Inbound marketing focuses on getting found by customers. People are tuning out traditional, interruption-based marketing methods, and choosing when and where to interact with brands. This basic evolution of consumer behavior, which we have come to call selective consumption, impacts agencies in the same ways it affects your clients.
Model agencies are expanding their capabilities to meet the growing demand for inbound marketing services, as well as using inbound marketing strategies to build their own brands. This tutorial explains the Inbound Marketing with best hacks.
Inbound marketing has given agencies the power to differentiate by doing. Agencies are using blogs, social networks, online video, e-mail marketing, webinars, podcasts, and ebooks to connect with prospects and clients in more meaningful and effective ways. They are creating value while demonstrating their expertise and growing their businesses.
The marketing world is full of thinkers, talkers, and self-proclaimed gurus, but after a while, they all start to sound the same. What we need are more doers —agencies and professionals that drive change by practicing what they preach. The market is moving fast, and growth opportunities are everywhere.
This tutorial is about using inbound marketing to define and differentiate your agency and brand. We walk through practical steps to generate more leads and build greater loyalty. Then we focus on how to control your sales funnel, and turn leads and loyalty into revenue.
The Universal Goals: Leads and Loyalty
Inbound marketing gives agencies the ability to boost search engine rankings, generate inbound links, and drive website traffic, which are proven lead generators.
In addition, inbound marketing strengthens your brand and enhances your thought-leadership positioning, which can have a much greater impact on your long-term growth, stability, and success.
The most powerful and profitable inbound marketing campaigns will use content and community to build loyalty, resulting in:
Higher retention rates Less churn in your client portfolio means a more stable and reliable recurring revenue base.
Greater profit margins Long-term client relationships lead to improved efficiency, which translates into higher profits.
Goodwill benefits Strong relationships lead to more opportunities and greater creative freedom.
Origins of the Inbound Marketing GamePlan
I originally developed the Inbound Marketing GamePlan in early 2008 as a service chart used in Thesis Scientist business-development proposals. The goal was to offer prospects an easy-to-understand visual that outlined proposed services for a 12-month campaign, broken out by quarters.
However, over time, we realized the concept was too tactical in nature, and our approach was much too focused on lead generation. It was a step in the right direction, but we needed to evolve our thinking.
In late 2009, we set out to better align our core services with current and future market demand. Based on lessons learned and data gathered supporting dozens of client inbound marketing campaigns, we were able to see trends emerging, both in terms of needs and goals, and the strategies and activities that were most effective in generating leads and building loyalty.
We saw an opportunity to redefine the Inbound Marketing GamePlan as a strategic process. Today, the GamePlan follows a standard eight-step approach that concentrates on shifting budgets and resources to more effective and measurable inbound marketing strategies.
Step 1: Clearly define and differentiate your brand.
Step 2: Design and deploy a content-driven website.
Step 3: Go beyond prospects, and consider the impact of your agency's marketing efforts on all audiences.
Step 4: Establish measurable and meaningful campaign objectives designed to achieve the primary goals of leads and loyalty.
Step 5: Build an integrated campaign fueled by the four core inbound marketing strategies: search marketing, social media, content marketing, and PR. The success of each strategy creates momentum that drives your agency forward.
Step 6: Establish dynamic budgets that can be easily shifted based on campaign performance and analytics.
Step 7: Define campaign timelines with milestones, tasks, and responsibilities.
Step 8: Measure everything, and be willing to adapt and evolve.
Why a Football Field?
More than anything, we needed a simple visual that represented all facets of an inbound marketing program. There were too many elements for a Venn diagram, and football is the perfect metaphor for an inbound marketing campaign:
The stadium and the field: The stadium is your website and online communities—the places that you will draw audiences to—and the field is your brand, upon which your agency and marketing campaigns are built.
Quarters: The game—technologies, strategies, and innovations—is changing so rapidly that your campaigns should be planned and updated in real time, with in-depth quarterly reviews. Agencies with static strategies struggle to compete with more agile firms.
Personnel: Consider the impact of the draft and free agency on a professional football team. Because so much of inbound marketing is driven by content and relationships, the selection and retention of top personnel—A players—has never been more essential.
Teamwork: Inbound marketing requires a highly coordinated effort and calls on a diverse skill set, including strategy, copywriting, design, data analysis, programming, messaging promotion, and relationship building.
Commitment: Inbound marketing success does not happen overnight. It requires practice and patience. You need to build reach and strong relationships through social networking and by consistently publishing valuable content.
Passion: You have to want it more than the other team. It is that simple. If you do not, it will show in your services and communications.
Goals: The end zone was the most obvious reason for the field. Every organization must generate leads and build loyalty to thrive. So, we started in the left end zone with the GamePlan and then built the objectives and strategies from left to right, driving toward these goals.
Objectives: You must measure progress, and adapt based on performance and market changes.
Strategy: In football, you have offense, defense, and special teams. None of them on their own win the game. The same is true for inbound marketing: Brand, web, search, content, social media, and PR must work in sync to be successful.
The Foundation: Brand and Website
Every Inbound Marketing GamePlan begins with brand and website. These are the two critical building blocks for marketing agencies and their clients.
Brand Marketing: Define and Differentiate
Every agency must define and differentiate itself. Share your story through your website, content, social media activity, and PR, but remember that your brand is defined by experiences and perceptions. Start by answering these questions to define your brand:
Who are we, in 160 characters or less, and without meaningless jargon?
What are the three greatest strengths/weaknesses of our brand?
What are our greatest opportunities for growth?
What keywords would people search to find our agency/services?
Who are our buyer personas?
What makes us different?
How do we express that differentiation in words, images, and actions?
What is our sustainable competitive advantage?
What value—expertise, resources, guidance, and tools—can we bring to our audiences?
What are we doing to innovate and move the industry forward?
What problems and pain points do we solve?
What makes clients buy from us the first time (acquisition)? What keeps them coming back (retention)?
When an agency begins, it inherently takes on the persona of its founder. However, as the agency grows, it becomes essential to take a more strategic approach to how you present your agency online and offline. The key is to give your agency brand personality.
You want clients, prospects, and other audiences to connect with your organization on a more meaningful level. You want to build trust and create positive perceptions about the agency and its people.
Here are some of the ways you can convey the unique attributes of your agency brand:
Be consistent in how you define the agency across social networks, your website, internal documents, and new business proposals. Also, consider how your employees define the agency on their social profiles and when asked in person.
Use your agency Facebook page to share photos and unique content. For example, Thesis Scientist has a public quote board on the discussions tab of our page (Thesis Scientist). This is where we post some of the quirky things our team says, giving us the chance to show a lighter side to which people can relate.
Integrate video of your team into your agency website. Consider whiteboard sessions, interviews, case studies, and weekly podcasts as ways to demonstrate your expertise.
Feature your team's personalities and better engage audiences. Hire professionals with shared values, and give them the freedom to build personal brands that complement and augment the agency brand.
The Power of Personal Brands
As we have discussed, great agencies are built on the strength of great talent. Now, more than ever, the individuals within an agency have the opportunity to build powerful personas that drive agency growth.
Every agency professional has a story. We are all defined by our actions, beliefs, experiences, perceptions, and choices.
We each maintain a unique personal brand that is defined by the sum of peoples experiences with us and perceptions about us. However, we are our own gatekeepers. Thus, our brand varies from person-to-person based on how much of our story we choose to share.
We live in an online world dominated by content and community. And whether we like it or not, social media has made personal branding a 24/7 experience for many of us.
The mass-market adoption of social networking has forever changed the way that our stories are told and shared. We publish pictures, articles, opinions, and updates that each tells a small piece of our story:
What is important to us.
What we value.
Where we are going.
What we are doing.
Who we are with.
What we buy.
What we think.
What we are passionate about.
Though many of us may not realize it, everything we do and say is crafting our personal brands, and either helping or hurting the agency brand.
So, whereas taking the approach of not caring what other people think works for some personalities and career paths, most agency professionals will need to take a more thoughtful approach to their personal brand.
What is your story? What defines you? Would your definition of your personal brand closely match others? Here are 10 personal-branding questions to ask yourself and to consider when assessing and developing your personal brand and helping your employees to define theirs:
1. What three adjectives would people use to describe you?
2. What makes you unique?
3. What life experiences have altered your views and actions?
4. What motivates and inspires you?
5. What are you passionate about?
6. How do you balance your personal and professional lives?
7. Do your friends and family have different perceptions about you than your professional peers?
8. Do you see challenges in life as obstacles or opportunities?
9. Are you stubborn and closed-minded? Or, do you view each experience as a chance to grow and expand your knowledge?
10. Do you take responsibility for your own success or failure?
Answers to these questions help to define who you are. How much of your story you choose to share and the manner in which you share it, play large roles in defining your personal brand.
Personal Branding Snapshot—The Case of Matt Cutts
Google is valued at more than $150 billion dollars. It controls approximately 65 percent of the U.S. search market,1 and its tightly guarded algorithm determines the fate of millions of businesses online.
But Google has a complex and nagging problem—webspam—that challenges the integrity of its search results and is creating reputation concerns for a brand that once could do no wrong.
In the middle of the battle for search supremacy is a man who strikes fear into the hearts of black-hat SEO pros, web spammers, and content farmers around the globe—Matt Cutts (@mattcutts).
He is leading the engineering charge to fix search-quality issues caused by webspam. However, equally important is his expanding role in elevating the public perception of Google and its search results through his personal brand.
By all accounts, Cutts is a brilliant engineer and one of the most respected minds in the search industry. However, his personal brand is becoming one of the Googles most valued assets. Consider the following:
Cutts has more than 131,000 Twitter followers and is actively engaged with the community.
He regularly appears at industry events on behalf of Google.
His Gadgets, Google & SEO blog (www.MattCutts.com/blog) has an Alexa rank of approximately 4,100.
The Google Webmaster Help YouTube Channel, which features Cutts answering user questions, has 34,000-plus subscribers and more than 3.9 million channel views. He is frequently featured in mainstream and online media channels.
Run a Google News search for Matt Cutts and you will find hundreds of articles and blog posts quoting Cutts on the issues most important to Google, such as competition, search quality, content farms, and link spamming.
Here is a snapshot of what marketing agency professionals can learn from how Cutts manages and builds his personal brand:
Maintains a strong personal brand that aligns with the corporate brand and gives it an authentic human voice.
Creates tremendous value online through multimedia content, including blog posts and videos, and presents information with a high degree of transparency. This positions him as a thought leader and industry expert.
Uses social media to reach, influence, and engage with key audiences.
Serves as a trusted resource to journalists and bloggers, and builds relationships with influentials online and offline.
A hybrid agency is defined by the collective strength of its employees’ personal brands. Your job as an agency leader is to clearly establish the agency brand, and then give your team the freedom and support to build and evolve theirs.
Website Development: Design, Connect, and Grow
Your website is a lead-generation and multimedia content publishing tool. It gives your agency the ability to build a strong brand online, create value, connect with audiences, and generate leads.
When developing or re-designing your website, do not overlook the importance of strong website copywriting that is optimized for search engine rankings and visitors.
Effective copywriting conveys key brand messages, stresses features and benefits, and drives visitors to the desired action, such as a call, contact form, or content download.
Once your website design and copywriting are complete, there are significant opportunities to build a more powerful site through SEO, blogging, social media participation, content marketing, PR, calls to action, and landing pages.
Treat your agency website with the same care and attention that you do your clients’ websites. Continually analyze track, and monitor its success through inbound links, traffic, referrers, and website visits by keywords, among other metrics.
Audiences: Segment and Prioritize
Inbound marketing is primarily talked about for its lead-generating potential, but it can do so much more for your agency. For example, consider its brand loyalty and retention attributes with existing clients.
Or, how about its ability to help recruit and retain employees, connect with mainstream and social media, influence competitors, and engage with peers?
When building your strategy, be sure to think beyond prospects, and design a GamePlan to reach and influence all audiences relevant to your business. Let's take a look at how inbound marketing can influence your agency's key audiences:
Peers: The social web has made it common practice to connect and share with your professional peers like never before. In many cases, your peers, often from competing agencies, are the ones sharing and linking to the content you publish.
Agencies and professionals that focus on collaboration over the competition will have greater opportunities to thrive in the emerging marketing agency ecosystem. Seek opportunities to engage with and support your industry peers through Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn.
Competitors: The race for search-engine rankings and influence has made professionals more open, and online tools have given marketers greater access to competitive intelligence. As a result, it is far easier for competitors to research and evaluate one another's strategy, strengths, and weaknesses.
At the same time, savvy agencies can use inbound marketing tools—blogs, videos, social networks—to influence their competitions thoughts and actions. Think of it in terms of marketing warfare. Although it is good to support your peers, remember that your competition is reading and watching. Be strategic in your thoughts and actions.
Vendors: Your vendor network is essential to your organization's success. Build more valuable vendor relationships by engaging them in your inbound marketing campaign. Share guest blog posts, exchange links, and help to promote their capabilities and expertise.
Partners: Business partners share risk, and rely on one another to deliver results and achieve a common goal. Partners are essential to success in the more open and collaborative agency ecosystem.
Inbound marketing has made identifying and evaluating potential partners more efficient. However, remember that the actions of your partners directly affect your brand, so have a system in place to continually evaluate the strength and profitability of each relationship.
Be sure to subscribe to your partners’ blogs and connect with their leaders in social networks. In addition, look for opportunities to create content that features your partners.
Job candidates: Use content publishing and involvement in online communities to tell your brand's story and attract social-media-savvy professionals.
Understand how job candidates communicate online, where they congregate, and what keywords they search, and then use that information to adapt your recruiting strategy.
Also, screen job candidates through their public profiles and online activities before you even grant an interview. Start with name searches on Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Media: Use inbound marketing to connect with reporters online, learn their interests, understand their writing styles, and note their preferred means of communication. PR firms regularly do this to build more effective media relations programs, but every agency should consider ways to proactively build deeper connections with media contacts.
Employees: Every employee maintains a personal brand that can directly affect the strength of your organizations brand.
Use inbound marketing to increase employee retention and loyalty by supporting your employees’ social media activities, and encouraging them to contribute to the development and management of your agency's content and brand online.
Employees, especially younger generations, are active in social media with or without your agency's support. View social media as an opportunity, not an obstacle. Establish social media policies, encourage professional behavior, and embrace their involvement.
Establishing Your Agency Social Media Policy
When defining your agency's social media policy, start by stating the goal of the policy, and how it integrates with human-resources policies that already exist.
Then, lay out 10 to 15 guidelines for employees to follow in their online behavior. A best practice is to keep the tone positive by focusing on what is appropriate rather than what is not. Specific topics to cover may include:
Authentic representation of brand and self: The importance of using real names and the lack of true anonymity on the web.
Disclosure, confidentiality, and privacy issues, such as guidelines for sharing company information with the public; who has the authority to comment on behalf of the company; and when it is necessary to disclose affiliations with the company and/or clients.
The purpose of online communications and how you will bring value to the community.
Usage and productivity during business hours.
Taking ownership of your words and actions, and respecting copyrights.
How to address potential challenges before they occur, such as friending colleagues, clients, superiors, and subordinates.
Also, address plans for monitoring and enforcement, such as who is responsible for monitoring employees’ online behavior and what this entails. Clearly, state the ramifications of misuse and how policies will be upheld.
Prospects: The most obvious and talked about inbound marketing audience, prospects, are actively seeking services and information online. Get found by prospects and keep your pipeline full by regularly publishing relevant content, and actively participating in social media to extend your reach and influence.
Clients: Existing clients are your most profitable and important relationships. Building loyalty among this audience should be a primary goal of every inbound marketing campaign. Loyalty is driven by results, relationships, and communications.
Inbound marketing gives you the power to dramatically increase the strength of all three. Connect with your clients in more personal and meaningful ways through social networks, and publish free content designed to expand their knowledge and strengthen your position as a thought leader and partner.
Objectives: Set Your Success Factors
Lead generation and loyalty building are the two primary goals of every marketing campaign, for both clients and agencies. We have consistently found that campaigns that focus inbound marketing strategies on achieving the GamePlans four core objectives have the greatest potential to generate leads and build loyalty.
Let's take a look at each objective and introduce sample success factors that you may consider benchmarking and measuring to continually evaluate and evolve your campaign.
1. Boost Search Engine Rankings
Search engine results are rapidly evolving to be more personalized based on factors such as geography, browsing history, and social graphs. Although top-10 rankings are still relevant, it is far more important to monitor actual organic (nonpaid) traffic. Focus on:
Although your entire keyword universe may include thousands of phrases, most agencies should concentrate marketing efforts on the 30 to 50 most relevant keyword phrases.
2. Establish and Strengthen Relationships
Relationships can be difficult to measure, but the following metrics can be used to show that you are expanding your reach and building deeper connections online and offline:
Followers, friends, and likes.
Referrals and recommendations.
Do not confuse reach with influence. Building followers and friends are meaningless without engagement and action. Benchmark and measure the metrics that will have the greatest impact on your agency's ability to generate leads and build loyalty.
3. Enhance Positioning as a Thought Leader, Innovator, and Industry Expert
Thought leadership is the result of doing. Get active, and create value through content and social participation. You can gauge your progress and success using the following:
Inbound media inquiries.
Blogging and authentic social media participation are essential to build and enhance thought leadership and position yourself and your agency as innovators and experts.
4. Build Brand Awareness, Comprehension, and Preference
Brand awareness means your audience recognizes the agency name, comprehension indicates that they understand who you are and what you do, and preference shows they would pick or refer your agency over the competition. Your agency needs to achieve all three to succeed. Measure your success with:
Employee and client retention rates.
Inbound job candidates.
Third-party endorsements of your brand are more important than ever. Focus your content marketing and PR strategies on reputation, relationships, and brand building.
Strategies and Tactics: Take an Integrated Approach
Each objective is supported by its corresponding inbound marketing strategy, as shown in the GamePlan. The GamePlan is intended to move from left to right, building strength and momentum as your agency activates each phase.
Once you have defined and differentiated your brand and built a powerful, content-driven website, the next step is to strategize and manage an integrated campaign fueled by the four core inbound marketing strategies of search marketing, social media, content marketing, and PR.
Inbound marketing has given agencies the power to differentiate by doing. They are creating value while demonstrating their expertise and growing their businesses.
We need more doers—agencies and professionals that drive change by practicing what they preach. An effective Inbound Marketing GamePlan can lead to higher retention rates, greater profit margins, and goodwill.
A hybrid agency is defined by the collective strength of its employees’ personal brands. Your job as an agency leader is to clearly establish the agency brand, and then give your team the freedom and support to build and evolve theirs.
When building your marketing strategy, be sure to think beyond prospects, and design a GamePlan to reach and influence all audiences relevant to your business.
Differentiate your brand and build a powerful, lead-generating website.
Agencies and professionals that focus on collaboration over the competition will have greater opportunities to thrive in the emerging marketing agency ecosystem.
Lead generation and loyalty building are the two primary goals of every marketing campaign, for both clients and agencies.
Strategize and manage integrated campaigns fueled by the four core inbound marketing
strategies for search marketing, social media, content marketing, and PR.
Use search marketing to get found when audiences are searching for knowledge and services.
Social media is about listening, learning, building relationships, and bringing value to the communities relevant to your agency.
Your core brand messages, vision, and values should be reflected in everything you publish.
The blog editor ensures that articles are posted on a regular basis, consistent with company messaging and that all authors are pulling their weight with regular contributions.
When budgeting for an agency inbound marketing campaign, the greatest investment is often time, rather than money.
Look beyond traditional wisdom and conventional solutions.
Control the Sales Funnel
Everything is sales.
Agency Sales System Essentials
In its most basic form, a sales funnel consists of leads, prospects, and customers. Agencies need to fill the funnel at the top, nurture in the middle, and convert at the end.
Every agency, no matter its size, can benefit from having a formal system in place to manage its new business development efforts. However, growth in model agencies is driven by the need to attract and retain top talent. So it is important that agencies work to find balance when building their sales systems and plans.
If you grow too quickly, without the proper infrastructure and personnel in place, you run the risk of failing to deliver on promises to clients, stretching account teams too thin, and inflicting irreparable damage to your brand.
Meanwhile, if you struggle to maintain a strong pipeline of qualified leads, you may face difficult challenges that can lead to cash flow crunches, cutbacks, and talent turnover.
The key is to concentrate on creating a sales system that meets your current needs for lead generation and is scalable with your long-term growth goals. Let's start by considering some basic questions relevant to assessing and building your agency sales system. We further explore the following topics in this blog:
What are our top lead sources? Where are your leads coming from now? This may include referrals, service marketplaces, website contact forms, downloadable content, social media, organic search, networking events, paid to advertise, and more. Your agency Inbound Marketing GamePlan should be focused on activities proven to generate the highest quality leads.
How many leads do we generate per month? Know your current lead flow. Based on your conversion rate, are you generating enough leads to sustain growth?
Agency leaders, even if they are not responsible for business development, should have 24/7 access to lead volume and opportunities in order to effectively forecast workflow, staffing needs, and revenue.
What percentage of those are quality leads? Qualified leads, also known as prospects, have appropriate budgets, authority to make purchasing decisions, and the desire to work with your agency.
Unqualified leads, sometimes referred to as suspects, are nothing more than a distraction, pulling valuable agency resources away from more productive activities. If the majority of your leads are low quality, then you may need to revisit your lead sources and how your agency is positioning itself.
How do we rank and prioritize leads? As your lead flow increases, it becomes important to have standard methods to rank or grade your leads. These methods ensure prompt follow-up with high-priority individuals and reduce time spent on less desirable ones.
If you use sophisticated sales software, lead scoring may be a built-in feature. Otherwise, you can develop your own formula based on factors such as referring sources, industry, size, and service needs.
How do we track their progress through the funnel? CRM systems have made it efficient to track and report on leads as they advance through the funnel. Larger agencies with the significant lead flow (and revenue) may rely on higher-end platforms such as Salesforce and SugarCRM, whereas others are able to customize simpler solutions such as Highrise.
The key is to have a reliable platform in which you can post activities, track opportunities/deals and segment leads based on their position in the funnel.
How do we gain intelligence into our leads? If you have the right marketing software, such as HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot, or Eloqua, once your leads have completed an online form, you have the ability to determine key data such as pages viewed, number of visits, forms completed, content downloaded, and events they have registered for on your site.
You can even have e-mail alerts sent to your team to notify them when a lead returns to the agency site. All this lead intelligence can be connected to client conversions to give greater insight into the true ROI of your marketing and sales activities.
Who is responsible for lead generation, nurturing, and sales? Whether you designate official titles or take a more informal approach, someone needs to own each element of the funnel.
It is common for the onus to fall on the founder or leadership team in the early growth phases of an agency, but that can become an undue burden as the agency expands and other priorities creep into their daily routines.
Are our salespeople receiving the proper training and education? There is a rare breed of rainmakers who are seemingly born with the innate ability to sell, but most agency personnel will need formal training to excel in this area. Selling is both an art and a science that requires experience, education, and intimate knowledge of the agency.
In order to create a scalable sales system, agencies need to find and groom the right people for the job. We will review core competencies of top salespeople later in this blog.
What are we doing to nurture leads? Adding prospective clients to your agency's monthly e-mail newsletter is not lead nurturing.
Instead, use original content such as blog posts, ebooks, videos, and webinars to deliver value to leads and pull them along through the funnel. Also, evaluate marketing automation solutions, which make it efficient to stay top of mind with prospects.
How efficient and effective are your sales efforts? Do you know how much time it takes to convert a company from lead to client? Or how much new revenue is generated each year from your leads?
You can gain incredible insight into your business development efforts by applying the same time-tracking principles. Enter every lead into your time-tracking platform, and track activities just as you do for clients.
This creates a wealth of information that you can use to assess lead quality, nurturing processes, and the efficiency and performance of your sales team. It also enables you to adapt your Inbound Marketing GamePlan and make more educated marketing investments.
People, Tools, and Processes
The three core elements to an effective agency sales system are people, tools, and processes. Let's examine each of these areas.
During my sophomore year at Ohio University, my Marketing 101 professor challenged the class to name a profession that was not sales. The room went silent for a few moments, then people started chiming in with careers such as a doctor, lawyer, homebuilder, librarian, and professional athlete.
He proceeded to demonstrate how, in fact, every one of them was in sales. He explained how their livelihoods depended on their ability to engage audiences and keep them coming back for more. His point was that everything is sales.
The same holds true in a marketing agency. You are always selling. You are selling an idea, vision, service, agency brand, personal brand, and believe that your firm is more capable and qualified than the next one.
However, in a professional service firm, sales happen at every level of the company. It is often the account executives that have the most direct client contact, and therefore, whether they are charged with it or not, they function as the agency's primary salespeople.
They are the ones whose performance, behavior, and ability to build strong client relationships determine if an account stays or goes and whether clients provide referrals and testimonials.
Plus model agencies are built on the strength of personal brands. The presence and engagement levels of your team in social media are an enormous driver of awareness and lead.
Their blog posts are the greatest source of inbound links and organic traffic, and their networking at industry events creates valuable connections, which can lead to referrals and new business opportunities.
In short, when building your sales system, your most valued asset is your team. No one individual sales or business-development manager can possibly deliver the value and lead volume that you can create through a collective and strategic effort.
However, that does not eliminate the importance of having point people whose value and performance are measured in part based on their impact in growing the agency, specifically their ability to convert leads into clients.
Traits of Successful Salespeople
Steve W. Martin, who teaches sales strategy at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business and is author of the critically acclaimed Heavy Hitter blog series about enterprise sales strategies, has interviewed thousands of top business-to-business salespeople.
He has also administered personality tests to more than 1,000 of them, primarily in high technology and business services.
His findings indicate that key personality traits directly influence top performers’ selling style and ultimately their success. In a June 2011 Harvard Business Review blog post, “Seven Personality Traits of Top Salespeople,” Martin detailed the key attributes:1
3. Achievement orientation.
5. Lack of gregariousness.
6. Lack of discouragement.
7. Lack of self-consciousness.
One of Martins most interesting notes was that there seems to be a correlation between athletics and success as a salesperson. Top performers with sports backgrounds “are able to handle emotional disappointments, bounce back from losses, and mentally prepare themselves for the next opportunity to compete.”
Evaluating and Training Agency Salespeople
Kurlan & Associates was founded in 1985 by Dave Kurlan, a renowned expert in sales-force assessments, training, and strategic growth strategies, and author of Baseline Selling—How to Become a Sales Superstar by Using What You Already Know about the Game of Baseball.
The firm has helped companies of all sizes achieve growth, improve margins, recruit stronger salespeople, and develop high-performing sales professionals.
For the last several years, Rick Roberge (@RainMakerMaker) and Frank Belzer of Kurlan & Associates have focused on evaluating and training marketing agencies to grow their sales.
Using a proprietary assessment process, Kurlan & Associates compares the skills and strengths of agency personnel to those of more than 500,000 salespeople who have previously been evaluated in the Objective Management Group Salespersons Self Assessment system.
Roberge and Belzer shared some of their key findings, based on the evaluations of more than 100 marketing-agency professionals:
None of the professionals could conduct a consultative sales process or close sales consistently.
Less than 3 percent could adequately qualify a prospective customer.
Thirty-nine percent were not trainable. Trainable means that a salesperson has the incentive to change. If there is no incentive to change, any training that is offered will result in a less than optimum ROI.
Sixty-nine percent were uncomfortable dealing with competition.
Eighty-nine percent were uncomfortable working in a straight commission environment.
Ninety-two percent could not be counted on to hunt up new opportunities.
One hundred percent were uncomfortable dealing with prospects that did not need their services nor want their services.
One hundred percent did not follow a sales process. Salespeople that do not follow a process encounter and wind up accepting lots of put-offs, stalls, and excuses. A well-designed process will raise and handle common stalls and objections before they become a barrier to closing a deal.
All in all, Kurlan & Associates’ evaluations showed that, on average, agency professionals had 5 of the 23 skills that are required to sell, and on average they can expect to experience 17 of the 28 problems that may be encountered when selling.
Roberge states that there are two primary reasons that an agency salesperson does not do what needs to be done to get the business. The first is that they may not know what to do.
For example, they may not know how to ask good questions or that they need to qualify prospects based on their budgets and abilities to make buying decisions. They may never have learned how to conduct a consultative sales call.
The second reason is that, although they may have taken some training or read sales blogs, there is something in them that is keeping them from executing as they were taught. These are the self-limiting beliefs, the hidden weaknesses, that undermine all the training and best intentions.
However, Roberge says that all these challenges can be identified with the right kind of assessment, and once identified can be understood. Then, with the proper training and guidance, you can prepare salespeople to excel and help your agency grow.
Objective Management Group assessments were developed by founder and CEO Dave Kurlan and are used by more than 8,500 companies. The assessments evaluate a potential sales candidates strengths, skills, weaknesses, and challenges as they relate to 21 core competencies found in successful salespeople, which OMG defines as:
1. Has written goals.
2. Follows a plan to reach written goals.
3. Has a positive attitude.
4. Takes responsibility.
5. Strong self-confidence.
6. Supporting record collection.
7. Controls emotions.
8. Doesn't needs approval.
9. Recovers from rejection.
10. Comfortable talking about money.
11. Supportive buy cycle.
12. Consistent effective prospecting.
13. Reaches decision makers.
14. Effective listening and questioning.
15. Early bonding and rapport.
16. Uncovering actual budgets.
17. Discovering why prospects buy.
18. Qualifies proposals and quotes.
19. Gets commitments and decisions.
20. Strong desire for success.
21. Strong commitment to success.
Tech-savvy agencies that are integrating marketing and sales tools have a distinct advantage over the competition. They are able to gather and leverage lead intelligence at every stage of the funnel, and they use that information to enhance their nurturing efforts and dramatically improve conversion rates.
Following is a snapshot of essential sales system tools. You may be able to integrate multiple platforms together or find a single solution that does it all. However be careful to limit the redundancies across your agency's platforms, and avoid adding unnecessary expenses for features that you will never use.
Customer-Relationship Management (CRM)
A CRM solution, such as Salesforce, SugarCRM, or Highrise, is the foundation of a solid sales system. You input leads into the platform as they enter the funnel, and you track and report activities as they progress. Ideally, agencies use a single CRM solution for all contacts, including leads and clients. This creates a more efficient and scalable system.
Agency websites need to be built on intuitive content-management systems. A CMS gives agency personnel the ability to easily add, edit, and move web pages as needed, without the support of an outside web developer.
From a sales perspective, the CMS should include the ability to create landing pages and lead forms on the fly, which can be valuable components of lead-generation efforts.
Salespeople require advanced intelligence into their leads online behavior. Free solutions, such as Google Analytics, are excellent for providing base-level information on site performance, but in most cases, agencies should consider additional third-party solutions for in-depth lead intelligence.
Again, HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot, and Eloqua are platforms that provide more granular lead details.
Depending on your lead-nurturing needs, there is an array of SaaS solutions worth considering, from comprehensive marketing automation software to basic e-mail marketing platforms. Look for a solution that integrates with your existing software platforms and gives you the ability to automate essential marketing and sales activities.
Prototype hybrid agencies require standard processes to achieve success. The same rules of efficiency and productivity that government agency and account management apply to the sales system.
Regardless of your size, sales processes help define responsibilities, set performance expectations, give professionals the knowledge and resources to excel, and connect actions to business goals. Let's look at the five core areas of the sales process: lead qualification, lead management, discovery, proposal, and presentation.
Whether you use software with built-in lead scoring or develop your own internal formula, it is important to have a standard process for ranking and prioritizing leads. Buyer personas are the foundation of any lead scoring system.
Defining and building marketing and sales strategies around buyer personas enable agencies to better target communications and content while improving lead generation and conversion.
Start by profiling your personas so that you know strong leads when you see them. Some of the key factors to consider when creating your personas and determining lead quality include the following:
Are they project or campaign based?
What are their budgets?
What metrics matter most? How will they define success?
What are the contact's title and responsibilities? Is that person the decision maker?
What are the problems, pain points, and obstacles to success?
What are the priority needs?
What is the accounts growth potential?
Does the agency have experience in their industry?
At what stage in the business lifecycle are they?
Are they seeking primarily tactical or strategic support?
What are their internal marketing resources and capabilities?
Do they have realistic expectation levels?
What are their experiences with professional service firms?
What is the risk level associated with the account?
What is their decision-making process?
What is their timeline to get started?
How strong is the lead/referral source?
Using these questions as a basis, agencies can construct clear profiles of the prototypical client and evolve their sales strategies to meet their needs and goals.
Sample Agency Buyer Persona: Long-Term Locke
Long-Term Locke is a campaign-based client that has strong profit potential, tends to be highly stable and predictable, has needs in line with the agency's expertise, maintains realistic expectations, greatly values the agency's services, and is interested in an ongoing relationship.
Long-Term Locke tends to sign 12-month service contracts for fully integrated campaigns; however, most Locke accounts have high-growth potential beyond the approved annual budget. There are strong possibilities for add-on services in the areas of content marketing, brand marketing, sales support, and strategic planning.
A solid portfolio of Locke accounts enables the agency to more accurately predict revenue and staffing needs. In addition, entry-level professionals can usually complete 30 percent or more of the workload, which is key to agency development and profitability. The target portfolio allocation is 60–75 percent of Locke accounts. Retention is essential. Locke accounts have the following attributes:
Budget: $5,000 or more per month.
Needs: Advanced strategic planning and consulting with a strong mix of basic/moderate-level tactical services.
Response: Response to educational material and practical guides. Aware of solutions offered by marketing agencies, and seeks information to aid in the decision-making process.
Authority: Yes, the primary contact is the decision maker.
Services: Looking for a fully integrated approach to search, social, content, and PR. Shifting budgets and resources from traditional to inbound marketing.
Industry: Commonly comes from finance, health-care, and technology industries.
Title: Tends to be a marketing executive—CMO, marketing director/manager, communications director/manager.
Service Level: 30/60/10 (basic/moderate/advanced)
Internal Resources: Usually has marketing staff, but lacks internal expertise in needed areas.
Growth Potential: Moderate.
Expectation Levels: High.
Success Factors: Primarily interested in media coverage, website traffic, inbound links, and leads.
Business Stage: High-growth and mature.
Social Technographics: Joiners and creators, although probably at the individual vs. organizational level.
Risk Level: Low.
Lead management is made possible by the sales tools you have put in place and defining systems and standards for moving leads efficiently through the funnel. Consider the following when defining your lead-management process.
Determine the procedure for entering and updating leads in the CRM throughout the funnel, and for assigning ownership of a new lead to the appropriate sales representative.
Integrate the lead into the agency's time-tracking solution. This makes it possible to assess the efficiency of your business development efforts.
Apply lead scoring to prioritize opportunities.
Define follow-up procedures, including how quickly and in what manner sales representatives must respond.
Establish call scripts and template e-mails for efficient communications.
Create rules for list segmentation and lead nurturing.
Agencies have a variety of ways to gather information about leads. In addition to Internet research, savvy firms utilize technology such as online surveys and website contact forms to develop a deep understanding of their leads’ needs and goals before they even conduct the first meeting.
A strategic discovery process can differentiate agencies early on if companies are assessing multiple providers. The agency that comes to the table more prepared and confident, and demonstrates a greater understanding of the leads business, has an immediate advantage over the competition.
If your agency has access to lead-intelligence analytics, the discovery process begins as soon as a website contact form is submitted.
You can immediately assess the level of the lead of interest in your agency based on their online behavior, and depending on the custom fields in your lead forms, you may already know answers to key questions such as budgets, title, timeline, needs, and goals.
Also, look at services such as SurveyMonkey to conduct prospective client audits. We have had tremendous success using an online survey that has a mixture of multiple-choice and open-ended questions.
It takes approximately 15 to 20 minutes to complete, but there are no required answers, so companies can skip any questions that do not seem relevant or that they are not prepared to respond to at that time.
The survey is designed to address five key areas, which are the primary factors we use to qualify leads:
1. Foundation: What are the strength of their existing website, brand, infrastructure, and internal marketing capabilities and capacity?
2. Platform: How extensive is their reach and influence among target audiences, specifically as it relates to online marketing?
3. Expectations: What are their priority needs and goals, and how do they align with agency services?
4. Potential: What is the potential for the agency to have an immediate and sustained impact on their business?
5. GamePlan strategy: What strategies and tactics are we going to propose based on the other four factors—foundation, platform, expectations, and potential?
Sample Lead Survey Questions
Following are example qualifying questions we use in the Thesis Scientist lead survey:
In one or two sentences, define what makes your company unique/remarkable?
How would you rate your brand positioning in primary target markets? In essence, do audiences clearly understand your organization's products/services and value proposition?
How would you define your growth goals for the next 12 months? Basic, moderate, or aggressive?
How would you rate support from your leadership team for digital marketing strategies, such as social media, search marketing, and content marketing?
What do you see as your organization's top-priority needs as they relate to engaging an agency partner? For example: ranking higher on Google, creating original content, getting buy-in from leadership for social media, generating more leads now, raising our profile, improving the website, or launching a blog.
Approximately how much is your monthly budget for agency services?
Please provide estimated numbers for the following elements: employees, active customers, average monthly lead volume, blog subscribers, Facebook page likes, Twitter followers, YouTube channel subscribers, and LinkedIn company followers.
What are your top sources for new leads?
Briefly describe your current lead nurturing activities. This may include automated e-mails, phone calls, free trials, online demos, and more.
How many hours per week does your organization spend monitoring and participating in social media? This includes activity on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, forums, blog reading, and commenting.
Do you provide training and education to employees on how to effectively participate in social media?
Do you have content creators/copywriters on staff who are responsible for, or have the ability to create online content, including blog posts, ebooks, white papers, case studies, press releases, webinars, and e-newsletters? Provide any details to help us understand your organizations copywriting capabilities and capacity.
What are your primary success factors to measure the effectiveness of your agency partner? In other words, how will you determine the agency's value to your business?
We will cover the proposal more in-depth later in this blog, but strong proposals are essential to increase conversion rates. It is best to have a standard template, which is then customized to each company's needs and goals. Every proposal should feel completely personalized to the prospect, but each should be completed as efficiently as possible by your team.
The key is to give just enough details to convince them you are the right firm, without providing a wealth of free consultation they can turn around and give to another agency to implement. It is a tricky balance.
Like proposals, presentations should be standardized, but then continually adapted based on your prospects preferences. Some contacts want to read the proposal first, whereas others prefer to see a condensed version in PowerPoint form through Skype or GoToMeeting.
If you have gotten this far in the process, go into the meeting with the intent to close. If you did not want the business, you should not have invested the time it took to get this far. Have the mindset that you are going to leave with an agreement. Consider the following questions, and come prepared:
Is there an agenda?
Is it in person or virtual?
How many people from the client's side will be in attendance?
Are the decision makers in the room?
Are you ready to field questions, and effectively address objections?
Who will be in the meeting from your team? Who will be the lead presenter?
Have you done an internal practice run?
Have you tested all the audio and visual elements?
What next steps are you proposing?
How will you hook them in the open, and close them in the end?
Understanding the Buying Cycle
In order to maximize the lead-generation and nurturing process, and increase the probability of conversion, it is important to understand how organizations make marketing-services buying decisions. Let's take a look at the five standard stages of a buying cycle and consider how agencies can tailor their marketing and sales activities based on each phase.
Stage 1—Awareness: The organization recognizes they have an unsatisfied need, unresolved pain point, or new marketing challenge. This realization may be due to internal stimuli, such as the CEO pointing out they are nowhere to be found on the first page of Google results; or external stimuli, such as a savvy marketing agency identifying risks and gaps in their social media presence.
Stage 2—Search: Research begins for information that will help further define their needs, identify prospective agency partners, and make an educated buying decision.
Agencies with strong Inbound Marketing GamePlans have a distinct advantage at this stage because prospective clients commonly turn to Internet searches and social networks to support their research efforts.
Stage 3—Evaluation: They are now entering the decision-making stage. Potential partner agencies have been selected, and are being evaluated based on criteria such as pricing, capabilities, experience, staff, proof of performance, and reputation.
Agencies that have gathered the greatest intelligence on the lead, and done the best job of customizing the business development experience, rise to the top of the list.
Stage 4—Decision: The prospect has entered the final decision phase. This is commonly the time when they will ask for referrals, finalize scope, and negotiate the terms of engagement.
There are still a number of factors that can cause the deal to fall through at this point, so it is important to prepare for objections and continue to instill confidence in the buyer. In some cases, this stage can drag on for months, depending on the prospects internal processes.
Stage 5—Postpurchase Behavior: Once the purchasing decision has been made, it is time for performance to meet expectations. There is a natural honeymoon period in which the client and agency get along great, but, as weeks and months go by, you better be delivering on your promises or relationships can quickly sour.
Anticipate postpurchase challenges and concerns as part of your process, and work to reduce the likelihood of them occurring after the sale. Continually seek opportunities to add value to your client, and never forget the importance of building strong personal relationships.
Satisfied clients who feel appreciated are far more likely to stay and provide strong referrals to their friends and peers.
Developing a solid Inbound Marketing GamePlan is essential to lead generation, but for this blog, we will drill into some more specific strategies and tactics. Keep in mind that the most effective lead-generation campaigns are focused on creating value, not selling.
Where are your best leads coming from now? Are there opportunities to generate more leads through these channels?
Based on your historical (or forecasted) conversion rates and average revenue per client, how many leads do you need to generate per month to sustain and grow your agency?
How do you identify and prioritize quality leads?
Now, let's take a look at ways your agency can fill the top of the funnel with qualified leads.
Pricing strategy: Make the price value based, simple, and transparent.
Turn your pricing into an asset in your sales efforts.
Brand positioning: What comes to mind when someone hears your agency name? Is your brand unique and memorable? Does it stand for something more than just marketing services? Do people feel an emotional attachment to it? These are the types of questions you need to ask yourself when defining your brand.
Your messaging and actions should separate your agency from the competition. Create unique experiences online and offline that help you to stand out among the masses.
Referrals: There is nothing quite like a great referral, especially if the referring source—peers, vendors, clients, and industry contacts— understands your brand and knows what a good lead looks like for you.
Although it is acceptable to ask for referrals at times, the most valued leads come from contacts that believe so strongly in you and your agency that they go out of their way to send you opportunities.
You can consistently earn referrals by keeping your agency in the minds of current clients and building a reputation based on proven performance, loyalty, honesty, and innovation.
Content marketing: Nowhere in marketing is it truer than in content creation. Model agencies use blog posts, ebooks, videos, podcasts, original reports, and more to continually create value for their audiences and differentiate their brands. Content marketing is the premier lead-generation strategy available to agencies today.
SEO: Take the necessary steps to optimize your agency website—page titles, URLs, headers, copywriting, ALT image tags and meta descriptions—but concentrate your SEO efforts on generating inbound links and ranking for long-tail keywords, which you target through original content.
Personal brands: Give your team the freedom and support to build powerful personal brands. Help them to effectively engage online, expand their connections, and bring value to their networks.
Service marketplaces: Emerging online service marketplaces can be ideal sources for project work, specifically for soloists and specialists.
Ecosystem partners: Develop relationships with agencies throughout the marketing services ecosystem. Look for opportunities to collaborate with prospective partners who share your philosophies and values and offer complementary services.
Niche markets: There are endless niche markets for agencies that choose to focus their energy on building capabilities and expertise in specific industries and geographic territories. Consider what unique knowledge and experience your agency has that could translate into a leadership position in targeted markets.
Publicity: The PR industry was built on the power of third-party endorsements. There has always been something magical about media coverage.
Earning placements for your agency in online and traditional media outlets can have a tremendous effect on brand awareness, comprehension, and preference. Use your content marketing efforts and social media involvement to position yourself as a thought leader and create publicity opportunities for your agency.
Networking (the traditional kind): Go meet people. Attend events for local organizations and niche industries. Look for unique venues that are not populated by competing firms.
For example, if you are targeting small businesses, find opportunities to get involved with a chamber of commerce. Another great networking approach is to volunteer for committees of nonprofits that inspire you. You can make strong connections while contributing to causes you care about.
Prospects and Lead Nurturing
As I mentioned earlier, there are endless variations on the sales funnel. In the Blueprint model, leads turn into prospects as they move through the funnel and are qualified as true sales opportunities. These prospects fit the agency's target buyer personas, including the classic marketing MAD-R characteristics:
Money (M) to afford your services.
Authority (A) to make buying decisions.
Desire (D) for your services, and to work with your agency.
Response (R) to your agency's marketing efforts.
Prospects are most likely in the evaluation stage of the buying cycle and preparing to move into the decision phase. They are fully aware of their needs, have researched agency options, and are now looking for the best match.
Your job is to convince them you are the right fit by alleviating concerns, anticipating objections, building their confidence in your agency, and creating as much value as possible. So how do you accomplish this?
Connect and engage on social networks.
Take a personal interest in their success by getting to know what motivates them in their lives and careers.
Use automated email drip campaigns to share relevant blog posts, case studies, ebooks, webinars, and other original content.
Invite them to attend webinars and events that fit their interests and needs.
Offer them free insight into their current marketing efforts.
Build customized proposals that demonstrate your knowledge of them and your ability to take their marketing to the next level.
How to Handle Client-Reference Requests
It is common at this stage of the buying cycle for prospects to request client references.
Although connecting prospects with satisfied clients can be a great way to give them confidence and put your agency over the top, it can become an inconvenience for your best clients. This is especially true for smaller firms, which have a limited number of clients to offer as references.
There is not a standard solution that works for every agency, so consider the perspectives of both audiences—prospect, and client—when crafting your policy for references. Start by taking proactive steps to reduce the need for prospects to seek them in the first place:
Encourage satisfied clients to share online reviews and recommendations.
Compose client case studies that demonstrate results.
Share your online portfolio of approved client work.
Enhance your website with content that shares insights into your processes and methodologies, expertise, thought leadership, and in-depth profiles of the people behind your agency team.
If a prospect insists on speaking with references, I recommend only providing them if: (1) you are 100 percent convinced you to want them as a client, and (2) you have confirmed they have reached the decision-making stage, and this is the final step before moving forward with the engagement.
In this scenario, do your best to communicate your desired expectations to both parties, both in the request to your client and time suggestions for the prospect.
You want to convey your openness and transparency while demonstrating to the prospect that you value and respect your clients’ time. Your client-reference policy should be flexible. There will always be opportunities that present exceptions to the rule, plus there is always potential value in connecting like-minded professionals.
Do your best throughout the sales process to build confidence and trust, and keep the feelings of both the prospect and your client in mind when faced with this final step.
Effective proposals demonstrate that you clearly understand your prospects needs and goals, and have the knowledge and capabilities to positively impact their business. Here are six core elements of a powerful service proposal:
1. The snapshot: Also known as the executive summary, this is where accounts are won. In one or two pages, tell a powerful story that conveys your understanding of their business, identifies their challenges, defines how your agency is going to solve them and establishes the benchmarks for how you will measure success.
Forget the boring, technical jargon. Create a narrative that engages the prospect and builds their desire to work with you. They should be able to make a buying decision based on their experience with your agency to this point in the lead-nurturing process and the snapshot.
The rest of the proposal exists to provide supporting information and define the scope of the engagement.
2. Discovery: Share what you learned about the prospect through preliminary research. Include data and screenshots that demonstrate your capabilities, and how they apply to the prospect's business. Here are some specifics:
Run an initial keyword analysis to see how their website performs in search engines.
Compare their website to competitor sites using Website Grader.
Evaluate their social media presence, and identify opportunities for enhanced participation and engagement online.
Assess their competitors’ content marketing strategy, and show how your services can make them more competitive.
Identify publicity opportunities by running editorial calendar searches through Cision or other PR-management platforms.
Suggest blog post topics that demonstrate your understanding of their markets and customers.
3. Objectives: Connect your services to measurable and meaningful outcomes. Define preliminary marketing objectives relevant to the prospects campaigns, which will be used to guide campaign strategy and measure performance.
Ideally, you will benchmark all relevant data at the initiation of engagement, and then provide monthly reports throughout the life of the relationship to continually monitor progress and adapt strategy.
This is the section in which you define success factors as well, including metrics such as website traffic, inbound links, organic visits, social media reach, blog subscribers, lead volume, and content downloads.
4. Activity center: Establish the services, pricing, and timelines for the proposed engagement. If you are selling service packages or retainers, this section will be relatively standardized, but be sure to personalize it based on your prospects unique needs.
5. Appendix: Share any additional information that is relevant to the prospect. This may include agency and account team profiles, sample experience, and client testimonials.
6. Terms of agreement: Include the contract to seal the deal. Your prospects are marketing professionals, just like you, so avoid using legal speak, and keep it simple and transparent. Consider elements such as pricing structure, payment terms, reporting standards, expenses, and how add-on services are billed.
Choose the Right Clients
Commit your talent and energy to clients who will value your contributions to their business. Learn to trust your instinct, and watch for red flags, such as unrealistic expectations and a lack of respect for your time and talent during the discovery process.
Model agencies never appear desperate for new business, even if they are. They are willing to walk away from opportunities when their leadership team determines it is not in the best interest of the agency to pursue the engagement. At that same time, they demonstrate patience and a willingness to fight for the right clients.
Conversions and Transitions
The assignment and integration of account teams is key to successful client conversions. It is advised to involve the account team as early in the sales process as possible.
Prospects quickly develop a rapport with strong salespeople, and they can assume that their representative will continue to work with them should they move forward.
If you have the capacity and an account manager ready to go, then simply have that professional participate in discovery and proposal meetings, and build a relationship that makes for a smooth transition.
This is the ideal arrangement, because the account manager/lead consultant, not the salesperson, should be dictating the preliminary strategic recommendations and appropriate service package or retainer that will be featured in the proposal.
In essence, once the lead has been qualified into a prospect, the account team should begin to assume ownership of the opportunity, and the salesperson takes on more of a support and administrative role.
However, this can become a challenge when you have no idea who will be on the account team. Because most top agencies are continually functioning at or near capacity, large opportunities present challenges from the perspective of account management and workflow.
For example, lets say you are a $540,000 agency, and a $5,000/month lead has blossomed into a highly qualified opportunity. If you can close the deal, this client would represent 10 percent of your average total revenue each month, which is fairly significant.
Assuming your agency is already at or above its capacity, you may need to hire in order to deliver on what you are promising in the contract. However, no prospective client wants to hear that they will be the lucky recipient of a rookie account manager or team.
So what do you do?
Adjusting for growth is a great problem to have, but, unfortunately, there is no perfect solution. However, if you have put the proper forecasting and project-management systems in place, you can quickly identify experienced team members who can step in to lead the account, while grooming their successors and transferring management over the coming months.
Remember, your most efficient and profitable growth comes from your existing client base. So commit to clients from day one, and never stop proving to them why they chose you.
Every agency, no matter its size, can benefit from having a formal system in place to manage its new business development efforts. Concentrate on creating a sales system that meets your current needs for lead generation, and is scalable with your long-term growth goals.
Agency leaders should have 24/7 access to lead volume and opportunities in order to effectively forecast workflow, staffing needs, and revenue. Agencies need a reliable CRM platform in which they can post activities, track opportunities/deals, and segment leads based on their position in the funnel.
Selling is both an art and a science, which requires experience and education, as well as an intimate knowledge of the agency. You are always selling. You are selling an idea, vision, service, agency brand, personal brand, and believe that your firm is more capable and qualified than the next one.
Your account teams are your most valuable salespeople. Their performance, behavior, and ability to build strong client relationships determine if an account stays or goes and whether clients provide referrals and testimonials.
Tech-savvy agencies are able to gather and leverage lead intelligence at every stage of the funnel and use that information to enhance their nurturing efforts and dramatically improve conversion rates.
Defining and building marketing and sales strategies around buyer personas enables agencies to better target communications and content while improving lead generation and conversion.
The agency that comes to the table more prepared and confident, and demonstrates a greater understanding of the leads business, has an immediate advantage over the competition.
You can consistently earn referrals by keeping your agency in the minds of current clients and building a reputation based on proven performance, loyalty, honesty, and innovation.
Content marketing is the premier lead-generation strategy available to agencies today.
Effective proposals demonstrate that you clearly understand your prospects needs and goals and have the knowledge and capabilities to positively impact their business.
The prospective account manager/lead consultant, not the salesperson, should be dictating the preliminary strategic recommendations and appropriate service package or retainer that will be featured in the proposal.
Commit to Clients: All clients are not created equal.
The strength and stability of your agency are directly related to your ability to retain and grow accounts. Loyal clients lead to higher retention rates, greater profit margins, more predictable cash flow, and stronger referrals.
Everything laid out in the Blueprint to this point—value-based pricing, hybrid services, top talent, a scalable infrastructure, an Inbound Marketing GamePlan, and a powerful sales funnel—puts your agency in the position to build loyalty. Now, it is time to commit to your clients, deliver on the promises you have made, and make a measurable impact on their businesses.
The need to build strong client relationships must be ingrained in an agency's culture. From day one of their training, agency professionals must understand the importance of each client and the financial impact retention has on sustainability. Employees should be 100 percent focused on the happiness and success of their clients.
Push yourself and your agency to create as much value as possible for every client. Become indispensable through your hard work, insight, consultation, services, expertise, friendship, and professionalism.
Treat them as partners, and take a passionate approach to their success.
Hold your team to the highest standards of performance.
Bring innovative ideas to the table.
Publish and share blog posts relevant to your clients’ challenges and opportunities.
Commit your account team to continually advance their knowledge of clients’ businesses and industries.
Take a Personal Approach
Create deeper connections with your client contacts. Do the little things that build relationships, and take the time to show them you care about their successes, both on the individual and organizational levels.
Know what matters to them—family, hobbies, and personal interests— and never lose sight of the fact that they are real people, too.
Recognize milestones in their lives with personal notes and handwritten cards.
Use your agency customer-relationship-management (CRM) system to keep track of calls, communications, meetings, and notes.
Connect through social networks to stay in touch with what is going on in their businesses and their personal lives.
Make every client feel like the most important client. Never appear too busy with other clients to help them.
Keep your leadership team connected. Agency executives should regularly be thinking about and communicating with client contacts, especially if they are not involved in the day-to-day account management.
Seek opportunities to make your client contacts look good, and help build their careers.
Send personal communications to clients when you have published or found the content of interest to them.
Be Open and Honest
Your clients should trust you, and you should trust your clients. For this to happen, you must be genuine. Tell your clients when something is not working out, and let them know when things are going really well. If you communicate openly and honestly, they will be more likely to be open and honest with you.
Listen to Their Problems, and Respond When Appropriate
If clients are unhappy about something, listen to what is bothering them (even if it is not something you caused or have control over). Then, if you can, devise a solution to fix it. Sometimes, just being there to listen is enough to calm frustrations.
Do What You Say You Will Do
Keep your promises. There is nothing worse than thinking someone is going to do something, only to be disappointed. Be someone your client can count on.
Admit When You Are Wrong and Apologize
Face it. Eventually, one person in the relationship is going to make a mistake, no matter how hard you both try not to. If it is you, own up to it. Admit you were wrong, apologize, and make it up to them. Your client will appreciate that you took responsibility for your actions.
Go Out of Your Way to Make Them Happy
Show you care in your everyday actions. Keep the little things in mind with your clients. E-mail them interesting articles, wish them a happy birthday, take them out to lunch, or introduce them to like-minded people. Go above and beyond their expectations for customer service.
Stay on the Edge
Remain at the forefront of innovation and technology, marketing agencies that are immersed in technology are able to continually increase efficiency and productivity, evolve client campaigns, and make strategic connections of seemingly unrelated information.
Share technology news, trends, and innovations through your agency social networks.
Publish content on your website demonstrating how advances in technology are impacting the marketing industry.
Push your account teams to continually integrate new technologies and ideas into client campaigns.
Tell your clients about technologies you think would be valuable to their businesses.
Invest in Talent
The greatest value you can bring to clients is staffing their account teams with A players. These professionals are analytical, confident, creative, detail oriented, highly motivated, and strategic—all traits that consistently translate into success for your clients.
Hire the best.
Provide advanced training and education that accelerates their development.
Build reward programs that recognize team over individual success, and put a premium on retention and growth of accounts.
Develop professionals who are committed to efficiency and productivity.
Extend your reach and influence in the places that matter to your agency and your clients. Be proactive in creating and nurturing connections now for you and your clients. Do not go looking for new contacts when you have something to pitch or sell.
Attend networking events.
Join clubs and associations.
Participate in Twitter chats and online forums.
Share your expertise on Q&A sites, such as Quora, Focus, and LinkedIn Answers.
Diversify Your Relationships
Look for opportunities to expand your connections within client organizations. If you only have a single contact person, and that professional leaves, the account can be at risk. However, if you have built relationships with multiple contacts, then you have a far greater chance of retaining the account.
Understand the organization's dynamics, including key decision makers and how agency partners are evaluated. Be willing to invest nonbillable time attending client events and participating in meetings, if it means you will have opportunities to make valuable connections.
Seek opportunities to work with multiple divisions of larger companies.
The Client in Residence (CIR)
As your agency expands, account teams are pushed to their limits to deliver on expectations and priorities. At the same time, senior leaders, who bring invaluable knowledge and experience to accounts, are pulled away from client services to manage growth.
No matter how talented your account teams are, it becomes easy to lose sight of the big picture. Sometimes agencies can go days or even weeks without taking an objective look at their efforts and considering things from the client's point of view. However, these sorts of insights can be essential to building stronger, more profitable relationships.
One possible solution is to create a client in residence (CIR)—a senior agency leader charged with assessing accounts from the clients perspective.
These client advocates ask the difficult questions, challenge campaign strategies, push for improved results, scrutinize time and billings, assess the account team, and critically evaluate the agency's value and contributions—all so the client does not have to.
The CIR considers factors affecting the client each day—meetings, communications, management, budgets, staffing, expectations, and demands —and looks for ways to make their lives easier.
In small agencies, it may be the CEO or president who functions part-time as the CIR, whereas, in large agencies, it may become a full-time position, overseeing dozens of accounts. Here is a look at possible CIR responsibilities:
Sit in on client calls and internal strategy meetings.
Monitor account activities to gauge efficiency and productivity.
Review monthly client analytics reports to look for gaps in assessments.
Lead internal brainstorming sessions to bring creative and innovative ideas to campaigns.
Teach young professionals the inner workings of client businesses and cultures.
Provide feedback on the style and tone of agency communications.
Challenge account team members’ strategic recommendations and thoughts.
Question invoices and budgets.
Explore opportunities to enhance service levels.
Advocate for client interests and needs.
The Significance of Systems
Prototype hybrid agencies, specifically disruptors, are driven by systems. They are built on adaptable infrastructures that enable them to evolve more quickly than their traditional agency brethren.
The systems create standards and stability while providing autonomy to account teams and managers.
They are designed to increase efficiency and productivity, encourage creativity, accelerate innovation, and push professionals to realize and embrace their potential, all of which produce higher performance levels and more satisfied and loyal clients.
In the following sections, we will examine three core systems that have a significant impact on client loyalty: career path, account management, and agency management.
As I have stated numerous times, talent is your greatest asset as an agency. Your ability to attract and retain A players directly affects your client loyalty.
These professionals are highly motivated, career-focused individuals. They need a system that defines titles, responsibilities, pay scales, bonus structure, performance metrics, expectations, and opportunities.
Like everything else in your agency, career paths should be flexible and adapt as needed to maximize your talent and deliver the greatest value to clients.
The career paths establish how your organizational chart is structured, and they lay the foundation for how you construct account teams. Therefore, they are essential for every marketing agency that plans to recruit and develop talent.
There are endless ways to build your agency's organizational chart, define your career paths, and construct your account teams, and they continue to change. For example, in June 2011, Interpublic Group-owned PR firm GolinHarris announced plans to do away with its traditional pyramid structure and introduce four new titles—catalyst, strategist, creator, and connector.
According to the New York Times, “The reorganization is primarily meant to transition employees from working as generalists to being designated as one of four types of specialists.”
When I first developed Thesis Scientists career path in 2005, I felt that clients too often left agency professionals out of high-level strategic discussions, and tended to view them more as practitioners.
I wanted our professionals to be seen as strategists first, so I chose to move away from the standard “account executive/supervisor” titles. Instead, I created a career path with three primary titles—associate consultant, consultant, and senior consultant.
As we grew, we added management positions responsible for the agency's operations and advancement, specifically in the areas of human resources, finance, and marketing, but these core client-service positions are still the basis for our career path.
Our account teams, whose primary responsibility is the retention and growth of core accounts, consist of group managers (senior consultants or higher), account managers (consultants or senior consultants) and support staff (associate consultants and consultants).
We continue to tweak our system, but I hope that sharing the basic framework gives you some perspective on one approach that may be helpful in defining your career path.
Following is a snapshot of our primary positions.
Associate Consultant is an entry-level position, ideally suited for professionals with 0 to 3 years of industry experience. Associate consultants are primarily producers—meaning that their primary task is to provide revenue-generating services to clients—and students, developing the skills necessary to advance to the consultant level.
Associate consultants are forecasted to log 120 to 140 client-service hours per month and are expected to invest significant time and energy outside regular business hours to advance their knowledge and capabilities.
The consultant is a midlevel position. Consultants generally have 3 to 7 years of industry experience and have displayed the potential and desire to advance to senior-level positions.
Consultants are primarily producers; however, they have increased account-management (manager) responsibilities, and they are actively involved with business development and agency initiatives.
Consultants have demonstrated advanced strategic planning and consultation competencies, and they have a proven performance track record. Consultants and senior consultants are usually the primary day-to-day contacts on core accounts. Consultants are forecasted for 100 to 120 client-service hours per month.
Senior Consultant is a senior-level position, commonly for professionals with more than seven years of industry experience.
Senior consultants have demonstrated advanced competencies in all relevant areas, and they are viewed as builders, innovators, producers, managers, and leaders. Top senior consultants commonly fill management roles within the agency, so their forecasted client hours range from 80 to 100 per month.
Group Managers are senior consultants who manage a collection of accounts. They are responsible for the growth and management of all accounts and personnel within their group. Group manager responsibilities include:
Complete monthly group client-hour forecasts.
Conduct annual staff performance reviews.
Conduct weekly group meetings to review accounts.
Provide final approval on all phases of major projects, strategic decisions, client communications, monthly reports, campaign strategies, invoices, activity reports, and account dashboards.
Determine workflow priorities.
Construct and manage account teams.
Run weekly TimeFox reports to analyze group performance and update forecasts as needed.
Assistant Vice President is a position for professionals who play an integral role in the agency's management and growth and who have more than five years of experience. Assistant vice presidents hold client-service positions of senior consultant, and may also function as group managers or group directors.
Vice President is a position of influence for the agency's most accomplished professionals. Vice presidents are heavily involved in the strategic decisions that guide the agency, and their compensation packages are directly influenced by the agency's performance. Vice presidents may also hold senior consultant positions and function as group managers or group directors.
Account-management systems start with the right tools and processes. Time-tracking, project management, and CRM solutions in particular play major roles in building effective systems that continually improve client services and increase loyalty.
Account Team Dashboards
We maintain an account team dashboard for every campaign client. The primary purpose is to define ownership of activities for accounts with multiple team members.
The dashboards are simple Excel worksheets, but they give professionals a clear understanding of their roles as group managers, account managers, or support staff. The dashboard can be customized to include more granular-level activities, but the following items are part of every standard worksheet:
Build and nurture strong client relationships.
Complete monthly account forecasts.
Deliver value and results every day.
Develop and train supporting professionals.
Engage with target audiences through social media and networking.
Maintain target client hours.
Manage workflow of supporting personnel.
Participate in major strategic discussions and communications.
Pursue the ongoing training and education needed to advance yourself and the agency.
Conduct quarterly budget reviews of all campaign-based clients.
Create, review, and approve invoices.
Direct account development efforts.
Direct all account strategy and function as the primary consultant.
Manage partner-agency relationships.
Immerse yourself in your clients and their industries.
Keep Basecamp and Highrise updated with all account activity and communications.
Monitor analytics, Google News Alerts, Twitter lists, and social- media activity.
Maintain monthly activity reports and dashboards.
Coordinate account contracts and renewals.
In addition to account dashboards, we hold group meetings every Monday to set the groundwork for the week and to discuss client campaigns in detail.
Groups commonly consist of 3 to 5 professionals, managing up to a dozen campaign clients. Group meetings function as breakout sessions, enabling teams to concentrate on the unique needs and goals of their client base.
All professionals must come prepared to present on behalf of the accounts they manage. These meetings are not billable (for agencies still using billable hours). They should last 15 to 30 minutes and cover topics such as:
Are monthly forecasts on target?
Is account development time being invested in priority clients, or wasted on nonpriority accounts?
Are proper resources allocated to priority clients?
Are projects and campaigns on track? Are we exceeding time estimates or budgets? If so, why?
Are we underdelivering on major projects or campaigns?
Are there workflow issues? Are people taking on more than they can handle?
How are professionals utilizing downtime?
What are pros doing with professional development time?
Are there any client issues or challenges we need to address as a team?
Are clients happy?
A comprehensive project-management solution, such as Basecamp, is one of the most essential components of an agency management system. In order to effectively manage workflow and give agency leaders visibility into the entire client network, agencies should maintain every project, task, and milestone in the same platform.
Project management tools can also be used to create dedicated client portals that enable clients to track campaign milestones, monitor agency tasks, and progress, share files, view communications, and submit and read messages. This level of transparency helps build confidence and trust, which lead to loyalty.
We also use utilize the Highrise CRM system to track all important notes, calls, meetings, and e-mails. This gives managers and account teams real-time access to relevant client information and activities.
Use nonbillable exercises to educate and train your team, which will enhance the value you deliver to clients. Give each team member the chance to complete the same assignment, and then meet as a group to review them and to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of each approach.
For example, pick one new client each month. Have the account manager start the project by presenting the team with an overview of campaign activities, successes, opportunities, and challenges to date.
Each professional is then given five business days (and no more than three hours) to create a 1 to a 2-page document outlining five strategies for increasing lead volume to the select client. They are then asked to present their recommendations to the group the following week.
This type of exercise offers tremendous professional development benefits, but, more important, it has the potential to identify actionable ideas that you can take to the client.
Agency management, as it relates to client loyalty, comes down to two things: intelligence and action. In order to take the actions necessary to retain and grow accounts, leaders have to have their finger on the pulse of the agency.
At all times, they need to know service-hour forecasts, client hours logged, capacity status, efficiency rates, and employee performance metrics. They have to be aware of opportunities and issues with core accounts and be prepared to bring new technologies and strategies to enhance the agency's value and performance.
we use an Agency Manager dashboard built into Microsoft Excel to view and edit monthly service-hour forecasts by client and employee. This tool enables us to balance workflow and allocate resources to the right accounts based on capacity and priority levels.
We integrate TimeFox reports throughout the month to ensure that campaigns are on track with forecasts and that clients are receiving the proper levels of support.
We use brief, action-oriented meetings to start every Tuesday–Friday. The daily huddles are strictly for problem identification and prioritization of that day's activities and should last no more than 15 minutes. They start promptly at 8:15 am and require participation from all attendees. The huddle agenda includes:
Identification of any trends or topics relevant to the agency and its clients. These are posted continuously on Yammer throughout the day, and then curated each morning for the huddle.
Discussion of any issues, conflicts, or challenges with accounts.
Review of employees’ top three priorities for the day.
Discussion of events or meetings scheduled for the day.
Monday Morning Meeting (M3)
The Monday Morning Meeting (M3) is an enhanced version of the daily huddle that, as the name indicates, occurs every Monday in place of the huddle. It starts 15 minutes later at 8:30 AM to give everyone a chance to catch up from the weekend, and it is intended to last 30 to 45 minutes. Here is a look at the M3 agenda:
The good news: Focus on positive results produced for clients and the agency during the previous week.
The numbers: Brief check in on professional and agency data.
The agency: Cover what is happening internally that week—initiatives, events, milestones, news, and updates.
The project center: Run down the week's major projects by client. Also, seek team input on any issues or barriers with clients.
Loyalty building: Discuss what is happening with campaign clients to retain and grow their business.
The pipeline: Who is hot in the sales pipeline? What are the conversion probability and action plan?
Priorities: Employees share their top priorities for the day, just as they do in the huddle.
Change Velocity Assessments
It seems like new technology companies, software solutions, and mobile apps are emerging every day that have the potential to impact your agency infrastructure and client services. Tech-savvy firms are constantly reviewing and assessing these advances, and looking for opportunities to improve efficiency and performance.
It is helpful to have a standard process to ensure assessments are consistently performed with the clients’ best interests in mind. Here is a format that we use internally to evaluate potential solutions:
Snapshot: One or two paragraphs describing the solution or company, and why we are assessing it. Think of this as a very brief executive summary.
Strengths: Describe the value it offers, and how it may improve on our existing solutions.
Weaknesses Explain how it falls short. This may be a pricing structure, feature sets, or limitations, such as seat licenses if it is a software product.
Use cases: Detail how the agency would use the solution and how it would benefit clients.
Takeaways: Outline the 3–5 key takeaways from the assessment.
Actions: Define next steps, assign responsibilities, and set timelines.
Sharing assessments with clients, and/or turning them into blog posts, can be a great way to create additional value, and build loyalty.
Prioritizing and Evaluating Accounts
All clients are not created equal. Although agencies need to make every client feel valued, the reality is that some accounts are far more important to the stability and success of your agency, and they need to be treated differently.
These priority accounts have a greater appreciation for your services, value your people, and treat your agency as a partner, not as a vendor. They pay bills on time (or early), have realistic expectations and reasonable timelines, and commit the time and energy needed to make the relationship work.
Evaluating existing clients is similar to how you assess and qualify leads. You are looking for clients that are the best fit for your agency and have the greatest potential to contribute to your growth.
However, unlike the sales process, you have actual experiences with these clients, which introduces a whole new set of factors into the equation. Let's take a look at some of the criteria your agency can use to prioritize accounts.
Our Agency Manager dashboard highlights two core factors for all clients— account status and income potential. Account status defines whether the clients are project or campaign clients and income potential establishes a 1 to 5 rating based on their forecasted annual revenue, with 1 being the highest potential accounts.
Since our Agency Manager is maintained in Microsoft Excel, this gives us the ability to sort the entire client portfolio by these two factors at any time. Although account teams are charged with retaining and growing all accounts, special attention is paid to campaign clients with high-income potential.
Agencies should be willing to invest nonbillable account-development time in these core clients. Although this can lead to below-average revenue-efficiency ratings in the short term, the lifetime-value potential dictates that you take a long-term approach to their development.
We use a simplified approach for real-time ranking, but there are many additional factors that go into evaluating clients. Here is a collection of some of the more important elements to consider:
Efficiency: The revenue-efficiency rate (RER) measures how efficiently your agency turns one hour of service into X dollars in revenue, with X being the hourly revenue target (HRT).
In the value-based pricing model, the goal is to deliver the service as close to 100 percent efficiency as possible in order to achieve your desired profits. Therefore, if your HRT is $100, you want every one hour of service to produce $100 in revenue.
Although it is great, in theory, to get paid for every minute you invest in a client, it is not reality. Whether your agency chooses to invest nonbillable time through account-development activities or has to eat time due to budget shortages, accounts are rarely 100 percent efficient, even in a traditional billable-hour model.
As you collect months, and even years, of time-tracking and billing data, you will be able to better analyze which accounts are the most efficient and, therefore, the most profitable.
For example, you may have a client billing $100,000 per year, but if your firm is investing 2,000 hours to produce the revenue, it is very likely an anchor—an unprofitable account pulling down your agency's efficiency and productivity.
Financial stability: Build your agency around clients with strong financial health and a history of on-time payments. Accounts that are regularly 15-plus days past due can cripple your cash flow, especially if they are core clients (accounting for large percentages of your monthly revenue) and you are in an early-growth phase.
Consistent late payments are often a sign that clients are in financial trouble or that they have a blatant disregard for their service providers. Either way, it is not a good situation to be in. You have to be willing to walk away from this type of dysfunctional relationship before it is too late.
Expectations: Realistic expectations of success are key to strong client-agency partnerships. Set reachable objectives at the beginning of the engagement, and evolve them as the campaign progresses.
Leadership support: Agencies often need the freedom to experiment creatively and the time to see their strategic vision fully executed. These both require support and patience from your client's leadership team.
Synergy: The most effective and rewarding partnerships have shared values and complementary cultures. It is important that your account teams feel respected by their clients and have a passion for seeing them succeed.
Commitment: Consider their level of commitment to the agency. How long have they been clients? Have they maintained or increased budgets over time?
Growth opportunities: The highest potential accounts have growth opportunities beyond the standard engagement. This may include chances to work with other divisions of the company, budgets for add-on projects, and the potential to consolidate agency relationships.
For example, if your firm is building a website and providing SEO support, there may be a chance to also win the content marketing and social media business, which is being led by other firms right now.
Profile and platform: If the client has a high profile and significant reach, there are ancillary benefits that come from having them on your client roster. Your agency can gain credibility and possibly enjoy access to contacts and networks, you otherwise would not have.
Experience: Clients who provide opportunities to expand your knowledge and capabilities in target niche markets can be very valuable.
Innovation: Case studies are rarely made of conservative companies. Clients have to be willing to take risks, try new strategies, and give your agency some creative freedom.
The Marketing Consultant Laws
When Thesis Scientist launched in November 2005, we set out on a journey to “lead and create leaders,” as our mission states.
My theory behind growing a wildly successful and influential firm was to hire talented, intelligent, and motivated professionals, provide them with the systems and infrastructure necessary to succeed, and then get out of their way.
We wanted to develop and retain the industry's premier marketing consultants: professionals whose services and expertise bring immeasurable value to our clients and directly contribute to the clients’ growth and success.
The Marketing Consultant Laws were originally created in August 2008 and distributed as an internal document to give us (the consultants) direction and focus and to challenge us to become stronger and more valuable— individually and as a team.
I hope that the laws, which are featured in the following list, provide some sort of motivation or guidance to agency professionals who are looking to differentiate themselves, become leaders, and build loyal clients.
Deliver results: Tasks, milestones, and activity reports are a means to an end. Our job is to deliver results.
Pay attention to details: Maintain a vigilant focus on details in all communications and projects. Never make mistakes that are due to lack of focus or effort. Always ask yourself, “Is this the best I can do?”
Be a proactive communicator: Do not ever leave your clients or peers wondering. Anticipate their information needs and maintain a high level of communication at all times.
Challenge yourself to be great: Always challenge yourself and those around you to improve. There is no limit to what you can achieve in business and in life.
Bring solutions: “I don't know” is not an acceptable answer. Your clients and your peers rely on you for solutions. Use your experience and the endless resources available to you to find answers.
Maintain a career/life balance: Your career affords you the opportunity to live a full and rewarding life, but do not let it consume you. Maintain balance among work, wellness, relationships, community involvement, professional associations, friendships, hobbies, and interests.
Grow your accounts: The life-blood of every consultant is the client base. It is your job to retain and grow your accounts by maintaining an in-depth knowledge of your clients and their industries, building relationships, delivering results, and keeping a pulse on opportunities.
Be creative: Show imagination in your strategic thinking, and bring creativity to every project.
Be an independent thinker and risk taker: Do not get stuck in the rut of conformity. Look beyond traditional wisdom and conventional solutions. Be willing to take calculated risks and make mistakes.
Strive for excellence: Set high-performance standards, and always strive toward personal and professional goals.
Think strategically: Challenge yourself to see the big picture. Always be analyzing—perceptions, audiences, objectives, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Find connections in seemingly unrelated news and trends.
Hunger for knowledge: Do not ever stop learning. Consume the wealth of information that is all around you, and share your knowledge for the betterment of your clients and peers.
Stay in the moment: You will see and do things in your career others can only dream of. There will be highs and lows, victories and defeats. Cherish those moments, but do not dwell on them. Your job is to stay in the moment, and appreciate it for what it is.
Have fun: Positive energy is contagious. Bring enthusiasm and passion to your work every day.
Loyal clients lead to higher retention rates, greater profit margins, more predictable cash flow, and stronger referrals. From day one of their training, agency professionals must understand the importance of each client and the financial impact retention has on sustainability.
The greatest value you can bring to clients is staffing their account teams with A players. Be proactive in creating and nurturing connections now for you and your clients. Do not go looking for new contacts when you have something to pitch or sell.
Agency systems are designed to increase efficiency and productivity, encourage creativity, accelerate innovation, and push professionals to realize and embrace their potential—all of which produce higher performance levels and more satisfied and loyal clients.
Time-tracking, project management, and CRM solutions play major roles in building effective systems that continually improve client services and increase loyalty.
Agency management, as it relates to client loyalty, comes down two things: intelligence and action. Although agencies need to make every client feel valued, the reality is that some accounts are far more important to the stability and success of your agency, and they need to be treated differently.
Agencies should be willing to invest nonbillable account-development time in the core clients. Although this can lead to below-average revenue-efficiency ratings in the short term, the lifetime-value potential dictates that you take a long-term approach to their development.
Build your agency around clients with strong financial health and a history of on-time payments. The most effective and rewarding partnerships have shared values and complementary cultures.
The highest potential accounts have growth opportunities beyond the standard engagement. Case studies are rarely made of conservative companies. Clients have to be willing to take risks, try new strategies, and give your agency some creative freedom.
An agency's value is measured in outcomes, not outputs. Marketing executives—your clients—are drowning in data. They have access to powerful tools that produce endless streams of information about prospects and customers. However, data without analysis is simply noise.
Marketing agencies from every discipline—advertising, PR, social, SEO, content, and web—have the opportunity to evolve, and play an integral role in bringing structure and meaning to the numbers. Your professionals can and should be extracting insight from the wealth of information available to businesses.
Leading marketing agencies turn information into intelligence and intelligence into action. They build campaigns that consistently produce measurable outcomes, including inbound links, website traffic, leads, and sales.
Hybrid agencies must shift away from arbitrary metrics, such as media impressions, reach, advertising equivalency, and PR value, and become measurement geeks who are obsessed with data-driven services.
Learn to Love Data
Elite agency professionals, A players, have an insatiable desire for data. They are constantly seeking bits of information—click rates, downloads, referring traffic, leads, conversions, search rankings, sales—from which they can derive knowledge. They take a scientific approach to marketing and develop processes to analyze data for insight that can increase efficiency and maximize ROI for clients.
Integrate Measurement Tools
You have to be a tech geek before you can become a measurement geek. Hybrid agencies are immersed in technology and continually testing and integrating the latest advances in monitoring and measurement. Use change velocity assessments, to keep your firm at the forefront of innovation.
From a measurement perspective, look for solutions that help you discover and interpret the metrics that matter most to your clients.
For example, if your agency is evolving to meet the demand for digital services, you need platforms that can deliver online data, such as search rankings, blog analytics, website traffic sources, inbound links, shares, clicks, social reach, leads, and conversion rates.
Turn your hybrid professionals into analysts. Teach them to make decisions based on logic and reason. Show them how to gain insight from information and how to use that insight to educate clients, build consensus, and drive action.
“You‘ve got to look everywhere and learn everywhere because everything is connected.” Develop professionals who see the big picture and have the ability to make connections that result in actionable intelligence.
Practice on Your Agency
Learn on your time, not your clients. If measurement and data analysis are new to your agency, experiment on yourself first. Like we talked about in the Inbound Marketing GamePlan, start with the basics:
Install website analytics to enable real-time tracking of traffic, referrers, page views, and keywords.
Build unique landing pages that enable you to track views and conversion rates for content downloads, event registrations, contact
requests, and other calls to action.
Track marketing events and milestones, and monitor how they correlate to spikes in website traffic, inbound links, leads, and sales.
Assign a team member to monitor website analytics and social-media activity daily.
Once you have proven that you understand measurement and analysis, then look for opportunities to build it into your services.
Tie to Services
Every campaign should start with performance benchmarks—current lead volume, inbound links, website traffic, content downloads, blog subscribers, social media reach—and clearly defined success factors for how the client will measure your value and their ROI.
Challenge your agency to move beyond the arbitrary measurements of success used by traditional marketing firms, and push the conversation toward more meaningful outcomes that can be tracked in real time and directly connected to sales.
Dig into the Data
Anyone can pull charts and numbers and present the client observations and assumptions. Your agency has to go further. You have to find cause-and-effect relationships, not just correlations. You have to turn noise into insights and find the answers to difficult questions.
Why are e-mail click-through rates so low?
Why has website traffic reached a plateau?
Why are competitors outperforming your client on search engines for priority keywords?
Why are pages per visit dropping on the website?
Why does landing page A have a 20 percent higher conversion rate than landing page B?
What is the best day and time to send an e-mail newsletter?
What impact is blogging having on your clients business?
The answers are in the data. You just have to know where to look and how to make the connections that will produce results for your clients.
Every Agency Pro Should Take Google AdWords Training
Professionals do not become analysts overnight. Agencies have to provide the knowledge and training to develop and hone these skills. A great starting point is the Google AdWords Certification Program.
According to Google, “Professionals looking to update and demonstrate search skills to employers can study and certify to become individually qualified in Google AdWords. To gain a qualification, exam takers must pass both the Advertising Fundamentals exam and one advanced-level exam.”
I feel so strongly in its value that we require all Thesis Scientist consultants to take and pass the Fundamentals exam, despite the heavy time commitment involved. The AdWords Learning Center contains 21 lessons for the Advertising Fundamentals exam alone, totaling more than 400 pages of reading.
The exam tests your knowledge of Google AdWords tools, account management, analytics, and ad-optimization techniques. Although it focuses particularly on online advertising, it is an invaluable exercise for all marketing agency professionals. The exam fosters analytical thinking, refines budgeting skills, and expands knowledge of how search engines work.
Encourages Analytical Thinking
Being able to demonstrate your success through tangible factors, such as search engine rankings, website traffic, inbound links, leads, and sales is essential in today's business environment.
The Google AdWords exam forces you to think analytically, translate data into meaningful measurements, and adjust strategies based on results. All these skills are vital for marketing-agency professionals looking to demonstrate their value to clients and to manage successful campaigns.
Refines Budgeting Skills
An organizations ROI using Google AdWords does not necessarily relate to how much the organization spends; it is determined by how well their budget is used through keyword and bid selections, targeting, and optimization. These factors usually need to be tweaked, often based on past performance, in order to get the most benefit for your money.
This same logic can be applied to the financial aspects of managing any type of campaign. Hybrid professionals need to be able to work within a clients budget—choosing those activities that will have the strongest ROI—while simultaneously being able to determine when a larger budget is needed to achieve desired objectives.
They also need to continuously review their current campaigns and budget allocations to determine if their existing financial distribution is optimal or if funds should be reallocated to better-performing activities.
Provides a General Understanding of Search Engines
However, to optimize content for online audiences, professionals need a sound understanding of search engines and how they function. The AdWords training program offers a general overview of Google paid and organic search. It also provides an in-depth lesson on keyword selection.
Although most information has a paid-search focus, the knowledge derived can be applied to organic search as well. Having basic knowledge of how the search engines work can significantly impact the success of your clients online content.
Google Analytics Training
Google also offers a free online course that provides comprehensive training in Google Analytics implementation and data analysis and is a great way to train your team.
Completing the course prepares professionals to take the Google Analytics Individual Qualification (IQ) test. The fee for taking the Google Analytics IQ test is $50. Like the AdWords training, this is required learning for Thesis Scientist professionals.
Use Analytics to Adapt
The most advanced hybrid agencies win with speed and agility. They draw on their experience to develop theories and strategies and then use the science of analysis to adapt to changing business environments and evolve client campaigns in real time. They continually experiment, measure, analyze, and adjust.
Once your agency has the right tools and talent in place, concentrate on making analytics a part of your professionals’ daily routines. In order to foster deeper thinking among your team, analytics needs to become second nature, rather than an afterthought. Following are some tips to get started:
Review Google Analytics reports as part of your account teams’ daily campaign management duties.
Communicate insights to clients in real time.
Build data analysis into daily, weekly, and monthly client reports.
Talk about client analytics as part of your agency daily meetings.
Conduct internal analytics training sessions with senior consultants during which they demonstrate to associates how they process and interpret data.
Assign exercises to challenge and develop associates’ analytical skills.
Share insights throughout the day on Yammer or through whatever internal social network your agency uses.
Services, Measurement, and Selective Consumption
As consumers tune out traditional, interruption-based marketing methods and choose when and where to interact with brands, agencies gain the ability to connect actions to outcomes. Let's look at selective consumption at work to better understand its power and the role of real-time analytics.
Assume the client, a B2B software company, wants to generate 100 leads next month. The company has solid brand awareness but struggles to gain market share from the larger, more established competitors. Historically, it has invested heavily in industry publications, spending north of $10,000 per month on advertisements.
Although the ads are creatively strong and are believed to have been influential in building brand awareness, there is no direct way to measure their impact on the client's success. This is what I would call the publish-and-pray approach, also known as outbound or interruption-based marketing. We will consider this option A.
Now your agency comes along with a few new ideas. You recognize that your client's leaders are some of the brightest minds in the industry, but they have been hidden away behind the bland corporate messaging that permeates their website and marketing campaigns. You see an opportunity to differentiate the client by creating value, and parlaying its personal brands into thought-leadership initiatives.
For the same $10,000 per month, you propose option B, which we will call the inbound-marketing approach: Publish a 3,000-word ebook on a custom-built landing page. Announce the ebook on the company blog, and consider doing a few guest blog posts on partner sites to promote it as well.
Although there is no registration (lead form) required, there is a call to action to sign up for a webinar, featuring the clients affable lead engineer. The ebook and webinar are promoted through the client's database of 10,000 contacts, and they are also distributed through a media partners database of 25,000 subscribers.
As a marketer, as much as I like to see nice full-page, full-color print ads, I am going to put my money on option B. Why? Because my experience tells me it has a far better chance of producing 100 leads.
More important, even if it does not, I can measure every single element of the program—downloads, webinar registrations, landing page conversions, e-mail click-through rates, referring sources, blog-page views, new blog subscribers, social sharing, and inbound links.
I will be able to monitor the performance of the campaign in real time and have actionable data to better spend my $10,000 next month.
The takeaway: In order to use analytics and constantly adapt to bring greater value to clients, your services must be measurable.
Real-Time Marketing and Monthly Scorecards
Change velocity and the availability of real-time data have created new demands and opportunities for agencies. Tech-savvy firms with fully integrated digital services and top-grade talent are more nimble in the planning and execution of client campaigns.
They are capable of quickly adapting strategies and tactics based on insights into consumer behavior, and they are obsessed with improving performance and ROI. Analytics is the key to success with this agile approach to marketing.
At Thesis Scientist, we start all long-term client engagements with a customized Inbound Marketing GamePlan. Knowing how quickly things change, our general philosophy is, “less time planning, more time doing.”
The goal of the GamePlan is to set clear benchmarks and objectives, arrive at a consensus for a 12-month approach, and approve services for first-quarter activities. We plan tactically in quarters and adapt daily based on campaign performance, changing market factors, and the clients business goals and priorities.
During the initial GamePlan development process, which usually lasts 30 days, we go through a relatively traditional discovery period. The discovery phase uses internal information and secondary online research to assess the following:
organizational goals, buyer personas, market segments, SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis, competitors, brand positioning, website performance, products/services, pricing, historical marketing strategies, sales systems, marketing software, budgets, and timelines.
This is also the time in which we evaluate existing analytics tools and determine the need for any additional monitoring and measurement support.
Our focus is on having the right solutions in place to gather and interpret data. We build monitoring and reporting into every client daily campaign management, and then we rely on monthly scorecards for a full analysis and action plan. Here is a look at the monthly scorecard structure:
Section 1—Snapshot: The snapshot provides a dashboard overview of campaign performance, including results from all major activities completed during the previous month. The snapshot functions as an executive summary with key findings in the areas of the website, social media, search marketing, content marketing, and PR.
Section 2—Analysis: This is where we dig into the data to look for actionable intelligence. We analyze website grade, site traffic, traffic sources, keyword performance, referring sites, inbound links, lead sources and quality, blog statistics, social-media reach and engagement, and customer conversions.
This area is often customized based on client preferences. For example, marketing directors may use scorecard charts and key findings as part of their monthly executive meetings. In this case, we will tailor the design and content so it can be easily extracted and dropped into their presentations.
Section 3—GamePlan: Using the findings from section 2, we construct an updated GamePlan for the next month. Time and budgets are reallocated based on priority opportunities and evolving business goals.
Monthly scorecards are one way that agencies can use analytics to continually adapt and evolve client campaigns. They encourage transparency, demonstrate a commitment to results-driven services, and help to build confidence, trust, and loyalty.
Activate Builders and Drivers
Builders are services designed to set the foundation for future success, whereas drivers are intended to produce short-term results. Your agency's ability to succeed and bring value to clients requires a balanced and strategic approach to both.
Builders lay the groundwork. They create the necessary base on which you will develop your clients brand, differentiate them from competitors, and expand their reach and influence.
Builders are essential, but often not measurable (at least in the short term), which means many organizations have limited patience and budgets to do them well. As a result, businesses want to rush right into the marketing tactics.
They expect immediate gratification and demand results, such as more facebook page “likes,” increased blog subscribers, media coverage, speaking engagements, and leads.
This is dangerous when engaging a marketing agency. Agencies can be a tremendous asset, but they can also be an enormous liability if expectations are not aligned from the beginning.
Clients and prospects that do not understand or value the importance of builders will always be trouble. The model agencies get paid to do it right. They refuse to take shortcuts or give in to clients’ desperate desires for quick fixes.
Remember, success is a process. Your clients will get the greatest return from an agency relationship if they have a realistic understanding of their current situation, and focus on builders first. Consider the following questions when assessing the need for builders in your clients’ campaigns:
Market research: Do they understand their market, and how they fit in the competitive landscape?
Brand positioning: Have they defined what makes them different, and are they conveying their unique positioning in their marketing and sales materials?
Website development: Is the website user-friendly with distinct calls to action, strong brand messaging, and lots of amazing content to keep people coming back?
Search engine optimization: Has a keyword analysis been conducted to identify the most relevant words and phrases for the website? Is the website properly optimized for search engines, including page titles, URLs, headings, image ALT text, copywriting, and meta descriptions? Has an inbound link analysis been performed?
Copywriting: Are the organizations copywriting strong, action-oriented and buyer-persona focused? Does the website or marketing collateral need to be refreshed?
Social media: Have they established profiles on all the major networks? Do they have existing reach and influence online? Are they engaging with the community or simply broadcasting content? Do they have a social media policy? Are they providing training and education to employees?
If you are working with larger, more established organizations, chances are their internal marketing teams or other agency partners, have already completed most of the foundational work. However, for many agencies, this is where your services begin.
It is also important to note how dependent the builders are on each other because this demonstrates the ever-growing importance of the collaborative agency ecosystem. For example, consider the case of a website.
The strength and marketing effectiveness of websites is essential to your clients’ success, but websites can no longer be designed in a vacuum by web-development firms. These are not brochure sites anymore. They are or should be dynamic hubs for information and engagement, and the metaphorical front door to brands and businesses.
A powerful website requires professional design, strategic brand messaging, on-page optimization, social media integration, engaging copywriting, landing pages, lead forms, and volumes of original content.
It has to enable real-time updates through an intuitive content management system (CMS), and it needs to connect to a customer relationship management (CRM) system to automate the collection and processing of online data.
Every agency in the ecosystem, from disruptors to soloists, has to understand that there are no more silos in marketing. Everything is connected. Success depends on the integration of services and collaboration among firms.
Once the foundation is in place, it is time for drivers to make things happen. Drivers are marketing activities that generate traffic, create inbound links, produce quality leads, make connections, establish relationships, and grow your clients business.
Selective consumption dictates that drivers focus on value creation through web, search, social, content, and PR activities, including link building, case studies, ebook, e-mail newsletters, online videos, podcasts, webinars, mobile apps, social networking, and blogging.
Like builders, drivers must be unified. Clients will increasingly demand hybrid solutions from hybrid agencies. Consider the dependency of these core disciplines on each other:
Brand marketing: Organizations are personified through the personal brands of their employees, creating deeper levels of engagement, trust, and loyalty. Powerful personal branding requires content creation, social media engagement, and adherence to the values and principles of the corporate brand.
Web development: Websites without dynamic, optimized content become static corporate wastelands. Websites have to give visitors the desire to experience and share the site, and reasons to return, over and over again.
Content marketing: Original content—ebook, blog posts, podcasts, case studies, reports, and videos—requires social distribution channels to be discovered and shared. Quality matters far more than quantity, so the copywriting must be exceptional. Corporations must view themselves as brand journalists, no longer relying on mainstream media to control their messages.
Public relations: Next generation PR professionals—not the traditional flacks that have given the industry a bad reputation—build relationships and enhance communications with all core audiences.
They use social media and content to create transparency and trust. They focus on personalized approaches to media and blogger relations in order to generate third-party validation that builds brand awareness and preference.
The Inevitable Convergence
To further validate the inevitable convergence of marketing disciples, let's consider what is happening in the SEO industry.
Search-engine optimization is evolving, in large part due to major algorithm changes from Google and other search engines that value content quality over quantity, greatly consider user experience, and are continually integrating social circles and recommendations into results.
Therefore, effective search-engine optimization (SEO) increasingly requires high-quality original content, social sharing, and engaging site designs that capture and keep visitors.
Every two years, SEOmoz publishes a Search Engine Ranking Factors report in which it surveys the top SEO minds in the industry and asks them to rank the different elements that go into search-ranking algorithms.
Following is a breakdown of the highest-ranking factors for 2011, and the overall importance each has on a sites ability to rank on a search engine result page (SERP), according to the experts. Note that I have consolidated different sections of the report to simplify the concepts.
Inbound Links—42 Percent of SERP Impact
Inbound links are continuously mentioned as a key marketing performance metric throughout this blog. The SEOmoz report highlights their value to search engine rankings and demonstrates the importance of agencies offering services that create inbound links.
The report indicates that the number of unique websites considered important by search engines—that is, have a high PageRank or mozRank— that link to a site or page is the highest-ranking factor when it comes to a websites ability to rank for a search query.
The most effective way to continually generate high-quality inbound links is by publishing and sharing valuable content, including blog posts, videos, ebooks, and original reports. In other words, SEO requires copywriting and social media strategies in order to maximize its value.
Keyword Usage—26 Percent of SERP Impact
Standard SEO on-page elements are still highly relevant to site performance in search engines.
At the domain level, search engines look for keywords in the domain and subdomain of a website, and the order in which the keywords appear. For example, http://www.keywordABC.com will likely rank better than http://www.ABCkeyword.com.
In addition to domain names, agencies have to take a strategic approach to other on-page elements, such as page title, internal-link anchor text, headings, and image ALT text.
The key here is that the more optimized pages a site have, the better its chances of attracting traffic and inbound links for specific keyword phrases. So again, it comes down to creating and optimizing content that people will want to share, and then taking actions to get that content found.
Social Media—7 Percent of SERP Impact
The SEO experts agree that Twitter is the most important social network in regard to its impact on search engine algorithms, specifically the authority of a user tweeting links and the number of tweets to a page.
Other influential social media factors include facebook shares; authority of the user who is sharing the links; votes on and comments about a site on social bookmarking sites, such as Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon; and authority and quantity of links shared on Google Buzz.
Agencies need to take the initiative to get their clients active in social media, monitoring for discussion opportunities, sharing resources, and engaging audiences. Depending on the situation, including their internal resources and willingness to participate, your response may be as a social media advisor or actually managing the accounts on their behalf.
Brand Popularity—7 Percent of SERP Impact
Brand popularity also plays a significant role in search engine rankings. According to the experts, some of the most important factors are search volume for a brand name; quantity of brand mentions on websites and social sites; citations for the domain in Wikipedia; and active accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Other Important Factors to Consider
The SEO experts also called out the importance of unique, fresh content across the entire site, and the visitor bounce rate as tracked by the search engines;
this refers to visitors who go to a site and then use the back button to return to the SERP. The lower the bounce rate, the better, so make the content worth reading and give them reasons to stick around for more.
The Case for Social Media
The SEOmoz report shows how social media is having an increasing impact on search engine results. Social media enables personalization based on a searchers social graph, in addition to functioning as a publishing channel for your clients’ original content.
Social media also offers marketing agencies the opportunity to build more meaningful relationships with media, bloggers, and analysts, and take a more personalized approach to PR.
For example, by actively monitoring reporters’ tweets or Facebook shares, you can get to know more about them than just their beats. As a result, you can tailor pitches to directly relate to their interests and needs, thus improving your chances for success.
Social media has transformed the way that people communicate and gather information online. With more than two-thirds of U.S. Internet users regularly using a social network,5 individuals are more often turning to sites such as facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to ask questions, share resources, and research products and services.
Through active social media participation, your clients can connect with qualified consumers online when they are actively looking for products, services, and information.
According to a 2011 ForeSee report, “visitors to websites influenced by social media are more loyal and satisfied customers, and they spend more than visitors who were not influenced by social media.”
There is also a correlation between social media involvement and financial performance. A 2009 study from Wetpaint and the Altimeter Group shows that of the 100 brands evaluated, those with the heaviest social media engagement grew company revenues by 18 percent from July 2008 to July 2009, while the least engaged companies saw revenues sink six percent over the same time period.
The Case for Content Marketing
Inbound marketing is powered by content. In order to grow smarter and faster than the competition, organizations must maintain powerful and informative websites and continually publish valuable content online.
Content can be used to connect with target audiences on an emotional level —something often lacking in business communications—by addressing consumers’ pain points, thought processes, goals, and preferences.
As we have seen, it also has the ability to establish your clients’ professionals as an industry thought leaders and trusted resources, which is especially valuable in business-to-business (B2B) marketing. This increases the likelihood that prospects and customers will turn to them for solutions.
According to a study of HubSpot customers, websites of companies that blog have 55 percent more visitors, 97 percent more inbound links, and 434 percent more indexed pages than the websites of companies that do not— signaling the importance of content to website strength.
In addition, business-to-consumer (B2C) and B2B companies that blog generate more leads—88 percent and 67 percent, respectively—than their nonblogging counterparts.10 Content has also been proven effective at helping move prospects through long sales cycles.
The Content Spam Epidemic
Despite all its tremendous potential, content marketing has a downside. The reality is that it is not easy to regularly produce interesting, high-quality content (thus the opportunity for marketing agencies to become content creators). However, as with anything in business, there are organizations that look for shortcuts and cheap solutions to compete.
They believe that any content is better than no content. Just as link spam infiltrated the SEO industry in the early days, the flood of content spam— low-quality content produced solely for search-engine rankings and traffic— has begun spewing from media organizations and corporations looking to cash in on the content rush.
The good news is that Google has a very public distaste for poor- quality content. In June 2011, Google released its Panda update 2.2, which, according to SEOmoz, “changed SEO best practices forever.”
This, in turn, directly impacts content marketing. In essence, Google is continuing to evolve its algorithm to put a premium on websites that produce trustworthy, credible, high-quality content.
So, when strategizing drivers for your clients, steer clear of mass-produced, cheap content solutions. Although they may offer short-term benefits, the greater opportunity is constructing an integrated campaign powered by premium content that is worthy of inbound links and social sharing.
The Rise of Content Curation
Content curation has become a rising trend in the marketing world, and an essential component of content marketing strategies.
The term content curation stems from traditional museum curation—museum curators collect art and artifacts and identify the most relevant or important to be displayed in an exhibit for the public.
Museum curators are subject-matter experts with higher levels of education that guide an organization's overall art collection. Curation has also, historically, referred to overseeing the care and preservation of precious collectibles.
With the overwhelming amount of content available on the Internet today, it is difficult for professionals to efficiently manage their daily reading activities as well as separate useful and accurate content from poor content.
This is where content curation comes in, allowing individuals and businesses to provide a valuable service to their audiences by addressing their need for quality content and the lack of available time to find it.
Further, by sharing the most relevant, thought-provoking online content, curation can establish individuals and companies as authorities and thought leaders. Content curation enables your clients to stand out in the marketplace and influence buyer behavior during a time when everyone is fighting for recognition.
To date, curation has been a relatively time-consuming process because it requires significant energy to find, filter, and editorialize the best information.
For example, at Thesis Scientist we attempt to publish a curated post each week on our blog that highlights the weeks most relevant marketing articles. The posts are usually 500 to 700 words, but commonly take one to two hours longer to prepare than a standard post.
Curation will take on increased importance in your clients’ marketing strategies as software platforms emerge to make curation more intuitive and automated, so keep an eye on innovations in this space.
Unplug to Excel
Efficiency and productivity have been recurring themes throughout this blog. They are essential to an agency's profitability and the ability of your professionals to deliver results. However, there are barriers preventing professionals from reaching their potential and performing at their peaks.
We have become a society consumed with connectivity—much to our own detriment and that of our clients, coworkers, friends, and family. We are wasting time and money at alarming rates, instead of focusing our energy on what matters.
Unfortunately, although many of us think that we are increasing our value and productivity with our always-wired lifestyles, the inverse is more likely true, especially for marketing-agency professionals whose careers require both strategic and creative thinking.
We are so focused on meeting short-term demands for our time and attention that we have lost sight of the higher-priority outputs that will build our careers and businesses and make us better and happier people.
We suffer from the channel and information overload. At any given moment during business hours (and often after), we are connected through an array of channels competing for our attention—Twitter, Facebook, Internet, TV, chat, e-mail, phone, text, internal social networks, and Skype—not to mention face-to-face time and meetings.
In essence, we are always distracted or anticipating distraction, and, therefore, we are never performing at our peak and never achieving flow.
People lived so deeply in the moment, and felt so utterly in control, that their sense of time, place, and even self-melted away. —Daniel Pink
These channels are important to our daily lives and our ability to consume information, communicate, produce, and grow. However, as author Dr. John Medina explains in Brain Rules, our minds are wired to work and think sequentially, not simultaneously. In other words, it is biologically impossible for us to give our full attention to more than one task at once.
We cannot process Twitter alerts, e-mail notifications, instant messages, and texts and still efficiently produce outputs. Plus, research has shown that every time we are interrupted, our brains take up to 45 minutes to refocus and resume a major task.
What is the trade-off? We use our personal time (nights, weekends, and vacations) to make up for lost productivity and poor efficiency.
The Six-Step Unplugged Plan
So what can we do about it? How can we improve our performance, achieve better balance, and deliver greater results?
I propose that marketing-agency professionals go unplugged. Set aside time each day to go off the grid in order to regain focus, improve productivity, create more value, and concentrate on what is most important in business (and life).
1. Unplug at Regular (Daily) Intervals
For a minimum of four hours every workday, shut off every nonessential application and focus all your energy and attention on priority tasks and projects. Obviously, you still need to be available for high-priority communications and meetings, but commit to an unplugged schedule as much as possible.
This can be a difficult thing in team environments when communications and ideas are constantly flowing; however, we have found that blocking off periods of our calendars each day as busy, and limiting interruptions such as instant messages and e-mails, enables us, individually and collectively, to be more creative and productive.
2. Create and Communicate in Bursts
Use the productivity blocks to create, and use the other times to communicate. This enables you to give people and projects the full attention they deserve while using your time as efficiently as possible. Hopefully, you will unlock some stifled creativity along the way, and become a better listener.
3. Eliminate Channel and Sensory Overload
Be honest. How often do you check and respond to e-mails or take a quick look at Facebook or Twitter to distract yourself from work or delay pushing through a challenging project? I used to do it all the time—probably dozens of times per day.
Why? Because they were always open and accessible. It is like recess for the mind. Besides, 10 minutes here and there is harmless, right? Wrong! We are cheating ourselves, and anyone who relies on our production.
We have made it agency policy to shut off all desktop notifications, and set e-mail to auto check every hour.
4. Get Lost to Find Answers
Adjust your routine a bit, and maybe seek out a change of scenery more often. Whether it is a local coffee shop, a golf course, or a road trip, we need to quiet our minds and be inspired to think and create.
5. Reset Expectations and Priorities
What percentage of communications, specifically calls and e-mails, are truly urgent? Of course, there are exceptions, but I guarantee the vast majority of those messages could wait an hour or two for a reply.
I know if I were paying a marketing agency for its creative work, I would rather they spent 60 uninterrupted minutes straight on my project than 60 minutes over three hours with calls, e-mails, tweets, and instant messages in between.
Some agencies/consultants keep the meter running while allowing themselves to be constantly interrupted. That can be a costly situation when you are paying by the hour. I will take efficiency, with higher levels of creativity and attention, every time.
6. Remember What Matters
I am consumed by a passion for our agency. Since the day I launched it, I have cherished every waking second. The people and the moments have enriched my life, and I would not trade them for the world.
However, the agency does not define me. It is a means to a better life, for me and my coworkers. It affords us the opportunity to work with amazing people, build businesses, and do remarkable things.
More importantly, it is our vehicle to create financial freedom so that we can enjoy our lives, improve the lives of those we care about, and affect the causes we believe in.
The more productive and efficient we are, the more time we have for the things that truly matter.
How Will You Know if Unplugging Works?
Simple really. Set goals, establish benchmarks, and measure metrics that matter to your business and life.
For example, I track the number of blog posts I publish (goal: write more), hours working on nights and weekends (goal: spend more quality time with my family), and engagement in social networks (goal: build more relationships and create more value).
Leading marketing agencies turn information into intelligence and intelligence into action.
Look for measurement solutions that help you discover and interpret the metrics that matter most to your clients.
Develop professionals who see the big picture and have the ability to make connections that result in actionable intelligence.
Challenge your agency to move beyond the arbitrary measurements of success used by traditional marketing firms, and push the conversation toward more meaningful outcomes that can be tracked in real time and directly connected to sales.
The most advanced hybrid agencies win with speed and agility. Make analytics a part of your professionals’ daily routines in order to foster deeper thinking among your team.
In order to use analytics and constantly adapt to bring greater value to clients, your services must be measurable. Builders are services designed to set the foundation for future success, whereas drivers are intended to produce short-term results.
Drivers are marketing activities that generate traffic, create inbound links, produce quality leads, make connections, establish relationships, and grow your clients’ businesses.
Every agency in the ecosystem, from disruptors to soloists, has to understand that there are no more silos in marketing. Everything is connected. Success depends on the integration of services and collaboration among firms.
We are so focused on meeting short-term demands for our time and attention that we have lost sight of the higher-priority outputs that will build our careers and businesses and make us better and happier people.
Our minds are wired to work and think sequentially, not simultaneously. In other words, it is biologically impossible for us to give our full attention to more than one task at once.