Episode 217:

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 regional. And they just haven’t stepped into the spotlight enough to own what it is they’re good at enough to be all that findable. I was thinking about what you said about the bottle of wine. And so I have a lot of agencies that are doing some sort of a lumpy mail campaign to prospects.

And the key to that is whether it’s a YETI cooler or it’s a bottle of wine, or it’s a book, or it’s tickets to the ballet, whatever it is. Odds are they probably are going to go look at your website, right? They’re probably going to at least do that. And so what I find fascinating is when there’s no correlation to what you sent and how you packaged it to where you send them and when your website makes you look like everybody else on the planet, you just spent $10 or $50 or $100 on the thing to tell them, you’re like everybody else.

Robin Boehler:

Right. Timing is everything too. Right. So for all the agencies that are going to send a lovely holiday, something to their clients or to prospects, that’s a very nice thing to do as long as you know why you’re doing it, because if they get 50 of them or 20 of them, because we’re in holiday season, they are not going to go to all those websites because that’s not tenable.

But if you send it on January 31st, Happy New Year, that’s the only one I’m going to get then. So when do I look, is when I have a reason to, and I have the time, right? So you have to do when it’s not a me too. We had one agency send us a bunch of stuff, I think at Valentine’s Day, not a bunch of stuff, but their materials and they didn’t send anything at Christmas time.

And I only got one thing from an agency at Valentine’s Day. So yeah, I did look, but when all the stuff I’m going to get between now and the end of the year, it’s delicious, most of it. And it reminds me of the name of the agency, but it’s too many to go look. So timing is everything, and yes, you have to also have the follow-up. You can’t just send something great and then when I get to your real website, it’s like, “Oh, well, that’s a disappointment.” It doesn’t match up to the thing that you sent. But again, the thing that you said has to have some kind of relevance or some kind of meaning that’s going to get someone to go ahead and want to explore you further.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s funny, probably 15 years ago, my agency, we absconded Valentine’s Day and we changed it. We call it Who Loves You Baby Day, which is a throwback to Telly Savalas and a show called Kojak, for all you who are under 40 Google it.

Robin Boehler:

I remember it.

Drew McLellan:

But anyway, you’re right, we get so much… So we send clients holiday gifts as well, but we also send them Who Loves You Baby gifts and cards. And we also send prospects. We get so much more feedback on Who Loves You Baby day stuff, because you’re right. They might get flowers or whatever from a significant other, but their other vendors and partners aren’t sending.

Robin Boehler:

Right. So thinking about is there a particular time of year or a particular occasion when you could stand out and then sending something that hopefully gets them to take a look at your website would be… And the idea here is that you want to be able to have created some kind of an impression so that when they need to buy an agency or they’re thinking of buying an agency, they say, who was that. We heard from that one agency, who were they again? And they find you again, back in their email, or they find that thing you sent, or that little book or pen is on their desk, whatever it is. It’s like, all right, let me look and see if they might work because they reached out and they looked interesting.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Sometimes I talk about that prospecting from the agency side is a little dollar cost averaging. You have no idea what day the market’s going to go up or down. So you just put a buck in every day and sooner or later that consistency will pay off. And I think that the same thing is true for our prospecting is if somebody is on your target list, so this is probably not something you’re going to do for the whole world.

In fact, what we teach is have a target list of 25 because you only need one or two of them a year and have a really great year. But if those 25 people are hearing from you every six to eight weeks with something that is actually helpful to them. It’s a checklist, it’s a tool, it’s a something. Then when they’re ready, on the random Tuesday that their agency ticks them off. And they’re like forget it, we have got to talk to somebody else you’re going to be at least top of mind enough to be in the consideration set.

Robin Boehler:

Right. I mean, there’s two ways to think of it too. There’s aided awareness and this unaided awareness. So unaided awareness is the idea I need to start looking at agencies, I remember those guys, let’s put them on the list because I’ve gotten so much good stuff from them. They’re on the list, [crosstalk 00:24:09].

Drew McLellan:

Or they spoke at a conference or whatever, right? Yeah.

Robin Boehler:

You know what? Every time I read my Ag industry periodical, these guys have content in that periodical or that blog I read around farming equipment. God, there’s an agency that’s always got really great content. Every three months the blog is written by this agency that seems to really know my space. That’s unaided awareness. Right? I think of you before you even have to prompt me, but there’s nothing wrong with aided awareness, which is, I start looking, your name shows up, it’s like, oh yeah, I heard of those guys. I don’t remember where did I hear them? It doesn’t even matter if you remember, people have a very positive reaction to something they recognize versus something they’ve never heard of.

So you get on the list because there’s an aided awareness. So being top of mind, that’s hard to do. Being in the mind, that’s less hard to do. So how do you get to some space where when they actually are in the research phase, they either put you on the list because you’re in there, in their mind, or when they start looking, you are a recognizable value already to them worth considering. So you can help them be less overwhelmed and choose you.

Drew McLellan:

All right. Let’s take a quick break. And when we come back, I want to keep tackling this topic because it’s fascinating. So we’ll be right back, guys.

I hate to take you away from this week’s content, but I just want to put a little bug in your ear. We have some amazing workshops coming up in the first quarter of 2020, and I want to make sure they’re on your radar screen. So there are two in January, there’s the build and nurture your agency sales funnel, which is January 23rd and 24th in Orlando, Florida. We are literally going to not only show you how to build a sales funnel, but we’re going to actually walk you through the exercise of doing it so that you leave with a completed or near complete sales funnel. So that’s the Thursday, Friday. And then on Monday, Tuesday, our good friends at Mercer Island Group are going to join us, and they’re going to talk to us about the prospect’s buying journey.

So they’ve been working with brands and helping them pick agencies for years now. And one of the things they’ve been studying is what do prospects or what brands do as they are beginning their early, early stages of shopping for an agency long before they’re on our radar screen, what are they doing? And how do we win each of those milestones, even when we don’t know they’re out there. And so it’s going to be a great workshop. It’s brand new from Mercer Island Group. If you have not been to one of their workshops, they do not disappoint. We get rave reviews every time that they take the stage. And so they’re going to be with us on January 27th and 28th, also in Orlando, Florida. The beautiful thing about that is right in the middle as a weekend.

And why wouldn’t you spend a weekend in sunny, warm Florida on Disney property in January. So hopefully you can join us for those. We also have a great workshop in March. So that workshop is in Chicago. We’re heading back north March 24th and 25th. And that is the run your agency for growth and profits. So this is an agency owner workshop. If you are not an owner, but you are a leader, then ideally your owner would come with you because this we’re going talk about owner stuff. So everything from operations to BizDev, to people, to profit, to financial metrics, all those sorts of things we’re going to cover. We’re going to cover all the big bases in terms of the internal backside of the business. How do you run the business of your business better? And again, that is March 24th and 25th in Chicago. All right. I hope I see you at one are those or more of those, but in the meantime, let’s get back to the podcast.

All right. I am back with Robin Boehler from Mercer Island Group, and we are talking about the buying journey of our prospects and how much of that happens long before we know they’re out there. Or we know that they’re even thinking about looking at an agency or we are in the consideration set. So once they get to, I think where we got to in the journey was sort of at the stage that they are starting to look for agencies to consider. We sort of called that, that they’re sort of overwhelmed and also a little terrified because if they make the wrong choice it could easily cost them their job. And I think sometimes we as agency people, we kind of, I don’t know that we forget it, but I don’t know that we give that reality as much importance as it should. I think we’re so busy selling that sometimes we forget the risk that these people are taking.

Robin Boehler:

Yeah. Especially if they are… It’s really risky when the agency review is triggered by a new decision maker, has entered the company. So the owner hired agency X a long time ago. And they’re not just not performing as well as you think they should. You’re you’ve got a new marketer that’s come into the organization. The company owner hired agency X, 25 years ago. The company’s grown and the agency hasn’t grown with them. And this new marketer comes in and says, hey, I think we should take a look at a new agency. And there’s long relationship between the old guys and the old owner. But they don’t have the capabilities. And you’ve got this marketer that wants to talk the owner out of the agency they currently have, and they have to find someone new. That is a risky moment, a very risky moment.

Drew McLellan:

On the flip side of that though for most agencies, one of the most tenuous times in our relationship with a client is in that moment of transition where the ownership has brought in a new VP of marketing or whatever the title is. And even if we’re doing a great job, we’re at risk. So what are the emotions that are happening? If I’m the new marketing director that’s been brought in on both sides of the equation, either the agency is underperforming or the agency’s doing a great job, but I want to leave my mark. I have buddies at another agency that I  working with and these guys are the old person’s agency. What’s that spectrum of emotion like for that new VP of marketing or whatever their title may be.

Robin Boehler:

It is a spectrum and it ranges from, and these are not mutually exclusive. These are all happening kind of all at the same time. Usually by that time, the marketer, the person who’s responsible has gotten the go ahead to go ahead and go ahead and start looking, go ahead. We’ll do our search. We’ll do a review. Let’s look at agencies, whether it’s a formal review we do, or it’s bring me a few, right. Let’s look at three or four and see if they’ve got the capabilities that we’re looking for.

There’s a certain sense of determination that that marketer has that they’re going to do this and they’re going to do it right and they’re really going to consider the right firms. And they are determined to find the right partner. So there is a certain sense of determination. I don’t know if that’s an emotion, but I think they feel determined to really figure out a better solution than the one they currently have, or to figure out a way to move the ball forward by bringing in a marketing partner.

Drew McLellan:

And so do you believe that that same determination is true? Whether or not the current agency is performing well or not?

Robin Boehler:

Yeah, if they make the decision, once they make the decision to actually look at the field, whether it’s including the current agency or in some cases, they’ve been doing it all in house, but the new person gets hired in and says, man, we need a marketing agency. We are never going to move the needle on this if we don’t hire an agency. So now I’m going to have to convince my boss, the owner to hire an agency, to spend money on something he hasn’t spent any money on before. So there is a certain sense of determination to be able to find the right solution. At the same time, I believe that there’s a certain sense of nervousness because this is a risky venture.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. This is the first time they’re going out on the limb.

Robin Boehler:

Right. And if we choose wrong, it could be bad. Agency services are a cost center. It’s a giant sinkhole of a cost center. And it’s very hard to prove the return on the investment before you’ve hired them. And agencies have a hard enough time talking about how they bring a return on investment. Let alone a marketer now is going to bring an agency maybe in for the first time. I know a lot of your agencies are often first time agencies with some of the clients that they work with. So how do you prove your return on the investment as someone who’s never invested in something like you before? That’s a very difficult thing to do.

Drew McLellan:

Right. So if you’re the incumbent and a new VP of marketing comes in and calls for an agency review, in your opinion what are the odds that… I mean, should the incumbent even go for it? Should they bow out gracefully? Do they know that it’s a changing of the guard and therefore they’re just there as a courtesy because as you know putting together a pitch or doing whatever it takes to try and win that business back is no small feat. It takes a lot of time. It costs a lot of money. So what’s your take on that? Should the incumbent hang in there and keep trying? Or should they just bow out gracefully and go, I sort of see the writing on the wall here.

Robin Boehler:

So I think it depends. I know that’s not the answer that you were hoping for, but I think it depends. It depends on a couple of things. One is who do you have relationships with on the client side? If it’s one individual that’s very shaky because there might be a new sheriff in town, a new decision maker in town, and you were one individual is never going to carry the day by him or herself. If the entire marketing team loves you and says, hey, our new CMO or a new marketing VP’s going to put this up for review because he wants to see if we have the right agency, but we’re rooting for you. Then this worth considering which is one of the reasons why we tell agencies that servicing your accounts as if you were trying to win them keep the romance alive because you never know when there might be some kind of rocky road and you want to make sure that the people are love you at the agency.

So even if the top changes, it’s not going to matter because the troops will say, hey, you can’t switch that agency on us, we love these guys. So it depends a lot. If the reason for the review is because someone new came in and they appear to want to change a lot, I think it’s very difficult for a creative agency to win that day. It doesn’t happen often. They wouldn’t be putting it up for review, if they didn’t think that they needed to change. Media is different. Media is often done to try to reduce rates. Not often I shouldn’t say, that’s probably an overstatement, but it’s sometimes done to see if we can reduce our rates. But media, if they’re looking, it’s probably because they’re looking for something else. It doesn’t mean you can’t win, but it’s really hard.

So this is a good time to take stock of how important is this relationship to us. And if you do decide to pitch it, my one important piece of advice is pitch to win. Don’t do it unless you’re going to go all in. Start as if it’s a brand new client, do the homework and the research you would do if it was a brand new client. Because you guys show up with just a little switch in the creative and someone else came in and did customer research and all the things that you do when you pitch, you can’t win that.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It looks like you phoned it in, right?

Robin Boehler:

Yeah. And it looks like you didn’t care all that much. And I would also say don’t whine, don’t moan, don’t keep reminding them that this would be hard for us if we lost it. Go in a determined and confident to beat everybody out and stake your claim in that piece of business and show that you’re the best for it.

Drew McLellan:

I don’t know if any of you guys can hear this, Robbin, if you can hear it or not, but there’s 300 geese on a lake right underneath me and they’re honking to beat the band. So if any of you hear anything that sounds a distant dogs barking or something else, I’m sorry, but it’s goose migration season and they’ve all stopped at Drew’s house today.

Robin Boehler:

Ah, no I can’t hear it-

Drew McLellan:

… For a little break because I live on a little piece of water. So anyway okay. So if it’s not a new sheriff in town, if it is an existing team that is just looking for new folks, they’re still probably pretty overwhelmed because either odds are they’ve been with their partner for a while. So again, to your point there, it’s not they’re reading agency trade pubs, learning all about agencies out there.

Robin Boehler:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

And then they have to narrow it down to the ones they’re going to talk to. Right?

Robin Boehler:

Yes. So what happens in that process is critically important too. So let’s say you get lucky and you get on that list. So for us, it’s usually a list of 50, for a client it might be a list of, I don’t know, 10, 12, whatever the number might be. They’re not going to dive as deep as a search consultant would and find 50 possibilities, right? So you get on that list and then you have to be able to be vetted.

And so what the client is doing at this point is creating essentially a checklist, whether it’s formal or informal. They’re creating a checklist of things that they’re using to rate you, one against the other. So the question in front of the agencies is how easy is it to find the information they need to know that we could be right. And that goes to a whole array of different opportunities for you to be able to have set yourself up to get scored high in that rating.

So all along this that we’re talking about here, from before they’re looking, to when they’re thinking about looking, to when they’re actually doing research right, to when they’ve done their research, and now they’re trying to vet which agency should we include. There are things agencies could be doing. So if you’re an agency that has published blogs or has been a guest on the right industry blogs, or has sent materials in advance, or has a kick ass website where everything’s easy to find and your case studies rock the world. Because when I check on those case studies, it’s like boy, they’ve done some amazing work for these clients. If the list of clients that you have is the right list of clients. All of those things, if you’ve won awards and I can find those show up when I search. If you’re on some other right lists, all of those things become a reason to believe just like you do for your clients, right?

So if you can convince me that the peanut butter tastes better and spreads easier, I’m more likely to try it. So it’s the same thing for a B2B purchase. I have to have a reason to believe that you should be on that list because that list I’m going to probably present to my boss and I’m going to have to justify the list I think we should go after. And why this list and not that list? Right. So I have to have reasons to put this agency I never heard of forward. So you as an agency you have to be able to have that information readily available in a way that’s meaningful to clients.

Drew McLellan:

So how big a deal, because again, for most of the listeners, they’re probably on a list with eight or 10 other agencies that no one’s ever heard of either. So again, I am not speaking disparagingly about the small to midsize agencies. It’s just the reality that they are not on the cover of Ad Age and they are not as prominently well-known. So how critical is, for example, the fact that they have testimonials on their website or that they get a referral, as opposed to going in blind.

Robin Boehler:

A referral is wonderful, referrals they’re an absolute gift. If you can get referred in that is a, because now I have someone I trust telling me I should look at an agency. That’s always, if you can get a referral in to a company that’s a preferred method of getting in because people have obligations to other people, they don’t have obligations to websites, right? So if Drew sends me a referral, I’m going to pay attention. Versus if that same entity sent me a blind email, I may or may not depending on whether or not I think it’s relevant and how busy I am. So referrals are an amazing way to get in the door, to get on the list. So if you are known in an industry, let’s say you do work in the college and university space, right?

If other colleges and universities know you and love you, or have worked with you and can refer you one of the places where people find agencies to put on that list, or once they have 10 agencies or eight agencies on that list, they want to vet them, they call, they phone a friend, “Hi, Drew, have you ever…” And we actually do this with you all the time. “We’re looking for someone with these kinds of capabilities, do you know anybody?” Right. And those people go higher on our list. So that is a huge and important and it’s why you want to be known in the industries that you work in. Because those referrals can come also, “Oh, I just read about this agency. They wrote a lot about doing work in our space. I don’t know them, but I just read about them.” That’s also a better in than just a blind look. Because even though they don’t know you they’ve referred you, you’re still referred, you are still have the halo.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, right.

Robin Boehler:

So being known if you’re in a new industry is important.

Drew McLellan:

It’s interesting as you’re saying that it is not only getting a referral from, if I’m a VP of marketing at a college from another VP of marketing at college, but it’s also about understanding, knowing who the influencers are in that space that have a way of vetting or pre-vetting agencies. As you said, sort of like I do for you guys, it’s being able to say, “Oh, well, if you’re looking for an agency about that size that has this experience, yeah, here’s three to take a look at.”

Robin Boehler:

Right. If they phone a friend, right? People like to have someone that they trust give them the confidence that this might be worth a look. So I think that what’s started to happen over time is that agencies think that they have found a way to improve their odds and they lean in on that way. There are hundreds of ways to improve your odds, hundreds. And it’s understanding that client journey that makes all that difference. We have searched high and low for someone, we’ve searched to find a place where someone has actually laid out that client customer journey and it doesn’t exist. So we’re creating it. We’re working on it. We’re close to finished on it. And we believe that if you can understand the entire client journey, you can plug in your efforts, just like you do for your own clients.

Drew McLellan:

I was going to say this is the same speech we give our clients, right?

Robin Boehler:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

As we’re charging them for building out their prospects or customer journey.

Robin Boehler:

It’s the same.

Drew McLellan:

And then talking about how all the different marketing tactics plug into certain spots in the journey.

Robin Boehler:

Right. And where you spend your money, where you spend your resources. We figure out where is the most impactful place to do that. And we spent no time and let’s test that for a little while. Right? There’s a test and learn thing that agencies tell clients to do all the time, but agencies don’t do and it’s crazy.

Drew McLellan:

Right, it’s the whole cobbler’s children, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Robin Boehler:

Right.

Drew McLellan:

Right. But so you guys are mapping this out. And so let’s talk a little bit about if I go to the workshop in January, I’m going to understand, I’m going to have in my head a visual of this journey map, and I’m going to know what I should be doing at each stage of the journey map to either be find-able or to be relevant, or to be a better choice than someone else, depending on where in the journey map we’re talking about. Right?

Robin Boehler:

Yes. You’ll have it more than in your head, you’ll have it in your hand. And you’ll have it on your screen. You’ll have a journey map. And then you will walk away, not just with the map, but you’ll understand the map.

So this is not just a, okay, here’s the map and here are the bullets. Here are the prescriptions, because for every agency there is a different roadmap that gets attached to this customer journey map, because it’s a little different if you are in an industry vertical, it’s a little different if you’re in a particular region. It’s a little different if you have a particular set of capabilities, let’s say you’re a lead generation agency. Right. So exactly the tactics that you would use, the strategies and tactics you would use at each stage in that journey vary somewhat based on the kind of agency you are, the kind of prospects you’re looking at. If you’re an agency that’s killing it with clients of a certain size, but your aspiration is to go up a level to clients that spend more that’s a different set of tactics.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Interesting.

Robin Boehler:

Right?

Drew McLellan:

Yup.

Robin Boehler:

So we can’t just hand it out and there it is. If you don’t understand what’s happening on the client side, you can’t determine the right things for the agency to do. So it’s not a quick fix, but absolutely if you come to the workshop, you will walk away with strategies and tactics that you can choose to employ back at home with your agency and you can figure out where to leverage based on what you’ve leveraged before, in terms of continuing things that are working and trying new things in places where I bet you’re doing nothing.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And we’re going to get all that in two days.

Robin Boehler:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

All right. Sounds like a lot.

Robin Boehler:

It is always a lot.

Drew McLellan:

I know it is.

Robin Boehler:

But our experience when we do workshops with AMI is that they are eager learners in the room and we will do some small group work too, so people can get to think well with each other and not just have us talk at them for two days. But a chance to also figure some of this out in small groups. We’ll have some pre determined techniques and ways to improve your odds that we’ll be able to share. But I think there’s great thinking that could happen in the room too. That’s one of the great things about AMI is that you’ve got usually have people in the room, but you always do because we can always group them, people in the room that have similar issues and problems to solve. So coming up with solutions together is usually pretty well received.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, I know that if folks are listening if they’ve been to any of the workshops that we do with you, everybody walks away sort of amazed at how much they can learn in two days and how valuable it is and how much when they actually go back and do it. And that obviously we can’t follow them home and do that, but when they actually go back and do it, I’ll get emails from people saying, just landed this account or used the Mercer Island Group of this to do that. And so you guys always bring very pragmatic practical things, which is why we keep having you back-

Robin Boehler:

Thank you for that.

Drew McLellan:

… Because you just keep adding more and more value every time, and if you can’t make the workshop I get it. Hopefully this interview has given you some food for thought and you can start to sort of build out your own journey map based on your own experiences. We’d love to have all of you who are listening join us January. By the way that’s January 27th and 28th of 2020. So if you’re listening to this past January 27th and 28th in 2020, I’m sorry, this was just all mean teasing.

But if you’re listening to this in real time, then you know you’ve got time to get registered and get down to warm and sunny Orlando, Florida in January, which is also a benefit of the workshop. So Robin as always, thank you so much for being on the show.

Robin Boehler:

My Pleasure.

Drew McLellan:

Thanks for coming back and being my very first three-peat guests, I appreciate that. Can’t think of anyone I would rather have back over and over and again, and you guys, so thank you. Any parting thoughts or last thoughts as you’re thinking about agencies sort of wrapping up their year and thinking about 2020?

Robin Boehler:

One last thought is I hope everyone had a great year and I hope that folks are thinking about what they can do differently next year to boost that new business pipeline and figure out a way to carve out the time to do that. I know it’s really hard to do, especially if you’re busy, but it’s the time to do it, right. Is when the economy is good and people are looking for help with their marketing and communications, this is the time. So I hope folks will plan to carve out the right time to do this important work as they kickoff their new year.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. And if you’re one of the agency owners that I’m talking to that is wondering about, are we going to have an economic correction? Is there a recession coming? All of that. This is spring, time is still good. People are still spending money now is the time to plant the seeds and harvest things up so that if things do start to slow down, that you are well-positioned to survive the winter. And now is a great time for you to be thinking about, again, whether it’s on your own or you come down with us in January, that you really do put together a committed plan for January for BizDev. We are also doing a workshop, so the Mercer Island Group workshop is on a Monday, Tuesday. And the Thursday, Friday prior to that, we’re going to do a workshop about how to build and nurture your sales funnel.

So the two of them with a weekend at Disney World in between, by the way, would be a great one two punch to kick off your 2020 year, which is why we put it together that way. So then if you wanted to, you could stay for both. So happy to chat with any of you about that if you have any interest. Robin, thanks to you and all of yours, for everything you do for agencies, you are a huge advocate for us out in the space, and we are grateful that you guys are out there. Thank you.

All right, guys, this wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. Hopefully you were taking copious notes as Robin was talking, and one of the big takeaways from this is thinking about this about your current clients.

Where is their head right now? And what are you doing as Robin said to romance that relationship so that you don’t get the call that the account is going up for review. And whether there’s a new sheriff in town or not, you want to have lots of relationships inside that organization so that they can’t pry you out of that place because you are so connected. So if you take nothing else away from this conversation, but that that would be time well spent. And the holidays are a great time, for many of you things slow down a little bit. So it’d be a great time to have a drink with a client or spend some time on site with a client, meeting some folks that perhaps you don’t know. So put some of the things that you’ve heard today into action, and as always, I will be back next week with another great guest to help you think differently about your agency.

In the meantime, you can track me down at drewatagencymanagementinstitute.com. Also want to say a quick thank you to our friends at White Label IQ for being the presenting sponsor of the podcast. They are huge supporters of AMI and the podcast, and actually are a member of AMI. So I can tell you from firsthand experience, these are good business people and just good people. But if you are looking for White Label design dev, or PPC, they are worth a look. So head over to whitelabeliq.com/ami and check out the deal they have just for you. I’ll be back next week. As always, you can track me down in between at the website or at [email protected] See you soon.

Speaker 2:

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