective, we brought in a sales trainer who brought in a methodology for outbound. We also did things for the very first time, like measured our TAM, which stands for a total addressable market. We tried to understand what is the total number of attorneys in the US, specifically personal injury, and went through a practice of understanding, okay, well today we have 2% of the market. What do we need to do to get the rest of the market or a bigger share of the market? We coupled the outbound sales approach with an outbound marketing approach where we would have a targeted list of businesses that the sales team would have allocation to.

But the marketing team that I represented, what we would do is we would do outbound gifting. So a big part of our strategy was specifically for attorneys, is we would send cookies to the gatekeeper before they even knew who we were. This was a first touch sales and marketing campaign that we would send a $30 tin of cookies that was branded with a personalized note out to let’s say, 3,000, 5,000 attorneys as an initial touchpoint in a multi-touch sales and marketing approach. So they’d get the cookies, the sales team would follow up. Hey, did you get the cookies? And begin to use that as a way to build rapport and build some engagement with these attorneys with who frankly are very busy and there’s a lot of agencies who are trying to talk to them at the same time. And so we use these cookies as a way to kind of soften the gatekeeper and build some early interest in having a discussion with us.

Drew McLellan:

And then from there, because we know sometimes they hire us first off, and sometimes it’s the 20th, 30th touch. From there what was the methodology that worked for you guys to actually get in front of them to get a conversation and then to lead them to consider hiring you?

Corey Quinn:

Because we understood the TAM, it was a finite number of attorneys that we wanted to talk to. And so we knew that over time, given enough time, that they were going to make a change on their website in digital marketing. And so we wanted to make sure that we were on the list of businesses that they were talking to. The way that we did that is every quarter they would get not more cookies, but they would get something from us. Video brochure, physical brochure, flowers, other types of cookies, doesn’t matter. But we wanted to make sure we were using physical mail as a way to stand out. So we did that every quarter, they would get something, ideally.

Secondarily what we would do is we would go to their conferences. We made sure that we had a booth, and we were hopefully speaking at the conference, or at least-

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, very present.

Corey Quinn:

… having a present. Because what we learned is that, especially SMB local service businesses who are in a vertical or an industry, they want to do business belly to belly. And so we had to get out from behind the computer and we had to get in front of them and start talking to them and building a true relationship with them at the bar, at the club, to having events and having experiences with them so that they could build trust with us. And the other thing that we would do is the traditional inbound marketing around content about PPC, and just making sure that anytime that an attorney, a personal injury attorney was in the buying process, that we were visible.

You combine these three approaches, the outbound, the inbound, what I call the experiential, being involved in the conferences and the associations and just being present in the industry. We had a lot of at bats.

Drew McLellan:

Right. All right. I want to talk to you about what happened when you actually got an at bat. First, let’s take a quick break and then we’ll talk about how you engage. Once they raised their hand and said, okay, I will have a conversation, then wha