Episode 217

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Like every other consumer, your prospects go on a wild and winding journey as they consider whether or not they want to hire an agency and then go about finding that perfect partner. It’s amazing to me that many agencies teach their clients about buying journeys and yet don’t really understand what their prospects go through as they go to market.

Robin and Steve Boehler are the principals at Mercer Island Group and every day, they help brands find that perfect agency partner. They have a unique lens into the emotional roller coaster that prospects ride on their way to hiring an agency. They’ve spent the last few years documenting this journey and now they’re ready to share it with all of us so we can win at each of those milestones.

That’s why I’ve asked Robin back to the podcast, as my first three-peat guest! The Boehlers are just that smart! Take a listen and get a taste of what Robin and Steve have learned through their work with many clients, all on unique but similar journeys that will give us clues on how to win our next sweet spot prospect.

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: https://www.whitelabeliq.com/ami/

What You Will Learn in this Episode:

  • The importance of understanding and anticipating your prospects’ buying journeys
  • The emotional elements in the prospect’s buying journey
  • How to help a prospect mitigate the risk they face when switching to a new agency
  • How to get visibility with your prospects before they’re ready for a change
  • How to make a lasting impression that helps your agency stand out

The Golden Nugget:

“There is an art to providing glimpses of value before a client is looking.” @mig_robin Click To Tweet “Even before there is a real trigger for change, clients are always thinking about how to do better.” @mig_robin Click To Tweet “If you have recently been in touch with a client in a way that is meaningful to them, they will remember you.” @mig_robin Click To Tweet “If we screw up, we might lose an account; if we screw up on the client-side, our contact might lose their job. There is a lot of risk involved.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “By the time a prospect reaches out to Mercer Island Group, they are one-third of the way through the buying journey.” @mig_robin Click To Tweet

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Ways to Contact Robin Boehler:

Speaker 1:

It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run, traditional, digital, media buying, web dev, PR, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build a Better Agency Podcast presented by White Label IQ will show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road sellable. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner, and agency consultant please welcome your host Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody. Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. I have one of my all time favorite human beings, and certainly one of my all time favorites Build a Better Agency guests on the show for my first three-peat. So I have never ever had a guest on for three times in the 220-some episodes. I’ve only had a couple of people do repeats, but I’ve never had a three-peat before. And if I was going to pick someone to be my three-peat guest, this is exactly who I would pick. So buckle in, you’re in for a great conversation. But before we get to that a couple announcements. So first of all, if you are listening to this real time and you are in the US I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving, and are gearing up to the holiday season. Here’s my message for you.

I want you to make sure that you bake some time in and take full advantage of the privilege you have as an agency owner of the flexibility of time. Of the opportunity to spend a little more time with your family over the holidays or your friends, if your family is not who you want to be with. But this is a season where everyone is feeling a little overwhelmed, everyone is feeling their to-do list just doubled.

And we are the privileged few who get to really control our calendar. And we really get to decide how we spend our time. And yes, I’m not suggesting you take the entire month of December off, nor that you could, even if you wanted to. But I do think you have a little more flexibility than the average Joe out there. So make it your goal to make sure that you as the agency owner or leader are sure to invest some extra time with those that you love this holiday season, and that you allow your work life balance to kind of flex to support that. Okay.

All right. A couple other quick things, we are pushing to be at least half sold out at the Build a Better Agency summit by the end of the year. So pricing goes up as of January 1st. So please, if you’re going to join us in May of 2020 for the Build a Better Agency summit, with all of the amazing speakers and all of the networking opportunities you’re going to have now is the time to grab that ticket before the prices go up at the first of the year, so do that. And last but not least before I tell you a little bit more about our guests just want to say thank you to all of you who have shot me a note in the last couple of weeks after my solo cast. I appreciate your kindness and your consideration and your good wishes on the move. So thank you very much for that.

All right. Let me tell you a little bit about our guests. Although many of you are very familiar with her. So Robin Boehler is one of the principals at Mercer Island Group, a company that she and her husband Steve started many moons ago. The day job of Mercer Island Group is working with brands to help them match… They’re sort of like matchmakers for agencies. They’re an agency search firms. So they find the perfect partner for their brand clients. They handle the whole review process, but they also do a lot of work with agencies, helping them get ready for big pitches or opportunities. And we’ve been doing workshops together for several years now. And when I was talking to them this summer about what we might do together in January they had a really interesting idea and it was the idea of actually, and they had already started on this project.

And then they agreed to share their findings or their teachings with us in January. But they’ve been mapping out, just like we do with clients at the customer buying journey. So think of it as the prospect buying journey, and all of the emotions and moments and milestones that go inside that journey. And what we as agencies can do to win at each of those milestones. And so just like we sell to clients, this idea of mapping out a customer journey and that there are different marketing tactics that make sense at different stages of this journey, what Robin and Steve and Lindsay are going to teach us in January is that the same is true for our prospects. And that we have to be more understanding about how they are looking at this from a consumer’s point of view, what they’re going through, what the risks are, what their fears are, all of the emotions that go with making this very big purchase decision and how we can get in front of them and influence them long before they’re ready to have a conversation with us.

And so this is brand new contents. I’m super excited about it. I think it’s going to be really insightful, but I wanted Robin to come on the show and talk to us a little bit about this buyer’s journey. So if you can’t come with us down to Orlando in January, the workshop is January 27th and 28th. If you can’t join us, I still want you to at least have part of this information. There’s no way in a 40 minute conversation, I can distill down two days worth of content, but I do want to pick Robin’s brain a little bit and give you at least some of what they are discovering as they do this work in this study, as they prep for the workshop. And for others of you, hopefully this will give you a taste of what we’ll be talking about so you can join us in January. So I don’t want to waste any more time. Let’s get started and welcome Robin to the show. Robin, welcome back to the show. You are my first three-peat guests.

Robin Boehler:

Oh wow. I’m very honored. Do I get something when we get to five like Saturday Night Live does.

Drew McLellan:

Yes, you do. I’m thinking maybe a car.

Robin Boehler:

Sounds great.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So you’d be thinking about what that might look like. I’m seeing you in a convertible.

Robin Boehler:

That sound fun.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I like it.

Robin Boehler:

Yeah. I live in Seattle remember though.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I know, but you have beautiful summers, right?

Robin Boehler:

We do.

Drew McLellan:

And falls.

Robin Boehler:

We do.

Drew McLellan:

So as I was saying in the introduction we are about to head down to Florida again, and you and Stephen Lindsay had been working on brand new content, content around the buying journey that clients go through. And I know that this is something, a project you’ve been working on for a while and sort of noting and articulating sort of what your clients, because again, for folks who are not familiar with Mercer Island Group, you guys are an agency search firms. So not only do you do consultation with agencies and help them get ready for pitches, but a lot of your work is spent being hired by a brand to help them find the right agency and then do the matchmaking tied to that. So how far long in the journey would you say percentage wise is somebody by the time they either call an agency or ping an agency with an email, or call someone like you and say, “Hey, we need help to find the agency.”

Robin Boehler:

I’d say they’re a third of the way through, already. By the time they reach out to an agency there are a good third of the way in through the process. So of course, then that begs the question of what happens in that first, third, and how do you get pinged?

Drew McLellan:

Right. Because at the end of the day, you have to be one of the subset that gets even looked at, right?

Robin Boehler:

Yeah. And there’s a much bigger subset that gets considered than ever gets pinged.

Drew McLellan:

So one of the things that I find fascinating and I’m really looking forward to from the workshop is this idea that there’s sort of an emotional arc that happens for the prospects along the way. So talk to us a little bit about what happens in that invisible third. What’s going on in the prospect’s head and heart as they are going along their day and all of a sudden, I need an agency?

Robin Boehler:

Yeah. So it’s interesting because they’re going along their day for a much longer period of time, than we give them credit for. So there’s that entire period of time when they’re not thinking about an agency at all, either they like the one they have. So they’re not thinking about it or they don’t have one and they’re not thinking they need one.

So there’s this whole period of time when they’re not buying, they’re not thinking about buying, they’re not considering buying. They’re just not in that space. Also, there’s a lot of indifference around all of this. And I think that’s the first emotion they start with, a fair amount of indifference about the agency space which is, I know a little disappointing to agencies, but it is indeed the case. And then perhaps they get to a point where they begin to think that maybe their marketing needs some kind of an oomph, or some kind of a punch up, some kind of a change, whether it’s because they’re not happy with what they’re doing or there’s been a change in business.

But even before there’s a real trigger for change, clients are always thinking about how to do better. How to move their product faster, how to build their business quicker, whatever it might be. So there’s always an anticipation that there might be something better around the corner. Then there gets to a place where something does trigger them to consider whether or not they need a new agency or they need an agency. So either they’re replacing or adding, let’s just say to their marketing mix. And I think that emotion, I would describe as uncertainty because they’re not sure even if they should bother to do this. One of the things that I’ve noticed with clients, when we talk to clients who are considering a change in agency or adding an agency to their mix, their marketing team, they are very uncertain especially if they’ve ever done it before, because it’s A, a lot of work for the client and B it’s a very risky proposition.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yeah. So I was thinking about, as you were saying, uncertain, I think it’s uncertain and also apprehensive.

Robin Boehler:

Very apprehensive.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Robin Boehler:

Because changing to someone we don’t know then of course we know the warts of the agency we have, but we don’t know, we will never know through a pitch, the warts of the agency. We don’t have, what if we end up with someone worse? What if I talk my boss into changing an agency and then I ended up with some of my boss doesn’t like or what if they don’t perform as well? It maybe it’s not as bad as they think it is with what we have. It’s the same, if people think about personnel that they have, that they’re thinking should I upgrade the person in this spot? Oh, well, it’s a lot of work to find someone new and then you have to let go of that. And then there’s the transition time. And so they’re very uncertain. This is not a decision made lightly.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s interesting. You’re right a lot of agency owners will hang on to what I call a C player for way longer than they should. And part of it is just the, I don’t want to have to find somebody new. I already know what he or she is capable of and I’ve figured work arounds around it. So you’re right, it is a very similar thing. And when I’m talking to the AEs in the aid bootcamp, one of the things that I remind them is we have to understand that if we mess up we might lose an account. If we mess up on the client side, they might lose their job.

Robin Boehler:

Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

So the risk is pretty significant for them.

Robin Boehler:

Yes. And this is, especially if they’re running the search themselves because very few, less than a quarter of searches are run by search consultants. So the work that I do for clients, most agency searches or the hiring of an agency happens without anyone like me ever involved. It’s just some clients who knows who else inside their company, making a decision to bring on an agency. And it’s a tremendous amount of work, especially if you’re going to vet more than one, vet more than three, this is a huge amount of work ranging from, I need to even figure out who we should be looking at all the way through and to an MSA and a scope of work and negotiations and all of that. And then you’ve got to onboard them and they have to learn your business. So when does the return on the investment begin?

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yeah, when you describe it that way you can sort of see why, if you were the client, you’d be like I don’t want to do this, and you can also see why somebody would say screw it. I’m just going to hire it, I’m just going to build an in-house department.

Robin Boehler:

Right. Or I’ll just keep who I’ve got to stay. Yeah. It’s much easier. Right. And that’s what agencies I don’t think ever get to see, because they are not engaged till they’re engaged, till the client reaches out to them. And at that point, the client has made a decision to consider someone else. And at that point, when they do say, okay, let’s start researching, I’m going to do it, I’m going to at least look. And they start to see, so who might be out there that could do this? I would say that emotion is overwhelmed because there are thousands of agencies.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, and unfortunately a couple of things. Number one, if an agency is actually doing, BizDev the way we talk about it, they should already know of a couple of agencies out there because they should already be talking to them. They should already be selling from a position of authority. They should already be telling this prospect, who’s not a prospect yet, but they should be telling them, hey, look, we understand the Ag market or the higher ed market or whatever it is. But most agencies don’t do that. Right.

Robin Boehler:

Or they don’t do it right.

Drew McLellan:

Or they don’t do it right. And when you go to their websites and I know we’ve talked about this ad nauseam. When you go to the website or you talk to them, they all look like full service integrated marketing agencies, which to the client has to sound Charlie Brown’s teacher.

Robin Boehler:

Right. Or even in worst cases they mis-characterize themselves completely. So once upon a time they were a media agency, but now they’re not, now they’re a digital agency, but they still call themselves Bowler Media. Right? So they haven’t even changed… Their name doesn’t reflect who they are. And then you go to their website and in some places they call themselves full service, in some places they call themselves digital. So they even know how to describe their frame of reference. What we call a frame of reference, which is clients put agencies into buckets. I need a full service agency. I need a creative agency. I need a digital agency. I need a media agency. I need a lead generation agency. They know what they need. And there are names for these kinds of agencies, the categories are defined, culturally they are defined. And agencies that don’t want to fit into one of those agency, into those buckets, are actually doing themselves a disservice because they’re showing up nowhere.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I even thinking about the word digital. So I was just without peer group this last week. And somebody said, well, we’re really struggling with digital. And I said, well, what does that mean? When you say digital, what are you talking about? Are you talking about digital media. Are you talking about email marketing and lead gen? Are you talking about PPC? Are you taking about SEO? So even some of those terms are pretty nebulous.

Robin Boehler:

Yeah. And digital is different. So there’s digital media, there’s digital creative, right? There’s digital Cape at MarTech and Adtech. So understanding of knowing what you’re offering and being clear about what you’re offering so that when a client is looking is critically important.

But I do think what you said Drew that’s really important is when a client sits down to figure out, yeah, I think maybe we should start looking. You are 10 steps ahead out of 10, 10 out of 10 steps ahead if you get on that list. And if you have recently been in touch with them in a way that is meaningful to them, they will remember you. If you just sent out a blanket set of emails to every client and the world, think about your own inbox, when do you open emails and keep them when they are relevant to you or when they might be relevant to you in the near future. So you have to have sent relevant, you have to show a glimpse of value before they’re looking.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Robin Boehler:

And that’s how you get on the list. And how to do that is there’s an art to how you provide glimpses of value before clients are looking. And it’s not by sending more emails, more of the same emails. It’s not by sending a bottle of wine in the mail. It might get their attention more than no bottle of wine, but will they think that that’s a value when it comes time to hire an agency? So it’s a calculated risk to put energy and effort against being in front of clients before they’re looking. But it raises the odds that you’ll be on that list. That very first, what we call kind of the research phase of the client journey.

If they don’t know about you, if they’ve never heard about you, you have to hope they can find you and there are ways to help get found, right? So let’s say there’s someone who’s looking that you never even heard of either. Or you haven’t been targeting. You still hope they can find you. So you don’t give up at any stage in this. Right? So the early stages, glimpses of value, in their research phase you have to be found. And at that point, the client’s overwhelmed. So anything you can do to help them makes it easier. But if looking for you becomes really difficult, I’m not going to work that hard.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, because there are lots of other choices and-

Robin Boehler:

So many.

Drew McLellan:

… And I don’t know the difference anyway. So to me, it’s like well, I’m going to look at the first 10 I find and know that I can narrow it down to three that are reasonable. And eventually, hopefully one of the three will be decent partner.

Robin Boehler:

And if I’m a mid-level manager, my boss sent me out looking, I’m not just going to bring just the first 10 I find. I’m going to bring the first 10 that my boss won’t say, what the hell were you thinking when I bring that list?

So if I’ve heard of an agency, if I bring them, they’re looking for creative agency and I bring McCann, well, everyone’s heard of McCann, but if I bring a smaller agency, a boutique agency, because you know what? They’ve done exactly what we’re looking for someone else just like us. Well, then I have confidence that I can bring them too versus just some agency I’d never heard of because I saw it on a list.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I think for most of the listeners of the podcast, they are that unknown entity. I mean they’re not competing typically against the McCann or somebody like that. They’re competing against other no-name agencies. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I just mean there they’re local or their re