Episode 272

podcast photo thumbnail



Here are three things I know every agency owner wants. 1) A shortcut to landing new clients. 2) A way to prove ROI for their clients’ marketing budgets. 3) A way to automate tasks around data that allow them to guide their clients in the right direction faster and more accurately. The good news is – we can get all of that from marketing automation. If we use it wisely and well.

Agencies are constantly working to find ways to help their clients attract right-fit prospects, stay relevant to them during their buyer’s journey, and shorten the entire sales cycle. We have many tools at our disposal to accomplish those goals and a sophisticated marketing automation system is certainly one of them. Many agencies have barely scratched the surface of what marketing automation can do for their own agency and for their clients.

When we don’t delve into the power of marketing automation, we’re relying on email marketing circa 2000. But in this era of clients demanding ROI stats for their marketing spend, we are missing out on what can be a very compelling tool that can drive revenue for both our clients and our agency! In fact, my guest, Rick Carlson suggests that marketing automation is an outdated moniker for the tool. He believes we should call them revenue growth systems.

Rick is the founder and CEO of SharpSpring and has seen how a marketing automation system can transform the way you connect and communicate with your leads and clients. In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Rick explains how using your marketing automation system to its full extent can enable agency owners to multiply their efforts, expand their communication, and build deep meaningful relationships as they build their agency.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

Marketing Automation System

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

A marketing automation system can help agencies shorten the sales cycle and strengthen their client relationships. Learn how to use them in your agency with insights from Rick Carlson about:

  • How to think about the tools in a marketing automation system through a different lens
  • Stand apart by having true one-to-one conversations at scale
  • Best practices for using marketing automation to generate leads
  • How agencies can create effective landing pages that align with their marketing goals
  • How agencies can communicate with their audience without burning them out
  • Different ways agencies can use marketing automation to bridge the gap between their marketing and sales teams
  • How agencies are leaving money on the table by not using their marketing automation system to its full potential
“Agencies have been called upon to help their clients fortify relationships with their existing customers, and they have been called upon to shorten the sales cycle. I think marketing automation tools play a role in both of those things.” @sharpspring Click To Tweet “As marketers, the opportunities to spend money on leads are endless. But a disproportionate amount of time is spent on lead generation instead of nurturing the leads we’ve landed.” @sharpspring Click To Tweet “The key to nurturing leads with a marketing automation system is truly knowing your customers’ business so you can apply the tools properly.” @sharpspring Click To Tweet “A marketing automation system is about having a one-on-one conversation with your prospects at scale based on each individual’s interests.” @sharpspring Click To Tweet “Marketing automation is an antiquated term. These tools are revenue growth platforms, and so many of them are geared towards the sales process as well.” @sharpspring Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Rick Carlson:

Tools & Resources:

Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too. Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency podcast presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to midsize agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market, we’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road sellable with 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host Drew McLellan.

Drew McClellan:

Hey, everybody, Drew McClellan here from Agency Management Institute, welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency, glad to have you with us and glad to be wrapping up the year with you. If you are listening in real time this is mid December, we’re coming up on the Christmas holiday. And I know a lot of you are looking forward to getting some time away and unplugging and really just recharging your batteries for 2021.

So I hope you carve out the time to do that. Please give yourself permission, because I think sometimes that’s what it is, we have to give ourselves permission to actually unplug and disconnect. So I hope you give that to yourself and your team. Because if there was ever a year that we earned it, it is this year.

So let me tell you a little bit about our guest. But first, before I do that, I want to remind you of a resource that we have. So as you know, every year Agency Management Institute partners with Audience Audit, which is a research firm owned by Susan Baier, and we go out into the field and Susan and I together identify a topic that we think is going to be super relevant for you the agency owners and leaders, and we construct a research project around that topic. And then we bring it back to you to share with you the results.

And as you know, probably by now, our 2020 study, we were just getting ready to go into the field. And ironically, we were going to ask clients of agencies, so CMOs, business owners, directors of marketing, those sort of titles, we were going to ask them how they were feeling about the economy and were they expecting a recession? And if so, how was that recession going to impact their relationship with their agency.

And then of course COVID hit, we had not gone out into the field. COVID hit and there was really no question anymore about if there was going to be a recession. So we pivoted and we completely rewrote the research tool. And our question was then how has COVID impacted your business? And how is it impacting your relationship with your agency or agencies? And how do you expect it to impact it down the road?

So if you have not seen the executive summary for that research, I would highly recommend you head over to the Agency Management Institute website. So go over to agencymanagementinstitute.com. And one of the tabs on the site is called resources, and if you scroll down on the resources tab, you’re going to see Agency Edge Research Series, and then you will see the 2020 study.

And the executive summary, which is about 30 pages, I think, of insights that we learned from talking to all of these folks who hire and work with agencies, that was one of the criterias, they have to actively be in a relationship with an agency when they take the survey. I think you’re going to find the results fascinating, I think you’re going to find the results, there are a lot of clues in this research about how you should approach BizDev for prospects and also how you should talk to and approach your own clients.

So if you have not read that executive summary, I highly recommend that you do that. You grab it, it is a little light reading for the holidays, or post holidays, we always have the first couple weeks of January or what I call the holiday hibernation. And so even if you are really going to take off a week or more, between all holidays, download the report and read it after the first of the year, to help you sort of inform how you pursue prospects and also how you engage with your clients.

And we gave you some great things to look for, some hints in behavior and language that will help you determine sort of where your clients head or where the prospects head is at in terms of the recession and in terms of COVID and all of that. So grab that resource, absolutely free to you, happy to make it available to you. So please do that.

All right, so now let’s talk a little bit about this show. One of the cool things about COVID and I think we can all agree there were not a lot of cool things. But one of the silver linings of COVID was that a lot of you got very inventive in terms of figuring out how you needed to approach your clients, approach prospects, retool the business, have new offerings for clients, helping clients do things maybe differently than you did before.

And for many of you, you really turn to this idea of one of the things you needed to do is help your clients do a couple things, one, maintain and deepen their relationship with their existing clients. And two, to shorten as best you could the sales cycle with prospects, because all of our clients are anxious to make up for the revenue that they lost, certainly during the second quarter of 2020.

So many of you got very innovative in terms of both how you approached your clients and help them strengthen… Because they were afraid they were going to lose the clients they already had. So you were helping them strengthen those relationships, and then also, how to shorten that sales cycle. And many of you began to play with marketing automation software.

Now, a lot of you already have been using marketing automation software. But I will tell you that when I talk to agencies about how they use their marketing automation software, regardless of the tool, because a lot of the tools have sort of the same feature set, many of you kind of scratched the surface of what the marketing automation tools can do. And a lot of times you only scratched the surface because your clients are only willing to pay so much money for either your time or the tool or both.

And so you don’t really get to explore, really what’s possible with marketing automation software these days. And the other place where I think you kind of leave money on the table, if you will, is with your own marketing. I think that many of you, you know intellectually that you can use marketing automation software in a more sophisticated way to grow your own prospect and client base.

But again, many of you sort of shortchange that and just do the surface stuff, whether it’s you send out a newsletter, and you pay attention to you know, how many opens you have, or how many clicks you have, but you don’t really dive deeper into what the software could actually do for you, for your agency, or for your clients. So, today’s guest is here to talk to us about how agencies can use marketing automation software better, some of the mistakes that we make when we approach a tool, and think about using marketing automation. What are some best practices around for many of us, marketing automation is a lead nurture kind of thing. And we’re driving people to a landing page. So we’re going to talk about sort of best practices around landing pages.

But really, if you step back, the theme of this show is, here’s a tool that most agencies already have in house, you’re already paying for it. And maybe you don’t have the right tool, you need a more sophisticated tool, but you have something. But we’re really not delving into what’s possible with these tools, which means that we are missing opportunities that I think could really start to bring the cash register for either ourselves or our clients or both.

And so that’s why I invited Rick Carlson on the show today, because Rick is the CEO of SharpSpring. And as many of you know, SharpSpring unlike some other marketing automation software, SharpSpring was built specifically for agencies. So we’re not going to get into like their pricing structure and all of that during the show. But I do suggest that you check out a demo, we’ll have a URL in the show notes for you to check out a demo because their pricing model is really built to make agencies money.

And so I think you’re going to find some of the features and benefits of this software also benefit agencies. But what I want to talk to Rick about today is just, they see hundreds and thousands of agencies using their software both on behalf of their clients and themselves. And so I really want to pick Rick’s brain today about how we can do it better.

Tool agnostic conversation, but how do we do marketing automation in a way that really serves us and if we could add another 10 or 20% of the bells and whistles to what we’re already doing? What’s the potential gain for us? So, let’s welcome Rick to the show, and talk about how marketing automation can help us serve ourselves and our clients better. Rick, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Rick Carlson:

Hey, I couldn’t be happier to be here. It’s fantastic to be talking to you and your audience, which… Yeah, let’s do it.

Drew McClellan:

Okay. You know, 2020 has been a bizarre year. And one of the things that I think agencies have been called to do is to, I think two things, one, they have been called to help their clients fortify the relationship they have with their existing customers. And two, they’ve been called to shorten the sales cycle. And I think, interestingly, marketing automation plays a role in both of those things.

Rick Carlson:


Drew McClellan:

So one of the things I want to talk about are some ways that Sharp Spring is built for agencies. I know you have thousands of agency clients. And so you get to sort of look at how all of them are using marketing automation to serve themselves and their clients. And so I want to ask you some questions around that, like some best practices around marketing automation. But specifically, I want to talk a little bit about to start with anyway about lead nurturing.

So in a piece that you guys recently published, you quoted Forrester, and you said, “Forrester did some research and they said, companies that implement lead nurturing, have 50%, more sales ready leads, and they land those leads at a 33% lower cost.” So let’s talk a little bit about lead nurturing.

Rick Carlson:

Absolutely, yes, it’s one of my favorite topics. And frankly, it’s sort of… I mean marketing automation today is so comprehensive, it does so many different things. But at its core, lead nurturing has to be one of the most powerful things, right? And as marketers, the opportunities to spend money on leads are endless. Google will take your money all day long and in fact, they’ll make you a bid-

Drew McClellan:

To give them a little more.

Rick Carlson:

[crosstalk 00:12:24] Referred against thousands of other people who may or may not even be in your industry for those clicks, and Facebook and every other digital venue that’s out there. And this is what we do as marketers, we try to be super efficient about creating leads at a very low cost. But just a disproportionate amount of time is spent on that and not nurturing the leads that you’ve landed, and you pay five bucks, or 10 bucks a click to get somebody to your site, or even a few cents a click, or the time they turn into a lead and fill out a form, your cost is that much higher. And the comparative, expensive nurturing every one of those leads is minuscule compared to fill in the top of your funnel with whatever practices you’re using. Right?

So lead nurturing is just where it’s at, from my perspective, and needless to say, that’s one of the chief focuses of marketing automation, creating effective drip campaigns that are not just a one size fits all. But the work there is endless. You can create drip campaigns, a strategy I like to use. I call it a three by three grid, where just as a simple way to start out, let’s say you got three products, create drip campaigns for each of those products.

So as you see people interested in one product versus another, you can talk specifically to their needs. And then think about it whether they’re at the top of the funnel or the middle of the funnel or the bottom of the funnel, because they want different things right? They’re educating themselves here and then they’re sort of narrowing down the choices between you and competitors.

And at the end, you might want to give them a special offer or something to kind of get them over that hump. That’s just a tidbit on those different stages of the funnel. And that’s the tip of the iceberg with lead nurturing, doing it, making sure your sales team is aware of where leads are in the funnel and what they’re interested in and setting automated tasks for your sales team to follow up. Using retargeting.

We work with 2000 plus agencies and their customers are often brands that are, it’s not Yahoo, it’s not Delta Airlines. And so you’ve got a special challenge there when you pay dollars to bring somebody to your site, but that user with, they click away and leave, well they’re likely gone and they probably haven’t made enough of an impression on them to where they’re going to remember your brands.

And so you just paid five bucks for some clicks and bounced and is gone and it’s over, Google made their money and we didn’t do much. So retargeting and reinforcing your brand’s using like a digital ad platform with retargeting, and then using email as drip campaigns, and some of the other tools, hugely important.

Drew McClellan:

So one of the things I see agencies doing, as you know, I wear two hats, I own my own agency, and I run Agency Management Institute. So I also see our clients on the agency side [inaudible 00:15:43]. Kind of the one size fits all, somebody downloads an eBook or whatever it may be, we have a three-email sequence, and then we’re sort of done with them. So it’s sort of the what I would call scratch the surface marketing, automation, or drip campaign. What are some more… When you think about some of the things you’ve seen some of your more sophisticated clients do inside the tool, what are some different ways to think about marketing automation, and specifically drip campaign and lead nurturing, that are more specific to the audience and the audience behavior? And that get a little more sophisticated than hit them three times and then you’re out?

Rick Carlson:

Yeah, I wouldn’t even call that… There’s no branching, right? Somebody feels like, “You’re getting these three emails.” That’s… Hey, listen, let’s be clear, that’s better than nothing. That’s important and don’t knock it. But you’re exactly right. It’s absolutely the tip of the iceberg. So marketing automation tools, and this is not a sales pitch for SharpSpring, you can get the same kind of functionality with HubSpot, and others that are out there as well.

I just want people to know how to use these platforms, because they’re powerful, and everybody should be using them. You can do… In the case of SharpSpring, we have things called a dynamic list, where you can create lists of people, what makes these lists dynamic is as your leads meet the list criteria, they’re added to the list. And if for some reason, they no longer meet the criteria, they’re removed from the list.

And so you can have these like ready-made segments, customer segments, and then you can run drip and nurture campaigns against these lists, and notify them of things like other… You could have a list of people who bought this product or that product from you, or the combination of them, and have shown interest in something else. And you can use it for cross selling and upselling different products and services to them.

We have our customers who have… They have the concept of contract renewal, or maybe their licensing software or something that’s got an annual renewal. Series around those types of things where you’re… As it comes up to renewal, you’re restating your value proposition, making sure people are prepped for that renewal and understand the value. Needless to say, that is not the only time you should be talking to these people [inaudible 00:18:32] to renew, and we care about you again.

So that leads to yet another series, right? A constant communication or drumbeat of your value proposition and how to get the most out of whatever product or services it is that you offer. These are all things that can be done with automated marketing tools that you just, you can’t do in any other way, creating customer advocacy, right? We’re super proud of the reputation we’ve built with our customers and reminding our customers that hey, we work with on word of mouth, tell your other, in our case other agencies about our platform or what have you. You can create customer advocacy programs with drip campaigns and the rest.

So it’s really it’s endless. We have agencies that work with doctors offices and other professional services, where keeping appointments is the difference between a profitable practice and a non profitable practice because missed appointments kill these guys. Doctors, dentists, elective surgery, accountants, etc. So appointment reminders and things like that. It’s endless. It really is endless. But the key to that is knowing your customers business and applying the tools properly. And that’s what we count on our agency partners to do.

Drew McClellan:

So as I’m listening to you in my head, part of what I’m saying is, “My God, that sounds like we’re sending a lot of emails to these people.” And I know that there’s concern about email fatigue. So how, in your opinion, does a brand whether it’s an agency doing it for themselves, or they’re doing it on behalf of their client, how do you find the balance of you can make the argument if you’re sending quality stuff, everybody’s happy to hear from you, but they probably aren’t happy to hear from you seven days a week, right?

Rick Carlson:


Drew McClellan:

What is your thought about or what is your observation around sort of the quality of email marketing, because I can tell you, you and I are recording this in mid December, and between November 1st, and right now, I am not seeing a lot of quality email, I’m being bombarded by retailers every single day. And so pretty soon, I start to tune them out. And I know, that’s a worry agencies have when they are emailing their own prospects, but also they worry about how to do that better for their own clients.

Rick Carlson:

I think that’s right, you don’t want… So automation is about personalization, people don’t really get that point, they think marketing automation, “I want to… That helps me save time,” or what have you. No, it’s much more about having a one-on-one communication with somebody at scale, based on their interests, right? So again, if they’re interested in product A, and they’re at the top of the sales, they’re just educating themselves, you can sort of see that by their behavior on the website and then have a one-on-one communication.

But it really is around, just as you wouldn’t bombard somebody in a sales conversation, an old style. I’m knocking on your door every 20 minutes and showing up at your house, or I’m calling you on the phone, you want to sort of think of it the same way, I make an analogy, I’ve given a talk on this before about how marketing automation should be used to really simulate the one-on-one sales conversations that we used to have 20 years ago. And the metaphor, I gave this when my dad bought a car back and he showed up on the lot and had a conversation and the salesperson sizing him up and whether he can afford the car, he gets asked all the questions about the features and functions.

That’s when marketing automation is done right, when you’re using information that you understand about the customer. And it’s not about bombarding people, most of the tools… And so you need to be cautious of that. And we want to get away from that monthly newsletter that you just blast out to everybody. The same thing, we still exist, you want to have that personalized communication, that’s what makes it less… Higher quality and less intrusive, when your customer or your prospect can count on you sending them information about what you actually are interested in and so it’s key.

The other part of that is sort of a more macro level. I know we do this, and I think most other… I don’t know if most but other platforms do this as well. We provide tools, and it’s very important now. We sort of have to do this, we provide tools on a lead or prospect level and individual contact record level to show you how engaged that person is with your content. So you can actually choose to send everybody on this list who is engaged and not send to the people-

Drew McClellan:

And I can define what engaged is based on a score.

Rick Carlson:

That’s right. And so like if this person hasn’t opened or clicked on your last 6 emails, you may not want to send to them. In fact, at the end of the day, we enforce it for customers. And we have to because this is how Google and others… Now nobody depends on like somebody complaining about your email as spam, because people don’t do it because there’s too much of it in the inbox.

What’s actually happening is that the ISPs are determining who’s interested in your email for you based on the last time they actually opened and interacted. When email moves to the web, suddenly all that data is available to the ISP. And so Google will just stick your mail in the junk mail, if you’ve sent him a bunch of email, and they didn’t interact with it, all the rest of your emails go in there automatically. And so it’s really important that you’re only sending email to engaged recipients.

Drew McClellan:

How does that work with a lot of people using an email tool that gives them a preview panel or preview pane? So does that count? Like a lot of times I’m reading an email, and I might delete it after I read it. And technically, I haven’t really opened it.

Rick Carlson:

Yeah, that’s right. That’s a great question.

Drew McClellan:

So how does Google know that?

Rick Carlson:

Yeah. I think it boils down to, it’s a… The question you ask is sort of a complex answer, each of those browsers that you might be looking at actually report that interaction like you actually scrolling over that email might actually be counted as an open, in the next browser it might not. So those are some subtleties there. But here’s where I really think the answer lies, if you imagine sending out a mass email to 30,000 people, there’s enough of the sample set that’s doing all the work inside of the Google web interface [crosstalk 00:26:20]. And not doing it to where they can sort of determine, “Hey, this is a list that… This is somebody who’s spamming people, or at least not intending to spam people, but sending to an entirely unengaged list.” And we’re going to treat this sender accordingly. And here’s one more really practical, I know, you’re all about giving practical advice to your listeners.

It’s very important to know this, now your reputation follows you. You can’t switch from Mailchimp, to Constant Contact to SharpSpring to whoever. Your domain follows you as a sender. 10 years ago, it used to be, everybody’s got a shared pool of senders, and you can hide there. And if you ruin your reputation with one ESP, one email service provider, you switch to the next. Guys I’m telling you that you don’t want to dig out of that hole. So don’t create the hole for yourself. It’s a losing strategy with customers, you really [inaudible 00:27:32]. And it’s a losing strategy with the ISP. So they’ll follow you around and it’s a bad place to be.

Drew McClellan:

Yes, good advice, I want to take a quick break. And then when we come back, I want to talk a little bit about how you can use marketing automation to connect that… Cross the divide between marketing folks and sales folks. And I also want to if we have time to talk a little bit about landing pages, but let’s take a quick break, and then we’ll come back and talk about how we can use marketing automation to know when it