Episode 389

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You need innovative ideas to stand out and be ahead of the curve. We often get caught up in the chaos of day-to-day agency operations and retreat into the comfort zone of doing things the same way we’ve always done them.

Today, we’re talking you out of that way of thinking and giving you an entirely different framework for approaching client projects. Stan Phelps, an author and keynote speaker with prior agency experience, has a whole new way of thinking about client projects and asking the right questions to build out innovative ideas that will keep clients coming back to you for more.

When we make the time, space, and budget to allow our teams to think outside of the box and take more creative risks, we make space for better, more trusting clients who know you’ll hit a home run for them every time.

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.
innovative ideas

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Creating innovation through action and insights
  • Why we need to be incentivizing our teams and clients to think outside the box
  • The IDEA Framework for mapping out innovative ideas
  • Sometimes it’s about learning what our clients don’t value
  • Using attribute and journey mapping to learn about customers and how they interact with us
  • How to start asking your clients the big questions that lead to big ideas
  • What to internally evaluate before taking your ideas to a client
  • How to infuse innovation into agency operations as an agency leader

“You can compete on the price you charge, which is a mistake, or you can compete based on the experience you provide. People will pay a premium to get a better experience. ” @StanPhelpsPG Click To Tweet
“Research will tell you that creating those opportunities and key moments, in some cases, will return up to a nine-to-one return on investment by simply just fixing the gaps.” @StanPhelpsPG Click To Tweet
“Real innovation occurs when you're able to take insights and then create action as a result.” @StanPhelpsPG Click To Tweet
“You can either do more of what makes you unique, or you can do less of what everyone else does as normal.” @StanPhelpsPG Click To Tweet
“People don't know what they like; they like what they know. If you keep doing the same things you've always done, you're not opening up new avenues or expanding your thinking.” @StanPhelpsPG Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Stan:

Resources:

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 White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to mid-size agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market. We’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road, sellable. With 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan :

Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here with Agency Management Institute, back again with another episode of Build a Better Agency. One of these days I’m going to come back with something completely different. I don’t know what it’s going to be, you’re going to think it’s an episode of Build a Better Agency. And I don’t know. I’m going to sing. No. I probably will not sing. But anyway, I’m going to surprise you one of these days, but not today. Today I have a great episode for you and I’m excited for you to re-meet our guest because he’s been on the show before, but not for quite a long time. I’ll tell you a little bit about him in a minute.

Just want to remind you that tickets are still available. I know we’ll sell out, so I keep telling you about this ’cause I want you to make sure you can go. So grab your ticket, A, before the price goes up again, and B, before we run out tickets. The Build a Better Agency Summit is May 16th and 17th in Chicago. And we have an amazing lineup of speakers. We have three different kinds of speakers at the summit. So we have keynote speakers. So they’re on the main stage and everybody’s in the room together. We have breakouts where you’re going to always have three choices. We’re going to do that three times throughout the conference. So three times you’re going to have to choose between three amazing speakers to hear the topics that are most important to you. This is why a lot of people bring more than one person to the conference, so they can kind of divide and conquer.

And then we’re going to have over 20 different round tables. And a round table is eight to 10 agency owners sitting around a table, a topic that they have chosen with a subject matter expert at that table. And the subject matter expert is going to lead you all in a conversation around that topic. So for example, last year I led a discussion at round table around how do you weave mission, vision and values into your agency so they’re actually a tool that you use to grow the business, to retain employees? And there’s all kinds of other benefits of doing that. So my job in that was to talk to everybody around the table about what they were already doing and everybody shared. And so, already people were stealing ideas from each other, which is the whole purpose of this. And then I threw in some ideas as well, and then we discussed those. So it was a really great, robust conversation where everyone around the table is both the student and the teacher, and I love that format. And the round tables will be everything from media buying and planning to succession, to leadership, to taxes, to finance, to growing young leaders, all kinds of topics. So we would love to have you join us and enjoy all of those different kinds of presentations.

And actually, probably the best presentation of all is not a presentation. It’s you sitting around with a bunch of other agency owners at lunch and at breakfast and on breaks, and connecting with them and finding out who they are and what they do. And you’re going to be amazed at all of the sharing that happens between the attendees there.

So you’re going to learn from the keynote speakers, the breakout speakers, the round table discussions. But where you’re probably going to learn the most and get the most is actually in your interactions with other agency owners and leaders. It really is remarkable. The community is amazing and we’d like you to be a part of it. So grab a ticket, go to the website, agencymanagementinstitute.com, go up to the upper left corner, hit Build a Better Agency Summit, and you’ll see register where you can buy a ticket. And make sure you also grab a hotel room because those are going to sell out as well.

Okay. So let me tell you a little bit about our guest today. So Stan Phelps and I have known each other, gosh, 10 or 15 years. When I first met Stan, he was working at an agency and he was deciding if he wanted to go out on his own. And what he wanted to do is, he wanted to start writing books about marketing topics, and he wanted to be a keynote speaker. So his very first book called Purple Goldfish, I’m going to give you the whole title, 10 Ways to Attract Raving Customers, came out shortly after he left the agency and decided to write this book and be a keynote speaker. He has written 10 books since that time. All of them Goldfish themed, and there’s a reason for that, which I’ll let him tell you. But he’s written about customer service. He’s written about great employees. He’s written about managing and leading a multi-generational office. He has written about how we use technology and marketing. He has written about customer excellence. He’s written about employee engagement. His books are fantastic. He’s a great storyteller. And I guarantee you, you’ll hear some great stories in our conversation.

But what we’re going to talk about today is his latest project and his latest focus, which is how to teach and foster innovation inside your organization, which I know is a hot topic for many of you. And so, we’re going to dig into that. Stan’s always about practical, good, tangible advice that you can put into play. So you’re going to enjoy this episode, you’re going to have some takeaways. And I promise you, you’re going to just enjoy hearing Stan tell his stories and teach us through stories. So with that, let’s just cut to the chase and welcome him to the show. Stan, welcome back to the podcast. It’s good to have you back.

Stan Phelps:

Yeah. Good to be back, Drew.

Drew McLellan :

So we were talking, before I hit the record button, about the fact that pre-pandemic, you were traveling all over the world and mostly doing keynotes and some workshops, but really you were on the road, you were a true road warrior, and obviously COVID changed all of that. I know you’re back on the road now, but I know you’ve also shifted your focus away from the books more to this idea of innovation and how do teams innovate. And in the agency world, what we sell… You used to work at an agency, you know this. We used to sell stuff. We used to sell websites and PPC campaigns and all of that. But the problem is, all of that’s been so commoditized and somebody can go on Upwork or the web and find somebody who can do it less extensively, not as well perhaps, but still less extensively. So even more so, we have to show up with big ideas all the time. And so, this notion of innovation is really critical, I think, to agencies as we enter into the new year and we start thinking about how do we differentiate ourselves, how do we continue to add value to our existing clients, how do we demonstrate value to prospects? And so, I’m hearing this word innovation all the time. So let’s talk a little bit about, first of all, how do you define innovation?

Stan Phelps:

I define it as simply the ability to bring kind of new and fresh thinking and to be able to think outside of the norm of what the industry does. And to me, there’s only two ways to stand out, and this is through the research I’ve done around differentiation, you can either do more of what makes you unique or you can do less of what everyone else does as normal. So I believe, as we go forward, that the only way that you can get competitive advantage is about learning about your customers faster than your competition can, but that only gets you insight. Where real innovation occurs is when you’re able to take those insights and then to be creating action as a result of it. And so, I think innovation is the ability to develop that understanding and then to be able to run with it and create action and impact.

Drew McLellan :

I think that’s what our clients are asking us for, right? We want that outside perspective. The I’m inside the bottle, I can’t accurately read the label on the bottle anymore. I need outside perspective. I need somebody who has insights and ideas about my business, but can also translate them to some sort of action. So don’t disagree with you, but dang, that’s hard. So everyone’s nodding their head as they’re listening, they’re like, “Yes. That’s what we sell. That’s what we do.” But as you know, from your past experience from the clients you work with now, actually doing it is very different than understanding what it is and wanting to do it.

Stan Phelps:

Yeah. Here’s the thing, anyone who’s a leader right now, anyone who’s running an agency, who’s listening to this, it’s like there’s no one here that doesn’t want their team members to be innovative and to be creative in their approach. But I think the challenge is, we don’t teach them how to do it. We may know how to do it ourselves but we don’t give them the framework and the ability to think in process. We certainly don’t give them the space, often, to do it.

Drew McLellan :

[inaudible 00:09:32] the time, right?

Stan Phelps:

Right. And then lastly, if we’re not thinking about it, we’re not probably creating the right rewards that incentivize people to think outside of the norm, right?

Drew McLellan :

It’s interesting. Yeah. It’s probably easier just to do the tried and true. I can get through that faster, I can get through my email and my to-do list by just delivering what’s expected.

Stan Phelps:

Right. And a lot of times it’s because you’re listening to what the client is telling you they think they need, right?

Drew McLellan :

Right. Right.

Stan Phelps:

We know this. People don’t know what they like, they like what they know. But if you keep doing the same things that you’ve always done, you’re not opening up new avenues, you’re not expanding your thinking. So I think really great agencies challenge their clients to think differently and help them kind of expand their space in order to try new things.

Drew McLellan :

Yeah. Yeah. It’s interesting. I think you’re right. Every agency owner wants their team to be innovative. Most agency owners are sort of naturally… They get to that big idea, they have the ability to connect the dots and see something from a different perspective, but very few of them know how to teach. They can’t even articulate how they do it, let alone teach it, right? Like if I said to somebody, “You’re a big thinker, you have great ideas. How do those come to you? How do you take data about a client and come up with something innovative?” The person would recognize they’re capable of doing it, but I don’t know very many people who can articulate, as you said, the framework or the methodology that their brain just naturally knows how to do to get to that big idea, let alone teach it to somebody else.

Stan Phelps:

Right. Yeah. I think everyone brings different pieces to it, and some people it’s more intuitive. The clients that I’ve worked with, now literally hundreds through doing workshops, the process that I talk about, Drew, is what I call the IDEA framework. So that’s an acronym that I use, but it starts with inquire. So how do we understand our customers, right? How do we understand how they interact and how our clients’ customers interact? But very quickly, how do we take those key attributes and find either where there’s gaps, so where your client is not meeting the needs of the customer, or where there’s an opportunity? There’s a key moment, that if you hit that note just at the right time, and distinctively you can really make impact. So it starts with inquire. And then once you develop and see where the gap or the opportunity is, it quickly goes to design. It makes sense. You focus on your most damaging gaps for your clients or their most promising opportunities. And design is all about asking big questions of how you can solve for it, how you can be innovative.

And then the last two steps are more of like how do you take and qualify the ideas, both internally and externally? How do you create a minimally viable solution that you can test? And then, ultimately, if you can get those ideas past that next level, how do you advance them? How do you sell them in? How do you roll them out the proper way? And then, how do you measure them to make sure they’re achieving what you want?

Drew McLellan :

I would’ve said to most of the people listening, breakdown the steps of what you have to do when you’re thinking of big ideas for clients. They would come back with some ballparky thing like what you just said, but if I asked them to say, “How do you do it,” that’s, I think, where the rubber meets the road, and that’s where I think the gap is. So let’s take each one of those and let’s talk about the methodology that leads someone to successfully accomplishing each of those steps. So the inquire, that learning about the client or the customer, how do you recommend or teach that we do that for our clients?

Stan Phelps:

Well, I think it first starts with stepping into the shoes of the customer. And so, using the research that you have to start to create personas to really start to understand what makes that customer tick, what’s valuable to them, what they don’t value. That’s usually the first step that I do with clients. From there-

Drew McLellan :

Hang on, I want to stop you. I think that’s a really interesting question. What don’t they value? I don’t think we ask that question often enough, right?

Stan Phelps:

Right.

Drew McLellan :

We always ask, “What do you love about them,” blah, blah, blah. And maybe what are they not doing well, which is a different question, this is something I value, they just aren’t good at it, but the idea of what do they do that is just unimportant to you or not relevant to you? That’s a great question.

Stan Phelps:

Yeah. So I typically start with kind of understanding the customer. From there we even go deeper. It’s not my tool, but one of the tools I really like is one called attribute mapping.

Drew McLellan :

So tell us about that.

Stan Phelps:

So attribute mapping is really start to break down what the customers of your clients value as it relates to their need, right?

Drew McLellan :

Mm-hmm.

Stan Phelps:

And here’s the thing, you very quickly understand that if they can name six to seven or eight things, those things are not equal, right? There are some things, and what you’re looking for is really the top two. What are the top two drivers of what’s important to them as they think about the need that they have that leads them to the product or service, that solution? And then it’s understanding that, and this is a difficult one, we can’t plant our flag on every hill, right?

Drew McLellan :

Right.

Stan Phelps:

We have to make decisions of what we’re going to focus on. And what that step really requires is, let’s focus on the stuff that’s most important to the client and the customer that we serve, right?

Drew McLellan :

Yeah.

Stan Phelps:

And it’s only in those cases can we focus on those things, but part of this exercise is also looking at the things that aren’t important. And maybe in some of those areas we might even overemphasize them. And so, we have to get comfortable with maybe being unapologetically awful at the things that don’t matter.

Drew McLellan :

Well, that gets back to you’re doing less, right?

Stan Phelps:

Absolutely. It’s the only two ways to stand out. Do more of what makes you unique and what your customers value or less of what everyone else does is normal, but they do it because that’s what everyone else does.

Drew McLellan :

Right. Right.

Stan Phelps:

Right. Or we’ve always done it that way. And so, as part of that, what I typically do, because a lot of the work I do is around the customer and their experience or the employee and their experience, is we start to do some journey mapping. So how is the customer interacting with us? And by stepping into their shoes of that persona and understanding the things that are important through attribute mapping, when we do the journey map, we can start to see where they’re getting stuck. And we also can see where are the key moments within the experience.

Drew McLellan :

Yeah. Good or bad, right? The key moment that propels me to the next step or makes me go, “Nope. I’m done.”

Stan Phelps:

Right. Right. And journey mapping is just a tool, it’s not the end goal. You’re just using that as a tool to highlight kind of those… It’s almost like a heat map, right? Where are those areas that you really need to address? Because I think what happens is, most people start to play a game called Whack-a-Mole. They focus on just the gaps and they’re like potholes. By the time you fill one pothole… Being in the Midwest, what do you know happens?

Drew McLellan :

Yeah.

Stan Phelps:

Another one pops up. And then it’s this continuous game. You also have to think about key moments that you can elevate, right? Where can you really stand out? And if you do those key moments well, they become what some call peak experiences, and that’s what your clients and customers remember. They don’t remember the average or every step that they needed to take, they remember the key moments.

Drew McLellan :

I mean, again, that’s part of the job of being innovative, is identifying either a lack of key moments or opportunities where you can put a key moment where perhaps there’s either no moment or it’s an ordinary moment.

Stan Phelps:

Right. Right. To really stand out. And here’s the thing, research will tell you that creating those opportunities and key moments in some cases will return up to a nine to one return on investment [inaudible 00:19:40]-

Drew McLellan :

Wow.

Stan Phelps:

… simply just fixing the gaps.

Drew McLellan :

Yeah. Interesting.

Stan Phelps:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan :

Okay. So I do all of my due diligence. I learn about the client, I learn about their end game with their customers, we find the gaps, we do some journey mapping. We identify where there are and aren’t peak moments, where we could create them. So now I have this insight, this knowledge. And first of all, this is one of the first places where agencies don’t build in enough time. We don’t do a deep dive on this. We have a three-hour discovery session with a client. We think we know everything, which is already, from the very get-go is biased because we got it out of the client’s mouth and we think that we’re done. So number one, this requires some time. So when you think about sort of mapping out a project or a scope of work for a client, in your experience, how much time does it take to really do a great job? Because I’m assuming, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m assuming if you get this wrong or you get this light, then the rest of the process kind of pales in comparison.

Stan Phelps:

Right. You begin to start prescribing before you really have gotten the right kind of diagnosis, right?

Drew McLellan :

Right.

Stan Phelps:

So I don’t know if there’s a magic number of hours or time. And what I like about at least the 12 steps and the four main areas that we’ve created, it forces you not to skip steps, Drew. So to build out that persona, to really think about attributes to draw upon the research that you might already have from the customers that you’re serving, but I do agree with you that sometimes that can get overlooked because at the end of the day, if we’re being honest, we like the design phase.