Episode 117:

Jeremy Knight spent 20 years as a B2B publisher creating publications for the private equity and fast growth business sectors. With digital technology, the Internet, and social web Jeremy believed making clients the publisher in a new media age was not just a good idea, it was the foundation for building a business. After all, building an audience was a better proposition than renting a list or leveraging third party routes to market, right? He launched Equinet Media in January 2009.

Discovering HubSpot in 2011 was a game changer. The blending of a content marketing play with an inbound methodology propelled the business forward as everything we did for clients had measurable outcomes. Today Equinet is an Inbound Agency, working specifically for the manufacturing and professional services sectors, operating on the EOS system and delivering services through an agile scrum process.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Jeremy’s transition from publisher to agency owner and the challenges he faced in that transition
  • How Hubspot changed the game for Equinet — even when it was far less powerful in 2011 than it is today
  • Why CMOs are going to lead revenue and why sales and marketing are two halves of the same whole
  • Hiring for attitude and training for aptitude instead of hiring based on skills alone
  • Why you need to focus on developing different skills in all your team member when you keep all the work inside your agency and never outsource anything
  • Why your team needs to have access to and understanding of the tools inside a tool like Hubspot, even if using them is not part of their day-to-day job
  • What Agile is and how its point-based system works
  • Learning how to implement Agile into your agency so that it matches up with inbound
  • Why Agile doesn’t work the same for every agency and why you need to be ready to customize it
  • Using Agile to figure out what works needs to be done to achieve the best results
  • Why Jeremy uses two sets of points within Agile — one for the value it provides a customer and another for the effort it takes his team

The Golden Nugget:

“When done well, inbound is about responding to what’s actually happening, not what you planned to happen.” – @TheJeremyKnight 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 his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey there everybody, Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Today’s episode we are going to talk about agency evolution, we are going to talk about agency systems and process and how to do that in a better way, and we are going to talk about the whole idea of mensurability and accountability with our clients and the value that that brings. Let me tell you a little bit about our guest and then I want to jump right into the conversation. My guest today is Jeremy Knight. Jeremy spent 20 years as a B2B publisher creating publications for the private equity and fast growth business sectors. As digital technology came in and the internet and social web, Jeremy began to sort of play around with the idea that perhaps the idea of making clients the publisher in the new media age wasn’t just a good idea, but it was the foundation for building a business.

So from his perspective that made sense for him to launch an agency so Equinet Media launched in January of 2009, and really the whole premise of this was the idea of having the client build their own audience rather than the old school way of renting lists or leveraging third party routes to market. So for Jeremy and his team, they kicked off in ’09 and worked for a couple years and then discovered HubSpot in 2011 and for them that was really a game changer. So the whole idea of blending a content marketing play with inbound methodology really propelled the agency forward, and now all the sudden everything they did was measurable and they could talk about outcomes with their clients. So today they are absolutely an inbound agency. They specialize in working for the manufacturing and professional services sector. They also operate their business on the EOS or the traction system, and deliver services through an agile scrum process.

So for those of you that have been listening to me for a while or know me, know that my ears perked up on several things. One, the whole idea of an inbound agency and the ability to measure results and talk about outcomes with clients. The second is Jeremy’s decision to narrow into niches rather than trying to serve everyone, and the third is you know that I’m a huge fan of traction and the EOS system. So we have lots to talk about today. Jeremy, welcome to the podcast.

Jeremy Knight:

Drew, thank you for having me.

Drew McLellan:

So you go from publisher to agency owner. What was that like? What was the learning curve around that?

Jeremy Knight:

Steep.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Jeremy Knight:

It was born as much out of frustration as it was out of what I believed to be a good idea. Back in those days publisher’s relationship with technology was sketchy at best. It seemed to me that the leaders in publishing seemed to think that the technology was creating page turning gizmos that cast shadows and rustled as you turned the page, reflecting a distinctly non digital process in a digital way that seemed utterly banal to me at the time. So that and the fact that things, so many opportunities seemed to be opening up in ways in which you could reach people outside of the post.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. So the first couple years you were more of a traditional agency, but trying to wrap your arms around the digital tools, right?

Jeremy Knight:

Well I wouldn’t necessarily say a traditional agency in so far as it was very specific. It was the idea of creating publications for clients and then getting those publications in front of the people who mattered rather than offering digital advertising and whatever, we weren’t doing any media buying, we weren’t doing anything that a normal agency might do. And back in 2009, from what I could see, there weren’t many people who were offering this service of turning you into a publisher. But to do that was easier said than done. There’s a question of creating micro sites for clients, leveraging our blog to an extent, email to an extent, social to an extent, but it was something of a Frankenstein exercise.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Jeremy Knight:

But the underlying value, if you like, was in the content and the content creation and understanding how that would resonate with the client’s audience. But at that time, I wouldn’t say we were very good or had any particularly sophisticated ways of helping clients build an audience in the first place, and that of course is incredibly important in the mix.

Drew McLellan:

So really at that point you were good at creating that content, but not necessarily connecting it to the audience that the client wanted to talk to?

Jeremy Knight:

I was good at pulling things together.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Jeremy Knight:

20 years in publishing, in publishing, in magazine publishing that is, you build an asset, you understand what an audience is looking for, where there’s a niche in the market, you pull together great journalists, great designers, you pull together a team of people around you and at the time you build out subscriptions and you sell advertising, and then you get to a point, a kind of tipping point where you can start to sweat the brand if you like, so that’s when you can start rolling out events and awards, conferences, data, analysis of that data, that kind of thing.

So 20 years of doing that can teach you a thing or two about how to bring things together in a way that’s going to be meaningful to the company you’re working for in the publishing context when I was a publisher. But in this instance, moving that onto the client.

Drew McLellan:

Right. So of the three things, the EOS or traction system, HubSpot, and niching your business around specifically industries, which one of those came first?

Jeremy Knight:

So HubSpot came first. HubSpot as you mentioned in the introduction was a revelation to me. It wasn’t even a 20, 25% of what it is today back in 2011, it was still emerging, if you like, but it was so dramatically different than anything I’ve seen before, and truly already did make it possible to bring all of the things I’ve been doing in lots of different platforms and channels and the like into one play where I could manage the whole thing, the whole kit and caboodle if you like, as well as beginning to measure the outcomes from what I was doing, and that was an absolute game changer because I can’t remember who said it, but somebody said something about whether marketing budget was going [inaudible 00:08:19] advertising, they knew half of it must be getting somewhere surely, but no idea what happened with the other half.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Jeremy Knight:

That’s particularly true I think of magazine or newspaper advertising. That is no longer true if you’re going around it in the right way. So even back in 2011, that was already a key differentiator. So I was able to marry technology and content in a way that I had kind of as I say, kind of created this Frankenstein process before HubSpot. But yeah, HubSpot was the great enabler for us and it changed things for us. It’s from that point on that I think Equinet started to fulfill it’s original promise. I think it’s not that we weren’t delivering value, it’s just it wasn’t very easy to measure.

Drew McLellan:

My guess is you could measure bits and parts but there was no overall look at how all of these things tie together and work together to serve up one result.

Jeremy Knight:

Yeah, what could be measured was in the control of the client, so they would stick with us because they’d be getting comments back, because they’d get people coming through to them saying I read this, or I saw that, and to the client that was proof, a concept that created the value. With a mechanism like HubSpot, then you can, it’s a lot more transparent a lot earlier in the process, and you can track all the way through, and what I just mentioned about clients then seeing the value in the goodness of time is equally still proved. So you have more demonstrable value, I suppose is what I’m trying to say.

Drew McLellan:

Well but also I’m sure some clients were better at A, tracking those kind of comments, or even hearing them and noticing them, and B were also at a varied level of success in terms of reporting back to you, so it’s also leaving the measurement to a pretty subjective third party, the client, and the client’s employees to report back on if they’re getting feedback.

Jeremy Knight:

Yeah. I think that’s true. But also by chance rather than design, if you think back because I think you’re nearly as young as me, Drew, but you’ll remember …

Drew McLellan:

I’m not sure that does either of us any favors, but okay.

Jeremy Knight:

You’ll remember by the end of 2007, ’08, ’09, ’10, clients were already beginning to really question traditional ways of doing things, we’d already had some fantastic commentators writing a series of books and everything, but there was a sense that we have to try something new, we’ve got to look at new ways of reaching an audience, which arguably all boils up into a digital frenzy over time for which we’re paying some dues now. So there was an appetite for a new way of doing things back in 2009 and ’10, and I think whilst I was launching a business at the beginning of the biggest financial meltdown in my lifetime, nonetheless, companies have learned the lesson that you do not want to bury your head in the sand or batten down the hatches and do no marketing. In the UK we had a pretty big recession at the beginning of the ’90s and that was I think lessons learned there, that you don’t do that. So people needed to do something, and we seemed to have an interesting solution backed up by the story I could tell around 20 years in B2B publishing.

Drew McLellan:

Well I also think the other part of that is I think all over the world but certainly in the UK and the US, by the mid ’07, ’08, ’09 for us was when the US was climbing out of the deep recession that we were in. The whole idea of spending marketing dollars without being able to demonstrate results had lost favor. So for CMOs if they wanted to keep their job, they needed to be able to show that for the money they spent of their company, that there was a return. So I think all of this was sort of the perfect storm that led to outcome based marketing rather than a pure brand play or an awareness or things like that.

Jeremy Knight:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

And I think we finally had the tools where we could do the math and do the counting in an easier and more systemized and more trusted methodology.

Jeremy Knight:

Yes, I agree. And I wonder, Drew, it may have come up on one of your previous podcasts, but I wonder if we’re not in the foothills of how technology is going to ultimately help CMOs, because CMOs are going to become responsible for revenue ultimately, I believe. It’s all going to meld into the revenue department of someone up in [inaudible 00:14:04] but our sales and marketing will recognize each other, value what they both do, and find better ways of working together to deliver better results. I think the CMOs result, I don’t know if they’ll be called the CMO, but it will essentially be that role I think.

Drew McLellan:

I think you’re right. I think one of the things we’re seeing across larger clients is that either sales and marketing departments are merging together or they have now a shared budget and shared responsibility. So in the good old days, they were sort of enemies, and oftentimes they threw each other under the bus when something didn’t work because a lot of the work that was done was more subjective and it was hard to tell, to your point I know half of my advertising dollars are working, I just don’t know which half. So in that era it was easy to say well if the sales people did this, the leads we generate would turn into sales and the sales people it’s easy for them to say well, if we had better qualified leads. But now with the data I think they are sort of forced to recognize that they are two halves of the same whole and if they don’t work together, then everybody is going to get fired.

Jeremy Knight:

Yeah, I completely agree.

Drew McLellan:

And I think what you’re saying about HubSpot is true, and full transparency I think it’s true for many of the marketing automation softwares today, the Pardots and the Marketos, and there are other tools out there other than HubSpot but I think an agency today is, in fact I just gave a trends report, and one of the terms that I was talking about was the fact that marketing automation is table stakes today. If you don’t know how to do inbound and do it well, and if you have not partnered with a software solution that you really have mastered, you’re behind the times in terms of agencies, and if you’re not offering that and talking about that today, so back when you started in 2011, it was still a lot of people weren’t talking about it, a lot of people weren’t familiar with it, but today I think clients expect agencies to be able to do the kinds of things that HubSpot or other marketing automation software will alow you to do.

Jeremy Knight:

Yes. I wanted to, if I may, just comment on what you just said with regards to HubSpot though because absolutely, there’s lots of marketing automation tools out there. I think however, one of the things that differentiates HubSpot is the fact that it can help you build an audience as well, whereas marketing automation requires that you already have a database, it requires that you have an opted in database that you’ve got big numbers and you’re able to work those numbers. Whereas HubSpot is doing something as well as that which is that audience piece.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Jeremy Knight:

But that said also HubSpot is probably operating in not necessarily smaller than Marketo or Pardot, but quite often with slightly smaller companies who may have more of a need to build audiences as well as their existing smaller databases, whereas if you’re working with an [inaudible 00:17:29] or a Pardot or a Marketo then you might more likely have bigger databases, certainly bigger marketing teams, more sophisticated marketing teams. So I do think HubSpot, sorry, carry on.

Drew McLellan:

No that’s okay. I think the difference is when I look across the landscape of the agencies that we work with, if an agency is working with a Marketo or one of the others, oftentimes that’s client dictated, that client already had the system in place when they hired the agency. When agencies are selecting software or a tool or a partner, then they tend to go to HubSpot or a SharpSpring or somebody like that, that does have a more robust offering I think.

Jeremy Knight:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I think you’re right. So what was that like for you to go from sort of hodgepodging it all together to being able to put it sort of all under one roof and all through one tool? Was there a big learning curve for you around all of that?

Jeremy Knight:

Yes. But I would say that there’s a continual learning curve in this space. If you’re going to use this type of technologies and you’re going to work with an outfit like HubSpot, then be prepared to be in a process of continually learning, because the technology doesn’t stand still, and the thing about it-

Drew McLellan:

Thank goodness.

Jeremy Knight:

Yeah. But the thing about that, or the risk inherent in that is it’s easier to break things and do things badly than it is to do things really well, so you’re not keeping up with it all, then the great savior technology can be your undoing rather than instrumental in driving successful outcomes.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Jeremy Knight:

Yeah, it’s easy to get blinded by the technologies sometimes, I think people buy into it suspecting that the purchase is going to fix the issue, and it’s not [crosstalk 00:19:34]-

Drew McLellan:

Like it’s a magical elixir, right. Absolutely.

Jeremy Knight:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. In fact I have a lot of agencies that jump on the bandwagon and then they lament that it takes them a couple of months to sort of even get up and get going and there’s so much to learn. Of course that’s true, it’s a robust system and it’s got a lot of levers and bells and whistles and if you want to use them all you have to learn how to do that.

Jeremy Knight:

I would say to anybody setting out and doing that and thinking oh my gosh what a hill to climb, get used to it.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So I’m curious, how do you staff for that? How large is your agency and how many people can get under the hood of HubSpot and make it sing?

Jeremy Knight:

So I’d describe us as boutique, there’s only 10 of us, soon to be 11-

Drew McLellan:

Which by the way is larger than the average agency, at least here in the US. So you’re not a small agency, you’re a good sized agency.

Jeremy Knight:

Who knew?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, there you go.

Jeremy Knight:

There we go. Well with our more than small agency I have found is partially to do with geography, we’re 60 miles north of London, but even if we were in London, I think hiring for the skillsets that would make for the ideal person in an inbound agency, albeit across different disciplines, that’s not been my experience that that is successful. It’s a much longer route, route for everyone over the pond, but we teach and we take time, so we, it’s riskier too, but we are very discerning in our recruitment processes, but we absolutely recruit culture and cultural fit and we absolutely try and recruit the smartest people we can find and then teach them and have as a consequence process in place for doing that, and that seems so incredibly important because otherwise it becomes impossible. And it’s not enough to just put people through the HubSpot [inaudible 00:22:00], which is fantastic, fantastic resource, and I’m so glad they do it, but it’s not enough.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Jeremy Knight:

So there’s certain things you can’t do. You can’t necessarily teach business acumen, or maybe you could, but I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily in our gift. So the people have to have an element of experience, I simply look at [inaudible 00:22:26] agencies, I think there’s fewer of them today that are predominantly made up of interns.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Jeremy Knight:

In so far as I just don’t believe that those people can truly empathize with customers because they don’t understand business, and I think that’s critical.

Drew McLellan:

I think your belief of hiring for attitude and training for aptitude over time has proven, whether you’re in a secondary market or you’re in a big city, over time that has proven for most agencies that that is where you get the best employees, the stickiest employees, the employees that stick around that really embed themselves in the agency, and when you hire for skill alone and you disregard those nagging worries about culture, that as a general rule doesn’t work out so well. So I think your hiring methodology is the one that has proven for most agencies to be the most successful.

Jeremy Knight:

I think Simon Sinek talks about building his own business where he wants to build a business where people feel motivated to come to work in the morning and fulfilled by the time they go home, and for me that’s like spring bird song or something, I find that so inspirational. You can’t pretend at doing that. You have to live that, and I think if you’ve got a learning environment where you truly are creating the type of environment where people are constantly in a process of constant improvement themselves as well as for our clients, that’s a positive environment, and that’s the type of environment, to your point, that people will stick around longer for.

But recently, I had the experience of having invested a lot of time, money in somebody, getting an amazing job offer to go and get a very good marketing job in a university, well [inaudible 00:24:39] which is not a RMIT, but it’s engineers, it’s a pretty big school, it’s a pretty interesting school, and ultimately this company celebrated that job move for that person and it felt terrible on the flip side, we had to do something about that, all of this activity we had to do, but as to the relationship of that person that’s left, we threw a party for them where we bought them presents, we were absolutely delighted for them. We drew the line at making it look too attractive to leave.

Drew McLellan:

Right. You all don’t get a party, just make that very clear right now.

Jeremy Knight:

But that felt fantastic, being able to do that, and it was genuine. So it felt fantastic. If it hadn’t been genuine then it wouldn’t have, I suspect.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think sometimes you recognize that people are destined for something different, and I also think that for many agencies when their great employees leave and go to do other things, oftentimes down the road, that offer then creates new opportunities for that agency. That person is not going to forget the relationship they have with you, and if they’re in a position to either recommend an agency or hire an agency, you guys are going to be at the top of the list.

Jeremy Knight:

I’ll send her an email as soon as we finish this podcast.

Drew McLellan:

A reminder, that’s right. Okay, so back to the question of you have 11 people, or you’re soon to have 11 people, how many of them are fluent in HubSpot?

Jeremy Knight:

I would say that they’re all fluent to median level. So everybody is required to understand the tool, even content creators. So you I suspect are familiar with Paul Roetzer?

Drew McLellan:

Yes I am.

Jeremy Knight:

He’s a fantastic thinker in our space in my opinion.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Jeremy Knight:

One of his original groups, which not so much lately, but if anybody was joining for three up to about two years ago, it was required that they read The Marketing Agency Blueprint. The rationale behind, I bought the book for them, and I bought the book for them during the hiring process and I asked them to read it and I wanted to have discussions with them about it, because what he says about digital hybrids, it’s not that I could believe 100% in that, I don’t think that everybody should be an expert in everything. I know that’s not what you’re suggesting, you’re suggesting that we should all be able to touch on several different things, not just one, but in the context of agile that’s so important.

But yeah, I think that a digital hybrid in the context of the sorts of people you’re looking for is something that needs to be in the equation, but we’re also looking for aptitude and ideally existing expertise, but that’s not always the case, in what they can bring to the party. That’s especially relevant when you’re talking about content, for example. [inaudible 00:27:52] everybody should be able to write, alluding once again to what Paul was writing about in The Marketing Agency Blueprint, [inaudible 00:28:03] produces for clients, and some people have just got a knack for data, and being able to read the rooms, being able to read the data, and evaluate next moves and set up tests for what if this way, or what if that, this is a special kind of person. This is not the same type of person as a content creator, for example, and filling the mix, covering the matrix with these different skillsets and where you’re lacking, seeing whether you’ve got opportunities to introduce training and you’ve got to give people the opportunity of pursuing interests and abilities and that sort of area is just part and parcel of constantly evolving as an agency I think.

You’ve got to be constantly looking to improve and evolve. It just seems to me part of the era in which we live that you need to do that. But I think coming back to your point, the understanding the minimum mix if you’re the type of agency that wants to do everything in house, which we are, that’s incredibly important. If you’re happy to outsource or use freelancers then arguably it’s a different set of questions or rules. Personally, that freaks me out. I just don’t work with freelancers or outsource, I feel utterly responsible for everything we do and prepare to be held to account for it all. Anyway, I’ve gone off down a rabbit hole there, sorry.

Drew McLellan:

That’s all right.

Jeremy Knight:

Yeah, hopefully I answered the question.

Drew McLellan:

It’s interesting because some agencies live and breathe with a core set of staff and then freelancers around them and other agency owners are more like you where they want to try and do it all in house. The burden in terms of staffing is very different, as you say.

Jeremy Knight:

Oh yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So I just want to make sure I understand this, so everybody on your team can log into HubSpot and set up a client or change a campaign or do they have different levels of skills based on their job description?

Jeremy Knight:

They all have different levels of skills, not everybody would set up a client, but they have access to the client portals. Not everyone is an admin in every portal. That’s for sure. But the agile process has helped us solve for what was slightly more opaque before we introduced agile. So people having access to the different tools within HubSpot and understanding their use even if that’s not part and parcel with their day to day job is important in my opinion because so much of what we’re doing for clients hangs off our ability to be able to leverage that technology and especially in the context of burning down points in a sprint and where someone’s overloaded for whatever reason, or someone’s ill, then we need to be able to get in there and fix things and get things done because we need to burn down those points. More to the point, we need to deliver those outcomes. It’s not really about the points, it’s about the outcomes.

So to that end, people need to be well versed in the tool. That said, I don’t think there’s anyone who’s just doing one thing in this company. The closest we have to it is our business development manager who’s doing sales and marketing for the agency. They’re not working on any client work at all, but by definition, they have to really understand HubSpot-

Drew McLellan:

Sure, because they’re selling it, right.

Jeremy Knight:

Well we have to be our own best client too, right?

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yep.

Jeremy Knight:

So it’s really, really important she knows how to do that.

Drew McLellan:

And I think your point is, I think in any agency even 25 people or smaller, you don’t get to only wear one hat. You have to have multiple skills and you have to, every day, part of what makes the work interesting is every day is different and you’re pulling the wagon in a different direction, and you may be pulling a completely different wagon. So I think you’re right about that.

Jeremy Knight:

I think that part of the equation, if I can call it that, it sounds a bit scientific, is are you building a lifestyle type agency or are you growing your business, growing your agency? Because if you’re doing the latter, then you have to be very deliberate about the skillsets you’re bringing in and how you’re going to deliver client value based on who’s doing it. So you get much bigger than we are today, you’re going to have to start splitting out teams or hives as Mike Lieberman does or did call them from Square 2 Marketing, and that’s pretty important because you definitely need certain skillsets within each team, albeit that some teams can share a resource, for example, in designing something like that, but you have to be very conscious of that kind of make up and it has to be in line with your plans for growth, and you actually have to hire before you need people, that’s one of the difficult things.

Inbound is maybe they’re smarter people than me, but inbound is labor intensive. It’s difficult. You don’t make as much profit. The profit margins are smaller than they are with other more traditional forms of marketing maybe, this is a tough gig, in my experience. It really is. It’s not easy. And you can’t, or rather it’s very dangerous to sell and sell and sell and think I’ll fix the delivery on the back end, I don’t need to worry too much about that. It takes a long time to onboard someone. Not to mention the amount of time it takes to find them in the first place.

Drew McLellan:

Right. It is not an easy business, that’s for sure. I want to talk about that agile aspect of your business, but let’s take a quick break and then we’ll come back and dig into that part.

If you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while, odds are you’ve heard me mention the AMI pure networks, or the agency owner network, and what that is really is that’s like a vistage group or an EO group, only everybody around the table owns an agency in a non competitive market. So it’s a membership model, they come together twice a year for two days, two days in the spring and two days in the fall, and they work together to share best practices, they show each other their full financials so there’s a lot of accountability, we bring speakers in, and we spend a lot of time problem solving around the issues that agency owners are facing. If you’d like to learn more about it, go to agencymanagementinstitute.com/network. Okay, let’s get back to the show.

All right everybody, I’m back with Jeremy Knight and we are talking about being an inbound agency and now I want to dig into the idea of agile. So a lot of agencies have not embraced agile yet. So talk to us a little bit, first of all define for us what you mean when you say that you operate that way, and what does that look like and I suspect that ties to the reference you keep making to points. So give us a little bit of a framework around all of that.

Jeremy Knight:

Yeah. So inbound when done well responds to what’s actually happening, not what you plan to happen. Agile by definition responds to what’s actually happening, not what you planned out in your [inaudible 00:36:49] or whatever it might be. The natural, the marriage of the two is almost a no brainer, in fact, in my opinion, to deliver inbound in any other way would be difficult with the benefit of hindsight because with an agile process, which is developed from software development, it was never intended to be built for marketing, but it has been leveraged by marketing, not just by inbound agencies as everyone will know. But the danger is taking on an agile process, living it to the letter of the law and trying to deliver it in the way that a software development house might do it, and then wondering why it doesn’t work. It has to adapt for inbound.

So you can take your daily stand ups, typically 15 minutes where the whole team is talking about what they’ve done, what they got on today, and any obstacles in their way, and you can take your sprint review if you like and what’s happened in the last sprint and what’s going to happen in this next sprint, you can take your strategy review and you can take your retrospective, all of these things in our experience anyway took quite along time to implement and get right. There were many, many more ways of getting it wrong then there were getting it right. Because of the way we’ve first implemented the OS and traction, I’ve learned a lesson about when it’s a good idea to hire consultants and when maybe it’s not, or I learned some other lessons with hiring a consultant with agile which was when it’s a good idea to say okay, we’ve come this far, thank you so much for your help without it we wouldn’t have got here, but now the time is for us to adapt and move forward without you because you’re too pure.

But learning how to implement agile in the first place, being as pure as possible, learning how to relate everything we do, read by that the tasks, or it’d be like the outputs, associating points with that activity that aren’t just based on time, that aren’t just based on cost, that aren’t necessarily based on value which is a different type of point in my opinion, but where the team gets to decide how much points you associate with an activity so that everybody feels on board through a process of daily stand ups and weekly reviews and monthly backlogs, but in our world, quarterly reviews with clients which fits, ironically, very well with the OS in terms of pulsing.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Jeremy Knight:

This whole process, I say easy to talk about, it’s easy to understand, it’s not difficult to do, and you have to adapt. But I’m sure people have said it before, if you are not embracing agile and you’re interested in it, I think his name’s Jeff Sutherland, Doing Twice The Work in Half The Time, is an excellent starting point, it’s a fabulous book. That whole process was developed by software development, finding your own way of adapting that for inbound is the key differentiator, and I would argue that it’s not necessarily going to be the same for every agency. That’s agile. You have to get agile with agile. You’ve got to adapt it for the way you deliver things, for the way that your team, for who you are, the way you do things.

Drew McLellan:

So how does agile change in terms of the points or the proposal or what you offer clients, how does it change what you’re selling?

Jeremy Knight:

Well firstly, one has to be agile in the process of where you can, selling as well. So you need to do, in my opinion, the strategy work before you can truly get to what a client is going to need in order to achieve the goals and timelines. So you need to understand the brand and positioning, their core propositions and reasons to believe those core propositions, all of that, of course you’ve got to understand the personas, but you’ve got to understand the personas that beyond a light touch, you’ve got to understand the trigger events, the barriers to doing anything with the client, the reasons for challenging the status quo, as well as the buyer’s journey, you’ve got to get really under the skin of all that, that’s before you’ve even started looking at content and synopses for that content and how that content’s going to resonate with their customers and how you’re going to introduce remarkable aspects of that and respond with the messaging, yada, yada.

All of this needs to be done before you’ve got a sense of really what is going to be required. And in order to be agile in the process of delivering that, in my opinion, you’ve got to break down what could be in annual or three year goal, you’ve got to break that down into quarters. So for example, if the customer who you’re working with has only got a few thousand people visiting their site each month, there is seriously no point in looking at how you’re going to tweak the stats in the funnel, how you’re going to work on the conversion paths. You’ve got to get traffic up, and consequently you need to be spending a lot of emphasis or points or time on creating blog posts, or maybe you need to be looking at paid social, maybe you’ve got to be looking at any number of activities that are going to increase traffic and that you should be setting in place short term goals that respond to that, taking the client with you in their understanding of why you’re doing that because of a tool like HubSpot of course the outcomes are all very clear indeed.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Jeremy Knight:

Because in that job process, agile inbound process, ideally for us anyway, you’ll be on weekly calls with the client, you’ll be in monthly backlog meetings with the client, they will have visibility of what you’re moving through that pipeline, you know what, this is a different game when you do things this way. It’s riskier. You are transparent by definition.

Drew McLellan:

Right. You are held responsible for results.

Jeremy Knight:

You hold yourself responsible for results.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Jeremy Knight:

That’s a tougher play, but what it achieves, nobody likes surprises.

Drew McLellan:

That’s for sure.

Jeremy Knight:

One of the biggest issues I’ve seen with agencies, especially HubSpot partner agencies, I’m not leveling it to everyone, there’s just quite a few that have grown incredibly fast. In other words they sold lots of retainers fast, and they’ve come from nothing and suddenly they’re [inaudible 00:44:49] or something. My experience of that is it’s almost the writing is potentially on the wall. Of course I could be wrong, and of course there are smarter people than me out there, but the biggest danger to inbound is churn.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Jeremy Knight:

And one of the biggest reasons for churn is not understanding what you’re doing in the first place, or being promised something that doesn’t get delivered.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. A lot of it’s about setting expectations, and I think the whole agile process begins to frame up the conversation differently in that this is an ongoing effort and we are going to make incremental improvement every week, every month, every quarter, but the old way of thinking about marketing where we assign a project and then a project is done and we move onto the next project, the mix of inbound and agile sort of changes the conversation to say this is a continuum rather than a series of finite projects that all will have completion dates and then we don’t talk about them again.

Jeremy Knight:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

And I think that’s a big shift for a lot of agencies and for a lot of clients.

Jeremy Knight:

Oh it’s definitely the latter.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Jeremy Knight:

Yeah. In the same ways you need to educate staff, you need to educate your customers. But the people for whom you can truly make a difference, the people who truly have pain, who truly have a need, who truly are prepared to go the extra mile, and it’s not without pain for them too. Clients most typically with inbound can become bottle necked, especially around content, and you have to be able to deal with that in ways where you don’t get fired. But for being a pain in the proverbial.

Drew McLellan:

Right. So how does points play into this? As you know, this is one of Paul’s ideas in his book is the idea of rather than dealing in currency that you sell blocks of points, right?

Jeremy Knight:

Yeah. One of his key points was efficiency and that the client isn’t paying for inefficiency when it’s points based system as opposed to [inaudible 00:47:10] system. So a blog in Paul’s world is three points, and you’re going to pay three points whether the writer took three hours or six hours to write the post.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Jeremy Knight:

So, carry on.

Drew McLellan:

And then how does, so when you converted to that, what was the impact on your agency in shifting from an hourly or a fee model to this points model?

Jeremy Knight:

Well we took quite some time doing it internally first without sharing it with clients. In other words, we found our feet first, we made sure that we were driving efficiencies for ourselves before we started selling points, if you follow me.

Drew McLellan:

Yep, yep.

Jeremy Knight:

Anyone setting out, I would highly recommend going about it that way because otherwise you’re quite literally experimenting on your clients which isn’t necessarily always the best way of doing things.

Drew McLellan:

And experimenting on your own bank account because if you get it wrong you have to honor it.

Jeremy Knight:

Yeah. And you’ve got to find the right level. As I say, I don’t think there’s a silver bullet here, there isn’t a one size fits all. You do have to find your own way, but there’s lots of great pointers as to how to get there. But to answer your question slightly more fully, yeah I speak to other agencies that implement agile and they have the same point in scrums, they do what they call value points, and they’re one in the same thing. Certainly it’s simpler to do things that way. I simply don’t operate in that way in so far as the agile process is two fold. The agile process is both for your team as well as it is for delivering value to your client, and the value of both of those things isn’t necessarily equal, it’s not the same thing. So the team needs to be able to buy in and celebrate their own velocity, which is very different to delivering value to clients.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Jeremy Knight:

So you can do things more efficiently doesn’t necessarily relate to better value for clients. So that’s part of why I don’t like to marry the two. It makes our life more complex, but there’s a rationale behind that.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Jeremy Knight:

That’s something we had to find our own way. I need for the team to be able to score activity based on effort, which doesn’t necessarily relate to the value of the customer, I’m saying the same thing slightly different way hopefully, not over laboring.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I think again I think this is a methodology that is just starting to, Paul’s been talking about it for a few years and others, but I think it’s just starting to be more commonly understood and more agencies are beginning to experiment with it and as you said earlier in our conversation, this is part of the lifelong learner methodology of running an agency today is that no matter how we do business today, we will be continuing to tweak and evolve it over time because nothing is static anymore. So I think this is one of the things, this is a trend that’s coming is this idea of a point based currency, if you will, that puts some uniformity to deliverables, that puts a lot of onus on the agency to be efficient and effective in the way they create those deliverables.

Jeremy Knight:

Yeah, which is increasingly important as we as agencies are going to need to prove our value and our worth further and further into that income stream. So to be able to respond to the need for the invested dollar to turn into the profit on the other side, we’re going to have to become more aligned with the accountability in that regard. So this is going to lead to things that agencies have resisted, so for example guarantees and things that state that you paid on results. This is very, very scary for agencies because it can go so badly wrong, it can kill an agency.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Jeremy Knight:

I can’t help feel that that’s where we’re headed.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I think you’re right. I think the whole idea of outcome based marketing and results and being able to … the inability to tie your efforts to a result and then hoping the client sticks around I think is going away very, very quickly. I think that’s an important lesson that we all need to be keeping track of and know that if it hasn’t hit your market or hasn’t hit your agency yet it’s coming, and so it’s good to be thinking about that now and how are you going to answer those questions and how are you going to be able to make sure that you knit those efforts to results, whatever those are, whether it’s leads generated or sales or whatever it is. Because I think you’re right, and again, as we talked about in the top of the hour, the whole idea of sales and marketing coming together and recognizing that they have to work in tandem, and by the way the agency has to be a part of that mix and we’re all going to be held accountable at the end of the day for the bottom line and that’s a shift for many agencies.

That to me is a perfect place for us to wrap up this conversation. I know I’ve taken up a lot of your time and we didn’t even touch on the EOS stuff which tells me that I need to ask you to come back so we can talk about that down the road, but Jeremy thank you so much for your time and for sharing your experiences. I’m really grateful that you made the time to do this today, thank you.

Jeremy Knight:

Thank you very much for having me, Drew. It was a great pleasure spending an hour with you.

Drew McLellan:

If folks want to learn more about your agency or if they want to reach out to you, what’s the best way for them to find you?

Jeremy Knight:

We’re on equinetmedia.com, I’m @thejeremyknight, I’m Jeremy Knight on LinkedIn, and my email is [email protected] We like to think that we’re always helping and always delighted to do so. So anybody ever felt for whatever reason they wanted to reach out, it’s very easy to set up time with me. I’d be delighted to help at all in any way if I ever could.

Drew McLellan:

Thank you. That would be awesome. And I’m sure you will have people take you up on that, so I appreciate it.

That wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. Hopefully you found it incredibly helpful and inspiring and that you are ready to go out and do some great things. I also want to talk to you about another tool that we’ve built that I would love to offer you. So as you’ve probably heard me preach, I believe a lot of agencies chase after the wrong new business prospects, and I think we do that because we have not taken the time to clearly define who our sweet spot clients should be. And the way you do that is by looking at your current clients and then developing out who your prospects should be based on your best current clients. So we’ve put together a sweet spot client filter, say that five times fast, that I would love for you to take advantage of and for you to use inside your shop to figure out exactly who you should be targeting for new business.

To get access to that free tool, all you need to do is text AMI, for Agency Management Institute, as you might imagine, AMI. Text that to 38470. Again, text AMI to 38470 and we will get the sweet spot client filter out to you right away.

Thanks again for listening, if I can be helpful you can find me as always at [email protected] Otherwise, I will touch base with you next week with another great episode. 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 mid size agencies. Don’t miss an episode as we help you build the agency you’ve always dreamed of owning.