After working with agencies across the globe to help scale, Pete comes in the studio to share his tips and tactics on how to navigate the most common roadblocks agencies face around marketing, sales, and client delivery.
You already know what it is, and in this edition of Agency Unfiltered, we have Pete Nicholls, director of HubDo. HubDo is a Platinum HubSpot Partner that runs the SILVERPEAK Challenge, in which Pete and the HubDo team work with agencies globally to help them scale and grow. In the SILVERPEAK Challenge, Pete helps agencies build marketing campaigns, develop a pipeline of opportunities, and then nail their processes for delivery, and if that sounds of interest, Pete joins us to consolidate the big takeaways from the most recent SILVERPEAK Challenge. Pete shares what he sees as the most common roadblocks for agencies looking to grow and provides tactics to help them overcome those roadblocks. Whether you're looking to improve your ability to market, sell, deliver, or grow, this discussion with Pete provides some helpful, enlightening tips. Let's do it.
KD: Pete, welcome.
PN: Thank you.
KD: I know you work with a ton of agencies, help them nail their processes, help them scale and grow. Talk to me about, from your experience, what seems to be the biggest roadblock, or the most frictional part of their attempts to grow?
PN: Well, we've discovered this by seeing a lot of agencies come up against different challenges. I'd say number one is overcoming a syndrome, which has a name. It's called Cobbler's Children. An age-old term: the cobbler's children are the last ones shod, and that's basically saying if you're a marketer, it's probably your own marketing that gets the least amount of attention, and that's really important, because we've also found that that has had the biggest impact on growth is to get your own marketing right. You have to do a ton of other things perfectly to overcome your own marketing not being up to scratch.
KD: I would say, it's not just client acquisition, but finding new leads and prospects to try and acquire new clients. And if you're able to successfully bring on a new client, God forbid you lose them. Who are you going to backfill that business with, right? There are some risks associated with having no marketing plan.
PN: Yeah, absolutely. It's like a blood supply. There's a whole lot of situations that you can't solve easily if your marketing's not working. So, we run a program where the analogy is like a mountain climber, and we use Everest as the analogy because it's stages. In running an agency, you've got stages of selling and delivering and all of that. So we use that, and the difficulty you find along the way, we call falling into a crevasse. If you fall into a crevasse with the clients, you might be in there with either good-fit clients, where it's a difficulty around the relationship, or you're in the crevasse with bad-fit clients, and how you get out of that is marketing. You have to have good-fit clients coming in, because there's no way you're ever going to fix being in there with bad-fit clients.
KD: Marketing for my agency, I understand it's important. How should I get started? What would you make your priorities, or what should I place my focus if I'm starting from zero marketing my agency?
PN: So, agencies, and certainly the ones we help, generally fall into either an existing successful business that is becoming an inbound agency. Typical examples would be a content marketing company, content writers, video production. There's a range of businesses where the clients wanna see the ROI, and so, becoming more of a full-service agency is a way to show how the content turns into dollars. So, that's one journey. The other journey is, hey, I'm starting an agency. I've maybe come out of a corporate background. Where do I begin? So those two journeys, although they sound really different, they're a little similar in, well, what does creating an inbound agency look like? So the roadmap of where you even begin is tricky, and the part that tends to get skipped over, as we've found, is the initial focus. Deciding what am I going to focus on? HubSpot would generally talk about an industry alignment. Are you going to focus on medical, or what's it associated with? It's not always about industry. It can be that our focus may be geographical. We're going to focus on small, medium businesses in the Detroit area. So that's the part that, in terms of getting started, is to focus, and if you don't know what you're going to focus on first, at least decide what you're not going to do, because until you reach the point of saying, you know what, although there's a customer who would like to do business with us, we're going to say no, that's a really brave thing to say as an agency, but until you say no, you have no focus.
KD: A lot of agencies would say, I don't have the luxury of saying no, right? It's like if they're open to working with me, I have to say yes, but it sounds like if you do just say yes, you end up in that crevasse, right?
PN: Yeah, and most of the folks who we've seen fall into the crevasse is that they just haven't said no. You've got to. It's part of the formula for success.
KD: So, if I'm stuck in there, let's say I have a bad-fit client. Keeping the mountain analogy, how do I climb myself out of there?
PN: Yeah, so, there's a nice way that this ties back to the Cobbler's Children, because we've said that to get out of the crevasse if you have bad-fit clients, your marketing must be working for you. It has to be bringing you in leads, and so if your marketing isn't working, this is this Cobbler's Children Syndrome. I'm a marketer, but I'm not doing my own marketing. So, it's like trying to climb a mountain barefoot. So getting your marketing right is like pulling on the boots with the right crampons, so you can actually dig in and climb, and we've seen, all the agencies that have done that and made the decision to make their marketing work, they just start to climb out, some faster than others, but it all begins to come together once the marketing starts to work.
KD: And then if your marketing is firing, and you are identifying who is going to be a good fit for my services and then generating those leads that qualify, it's now about the sales process. So, from what your experiences are working with agencies, what do I need to keep in mind when building on a sales process?
PN: The sales is a really interesting one, because a lot of marketing agencies love marketing and hate selling. They're like, I'm not a salesperson, or I just don't like the sales process, I hate having the sales conversation, all of this, I'd rather go clean out my sock drawer than do selling. So, first thing that has really helped marketing agencies overcome that is to stop thinking of it as sales. So, there's a great book called To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink, and that has helped a number of agencies where it's changed the mindset. In fact, one guy, Alex, he's a great agency in the UK, hated selling, had a Post-it Note on the side of his monitor saying, helping not selling. So to change the mindset to helping, first of all, is to focus on that rather than selling, and that way you're selling for the customer if you're helping. That overcomes that initial inertia, if you like, of avoiding the sales process, but then there's a couple of other factors you have to get right. The sales process that HubSpot lays out within the training, if you don't already have a sales process, just adopt that.
KD: Sure. Don't reinvent the wheel if there's a template, so to speak, already made available.
PN: Absolutely. And understand why does HubSpot suggest having a connect call, an exploratory call, a planning call, a demo, and a close. Why have that in separate meetings? Why not just do it all in one meeting? There's a reason for that. Agencies have learned slow down the sales process. Work out what I want from that exploratory call of finding true need. There's another great agency in Australia, Mark, who has an existing content business, and as he came onto the program working with the rest of the team, really fairly early on he had an epiphany, which was, oh my God, I've been talking to customers about what a great job we can do for them, but they didn't have a problem to solve, and so Mark came up with a phrase, I've realized that when a customer doesn't have a problem, it's not my fault, because he's realized how much time he has spent doing coffee, presentations, all of this on clients that just don't have a problem right now. They love catching up with him, and so that's saved him from wasting a terrible amount of time and cost on deals that aren't going to close and focus on, well, where is the problem? So in selling, first you get comfortable with selling. Second is find the gap. Is there a problem there to solve?
KD: And if not, going back to your original point, agencies should be okay saying no to the business. Or what happens if you can't identify the need, or what if there is no gap?
PN: Well, you can spend a lot of time with a customer thinking, well, fantastic. We'd love to get you involved in the business, but it's highly likely that that deal is just going to go die. They'll reach a point where it's time to spend the money, and they won't be able to justify signing it off, because, as we've also found, if the client has the option to do nothing, that's what they'll do.
KD: They'll do nothing, right.
PN: That's what they'll do. So don't waste your time. Keep the relationship going, because at some point they'll need you, or they'll know somebody else who needs you, and that's a far better strategy. Now, if there is a problem to solve, then the third challenge within sales appears, which is don't take the cheese.
KD: That's going to be one thing you're going to have to expand on.
PN: A classic situation. We're masters at our own craft, right? If an agency is sitting at the table, they’ve earned the right to talk to the customer about what's needed. The customer says, well, we were thinking of doing Facebook Ads, and there's this thing Custom Audiences, right, what's that all about? And you're like bam.
KD: I know everything about Custom Audiences.
PN: Let me tell you it, yeah. I'll get to the whiteboard, and we call that taking the cheese. It's a customer has said his, what I need to know, and because we have an understanding of it, we wanna show that, and Patrick is another great agency in the U.S. He has a phrase for this. He says, "You latch onto this, "and then you start throwing out ideas like ninja stars," where I'm going to show you how much I know about Facebook and Custom Audiences. Problem is, this is in the exploratory meeting where you're trying to find out does a customer have a problem to solve, and you get so excited talking about this, and then you have a great meeting. Fantastic, yeah, can you send us a proposal on that? Yeah, sure I'll send Facebook Ads. You walk away, and you didn't discover the gap, you don't know whether you're working on a deal that's real, you don't know if they have the option to do nothing.
KD: You move backwards.
PN: Yeah, absolutely. So that third problem that you wanna solve is selling value. If you just talk about running Facebook Ads, you wanna find out what's the size of the gap? If that's, say, a $2 million hole in the business that they need to close, and you can help them close it, then you know what the gap is, and now you can anchor to that $2 million of value that you're going to create. It may be Facebook Ads, it may be a whole ton of things, and that's really the sales process in three main stages. Get comfortable with selling, finding the gap in the business that they definitely wanna solve, and then anchor to that to sell the value of how you would close that gap. Then you have a deal that's worth investing in.
KD: Right, so, you're definitely not leading with tactics, right? That's you're taking the cheese, you're going to throw your tactics down like ninja stars. Find the gap, the value that you can drive, and then you're framing your tactics and what your solution can provide around that.
PN: Absolutely, because Facebook on its own is a tactic. You may run it for six months, and you're thinking, well, this is great. The customer says, I don't think it's so great. Why not? You never established what the goals were in the first place. It's really frustrating to look back and think, what an idiot. I didn't define what success looked like if I went after the tactics, and now I've lost that retainer. I have to go find another one.
KD: Pete, obviously you've talked about these cohorts or these agencies you work with, they make the mountain climb. What if I'm interested in learning more? Where do I go? How do I learn more about that? Because it sounds like you're helping solve marketing needs, sales needs.
PN: Yes, the mountain climb, so talking to the great sales trainers within HubSpot, so Dan Tyre, Dave Weinhaus, the boot camps that they run over six weeks, eight weeks, what we've done here for smaller agencies is identify the need to have something that's longer range to solve multiple challenges, not just the sales and marketing, but also the delivery and how to grow an agency and how to hire staff. That's a bigger journey, so it is like a mountain climb, and we figured, well, a goal to aim for, it might be nice to shoot for the first tier of the HubSpot Partner Program, which is silver, so the name of the program became SILVERPEAK. So on HubDo's website, we talk about the SILVERPEAK Challenge, and that is a nine-month program of that climb broken up into five stages, and we tackle each one of those areas in turn.
KD: That's great. Based on the agencies you’ve worked with, it sounds like you have a pretty interesting global perspective. Do you find that agencies globally have different issues or run into different roadblocks? What are the differences in scaling an agency across the globe? What are the most stark differences?
PN: Yeah, so between Asia-Pacific, so Australia, New Zealand, through Asia, into India, then into Europe and the UK, there's some slight differences there, then into North America from the U.S. to Canada, it's all the same. It's the challenges that you face as an agency, there are many, you could think of it as an analogy of raising children. You say, what are the challenges in raising kids? There's tons of them, but some days are fantastic with no challenges, sometimes they're terrible, and they all vary. So the nature of the challenges vary, but it's not really any difference between Asia and North America. It's challenges in sales or challenges in marketing or challenges in delivery, balancing your resourcing as you grow. In the mountain climb, we use Everest. Mount Everest is a really nice example because you climb it in five stages, and so we've broken the climb up into those five stages. You get to camp, and we arrive at camp, we spend four weeks there doing more Academy Certifications. They hate me because make them do all these exams and all the homework. Stuff you have to do, but as we get to the fourth camp, so they're ready for stage five to push to the summit, if you look up information on Everest online, you'll see this little dotted line through Camp IV. That's called the death zone. So if you go above that point of Everest, you need oxygen or you die. So, what's common for agencies, you could start an agency and have a great sales process and close a whole lot of deals and maybe go HubSpot silver, gold really fast, but if you haven't built the sustenance so you could find yourself on Everest with no oxygen, and then you just as quickly go back down again. So, as agencies grow, each one of those areas that we've tackled, the selling, the marketing, the delivery, hiring staff, all you have to do each one in unison to edge your way up. If you do any one of them too much, and you neglect the others, you find that you fall back again.
KD: Sure, which makes sense. If you put all this effort, time, work, bandwidth into marketing, and you're a phenomenal marketer for an agency with no sales process, and you're not helpful and consultative in your sales process, where are all those leads going to go?
PN: Live through that journey where you're tackling each challenge in turn, little by little, knowing that as you get to the death zone, you've got enough sustenance that you're not in fear of: oh, if I lose one client, I'm not going to be able to pay my bills kind of thing. So, yeah, you can avoid that by just take the time to learn and climb at a rate you can sustain.
KD: Final question for you. I didn't prep you on it. I usually ask to close out each one what is the strangest, or what's the weirdest thing about agency life. Now, what's the weirdest thing for you working with agencies, right? So usually it's agencies talking about the agency life themselves. What do you find the most unique or most interesting or weirdest aspect to working with other agencies up the mountain climb?
PN: You know what's really inspiring, actually, about working with agencies? We thought we were going to fail working with agencies to start with because it was quite difficult to get some commonality of vision amongst those agencies, and that was the early days where we were supporting everything from HubSpot, to Infusionsoft, to this, to this, to this too. All manner of software with no common methodology. So, three years ago, we decided on HubSpot with the Academy as the joint answer and to go inbound. So, inbound is a very honest way of running a business. You're very open to attract people to you based on who you are and what you do. What I've found is that it just attracts great people. So the agencies that we work with very quickly become rich friendships. So, that's kind of the curveball.
KD: You didn't expect the type of relationships that have come about to come about, maybe, or?
PN: Yeah, the richness of that openness, because everybody is inbound by nature, so as far as a community, if you wanna be in a community of great people, hang out with inbound agencies, because they just wanna do what's right. So, yeah, that's kind of my curveball, and I feel privileged to be a part of it.
KD: That's great. Pete, thank you so much for joining us.
PN: Great, thanks, Kevin.
If you like what you watched, make sure to subscribe to our Agency Unfiltered
newsletter which will remind you when the next episode drops as well as send you a ton of other helpful, strategically curated agency content.
You could also subscribe to our channel on YouTube or podcasts on SoundCloud. And if you want to keep the conversation going, tweet me @kevin_dunn. Remember keep it unfiltered, stay weird, I'm Kevin Dunn and I'll see you next time.