Episode 76

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Dan Englander is the founder of Sales Schema, where he helps marketing agencies grow by way of done-for-you lead generation and consulting. He’s the author of Mastering Account Management. Previously, as the first hire at the animation studio IdeaRocket, he brought the company from zero to seven figures, encompassing dozens of Fortune 500 clients.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How Dan helps agencies fill their sales pipelines
  • Why you can’t rely on referrals from your network for sales
  • Why creating content is not a sales strategy
  • Why you need to systematize pipeline work and why you need to allot daily time for working on your pipeline
  • Honing in on a particular niche when generating leads
  • Why driving prospects to your website is not what you want to be doing
  • Why you need to have a follow-up plan in place for your cold emails
  • Why you need to get on the phone with a lead as soon as possible
  • How to word cold emails so they actually resonate with cold leads
  • How Dan’s company helps agencies hone in on their niche
  • Why cold emails have to come from a real person (and which person inside an agency they should come from)
  • Why you need to get the right clients for your agency
  • Why you shouldn’t overinvest in tools
  • Some good tools that Dan likes
  • Dan’s book: “Mastering Account Management”

 

The Golden Nugget:

“Don’t limit yourself. Eventually your personal network and referrals just don’t cut it.” – @DansPalace Share on X

 

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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 Build a Better Agency where we 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 his 25 plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey there everybody, Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. So today my guest and I are going to talk about agency sales, lead gen and new business efforts. And so let me tell you a little bit about him and then we’re going to jump right into the conversation. Dan Englander is the founder of Sales Schema, where he helps marketing agencies grow by way of done-for-you lead generation and consulting. So we’ll find out more about that. He’s also the author of Mastering Account Management. Previously, he was the first hire at the animation studio, Idea Rocket and he and the original partner brought that company from zero to seven figures encompassing dozens of Fortune 500 clients and working with a lot of agencies and now today, he’s turned his attention to helping agencies grow their business. So Dan, welcome to the podcast.

Dan Englander :

Thanks Drew. I appreciate it.

Drew McLellan:

So what made you decide that this was a need and that you could fill that need?

Dan Englander :

Yeah, it’s a good question. So like you mentioned, I was at this studio called Idea Rocket for a while and kind of struck out on my own doing consulting and sales coaching for different businesses. And since I was here in New York, networking for so long, most of my friends and acquaintances were in the agency world so they were naturally my first clients and other people I found through my book and so on. And I think it’s a need because the problem that I kept coming across was, agencies more than almost any other business I’ve noticed fall into this sort of feast and famine rut, where people hustle so hard to get business, they win these big accounts or these big projects, they spend the next three months just like up to their ears in the work and then it’s all over and the pipeline’s empty again and then [inaudible 00:02:13] repeat over and over again.

So I was consulting with different companies like this and I also had memories from my own from working in creative services company, feeding in the agencies as an employee. And I eventually just wanted to figure out a way to give them leads and to sort of bulk up the pipelines without them having to do more work than they already had. So that’s kind of how I came upon this company that I’m running now.

Drew McLellan:

So when you engage with an agency, what are some of the new business and sales mistakes that they are typically making?

Dan Englander :

Yeah. It’s harsh to call them mistakes per se, but I would say that most agencies are getting from zero to one on their personal networks and on referrals. And obviously, you should always push for referrals, they’re great and there’s nothing wrong with them, but it really kind of leads to this growth ceiling problem. So they go out and they go to networking groups and they hustle even harder, but there’s really a finite limit on your personal network after a while. So I think it’s basically … that’s the first thing. And then the second thing, which I guess could be a mistake, is investing in different marketing strategies that are pretty speculative, and there’s nothing wrong with kind of treating them like an experiment, but they’re not going to be guaranteed to bulk up your pipeline and sort of create the opportunities that are going to lead to business months from now.

And to be specific, a lot of the times people will invest in social media, like I’m going to do a bunch of Facebook posts or tweets for my agency and that’s going to give me business, or I’m going to write a bunch of content or I’m going to host an event, and there’s nothing wrong with doing that, but you need to be generating the conversations in an ongoing matter in order to feel good about the future of your agency. So I think that that’s sort of the second thing.

Drew McLellan:

I always think of the social media activity and the content, that’s really a credibility factor. So once you’re on someone’s radar and they go check you out, you want them to see good content and that you’re active and that you’re having interesting thought leadership type conversations. I can’t imagine, or I would hope that most agencies don’t think that prospects are trolling Facebook and looking at agency Facebook pages to try and find an agency. So I think you’re right, I think it’s a good activity but it’s not a pipeline filling activity.

Dan Englander :

Well, yeah. And to be fair, it could be. You could rank for some awesome keywords like best content agency for pharmaceutical startups or whatever it may be, and then get inbound leads that way. But the thing is, it’s going to take a while to make that work if it even works at all. So in the meantime, you got to be talking to your prospects and basically being a salesperson or else you’re going to find that pipeline running dry after that next big project is done, so that’s my take on it anyway.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So I think you’re right. I think the biggest issue is the feast and famine, which is that they don’t spend a little bit of time every day working on the pipeline.

Dan Englander :

Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And in your experience, when I roll back and I look at what you did when you were in essence selling at Idea Rocket before you launched out on your own, how did you not fall into that same rut?

Dan Englander :

Yeah. To be honest, I probably did more times than not because I was in a mixed role, it was just the founder and I at first and then we got another person like me eventually. So I was managing projects a lot of the time and I would find myself getting caught in the weeds and then that’s when we would start to slip and start to not have enough opportunities in the pipeline. But I think when I eventually did lock it in, the main thing is just being very systematized about it and allotting a certain amount of time preferably in the mornings to just work on the pipeline.

And during that time, you’re not letting fires bother you, you’re not checking your email, although you might have to use email for sales, you’re not getting new messages from clients, they’re going to pull you off course. So just really making it systematized, responsiveness is really big in sales. If somebody wants to speak to you, you want to do it sooner rather than later otherwise they might talk to somebody else or they might just not have the attention next time you want to reach them. So I think building that time into your day, every day, even if business is amazing, even if business is mediocre or it’s bad is the most important thing.

Drew McLellan:

Well, honestly I’ve always felt that the most important time to strengthen your new business activity and really flex that muscle is when you are super busy, because that’s when you have the luxury of picking and choosing the client’s that you want to work for so you’re going to elevate the kind of clients you’re bringing into the agency because you’re not at the famine stage of the cycle and so, you and I have both seen lots of agencies take on clients that they know is not a good long-term fit, or they know that they can’t really keep for a long time but they got people sitting on their hands and it beats laying somebody off so they take the project or they underbid the project or whatever it is. So I think new business activity actually should be super active, when you’re busy because that’s the best time to fill the pipeline.

Dan Englander :

Exactly. And then cyclically, when you’re really busy, there’s going to be a slump, just what comes up must come down a little bit and you want that slump to be a gentle slide and not a giant downward facing a hockey stick. So I think that’s the main thing. Yeah. I definitely agree because when you’re really busy, you’re going to be thinking in terms of abundance and basically matching yourself up with the right people, which is what you should always be doing anyway. So I definitely agree with that.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And the other thing I think about new business is, you’re right, there’s always the ebb and flow of business but if every time you have the ebb you have to let people go or you have to cut people back in terms of their hours or you have to send out the email saying, “We’ve got to tighten the belt. Things are lean this month.” Right now agencies are struggling to find and keep good people and there’s a lot more jobs out there and opportunities than there are … so if you want to retain your good people, one of the things you need to create is a culture of abundance where even if you do lose a client or a project wraps up, there’s always plenty of stuff in the pipeline coming behind it that reassures your people that there’s not going to be a layoff around the corner.

Dan Englander :

Right. Exactly. And I think it takes thinking about which buyers are going to be able to kind of stick with you for the long-term and then proactively going after them to get conversations in order to do that. And that can happen like I said through these inbound channels, but you have a lot more control if you can make it work through outbound and you can always sort of go knock on doors when you need to, so to speak.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So I know that our listeners are going to be curious and they’re going to poke around on your website. And I know you’ve spent a little bit of time in agencies but you haven’t really sold, you’ve not worked for an agency and been driving the business sales for a long time. So what have you learned in other places and how are agencies the same or not the same and how you have to tweak for example what you did at Idea Rocket where you were selling in the agencies to help agencies sell into clients, how do you package up your experiences and make that aligned with sort of agency life?

Dan Englander :

Right. Yeah. So the reason that I gravitate towards agencies is because like you mentioned, that’s sort of who we were focusing on most at Idea Rocket, and it’s not unlike what a lot of agencies are selling. I think creative services in a way in agency work kind of has a lot of spillover. So to me, it wasn’t like this radical foreign territory working with agencies after I struck out on my own, plus working at an agency before Idea Rocket, although I wasn’t selling was pretty helpful for that. In terms of what I’ve learned elsewhere, I think it’s really sort of honing your value proposition for a particular niche and I think when I say that it scares agencies because they think they’re going to have to blow up their company and reinvent it for XYZ industry or something like that.

But that’s not really what it’s all about, it’s more figuring out what specific problem you’re solving for a particular group when you’re going out there to knock on doors and generate leads. A lot of the times I see a tendency for agency owners to really kind of sing their own praises in terms of how creative they are and how they’re going to change everything in their client’s companies and make the world a better place for them in every particular way, but I think that in the context of lead generation, it’s really about solving a specific problem. So I think that that’s the biggest takeaway, and you asked about kind of bringing that to agencies from other areas, that’s really what direct response marketing is about in a lot of ways. And I think that agency owners, especially if they’re focused on branding and that sort of thing can benefit a lot from that.

Drew McLellan:

I think you’re right and I think in a lot of ways it’s not so much about the specifics of agency life, it is about the consistency of behavior, but let’s go back to the whole idea of defining yourself in relation to how you can uniquely serve the client. So talk a little bit more about that, because you’re right, there are two kinds of agencies, some agencies have really embraced the idea of nicheing and understanding that expertise in certain verticals makes them the brain surgeon versus the general practitioner, and then there are other agencies who really struggle with that and they really want to be a little bit of everything to everybody, or maybe they’re in a second tier market and they feel like they can’t specialize because they have to kind of serve the local butcher, baker and candlestick maker. So talk a little bit about your take on all of that.

Dan Englander :

Yeah. And I think it’s really easy to sort of get caught up in this idea of the cost of nicheing being much higher than it actually is. I think that you can kind of keep it contained to the channel that you’re actually using. So to be specific, with cold emails, a lot of the times we’re nicheing in the context of the people we’re going after and the service that we’re supporting or that we’re touting with the email. So you might not be the best branding shop, midsize boutique branding shop in the world and you might not be the best agency for midsize e-commerce companies but when you combine those two things together in the middle of that Venn diagram, is now kind of compelling and is probably enough to get a conversation to say, “We specialize in midsize e-commerce companies or are doing branding projects to solve this problem for midsize e-commerce companies.”

So now all of a sudden nicheing just becomes as simple as A, writing a cold email and B, knowing who you’re going after and having at least just some minor track record there enough to say, “We’ve created results in that field.” So I think that’s the first thing to point out, just the cost of doing it is not as high as people think. You don’t have to blow up your agency and reinvent it again. And from there, you can choose how fancy you want to get, maybe it’s creating a landing page, maybe it’s creating an alternative proposal, whatever it may be, but I think that’s the main point.

Drew McLellan:

So I was just going to ask you that. So if I send an email out saying, “Look, we are sort of in this juxtaposition of branding shop.” And whatever the vertical is, and then they go to my website and my website is sort of more of a generalist website. Is that a problem? Do I need to drive them to case studies? What do you recommend in terms of the credibility needed to back that up be before they pick up the phone or reply to that email?

Dan Englander :

Yeah, that’s a really great question. I think that there’s ways to build credibility beyond just your website and that sometimes, when we send these campaigns, we don’t include any links at all. Maybe at the very last email is a Hail Mary, we’ll send them a PDF or something, because what happens is, if you direct people to your site when you’re doing campaigns like this, they go and they never come back. What you want is agreement to a conversation, that’s really what we’re going for here. And furthermore, it’s okay if your site’s not the best in the world because chances are, most of the agencies, this isn’t for mass market, you’re not trying to get somebody to buy a product right on your site. Yes, it should look good.

Yes, it should speak well of what you’re doing, but it’s okay if it’s a little bit mysterious because ultimately, the people you’re reaching out to are going to be more attracted to the idea of this not being for everyone, of this being for people in their specific situation. So I don’t think the site has to address each and every group and each and every possibility of the niches you’re going for. Once you have success with niches, there’s plenty of examples of sites that say like, industries we serve and so on. But I think that there’s plenty of consultants and agencies that have a one page site that hasn’t been updated in 10 years and are just killing it.

Drew McLellan:

So what you’re saying is, when you craft the email for your agency clients, there’s no link driving them back to the website, is that my understanding? Until maybe [crosstalk 00:15:48] right, right.

Dan Englander :

Yeah. For all intents and purposes.

Drew McLellan:

But then I think the prospects are saying, “Okay, I see the URL at the back of that email address, so I’m going to go check them out.”

Dan Englander :

Yeah. That probably happens a lot of the time but we don’t want that to happen necessarily. We want them to agree to a conversation, is the call to action.

Drew McLellan:

And so for you, is the formula pretty much a direct sales email in terms of the language like, “I’m not trying to make you smarter, I’m not trying to give you insight into your industry or into marketing, I’m just telling you I’m good at this and do you want to talk?”

Dan Englander :

Generally, yes. Yes. And by the way, it’s no slight on that approach on teaching and giving insights. But I think that that is reserved for marketing, that’s reserved to people that have opted into your list and want to learn from you. The people you’re reaching out to or people you’re saying, “You’re special. You’re like our clients, we think you can benefit from what we’re doing and we should chat.”

Drew McLellan:

And one of my experiences and watching agencies do this is that they, and it doesn’t have to be an email, it could be a phone call, it could be snail mail, it could be an email, but they send a couple and then when they get no response, they think that that’s a dry well and they move on. What’s your experience in terms of frequency and quantity and how many is too many and how often is too often?

Dan Englander :

Yeah. That’s a great question. Generally, for agencies, it’s a small batch thing, we’re sending for our clients usually 150, maybe 200 a week at most. So you’re sending about 50 a day, usually we’re focusing like Tuesday through Thursday, because Monday, Friday, people are less responsive.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Dan Englander :

So it’s definitely a small batch sort of thing. And in terms of it not working, there’s a lot of reasons it might not be working but the main thing is your value prop lining up with the people that you’re going after. It’s almost like two gears that kind of have to latch together in order to get a response. A lot of the times the amount of time you have for it to click with people is very small and they need to understand what problem you’re solving within that one paragraph or so, so that’s the main thing. The other thing is just sort of audiences, to be honest, some of the target audiences just aren’t good for cold email.

If you’re going after very traditional, very hierarchical industries, it could be tough, if you’re going after construction, that could be hard, if you’re going after blue-collar industries that are kind of based outdoors or others that are not necessarily receptive to cold email, but I think that for the sort of industries that many agencies are going after or most agencies are going after nowadays, it can work pretty well because most of us are used to interacting in a digital environment with people we might not know like the back of our hands. But there’s still industries that aren’t quite there yet.

Drew McLellan:

And probably industries that have a real considered decision tree, so like anybody who’s normally going to send out RFPs or who is regulated by a board of directors, I think about universities or hospitals, places like that, or state entities. This probably is not a great model for them either, right?

Dan Englander :

Generally not. Yeah. Generally those could be tougher, but plenty of companies that feed into those industries could work, so you kind of have to think creatively, maybe there’s health tech startups or consultants that they hire, so there could be other ways in but you want to kind of stray more towards white-collar, less hierarchical industries.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Okay. So let’s assume I’m a prospect on one of your clients’ list. So I’m in that batch of 50 a day, if I don’t respond, what’s your best practice in terms of how many times will I hear from you? If I just don’t respond, how many times are you going to ping me before … and then if I don’t respond how many times and then what happens next?

Dan Englander :

Yeah. Great question. So typically we’re doing these sequences because it’s the persistence that really makes the difference and really shows that you care enough to follow up. So usually we’re sending three or four emails spaced out over five days to a week or so between each one. And oftentimes we see much better response rates on the second or third email because people will just have said, “Yeah, I’ve been busy and you cared enough to follow up, so I’m ready to chat now.” And that happens all the time. Beyond that, if nobody responds, we leave them alone for a while. Sometimes there’s other things you could do after that, maybe you follow up with a different offering or you could then treat those sort of dead leads like the ones on your inbound list. So you might send them content, something helpful, kind of low commitment.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. And for you, is it always done by email? Do you recommend a combination of email, phone call carrier pigeon, what’s their cadence for you? Is it all about email?

Dan Englander :

That’s a good question. I’m a big believer in getting to the phone as soon as possible. Now, the problem is, I haven’t seen it work very well when people try to get a hired gun to do sales for them without putting in the time and energy it requires to get a new salesperson up to speed. So it’s an offering we’ve toyed with sort of adopting at Sales Schema, but it would just be a lot more to take on. So the problem we’re solving is basically turning these leads from cold to warm and then from there we really want to work with clients that we’ll get on the phone as soon as possible because there’s this gap that can be bridged with email and digital communications and it’s very turnkey, but beyond that, it’s all about human empathy and it’s very hard to control or to enter human empathy.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. That’s for sure. That’s for sure. When you approach agencies, what is their pushback on this model? What is it that they, as you are doing your sales strategy, why is it that agencies would not pursue this? Or what are the excuses they give you anyway for not pursuing it?

Dan Englander :

Yeah, I’d say there’s probably a few different camps. One is that, this is new to us. We’ve never really sold beyond our personal networks before and we’re not sure if it’s going to work and so on. So it’s just sort of more of a fear to be in sales in general. I’d say that’s one camp. And then another is sort of like, we’ve worked with lead generation companies in the past but they’ve been sketchy or they burned us or they didn’t get us any results, which is fair because there’s lots of sketchy lead generation companies. And I’d say this isn’t a sales pitch for us regardless whoever you end up working with, a lead generation capacity needs to be based on performance and performance in terms of actually generating leads for you, so that’s kind of how we get over that. And I’d say that’s the main two forms of pushback that we’re getting.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So I want to dig into a little bit about your email formula in a second, but let’s take a quick break and then we’ll come right back. Podcasts are a great way to learn and a great way to educate your staff. Another great way our live workshops and AMI offers many of them throughout the year. If you’d like to check out the schedule, go to agencymanagementinstitute.com/live. Okay, let’s get back to the show. All right. We are back with Dan Englander talking about new business sales and that whole lead gen thing that a lot of us sell to our clients, but somehow can’t seem to get around to doing for ourselves.

So Dan, before the break we were talking a little bit about the objections that ag