Episode 32:

Tom Martin, author of “Invisible Sale,” has been in the agency life for many years. He has spent 20 years driving new business for agencies. In 2010, he created Converse Digital, an agency that focuses on doing business differently.

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How new business has changed over the years
  • Why clients no longer believe in hiring just one agency
  • How to define your value to your clients when delivering ideas instead of “stuff”
  • Correctly positioning your agency in the days when your client first discovers you
  • Painless Prospecting: how to get great leads to find you
  • Can Painless Prospecting work for generalists?
  • The risks of delegating the Painless Prospecting process
  • What your content has to do for your Painless Prospecting process to work
  • Why giving away your secret sauce is never going to implode your business
  • Tom’s propinquity theory on marketing today
  • What you can do right now to get started on the business development path discussed in this episode

 

The Golden Nugget:

“Agencies really thinks their secret sauce is so different, but it’s not.” – @TomMartin Click To Tweet

 

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Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency, where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody. Thanks for checking out this episode of Build a Better Agency. I am Drew McLellan, and I am ready to go today. This is a topic that I love to talk about, and I know you love to talk about. Every agency owner loves to explore the idea of chasing down and attracting and winning more business. So that’s why I know our guest today is going to really knock it out of the park for you. So let me tell you a little bit about our guest, Tom Martin.

Many of you are familiar with Tom. I hope you’ve all read his book, The Invisible Sale. If you haven’t, make sure that that gets on the top of your reading list very soon. Tom has been an agency guy for many years, spent about 20 years in the agency business on the agency side, mostly driving new business for those agencies, and in 2010, decided to create Converse Digital. And now he works with agencies, he works with clients directly, but he is really focusing on the whole idea of agencies have to do new business differently, which is a conversation I’ve had with many of you over the years. And so Tom has developed a framework that he calls painless prospecting. And so we’re going to dig into that and gosh knows, probably several other things as well. So Tom, welcome to the podcast.

Tom Martin:

Hey man. Thanks for having me, Drew. Always good to talk with you.

Drew McLellan:

You as well. So anything in your intro that I left out, anything else that the listeners need to know about you?

Tom Martin:

That I favor a stiff cocktail and good debates, but that’s about it. Other than that, you covered it off.

Drew McLellan:

And anyone who follows you anywhere in social media knows those things about you already, right?

Tom Martin:

Yeah. Usually they go together. The more stiff drinks, the better the debate.

Drew McLellan:

There’s usually a good whiskey photo somewhere in your Facebook feed throughout the week. So I can always count on that.

Tom Martin:

Well, the beauty of doing a lot of work in the liquor space, I’m exposed to a lot of liquor. So you have to support the clients that support you. That’s my philosophy.

Drew McLellan:

You have to embrace it, that’s right. It would be disingenuous to do anything else.

Tom Martin:

Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So let’s talk about new business, and let’s sort of go broad and then narrow in. So you’ve been doing new business for agencies for now 25 years, when I look at sort of your resume. How has it changed?

Tom Martin:

I think, well, in some ways it’s not changed at all, and in some ways it’s changed dramatically. I think it just depends on the agency that you’re looking at. Clients are still doing the RFP thing, though it seems to me, I don’t know. Maybe you can weigh in as well. It does seem that clients are starting to realize the RFP process maybe isn’t the absolute best way to hire a marketing partner. I think they’re also moving away from AOR relationships, though I think that may start to swing back the other direction. And therefore, they’re kind of more sourcing knowledge experts or vertical experts, and then bringing those people in. To me, that’s sort of the biggest change that you’re seeing is it’s not just a, “Oh, I’m going to replace my AOR with an AOR, and I’m going to do an RFP and that’s how it’s going to happen.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. AMI does some research every summer and then we unveil all that content at BOLO every year. But for the last couple years, we’ve been talking to CMOs and it’s been very clear in both the 14 and 15 research that clients are really not very interested in only working with one agency anymore. They don’t really like the AOR model. They really want to bring, as you say, they’re looking for experts in sort of key deliverable areas. They expect those agencies to play nice together.

Tom Martin:

Yeah. I think they don’t believe that any one agency can truly deliver everything they need, just the breadth of what marketing has become with the channels and the digital, and even the consumers and the way that consumers have changed. A lot of the clients, even our own clients, we’re never an AOR for any of our clients. Oftentimes, they’ll just tell me, they’re like, I don’t think there’s one agency out there that can do everything I need. And so they tend to be tilting more towards a sort of a consortium model, if you will, where they have a group of agencies.

But then, at least in the roles that we have with a lot of our clients, we serve as a sort of master overseer agency, a consigliere to the client and then a sort of master let’s make sure everybody’s pointing in the same direction, and let’s make sure that ideas are being cross pollinated, and let’s make sure that agencies are playing nice together, and levering off of one another, instead of competing, and helping the agencies understand that the way you’re going to grow is not by picking each other’s business off. It’s going to be because the client, which this particular client has many brands, that client’s going to start at adding brands to the consortium. And that’s how every all boats will rise. That’s how it’s going to work.

Drew McLellan:

I think right now that’s where a lot of agency owners are struggling. Number one, when I’m with agencies or agency owners or account execs, and I say, “Hey, let’s go around the room and everybody tell me about your agency.” The sentence full service integrated agency comes out of everybody’s mouth. And I think you’re right. One of the things that our research is showing us is that clients call BS on that, that they’re like you’re 12 people. How can you possibly be an expert at everything? Or you’re 20 people, or you’re 50 people, or you’re 100 people. You can’t know it all. There’s too much today. And so I really do want subject matter experts. And I think agencies are really having a hard time reconciling that idea and learning how to play nice. But to your point, I think when you learn how to be a part of sort of that blended family team, there’s opportunity there, both within the client, but also these have the potential to be great partners that can also bring you in on new business because you do have a different expertise than they do.

Tom Martin:

Absolutely. I think the hardest thing that, at least in my firm, that when I made the decision that I was going to systematically try to pull out of the execution side of our business and really just focus on being that strategic mind and helping clients ideate and solve problems differently. That was really tough because clients actually are, even though they say they want strategy, they really pay for execution.

Drew McLellan:

They want to buy stuff.

Tom Martin:

Yeah. They want to buy a deliverable. And when you’re the “strategy team”, deliverables are far and few between. They’re hard to put an ROI on the quality of an idea and so forth. So it’s scary because it’s a much harder sell. It’s easy just to go, “Yeah. We can do that.” Because then I can deliver something. I can bill for it and mark it up and all that. And so I think it’s just naturally. It’s scary I think for any agency to say no to business, because we’re always worried that we might not have another lead or another client come through the door. So I get it, we all get it. But I think at some point you have to sit down and ask yourself how believable is the statement I just made because I think clients are becoming really, really, really good at seeing through the bullshit.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So in an age where ROI is everything and on the client side they’re being pressured to demonstrate the value that they’re getting for the marketing dollars they’re spending with agencies, now I’m asking you specifically about the work you do, how do you demonstrate value to a buyer who’s used to holding up stuff and saying, “Look what I bought.” And now you’re giving them ideas or strategies. How are you delivering value? Or how are you defining value for them on that?

Tom Martin:

You know what’s interesting? I find that the value … Again, there is a certain amount of a thing. We had a client that says, “Look, you’re our big idea people. You’re the ones that are supposed to be bringing us these macro multichannel ideas.” And sometimes that deliverable is she and I were on a trip and I pulled out a deck and I said, “All right, let’s walk through this while we have the next two hours together on an airplane.” And so in that case, there was a deliverable, there was a set of ideas and her ROI was does she feel that these ideas are fundamentally better than the other ideas she’s getting from her various marketing partners. And how is she valuing that? Are they multi-channel? Are they super expensive to try or can we test them first and then of scale them up if they find traction? Things of that nature.

So for us, it’s about understanding how does a client value an idea? What is sort of their little checklist that they’re checking to see if an idea is valuable or worthy? And then building ideas that fit into their particular framework. And really just being, the other thing I find is that I’ll hear a client say things like, “I feel better after you and I talk.” Or you’ll get on the phone with them, and they’re really stressed out, and by the end of the call, you can tell there’s a little lightness in their voice, they feel better. I don’t know if a client can quantify that value back to me. I’ll find out the next time I have to go up for contract or rate negotiation. If I get a lot of pushback, then maybe they’re not valuing it. But if I push a number across the table and I don’t really get a lot of pushback, then I know, okay, I’m valuing what I’m selling you at the rate you are valuing what you’re buying. It’s a much softer thing.

I think it’s a much harder thing because you’ve got to constantly be proactively bringing that value to them, and bringing them new ideas, and bringing them things they can use, and moving their business forward. It’s a very proactive style of engagement, which I think is harder in some ways. But if you can get to it, I think it allows you to be in a place with a client that’s just a lot more structured and a lot more stable because it’s back to those early days that we all wish we could get to where the agency truly was the marketing partner, was really the, “I’m going to my agency. I’m not making a move without my agency guys weighing in on this.” And man, if you can get to that, it’s a beautiful place.

It just takes, I think, some time and some very concerted effort to get there. And I think a little bit of that is what you and I always talk about when we chat about it goes all the way back to business development. How do you position your agency in the very early days when a client first discovers you? Because the way you’re positioning, I think, sets the stage for whether or not you can realistically get to that place with a client where they see you as that ultimate partner, that consigliere as I call it, versus just you’re the guys that execute ad strategies and you guys build ad campaigns or websites or whatever it is you do.

Drew McLellan:

Well. And I think too, and this is going to lead us right into I believe the whole idea of the painless prospecting, but it’s about being really clear about who you are, because there are some clients, even for your shop, there are some clients who they don’t want to buy what you sell. They want to buy execution, they want to buy SEO expertise or whatever it is, and you’re a bad fit for them.

Tom Martin:

No, I’ve got clients who … Literally, I kid you not, I have a client right now that is having some troubles with finding an agency that really matches well with her. And while she’s been searching, she’s in between shops, my team has been stepping up and doing the execution. And frankly, all the modesty aside, doing a really good job with it. And to the point where I’ve even kind of said, “Well, why don’t you just let us continue to do it? I mean, we’re doing a great job. You’re happy with the work. It’s good stuff.” And she looks at me and goes, “I don’t want you doing it. That’s not my role for you. I like that you are the strategy guy. I like that you don’t have any skin in the game. And when you tell me I should do something I never have to worry about, well, how much of that is because he wants to make money on that, and how much of that is because he really thinks that’s what’s right for me?”

And so it’s kind of funny the way I’ve positioned myself and my firm, especially with this particular client. Like it or not, I’ve pigeonholed myself into a place where she thinks this is what I hired Converse Digital for. They’re not the right firm and Tom’s not going to convince me that they are. So okay, great. I don’t even try. But I think that that’s important is that, again, that’s scary because I’m like crud. Now I can’t expand my … The easiest way to grow your profitability is to get bigger with the existing clients that you work with. That’s the age old model we were all taught and I’m like, okay, well, I’ve kind of cut myself off on that one.

But at the same time, it’s kind of like, well, that’s a really nice, well defined place to be. And if I’m going to talk to another client and they’re having some trouble justifying the fees for the service, I can say, “Look, you know what? Here’s my client, here’s her name and phone number. She’s always telling me feel free to have perspective, and go ask her. Ask her if she feels like she gets the value from what we charge her and so forth. She’ll tell you.” And so it might make it easier to win more of that kind of business.

But that’s what it comes down to. I think it’s just that we, as agencies, have never been very good about sticking a stake in the ground. We have all like to be the generalist. It’s where the model of our industry started. And it’s hard. But if you can force yourself to be defined and really stick to it, and treat like, oh, that client needs that, we don’t really do that. Let me cooperate rate, let me go find another firm in my space. I think, was it you and Jason Falls that were having that very conversation about cooperating?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Tom Martin:

Yeah, okay. I knew I just heard this on a podcast. I knew it. See I do listen to your podcast.

Drew McLellan:

I love that. Now I owe you $20.

Tom Martin:

What y’all were talking about really was that cooperative of, “Hey, I don’t really do this. How about I bring you in to my client? And then if you’ve got a client that I really do something well that you don’t, you bring me in. And let’s just let all boats rise.” I think that’s a very powerful way to build business nowadays. It fits the client’s natural inclination. I think it actually helps those of us that are smaller scale better and compete. But it does require you to be disciplined. It requires you to be really, really good and truly be best in breed at what you do, and not just talk about it, which that’s a whole other thing I think agencies are really guilty of.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. We have taken the fake it till you make it probably to an extreme.

Tom Martin:

Yeah, definitely.

Drew McLellan:

But I see the financials of a lot of agencies and I will tell you that while it might have been at some day a luxury to be a specialist, and people could get by with being generalists, I think marketing has gotten so complicated and so sophisticated. And I think back to how it was even before you and I were in the business, back in the ’50s and ’60s, and the really ridiculously small number of channels and all of that, to what it is today and the sophistication, especially on the digital side. But the reality is it’s pretty tough for anybody to be a generalist. And in on top of that, I’m telling you now, when I look at the financials, the agencies that are hitting the best practice dashboards and their financial metrics are not the generalists. They’re the ones who are struggling, and ones who are struggling. They’re being so commoditized that they have to really make compromises and where they’re making compromises is in their profitability.

Tom Martin:

Yeah. Well, that execution is probably, gosh, I think it was probably about, gosh, a long time ago, probably 5, 6, 7 years ago. I wrote a piece for Ad Age where I talked about what was agency 5.0 going to be. And in it, I talked about I really did think the future of our industry was that you were going to have agencies that were going to elevate to that sort of strategic partner realm. And then you were going to have agencies that were going to sort of go down the ladder and become really just executioners. And they were going to be the people who really cranked the machine, and they were not going to make as much money, and they were not going to have as big a profit margins. And it wasn’t going to be maybe as much fun because the real money was going to be up in those people who really could think and ideate and make a grow a client’s business.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, right. Somebody who understands the client’s business or the industry or is sort of staying at that top level.

Tom Martin:

Yeah. And you’re kind of seeing a little bit of that. I think clients in a perfect world, they’d love to get an AOR again. I know they say they don’t in research, but it’s a lot simpler to only have one team to call for everything. It makes your life easier. They just don’t believe that that AOR really exists.

Drew McLellan:

Right. So let’s talk about the whole idea of painless prospecting. Give us a little idea, give us sort of the macro view of what that is, and then let’s dig into it a little bit.

Tom Martin:

Well, the macro view is that when I started out in biz dev, my life was really my database that I was working. And I would say, “Oh, we want to go work with company A and B and C.” And I did what all agencies do. I would call and direct mail, send 3D clutter busters, and try to convince them to give us a shot. And painless prospecting really flips the model on its ear and says, “Well, I’m going to let the prospective clients select me instead of me selecting the perspective client. And I’m going to do that by simply publishing, speaking and really resenting my ideas and my thoughts and my processes and how I think marketing works, and really become known for knowledge, knowledge that can be found in a Google search or on a stage at a conference, in a podcast, whatever, that someone can listen to that and be intrigued, and then come back to a home base, my web website, where they can find years of writings and additional thoughts and white papers, et cetera.”

And they can really do their research the way you and I would like to do our research, which is without somebody looking over our shoulder. And kind of figure out like, “Wow! These guys seem like they have a really good hold on a problem that I currently have that I’m not able to currently fix, and none of my partners are able to fix.” And then what happens is that results in an inbound email or phone call with somebody saying, “Hey, can I talk to you? I have a problem. I think you can maybe help me fix it.” And now I’m talking to a prospective client, but I’m so far down the sales process. It really a yes or no, can I really help you fix that? And if so, what’s the cost structure look like. And then, okay, is that going to work or not? And it’s just I wake up and I open my inbox, and there’s a lead there versus me having to wake up, open my inbox or my database and go create that lead.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So now they’re all going, “Oh, that’d be awesome.” Because as you know, every agency owner, they love to talk about new business, but they don’t really love to do new business. And so the idea that they would open their email and magically there would be leads, I think you’ve got a couple agency owners who are sitting at the edge of their chair, and you have a couple that already have tears in their eyes. So how does somebody actually do that? How do you make that happen?

Tom Martin:

Well, I think two things. One is you got to take a long scale look at it. It’s you start a process like this. And I’ve actually done some anecdotal research with other consultants. And what we have found is that it’s going to take you nine to 12 months to really get a system like this to where it’s spinning out good leads for you because it’s just going to take you time to really build your base of influence.

But I think the core is that you really have to build a framework, and you have to approach this as a process and you have to feed the beast. You have to feed the new business machine with new content, maybe not every day, but every week. And you have to just work the process, work the process, work the process, and believe that it’s going to actually spin out the desired outcome, which is these leads. But you can’t give up on it. And I think that’s what happens in agency world is folks give up on the process too fast, or then worst case scenario, it starts working, they start getting busy, and they take their foot off the machine that’s producing the lead. And then all of a sudden the leads go away.

Drew McLellan:

Right. I think that is a big challenge. It’s sort of a feast or famine model of biggest client gives you some hints that maybe they’re going away so all of a sudden you scramble for new business. You get a good size new client, which is all consuming, and then all of a sudden you stop looking for other clients and you just cycle in and out over and over and over again, which is a killer.

Tom Martin:

Yeah. And I think that the beauty of this system is that in the five years going on, it’ll be six years this spring, I haven’t had to send any unsolicited direct mail or clutter busters or compete in a competitive pitch. And granted, I’m a different model. I’m a small boutique. I’m not a big 50 person agency. So it’s different. But I haven’t had to do any of that stuff because I started from the get go using a painless process of saying, “I’m going to be known as the ad agency guy who understands social media and digital. And if you want that perspective, if you want somebody who really has that 20 years of traditional experience and understands PR and media and all that, but also can do this new digital stuff, and you want somebody who’s going to give it to you in a straight up, “Look, this is how this really works,” mentality, this is the team you call right here.”

And that works. That’s what people want. They want to be able to do that. Now, I think for agencies, one of the biggest challenges, if you think about agencies, oftentimes they’re run by creative people or people who came out of the creative side of our business, which tend not to be framework process kind of folks.

Drew McLellan:

That was very nicely said.

Tom Martin:

Yeah. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way.

Drew McLellan:

It’s not their thing.

Tom Martin:

It’s not how creativity works. But even the account people who run agencies oftentimes they might be great account people, but they’re not maybe necessarily great sales people. And biz dev is a sales process. And as much as you might hate that, make 100 calls, get 10 people to follow up, that process. There is a process to sales. And that’s all this is. It’s a different process that uses different tools, and it’s a much easier process, because you’re not cold calling. You’re not trying to get somebody to give you their attention. Instead, you’re just putting a lot of content out there. You’re creating a name for yourself and you’re allowing people to self select you. And that’s what ultimately makes it painless because like I said, they already kind of know that they want to do business with you or they think they might want to do business with you. And so that first call is a completely different call than what most of us in the agency business are used to.

Drew McLellan:

So you mentioned earlier when you were talking about sort of how you positioned yourself that you’re an ad guy who really understands the digital and social space. Do you think a generalist can use this model? Or does this presuppose that the agency is willing to, in some way, shape or form, define here’s who we are, which also defines here’s who we’re not?

Tom Martin:

I think they can. Yeah. I think it defines. I think any agency can do it. You just have to decide what do you want to be? Who are you? Who are you not?

Drew McLellan:

That’s what I’m saying is if an agency is unwilling to do that, because as you know, a lot of agencies really buck against the … They want to be a generalist. Does this work as well for a generalist? Or do you have to do some level of definition?

Tom Martin:

Well, I’ll tell you, it’s an interesting question. I think it can work at a generalist level, but it’s different because at a generalist level, you’re going to have to say, “Okay, the only way I can make this truly believable is I’m going to have to then position the heads of my various service offerings, media, creative, strategy, digital, whatever.” You’re going to have to position those folks as the thought leaders, the known for knowledge. So you’re not really going to be positioning necessarily so much at an agency level. You’re going to be positioning more at that person’s level. And if you want them, you have to hire the agency they work for.

And if they are owners of the firm, then that’s not a big deal. It’s when they’re not owners of the firm that you start to create an opportunity for some really interesting things that can happen, because now all of a sudden you’re investing time and money and effort to make that person a star, if you think about it, a known name within the industry. And that person can pick their star up and take it to another agency.

Drew McLellan:

I was just going to ask you about that because a lot of agency owners they’re hearing this. And when you talk about content and content creation, the first thing in their head is this is all awesome. Here’s the thought process. This is all awesome. I don’t have time. Who can I delegate this to? And so I was just going to ask you, what are the risks of owners not doing this themselves?

Tom Martin:

The biggest risk is the person that you task with doing it leaves. I started out in this. When I started out in this back in 2007 and ’08, I was the president of an ad agency that was not mine. I was just an employee. And the benefit to me was I had time to do this, to really invest the learning and so forth. But when it came to the point in 2010 where I felt like I could no longer continue to do what I wanted to do and explore this digital realm, and how the world was changing, and how buying and selling was changing, in an unfettered manner, I left. And when I did, all the modesty aside, that agency’s credentials in the social space kind of went to zero.

Drew McLellan:

Right. They walked out the door with you

Tom Martin:

Right. Now, the business didn’t because I purposely didn’t take any clients. I didn’t take anybody from the social practice with me. So that stayed. So their revenue was okay. But if I wanted to be a jerk, I could have taken the two guys that were in the social group with me and said, “Hey, I’m going to hire both of you. Let’s go.” And the clients would’ve walked right out the door with us, because there would’ve literally been nobody in the firm that could have actually done the work.

But even with that, they went from being agency that had a national presence through a guy who wrote for Ad Age, a guy who spoke all over the country and sometimes all over the world about social and digital and mobile, and a guy who was positioning this firm in a national level. That just disappeared. And that’s the danger of not having an owner be the person who does this. So I think that as an owner of a firm, I don’t think that you don’t allow someone on staff to be that person if in fact they’re the right person. But you really need to think through and have some long talks with those people and say, “Look, we’re going to invest in you. How do we create, not a golden handcuff, but how do we create a relationship that our investment in you doesn’t walk out the door?” And that’s a difficult conversation to have.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and at the end of the day, nobody’s going to sell your shop quite the same way an owner does. And no one’s got the skin in the game like the owner does. So the owner can’t come abdicate this to somebody else, I don’t think.

Tom Martin:

I think that, yeah. I mean, unless you’ve got somebody who somehow has a lot of skin in the game or has … I always laugh. When I talk about when I left, I always tell people I’m actually a much better number two than I am a number one, because I don’t like all the organizational run ins of being the number one. I just want to stand on a stage and spout and write and give people new ideas, and get them excited, and then bring a team of people in to do it. That’s what I really am good at. So if you think about it, that makes, okay, you’re a much better number two. Somebody else runs the place. You’re the front man, so to speak. I’m the lead singer, if you will. And that’s kind of where I was at. It just the agency and then where I was at, and myself, we didn’t build it correctly. And so it spun out.

So I think that it can be done. But as an owner, you really got to sit down and think long and hard, and really get to know the person, and make sure that, “Okay, I can build a compensation program,” and that’s not just monetarily, but that’s everything. “I can build something that this person can see themselves retiring at my agency. Whether they’ve ever elevated to an ownership position or not, they can still see like, yes, I’m home. I see no reason to leave as long as this kind of stuff continues to happen in my career, et cetera.” But I think you’ve really got to have those kind of discussions way upfront in the process to where everybody is on the same page and on the same team, and they understand this is what we’re doing because that individual’s star is going to rise.

And in some cases it’s going to rise faster and higher maybe than the agency’s star, than the owner of the agency’s star, than key creatives or key account executives. You have to think about all of that, because egos come into play and personalities. And that’s probably the biggest risk is that you are going to take someone and you’re going to elevate them. And that may make other people upset, but those people don’t want to be elevated because they’re just introverts or whatever. They’re not comfortable doing public speaking or whatever it is. So you got to figure all that out first, if it’s not going to be an owner. That’s why it’s always best, I think, if it is an owner, because everybody expects you to be the guy or the gal who carries the stick.

Drew McLellan:

Right. So back to sort of the content piece of this, in your mind, is there a formula or a recipe for sort of what that looks like? So if I’m an agency owner and I’m listening and I’m like, “Yeah, I want to do this. And I get it from the big picture. But what am I actually saying I want to do?”

Tom Martin:

Well, I think in the simple of a sense is you’re wanting to position your firm or the people within your firm as a real resource of information that makes me as a client smarter, gives me the opportunity to do my job better, gives me new ideas, helps me understand or turns a light bulb on in my mind of a way that I might do something differently in my business or for my brand. And that’s really what you have to commit to. Now, what format that takes could be podcast, could be blogging, could be video blogging. I think all kinds of things it could be. It could be public speaking.

Drew McLellan:

And odds are whatever it is today, it’ll be something different in five years anyway, right?

Tom Martin:

Oh, absolutely. I mean, look at podcasting. Five years ago, podcasting was dead. Now all of a sudden it’s the latest, everybody’s into it, and with good reason. The data points are showing that, okay, the technology delivery mechanism has finally caught up with the concept of a podcast and it can be delivered now in a way that people can easily consume it. And that was why it kind of died to begin with. Okay, great.

And I think some people are better. Some people are great on video. They’re visually attractive, somehow their personality just comes through the screen, and you just can’t help but look at them, the same kind of people that I think tend to be great public speakers. They can stand on a stage and you want to continue listening to them. You want to watch them. Great. If that’s who your people are, or that’s who you are, then those are probably channels you should be looking at. If you are somebody who stands on a stage and you just have no real gravitas or no presence, or you’re just uncomfortable, well, you probably shouldn’t go to the public speaking route. Maybe you should go the writing or podcast, maybe you have a great voice, but whatever. You’re more comfortable without looking at other people, whatever in the case might be.

But you’ve kind of find the right channels that fit your people, your talents and realistically what you can do. Certainly video podcasting take up a lot more time than audio than a blog post. And then you’ve got to commit to really giving real value. I think the biggest mistake a lot of agencies make is they try to put this really light fluffy, doesn’t really tell you much kind of content out there and think that that’s going to create an impression in someone’s mind, and it doesn’t.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I think a lot of agency owners feel like they don’t want to reveal their secret sauce because that’s what clients are going to pay for, or they don’t want their competitors to see it. So how do you answer that concern?

Tom Martin:

The clients already know your secret sauce is mayonnaise with a little Worcestershire and some mustard. Guess what? The other guys was Worcestershire and ketchup and mustard. I mean, and you may have had the opportunities. In our role with our clients, I’ve had the opportunity to sit on the client side on multiple occasions for reviews. And I honestly believe, I say it all the time, I think every agency owner and new business guys should have to go sit through some client reviews on the client side as an apprenticeship, because you will very quickly figure out that agencies think they’re so different and they’re really not. Their secret sauces really aren’t that different. And it’s because let’s face it, at the end of the day, you’re trying to motivate a human being to take a behavioral action. It’s that simple. It’s just not rocket science.

And so I think agencies that, and what agencies have to understand is that lik my magic sauce, so to speak, is propinquity and the whole using of the propinquity science methodology of that’s how you build a marketing program and a content program, and that’s how you win consumers today. I stand on stages all over the world and I tell people all about propinquity and I show them how to do it. But guess what? At the end of the day, if a client says, “I’m really bought into this propinquity thing. I love this idea.” They’re going to have a choice. They can hire the guy who first did it, the original chef of propinquity, or they can hire some agency that says they know how to do it too.

Well, who are you going to hire? Provided that there’s not like a cost or geography concern, you’re going to go hire the original. And that’s what I think agencies don’t understand is that. You remember when Saatchi did the Lovemarks thing? Remember they wrote the book like that? I mean, they were getting hired because people were saying, I want Lovemarks. Well, I mean, it wasn’t anything really that different than what all of us do. But he gave it a name and he wrote a book and clients got excited.

Drew McLellan:

That made it a thing.

Tom Martin:

Yeah. And that’s what this allows you to do. It allows you to make it a thing and it allows you to make people in your organizations experts on the thing. And that’s what clients want. They want somebody who’s theoretically smarter than they are in branding or in mobile or in whatever. And that’s why they’re coming in. To me, it’s really no different than in the early days when it was a much more creative driven industry, everybody wanted to win creative awards, and everybody wanted to work for big brands that had big budgets so lots of clients could see their killer creative because that’s how clients were doing it. I want the guy who did the Volkswagen ads, or I want the people who did United Airlines. And then in their secretaries to go find out what agency handle it. And that’s how you would get business.

It’s really the same thing except now you’re selling your ideas. You’re putting your ideas out there on a big pedestal and you’re saying, “I’m smarter than the next company, or I’m smarter than the next guy or gal. And if you want the smartest kid in the class, hire us. And if work, if your content supports that, then you’ll get hired. And that’s the beauty of it, is that whether by the time the client calls you, they’re already pretty sure you’re the smartest kid in the class or one of the smartest kids. And now it’s a matter of chemistry and finances, and can you make all that work out, which to me tends to be the easier of the two things, and off you go.

But you got to get over that fear of, “Oh, I got the secret sauce that nobody else has. And if I tell, then that’s it. I’ll never get another client again.” Because that’s just malarkey. I’ll tell you straight up, it doesn’t work. I mean, I took my secret sauce and put it in a book, and in a damn detailed book that literally you could take the book and rebuild our entire process yourself. And I still have people who will call me and say, “Yeah, I know I read your book. I know you said I could do it myself, but I don’t think I can, because as I read your book, I realized how complex it is. So can you guys just do it for me?” Bingo.

Drew McLellan:

I think that’s the part that sometimes we forget is just because they know your methodology or your secret sauce doesn’t mean either they can or want to do it themselves. And honestly, if they can or want to do it themselves, they probably aren’t going to be a great client anyway. So you really want the people who go, “I love the concept of that. I get it. I see the value in it, but I don’t want to do it.”

Tom Martin:

Absolutely. I mean, think about it. It’s kind of like a chef. If that was true, if given away the secret sauce was going to implode your business, nobody would ever write a cookbook, because you’ve given me your secret sauce, you give me the whole recipe. But I can give you Emerald’s recipe for foie gras. You’re going to make it and he’s going to make it. I’m guessing his is going to be better.

Drew McLellan:

I can assure you it is going to better.

Tom Martin:

Yeah. There’s an intangible. And to me, that’s what it is, is the intangible is what nobody can ever duplicate. So that’s your [crosstalk 00:39:56].

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I know the listeners are like, “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. What is this propinquity thing?” So for the few people who are listening who have not read your book, can you just give them just a taste of that? And then I’m going to tell all of you go read the book. But give them an idea of what that is because it’s fascinating.

Tom Martin:

Propinquity is my founding theory on how I think marketing works today. And basically, it’s a science that’s been proven repeatedly over the last 100 years. And what they have found is that the number one determinate predictive variable of future relationship building of who you’re going to be friends with, lovers, et cetera, is proximity, physical or psychological. And so our whole concept here at Converse Digital is we want to find out who is our audience? Where are they online, offline? Where are all the places that a brand could intersect with them? Where are they looking for information when they’re making a purchasing decision, et cetera. And then we want to find ways to make our clients brands show up at each of those places and create that little bump.

And the theory is if we can create enough bumps and at each bump they learn something a little slightly new about the client or the brand, that over time they build up enough data points that they can like that they move from liking to wanting to ultimately buying. And it’s in the book in much more detail obviously. But it’s our theory. And I mean, it’s 100 year old science. It’s nothing new. It’s just I think we’re the first people that ever said, “Hey, let’s take this theory and apply it to how brands can be built against a customer base.”

And what it does is it creates a framework in the mind of a client, and it gives them a way to talk about how they believe that they should be going to market to win their customers with their bosses, their CEOs and CFOs. And then when the CEO and CFO buys into it, then they go, “Okay. Well, we’re who does that?” And then they go, “Well, it’s actually this group in New Orleans. This guy wrote a whole book about it, yada, yada, yada.” And then we get hired.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, and I think what you’ve done to sort of augment it is yes, it’s 100 year old theory, but you’ve sort of said, “Okay, let’s take that theory. And how do we leverage these new tools, these digital and social tools to really maximize on that scientific theory?”

Tom Martin:

Yeah, absolutely. How do we go and really surround a prospect? And we’ve also shown people how it differs for business to consumer versus business to business. And we’ve developed some techniques and some tactics that flow out it that certainly make it easier to create. But yeah, it’s really interesting. I wish they’d let me call the book propinquity. They wouldn’t let me do that, because nobody could spell it and nobody could say it.

Drew McLellan:

You can sort of understand their point.

Tom Martin:

Yeah, I can. But God, I wish they would’ve because it would’ve been the perfect title, because it’s the one word everybody remembers. It’s what they come back to. But again, it’s my Lovemark. It’s me saying, “Hey, here’s my theory. And it’s my “secret sauce”. And instead of hiding it under a bushel, I’m going to print it in a book, and I’m going to go tramps around the country, in the world, speaking about it, and I’m going to spread it far and wide, and I’m going to get as many people convinced that propinquity is the way to go.” And some of those folks are going to buy the book, hand it to their ad agency and go, “I want one of these.” Okay. That’s fine. But enough of them, my theory at least, is that there will be enough of them that will absolutely say, “I want to call the guy who wrote the book.”

Drew McLellan:

I want this guy.

Tom Martin:

Yeah. I want the originator, either because they don’t have an agency or they don’t think their agency could pull it off or whatever. I’m sure some other people are going to basically bastardize the concept, and that’s fine. There’s going to be plenty of new clients down the way. And the beauty is, for me, when I started my company, I never thought about serving other ad agencies necessarily, but I’ve actually had other ad agencies call and say, “Hey, we want to build your system into our agency.” Because that’s where I designed it. I first built it. It’s the model that I used to build business for my firm and for prior firms.

And so they realized like, “Wait! You just gave us your ad agency biz dev model. And again, it seems a little bit too complex. We don’t know that we have it all correct. So we’d like to just hire you to consult and help us build the model here.” Okay, great. For me, it opened up a whole new channel of business that I had never thought was a legitimate channel of business for me. But it is.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and the reality is you don’t need 350 new clients a year.

Tom Martin:

God, no.

Drew McLellan:

So I mean, I think that’s one of the things agency owners sort of forget is it’s a numbers game. And so if you can get more people to reach out to you who are further along in the buying cycle and have already decided you can do the work and now it really is a chemistry check, and do you sound and look and feel like I expected you to, and do you talk the way your content talks, and as we delve deeper into the secret sauce, can I tell that you really not only know it, but believe in it? That that makes the sale faster. And at the end of the day, you don’t need a lot of those. You need a few really good ones.

Tom Martin:

Well, yeah. And you also get the thing about the savings on biz dev. You look at what an average pitch costs you in time and money and hours, non-billable, all that kind of stuff, and you start to say, “Okay. Well, if I could reduce that number by 50%, well then instead of needing five new clients a year, now maybe I only need three new clients.” And so it’s a numbers game. And certainly if you’re a bigger agency with a bigger footprint, you’ll be able to handle more clients. You’ll probably get more clients. If you’re smaller, more niched, you’ll get fewer. But again, it all depends. I mean, I don’t want to be a huge agency. I like being a small boutique. It suits my style and what I want to do better. But there’s no reason of a big agency couldn’t do the same thing. In fact, you could probably totally crank it out on steroids if you’re a big agency because you have so many other smart people. Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, and again, a larger agency doesn’t want a bunch of small accounts. They want fewer bigger accounts. So again, it is a numbers game. But oftentimes, I think that agencies get in such a frenzy about new business. But the reason they get in such a frenzy is because they don’t do it consistently. And I think if you did it consistently so that the pipeline was always active and full, then you would always know that half dozen or so new clients you need every year to grow the agency, to absorb some of the losses you’re going to have, whatever that is, that they’re going to be there.

Tom Martin:

Yeah. Well, I think that’s the number one thing. I know when I first got into biz dev back in the ’90 at Peter Mayer here in New Orleans, the number one smartest thing that the agency did was right from the get go, they devoted half of my time every day to setting up a biz dev system and working that system. And within, I think, probably less than a year, that halftime became full-time. And that’s all I did. And at the time, we were a $35 million agency and we had a full time biz dev person working a biz dev program. And that’s why we did it, because we were that start, stop, start, stop, start, stop model. And once we did that, it was just great. The growth kept coming.

And what’s great is even after I left, years later, they would start winning clients that I had started working those leads way back when I was there and building those relationships and starting that. And it may have just taken a few more years for them to finally turn, but they did. And it’s great. And that’s what agencies really need. They have to find a way to constantly have a little bit of foot on that biz dev pedal and keep it constantly out there. And a system like this helps you do that because it forces you to do that.

Drew McLellan:

So the folks who are listening, who are nodding and they’re drinking the Kool-Aid and they want to, as soon as they get off the podcast, they want to go and start putting some of this into practice, what are some action steps that they can take today, this week, before the end of the month, to begin to get on this path and to stop this stop, start, stop, start, and to really put in new business program like you were talking about into play? What should they do first?

Tom Martin:

I would pick one thing, just one aspect of their agency that’s really unique and they’re good at, and is smart, be that a particular service offering or a particular approach or style. And then secondly, define who at the agency is going to be the voice, who’s going to be the person that’s going to be known for that type, that content, whatever that is. And then immediately have that person go into hiding for three or four days a week and just produce as much, start with written content if they want to, as much written content about that topic or that topic area as they can produce in five days. And then come out and break it up into blog posts and guest posts, whatever they can build it into and then start publishing.

And then every single month, sit that person in a room for one day and do the same thing if that’s what it takes. But just start. Don’t wait till you build the perfect program. Just pick a place, stick a stake in the ground and start trying to own that one thing, whatever that one thing might be. And then over time, build around that. But just get started.

I think a lot of times agencies worry too much about being perfect. I’ve been doing this for seven years now. And the way I did it seven years ago and the way I do it today are totally different. And that’s because it’s an evolving process and you learn by making mistakes. You try things and you go, “That didn’t work. Okay.” You just don’t do that anymore. And the stuff that works you double down on. And just start, just get started. I think too often that we allow that fear or that desire for perfection, that artistry in our business, to keep us from just starting something that really is quite simple that will start to build your reputation.

Drew McLellan:

I think one of the things that’s paralyzing is agency owners think everything has to be the Mona Lisa as opposed to being a little bit of help. Just a nugget of helpfulness is a winner.

Tom Martin:

Yeah. Just make me one bit smarter. Just give me one. It’s five to 700 words on a blog post. Just give me one great takeaway that makes me smarter. That’s all you got to do. It doesn’t have to be the Mona Lisa. It doesn’t have to be one piece.

Drew McLellan:

Amen. So any final thoughts or something that you think agency owners need to hear?

Tom Martin:

Just that, hey, don’t be scared of it. There is a better way to do it. And like anything, any change, you can always come up with 10 reasons it’s not going to work. That’s great. But then don’t get upset the next time you’re sitting at the agency at nine o’clock at night on an RFP response. If you want a better life, if you want a better way of building business that’s more predictable, that allows you to really work for the clients you’ll want to work for versus just the ones that will offer you an opportunity to pitch, then you’re going to have to get proactive, you’re going to have to get known for knowledge, and you have to start being strategic about it. All the things we tell our clients to do, you’re going to have to apply that to yourself and you’re going to have to invest back in you. And that’s what this is. This is investing in you to build not tomorrow’s lead, but the lead that’s six months or a year down the road.

Drew McLellan:

Or three years to five years.

Tom Martin:

Right. So that you just always, it’s like a flywheel. It takes a lot of work to get it started. But once it’s spinning, you just got to touch it a little bit here and there and it keeps going. And then if you do fall off the wagon, don’t post for a couple of days or a month, or in my case, six months. It doesn’t completely shut down because you’ve got so much momentum built in. But you do have to get back into the game and make sure you’re not going forever without that, because then that momentum will eventually run out and the flywheel will stop spinning.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Great stuff. I knew that you would bring it today. So thank you so much. I know we were talking before we hit the record button that you and your shop are crazy busy. So I’m really grateful that you were able to carve out the hour to spend with us and share all of your stuff. And again, really appreciate all you do for agencies. And one more time listeners, make sure that you go get Tom’s book. It’s brilliant, it’s easy to read and you will be taking crazy notes through the whole thing. So Tom, thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it.

Tom Martin:

Hey, really happy to be here. Thanks to the invite as always.

Drew McLellan:

You bet. Okay listeners, this wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. Thanks for being with us. If you find the content useful, make sure you hit the subscribe button so you don’t miss an episode. I will be back with you next week with another guest, and hopefully some more insights and ways for you to build your agency to be better, stronger, more profitable for you and more fun every day. Talk to you soon.

Speaker 1:

That’s all for this episode of Build a Better Agency. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops and other ways we serve small to mid-sided as agencies. While you’re there, sign up for our eNewsletter, grab our free ebook and check out the blog. Growing a bigger, better agency that makes more money, attracts bigger clients, and doesn’t consume your life is possible here on Build a Better Agency.