Episode 117

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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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We’re proud to announce that Hubspot is now the presenting sponsor of the Build A Better Agency podcast! Many thanks to them for their support!

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. [inaudibl