Episode 230

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Many agency owners are familiar with the book Traction by Gino Wickman and his Entrepreneurial Operating System. It’s a fantastic methodology for improving your agency’s ability to scale effectively, growing a leadership team and building a more sustainable, profitable agency. If you implement Traction properly. Otherwise, it can be a huge waste of time and money.

Traction” is not just a book — it is a new way of running your business so that you can delight your clients but also make your own agency a priority. No more “cobbler’s children have no shoes” excuses about why your website is never updated, your internal priorities are ignored or your agency is stuck in terms of growth and profitability.

I have served many agencies as their Traction implementer and through that experience have figured out some of the biggest pitfalls, mistakes and challenges that agencies run into when they launch Traction inside their shop. In this solocast, I will walk you through the benefits of Traction and how to get the most from the effort.

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 | Using Traction to scale and strengthen your agency with Drew McLellan

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • How agency owners can benefit from Traction and EOS
  • How to build your agency’s traction team
  • How to implement Traction in your agency
  • What decisions/practices impact the effectiveness of Traction in our agencies
  • How to navigate the challenging segments of the Traction process
“Traction forces agency owners to prioritize internal challenges and stop making excuses for not getting them done.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “It is astonishing how much a team can get done in the calendar year if they honor the Traction process.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “If you aren’t hitting your minimum goal for profitability, it means there are broken pieces within your agency that require your time and attention. A system, process, or tool like EOS will help you identify the problem and fix it.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “Traction is a way of running your business where internal priorities are treated like real priorities.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “The first year of Traction is extremely challenging because it uncovers things that you’ve swept under the rug and avoided talking about for a long time.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet

AMI works with agency owners by:

  • Leading agency owner peer groups
  • Offering workshops for agency owners and their leadership teams
  • Offering AE Bootcamps
  • Conducting individual agency owner coaching
  • Doing on-site consulting
  • Offering online courses in agency new business and account service

Because he works with over 250+ agencies every year, Drew has the unique opportunity to see the patterns and the habits (both good and bad) that happen over and over again. He has also written several books, including Sell With Authority (2020) and been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Fortune Small Business. The Wall Street Journal called his blog “One of 10 blogs every entrepreneur should read.”

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Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to midsize agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market. We’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable. And if you want, down the road, sellable. With 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. Super excited to bring you another episode of Build a Better Agency. We’ve been doing these since 1925. Wow. Am I old? We’ve been doing these since 2015, not 1925. Although that would be impressive. Anyway, we’ve been doing these for the last almost five years now, and I am always a little relieved and always very grateful when someone stops and says that they enjoy the podcast, that the content is useful or helpful to them. Whether I get a note on LinkedIn from somebody I don’t know, or someone I do know mentions a specific episode, it’s very gratifying. I know how busy you are. I know how busy I am, and how hard it is to pack in professional development. And all the amazing choices we have out there to get smarter every day. And so that you choose to keep coming back to this podcast and that you allow us to be a value to you is really a privilege. And I don’t want you to think in any way, shape, or form that I take that for granted or I don’t recognize just how lucky we are. So thank you very much for being here and listening to this episode and any of the other episodes.

This episode is a solo cast. So as you know if you are a regular listener, four out of the five weeks, I have a guest on the show. And it is my job to kind of crawl through their head on your behalf and ask the questions that you would ask. And in the solo casts, I’m kind of crawling through my own head. Thinking about something that I’ve had a lot of conversations with agency owners about, or agency leaders, and that I want to get on your radar screen. So that’s what we’re going to do today. So settle in. It’s just you and me talking about a topic that I think is of value and important to you.

Before that, a couple of quick announcements. Number one, it’s been a while since I have reminded you to go grab a copy of the AMI Sweet Spot Client Filter. So you’ve probably heard me say either on the show or in person that all clients are great clients, but they are all not great clients for our agency. And the more clarity we can have around what kind of clients we actually knock it out of the park for, that we delight time in and time again, that are great referral sources, that we are excited to go see them and they’re excited to see us. The more we can match that well with our clients, the better it is for our business, the better it is for our mental health. The better it is for our staff retention. Having clients that are a good fit with your agency is not just good business. It just makes life easier and more enjoyable.

So head over to the Agency Management Institute website. So agencymanagementinstitute.com/client-filter. And you can download the Sweet Spot Client Filter for free, walk yourself through the exercises to sort of identify what the criteria are for you that you should weigh a prospect against to decide if they are a good fit for your agency or not. So please take full advantage of that. That’s a great leadership team exercise as well. You don’t have to do it by yourself, but I hope you will take advantage of that. And put it into play, because it really makes such a huge difference. Not only in your win ratio, but how happy you are about the wins.

Another thing I want to tell you about is, and if you happen to be watching the video, this book Sell with Authority just came out. This is a book that I co-authored with my friend and agency owner Stephen Woessner from Predictive ROI. And the whole point of this book is it is a selling philosophy and methodology for how you can attract and win clients that are perfect for your agency. And the premise of it is that you want to have a position of authority or a depth of expertise in something. Whether it’s a niche, an industry. It might be in an audience, it might be in an audience that your client serves. It might be in a geography. So there’s lots of ways to niche yourself. But there’s something that you have a depth of expertise in that does indeed differentiate you from other agencies.

And then the book goes into other ways to deepen that differentiation and how to really position yourself as something very different. And how that positioning attracts the right kind of client to you. And that it’s easier for you to track down and woo the right kind of client. So it’s available on Amazon and other bookstores. If you read it, would greatly appreciate a review or your thoughts about it by email. Always happy to hear what everybody thinks, but we’re excited about it. It was about a year and a half in the making, so we’re happy to have it done and happy to have it out on the bookshelves, and hopefully happy to have it in your hands serving and helping your agency.

Speaking of ratings and reviews, as you know every week about, I am reminding you to go to iTunes, or Stitcher, or Google, iHeartRADIO, wherever you download the podcast and to leave us a rating or review or both. And what I’m asking you to do when you do that is to take a screenshot of it. Because oftentimes your username, like if it’s your iTunes username or something else, it doesn’t actually tell me who you are and what agency you work for. So take a screenshot. And if it’s fluffybunny102, send it to me. Send me a screenshot of your review, and remind me who you are and what agency you work at. And we will put your name in a drawing. And then on every solo cast, I announce a winner from that drawing. So every five weeks, we give away a free seat to one of our live workshops or a free license, a free seat in essence to one of our on-demand or video courses workshops. And those retail for about $2,000 if you’re not an AMI member. So pretty good sized prize to win just for leaving a rating or review.

And this month, Becky Chumley from Evolve Impact Group. Congratulations Becky, thanks for your review. You are the winner for this solo cast for this month. So I will be reaching out to you to find out which live workshop or which on-demand workshop you would like to take advantage of. And we’ll go from there. So again guys, it only takes five minutes. And if you can win a free workshop for your team member, that doesn’t suck. Right? All right, last thing I’m going to talk to you about, and then I’m going to tell you about the show. And we’re going to get right into it.

So I have talked to you before on the show, but I have been frustrated for years that there was not a conference that was truly built for small to midsize agencies. And so I finally decided that instead of being frustrated, I should do something about it. So I have stuck my neck out and I have launched the Build a Better Agency Summit, which will be May 19th and 20th in Chicago, Illinois. It is going to be amazing. And it’s going to be amazing because of two things. One, the remarkable people who are going to be there, the agency owners and leaders who are coming to learn, to teach, to share with each other what they already know or what they’ve found works. To commiserate about the challenges, to recognize they’re not as alone in the world as they thought they were, that other people have some of the same opportunities and challenges that they do. So I think that people who are going to attend are amazing. And I will say I think the agenda is off the charts.

So we’re going to talk about everything from biz dev, to money, to succession planning. We’ve got some remarkable speakers who are going to talk to you about everything around how to push aside that impostor syndrome and step into your confidence in what you’re good at. Because we all suffer from that sometimes. Without a doubt, sometimes every one of us is about to step on a stage or step in front of a prospect, or in front of our team. And we think, “Can I really do this? Are they going to see through it? Maybe I don’t know as much as they think I do.” Or I want to. We’re going to talk about that. We’re going to talk about how to use ideas and storytelling to drive someone to action. So how do you weave a story in a way that is so compelling that someone can’t not take action? So whether that’s a biz dev presentation, or it’s a staff meeting, or it’s trying to get a client to renew a contract, we’re going to talk about all of that.

We’re going to talk about succession planning and how agencies do and don’t get bought and sold today. And what makes an agency attractive to a buyer, and what detracts from that attraction. How you build more value in your agency today, whether you want to sell it or not. And all the different ways you could think about divesting yourself of your agency down the road when you’re ready to retire.

And we’re going to have subject matter experts who do this stuff with no one but agencies. So everyone at the conference, both attendees and speakers live the agency life. They live, and breathe, and talk about agencies all day long, and small to midsize agencies just like yours.

So the conference is the 19th and 20th of May. Grab a ticket. Now one of the things I’m most excited about for the conference are the round tables. So imagine you want to talk about tax strategies. And you want to sit around with a bunch of other agency owners and hear what their tax strategies are. You’re willing to share some of yours. And you want a subject matter expert at the table to give you all ideas that none of you have thought about. So twice during the conference, you’re going to be able to cherry pick between about 18 different topics where you’re going to sit with 10 to 12 or 15 agency owners and a subject matter expert, and have a really in-depth, practical, tangible conversation around topics that matter to you. So it’s everything from growing your leaders, to evaluating clients, to biz dev, to taxes, to legal issues, all kinds of things. And you’re going to be able to show up as both a teacher and a student, and add value while you take value away. And I’m super excited about it.

And if you’re an AMI member, so you’re a live peer group member, you’re a virtual peer group member. You are an associate member. So silver, gold, or platinum, you are eligible to come in on Monday the 18th. We’re going to meet right after lunch. We’re going to have an afternoon of learning. And then we’re going to all have dinner together. So kind of a AMI family dinner before the actual conference starts on Tuesday. So it’s not too late to join AMI as an associate member if you want to do that, and you can go to the website and check that out. But either way, head over to the website, learn more about the conference. We’re still on early bird pricing. So grab your tickets while they are as inexpensive as they’re going to get. And we would love to have you join us.

I want a resounding demonstration that I was right, that we as an industry want this conference. So I want to sell this thing out, because then I’m going to do it every year. So join us for this inaugural event and help me make it an annual thing. Okay? All right. Let’s get to the topic at hand.

So very often when I am either meeting new agency owners, or I’m talking to my current members or whatever it is, Traction comes up. So Traction if you’re not familiar with it is a book by a guy named Gino Wickman. It’s a business fable. And inside the book, he teaches this what he calls entrepreneurial operating system. And it is a series of very specifically designed meetings. And the goal is to help a business do the things that a business always struggles to get done. So you all [inaudible 00:13:02] me about the cobbler’s children having no shoes. So when you say to me, “Oh yeah, we’ve been meaning to do new job descriptions for a year, but haven’t got it done. We absolutely need to get our website updated. We don’t have enough time to do our own marketing. We are struggling to put together a target list of prospects. We’re having a hard time figuring out how to manage continuing education for our team.”

Whatever it is, there are all these really important things that you need and want to get done for your agency that are never on fire. Because they’re not a client deadline. You’re not going to get fired if you don’t get them done. So oftentimes because everyone’s plates are so full, these are the very important things that honestly never get done. We never get to these things. And oftentimes, they sit on the agency owner’s plate. And you commit to your team that you’re going to do them. And then you don’t get them done. And you break promise, after promise, after promise. Or someone on your leadership team commits to doing it. And then they don’t get it done, or they do it sort of haphazardly, or it never goes anywhere. It never gets to the next step. It never gets executed. Maybe there’s a plan written, but no one ever actually puts effort into bringing it to life.

These are the kinds of things that Traction solves. So Traction is a way of thinking about your business and a way of managing your business where those internal priorities actually are treated like priorities.

So there’s a companion book also called Rocket Fuel. And that’s a book that was written by Gino Wickman and a guy named Mark Winters, who I had on the show in episode 102. And part of Traction is the acknowledgement that inside most organizations, there are two kinds of leaders. There’s a visionary, which is often the agency owner. Big picture thinker, broad ideas, big, bold ideas. Maybe not so awesome at details or execution. And then there is an integrator. And oftentimes, that might be your chief operating officer, or director of agency services, or some cases it’s your CFO, or it might be your director of account services. But anyway, it’s somebody who, in some cases, it’s the person who drives traffic inside your shop. Somebody who’s driving the day-to-day excellence in your agency and making sure everything actually gets done.

And what Traction does is Traction helps agencies. It was written for businesses. So let me say that first off. It was written for businesses, not specifically agencies. But in our world, it helps agencies actually grow the business by building out the infrastructure and improving systems, processes, and people so that your agency can keep evolving, and growing, and getting better, and getting more profitable. It is not an easy thing. So let me describe for you sort of how Traction works. And then we’ll talk about some of the ins and outs and some of the problems where people sort of get stuck.

So the way Traction works is the first thing is the agency owners, you would put together a Traction team. And typically, these are going to be people who sit at a leadership level inside your organization. They’re often department heads. But one of the mistakes that is often made when agencies are building their attraction team is that these are also people that you’ve probably had to have some conversations with that maybe you have not had. And just know that in Traction, those conversations are going to come up. One of the key elements of Traction is that everyone can think about what’s best for the agency, as opposed to what’s best for them or their department. So they very much have to be of the we mentality, not the me or my department mentality.

And by the way, Traction is always implemented by someone. In most cases, and it is most successful if you have an outsider facilitate your Traction meetings. I’ll talk a little bit more about why I think that is true as opposed to doing it yourself. But you’re going to have someone in the meeting with you. So either it’s going to be one of you who is going to serve as implementer, or it’s going to be an outsider.

When it’s one of you, the challenge is number one, you are used to letting each other off the hook and not having the hard conversations that you need to have. And an outside implementer if they’re good won’t let you off the hook. But two, it’s very difficult to participate and facilitate. So in cases where agencies self-facilitate, it’s typically the agency owner, or if you have an integrator. So I’ve got an agency, and their CFO facilitates.

But I will tell you, I have never ever met an agency who self-implements Traction where it’s anywhere near as successful as if they have an outside implementer. So I guess Drew bias number one is I do not believe you should self-implement.

So let me just give you a framework of my experience with Traction. So right after Traction came out, probably a year or so after Traction came out. And they were starting to teach this methodology where you have these series of meetings over the course of the year to implement Traction. My agency implemented it. We brought an outside implementer in, he worked with us for a while. And then since then, we have self-implemented, which by the way I am a fan of. But I think you have to learn certain skills, some difficult conversations skills, and other things that are much easier to learn with an implementer before you should do it on your own. But anyway, so we have been Traction fans for many, many years.

I also in my AMI role, so that’s my agency on a role. In my AMI role, I facilitate or implement Traction for agencies. So I have worked with dozens of agencies over the year implementing Traction. And my original plan was that, the way I structured it was I would implement it for a year and then they would self-implement. And I will tell you that about half of my clients, that’s exactly what happened. And I would say of the half of my clients that decided to self-implement, half of those people have just let it fall apart. And the other half are still doing it with rigor. And the other half after a year said, “You know what? We don’t think we’re capable, or we don’t want to try and be capable of having some of these kinds of conversations without someone facilitating those conversations. So we want you to keep facilitating.” So I have done that for some agencies. I’m in year three or four with a couple of agencies.

But anyway, so I’ve seen it from both sides. I have lived it inside my own organization, and I have facilitated it dozens of times for agencies. And it’s incredibly powerful. So here’s how it works. Here’s how the structure works. So by the way, the book is a super easy read. So if I’m piquing your interest, grab the book in an afternoon or a weekend, you’ll have it read.

You start with a two day kickoff meeting. And in that kickoff meeting, you identify some critical things, values, sweet spot clients, where you’re best at, you set goals for one year, three years, five or 10 years, depending on what you want to do. You identify or you confirm the agency’s values that you’re going to live by and you’re going to hold everybody to. And we’ll talk about how important that is in a minute.

But anyway, you spend about two days, day and a half doing some big planning. And then you also are learning the Traction rhythm. So sort of how Traction works. And if you’ve heard anyone talk about they have rocks that they have to accomplish, that’s Traction terminology. So what it means is a big quarterly goal. So you’re going to have this two day planning meeting. And then every quarter after that, you’re going to have a full day offsite meeting with the Traction team. And at the quarterly meetings, you’re going to talk about two things. One, you’re going to check the boxes that all the rocks you committed to in the last quarter actually got done. And two, you’re going to resolve a bunch of issues and then set the rocks for the next quarter and assign those to everybody around the table on the Traction team.

So you’ve got the annual planning meeting. You have the quarterly meetings. And then you have weekly, what’s called a level 10 meeting. And that’s the Traction team by themselves. So whether you use an outside implementer like me or not, they’re not really a part of the weekly meetings. That’s self-administered inside the Traction team. And that’s a 90 minute meeting where you follow a very specific agenda. And what that does is that makes sure that the train stays on the tracks so that when you get together at the next quarterly meeting, everyone’s rock is done, and there are no big looming issues.

So Traction is this amazing tool that like I said, helps you get big internal goals met. So one of the things that I do with folks that I coach through Traction is at the end of the year, so we’ve had the planning meeting, and then three quarterly meetings. So we’ve gone through a whole year. We’re coming back around to the next two day planning meeting or day and a half planning. And that’s a place where we celebrate everything we accomplished for the last year. And then we revise goals and we set some big goals for the upcoming year. Three years, five years, 10 years.

One of the things that I have my people do is I have them put together a deck of every rock that got accomplished over the course of the year. And they have to present it to the entire Traction team. And I will tell you that there’s not been a time that I have done that with a client where there isn’t cheering, or clapping, or even crying. There’s a lot of pride. It’s astonishing. It is astonishing how much a team can get done in a calendar year if they honor the Traction process. There has never been a time that we have not gone through that sort of presentation exercise where even though they’ve been there the whole time, they’re not sort of amazed at what they got done. This is a very powerful tool if it is done with rigor and consistency.

So where people fall off the rails a little bit is when they sort of do Traction. So I’ve had some agency owners say, “Well, I’ve cherry picked bits and pieces of Traction that I think work for us.” Doesn’t work. Or, “I self-implement, but we’re sort of stuck in this one place. We’ve been stuck for a while. And yeah, we get about half of our rocks done.” Doesn’t work.

This is a all or none commitment. And it takes courage, and time commitment, and bravery and a willingness to have really difficult conversations. So if you’re not willing to do all of that, don’t do it. Because then you’re just wasting everybody’s time. It’s just one more internal meeting. And if there’s anything none of us need is another useless internal meeting. So if you’re not really ready to be brave enough to change and to face the difficult truths that get in the way of you changing, don’t pick up the book. Don’t bother. All right? But if you are, it can be amazing.

So I want to take a quick break, and then I want to tell you about some of the things that we do that either make this work really well or keep it from working really well. All right? We’ll be right back.

I hate to take you away from this week’s content. But I just want to put a little bug in your ear. We have some amazing workshops coming up in the first quarter of 2020, and I want to make sure they’re on your radar screen. So there are two in January. There’s the Build & Nurture Your Agency’s Sales Funnel, which is January 23rd and 24th in Orlando, Florida. We are literally going to not only show you how to build a sales funnel, but we’re going to actually walk you through the exercise of doing it so that you leave with a completed or near complete sales funnel. So that’s a Thursday/Friday.

And then on Monday/Tuesday, our good friends at Mercer Island Group are going to join us. And they’re going to talk to us about the prospect’s buying journey. So they’ve been working with brands and helping them pick agencies for years now. And one of the things they’ve been studying is what do prospects or what brands do as they are beginnin