Episode 88:

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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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… Actually, they have 98 people. 98-person mobile app development company in Chicago. We’ve worked with Tyson, Power Rangers.” List out two or three projects. “Would you be open to discussing partnerships? We’re vetting some new agency partners, and our in-house team could really add some value to WPP.” Just that simple, right, that simple and that open.

The thing is with agency partners, you don’t really have to play around too much, because you’re plugging into a system that already accepts partnerships. And as long as you’re not… I don’t know how to phrase this correctly, but as long as you’re not an agency from a country that they don’t work with, you’re going to at least get a quick call.

Drew McLellan:

That’s a great channel. What’s channel number four for you?

Alex Berman:

Channel number four is meetups and in-person events. There are… Actually, when I was at Dom and Tom before, I was the director of marketing over there. I was a salesman. I was the top salesman in my first year there beating out both founders and the director of sales and the entire sales team. My secret for that was I had a monthly meetup for brand and marketing managers in New York City. 60 to 70 people would come up, and we would generate about $100,000 in new business just from those meetups. Nobody else on the team would ever come or ever stop by.

Drew McLellan:

Basically, you were hosting a meetup of a group of people who would want to network with each other, and you were just there as the conduit.

Alex Berman:

Exactly. It wasn’t like a fancy meetup with speeches or anything. It was… I didn’t even reserve a bar space. It was just an open invite. First Monday of every month, come by. We’ll all have drinks, and we’ll just network with each other. It was just straight up networking for brand and marketing managers.

Drew McLellan:

In that, your role was really just to chat, chat, love your hat, work the room while a lot of people were there, right?

Alex Berman:

Exactly. Exactly. What I would do is I’d just get a drink, and I’d just walk around from group to group, and try to figure out why everyone was there, make sure they’re all having a good time, and just facilitate the conversations. When I found somebody who was interested, I would talk to them, and basically ask them about their business. The goal with the in-person events is… Well, there’s two different types of in-person events. We’ll cover the second one in a second. But with the meetups, the goal is not to sell immediately. It’s to get their business card.

The reason… That sounds super soft, right? Like, “Oh, just get their business cards.” But what I’ve found is even just in a normal networking scenario, if somebody hands you their business card, almost 100% of the time, I would say 99.999% of the time, everyone that they’re handing their business card out, nobody is going to actually email them the next day to follow up. If you’re the one person the next day… I used to just come in, and just have a stack of business cards, and I would actually email each person individually. I found that most people don’t actually do that.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I find it staggering, but even when someone goes to all the expense of having a trade show booth, and they do a giveaway where they’re collecting email addresses, or they get the scans from the trade show, or they collect business cards, whatever. Even in those cases, when they’ve paid for the privilege of collecting those names, they don’t do anything.

Alex Berman:

Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

It’s crazy.

Alex Berman:

They’ll send out… If they do do something, they’ll do something lazy like send out the same email to everyone else or to everyone with no customization on an HTML5 template or something.

Drew McLellan:

Or they won’t have thought about it at all, and so they don’t do it for two months.

Alex Berman:

Yeah. What I found is the quicker you can follow up, the better.

Drew McLellan:

Sure.

Alex Berman:

I’ll do it usually first thing in the morning, or maybe if I’m super busy later that day, but always same day. What I’ll do is when I’m actually at the event, I’ll try to come up with some keyword or talk about out something that’s memorable. Maybe we talk about wine, and I’ll carry a… I used to carry a pen in my pocket, and I would write just one word on the business cards to call back in the email. I’d say like, “Hey, Matt, it was really good meeting last night. Thanks for coming out to the meetup. It was awesome to talk about wine.”

If they’re a contact, I’ll say, “I would love to talk more about the mobile app project that we were going back and forth on. Would you be available at any of these times?” Then just link to my Calendly. That got a surprising amount of meetings. The only reason why I think that worked is because nobody else is doing it.

Drew McLellan:

I think so too. Another strategy I like around that is not only reaching out to them, but I think one of the ways we can become memorable to someone else’s to connect them to other people that they need to, they want to meet or know. So to be able to say, “Hey, man, it was great meeting you, blah, blah, blah. Talk about the wine was awesome. Would love to get together with you. Also, I would love to introduce you to so and so who I think you would find really interesting or helpful on that thing we talked about last night.”

Alex Berman:

I used to do that a lot too. As long as you’re doing two-sided intros, it’s fine.

Drew McLellan:

Exactly.

Alex Berman:

Just make sure you get buy-in from the person you’re introing them to before you CC them in an email.

Drew McLellan:

Oh gosh. Oh gosh. Right. Absolutely. Otherwise, you’re going to get unfriended very quickly. That was the one kind of meetup, and then you said you had a second.

Alex Berman:

The other one’s in-person events, so paid events where people are hearing you speak. The most successful paid event we did was when I was CMO at InspireBeats, we sold lead generation and cold emailing software for B2B SaaS companies. We reached out to WeWork out in New York City, and we asked them if we could use their space for an event. They said, “Yes, we didn’t have to pay anything.” They had a projector. I set up this email. It was like… or this event was how… What we learned sending one million cold emails, $20 a ticket, and I didn’t promote it at all via cold email.

I only promoted the event. I set up an event print page, and I posted it on all of the things to do in New York lists. Basically, we searched networking events in New York or things to do in New York or in whatever city you’re in. A bunch of these other directories will pop up. In New York, it’s like [inaudible 00:30:03] NYC or Gary’s Guide or anything like that.

Drew McLellan:

Sure.

Alex Berman:

Most of them have submitted events box at the top, and they’ll literally post anything as long as it’s relevant. I would post these up and every event we did. We ended up doing about five events in New York City over the course of six months, and every single one of them sold out. Again, I think it’s just because nobody’s using these directories. Gary, the guy who runs Gary’s Guide, he needs good events, or else people aren’t going to follow the guide, so submitting to those is really important. Basically, we went in. We gave a speech on what we learned, sending a million cold emails.

Afterward, a bunch of people came up to ask me questions. We had one of our sales guys in the back to basically try to pull them off or try to get next steps. We actually ended up selling. Of 100 people, we ended up… It was five retainers we sold that day at $800 a month. Then we ended up probably selling about 10 or 15 more over the next 30 days just from that one event. That’s about, what is that, a 15% close rate.

Drew McLellan:

That’s a pretty good ROI.

Alex Berman:

Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Alex Berman:

We made money on the tickets, so it was positive ROI originally. The reason why you want to charge for these in-person events is… I actually learned this doing the free meetup. If you have a free event, and you get 100 RSVPs, about 30 people are going to show up.

Drew McLellan:

Exactly.

Alex Berman:

But if you have a paid event, even if you charge $5, almost 100% or even more than 100% of people are going to show up, because people are going to bring their friends.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and the commitment level is just different if they’ve had to, as you say, even pay $5. Now, it’s more of a priority.

Alex Berman:

We tested the five-dollar strategy. We did… We needed to recruit at Dom and Tom one time. We did an event at stack overflow all about how to use Sketch in your business. Sketch is a design tool. I introed one of our designers to do the speech, and we had… It was like 120 people showed up. The Stack Overflow Office was completely full, and we were only charging $5, and that many people still showed up.

Drew McLellan:

I think that’s true. As you think about these channels, what are some universal truths about how we muck that up? What mistakes do we make? Regardless of the channel, what mistakes do we make? One of them I’m hearing you talk about a lot is the follow-up, the however you bump into someone, whether it’s intentional through cold email or cold phone calls or events. There’s got to be a next step, and that next step has to already be planned out and ready before the first interaction, right?

Alex Berman:

For any sales thing, I’d say there’s two points. One is follow up. People don’t follow up nearly enough. They’ll send one email, or maybe even they’ll send two emails, but are… I had a list of people that I would reach out to every single month that I really wanted to work with at Dom and Tom. I did that for maybe a year, and a bunch of them turned into meetings just because I kept emailing them.

Drew McLellan:

Let’s say unreached out four or five. They’ve heard from you three or four times, and odds are have not responded. What does that look like? What does your fifth reach out look like?

Alex Berman:

It depends on whether I’ve talked to them before or not. If I haven’t met with them, I’ll only send four emails. It’ll basically be a five-sentence email like we talked about. Then it’ll be a little bit longer pitch. The second email is normally the bullet point email, or one where we’ll give them specific ideas on their business. When I’m sending out to agencies a cold email for Experiment 27, my two go-to ideas are the agency partnerships thing that we looked at, that we just talked about on this podcast.

Then the other one, I’m talking about how to optimize your directory profile, so like, “Hey, we got Dom and Tom,” and four of other clients onto the first page of clutch, and it’s generating 100 leads a month. I would love to run through that with you,” so specific ideas. Third email is normally just a super short call to action, so like, “Hey, I wanted to make sure this didn’t get buried. Do any of these times work for a call?” Then the fourth email when it’s cold email is a breakup email. Like, “Hey, I realize this might not be a good time for you. Feel free to reach out if you need anything. Otherwise, it’s good, good meeting you.”

That one gets a bunch of responses actually, more than our 30 email is getting. Most of our responses would come on first email and on our fourth, on our breakup email.

Drew McLellan:

That’s interesting. The psychology of that of, “I’ve not responded to you in any way, but if you’re breaking up with me, then I better respond to you.”

Alex Berman:

Well, that’s the thing. The bigger meta point that I think covers all channels, which is what you’re asking about before is you have to get inside the mind of the person you’re emailing, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Alex Berman:

Let’s say you’re emailing… For me, I’m emailing agency founders. These guys are… They’re too busy to even do their own marketing, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Alex Berman:

They don’t even have 30 minutes to commit to doing marketing every week. Why would they respond to this? They’re obviously super, super busy. So if I don’t establish enough value, or even if I don’t just keep emailing them, they might not get back. I try to think about Dominic, who’s the CEO of Dom and Tom. He would try to get to inbox zero every two weeks. He would just let emails stack up in his inbox, and then he’d sit down and maybe have 300 emails in his inbox. He’d just try to plow through them all as quick as possible.

If I was dumb, what I would do if I got a sales email like that is I would either mark it for later, or I would just delete it. I would probably delete the first couple just to see if they were actually good at what they did, like if they care enough to follow up. Then at that point, they would have to hit… The email would have to come when I was in the mood to respond to a bunch of emails.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I think your point is an interesting one. I do think that agency prospects do sit back to see how badly we want to talk to them, and what is our follow up like. Where we’re thinking, “Oh, I don’t want to keep bothering them. I don’t want to be a pest.” They’re thinking, “How persistent are you?”

Alex Berman:

Right. I think they’re looking for two things. One, it’s how persistent are you? Then two is, “Am I on a list, or does this guy actually care about my business?”

Drew McLellan:

Right. Is it automated, or are they talking to me about stuff that’s only relevant to me?

Alex Berman:

Yeah. The thing is you can automate stuff that’s only relevant if you niche down, like we talked about before, right? That agency drip, or, I mean, that university drip that we’re sending out is super relevant to all these universities because they all have similar problems. It wouldn’t be relevant at all to somebody in the industrial business or car sales or something.

Drew McLellan:

I preach the whole idea of niching. I think it’s super important. A, I think you develop a depth of expertise, but b, I do think it allows you to automate more of your new business activity because you’re talking two birds of a feather.

Alex Berman:

Exactly, and you can get super deep. There’s stuff that a owner of a car dealership cares about that a person who runs an agency or actually… yeah, person who runs an agency, let’s say you’re selling agencies, has never even heard about. If you try to send a cold email that appeals to both of those, you’re going to end up getting super general. Then you’re going to end up sending a cold email that looks like everyone else’s that gets deleted or looks like it’s automated.

Drew McLellan:

So when you are talking to agency owners, and you are helping them understand the value of some of these tactics, what’s the pushback you get? Why wouldn’t an agency do some of these things?

Alex Berman:

The pushback… Actually, I wouldn’t even call this pushback. The main thing that I hear is, “Yeah, that sounds awesome. That sounds awesome. This is all stuff that we need to do, but we’re not doing.” The pushback is similar to what you said before about them just not having time. Like, “We’d love to hit all these channels, but we just don’t have time, or we have a director of marketing, and they’re not doing any of this stuff.” I’d say when I cover these channels, almost always, the only reason that they can’t work with us is a budget issue.

Drew McLellan:

So when you are engaging with an agency, let’s say they do have a director of sales, or the agency owner is driving sales. Are they doing things that they shouldn’t be doing? Let’s assume that they’re doing something. Let’s cross the ones off the list that are doing nothing. But if they’re doing something, if they believe they have a marketing strategy, are they doing things that they shouldn’t be doing?

Alex Berman:

Yeah. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen revolves around events, and it’s sending your people on trips or events with no goal. For instance, almost every agency I know either wants to go to South by Southwest, or they’re there. But if you’ve ever gone to South by Southwest, if you go there, and you don’t have a meeting goal, you’re going to [crosstalk 00:38:57]-

Drew McLellan:

That’s crazy.

Alex Berman:

… with nothing. It’s too crazy. If you don’t know who you want to meet, what you want to do, you’re not going to get an ROI from it. So whenever I go to an event, I always set myself a goal. I try to go between five to 10 meetings booked per day. Literally, I’ll have Calendly, calendly.com. I think it’s free. Maybe it’s $10. It’s a calendar booking tool. I’ll have that with my availability, and I will do the exact same thing I did at the meetup in New York. I’ll talk to people, try to figure out their needs, and hammer the pavement, treat the event like I’m cold calling, basically run each conversation like a cold call.

I know that might not be the most empathetic way to do it. But if you want to get an ROI from an event, you need to grind as a salesperson or as a founder until you get that ROI. Then you can have…

Drew McLellan:

I think a lot of people go with the idea of, “Oh, I’m going to meet a bunch of people, but without targets in place, or without, as you say, a number of meetings per day set up or whatever goal.” Then they come back three days… Well, especially South by, they come back three or four days later with nothing but a hangover.

Alex Berman:

Right. General networking with no goal is basically worthless. If you’re talking to other… If you meet another agency founder, and you’re doing partnerships at all, then you have something to talk about. Try to establish a partnership. There’s a good ROI. If you’re talking to somebody at a company, talk about your marketing services or what you can do for mobile apps. Get info on them. Actually, be that sleazy guy that’s running around selling to people at the conference until you get that ROI. Then you can treat it like a vacation.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I think the way you’ve described, which is really having a conversation about stuff that they care about, doesn’t have to come across as sleazy. It just is you are interested in their challenges, and oh, by the way, you’ve helped other people like them solve that challenge.

Alex Berman:

Exactly. I don’t think it comes across as sleazy, but I’m thinking… I’m trying to think of the internal barriers. One of the reasons why people wouldn’t do that is because they don’t want to appear like that sleazy networking guy. That networking guy does make money. That guy usually is very successful.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I think the sleazy comes from talking about yourself all the time. So if you actually go with the intention of learning more about the prospect or the person that you have met, whether you knew they were a prospect or not, and you really are genuinely interested in, “Can we be helpful to them?” Again, whether it’s a, “Do I know someone that they would mutually benefit from knowing each other, and or have we done work that would be relevant to them that they could learn something from?” That actually feels pretty good.

Alex Berman:

The other thing that I found is super valuable, especially if you’re an agency that’s been around for a while, is to talk in case studies. Basically, when I’m at these meetups, I’m trying to tell stories based on the project we’ve done. So if somebody says they’re at a university, then if I was Dom and Tom, I could talk about that university case study and talk about what I’ve done, but it’s not me talking about me. It’s me sharing my insights for them so they can improve their business. That works for [inaudible 00:42:03] you’ve done as long as you’re legally allowed to share them obviously.

Drew McLellan:

That’s a great point.

Alex Berman:

If that makes sense.

Drew McLellan:

Yep, great point. I’m hoping that everybody’s been listening, and they’ve been taking notes, and they’ve been recommitting to building out a biz dev program that is assertive and consistent. If that is true, and they’ve been hanging with us for the whole hour, what are some things that… As you know, the audience for this podcast is agency owners and leaders. What are some things that they can do on their own immediately to up the anti in their biz dev work?

Alex Berman:

The thing to do is set a KPI. Set a… Have you ever read the book Four Disciplines of Execution?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s great.

Alex Berman:

In that book, there’s that whole thing, lead measures versus lag measures, right?

Drew McLellan:

Yep.

Alex Berman:

The basic definition is lead measure is something that’s in your control versus a lag measure is something you can’t control or that is influenced by the lead measure. The lag measure for you… Let’s say your goal is to increase sales. The lag measure for you is revenue, closed business. The lead measure for that, take one step back. It’s number of meetings booked, the close rate. One step back is the number of outreach done. Set a KPI that your salespeople or your marketing people can do immediately that has some lag measure attached to it.

For sales, what I do with my sales team is I say 150 cold contacts a week per person, whether they’re cold calls or cold emails, because they can do that. Then every sales meeting, I can look back and I can be like, “Hey, how many cold calls did you do?” They’ll tell me. Well, they’ll always say 150. Then I’ll be like, “How many did you do exactly?” Then they’ll say like, “153,” or something like that. I don’t know. For marketing, it might be email 20 people to try to get the founder on their podcast, or email 10 agencies smaller than us to try to get partnership meetings.

That’s the first thing I would do. If you were an agency founder, you wanted to start improving your marketing is set a weekly KPI with your under links that is directly tied to revenue for your business.

Drew McLellan:

You measure what matters, and what you measure ends up mattering.

Alex Berman:

Right, and you’d be surprised. I know it sounds super straightforward, but you’d be surprised how few either don’t have those KPIs set, or they have them set as lag measures that people can’t control like sales per quarter. I know most sales teams have those quotas where it’s sales per quarter versus the number of outreach that they do, or marketing teams that aren’t tied to any KPI because the founder doesn’t want to think about marketing, or they’re tied to KPIs that aren’t influential to revenue, so number of content pieces generated or things like that.

Drew McLellan:

I wouldn’t sadly be surprised, because I see what the agencies do. You’re right. Most of them don’t have… They do measure things, but they measure outcomes rather than activity that leads to outcome.

Alex Berman:

Exactly. Four Disciplines of Execution is super boring, but the insights in there are incredible for [crosstalk 00:45:02].

Drew McLellan:

It’s not fun read. It’s not one of those business fable reads, unfortunately. Alex, boy, we could talk about this forever, but I need to wrap things up. A couple things, one, how can folks track you down if they want to learn more about your business and the work you do? Also, make sure you give everybody the URL to your YouTube channel, because your videos are really helpful. By the way, everybody, those will also be in the show notes, so you’ll be able to find the link there as well. Tell everybody how they can get to you, Alex.

Alex Berman:

Sure. You can either send me an email, [email protected], or at experiment27.com, the website. There’s all our services and a bunch of free resources on there. Like you were saying, Drew, the YouTube channel’s free. There’s a bunch of free sales training and everything on there. The URL for that is b2bsalestraining.org. It’ll redirect right to the YouTube channel.

Drew McLellan:

Awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time today for sharing your expertise. I am sure you’re helping a lot of agencies have great success. I’m grateful that you so generously shared what you know, so thanks.

Alex Berman:

Thanks for having me.

Drew McLellan:

All right, gang, hopefully this inspired you to notch it up a little bit with your new business efforts, whether you try one of the channels or a couple of the channels. Just make sure that do things a little differently, a little more consistently and with better metrics in places. Alex talked about making sure you’re measuring the right things, so you know that there’s enough activity to deliver the outcomes that you want. I, of course, will be back next week with another great guest who will help you build a bigger, better, stronger agency.

In the meantime, you can always track me down at [email protected] As always, if you are finding value in these podcasts, make sure you subscribe, so you don’t miss any of the weekly episodes. I will catch you next week. Thanks so much. Talk to you soon.

Speaker 1:

That’s all for this episode of AMI’s Build A Better Agency, brought to you by HubSpot. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops, online courses, and other ways we serve small to midsize agencies. Don’t miss an episode as we help you build the agency you’ve always dreamed of owning.