Episode 439

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Sales cycles are elongated, but that doesn’t mean agencies can’t still win new clients. If we change how we think about and approach prospecting, we can up our client outreach game to really hone in on our right-fit clients without being too sales-y about it.

In this episode, I talk with Dan Englander about how to stand out against the competition in our prospecting and outreach efforts. He shares how personalized client outreach can cut through the noise and win us new business more often if we just take the time to commit and dial in our systems and processes.

He also shares some tips and tricks for smaller agencies looking to build a sales team for the first time. You’ll learn how to identify the right hire who cares about solving your clients’ issues and won’t just read from a script or phone it in.

If you’re among the majority of agency owners who are ready to get out of the slow sales cycle and want to revamp your sales efforts this year, be sure to tune in to this advice-packed episode.

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.

client outreach

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • What are companies looking to agencies for the most?
  • Rethinking when it’s the right time to reach out to prospects
  • A continued move toward specialization and thought leadership
  • How to build and strengthen trust in the sales process
  • Focusing on more than one niche isn’t a bad thing
  • Best practices for personalizing client outreach efforts
  • Consistency is key
  • Walking the walk and talking the talk to build client trust
  • Getting past the noise to stand out in your client outreach
  • How a smaller shop can start building a sales team
  • Common mistakes in sales training

“There's a misconception many agencies have, ‘Nobody's buying right now, or this fiscal calendar's done with this company.’ That’s when you need to be talking with them. That's when they're making their plans.” - Dan Englander Click To Tweet
“When it comes to our world and outreach and getting meetings and relationships to happen, there’s going to be a bigger premium put on trust.” - Dan Englander Click To Tweet
“It’s not just personalization, but commonality. What's the thing that you have in common with someone that would allow them to talk to you?” - Dan Englander Click To Tweet
“One rule of thumb that we have is don't write an email that you wouldn't send to someone you’ve actually met in person.” - Dan Englander Click To Tweet
“In the agency world, you have to prioritize a level of intelligence and a level of ability to handle complexity more than you would with a software product.” - Dan Englander Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Dan:


Hey everybody. Drew here. You know, we are always looking for more ways to be helpful and meet you wherever you’re at to help you grow your agency. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve produced this podcast for so long, and I’m super grateful that you listen as often as you do. However, there are some topics that are better suited for quick hyper-focused answers in under 10 minutes. That’s where our YouTube channel really comes in. For quick doses of inspiration, best practices, tips and tricks, head over to youtube.com/the at sign agency Management institute. Again, that’s youtube.com/the at sign or symbol.

And then Agency Management Institute, all one word. Subscribe and search the existing video database for all sorts of actionable topics that you can implement in your shop today. Alright, let’s get to the show.

It doesn’t matter what kind of agency you run, traditional digital media buying, web dev, PRR brand, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build, a Better, Agency Podcast, presented by a White Label IQ will expose you to the best practices that drive growth, client and employee retention and profitability, bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Hello everybody. Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute and I bet you are not at all gonna be surprised to know that I am back with another episode of Build a Better Agency as we march our way to episode 500. Hard to believe we’ve been doing it that long. But today’s episode is a great example of of the relationships that we build and the good people that we surround ourselves with, thanks to the podcast. So before I tell you about our repeat guest and the topic, just wanna remind you, we’ve got some great workshops coming up in April. So two of them are gonna both be live workshops in Denver. So on April 11th and 12th, we have running your agency for growth and profit that’s gonna look at best practices for biz dev leadership systems and processes and money.

So that is aimed for agency owners and super senior leaders, and again, Denver 11th and, or sorry, April 11th and 12th in Denver. And then we also have our AE Bootcamp, that’s gonna be April 25th and 26th. That particular workshop is built for entry level folks. So I’d say zero to four or five years of experience in the agency space. We see a lot of junior account execs, account execs, project managers, account associates, that sort of level. So if they’re new in the profession and you want them to learn more about how to be a great account exec or account manager and help you grow the agency by growing their client’s business with you, this is a great workshop.

So check those out. Without further ado, let me tell you that today’s guest is Dan Englander. And if you’ve been a long time listener, you know he is been on the show a couple times before. Dan owns a company called Sales Schema and he works with agencies specifically around developing outbound efforts to attract right fit clients. So Dan has hel hosted a podcast, which I’ve been fortunate to be on several times, the Digital Agency Growth podcast, and really an expert in helping agencies sell, sell, sell. So I wanna pick his brain.

I wanna find out what he’s thinking after the bumpy ride that 2023 was for all of us and what he’s projecting we should be thinking about for 2024. So without further ado, let’s get him on the show and get started. Hey Dan, welcome to back to the podcast. Good to have you Drew.

Thanks for having me again. Good to see you.

So remind everybody a little bit about your background and the work you do before we dig into the conversation. Yeah,

For sure. So again, Dan Englander, my background is, is originally in the agency space. First working on the account side back when social media was new and hot and cool. And I’ve literally answered problems on Facebook walls for consumer brands and pitched various things that were mostly overlooked. A few things got picked up by clients left that gig was kind of fell into a sales and business development role for a creative house called Idea Rocket. Tried every tactic under the sun to convince people to buy video services Yeah. And to get leads for that business. So learned a lot from that. And then kind of did the Tim Ferriss thing for a little while. Went off on my own, started a company called Sales Schema, which eventually has become a targeted outreach company specifically for agencies and B2B service companies at this point.

We’ve worked with, I believe 110 agencies since 2014 to get, you know, thousands of of meetings going up market going, going up to brands. And we’re really, you know, not nec, we’re in the lead generation space by definition, but we’re really looking to build relationships because that’s the only way that you can think about doing outreach the right way is we’re not selling anything, we’re connecting clients with their future clients, basically. And that’s, that’s what we’re up to.

Right. So how was, how was 23 for you around that? ’cause you know, you and I were talking a little bit before we hit the record button. New business was an uphill grind for most agencies last year. So were you finding that with your clients as well?

We, we were, and it, you know, was overall revenue wise down year for us, down year for clients. Sure. On a macro level. But in terms of activity, in terms of meetings and the sort of metrics that, you know, we have to hold ourselves accountable to activity was actually up a lot. And some of that’s maybe, you know, it’s hard to tell signal from noise and what’s micro versus macro Yeah. Things we’re doing. But I think that what we’re seeing is like a lot of companies needing help navigating different, you know, AI or, or navigating, you know, other changes and down economy, whatever it might be, and just kind of more interest in looking towards experts. Right. Because I think that a lot of the times, like just reading content online, I think people, what we’re seeing, this is me reading tea leaves a little bit, but more and more there’s more openness to talking with somebody that actually really knows their stuff.

And we’re seeing that kind of across the board.

Okay. So as you, as you enter into 24 and you think about how you’re gonna guide clients, first of all, did you see any shift in activity or success rates as the, as the year ended as fourth quarter came and went?

Good question. I, I think so. You know, it really depends on industry. Like e-commerce will not talk to you leading up to to holidays. Right? Sure. Right. But in pretty much every other industry, I would say we, we did see upticks in terms of, of the, the meetings. But you know, to, to give a little context with the outreach we do, we’re never like, Hey, are you ready to hire an agency right now? Right. It’s really like, we should probably talk and a lot of people will have those calls when things are quieter, right? Yeah. Because that, that’s, that’s the misconception a lot of agencies have where it’s like, nobody’s buying right now or, or whatever, or like this fiscal calendar’s done with this company. But that’s actually when you need to be talking with them. ’cause that’s when they’re gonna be making their plans.

Right. Right. It’s like the plans are gonna take months to pan out probably.

Yeah. Yeah, yeah. So as you look a across the horizon for 24, what do you see?

It’s a good question. I see like we’ve talked about a lot things continuing to go towards, towards experts and those that, you know, we use the word niche, but I think really the better term is like specialization. I think that yeah, for sure think, you know, more and more like the idea of an agnostic agency is going to become less opportunistic, let’s say. I think that’s gonna happen. I think when it comes to our world and outreach and getting meetings and relationships to happen, I think there’s gonna be a bigger and bigger premium put on trust. There already is that premium. But I think with more and more availability of people that can solve problems for you in the digital realm with ai, there’s gonna be, you know, a greater premium put on that.

So, you know, I can get tactical, like what that means to outreach and all that sort of stuff, but I’ll, I’ll leave it, I’ll leave it at that for now. Yeah.

Oh I’m sure. We’ll I’m sure we’ll go there. But I’m curious, when you think about the trust factor and as an agency, you’re pursuing a prospect who doesn’t know you very well or doesn’t know you at all and in real, in real terms, doesn’t know, you know, may know of you, how are you helping clients build and strengthen trust in the sales process?

It’s a great question. I think a lot of it, I mean to take a step back, a lot of it is getting agencies to change their mindset about new business a little bit and to get them to think more like the rest of the B2B sales world. Which is that, you know, a lot of the times agencies are getting this artificial view of their sales cycle and what it takes to build trust. Because most of the business sometimes for years is coming from referral or personal network. Right. And you’re talking to people when they have a need, when they’re problem aware and solution aware. So a lot of it is saying like, look, there’s a lot of stuff that happened way, way, way before Right. They said, Hey, do you know anybody that could solve this problem? Yeah. And you’ve gotta get used to that process. So I think that’s, that’s the first thing. And like the one of them, you know, the most common things clients tell us is our sales cycle is a lot longer than, than we thought it was right from there.

And I know this is something that you really, really help a lot of clients with. True. It, it’s really about getting clarity, you know, under like, there’s all sorts of tactics and software and I think what, what a lot of people do is they’ll go buy the expensive piece of software or the expensive data source because they’re, they’re scared to do the real work, which is Right, where can we win? Right. The good news is like, it doesn’t have to be one niche. Like a lot of the times we’re, we’re we ask our clients, great, go after three at once, you know? Right. You can do that. We’ll show you how to do it or we’ll do it for you. Yeah.

Yeah. We talk about a three-legged stool sometimes, right? Yeah, yeah,

Exactly. That’s, that’s great. And it’s kinda like reaching the same solution different ways. But I think with that, you know, with clarity it’s like the attention to detail with that. Like actually, you know, when it comes to outreach, being able to look at those lists to be able to say, okay, this is a, this is a fit for these reasons and this isn’t. And then from there, like getting into the way we think about things, it’s not going after anyone and everybody, it’s not trying to achieve massive scale. It’s trying to see achieve kind of like a minimum viable level of scale, which for us is around like 300 people average contacted per week. ’cause from there you can like personalize that to a large degree. You can find the people that are actually gonna be willing to talk to you. So when you say we work with med tech, they’re like, oh yeah, these guys do work with med tech ’cause they right said the right things to me.

And the bar is low, you know, if people are like, I get outreach, I don’t read it well, I look at ads, I don’t buy every thing I see in an ad. Right. But If, you If you do things right. It really does work, work really well. Yeah.

Yeah. So, so let’s talk a little bit about the personalization, because I think, I think there is sort of this tug of war between scale and personalization and how much personalization and where do you get, where do you get to the creepy level? Where do you get to the, oh, I bet you sent this email to 10,000 people level. So how do you guide clients around best practices around personalization of

Outreach? Yeah, that’s a great question. And I frame that out a little bit. I think there’s a lot of questions about that. Like with ai, we talk more about ai, but like, you know, a lot of the times when you see personalization, people will either just not be doing it or they’ll refer to like somebody using their first name as personalization. Right? Right. Or, or it’ll be like, let me look at all this stuff about you and then regurgitate it back to you. Right? Right. Both things are, are uncompelling because everybody know because they’re inherently abundant, they’re not scarce. Right? So we, we value scarcity, right? Everybody does on a human level. So the way that we’re thinking about that is, is that attention to detail. So, you know, you know, you’re, you’re describing the business problem. You’re solving for a specific niche, not just a wide industry, but like, here’s this group of companies we can solve this business business problem for.

And then the way we think about this is not just personalization, but commonality. Like what’s the thing that you have in common with somebody that would allow them to talk to you? In my book, I talk a lot about Dunbar’s number, which is like the number of relationships that you can maintain on a loose basis. They postulate it’s like 150. Our whole thesis is that there’s other circles that go out beyond that by triples. Like, so you might have a few thousand people that would talk to you, but If you, if only you knew you had this thing in common. So our whole thing is, let’s start there and, and and so on. So to give some tangible examples, a lot of our clients are going to trade shows, conferences, they might have headquarters, different places. They might go to see clients different places.

Why not start there? You’re, why not look at the people in those places and say, I’m gonna be in your town or my partner’s there. And that is, there’s something timeless about, about that. And it also lets you achieve a certain level of scale. So you’re not writing one-to-one emails. You’re like, here’s a chunk of people you know from hundred.

Hey everybody, I, Hey, hey you, I’m gonna be at this show and next month. Yeah, yeah.

Exactly. And it sounds basic it, but the thing is like very few people are getting to that level of detail where you’re like, I can solve this business problem. We, we work in your space and by the way, I’m gonna be in your neck of the woods or whatever. Not a lot of people are getting those, those emails with that level of tastefulness. And that’s how we’re able to see like, you know, one to 5% meeting rates and then you’re getting a meeting a day and then, you know, good things happen, If, you keep up the inputs. Yeah.

Yeah. It’s interesting. So in 2023, you know, we do the agency edge research every year. And in 2023 our focus was hey, clients of agencies, how, when and where do you give your agency more money? And one of the things that we learned was that agencies or clients do in certain moments want to spend more time with either their agency of record or if they’re shopping for an agency. And one of the biggest places they said were trade shows. Trade shows and conferences. Because they’re already there. They’re already kind of already unplugged from the day to day. They have, they have a window of room. So your example of, Hey, I’m gonna be at this show, or we’ve got a booth at the show, or I’m speaking at this conference, would be a perfect tee up I think for a prospective agency.

Because we know from our research, and you just said you found it as well, it’s a, it’s a good hunting ground. It’s a, people are in the right mind frame to have some of those conversations.

Yeah. And, and I’ll just add to that, like, you know, to be honest, we’re, we’re heavily a digital shop. Like I’m not getting on planes and just, we just had a new board. So it’s like, I don’t do that a lot. And maybe, maybe we’ve left a lot of money on the table for that. But that’s, I’m willing to, to accept that. And I think a lot of agencies might be in that, that that boat too. You could still use locations though, right? Because we had a client and we did hometown based connections and he ended up connecting with an old partner that he didn’t talk to in 30 years. They had an RFP, you know, long story short, multi six figure engagement, right? Like, so these things, there’s, there’s a lot of ways in, and a lot of the thinking about like Cialdini, a lot of the times it’s very ripe brain. It’s very emotional. It’s like these, these connections that you have that aren’t necessarily just business, right?

You need the business part of the, the ingredients too. But the the top of the top of the email, you know, can be something personal. Yeah.

Yeah. So how are, how are other ways that you’re personalizing, you’re helping clients personalize their outreach? ’cause most of your outreach, most of the work you do is email based, right?

It it is, yeah. And that’s, that’s for a few reasons. And I’m not, you know, I, I’m not completely mono monotheistic about email. Sure. I don’t think there’s anything I made, but I I, and not even about outbound. I think like ads are great. I think content’s great. What we’re doing now, it works really well. There’s a few things that I think are good about email though. For one, it’s, nobody owns it. It’s a protocol, you know? Yeah. So you don’t have to interface with the tech company. You can be compliant, you know, If, you are doing stuff on LinkedIn and somebody else is doing that for you. You’re breaking their to OS which is, you know, right. Not, not horrible and you probably get away with it, but it’s something to know about. And and also you can get to a higher level of scale with email and email’s where we go to make plans and do business.

Our calendars are there. LinkedIn, we might be reading articles. It’s harder to convert that to a call, right? So emails usually our starting place. Yeah. For that reason. And that’s kind of how we’re thinking about it in terms of a personalization. There’s a lot of different tactics, right? And with AI that is increasing a lot more. But we are still kind of putting our, our flag in the ground with commonalities and with the things that are inherently scarce. ’cause those are the things that are gonna be timeless and valued. So I think that, that then that makes it harder to sell for us. ’cause we don’t have one slick tactic. Right. A lot of it’s process and attention to detail and, and that kind of thing. Like if I’m reaching out to a MI, I’m not saying Agency Management Institute incorporated, I’m saying a MI.

Right? Right. These little things matter. So it’s less about one tactic and more about a process that a small team can implement like over and over again. Yeah.

And, and how much of that process is successful based on Consistency of following the process? Because one of the things I find is, yeah, I’m sure you do too, is that a lot of times agencies sort of throw up their hands after, you know, it’s a little like New Year’s resolutions, right? Everybody’s in the gym, you know, January 3rd, but most people are not in the gym still by February 15th. And so I find that the agencies that are really successful with Biz Dev do a few things, but they do them really consistently and well. Do you see that as well?

Absolutely. Yeah. That’s huge. And, and that’s, you know, a lot of, we’re we’re moving into to training products and stuff as well. And like a lot of the stuff that we, you’re you’re teaching agencies about is like, you’ve gotta, you’ve gotta like recontextualize what success means, right? Like success isn’t gonna mean close business until maybe a half a year or a year from now. You’ve gotta like look at the, the wins as I’m building new relationships in my market with people that could do business with me in the future. So that&#