Episode 88

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Alex Berman is the founder and SVP of Operations of a marketing and lead generation firm Experiment27. Alex is responsible for generating over $2.5 million in B2B sales and over $50 million in leads for his clients. He also creates weekly videos to help agency owners grow their businesses and bring in more revenue teaching them how to optimize B2B sales cycles and put inbound marketing strategies in place.

Alex was also Chief Marketing Sumo at InspireBeats, a company valued at over $100 million, former Director of Marketing at three time INC 5000 company Dom & Tom. He is also a network video partner for Entrepreneur Magazine.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • The massive opportunity outbound marketing provides for agencies
  • How to know if your marketing strategy is the right marketing strategy
  • What to measure with your tracking software to make sure your leads are working
  • The best channels for capturing leads
  • Tailoring cold calls to the target
  • Why cold emails need to be short and to the point
  • Partnering with other agencies to take on overflow work/give away your overflow work
  • How to capture leads at meetups/in-person events
  • Making yourself memorable by connecting people
  • How to do the follow-up right (it differs if you’ve actually met them or not)
  • Why you need to set a KPI

 

The Golden Nugget:

“If you’re not getting more leads than you can handle, it’s time to look into your marketing.” – @alxberman Click To Tweet

 

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We’re proud to announce that Hubspot is now the presenting sponsor of the Build A Better Agency podcast! Many thanks to them for their support!

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’s Build A Better Agency podcast, presented by HubSpot. We’ll show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line, bringing us 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody, Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build A Better Agency. I am hoping that many of you are thinking about sales, but I think particularly marketing and sales for our agency. We’ve set goals, and we’re chasing after those goals. That’s why I think today’s guest is going to be really, really relevant for all of you. Let me tell you a little bit about him, and then we’re going to jump right into the conversation. Alex Berman is the founder and senior vice president of operations of a marketing and lead generation firm called Experiment 27.

He is responsible for generating over 2.5 million in B2B sales, and over 50 million in leads for his clients. They also create some great weekly videos to help agency owners grow their business and bring in more revenue by teaching them how to optimize B2B sale cycles, and put inbound marketing strategies in place. We’ll dig into all of that. Alex was also the chief marketing Sumo at InspireBeats, a company valued over a $100 million, and has served as the former director of marketing at three-time INC 5,000 company, Dom and Tom.

He’s also a network video partner for Entrepreneur magazine. Alex, welcome to the show. Thanks for joining us.

Alex Berman:

Thanks for having me, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

You talk new business and biz dev all day with agency folks. Tell me, where do you think the biggest mistakes lie in the way that they pursue opportunity?

Alex Berman:

The biggest mistake, and it wasn’t really obvious until I started talking to a lot of agency founders, is most of them don’t have a solid outbound strategy. At least for marketing agencies, maybe they do, but my experience is iOS, Android, and then design agencies. Most of them, they’ll have a sales team, but the sales team is only handling inbound leads or doing account management, so selling and then working on the accounts. I think there’s a huge opportunity just by adding an outbound channel, and then looking through inbound. That’s the biggest blind spot that I think most agencies have.

Drew McLellan:

Well, my experience has been a lot of agency owners. When you talk about biz dev, their natural response is, “Well, we get so much work by referral. We don’t need anything,” but the truth is then what that means is whatever comes through the door, you have to take, whether it’s a good fit or not.

Alex Berman:

Right, and it’s cool to leverage inbound, right? There’s some agencies… I was just talking to an agency out in Boston that grew to 20 million just on referrals. They weren’t dealing with marketing. They didn’t even have a CMO or anything like that, which it’s amazing that that’s possible, but there are clients. The reason a lot of people get into agency work is to do the work they want to do, right? It’s the exact opposite to then sit back and wait for people to come to them. You should be out there pursuing the dream type of projects, the projects that will really get your teams going.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely, those sweet spot clients that you love working for, and that love the work that you do for them. Absolutely. If there’s an agency owner who’s listening now and saying, “Oh, that’s not me. I’m not… I have not said to Drew, which they all have said. I’ve not said to drew the cobbler’s children have no shoes.” We have a marketing strategy. How do they know if it’s the right marketing strategy?

Alex Berman:

How do you know if it’s the right marketing strategy? You have to look at… I mean, basically, you have to look at where you want to be as a company, right? Most agencies… I know on one of the other episodes of this podcast, you said most agencies get about 70% of their deal flow through referrals. I’ve seen about the same thing. If you’re getting more than 70%, let’s say you’re getting 100% of your deals through referrals, and you’re not doing any networking or any outbound at all, I mean, it’s definitely a good time to look at it.

If you feel like you could grow your business at all, and you feel boxed in at all by the number of leads you’re getting, so basically, if you’re not getting way more leads than you could deal with, I’d say it’s time to look into your marketing.

Drew McLellan:

If they have a strategy, how do they assess its appropriateness or if it’s right for what they’re trying to get to? Let’s say I have a clear idea of where I want my agency to be in one year, three years, 10 years. I have what I believe is a marketing or biz dev strategy. How do make sure that those two things match up?

Alex Berman:

First, as a baseline, you want to make sure you have some tracking software on your site that measures the number of contacts that are coming in, whether that’s HubSpot or even Google Analytics has good contact tracking. The piece of data that you want to look at is the source and then which sources are converting the most. When I sit down with an agency, the first thing I always do is dig into their analytics, and I’ll go back as long as the website’s been around. Whether it’s two years old or three years old or eight years old or whatever, I’ll pull it up, and I’ll pull up conversions for that entire timeline.

The one thing that I’d like to look for is what are the sites that have a very high time on site, but not a high volume of people? A good example of this is when I was a CMO, when I was director of marketing at Dom and Tom, I reviewed their analytics, and I found that Quora, the question and answer site Quora, had generated… It was two leads over the course of two years, right? Nothing, but of those leads, there was only a total of maybe it was 10 pieces of traffic. Something on Quora drove 10 visitors, and two of them converted. That’s a 20% conversion rate.

Based on that, I went out there, and we leveraged Quora. We wrote a whole bunch of Quora answers, did a whole breakdown, and we were able to drive that number up. After 30 days, we were getting 40 inbound leads a month just from Quora based on… It’s looking at your analytics, seeing what those underperforming channels are or those gold mines, and then leveraging those channels.

Drew McLellan:

For an agency typically, how many channels does it make sense for them to be really tracking and really having an active strategy to drive more people to and through?

Alex Berman:

I think it depends on your bandwidth. I know when I was building up Experiment 27, I tackled two channels at the same time, so cold email outreach was my go-to strategy. That’s the one that we used to get most of our clients to this day. But at the same time, I was doing cold email. I was doing YouTube and content, and that also generated leads. That’s the type of strategy you could work at the same time, because when you’re sending outbound emails, you have that blocked out. Then you’ve got some dead time. So in that dead time, I would film videos.

Then by the time the videos were done, people had responded to the emails. I’d say you could do one or two at the same time, prove them out. Normally, it takes… It depends on the channel. We can actually break down… I’ve actually found eight channels that almost always work for increasing agency leads, but each channel has a different amount of time to ramp up, but usually, it’s about 90 days per channel. I would try something between 60 and 90 days. If it’s not working, drop it. Otherwise, once that’s set up in 90 days, then you can start looking at other channels.

You can outsource that channel.

Drew McLellan:

Of the eight channels that you find are most reliable, tell us about the top two or three.

Alex Berman:

Sure. The number one is cold outreach and cold calling. I didn’t actually have cold calling as part of this until about a month ago, but we started leveraging cold calling for our clients. The thing that really blew me away was we were going out towards the fortune 500, so big companies. I have this woman on our team named Latisha. She was cold calling these companies using a strategy. We can talk about it if you want. She booked six enterprise meetings in six days with Morgan Stanley, and Publix, and Adidas, Dunkin Donuts, these giant companies, six of these big meetings in six days, which really sold me on cold calling.

Because before that, I was totally against it. I was like, “All right, just do cold email outreach.” Now, that’s one big channel. It’s the number one. Then the number two is actually directories and sponsorships, so getting on sites like awards, or they make apps, which is dead now or dying. Clutch.co is a big one, or leveraging Behance and Dribble, all of those directories and sponsoring your way to the top. That’s just the second largest channel. That’s actually… If you’re going to run two channels concurrently, I’d recommend doing directories and sponsorships because that’s more of a quicker play.

Your leads are going to shoot up immediately because you’re basically paying for them with sponsorships while outreach has a chance to ramp up.

Drew McLellan:

The listeners will kill me if I don’t circle back around and say, yes, I do want to hear about the strategy that allowed your employee to land six enterprise meetings with the likes of Morgan Stanley and Publix. Yes, tell us about that.

Alex Berman:

Sure. The way that most people do cold calling is… Especially agencies, if you’ve ever… Have you ever gotten a cold call from a random agency?

Drew McLellan:

No, probably not, because most agencies don’t target other agencies, but I certainly have talked to other agencies who either have tried cold calling, and it’s not gone well, or like you, like you said, before last week, you were, “No, we’re not doing that.” Their attitude I think is that that won’t work.

Alex Berman:

The thing is with actually all of these channels, most people think they won’t work because the initial gut reaction that agency founders have, the initial assumption, is almost always the same, and it’s always wrong for actually almost for every one of these channels. The initial assumption that I found with agency founders when they make cold calls is, “Hey, I’m going to call these guys, and I’m going to pitch what I do as an agency.” I’ll call you, and I’ll say, “Hey, I do iOS and web development. And if you have any work, let me know basically,” or they’ll send cold emails with a bunch of bullet points that just outline stuff.

What I found actually works for the fortune 500 is Latisha will go. First, we’ll make a list of the type of companies we want. We’ll niche it down by industry. So for instance, one of our clients right now… Dom and Tom’s still a client of ours, so we’re doing cold emailing for them right now. One of their case studies, their strongest case study is in the university space. It’s this project for University of Oklahoma. They redid the student onboarding process, and they built this custom application.

Now, their student retention rate is up, and they’ve got these analytics and things to back it up. What we did is we made a list of the top universities. There was about 408 or something like that in the United States. Now, Latisha is going in depth on each one of these universities. She’s researching sports teams. She’s researching goals for the year, and the whole… Basically, she’s trying to create a picture of each one of these agencies.

Then when she cold calls, the way she opens the call is saying something like, “Hey, I’ve been researching your goals for 2017. I realize you might be working on new student retention because of this press release. Do you have a couple minutes to talk? I’m with Dom and Tom. We just built an app for University of Oklahoma that’s increased their new student happiness or new student retention by 10%.” That’s the kind of thing that if it is something they’re actually working on, they’ll listen to, because you’re coming with a specific idea rather than just saying, “Hey, we do iOS development.”

Drew McLellan:

We’ve got the cold calling, and that makes perfect sense to do that. How long does it take her to do that research per target?

Alex Berman:

It really depends. I try not to have her spend more than 10 minutes on each target, unless you’re doing full-account-based sales. For the university, since there’s 408 of them, the best way to do it is to break down each one, and try to do 10 minutes of research on each one, then try to cold them. If you get through, you can try to pitch, because you’ve got the research. If you don’t get through, or if they’re not opening the emails, then it’s worth doing another round, so doing another 10 minutes on each that hasn’t responded or hasn’t opened the email, and finding some other hook, and wondering like, “Hey, is there some other contact that would be better? Is there a different part of the universe that you guys should go with? Should I not pitch student retention? Should I talk about sports? Where are the budgets?”

Basically, it’s like a lean or an agile model, right? You’ll spend as little amount of time as possible. Then you’ll try to reach out to all of them to get the low-hanging fruit. Then the ones that don’t respond, that’s when you start doing more and more research, because basically, you don’t want to spend more time than you have to.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. Is your outbound email model the same, where you start with some research, you open the email with something specific that you know that is on top of mind for them, and then talk about how you’ve helped someone else do that?

Alex Berman:

Yeah, basically. The way that I like to send cold emails, I always like to have a pretty generic subject line because it gets them to open, so question about University of Oklahoma or about University of Oklahoma and Dom and Tom, just something very generic that’s going to get them to open, so they actually see the email. Then it’ll say something like, “Hey, Mark, obviously a huge fan of the Sooners. Congrats on the game,” something very customized to their university, just a sentence or so. The actual email, I try to keep under five sentences total.

Then you move into something like this like, “My name’s Tom. I’m the founder at Dom and Tom. We do iOS development and digital strategy for universities. We actually just built an app for University of Oklahoma that has increased their student happiness by 10%. Looking at…” Let’s say it’s Caltech. “Looking at Caltech’s goals for the year, it seems like that might be something you’d be interested in improving as well. Then I’d love to have a quick chat, and go over what we did, and see if there’s any value. Does that sound interesting? If so, I can send over a couple times? Thanks, Tom.”

It’s very… The only thing that really needs to be customized is that first sentence. But if you noticed, the whole email is also very university specific. That goes back to the first point about digging in and figuring out a case study that you want to clone in different industries. Because if you send out… The way I like to look at it is if you have somebody cold calling or cold emailing the fortune 500, just in general, you’re going to hit… There are so many industries you’re hitting, 20, 30 different industries.

Each one of those is going to have a different customer. They’re going to have just different needs. They’re going to have a different vocabulary they use. So if you just target based on one industry, you can write an email that looks super customized, but it’s really just a template, and it’s niched down. That’s why we’re only targeting universities with this batch, and then we’ve got a couple other ones going on, one for financial institutions, one for healthcare, things like that.

Drew McLellan:

Well, it’s interesting when you say the email should be no more than five sentences, because I think that’s something that agencies struggle with. So even though it’s the exact same advice they give their clients, brevity, brevity, brevity, they’re not great at that themselves. They want to tell the whole story. Your example is a great reminder that all you’re trying to do is to get to the next step, and the next step is to have some sort of exchange.

Alex Berman:

Through working with agencies, based on what you know, why do you think that is? Why does a marketing agency who has built out marketing strategies over and over again, probably in B2B for dozens or even hundreds of clients, why can’t they see that their own marketing is not up to par?

Drew McLellan:

Well, I think it could be a couple things. One, I think oftentimes, they try and get it done really fast. They don’t give it the attention it needs. Number two, a lot of times, they shove it down to a junior person, because all their senior people are busy taking care of clients, so you don’t have the level of experience. I think some of it too is they suffered from the same human foibles that their clients do, which is, “I’m afraid this is my only shot at talking to them, so I have to tell them the whole story.”

I also just think in general, it’s just like their clients need to hire an agency to do marketing. I think it’s difficult for agencies to clearly see the outside of the bottle from inside the bottle, right?

Alex Berman:

Yeah, and I think we’re on the same page there. There’s a reason… I think the first point and the last point you made are key, right? It’s not that clients don’t value marketing, or they’re not good. It’s not that they’re not good at marketing, or they don’t know what to do. It’s the amount of time that they’re willing to invest in their own marketing, pales in comparison to the amount of time that they’re investing in clients marketing.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Alex Berman:

The way that I’ve gotten around that at Experiment 27 is hiring dedicated people. I’ve got a guy, and his only job is to do marketing for us. He works on the YouTube channel. He reaches out to podcasters. He tries to get us on the front page of Reddit. He does cold emailing not for Experiment 27, but we have the sales team for that. Having dedicated people and taking those resources and investing them in yourself, or hiring a consultant to point out the flaws is hugely important. Actually, I think that’s one of the main values that we offer at Experiment 27.

We do the execution, right? We’ll go through, and we’ll do all these marketing channels for agencies, but the biggest value is that initial month’s review, because one of the things we do is we’ll look through the analytics. We’ll look through all the cold emails that you’re sending, and point out the flaws. Where are your partnerships breaking down? What directories are you not leveraging? One of the biggest value ads is if nobody’s running marketing, it’s usually on the head of the founder who’s got no time.

If you hire a consultant, even someone like you, even if someone hires a consultant like you or like me to look through that, the value is going to be tremendous.

Drew McLellan:

I think the challenge for a lot of agencies is they cycle through, so they are a little light on work, and so they scramble and do a bunch of new business activity. They get a client or two, and they’re so busy servicing that client that they drop the new business activity. I think one of the biggest challenges for agencies is how do you… Again, it’s ironic because it’s exactly what they talk to their clients about, but how do you make marketing and biz dev something that happens every day no matter what else is happening that day?

Alex Berman:

Part of it is implementing the systems. The easiest way I’ve found from a founder’s point of view to actually make sure stuff gets done is to hire people to do it. I know I’m not going to sit down and send 40 cold emails a day. I’ve tried it in the past. I used to do that when we were first starting out, and it sucks to send cold emails. It’s a drudge, but there are people that love doing it. Our two salespeople love sending cold emails. The person in charge of sending client outreach, he sends it.

Hiring people and putting them in those roles, it’s the same thing that you’d do if you wanted to have a design project on. You’d hire a designer. You wouldn’t, as the founder, do the work yourself, unless you’re really just starting out, and you haven’t stepped outside the business yet.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. I want to dig into some of the other channels that you alluded to early in our conversation. Let’s do that, but first, let’s take a quick break.

One of my favorite parts of AMI are our live workshops. I love to teach. I love to spend two days emersed in a topic with either agency leaders, agency owners, or AEs in our AE boot camps. But most of all, I love sharing what I’ve learned from other agencies from 30 years in the business and all the best practices that we teach. If you have some interest in those workshops, they range from everything from money matters, which is all about your financial health of your agency to best management practices of agency owners, to new business, to AE boot camps, and a plethora of other topics.

Go check out the list and the schedule at agencymanagementinstitute.com/livetraining. Let’s get back to the show.

All right, we are back with Alex Berman. Alex, you had mentioned that there are eight almost cannot fail channels for agency new business. We talked about two. Tell us about a couple others.

Alex Berman:

Sure. The other one… We can go in order by what I’ve seen in terms of ROI.

Drew McLellan:

Great.

Alex Berman:

The first one was outreach. The second one was directories. The third one is agency partnerships. This is a two-sided one, because some agencies will say, “Hey, we do partnerships, and they go south or things like that.” There’s two sides to agency partnerships. One is reaching out to larger agencies that charge about double your hourly rate to send you overflow work. The other side of agency partnerships is reaching out to smaller agencies that charge less than half what you charge to send your overflow work to them.

That lower side of agency partners is actually one of the quickest ways to… If you feel like you have too much work or you have too much busy work, one of the quickest ways to get that off your plate and onto another company so that you can focus on some other stuff in your business.

Drew McLellan:

What does that conversation look like on both ends? If I’m reaching out to a larger agency, and I’m looking for their overflow, which… I have several agencies inside the AMI family that that’s what they do. They think of really big box agencies, and they are their go-to for project work. What does that initial conversation look like, and who do you… If I’m the smaller agency, and I’m reaching out to the larger agency, who in that larger agency should I reach out to?

Alex Berman:

I found that cold email is actually a really good way to do this. Cold calling also will work, but cold emails is fine, and you could actually… You don’t even have to customize the email very much. You just have to make sure that it’s not too long. What I’ve found is an email about five sentences long, similar to the other one. Then the person to reach out to, I try to reach out to about three people. If it’s a gigantic agency, I might reach out to a director of projects or director of project management, otherwise, maybe director of client services, or if they have a director of partnerships.

A lot of these bigger agencies do actually have a director of partnerships, which is probably why the cold emails work so well. They have budget, or they have projects, and they have a person whose only job is to test out agencies with small projects. If you hit those type of people, those director of partnerships, people up, you can quickly get some new business in the door that way. It’s a short email, so like, “Hey,” or a question about WPP, for instance, would be a good subject line. “Hey, Mike, huge fan of WPP, love the work you did on the Power Rangers campaign or whatever,” just this specific campaign just to show that you’ve done some research.

Drew McLellan:

[crosstalk 00:23:41] homework, right?

Alex Berman:

Yeah. I’ll use Dom and Tom as an example again. “My name’s Tom. I’m the founder of Dom and Tom, 50 person… Actual