Episode 340

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One of the unfortunate truths of our business is that as agency owners, we are almost never in the driver’s seat when it comes to sales engagements. At the end of the day, we have no way to inspire, incent, cajole, bribe, or trick someone into buying agency services until they have a genuine need for them. But, with so much of our focus centered around not making an ask at the wrong time, it’s no surprise that so many of us are left with the same question — when CAN we sell?

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, we’re going to answer that question in a few different ways. First, we’re going to talk about what the “right time” to sell looks like not only for our prospects but also for existing clients and former clients. We’re also going to explore ways we as agency owners can accelerate the sales process (because yes, that’s a thing we can do), provide value to our prospects long before we’re in their consideration set, and use our positions of authority to grow our reputation and crush our business development goals — all without selling.

For 30+ years, Drew McLellan has been in the advertising industry. He started his career at Y&R, worked in boutique-sized agencies, and then started his own (which he still owns and runs) agency in 1995. Additionally, Drew owns and leads the Agency Management Institute, which advises hundreds of small to mid-sized agencies on how to grow their agency and its profitability through agency owner peer groups, consulting, coaching, workshops, and more.

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 Owners

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How agency owners can know whether or not it’s the right time to sell
  • What the right time to sell looks like for your prospects, existing clients, and even for clients who’ve parted ways with your agency
  • Why agency owners are not always in the driver’s seat when it comes to engaging business development opportunities — and why that’s ok
  • How to ensure that you’re providing value to your prospects long before they’re on your radar
  • What agency owners can do to accelerate the sales process
  • The reason Drew says you shouldn’t try to sell until after you’ve been helpful
  • How agencies are crushing their business development goals — without selling
“We have no way to inspire, incent, bribe, cajole, or trick someone into buying agency services before they need them.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “How am I going to make their job better? How am I going to help them be better at their job? If you can’t answer those questions then do not engage.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “If they don’t have a need then they don’t have a need; there’s nothing you can do to make them reach for their wallet. But, you can invigorate their interest in you so that they want to hear more about your agency and the work you do.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “The sell doesn’t have to be hard. It doesn’t have to be aggressive.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “Be loud, be proud, be who you are — but above all else be helpful.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Drew McLellan:

Speaker 1:

It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run, traditional, digital, media buying, web dev, PR, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build A Better Agency podcast presented by White Label IQ will show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road, sellable. 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 with another episode of Build A Better Agency. Thanks for coming back if you are a regular listener. If this is your first episode, hopefully it will be a great experience and you will come back every week. We’ve been doing this for, gosh, almost seven years now, and we have never missed a week. And we just really work hard at trying to get you thinking about your business in a way that is different, that gets you fired up about going to work and building your agency.

Drew McLellan:

Whether you are an agency owner or an agency leader, our job is to be here every week, giving you tools, inspiration, people, resources to do the work better and to build the agency to make more money, keep more money of the money that you make, all of those things. This episode is one of my solo casts. So every fifth episode, traditionally, I hang out just with you, so no guest, just you and me talking about something that I’ve either been asked or I’ve been talking to a lot of agency owners and leaders about, or something that’s just banging around in my head that I really feel like we need to have a conversation around. And so that’s what we’re going to do today.

Drew McLellan:

Before we do that, if you’re listening to this in real time, it is the week of April 11th, and that means we are about six weeks away from the 2022 Build A Better Agency Summit. If you are a long-time listener, you know that I had this hair-brained idea that agencies, small agencies, small to mid-size agencies, two employees, five employees, 20 employees, 50 employees, couple of hundred employees, privately held agencies that are small, that fly under the radar screen of every other conference and most of the other consultants, that we needed a conference that really focused on us and how we could improve our business and our lives because of our business.

Drew McLellan:

And so I had the brilliant idea to launch a conference to take that risk in May of 2020, was when the inaugural event was supposed to be. We ended up moving it to November of 2020. Of course, COVID said no to that. And so finally, we got together in August of 2021 in person in Chicago, sold out conference. My goal is to keep it super small and super intimate. So there were 225 people there, and we had a blast. We learned a lot, we laughed a lot, we hugged a ton. It was healing to be together, it was inspiring to be together. And I think everybody left fired up.

Drew McLellan:

In fact, I had one person say, “I’ve never been to a conference before where I didn’t want to leave, but I just don’t want to leave these people in this place and this feeling that I got here this week.” Which was so much what I wanted to create. So it was awesome. So we’ve decided, of course, to do it again in 2022. And it’s coming up May 24th and 25th. And I want to tell you a little bit about it and who the keynote speakers are, because I really do think this is a different kind of conference. I’m working hard to make it a different conference. So here’s AMI’s understanding of the world, is most of you are accidental business owners.

Drew McLellan:

You own an agency or you lead an agency, but it wasn’t really the plan. Or maybe it was the plan, but now that you’re doing it, you’re like, “Oh shoot, this is more or different than I thought it would be.” Our job is to come alongside you and help you run the business of the business better. We’re not going to teach you how to do SEO better, we’re not going to teach you about branding or PR, I know you’ve got that nailed. But I do know that for many of you, the struggles of owning an agency or leading an agency are around how to do that better, how to actually run the agency in a way that it is meaningful and fruitful and profitable for you.

Drew McLellan:

So that’s what AMI is all about. And so that’s what I wanted the conference to be on. I really wanted to focus on how do you, the agency owner and leader, get better and grow? And when I say get better, I mean better at your job, have a better life, have a better legacy, all of those things. And so we have literally packed this conference with speakers, and we’re going to talk about biz dev and we’re going to talk about imposter syndrome, and we’re going to talk about how to grow your agency through content. And we’re going to talk about thought leadership, and research. We’re going to talk about legal stuff. We’re going to talk about taxes. We’re going to talk about hiring a lot. We’re going to talk a lot about hiring.

Drew McLellan:

So we’ve got three different kinds of presenters at the conference. We have the round table, so imagine 30 different topics, and you’re going to sit at a table, you and eight to 10 other agency owners and leaders, you’re going to sit at a table with a subject matter expert, and you’re going to talk for an hour. And not only are they going to talk, but it’s not really them giving a presentation, it’s them leading and facilitating a conversation and you showing up as both a teacher and a student. So you’re going to learn from the other owners, you’re going to learn from the subject matter expert.

Drew McLellan:

And you’re going to get to do that three times over the course of two days, you’re going to pick the topics that matter most to you. So how to accelerate the hiring process, some tax strategies for 2022 and beyond, how to leverage research for your clients to help them make better choices, the five legal issues that get agencies into trouble and how to avoid them. I’m talking topic after topic, after topic. It’s going to be spectacular. How to manage cash flow, what financial reports you need to look at to know your agency is healthy. All kinds of topics around all kinds of people topics, money topics, process topics, all of it. How to groom one of your internal members to buy your agency someday, all kinds of stuff.

Drew McLellan:

The roundtables are going to happen three times over the course of two days. Then we have breakout speakers. We have nine different breakout speakers. They’re packed in groups of three, so you’re going to look at the three, choose the one you want, and then go to that one. So again, everything from biz dev to research to that imposter syndrome, just off the top of my head. Some amazing speakers with them raising topics. So we’ve got 30 some speakers plus the nine, so we’re up to 40 speakers. And then we’ve got six keynotes of people who are going to take the main stage and they are going to light it up.

Drew McLellan:

They’re all professional speakers with amazing pedigrees, except for me. And I’ll get to me a minute, but the rest of them are spectacular. So Carla Johnson is going to talk about how to rethink about innovation and how to bake innovation and big picture thinking into your agency and that everybody in the agency can and should be able to do that, and she’s going to show you how. Pam Slim is going to talk about how to build a community around you with partnerships that help you grow your business. Adam Carroll is going to talk about how to build a legacy for yourself. What life legacy do you want to leave and how do you do that outside of the agency?

Drew McLellan:

What does that mean for you? Is that scholarships for a cause that matters to you? Is it taking care of generations of your family? Really understanding what that legacy is and then how to bring it to life and how to make it happen? Drew Davis is going to talk about how do we pivot for success? And how to we take even the most dire of circumstances, like a pandemic, for example, and how do we use that as energy to reinvent and pivot our business so that we can be successful for the long run?

Drew McLellan:

All of you are asking me, “What’s new? What’s new? What’s new? What are the agencies doing?” Drew’s going to talk to you about how to figure that out for your agency and your clients and your team. And then Sue Dyer’s going to talk about what a leader do we actually need to be in this world today? And what does that look like? And how do we get there? How do we become that kind of leader? These people have all written like Wall Street Journal bestselling books, they speak on stages all over the world, they are amazing human beings. They’re going to be with us for the whole conference. You’re going to get to meet them and interact with them and pick their brains.

Drew McLellan:

And then, the, not the last because I’m not the closing speaker, but rounding out that amazing thoroughbred pedigree of people is me, the pound puppy of the crowd. But what I’m going to talk about is, I know a lot of you are really tired, and I know you’re asking yourself questions about if you’ve got enough gas in the tank. Even if you know you have enough gas in the tank and you’re just starting out, how do you get your mojo back? And how do you get fired up about the business when it feels like every time you turn around, there’s a pandemic and then clients are leaving and then employees are quitting and it’s hard to find new ones.

Drew McLellan:

It feels like we’ve taken a lot of knocks and we’ve been knocked to our knees a couple times over the last couple years. So I’m going to talk about how do you stand back up and how do you stand up strong? And what does that look like? I’m hoping that that’ll be helpful. But anyway, we have these amazing speakers. And of course, then if you’re an AMI member, then you also get to come on May 23rd for the afternoon where we’re going to have panel discussions on biz development, and hiring and staffing, and how to think about agency’s next step. So is that selling it? Is it shutting it down? Is it succession planning? What does that look like? And how do you get the most value out of your agency if that’s something you want to do.

Drew McLellan:

Those are member-only conversations. We have subject matter experts to lead panels and discussions. And then we’re going to go out to dinner Monday night before the conference starts on Tuesday. So whether you’re a silver, gold, platinum member, whether you’re a virtual peer group member, a live peer group member, you are welcome to attend member day on Monday, the 23rd. And everybody is welcome to attend Tuesday and Wednesday. By the way, you can become a member and sign up for member day and save money on the conference too.

Drew McLellan:

So that’s a strategy if you want to try that version of getting there, but we only have about, I’m going to say 50 or 75 tickets left. We rolled up the number of attendees to 300 this year. So it’s going to be a little bigger, but I think it’s still going to be super intimate and really awesome. And I would very much like you to be there. So if you are interested at all, head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com, and in the upper left corner of the navigation, you’re going to see BABA Summit, Build A Better Agency Summit. Click on it, you can read about the speakers, you can register. You can sign up for the round tables that you want, and you can join us in Chicago May 24th and 25th. I hope you do.

Drew McLellan:

All right. So let me tell you what I want to talk about today. I got an email from a podcast listener, and he was talking about the series I did when we kicked off the year and I shook things up and said, “You know what, rather than having my normal four guests and then a solo cast, I want to do six solo casts in a row and I want to really focus on biz dev and I really want to get you kicked off the year in a big, bad way around business development.” And so I did that. And so he sent me a note and he said, “Hey, I listened to the whole series and I need some help because you talk through the series, one of the things you talk about is not to sell, but then you also say you have to be out there doing biz dev and selling every day. So I’m confused, when can I sell? And when do I actually begin to get a little more aggressive?”

Drew McLellan:

So here’s what I’m going to tell you. We’re going to talk about this from three different perspectives. We’re going to talk about it with existing clients, prospects, and former clients. But first, let me lay some groundwork here. This is an unfortunate truth about our business. We have no way to inspire, incent, bribe, cajole, trick someone into buying agency services before they need them. There is no coupon, there’s no buy one, get one free, there’s no holiday like Presidents Day where we get to have a sale, none of that. We have none of that. We are a considered purchase. We are not inexpensive.

Drew McLellan:

I don’t care if you charge 50 bucks for a logo or you charge $50,000 for a logo, to your audience, you’re probably expensive. You are a considered purchase. And so I think we have to start with the truth, which is, until somebody has a need and wants to buy something, we’re out of luck. We have to just be patient and we have to wait until they need us and then we have to be in the consideration set. The whole strategy around the book that Stephen Woessner and I wrote, Sell with Authority, is this idea that when you have a position of authority, when you are subject matter expert, and we believe that that works out better if you are specialized or have a niche.

Drew McLellan:

Remember, a niche could be an industry, it could be an audience, it could be a deliverable or a result. But when you are a subject matter expert, your prospects and even your clients are learning from you all of the time, way before they hire you or way before they’re going to give you more money. And they just want to be in your presence because you keep giving them great content that helps them do their job better. And I think in the book, you must use the phrase, “Does this help my prospect be better at job today probably eight million times?”

Drew McLellan:

Because that’s the question to ask before you put out any content or you pick up the phone and make a phone call or you walk up to a trade show booth, “How am I going to make their job better? How am I going to help them be better at their job?” And if you can’t answer that question, do not engage, do not engage because then all you are is somebody trying to sell them something. And we all know how we react to that. None of us are excited about somebody showing up who just, all they want to do is put their hand in our pocket. We don’t love it and neither do our prospects. So we have to acknowledge, first, number one, that we are not in the driver’s seat when it comes to agency, product or services sales.

Drew McLellan:

All we can do is be very present and have engaging conversation and be helpful. And at some point in time, when that person needs an agency, they will raise their hand. Now, there are some ways to accelerate that, we’ll get to that in a little bit. I want to use an analogy. I was trying to remember, and I tried to actually look to see if I have used this analogy before on the podcast. So if you’ve already heard it, just settle back in and listen again. If you haven’t heard it, I think you’ll find it useful. It’s probably one of my all-time favorite analogies. So I have to think after almost 400 episodes, I probably have used it at some point. But hopefully, it will either refresh your memory or it will strike a spark for you.

Drew McLellan:

So I want you to think about our prospects. And by the way, this can be about existing customers too, or existing clients. I want you to think about our prospects as deer. And we own a house that butts right up against this forest where all the deer live. And our goal is to get the deer to literally walk up through our yard, walk onto our patio and eat deer food right out of our hand. That’s our goal. So that is my analogy for someone actually buying something from us. They’re going to eat from our hand. We know that deer are in the forest and we want them to slowly start to come out and begin to trust us.

Drew McLellan:

So what we do is we do some research and we learn about deer, and we understand that deer eat different things than squirrels and rabbits and wolves and fox and whatever else is also in the forest, snakes, whatever’s there. Hopefully, there isn’t some snakes in the forest, not a fan. But anyway, so we do some research and we learn about the deer, and we figure out what would be really nourishing and delicious, not just nourishing, but also delicious to the deer. And we go and we stock up so that we can, on a really consistent basis, feed the deer.

Drew McLellan:

And what we do is we start by putting the deer food right at the edge of the forest in our yard. So the deer hardly have to come out of the woods at all to get that delicious and nutritious deer food. And we do that every day. We put this delicious and nutritious deer food out there that’s going to nourish the deer, that’s going to make them stronger and better, but also going to make them happy. They’re going to enjoy the eating experience. And we’re going to put that out there and we’re going to do it every day. And pretty soon, the deer are going to come.

Drew McLellan:

And in the beginning, they’re going to be so timid because they think we’re going to run at them or shoot them or yell at them or make noise or scare them. But over time, we just put the food out and then we go back in the house, and we let the deer eat. And every day, they come back and there’s more delicious and nutritious food. So over time, they come to trust that that food will always be there, so they keep coming back and they bring their deer friends. And because of our research, they are only telling their deer friends, they’re not telling their rabbit friends or their wolf friends or their fox friends, or God help us, their snake friends.

Drew McLellan:

They’re not telling them because it’s not food for them. So they’re not interested in it. But they’re telling all their deer friends, so more and more deer are coming to the edge of the forest where the forest and our yard meet. And then what we start doing is, yes, keep putting the delicious and nutritious food right at the edge, but we put a bigger pile two or three feet in the yard. So they’re going to actually have to step into our yard a little bit to get the goods. They can get a snack little morsel, if you will, right at the edge, but we want to put even more two or three feet in.

Drew McLellan:

And we do the same thing, we go back in the house. We do that consistently over time. We let them come back day after day, week after week and just feed off of us. And they’re getting stronger, and they’re getting more confident. And they are becoming to rely on us because we are a source of nutrition and a great experience for them. And so we keep doing that and we keep putting the food closer and closer into the yard, closer and closer to the patio. And pretty soon, they’re halfway, they’re halfway into the yard. And this is where many of us may make the mistake.

Drew McLellan:

Again, remember, the original question was, “Drew, when do I sell?” Not when they’re in the middle of the yard. Not, not, not when they’re in the middle of the yard. So what happens is, they get halfway through the yard, they’re in the middle between the forest and the patio, they’ve been eating there for a couple weeks and we are so excited they’re there. We are so excited because we’re halfway to what we want them to do. And we get a little too excited. And you know what we do, we come out of the house or we go running at the deer with our hand out. We’re trying to be good, we’re trying to feed them more food, but we scare the crap out of the deer.

Drew McLellan:

And what do they do? They run back into the forest and then we have lost their trust and we got to start all over. And this time, it’s going to take even longer because they remember the fact that they gave us their trust and then we came running at them or we came out of the house or we made noise, whatever it was we did that we shouldn’t have done yet, we scared them. So now it’s even longer and slower of a process. Where we can just be patient, and this is the part that I think is so hard for us, if we can just be patient, we can literally train them because we’re giving them something that’s so delicious and so nutritious, such a great experience.

Drew McLellan:

They feel like they know these benefactors who are putting this food out. They feel grateful to us. They are coming closer and closer because the food just gets better and better and better, and they’re getting stronger, and we’re literally getting them through the winter sometimes by giving them this great, delicious and nutritious deer food. And we’re when they are way back by the forest, after a while, we come out on the patio and we just stand perfectly still. So they see who’s feeding them, but we don’t rush at them, we don’t make any noise, we don’t have food in our hand. We’re just standing there looking at them and watching them, letting them consume what we’ve put out.

Drew McLellan:

And over time, as we move the piles of delicious, nutritious food closer and closer to the patio with us standing on the patio, they will get used to us being there. They will come