Episode 342

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As agency partners, we have access to an insane amount of backend data and insights into our clients’ business. Now what? How can we use all of that data to build momentum in our clients’ revenue pipelines and translate those insights for them so that they can make the case when they’re at the table with the decision-makers on their team?

On this episode of Build a Better Agency, we’re joined by CRM and sales expert Eric Stockton, VP of Demand Generation at SharpSpring. Eric gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the industry-wide shift in focus from outbound marketing to inbound lead generation. We talk about what this means for agencies and how we can help our clients adjust to a “quality over quantity” mindset — without freaking them out.

Eric is a past keynote speaker at a series of marketing-related trade shows, including MarketingSherpa events, eCommerce Retail Executive Summit, Email Summit, B2B Demand Generation Summit, ContentBiz, MarketingExperiements virtual events, and Affiliate Summit.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

Inbound Leads

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Why the industry is shifting its focus from outbound to inbound leads — and what that means for agencies
  • How to help our clients make that shift without freaking out
  • Why focusing on quality over quantity does NOT mean you’ll be getting fewer leads
  • What Eric means when he tells his clients to focus on their “North Star” metrics
  • Whether or not the “quality game” is truly sustainable
  • Ways we as agency partners can help clients divorce themselves from metrics they don’t — or shouldn’t — care about
“At the end of the day, many companies have realized that you can’t just keep doing it the same way.” @profitanalyst Click To Tweet “The one thing that everybody wants to care about is the connection point, which is really the opportunity or SQL.” @profitanalyst Click To Tweet “When you start at that SQL point, everybody sort of sits back in their chair a little bit and relaxes because they understand the SQL. They understand that’s what they need.” @profitanalyst Click To Tweet “As a marketer, if you cannot sit at the table with the CFO and articulate what the case is and how you’re going to get there, or what the metrics are that you’re going to measure against, then you are going to lose credibility.” @profitanalyst Click To Tweet “As marketers, we have to be really good storytellers to our customers, and we have to be really good storytellers to our internal folks. And as agencies, we have to do the same thing.” @profitanalyst Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Eric Stockton:

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Agency Management Institute community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money and keep more of what you make. The Build A Better Agency podcast presented by White Label IQ is packed with insights on how small to mid-size agencies survive and thrive in today’s market.

Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Thank you for coming back and listening to another episode of Build A Better Agency. I love spending time with you every week. I’m grateful that you listen. I’m grateful for your feedback. I am really grateful that a lot of you tell me that you find the content actually actionable and useful, and that it feels like we’re talking right to you. I can’t even tell you how happy that makes me. It makes me feel like all of the effort is worthwhile and we’re getting it right. So thank you for that. And by the way, if we ever don’t get it right, I’d love to hear that too. Be gentle with me, but I do want to hear it. I want to know that we’re really delivering great value for you.

So before I tell you about this week’s guest, and what I know is going to be a lively conversation, let me just remind you that the Build A Better Agency Summit is coming up May 24th and 25th. I’m not going to belabor the point. You’ve heard me talk about it before, but I will tell you that it’s shaping up to be an amazing conference. We have so many topics we’re covering. If there’s something you’re worried about, if there’s something you’re not sure how to do, I guarantee you, we have a subject matter expert in-house at the conference, ready to talk to you at either a round table or a breakout session, or a keynote. We’re going to talk about innovation. We’re going to talk about biz dev. We’re going to talk succession planning. We’re going to talk about imposter syndrome. We’re going to talk about how to leverage using VAs to build your business. We’re going to talk about HR issues, hiring and how to attract and retain talent.

We’re going to talk about the whole work from home phenomenon, where that’s going. We are going to talk about podcasting and other tools that you can use. We’re going to talk about thought leadership. We are going to talk about math, taxes, cashflow. I swear to you, I cannot think of one topic that matters to you that we are not going to cover. So please head over to the agencymanagementinstitute.com website, grab your ticket now, before they go up in price again, and join us. We have 50 or so tickets left and then we’re going to be sold out.

And so what breaks my heart is when people say, “Oh, I really want to go,” or I get the email that says, “Hey, is there any way you can squeeze me in?” And based on the rules of the hotel and fire marshals, and all that sort of thing, we just have no wiggle room. So please don’t wait until the last minute. Please grab your ticket now and join us because it is going to be spectacular. I just am so excited. We’re going to talk about the legacy of why you own an agency and the legacy you can leave in your community and your family because you own an agency, and how to do that. I’m so excited about the content and the incredible people who are coming to share their wisdom with you.

And by the way, you’re all going to be sharing your wisdom with each other too. That’s what I love about the AMI community, is it’s not just about somebody standing on a stage. It’s about the conversations you have over breakfast and lunch and during the breaks, and all of that. So come ready to meet a bunch of very cool agency owners and leaders. Come ready to show up as a student, but also as a teacher, and come ready to be inspired and fired up, and leave super excited about the fact that you own the joint or you work at an agency that invests in you. We’re going to be there to deliver all of that, I promise.

All right, let me tell you a little bit about my guest. So Eric Stockton has been… he’s worked in agencies, he has been a business owner, but for the last several years, he has been a high ranking official, if you will, at SharpSpring. And as many of you know, Constant Contact has now bought SharpSpring, and he’s on the team that is sort of trying to figure out what that looks like for both companies and for their customers.

So while that would be fascinating to talk about, that’s not actually what I want to talk to him about. What I want to talk to him about is the trends that he’s seeing, because he can see the big backend and he can see what all the agencies are doing with the tool. And we’re not going to talk about SharpSpring particularly, but we’re going to talk about the trends of inbound marketing and how people are using CRMs and the mistakes that we’re making. And I feel like this conversation could go in 8,000,000 directions. And quite honestly, I’m making you no promises about what direction that we’re going to go, but I do know it’s going to be interesting. So let’s get to the conversation. I have a ton of questions to ask him, and it feels like this is going to be a kind of peak behind the curtain conversation, that he’s seeing things and he’s watching trends that we don’t know about, and I want to make sure that we get to those. All right, let’s do it.

Eric, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Eric Stockton:

Yeah. Well, thanks for having me, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

So give everybody a little bit of background on you and how you came to be where you’re at today?

Eric Stockton:

Oh, man. I don’t know how far you want me to go back, but I’ll just start-

Drew McLellan:

Not like childhood, maybe. [crosstalk 00:05:46].

Eric Stockton:

Yeah. I’ll start with SharpSpring about that.

Drew McLellan:

Okay.

Eric Stockton:

So in my past life, I ran a group called Marketing Sherpa, which was a marketing research firm that worked with lots of different agencies as well as clients, and I had just a crash course and getting to be involved and learning from some of the best marketers out there. And so after that, I ended up doing a few different projects, including some private equity work. And then also some agency work and really sort of parlayed that into about two-and-a-half years ago, working with SharpSpring, there was an acquisition that was happening, Perfect Audience. I don’t know if you remember that.

Drew McLellan:

Yep.

Eric Stockton:

And so I was part of that acquisition process. I helped do just the due diligence and that sort of thing for it. They needed somebody to run that piece of the business and that’s how I got into SharpSpring, and five months ago we were required by Constant Contact. So now we’re off to the races doing a lot of different things for the new Constant Contact brand.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think a lot of people have been sort of watching all of that with interest to see how that was all going to shake out.

Eric Stockton:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

How blended the two companies and the products were going to be together, and so I know there’s still more of that to come, so I’m sure it’s an interesting time to be there.

Eric Stockton:

Yeah, it is. Tuesday of last week, we were in a pretty big meeting with product and dev and just sort of, what does the roadmap look like as SharpSpring for agencies? And then also, what does it look like in an integration with the larger Constant Contact base? Because the thing that they want, Constant Contact wants is the ability to take a lot of the things that we’re doing that make SharpSpring great, and port that into their capabilities on their side.

So they’re excited about it and we’ve got a lot of work to do, so it’ll be a lot.

Drew McLellan:

Yes. [crosstalk 00:07:51].

Eric Stockton:

But I think it’s off to a good start.

Drew McLellan:

So one of the things I know that you’ve been involved in on the SharpSpring side, and I suspect what we’re going to talk about while your lens is SharpSpring, it’s probably true happening in all of the CRMs and you guys work with so many agencies. And so I’m wondering what you’re seeing in terms of what’s happening that’s a little different right now? How are things shifting? And you and I were talking before we hit the record button, this isn’t really a COVID shift. It’s just a marketing shift.

Eric Stockton:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

You were talking about sort of the different less outbound, more inbound and that that’s causing some problems. So talk about that a little bit?

Eric Stockton:

Yeah. So I think at the end of the day, a lot of companies have come to the realization that you can’t just keep doing it the same way.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Eric Stockton:

And it’s funny, I was talking to… it’s a large company that’s… they do primarily… well, it’s actually a 100% outbound motion where they have about a 100, 120 BDRs, SDRs, and they’ve got some more than 30 or so AEs and that’s their entire go-to market. They land about 20 or 30 customers a month and they are making that change. They’re making that shift to more of a hand raiser, better buying experience inbound motion, and it is a massive organizational shift. [crosstalk 00:09:24].

It absolutely is and I think a lot of the agencies are in that… I talk to a lot of agencies every day. They’re on our podcast. They’re in various places where we’re just talking to customers. And one of the things that we constantly are seeing as they’re talking is we have to communicate what’s going to happen sort of in the… if you play the tape all the way to the end, Mr. CEO, if you play the tape all the way to the end Mr CFO, here’s what you should see happen, here are the milestones. Here’s what needs to happen and it freaks a lot of sales leaders out, right? If you don’t handle that process correctly and you don’t do sort of the due diligence and then the pre-communication ahead of time-

Drew McLellan:

And setting those expectations.

Eric Stockton:

And setting the expectations and going through that process, and building trust, showing, “Okay, here’s what’s going to happen. MQLs are going to drop. And what we define as an MQL is going to change and what SQLs aren’t going to drop necessarily, but here’s what’s going to end up happening,” and you start building credibility at each one of those sort of checkpoints or milestones until you get to the point where the pipeline is continuing to accelerate and things are shifted.

And typically, what I see is around… let’s call it 50/50, right? So 15% sales team goes out and hunts and gets. The other 50% is contributed by sales… Sorry, by marketing in an inbound motion like that. And I think that’s the big change that I’ve been seeing across not only small businesses, but also the agencies that support them, and it’s a pretty massive change.

Drew McLellan:

And as you’re coaching clients in terms of how to have those conversations, what’s the data points? What are the, “Look, you used to get this, and now you’re going to get this, or this used to take this long, and now it’s going to take this long?” Because obviously, you guys have massive amounts of data as you’re watching how all the customers are responding to inbound versus outbound and all that. So what should an agency be saying to their clients in terms of, “Hey, here’s what to expect?”

Eric Stockton:

Yeah. I think it’s a great question, and my job is a ton of fun because I get to sit behind the scenes and I get to look and watch sort of what’s happening at a macro level across lots of different agency campaigns, lots of different SMB campaigns. And if you’re a data nerd, it’s a lot of fun just to be able to see and slice and dice some of this stuff. But I think the core metrics that you ought to be looking for, that you ought to be laying out with your client as a series of milestones are going to be what is your definition of an MQL? What is a true hand raiser?

And typically, that’s defined as somebody who’s coming in of their own volition, coming to your website, raising their hand and asking for a demo or starting a PQL or something, or a free trial even, in some cases.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Eric Stockton:

And typically, what you see is the stuff that you’re shifting away from that you’re feeding the beast with, is going to be things like content syndication or other types of lower quality kind of content, or lower kind of leads.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Eric Stockton:

They are really leads that aren’t high intent hand raisers. You sort of filter those out and what you end up with is sort of the cream of the crop opportunities. And if you do the work ahead of time, like we were talking about earlier, and you communicate what those high quality MQLs are, you define them clearly. And then you track based on your new baseline-

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Eric Stockton:

Of what’s actually going to an opportunity and what’s actually moving through the pipeline and what’s actually closing, you actually don’t see a drop off, right?

Drew McLellan:

Interesting.

Eric Stockton:

And the way that I typically describe it… What’s that?

Drew McLellan:

I said that’s interesting because it feels like a drop, right?

Eric Stockton:

It feels like a drop and I think in the absence of data, that’s exactly what happens is everybody goes off of what it feels like.

Drew McLellan:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Eric Stockton:

And look, I love sales leaders, but that’s exactly what they typically are going to go off of-

Drew McLellan:

Yep.

Eric Stockton:

Is, “Hey, it looks like this is dropping. I don’t know what’s happening. It feels scary to me,” they’ll never use that word, but that’s what they’re thinking. So what you focus on is the stuff that’s sort of your North Star metrics, right? So SQLs, SQOs, whatever you define it as, and what’s actually going to closed one that’s in the pipeline. And the way that I typically do it is I will look at it or will look at it with an agency or a client, and their client look at it and we’ll say, “Okay, look…” If you start separating the wheat from the chaff and you say, “In your CRM, if you work your way backwards from a closed one deal, or more often, it’s like a DA, like a demo attend or some kind of SQL, if you work your way backwards from that, and you say this is the band of MQLs that are actually generating these SQLs, and this is all we’re going to track and all we’re going to care about, we’re going to cut out all of this stuff up here-”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Eric Stockton:

“And we’re going to double down on these things that are actually generating these MQLs, that go to an SQL,” then it becomes less scary because you’re doing the work ahead of time. And Drew, you know this, as you talk with folks all the time, I think half agency’s job is actually doing the work. The other half is just communicating.

Drew McLellan:

Coaching.

Eric Stockton:

Yes, absolutely. And leading people along the process because you’ve been doing it over and over, and over again. And you can do that with confidence because that’s what they need, is they depend on the confidence that you’re bringing to the table that you know what you’re doing.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Eric Stockton:

So I would look at that, and I also look at actual pipeline velocity. So what’s actually happening once it hits an SQL stage to a closed one? How fast are they moving through? And what’s the pipeline value and the pipeline velocity? When you can show that and you’ve sort of bought yourself enough goodwill that the sales team believes in what you’re doing because they’re getting better MQLs, they’re getting better at bats when they’re on the phone and they know that the stuff that you’re sending them is not crap, then they start believing a little bit. And when they become believers, that’s when you start getting a lot of momentum.

Drew McLellan:

I think one of the challenges is in essence, you’re talking about going from a volume business to a specialty business. And so if a sales team or a C-suite is used to volume metrics-

Eric Stockton:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

And they know they’re going to get 2% or 3% of this big volume, the minute they see the volume shrink, they’re still calculating the 2% or 3%, especially in the beginning when they don’t really understand the difference. And so, one of the things that we talk about a lot is the whole idea of, by the time someone raises their hand when you’re doing inbound and you’re driving from this position of authority, or however you want to talk about it-

Eric Stockton:

Yep.

Drew McLellan:

By the time they raise their hand, they’ve sort of already decided, the sales cycle at that point is so much shorter.

Eric Stockton:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Because they’re so much further along in their buying decision, but it’s invisible to you until that moment.

Eric Stockton:

Yep.

Drew McLellan:

Right?

Eric Stockton:

Yep. So it’s interesting to me that you said that, because I think I’ve implemented this type of motion before, and one of the things that typically happens that is really scary for sales leaders is, again, they have that number, like you said. It’s like they’ve got it crystal clear in their head. They’re thinking about the waterfall and what it’s going to look like in month versus pipeline? And how long does it take to close for pipeline? And those are all very real numbers until you have to level set.

And so, one of the things they that we do in SharpSpring is we actually show how that works, and we show like, “Here’s your new baseline because these are the ones that we’ve in the CRM pulled out and shown which ones are actually converting to an actual deal,” showing that 70% of the stuff that they were generating before that they were working as a sales team is no longer relevant. So you’re just focusing on the report that shows the 30% that you care about.

So I do that. And then the other thing that we do is we actually do… I call them lead retros, that’s basically what they are. So we go in and we look at the leads that the sales team has had over the last week. We make it real fresh because you can’t wait too long, sales leaders aren’t going to do that. So you come in, you look at, in an interview process, how are you seeing the leads, or are they in your ICP? What do they feel like to you? How are they looking in the pipeline? And you make sure that the sales leader is a part of that conversation because they need to hear it because most of the time they’re removed from it.

They need to hear that the reps on the floor are actually seeing the same things that you know are going to happen, which is that better quality MQL.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s that quality versus quantity issue, and I think if you’re new to it and you’ve lived off of the quantity side of it, it can be really frightening.

Eric Stockton:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

And I think the other part of it that makes it frightening, I’m curious about sort of your perspective on this, is I think it’s more work on the front-end to be a thought leader, an authority to put out content that’s actually valuable as opposed to just the same Pantone, pick the new color article that everybody else writes about. That’s meaningless.

Eric Stockton:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

And so I think a lot of people look at it and they go, “Can we sustain this effort long enough to make the flip from quantity to quality?”

Eric Stockton:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

And even if we enjoy some early success with quality, what happens if we stop writing the blog or the e-book, or the podcast or the thing? [crosstalk 00:20:19] So are you seeing people’s anxiety around that?

Eric Stockton:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Not just around the shift from quantity to quality, but can we maintain the quality game?

Eric Stockton:

Yeah. So most of us don’t have the luxury of being able to do both, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Eric Stockton:

So we don’t have the budget, we don’t have the luxury to be able to do that. So you have to find those obvious things that are absolutely worthless that are not contributing to a deal, or at the very least in SQL. And that’s what I was saying earlier, is like… so in our CRM, what we’ll do is we’ll look at those different striations, different channels that are yielding very low to no quality, right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Eric Stockton:

We cut that out and we show that to the… what I call the non-marketing executives in the room, right? These are the people that don’t believe the way that you and I necessarily believe, or they’ve been through it before like we have. And so you go through that intro process with a non-marketing executive and you say, “Look, this is your CRM and if we reverse engineered