Episode 26

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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