Agency Unfiltered - John Elmer from Bayard Bradford

The Sales-First Approach to Marketing

John Elmer, CEO of Bayard Bradford, leads with a sales-first approach to their marketing services. John teaches us why helping clients build the system to store, manage, and close sales opportunities is so important before driving marketing leads—and how you can help improve clients’ ROI metrics with a sales-first approach.

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Episode Transcript

Hi folks. My name is Kevin Dunn, and welcome to "Agency Unfiltered", a biweekly web series and podcast that interviews agency owners around agency operations, growth, and scale. Nobody knows how to scale agencies better than those that are already doing it, and they're happy to share an unfiltered look into what has worked and what hasn't. In this episode, we have John Elmer, CEO of Bayard Bradford, a Houston, Texas based agency. John's team leads with a sales first approach to their marketing services. If a client sales system and sales team aren't built to store, manage, and close sales opportunities, your marketing efforts could be held hostage. Improve your clients ROI metrics by consulting first around their sales objectives, process, and capabilities, with "Agency Unfiltered" right now.

KD: John, thank you so much for joining us on Agency Unfiltered today.

JE: Well, I'm delighted to be here and I promise to remove all filters.

KD: Yes, check your filters at the door, because we're on Agency Unfiltered. But I'm excited to talk today. We were talking about this a little bit before, but I think your team has a really interesting approach. Obviously, oftentimes you think about marketing services, you think about the marketing to sales handoff, you think about how do you maximize the sales team's ability to take these close leads, but, and I don't want to butcher this, but you market for sales success where you help your clients establish marketing for sales. Why don't we unpack exactly what that is and how you approach it?

JE: Well, absolutely. We came to HubSpot out of environment where we were doing digital transformations of sales and marketing for companies, and the idea behind that is really you want to change the customer experience, you want to improve operational effectiveness, it even extends to help in company's ad or change their business model. And of course, HubSpot as a platform has the technical capability to do all those things, particularly through the connect platform where you can integrate all sorts of other applications to allow that. We see it as an enabler of digital transformation. We moved to HubSpot and from the consulting we were doing previously, which was more oriented around other CRMs, and the reason that we did that was because we found that by combining the lead generation with the CRM, giving the sales people a way to view customer and lead activity on a timeline, before they had ever become qualified and turned into a deal or an opportunity, it's extremely powerful intelligence for sales people. And the process that we ended up developing for how we work with clients is really I think maybe the reverse order of how typical inbound agency might look at things. So what we mean by that is when we go into a client, what we do first is set the objectives for sales growth. Where are you trying to go? And that could be by product line or initiative, whatever the objectives could be. And then we understand their sales process, and we do the setup of HubSpot and we define the pipelines and the sales pipeline stages based on the sales process that we have worked through with a client. The reason we do that part first before talking about planning to achieve their objectives is because to us there's no point in generating leads if those leads are just going to drop into a box somewhere and you haven't proven that the organization has a way to store, manage, and handle them. And so we want to make sure that the system for capture and prosecution of those opportunities is working and solid and robust. Otherwise, you're going to lose your investment.

So really, and I'm sure everybody can related to this, the marketing side is really a hostage to the performance of the sales side in terms of ROI metrics. So we've extended even further beyond that. So once we get the CRM set up, and we understand the sales objectives and the sales process and the sales capabilities, couple of things happen. We recommend other tools to integrate through the sales hub. But then we ask the head of sales to designate people to own the number for different product lines or different sales initiatives. And we then get those people on a team with their counterparts in marketing. And sales and marketing work together to develop campaigns. So we have a campaign methodology that really drives the inbound activity and creates this end-to-end approach where the marketing budgeting and schedule and timeline and messaging and channels, everything is driven off of input from sales about what they think is going to work as well as input from marketing about what they think is going to work, and the two work together. And they work together through the duration of the campaign, and sales provides continuous feedback to marketing to help in real time improve the campaign. It's, you can use A/B testing, for example, to really make that a powerful process. Sales says, well I think it should be this, and marketing says, we think it might be that. Well, A/B test it. You have a whole new perspective and source of input, and the fact is, the sales people are interacting with those prospects and they're hearing from them and they're judging the quality of the leads that are generated. They're the best people to give input on how to make marketing more effective. So I won't tell you that it's painless to get those groups to collaborate, but when it works, it works really well. And so we call it marketing for sales success because we're really trying to break down the barrier between sales and marketing and make sure that it's more than just a hand off of MQL. It's really about making sure that the sales people understand from marketing the origin of that lead and where they fit and what messages drove them. And accelerating the time to close all the way from when that lead first converted to when the deal is done.

KD: Sounds like no easy task. I feel like I could unpack a number of different segments here. First question, or first piece that I want to hone in on. You mentioned a few stakeholders, stakeholders assign team members to own particular goals. How do you go about assembling that team? Are you selling into the sales work to then loop in marketing, vice versa? Like how do you assemble that team and make sure that, maybe some organizations don't have a tightly aligned marketing and sales team. So like how do you just get buy in from both sides, how do you shape the team to work through that process?

JE: Well, that's a huge issue. You really hit the nail on the head. Our perfect world is when the organization has a VP of sales and marketing. And so as you know, we work in primarily business to business, industrial, high tech, get your fingernails dirty kinds of businesses, and often they are sales-focused and the marketing function is pretty light. And so that's why they tend to be housed. Marketing's often housed under the sales function, and there isn't even a VP of marketing. You'll have a $150 million company that has a marketing coordinator.

KD: So this seems mapped to your, the industries that you work with, the personas that you're talking about.

JE: Very much so. I don't see this being a model that would work in a marketing-driven company. But for an engineering-driven company, a technology-driven company, specially for complex engineered products and services where every, there's a lot of personal selling involved as well as lead generation that creates those opportunities. This model really works because the sales team finally learns what marketing is. And once they really get that their input creates better leads, then everybody gets a lot happier. But we, we stumbled across this, because we had one client who had actually had a HubSpot agency partner working for them doing lead generation. And they had a marketing coordinator working with that agency and the agency was busily generating lead, generated a lot of leads. But then the CEO asked us to come in and evaluate the sales process and he's, we need to grow, we're not closing enough deals, take a look at what we're doing. And actually the HubSpot agency that was doing the marketing recommended us because we're more in sales. We went in, we took a look around, we discovered that the sales organization actually did not know that there were leads coming in through the marketing agency's work in the HubSpot. They had been given logins, they got trained back in the past, but I think what happened was they looked at a few of those leads and didn't think they were very good and just sort of forgot about it. And they were going out about their business doing cold calling. It was literally, they were spending budget with an agency doing inbound and it was stopping, hard stopped once it hit the CRM.

KD: Once it became a contact, just nothing happened.

JE: Nothing more, and they were actually doing all their business in Act! in the desktop, remember that old CRM? We basically transformed how that's all working together, we continue partnering with that agency. They were doing the best they could. It wasn't their fault that there was a total disconnect between the two, and so now, like everybody wins in this deal. We've eliminated the barriers and the sales group is like, oh my God, there's leads in there? There's something I can do besides cold calling? And we provide a good feedback loop through this team approach of sales and marketing campaigns, so that they can do a better job of adjusting more quickly to things that work well and minimizing things that don't.

KD: You summarize it well. It's literally the act of removing blockers between like that marketing to sales hand off, right?

JE: That's a great way to describe it.

KD: That's really what it is, and I guess when I think about sales enablement services, or maybe some agencies think about this, the word that, phrase that often comes up is service level agreement. I'm going to help my client to develop a service level agreement. Does that word ever come up? Do you envision is that what you're doing or is there a distinction between your focus and like your process versus like helping create a service level agreement for these teams?

JE: I think a service level agreement might, in our world, be a document at the end of the campaign planning process that basically says, here is how this campaign is going to run. And again, that campaign is being created by the sales and marketing team with help from the agency, all three are working in there. So it's a document about what that campaign is going to be and everybody looks at it and says, yeah, we like this, the sales and marketing leads of the team go to whoever's going to sign off on the budget for the campaign. And they say, this is our best effort. We think this is the way to go, we want $250,000 or whatever to run that campaign and they're in it together. And so it's really not this notion of marketing is going to do this and sales promises in return it will do that. That conversation is rendered unnecessary by having a collaborative approach from the very beginning. And what we've found in the course of doing this is marketing in some organizations has been really kept at arm's length from sales or sales said, you people do a certain thing and we don't think you know how to do other things. Whatever the misunderstandings are, getting the HubSpot agency together with the people internally doing marketing who can be the advocate for what the agency is trying to do and then educating the sales side on how this campaign focus process works, making everything about goals, goal-driven, and then being really sure that you've got robust analytics and reporting on what's working and what's not. Everybody feels good about it because now it's not just your opinion and they're opinion about what oughta work, it's about the data. Everybody can look at the data and say, hey, we give it our best shot, data says do more of this, do less of that, or it's not working, or do more, it's working great. It changes the dynamic completely. And when we got into doing this, to do the digital transformation of sales and marketing, this was the outcome we were looking for. And I know digital transformation sounds like this lofty thing, but really, I don't think there's a great language to describe it, we're just, we're removing barriers to success. The transformation improves operational effectiveness.

KD: Maybe reduce friction might be the better--

JE: Oh yeah, reducing friction.

KD: That's what we should be saying.

JE: We are reducing friction by getting people to work together and the HubSpot platform, as everybody knows, particularly with the integrations and the apps that you can connect through it, it's now, today, I think it's really robust enough to, for somebody like us who came to this with a background in integrating CRMs to the enterprise, the ERP, and other business systems in order to give accurate trustworthy pipeline visibility to the C-suite. HubSpot is there today and that's a huge change. And let's face it, we know from experience that the CRM itself is so much easier to use, we've seen it, the option rates that are so much higher with HubSpot CRM compared to the many others that we're working with. It just makes our job that much easier.

KD: Let me ask you this. So at the very beginning, we alluded to like the traditional process for inbound agency, if you will. So maybe I'm an inbound agency, the way you've outline the process in which you go about this has the gears in my head turning. What would you say is like the MVP, what's the minimum viable amount of expertise in knowledge around sales consulting, sales coaching? What is the bare minimum, the boxes that I need to check to pull something like this off without a hitch?

JE: So I have a different answer for you. We are getting ready to publish a comprehensive eBook on HubSpot's sales hub up to the enterprise level and CRM deployment. And it's intended as really a definitive how to guide for agencies and clients on how you go through the thought process of picking an enterprise CRM or whether you need that level or not, whether the HubSpot CRM is right for you, and then once you've picked, if you've picked the HubSpot CRM, what sales automation levels you want to add into that. And then it's chapter by chapter the entire deployment process in a check list. And so I think the answer to the question is each agencies can look at that and decide what skills they have, what skills they need to the question of how do you organize to do this. It's part of your business strategy. There's plenty of hugely successful agencies that are awesome at building websites and that business is never going to get smaller, it's just going to get bigger. And with things like smart content, they're, and growth-driven design, we don't even need to go there, but it's a growing and evergreen market. But for agencies that are trying to do the whole platform, because HubSpot is now truly a platform, and we've embraced the platform, you have to pick your point of entry. Whether you're going to be focusing on sales as like the single most important outcome that you want from bringing the platform to market, or whether it's retention and customer experience that you want to be an expert at with the service hub. It's finding how deploying the platform is going to fit the way you want to do business and what your skills are. In terms of if you know that you'd like to do this kind of marketing for sales success and knock down the barriers between marketing and sales—

KD: Reduce the friction as well.

JE: Thank you. Reducing the friction. You're good. Then if you don't have those skills in house, you may want to find somebody who you can consult on doing this. We can help your agency acquire those capabilities. Or of course there are people who will partner with you to do that. The example of us sharing the client with the inbound agency has worked out nicely. So you have to decide whether you, whether you want to build those resources yourself or acquire them. And I think the eBook that will be available to all partners, I'm working with HubSpot to get that made available as a partner resource. We don't have a date on that yet, but summer of 2019. It'll be a good guide for all of our agency partners to look at to know what's involved in an enterprise CRM implementation. And then you can decide how you want to tackle that as a long term service offering or something that only fits with specific clients.

KD: You made a great point too: just identify your entry point, but it sounds like this eBook would be an amazing resource, and I bet it pairs very well with the excellent education on HubSpot Academy that we have about the enterprise CRM as well.

JE: Well, in fact we took all that education when we started writing the eBook. Because it was the horse's mouth.

KD: It sounds like the process, like this campaign focus, marketing and sales, marketing for sales success, it seems to be going really well. What did like v1 of this look like? I want you to, was there a point of failure in the initial scope of this? And like how did it, like what's the iterative process to get it to where it is today? What are the pitfalls that others can avoid because you unfortunately had to go through them for us?

JE: Well, this is actually more of a story. Because I started this business in 2008 when I decided to create a consulting practice of fractional or interim chief marketing officer. And the foundational piece to that business was Salesforce implementations, because HubSpot didn't exist at that time, and Salesforce had and it had business process automation tools. So we began doing the CMO offering with the sales automation and CRM and single source of truth for the customer database because we wanted the marketing function at our clients to have the power of managing the customer data, getting it off of the salespeople's iPhones and having it be somewhere where we can manage it. And so I did that and did that again, did that for four years, it began to grow, but it was impossible to scale. So I had to go back and rethink it. And at that time, this was 2012 timeframe. What began being launched in 2012? There's a complete renaissance, as you know, in marketing technology, and that caught my eye, and from there we began to look at HubSpot as the solution for replacing other marketing automation that we didn't like very much. And we were doing HubSpot to Salesforce integrations as our strategy for delivering a platform experience, and building integrations for the systems as required.

So from doing this going inside as a temporary CMO or a contract CMO to being an agency that is building the comprehensive single source of truth customer database in an integrated platform where there weren't the great integration tools that there are today. We were like, this is working, this is the right thing. And as HubSpot has now brought out the connect platform, it's made it much easier for us to articulate how we're going to market because people can just look at the HubSpot platform and go, oh, now we get what you guys are doing. You see the power in the single source of truth, managing the customer data, even out to the ERP, which is traditionally in a finance-driven organization or the single source of truth is. And having control of that information really gives you power and a seat at the table. And so it's frankly self-interest is why we did that strategy as well as the ability to implement programs that you know require these digital technology. So it was a long hard journey from trying to do this, an in house function, when the tools weren't available, to today, when it's just an explosion of fantastic applications and connections and technologies that if you can really figure out your go to market strategies as an agency, you can be in these companies for the long term because you're managing knowledge and driving continuous process improvement, which is what the digital transformation is all about. And removing friction.

KD: That's right, I couldn't agree more. Final question, time flies. I ask this to every guest. What would you say is the weirdest part of agency life?

JE: Oh, the weirdest part of agency life definitely is the fact that my two sons work in the agency.

KD: Yeah, the family affair situation.

JE: The family business, and obviously they're grimacing now when they hear this. No, it's actually been a wonderful opportunity. The weirdest thing was that they both went to college and obtain skills that almost unbelievably fit perfectly into the HubSpot platform model. And when they were applying for college, that thing didn't exist, so I don't know how this came to be, but it was like a hand and glove fit, so—

KD: How do you plan for that? That's perfect.

JE: It's weird in a great way. And I was talking to Brian Halligan at partner day and he said, "You know, we have a number of father and son or family business agencies here…” and I think it's a great thing. We need to form our own partner group. We're going to go bowling together.

KD: Yeah, right, the family cohort of agency environment.

JE: That's right, that's right.

KD: Awesome, well I appreciate you so much for coming on.

JE: Absolutely, my pleasure.

KD: This has been fun. Yeah, thank you, John, and that is it for another episode of "Agency Unfiltered".

JE: Thanks for listening.

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