Episode 26:

Lee McKnight Jr. is the Director of Business Development for RSW/US in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are a new business development firm that works solely with agencies and marketing services firms. After graduating law school, he ran away as fast possible from that profession and worked for an internet healthcare start-up until the bubble burst and his magical stock options disappeared in the late 90s.

Fast forward through some interesting marketing and sales positions to RSW/US where Lee has spent the last 8 years working with agencies of all types to help drive their new business efforts. A big fan of history, comics and horror novels, he’s currently in a few bands in Louisville and Cincinnati and likes to pretend that chicks dig married, 44-year-old guys with kids that play in cover bands.

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How to prevent your agency from making the major mistakes that agencies make all the time
  • Why agencies need to specialize instead of generalize
  • New business: how to develop a better, simpler process
  • How to use a delicately balanced process that uses all different kinds of marketing
  • Why patience is so key in closing on new business
  • The importance of having one person who is the leader on a project
  • Why there needs to be a balance between showcasing the figurehead and the agency
  • The tools you’re going to need to put into practice the objectives discussed in this episode

 

The Golden Nugget:

“You need to get back to the basics. Simplify your process for new business.” – @LeeMcKnightJr Click To Tweet

Click to tweet: Lee McKnight Jr. shares the inside knowledge needed to run an agency on Build a Better Agency!

 

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Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome, to Build a Better Agency where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody. Thanks very much for joining us for another episode of Build a Better Agency. Our goal, as you know, with this podcast is to help agencies run smarter, build their agencies to be bigger, stronger, better, whatever that means for you as an owner. At the end of the day, put more money at the bottom line for you, the owner. One of the topics that is always a burning issue for agency owners is the whole issue of new business. So I’m excited to have our guest Lee McKnight Jr. here with us.

Let me tell you a little bit about Lee. Lee is the director of business development for RSW U.S. in Cincinnati. As many of you know, they’re a new business development firm that works solely with agencies and marketing service firms. But what many of you probably don’t know about Lee, even if you’ve bumped into him before is that he actually graduated from law school, but apparently ran quickly away from that profession and jumped into the internet healthcare startup space, where he hung out until the bubble burst and all his magical stock options disappeared, so he had to get a real job.

Did some other things until about eight years ago, landed with RSW where he has spent the last almost decade working with agencies of all types to help really drive their new business efforts. When he is not at work, Lee is a big fan of history, comics and horror novels. Also in a couple bands in Louisville and Cincinnati where he says this, this is not me saying this about him, but I’m sure it’s true. He likes to pretend that women dig married 44 year old guys with kids that play and cover bands. So with that, Lee welcome to the podcast.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Thanks Drew. No, I’m excited to be here. Yeah, I think I said previously, my wife just loves that last part when I throw that out there, but no, this’ll be fun.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it will be fun. As you know, all agencies worry about new business and you’ve read about it. So over the course of the eight years, you’ve bumped into a lot of agencies and you observed where they’re at in their native environment before they start working with you guys. What are some of the mistakes that you see agencies make around the new business issue?

Lee McKnight Jr:

Oh gosh. I think initially, part of where they go wrong is agencies tend to get in their own way out of the gate and we understand it because prospects really kind of have to, excuse me, clients really have to come first. I mean, that’s part of where we come in, to be honest with you. But I think in terms of some of the things that I think happened to them. I mean, there’s a couple, probably the main ones are one, I think unfortunately, and I touched on this when we were in Nashville and a few of these things, but at the Fuel Line conference, but a lot of marketers see them or prospects see them, first of all, as you guys all do the same stuff and God forbid the clients sometimes think that way. They put that label on you. They want to put you in your box and that’s what you guys do. And so agencies get frustrated understandably, but that’s one of the bigger reasons why it’s so important first off to use that language that’s not all the same. I’m sure you’ve seen it. I mean, we’re-

Drew McLellan:

We’re a full service integrated marketing agency.

Lee McKnight Jr:

We’re a great partner. We solve business problems.

Drew McLellan:

Right, right, right.

Lee McKnight Jr:

I do think they’ve gotten better, agencies generally in understanding at the very least we can’t use those very same words, but it’s still out there. I think also a couple other things, marketers and prospects I know some of our prospects are not necessarily all marketers, but I’ll use that term throughout just for ease, but they’re getting hundreds of touches a week. We’ll hear agencies get frustrated to say I’ve been reaching out for God at least four weeks and what’s going on? It’s like, well, yeah, four weeks is a drop in the bucket.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Lee McKnight Jr:

As far as that goes. And then the other thing is marketers only read what’s in front of them. I think a lot of agencies tend to forget that too. I know you guys do some great research. We do some of on our own as well. I love these stats that it’s really encouraging, 43% of marketers read agency blogs. We got that from one of our agency marketer surveys and then 57% of them read agency newsletters. It just behooves agencies, obviously when it comes to content, for example, that if you got to keep in front of them, and if you don’t, your competitors are. But take heart because maybe you didn’t get a comment on that one post, but they are, if you’re putting it in front of them, a good chunk of them are reading what you’re doing for example.

Drew McLellan:

But it also means that if you say you are doing a monthly newsletter, sending it out seven times a year is probably not brilliant.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Thank you. Yes. Which I mean, in that scenario, I think that’s where consistency is so important just in terms of how often you’re doing it. Totally agree. Yeah. Just a few times a year is not going to cut it.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right. So where else are agencies sort of stubbing their toe in terms of new business?

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yeah. I think the other thing is that marketers are telling us, like from the same survey, 88% of marketers want to work with an agency that has some kind of specialty. I think sometimes agencies get their hackles up when that happens, because that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be healthcare or CPG.

In fact I was talking to an agency owner, not to keep referencing that, but I happened to be in Nashville, the Fuel Lines Conference again here, just because that’s been in the past several weeks. I spoke there and brought that up and he came and said, we’re generalists and we’re doing great. Of course, you can’t argue with that, right? Because they are doing well. But I think it was interesting once we started talking a bit more realized was, yeah, you’re working in multiple categories, but however you do own, and in their case, it was in how they worked with their clients. I’m not just talking about a process, which God forbid, everyone says they have-

Drew McLellan:

Everybody has one, right? They have cute names for it, but it’s all the same.

Lee McKnight Jr:

I know. I love the cute names. I think it was one of the speakers at Bowler that said, you’ve all got the bubbles.

Drew McLellan:

Right, right. Right.

Lee McKnight Jr:

I love that he had eight slides up and they’re all exactly the same. It’s one of those things where, as we were talking, he realized he’s like, well, yeah, you know what, you’re right. We own this and it too much to go into what that was. I think that’s part of it too. I think where else they kind of stub their toe, if you will, maybe I may folks love stories, right? That’s what we do. I think one of the things, and I’ll use one of our own clients. I will not throw their name out there, but I will say they started off a little bit of a stumbling block, I think, because in terms of what we do. I mean, our goal is to get our clients who are all, as you mentioned in the beginning, they’re all agencies or marketing services firms, but the goal is to get them qualified meetings and do that with right fit prospects, to build lists for them where we’re going to be able to really go after the right folks.

But in terms of those qualified meetings, we realize, look, there’s a lot we can do beyond that to help clients get closer to closing business. And so some folks, some agencies actually, they need more help in getting to the table and they ask us to help them in those first meetings, because they may be used to referrals. It’s a different ball game than with what we’re getting them. Doesn’t matter how qualified they might be.

So we had a client who it was their second meeting and the new business director asked as we often do, if it’s a phone meeting to start, can we be in that? Now, sometimes we just introduce the client, for example. And if the client’s been around longer, maybe we’ll even take part in it. But what we always try to tell them to do is in that first meeting, unless that prospect has specifically asked for some kind of a presentation or to walk them through a WebEx, that’s fine. But if not, close the laptop and listen. Have a conversation like you and I are doing right now. This client started off pretty well, unfortunately quickly devolved into just kind of talking about themselves. I mean, you couldn’t have asked for a better softball. The prospect three sentences in literally said our challenge is, and then laid out three challenges they had. I mean, how awesome is that, right? I mean, couldn’t-

Drew McLellan:

Stay there, stay there, stay there.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Oh my gosh, right? And it’s like, oh just thank you for the silver platter you just handed to us. There were legitimate challenges within their wheelhouse. Our new business director had done a nice job of and our list team. It’s a team effort with us. We’ve got good folks that are all helping the new business director. So you thought there’s the home run. And then God bless him, our client went, I think, in their head, what they, well, I know what they had was, we’re going to use this example. We’re going to use this case study. And that’s what we’re going to tell them and they’re going to love it. Well, instead of bobbing and weaving and talking about those three challenges, which as I said, were in their wheelhouse, they just went with what they thought, here’s what we’re going to do and it had nothing to do with those challenges.

Drew McLellan:

Yikes.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Oh. And so our new business director is trying to, happened to be a, she in this case, kind hold her tongue and managed to kind of turn the corner and the client, I think, realized it too. And then when that call was done, our new business director, she said, “Okay guys, this is kind of hard to say, but here’s where that went wrong and we can fix this.” And we did, and through both of them working our client and our new business director, working with them actually ended up and they’re doing great, but that’s just one of those things where, you got to listen and be able to get those verbal cues, right? As I said, kind of bob and weave with where that prospect’s going.

Drew McLellan:

I think one of the issues for agencies is they’re so anxious to get to the close that they sort of go from hi, it’s nice to meet you and would you like to marry me? Right?

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

There’s no sort of, can I buy you a drink and let me ask all about you. Let’s gaze into each other’s eyes for a while. That whole process sort of gets lost. Agencies, you can’t go from A to Z in one fell swoop. Unfortunately, I think agencies are so anxious and because they often let new business lag, that effort lag until they’re in a desperate situation, I think they sort of wear their desperation on their sleeve. I think clients don’t like the smell of that.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yep. No, I think you’re a 100% right. Actually, I love that. I’m going to steal that from you actually.

Drew McLellan:

Have at it.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yep the first date. I mean, you’re exactly right. It’s like, don’t give them the ring yet. Good Lord. Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

When you guys are working with clients, what kind of things do you teach them how to do better? What are some things that the agencies need to learn how to get better at that you help them? Let me self direct this a little bit. One of my pet peeves is the generalist comment. I believe that and our research shows it and I know yours does too, that clients are saying loud and clear, I want specialists. In our research, last year’s research that we did, what they said is I want you to have at least 25% of your business in my category otherwise I don’t think of you as an expert. So I want expertise. So how do you help an agency who believes that the generalist methodology is the way to go? How do you help them understand the risk of that?

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yeah, that’s interesting. Well I think first answer to your question. I mean, we’ve got, first of all, we have stats to back it up and some of those that you just, it’s good to put kind of just good old, plain hard facts in front of folks. And then I think then part of it is what I’ll give that example. I’ll go back excuse me, to that first example I gave from the agency owner in the Nashville conference was that, so the first thing is what we want to talk it through. And typically what we realize is number one, either really they are owning something and they just didn’t realize it.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Or in the other ways, I mean, typically what we’ll try to do is go walk them through what is your process now. You’ve come to us for a reason, right? And so, and specifically to answer your question, when it comes to generalists, we will tell them. In our own experience, what we have found is when you play that way, yes, it’s good to not put all the eggs in one basket, so to speak. I think that there’s always caveats to that too, because you have your pharma agencies for example. But I think just as one example.

But I think also what we try to do is show them… I think for example, we talk about folks that are, who’s really doing this well? I think one of the things that we try to do in our own, and I know that you all do too is try to put out good content that agencies can use, whether they’re going to work with us or not. I think that’s something, our owner, his name’s Mark Snyder that he and myself have really embraced. Of course, we’re not the only ones. I mean that a lot of folks that follow that model.

But I think one of the things that we did recently is we put an ebook out within the last six months. There’s a point to this, by the way, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

I have no doubt. You’ll get there. Just keep talking.

Lee McKnight Jr:

We’ll get there. Yeah maybe. So we wanted to have a series and we did six. It was on our blog, but we did an interview with different individuals at agencies who headed up new business. And we wanted to make sure that none of them in this case were our own clients to show agencies out there and folks who might be listening right now that look here are folks who doing it and doing it well, and here’s what you can learn from them.

And so we’ve used that quite a bit, whether it’s in part of my job here at RSW is to bring agencies on board along with our owner Mark. I’ve used this ebook in the past and it resonates. It really was small to mid-size agency is really our sweet spot, even though we work with some larger, and that’s what we tried to do here. But so we interviewed all six of them and we used the same 10 questions. One of the things we found, well a couple of things, but specifically to generalists, I mean, first of all, they got it. They saw that new business is a process and it needs support, that these folks are in terms of what they’re doing on a day to day basis, that each agency considers new business, an agency-wide endeavor. All of them are vested in it.

They realize they have to hunt and that thought leadership has to be a part of it. That referrals are fantastic. They need to pursue those, but don’t let that be your entire strategy. But overall, each of them owned something and we can show concrete examples to some of these folks that are coming on board to say, and again it might not necessarily be category specific, but that they own something there. And so I think that just to give you another example of kind of some things that we’ve seen out there, and that’s an ebook, I mean, it’s on our site, you can download it. But it was interesting that all of them, some of those factors that had in terms of what they all had and that they’re doing the same. That was one of them.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I just think in today’s world, one of the other things that I know your research showed in ours did too, is that not only do clients want specialists, but they also typically are working with two or more agencies. So they, by default are putting a label on agencies and whether your specialty is a vertical healthcare or pharma or whatever it is, or it’s a deliverable like SEO or PR or whatever that might be, they do want to put us in a little box.

I think one of the mistakes agencies make is struggling to be everything to everybody, thinking I’m leaving money on the table, but the truth is a lot of that money is money that you’re not going to get to keep anyway, because when you work with clients that are not your sweet spot clients, they end up costing you time and money. You’re actually paying some of the things, when I’m looking at, some of the AMI agencies, and I’m looking at some of the clients that are giving them trouble, when we really crunch the numbers, they are literally paying for the privilege of working with that pain in the rear end client.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

When you show them in black and white, you go, are you kidding me? They begin to understand the importance of understanding, who can we serve and delight on a regular basis.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yeah. I really like the way, and we don’t have to necessarily get into it now, but I’ve been in a group you have seen you speak twice in the last couple of weeks, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

And neither time did I see you in the back with like your Bic lighter or anything.

Lee McKnight Jr:

I really wanted to. I had my iron maiden t-shirt. It was-

Drew McLellan:

I love that.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yeah. But one of the things you mentioned and specific to that and quite frankly, I would love to incorporate that and just even in conversations that I’m having when that would come up. I think one of the ways that you framed it was, wasn’t it like the stool where you talked about here’s where things are going to fall out. I loved how you laid that out. You even got some pushback as I recall from a couple of agency folks in the audience.

Drew McLellan:

Yep, absolutely. Yeah. The agencies are very leery of saying no to some clients or prospects. The truth of it is that that’s a position of power that when your agency is really healthy, that feels very good to go. You know what? This is just not the right fit for us. And to be able to walk away from that opportunity is really liberating. It also says to your staff that you’re serious about this and that you really respect the work that they do and the clients they can serve best and you sort of get it. And you’re really about, this is really for the agency that wants to make good money doing the work they do, as opposed to taking a client for cashflow.

One of the things that worries me about agencies that don’t make time and invest in new business is they are often coming at new business from a point of desperation, which means they don’t get to choose. They don’t get to choose. They have to take whatever comes across the transom. And that’s a very dangerous position to be in.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yes. Yeah. I really couldn’t have said it better. I think that desperation point, we’ve seen it. We’ve seen it many times. I think we get asked often because we certainly talk to plenty of agencies that the timing’s not right, or we may not be the exact right fit. So again, in this business, you never know, right? I think one of the things that we try to tell agencies, because you are so much in your own head space, understandably you’re close to it. It’s with a lot of these folks is you need to get back to basics and almost in a lot of ways, wherever you are, do a reset and think about what I’ve talked about this in the past, but what is your reality as an agency in terms of what you can truly handle out of the gate?

And look, the reality is that you never have time. So yes, you have to push yourself past what really is your reality.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Lee McKnight Jr:

I think it’s always talk about like the four, look at the simplicity. You make things too hard. Agencies make new business so hard. I mean, simplify it upfront in terms of here’s what a process is going to be here. I mean, and write it all out. And then consistency of course is part of it, a messaging, methodology, outreach. Have that process in place and then we always try to tell them, it’s about baby steps. Please, don’t try to jump out of the gate.

I talk to these agencies who, God love them, but they hire a consultant, they start HubSpot and then they think we might start with you guys too. When are you going to do that? Oh, we’re going to start all you guys in a month.

Drew McLellan:

Right, right.

Lee McKnight Jr:

It’s like, oh my God, don’t. Holy, no, don’t do that. It is one example, whether it’s us or somebody like us, but it’s like you need to take a step back and clean house first, get in there first. So, yeah it’s interesting.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think that’s the other misperception that agencies have is that they think they have to be on every social network and they have to be producing content every day. Every piece of content they produce has to be a 25 page white paper that is so earth shaking that the Pope is probably reading it as we speak. The reality is and I said this in one of my recent presentations, the truth is the bar is so low. Your competitors suck at this so badly that you have to be one step above crappy to be good at your business. That’s the good news is you just have to do a few things well, and consistently, and you’re going to be ahead of the pack.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yeah, it’s funny. You actually said and our own remark, and I’ve said it too. It’s kind of, it probably hurt some people little pains but one of the things, but you said it on stage there in Nashville was, I think someone in the audience had brought up to you something along the lines of, well, if everyone’s doing this, I mean, we’re already competing with each other anyway and you immediately looked at him and said, “I’m sorry to tell you that most of you will not do this.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Lee McKnight Jr:

It’s just a fact. I’m telling you what to do and if you followed it, you would succeed, but you’re not. It’s like, that’s just the hard truth and it is true. I guess in some ways that helps us, but yeah, I mean, that’s spot on. Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

I know that one of the things that you guys do is that you sort of talk about both inbound and outbound and every agency I know is so enamored right now with the inbound thing and don’t get me wrong I think it’s a fine tactic to take, and every agency needs to be producing some content and drawing people to them. But I know that for you guys, you believe in sort of a blend of outbound and inbound, which I happen to share that belief. So can you talk a little bit about that?

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yeah, absolutely. I think in terms of what we’ve learned over these, and it will be, I think you’d mentioned we will be 10 years old in a couple of weeks, and I’ve been here eight of those. We have certainly learned and of course, as we know, tools rapidly change. Twitter today could be who knows tomorrow. But I think ultimately what we’ve realized when folks like, and not to just not picking on anybody, but HubSpot obviously being one of the big players or Marketo, whoever it might be that was one thing that when it just exploded a couple years ago, it was kind of similar to, I’ll just say social years earlier, where to your point, we’re all going to do it. We’re all going to jump on these platforms.

Oh yeah now we’re all going to do because we’re all do an inbound because you got to do that, right? I think what I’ve really appreciated from folks like HubSpot and Marketo is that they also, and they’ve engaged us on some content, which we love doing that they get it too and they see that, look, it can’t just be about inbound. Yeah, I think the answer to fully answer your question. I mean, for us, it’s got to be about every channel. It certainly is the way that we work for our own agency clients. It’s the way that we’ve built this business. So I think from day one, I guess, before it was called inbound, and certainly we’re not the only ones because you have been doing it. I think for us, we realized that ultimately prospects, you have to hit them where they live.

And if all you’re doing is banging away on the phone or just creating content, but you’re not really doing much else with it, you’re not going to succeed. I mean, we see, and we have stats to back it up. I won’t go into to a myriad of those, but just in terms of email, phone calling, yes creating some content and other channels out there like social, LinkedIn obviously being one of those and did I mention direct mail? All those together have to be used in concert with each other. That absolutely is something that we’ve been preaching and our owner Mark spoke at inbound and I thought it was really cool that they firmly knew what he was talking about. And he certainly didn’t, there were nothing denigrating about HubSpot, but he did kind of throw out to some of these agencies that it’s a little worrisome to see some of these agencies who have become solely inbound folks.

A lot of them are doing really well. I think a lot of them are understanding that, okay, maybe we need to make sure in terms of this model that it’s not just this, but I think it’ll be interesting how it plays out ultimately. What we’ve seen though, is using a process in place where all these pieces are put together, we start.

So every four weeks, for example, when we’re working with our clients, a direct mail piece goes out, we’re touching them two more times with a phone call and typically what is a voicemail there and an email. We’re not even selling at that point. It’s all about awareness. And then the next three weeks, it is yes selling, but it’s done a politely persistent way. That’s not a real word. Is it polite, persistence at least we do that.

Drew McLellan:

I think it is.

Lee McKnight Jr:

I just, if it’s not, it is now. Then it’s about all those multiple touches and it’s about making sure that we’re using all those together so we’re not hitting them too often with one, but it’s how we get to the first meeting. And then one of the things in BOLO where obviously we just were and actually you were part of this too, because Lisa from Access Confidential, RP had said, asked the audience, okay, what is the purpose of the first meeting? And correct me. I think it was you, but you said the second.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it was me. Yeah.

Lee McKnight Jr:

And no one else said anything at all because, and I’m not sure that they were thinking that. I thought, oh my God, you’re kidding me that that’s not what your very next thought was at getting that second meeting.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Lee McKnight Jr:

And so again, it’s all about using all those channels to do just that and then get closer to closing business.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. But again, that gets back to our hi, it’s nice to meet you. Will you marry me? We forget that there there’s four other meetings or four other touches or 20 other touches. Literally sometimes a client can be on your radar screen and they’re just not in a position to buy for years, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t keep going at them and talking to them so that when they’re ready to buy, you’re top of mind and the only way to do that is to be consistently present.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yeah. I’ll continue to use, I’ll tell you, if I may another story.

Drew McLellan:

Yep.

Lee McKnight Jr:

I’ll throw myself into this and show how I spectacularly bombed on the first try.

Drew McLellan:

This is about your wife, isn’t it?

Lee McKnight Jr:

Oh God. Well, it could be. She’s here. She’s actually like to jump in. No, there’s been other bombs, but specific to new business, actually. One of the things that you again had brought up in some of the research that you guys have done was the fact that, and I’m going to butcher this for you. So you’re welcome. But I think it was, you said typically these days, prospects or marketers, if you will, are taking on average, I think it was three months to decide.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, three months to decide and that’s once they’re in the hunt, that’s not from oh gee, I need an agency. That’s when, once I’ve started the process I’m meeting with agencies and all that. Three bloody months.

Lee McKnight Jr:

I mean, agencies, I cannot stress for anyone listening right now, or agencies in general that you’ve got to keep that in mind. You’ve got to realize that you cannot get frustrated and that patience is key. That story that I bring up is when I started here at RSW. So I was a new business director to start with and I had my own agency clients. So typically a new business director here at RSW will have four clients and typically no more than four. And that’s what found where we can get a good service level and make sure we’re getting the requisite meetings that we say that we’re going to get.

I had set up and it started via email that actually got a response back in this case. It’s been about five weeks of kind of going through our process. Certainly I won’t want to name check this prospect, I mean, or even talk about the fact that it’s a women’s shoe retailer out in New York. I mean, I would never say that.

Drew McLellan:

No, no, no.

Lee McKnight Jr:

But so I get the email and she says yes, I’ve gotten your stuff. I’ve appreciated the fact that what you’ve sent me seems like spot on you guys know this space. Why don’t we talk? I think it was let’s say next Tuesday at 11:00, I’m not sure, what it was at this point. This was the VP of marketing. So of course I’m excited. Give her that call that she asked me to do on that Tuesday. And the first thing out of her mouth was, “You know what? You have got to stop calling me.”

Drew McLellan:

That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.

Lee McKnight Jr:

It was awesome. I almost laughed, but of course I’m like taken aback and I thought, oh my God. So as politely as possible told her that, well, actually you did ask me to call you at this date and time, if you recall the email and she just kind of got flustered and said, “Well, I can’t do it now,” and hung up on me. I can honestly say, that’s one of the few abrasive calls.

Now honestly, I think she just had a bad day and I’m not going to put that on somebody, but I really did. I hook the phone and the way we’re set up, I mean, we’re close to each other here. We’re all in house, the sales people, but someone, the person, the woman sitting across me said, “What in God’s name was that?” I told her and the whole office is like dying, laughing. I could be glad I could give them that for that day.

Drew McLellan:

It was a little gift.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yeah, wasn’t it though?

Drew McLellan:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Lee McKnight Jr:

The story was though, I did ultimately get that meeting. She apologized to me. I actually sent an email back to her. I apologized and said, which I really shouldn’t have. That’s the one thing I think I did wrong again, was that I didn’t need to apologize, but I just said, look, obviously it wasn’t a good time. However, I said, I go, but we did have this set up really love, I think there’s something here for my agency to help you. And she apologized, had the meeting.

And so I think moral of that story is obviously two things. One, one of the things I realized then early was as a company, we were still young. We had a process in place, but always trying to look at how to make that better. And so what I did then was have a little bit more in depth invite process, making sure I gently followed up before just to remind these folks, but then also it was just another reminder, right? That look, you got to stick with it. And maybe, most people in the office said, you’re not really going to email her back. Are you? I said, yeah, I am. I’m going to be polite. I’m going to be respectful. It worked out.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I tell agencies that their hit list should be people that they are going to pursue relentlessly until they either get hired or they’re told for the love of God, go away.

Lee McKnight Jr:

A hundred percent.

Drew McLellan:

Because you just never know. I mean, as the listeners know, not only do I own and run AMI, but I still have my own agency and we had a prospect walk in the door and he’d called out of the blue. I had never heard of him before. He walked in the door and I write a weekly column for Iowa’s Business Journal and he walked through the door and he opened up his briefcase, which will tell you how long ago this was and not a messenger bag, not a backpack, but an actual briefcase. He opened up his briefcase and he laid out probably 10 articles that I had written over the last three or four years. And he said, I’ve been waiting to be in a position to hire you.

Lee McKnight Jr:

That’s awesome.

Drew McLellan:

I thought, and he’s like, I’ve been getting your E-newsletters because I signed up for them and I’ve been obviously following your column, but I’ve been waiting. The truth is we have no idea the position someone’s in and why they can’t hire us today. But that doesn’t mean they can’t hire us tomorrow or a year from now. And so as long as we’re being helpful and we’re not talking about ourselves and all the things that everybody knows you shouldn’t do, there’s no reason to not stay in touch because you want to be top of mind on that magic day when all of a sudden the planets align and they either have the budget or a new job or their agency really messed up or whatever that they are ready to talk to somebody else.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yeah. I mean, you make such a salient point. You put it more eloquently than I am going to right now. But, we say that all the time here and the short version is a prospect may be cold, but they’re never dead. Unless to your point, they say, there is no way this is happening.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Lee McKnight Jr:

For whatever reason. And so, yeah, you’re so right. I think prospects they’ll ask us sometimes. Well, what do you do with these prospects who’ve been on the list for eight weeks? And we’re like eight weeks is nothing.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Talk to me after eight years.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yeah. Yeah. We have had, thankfully it does not typically take this long, but we have honestly had new business records who have been here with us for a while that prospects know them by name.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Lee McKnight Jr:

A year and a half later, we have multiple stories about this. The closed businesses said, you know what? You have stuck with me. You’ve been respectful. You’ve given me nuggets I can use. I see that you guys know it. We couldn’t pull the trigger.

Drew McLellan:

Right. I was either in a middle of a contract or whatever. Yeah.

Lee McKnight Jr:

It’s so true. That’s hard for agencies, I get it, but it’s the truth.

Drew McLellan:

Let’s go back to the inbound outbound, because I wanted to make a point that I think a lot, even the agencies who have drank the inbound Kool-Aid, the ones that are really knocking it out of the park are doing outbound things too. They’re writing books or they’re speaking at conferences or they are doing other things that I think the two work hand in glove together. I think either of them without the other today is shortsighted.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yep. Yeah, absolutely. Because I think where agencies have gone wrong, I mean, they had that mentality first. It’s like build it and they’ll come like the field of dreams. They all think Kevin Costner. That’s not going to happen because it’s just going to be passive then. Or they treat it like a part-time sport or a lot of these… I had an agency, a principal who will ideally be a client soon, but one of the things…. great work. But I asked him specifically about content and kind of the whole inbound thing. And he actually had started the conversation along those lines, but he said no one wants to hear me battle on about myself. And I said, well, you’re right, but that’s not-

Drew McLellan:

Amen to that.

Lee McKnight Jr:

So thanks for saying that, great mindset, but now the next step is, but they do want to hear how you can help them.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Lee McKnight Jr:

And inbound and content it’s not about you. I think you’ve got to change your thinking there, with all due respect. We had asked and I’ve used one of these stats before, one of the things we’d ask in our past reports and survey reports. Do you use inbound marketing for new business agency owners? And 76% said, yes. The very next question was, but how effective has it been for your new business, and only 25% said that it was effective. And that was just last year. So it’s getting better because two years before it was 8%. Yeah. So I think, it’s encouraging though, because agencies, they’re getting it. I think to your point, they are seeing that it’s got to be that blend. It almost has to be. The fact that yes, I’ve said it, cold calling is dead, but conversations are not.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Lee McKnight Jr:

So it does have to be all those working together.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I think your point about nobody wants to hear about me. That sort of circles the wagon back around the differentiation. So what I tell agency owners all the time is the reason why you are blathering on about yourself is because you don’t understand who you’re talking to. If you knew exactly who you were talking to and only talked about things that they cared about, then you would be talking to them about ways that they can be better at what they do rather than the generic I don’t know who I’m talking about. So I’ll talk about myself because that’s universally fascinating. I think an agency owner that is looking at their own content and saying, boy, this is too much about us. You need to recognize that you’re trying to be a generalist in a world that generalists are unfortunately a commodity. Unless you want to be the cheapest game in town, that’s often for most agencies not a brilliant play.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, can’t hammer that point home enough. I mean, we had an example of and I don’t want to make this all about us by any stretch. But I will tell you, I mean, we typically see going back to your point about that, once you’re in the hunt that three months. We typically see work close through our efforts, for example between months six and 12. Once we start the process of ultimately where you close business, now we have 20% of clients that will close business before month six. That’s only 20%.

We are very upfront with prospective clients when we’re talking to them to say, this is a process but I think going back to the generalist point is we had a client, I’ll give you one kind of a little success story, which we were pretty proud about of getting them to the table. And then they knocked it out. But one of our clients that was only four months in and we set the table nicely for them. Again, the team had built a list correctly and done good things, but ultimately they came in and ended up getting an initial project for 750,000, which was great. They’re not a huge agency by any stretch.

Drew McLellan:

Even a good size agency would be happy with that number.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Absolutely. These are 15 folks, but the reasons why, I mean, first of all, they get it. New business is a process. You need that support. The fact that the principal who is the one who’s taking those meetings, he’s just good quite frankly. He knows how to listen and focus on those cues I’ve said, but he also realizes they can’t do it all. They got to have that support. But most importantly is that they do own a space, which in this case happens to be insurance.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I think it’s easier to close when you have a very specific story to tell.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yep, for sure. And you said it exactly right. That’s what our client did is the fact that he did not talk at them. He knew exactly who he was talking to and just destroyed it and I think you have to go about it that way.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah. I think both you and I bump into a lot of agencies who are doing this well, and we also bump into sadly agencies that are not doing this well. Interestingly, I think post recession, the agencies that are still left standing are probably stronger than pre recession. I think a lot of the recession kind of cleared out a lot of people who were struggling to begin with. So I think the good and bad news is if you’re still on your feet, you’re a strong, healthy agency. The bad news is, so are all your competitors.

So even more so I think today, having a new business process and machine bodes well for the success of your agency. When you bump into agencies that have not been doing this well, what are the prices that you’re seeing them pay? What is the cost? Because I think part of this is sometimes I think agencies are chugging along and they’re doing fine. And so there’s no pain associated with not doing it. And there’s a lot of pain associated with being disciplined enough to do it. So they just don’t do it. But sooner or later, the pain turns around and smacks them across the face. What are you seeing when agencies kind of come limping into your world? Where are they at in terms of the mistakes they’ve made and things that agency owners should avoid so they don’t put themselves in that position?

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yes. You make a great point about post-recession. Unfortunately we all saw those folks go way that didn’t have a lot of the things we’ve been talking about that they should be living or embracing. I think in terms of some of those prices that they paid and once they come to us or folks like us, I think some of the things they’ve realized that they’ve done wrong. So one of the things and I guess they could reverse it and say, well, here’s what we’re telling that what you got to be doing. So either way, but one of them is, I mean that you got to start by picking. You have to pick an entry point and that goes back to owning something. I think it also goes back to kind of what I mentioned earlier about going back to the basics.

And so let’s start by what is that entry point? Whether it’s three categories or whether it’s going more horizontal, but we do own the fact that we are amazing at UX or SEO, whatever that might be. But to your point, then also you cannot be everything to everyone. Well we know what happens when you do that. You’ve already said it. I mean, so many agencies go that way. So decide what you’re going to own, build your program around it is number one.

I think number two, and Drew I’m sure you have seen this, I’d be interested, but I mean, one of the other things that when they come limping in, God bless them is they never had someone leading the program.

Drew McLellan:

Right. They had big committee or everybody, right?

Lee McKnight Jr:

Oh. And it’s just brutal. And you’re exactly right. I mean, if there are too many cooks in the kitchen and then suddenly or wait I thought you were, well, no, I’ve been working on this account. I’ve been in San Diego for the last three weeks. What are you talking about? That’s really one of those things. I do think I’ll have agencies that’ll push back on that a little bit. I think maybe they misunderstand me is that I’ve seen teams work and I’m sure you have as well. But I do think it’s a bit more of a rarity when it’s truly more team based and not one person leading. I think almost invariably that there’s got to be one person who’s the go-to.

I think whether that’s in some of the folks I mentioned earlier that didn’t work with us, but that we interviewed a lot of those folks were VPs in the agencies, some were certainly CEOs, others were heads of marketing, whatever that title might be, there was someone there with senior leadership that was that holding the flag. Here’s what we’re doing. Now certainly he has people who support him, but I think that’s big.

I think the third thing is just the commitment to support the effort, period. Whether that’s supporting a new business director or whether that’s whoever it might be. I think we hear kind of horror stories of, and I mentioned it earlier, but whoever’s running new business. A lot of times that title is new business director in these cases-

Drew McLellan:

Sure right.

Lee McKnight Jr:

They really are an island under themselves and they’re not supported in the least, whether it’s something like case studies or… Another thing is that that person typically is wearing multiple hats in the sense of yes, yes we’re hunting, but I’m also answering RFPs. I’m also pitching and you know what? I actually have a little bit of account management going on as well.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, right.

Lee McKnight Jr:

I think, oh, I rarely have seen that work. That’s why the tenure of a new business person is the same as a CMO about two years.

Drew McLellan:

Right, right.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Is that they’ll get burnt and move on no matter how good they might have been. I think a lot of times too, you’ll get I’m going to get roasted here maybe, but I think creatives typically they just don’t see the value of new business or they are busy mind you, but I’m sure you’ve seen it yourself. A lot of times they’re just like, why do I have to, I got clients to take care of. What is this? I’m not creating it. I get that, but it can’t be that way. So I think that’s why leadership has got to from the get go tell everyone in that agency look, all of you are a part of this. Yes, I know that we have a new business focus with these people, but we’re all a part of this and at our core, we have to be about new business.

I think last is that what I mentioned earlier, it’s that commitment to using every channel and where agencies have fallen short, is that again, they will say, we sent… Listen email or direct mail, for example, because that kind of snail mail thing is halfway dead people seem to think, but it’s like we did that and it didn’t work. And they’ll say that to our owner, Mark a lot of times and we’ll say, well, why do you think it is? Well, we don’t know. I mean, we followed up. You did. Well, how often did you follow up? Well, we sent some emails out once, right? Wait a minute. What?

Drew McLellan:

And we mailed one time.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Right. And we only did that once and it’s like, no, no, don’t you see? And so it’s one of those things where it’s a mindset, but I think those are probably the top four, I’d say in terms of just some of the main things where they’ve gone around wrong or haven’t embraced.

Drew McLellan:

One of the things that I think is I think a lot of it is about really the mindset of the owner and I think if once an agency owner decides that new business is not optional and we are going to build a machine and we are going to dedicate resources, then I think all of a sudden the tide turns. What do you see in terms of when you’re talking to agency owners that are doing this well and what is it about their mindset that is different?

Lee McKnight Jr:

I’m not here by the way. Don’t tell them. I’m not home.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, yeah no. Okay.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yeah. What do we think about their mindset? It’s interesting. I do think when leadership does as you said, and you would know better than anyone, obviously. I think it is a bit of a turning point. I think in terms of kind of what we typically see… one of the first thing is, and I don’t want to repeat myself, but I think one of them is number one that they do, first of all, instill in everyone in the agency that look, this is what we’re doing and this is how we’re going to move this agency forward. Again, I think for that, it’s that they’ve got to consider new business, an agency wide endeavor. That it’s a critical factor to their success.

I think also they get that, the fact that thought leadership has to play a part of it. I think a lot of the agencies understand, and it’s interesting because we’ll have agencies that will come to us and say, well myself as the owner, president, CEO, whatever you might say, I don’t want to be the face of the agency. Because we are X agency, but then you’ll have others with the exact opposite. I think what we try to say there is it’s got to be typically anyway and in your take on it, I think it’s got to be a blend.

So, yes I mean, we want from a thought leadership standpoint, I think it’s important. We think it’s important that the owner, for example, or multiple partners, that they are a known quantity. That their face is there, especially if they’re out speaking for example, because they’re-

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, absolutely yeah.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Leading that charge, but we also understand that look, if you can have, and it’s hard, but if you have a blog, for example, we don’t just want, and he probably he or she probably couldn’t do it all themselves. You also want to show them that, look, we are a team though. We are not a one man show. I think in that scenario, I’ve laid out, it is more of a blend.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I think the danger is if you make the owner, the sort of the marquee, the danger of that is when that owner wants to exit or whatever, all of that thought leadership and all of that esteem walks out the door with him, or if they want to focus on other parts of the business. I think, or if they want to sell the business, all of a sudden the equity is tied up in them and it’s not in the agency as a whole. I think you do have to build it in the agency as a whole, but the owner has to play a role in that. Absolutely, I agree.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yeah. Yes, I agree with you there. And then I think ultimately, I think it’s more, once you have some of those pieces in place, part of it is understanding that, and I touched on this, but I think part of it is understanding that now that the leadership has kind of taken this and embraced it, that they do understand that someone does have to not only own the process, but that they have to own then in terms of positioning and getting themselves out there that they’ve got to own something, as we’ve said multiple times here versus the journalist piece. I think that’s when they can tie it all together and realize that, okay, now that we’re at this place, we actually have to come out and make it. Because what’s interesting is agencies all have processes in place, right?

Drew McLellan:

Yep, yep, yep.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Whether it’s account management or payroll, but what they typically, as you said until they kind of had that turning point, new businesses are never part of that process, but we did buy Salesforce. I mean, we haven’t actually used it in six months, but we bought that.

Drew McLellan:

Right, right.

Lee McKnight Jr:

We got some new case studies. Now we haven’t actually pushed those out to anyone. So I think it’s to tie that and kind of bring it full circle it’s where that leadership finally puts all those pieces into play, but then sets out that program and actually sticks to it and keeps up with it to where they are meeting with and they’re engaged ongoing. Whether they know whether they’re leading, because it might not always that person might not be able to lead it because Lord knows they’re the owner, they have multiple hats.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Lee McKnight Jr:

But to be involved and then put that into place, I think it’s one of the things that we’ve seen, not only with our own clients, but those individuals who are really knocking it out of the park with their own agencies. That’s ultimately those ones who and it sounds like, well, no, duh, but it’s, they’re consistently engaged. And it’s something that they see that and they take the long view there.

Drew McLellan:

I agree. So I want to wrap things up as I always try to with some really tangible takeaways. So for the agency owners that have been listening to us that have finally, who are saying to themselves in their heart of hearts, dammit my children are going to get some shoes. What are some things that they can do right now to improve their odds of being successful in this space of new business?

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, I certainly would start with a couple of things that I mentioned before and then throw in some new ones at the end to kind of cap it. I mean, but I think start picking that entry point to start. Understanding you can’t be everything to everyone. Deciding who is going commit and who’s going to lead it. Commit to that support and commit to using every one of those channels out there.

So then to take it to the next step as we wind up, I think as now you’ve committed, a couple of things to understand is number one, some of the tools you’re going to need. You got to understand that you’ve got to put not only your own support in terms of time behind it, but you’re going to have to look at that budget and set some of that aside for new business. You’re simply you’re going to have to. One of the things that we’ve tried to lay out to agencies who maybe as I said earlier, maybe they’re not going to come on board right now, but one of the things we want to be able to do is hopefully then ideally we can leave you with some takeaways here that you either will or won’t do for yourselves and maybe you’ll come back to us.

But one of those things is, well, what are the tools we need? I’ve laid, excuse me, I can’t talk today. I’ve laid out some of those in previous posts and things like that, but it is a piece of every one of those channels. So you’re going to have to make sure that, well the phone thing takes care of itself. You’ve got those, but I think you really should invest in thinking about some kind of direct mail piece or including just a nice handwritten letter, quite frankly, can really do the trick these days.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, absolutely.

Lee McKnight Jr:

I mean, that’s something that we being, RSW our owner, Mark and I, we use those to this day about every other week. You sent it about 50 or 60 of them and I’m telling you, we still get compliments on it.

And then think about the content and you had touched on it earlier. One good blog post a month. Now that’s not going to be enough ongoing, but if you just start there, because you got to start somewhere. It’s amazing how and using that in more ways than one, not just your blog, but you’re pushing out a newsletter, you’re putting it on LinkedIn. I talk about that reality, the reality that within your own agency. That you can do. You can have someone help you and it’s not going to take you an inordinate amount of time.

And then I think you’ve got to do something where you’ve got some kind of email platform if you don’t already and there’s tons of them out there where you can send and get analytics on some of the email blasts you’re sending out. And some of those opens and clicks, but then also in terms of social and LinkedIn is where you need to be. I mean, if you’re going to pick any one of them. So there’s those tools.

And then the last three things I would say, number one is patience. If I had to leave you with three things, agency owners, one of those is patience. I’ve now said it eight times, but to go back to Drew’s stats from his own research about once we talked about it a couple times already, the fact that once these folks are in the hunt, it’s taking them three months. So you’ve got to have that mindset that you’re in this for the long haul, number one. Number two, I would not make sure that you do not treat your new business director or whoever’s in charge as the savior of the agency because, and I’m not-

Drew McLellan:

As I call it the magical mythical new business person.

Lee McKnight Jr:

Thank you. Yes. I remember you did say that. It’s oh my gosh. Yes. I mean, they’re there to do that job and of course you’re going to have parameters and where you’re going to be following what they’re doing in the course of three months, six months down the line and setting those goals for compensation or otherwise. But I think you got to understand and so many agencies do it, right? And I know you’ve seen it, Drew. It’s oh, we’ve hired this person. It’s going to be-

Drew McLellan:

Bubbles are gone.

Lee McKnight Jr:

That’s going to save us all. And that’s where that desperation comes in and that from what you throughout there, right in the very beginning. So I think you’ve got to give them a chance and understand that it’s a team effort with that support.

And then the last one is, and again, I didn’t coin this either, but it really is treat yourself as your best client. If you have that mindset out of the gate, think about how you treat your best client, and you’ve got to do that for yourself. Now, I realize that you can only do so much, but I think that’s one of those things that agencies forget. I’ve talked to a few agencies over the years that really have embraced that mentality. Quite frankly, we probably will never work with them because they’ve got it. And they are always going to be Kings of their new business Kings or Queens and good for them, quite frankly. I think that’s maybe what I’d leave with is treating yourself that way and that just creates the mindset for the entire programing process.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Great counsel. Thank you very much. Hey, I appreciate your time and I appreciate all… You guys create some great content. One of the things I want to make sure we do is give people ways to reach out to you guys. But before we do that thank you for caring as much about agencies as you guys do and going out of your way at conferences and on your own website and with your research to help agency owners get smarter. Certainly thank you so much for your time today. You have helped a lot of agencies I know, and will continue to do that. As somebody else in the industry, I just want to let you to know it’s appreciated, so thank you.

Lee McKnight Jr:

No, please. Thank you so much, Drew. I mean, and appreciate your support and yeah, we love it and this has been great. I mean, thank you for letting me be on the podcast today and asking me. It’s awesome. My one regret is I was going to be really edgy and drop a bunch of F bombs and I don’t think I ever did.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, that’s probably okay. I said, dammit. So we got the swearing in.

Lee McKnight Jr:

We got one in.

Drew McLellan:

We got one in, but you know what? You’re sort of hurting your rockstar image by now.

Lee McKnight Jr:

I know.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, yeah. How can folks find you?

Lee McKnight Jr:

Yeah, so we’re at rswus.com and we try to have everything kind of self-contained so there’s a bunch of tabs there. The most important one for listeners, just in terms of content is on our resources tab. We’ve got everything from webinars to video, to the surveys all at no cost. And then if you want to get ahold of me, it’s L-E-E [email protected] or I’m on Twitter. It’s @LeeMcKnightJr all one word. But yeah, I appreciate you letting me throw that out there to the folks.

Drew McLellan:

Awesome. Thank you very much for your time. Listeners, appreciate your time as well. Check back next week for a new episode of Build a Better Agency. Thanks so much.

Speaker 1:

That’s all for this episode of Build a Better Agency. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshop and other ways we serve small to mid-sized agencies. While you’re there, sign up for our e-newsletter, grab our free e-book and check out the blog. Growing a bigger, better agency that makes more money attracts bigger clients, and doesn’t consume your life is possible here on Build a Better Agency.