Blair Enns Shares 5 Rules for Digital Agency Growth

podcast-62-blair-enns

Background

Today, on Hubstaff’s Agency Advantage Podcast, I’m talking with Blair Enns of Win Without Pitching who shares his 5 Rules for Selling Digital Services.

Blair is a 25-year veteran of the business side of the creative professions and has over 30,000 hours invested in the question, “How do creative firms win new business without giving away work for free?” He shares the philosophy behind his answer in his book, The Win Without Pitching Manifesto, and if you haven’t checked that out yet, you should.

That being said, today we are going to be less philosophical and more tactical as Blair shares these practical rules that if followed will, simply put, make your agency more money. Not only does he share the rules, but we discuss where most agencies mess up and how you can get started turning things around.

If you’re tired of clients expecting you to give away your best ideas for free, then this is the episode for you.

Grab the transcript of my interview with Blair.

Key Takeaways

Your services should be productized or customized. Not both.

According to Blair, productizing and customizing offer different advantages and different constraints. If you productize, you are pricing the product based on inputs. This works because you can offer the same product at the same price to an infinite number of clients.

However, by pricing based on the product and not the client, you’re missing a huge opportunity based on price discrimination, the idea that some people can and will pay more for a product. On this side of the market, you can afford to cultivate fewer client relationships because you’re looking for clients who will pay more for your product.

Basically, the two approaches have different strengths and weaknesses based on scale, and it all depends on what works best for your business. However, Blair does point out that by productizing, you’re essentially leaving money on the table by charging everyone the same price, so keep that in mind.

Always present your clients with multiple price points

This rule is simple: just as having set prices for custom services is a profit killer, only presenting potential clients a single option will also limit your profits. Different clients have different needs, and even after a thorough discovery session, you still may not know what those needs are.

If you give your prospect one option, you are banking on the fact that you understand all of their needs and what they imagine a solution should look like and what it should cost. Not only that, but you also don’t stand to gain from any of the psychological benefits of presenting buyers with multiple options.

Whether your services are productized or not, if you don’t allow yourself to have multiple price points for different types of clients, you really are setting yourself up for failure.

Differentiate or die

Think of positioning as three legs to a stool. Most of the time, when people talk about positioning, they’re only talking about the first two, which are discipline and market. What do you do and who do you do it for? If you combine those two together, we used the word focus to describe them.

When we say what’s the focus of the firm, we mean what do you do and who do you do it for? Well-positioned firms build these kind of niche businesses where they narrow into one of those two variables, either a narrow discipline or a narrow market.

After you arrive at the focus, then you need to move to the third leg of the stool, which is perspective. What is your overarching viewpoint on how this discipline for market should be done? The perspective of Blair’s business is right there in the name, Win Without Pitching. There are other business development consultants, but they don’t have the same focus as Blair’s company: Blair really doesn’t believe that you need to do this by pitching your most valuable product, your thinking, by giving it away for free.

When you narrow your firm along those lines, you go from hundreds or thousands of direct competitors to a very small number. Then you differentiate yourself from those few remaining competitors through your perspective.

Get paid to scope

Most agencies assume there’s no chance anyone would ever pay them just to scope out a project. Blair disagrees. He points to plenty of firms who would never try to solve a client’s problem without ensuring client engagement. Think of other professional relationships in your life. For example, a lawyer gets paid for an initial briefing. Your time is just as valuable.

At first, saying that you’re pricing to scope a project might be difficult, but Blair offers some concrete tips. Tell your client what you will be doing: looking at objectives, the competition, the technology the client uses, whatever variables will affect the project and its complexity. Then explain how that factors into your assessment of the project timetable and complexity. That way, when you name the price for your labor, the client is less likely to balk because they understand what they’re paying for.

Clients want to lease, not buy

One big secret to making more money is to focus on leasing your services, not selling them. Clients turn away from big numbers for a one-time purchase. However, many are willing to lease your services for an initial smaller monthly price that adds up to a much higher end total. For example, Blair tells the story of a client whose prospect wouldn’t pay $50,000 flat but ended up paying $3000 per month for a three-year contract.

In order to justify leasing products, figure out ways to bring value to your agreement with clients. For example, instead of delivering a website for a one-time fee and leaving the client to scramble to update it or make any changes, lease it month-to-month and say you’ll update the design every so often to take advantage of new technology. Or say that you’ll handle SEO or CRO for the client each month. Leasing creates a different relationship between client and agent and allows you to bring a different kind of value to the client.

Transcript:

Andy Baldacci:Blair, thank you so much for coming on the show today.

 

Blair Enns:My pleasure, Andy. Happy to be here.

 

Andy Baldacci:You published the Win Without Pitching Manifesto back in 2010. I have my hardbound copy right in front of me now and this is all earmarked and honestly if you’re listening to this show and you haven’t read that yet, check it out. It’s a pretty quick read, but it really does layout a philosophy that simply put, just helps your agency get ahead.

 

 

[00:00:30]

However last year, I caught your presentation on the Five Rules for Selling Digital and I love how you just put everything together in a really clear, concise and actual way. For this topic, I’d really love to go deep in that material.

 

Blair Enns:That would be great. That’s a great topic.

 

Andy Baldacci:Absolutely. To get started, what are digital agencies doing wrong when it comes to pricing and selling they’re services?

 

Blair Enns:

[00:01:00]

The biggest common mistake I see digital firms making, and by no means are they all doing it, if the digital firm is in the marketing automation space at all either reselling some of these services or advising on marketing automation then they’re much more prone to this mistake. The mistake is that they’re unconsciously moving from a customized service business to a productized service business.

 

[00:01:30]

 

 

 

 

[00:02:00]

I’m not sure how common, but it’s fairly common across digital firms and again it’s really common across firms who resell marketing automation and I think the reason for it is that they’re taking their pricing queues and other things that go with pricing like packaging of services from the partner organizations, the software that they’re reselling. You see a lot of these digital firms who look like they’re morphing into software businesses and that’s not a bad thing if it’s a conscious decision.

 

They’re really customized services firms that are starting to productize their services and productize their pricing. That’s probably the biggest mistake I make. Again, there are advantages of being a customized service firm where every client represents a blank slate of opportunities and every solution you cobble together is going to be unique and therefore the price is going to be unique.

 

[00:02:30]That’s how a customized service firm would approach the engagement and a productized service firm, there are advantages to that too, infinite scale where you package things up and the sale is more transactional and the price is the price. You want to be in one of those two caps and what I see a lot of digital firms doing is moving toward the mushy middle and then not even sure why they’re doing it. They’re just copying the wrong types of businesses.

 

[00:03:00]

Andy Baldacci:

 

Is that main danger of having that kind of mismatch of productized and customization, and all that, is it because when you productize the price, you’re not able to really price the client? You’re actually just doing the same thing and when those customized work, you’re just not able to capture as much value as you could otherwise.

 

Blair Enns:

 

[00:03:30]

That’s my first rule for pricing is to price the client not the job. When you start to productize, you’re really pricing the product and that’s usually priced on inputs, sometimes it’s just a function of market price, but you’re not leveraging what’s known as price discrimination and price discrimination, it sounds like a bad thing, but it’s actually this wonderful idea that some people will pay more or can pay more and will pay more, therefore they should.

 

 

 

[00:04:00]

You’re leaving all kinds of money on the table by pricing the product and not the client. Now, in pursuit of infinite scale, that’s just something that you have to accept. You essentially segment your audience and you essentially try to arrive at the right price points for the various product levels and you don’t worry about the fact that you might be leaving some money on the table so much because you have so many different clients.

 

 

 

 

[00:04:30]

There’s this advantage of scale. You don’t have to worry about the lost margin on a specific opportunity but in the customized service business, really regardless of the nature of the business or even the size of the firm, you really should have about 10 or 12 clients, ongoing clients at any one time. There’s all kinds of reasons for that. You just think on one end, if you’ve only got 10 clients then you want to make sure that those clients are profitable as possible and on the productized end of the spectrum, it’s a game of scale so you’re not worried about leaving some money on the table for one client.

 

Andy Baldacci:

[00:05:00]

It’s funny because this applies to not just the services business, but it applies to software businesses too and it’s funny because before the call we were talking about HubSpot and I was recently at a conference and Brian Balfour was speaking there. He was talking about how if they had stuck with their original pricing scheme, the current HubSpot, behemoth billion dollar company, would still be on the $50 a month plan.

 

 

 

[00:05:30]

If you don’t allow yourself to have multiple price points for different types of clients, you really are setting yourself up for failure if you are also delivering vastly different services and value to them for those price points.

 

Blair Enns:That speaks to the second rule of pricing which is always offer options. Software as a service companies are really good at this and I think a lot of … There’s always a minimum of three options and there’s all kinds of studies that’s been done that show that people want choice and three choices are better than two for reasons we won’t get into here unless you want to.

 

[00:06:00]Then those choices can evolve and they can change. Regardless of whether yours is a productized service business or a customized service business, you always want to be putting options in front of your client.

 

Andy Baldacci:Right now, where does your business fall? It seems like you switched almost entirely towards more of a productized training business whereas before, if I’m remembering correctly, you also did offer some more custom consulting and engagements. Is that accurate?

 

[00:06:30]

Blair Enns:

 

 

 

[00:07:00]

 

Yeah. Win Without Pitching used to be a consulting practice. I’m a reformed consultant about three or four years ago, maybe it’s five now, to early 2013. We transitioned over to a training company in pursuit of scale and I was caught in the mushy middle. I was a customized service business that launched a product, a productized service. They’re really two different businesses and it was a small firm at the time.

 

As a solo consulting practice, it was me, a full-time person and a part-time person. Culture isn’t so important, but as you grow, culture becomes really important and the cultures of a productized service business versus a customized service business are entirely different. Your hiring is different, the cultures are different. How you sell is different, et cetera.

 

 

[00:07:30]

As you accurately point out, we used to be the one, then we were in the mushy middle, and then we dropped consulting, and we’re a full blown training company, but even then, what I realized when I started getting to pricing and then subsequently the notion of a productized service business versus a customized service business, I realized that even when I was a consultant, I was moving towards that mushy middle. I had this prepackaged offerings and the price was the price regardless of who the client was.

 

[00:08:00]I was violating the first rule of pricing and that is price the client. When I realized I was violating this rule, I felt I had to make a decision. I either needed to become a full-blown proper value priced consultant or I needed to become a full-blown productized training business and I chose the productized training business for a couple of reasons.

 

[00:08:30]The primary one is my location. I live in a remote mountain village in the middle of nowhere in British Columbia and I felt like to be a proper consultant where I’m charging huge amounts of money based on the value I’m delivering, I needed to have engagements where I could say to my client when we’re talking about an issue, I could say, “Okay. I’ll be there tomorrow or I’ll be there the day after tomorrow or later this week and we’ll figure it out.”

 

 

[00:09:00]

Where I live, it takes me a day to get anywhere. That’s hard to do. I was forced to go down the other road. Both of them are viable. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. The wrong way to do this is to get caught in the middle and to be a quasi-productized customized service business.

 

Andy Baldacci:

 

 

[00:09:30]

Interesting. One of the other things that I think leads into another one of the rules which is differentiate or die is when I look at your offering, no matter when you were in the middle between the fully value based and the productized, you still always did have very clear positioning. Right now just looking at your training program, the Win Without Pitching training program, it says you provide creative firms with an infrastructure to build a stronger systematic business development machine that puts firms on a trajectory to generate higher margin revenue.

 

There’s a lot of new business development agencies, trainers, courses, whatever out there, but you have with your book, with your training, with all of that, stood out and so why is having such a strong stance, why is that differentiation so important?

 

[00:10:00]

Blair Enns:

 

That’s a great question. I’m really glad you phrased it that way. You think of positioning as three legs to a stool and most of the time when people are talking about positioning, they’re only talking about the first two and the first two are discipline and market. What do you do and who do you do it for? If you combine those two together, we used the word focus to describe those two elements together.

 

 

[00:10:30]

When we say what’s the focus of the firm, we mean what do you do and who do you do it for? Well-positioned firms build these kind of niche businesses where they do narrow into usually one of those two variables, either a narrow discipline or a narrow market. The third leg of the stool and to answer your question why does Win Without Pitching continue to stand out, is after you arrive at focus, then you need to move to the subject of perspective.

 

[00:11:00]

 

 

 

 

[00:11:30]

What is your overarching viewpoint on how this discipline for market should be done? The perspective of our business is right there in the name. There are other business development consultants, they’re either a sales training organization. I don’t know if there are other sales training organizations specifically for creative businesses, but if there are or when they come along, they’re probably not going to have that perspective and the perspective is essentially, we really don’t believe that you need to do this by pitching your most valuable product, your thinking by giving it away for free.

 

That served us well. A, I fundamentally believe it and everybody on my team fundamentally believes it. It’s not a moral issue that free pitching is bad, it’s a competitive advantage issue that if you’re in this position where you have to give your thinking away for free, that’s a symptom of all kinds of other things you’re doing wrong.

 

[00:12:00]

 

 

 

 

[00:12:30]

We believe that and other people talk about from time to time but you can see the others, the other consultants in the space. They don’t actually believe it. They don’t actually believe that it can be done where to us, we just don’t see another way. We know there’s another way because we’ve all been there. We’ve all done it the other way. It’s nice to have a perspective. If you think of focus discipline for market, when you narrow your firm along those lines, you go from hundreds or thousands of direct competitors to a very small number.

 

It might be three or four. It might be a dozen or a couple of dozen. Then the way you differentiate yourself from those few remaining competitors is through your perspective, your overarching point of view on how this discipline for market should be done. To that extent, I think of it as two battles. The first battle is to winnow down the competitors to have a nice manageable number and you do that through focus.

 

[00:13:00]The second battle, the more fierce battle between you and your direct few remaining direction headers. You want to make that battle one of ideology because your clients, if they’re deciding between you and somebody else who also does X for Y, they are ultimately most likely to make their decision based on what you believe. It’s back to Simon Sinek who says I always get this quote wrong unless I’m reading it.

 

[00:13:30]You’re not looking for people who want to buy what you have to sell. You’re looking to sell the people who believe what you believe. The final battle line is a battle of ideology and if somebody doesn’t fundamentally believe that you can or you have this right to win without pitching they’re never going to hire us. They’re going to go somewhere else and hire another consultant or join another training program.

 

Andy Baldacci:

[00:14:00]

It’s funny because we talked about the ideologies, the belief. You literally put out a manifesto so there’s no question what are your beliefs, what do you stand for, what is your opinion on how to approach this. You’ve published. You’ve made it clear what those beliefs are.

 

Blair Enns:We’ve nailed our thesis to the church doors so to speak.

 

Andy Baldacci:How has differentiating yourself like this, how has that changed the power in the relationship between yourselves and the client?

 

[00:14:30]

Blair Enns:

 

I mean it’s always been there right from the beginning and it was the way that I stumbled upon selling when I did business development for ad agencies and then design firms. It changes the power.

 

Andy Baldacci:Not for you but maybe when you’ve worked with other agencies and you see their relationship with the client where the client has all of the power, how does differentiating help them get some of that power back?

 

[00:15:00]

Blair Enns:

 

 

 

 

 

[00:15:30]

 

Power is from the first proclamation of the book. It’s really about the whole sale and then it comes down to power dynamics. I don’t mean to overplay this. I have a high need for power so I have a tendency to overstate these things but there’s a valid research that backs this up. The entire sale comes down to power dynamics and I fundamentally believe that after the sale, the goal of the sale is to, A, convert a prospect to a client but B to do so with you and the practitioner position where you’re seen as the expert practitioner in more of a practitioner client or practitioner patient relationship rather than a vendor.

 

 

 

 

 

[00:16:00]

I maintain that you’re better off not winning the business at all than you are winning it from a vendor position. If we take that as a fundamental truth and I believe that that’s the fundamental truth of selling expertise of any kind and selling the Win Without Pitching way. The first principle is the party that desires the engagement the most has the least amount of power. From that statement, two things, everything that we talked about we would have you do fall into two different branches.

 

 

 

[00:16:30]

One is to be as desirable as you can and you do that through all your marketing, et cetera and through how you behave. The other statement is to be as least desirous as possible. To need the client to want the engagement less than the client. That’s a real cumbersome way of saying it. It all comes down to power dynamics. Just think of it this way. You are in the sale. You are either seen as the practitioner or you’re seen as the vendor. Almost everything that we have you do before the conversation and during the conversation is about maintaining that power position where you are seen as the expert practitioner.

 

Andy Baldacci:Because vendors are the commodities.

 

[00:17:00]

Blair Enns:

 

 

 

 

 

[00:17:30]

 

Then everything changes. I can distill the entire Win Without Pitching approach into two steps. The first one is get power through positioning and the second step is to leverage power to change the way you’re services are bought and sold. The people who might be listening or have read my stuff before or heard me from a stage and sit there like squinting and with their arms crossed and they’re thinking nice theory but it’s never going to work, they believe that because they’ve never actually had power in their relationships.

 

They’ve always been seen as the vendor. They’ve always acted as a vendor because fundamentally they believe that what it is that they’re selling is not all that meaningfully different from the alternatives available to the client. If they’ve never experienced what it’s like to be treated as the expert, what it’s like to be granted some freedom in the sale to do things differently, then they’re not going to believe this is possible.

 

[00:18:00]

Andy Baldacci:

 

I think this ties in very closely to one of your other rules and that’s getting paid to scope because this is something that I talked to so many agency owners consultants whatever about [inaudible 00:18:06]. So many of them say, “There’s 0% chance anyone would ever pay me to scope a project out. That’s just what I’m assumed I have to do for free.” How are you able to work with clients and get paid to scope?

 

Blair Enns:

[00:18:30]

I mean, I’m chuckling. I’ve got a big smile on my face that somebody thinks nobody would ever get paid. I could point you to a hundreds of firms and many dozens over a hundred digital firms that I know they get paid to scope and think the idea of not getting paid to scope is absurd. It’s just absolutely ridiculous. Why would they begin solving the client’s problem before they’re engaged?

 

 

 

[00:19:00]

You just think of almost all of your professional relationships. You paid the other professional to scope. You pay the accountants. You’re getting a sense of your situation. You pay the lawyer for a discovery, et cetera, et cetera. Every professional gets paid. Almost every professional gets paid to scope except the ones that are worse than those in the design profession. That would be architects. They don’t get paid to scope. They could, the better ones could.

 

Andy Baldacci:

[00:19:30]

It’s funny because when you do put it that way, when you do work with agencies who have got figured out, who do have leveraged those power dynamics and how do you even know if it’s that? If they’re able to charge for their time like that, it does seem insane that others are able too. How do you work this in? If you’re working with an agency who currently is doing some discovery, they’re doing a bit of scope upfront without cost, how do they get started transitioning into the way that they can actually charge for that?

 

Blair Enns:

[00:20:00]

This might seem to violate the rule of productizing if you’re a customized service firm but you really should productize or package up your diagnostics. When you’re having a conversation with the prospect about their challenge and they say, “Okay. What would you charge us to come in here and fix this or work with us on this?”

 

 

 

 

[00:20:30]

In a complex situation where you’ve got to do some work to scope it out first to answer your question, you need to charge and the way you charge in a situation like this, you would say, “Before I can give you a price, there’s a first step that we have to take and it’s called X, it’s called digital marketing audit where we come in and we look at all of these different things. We look at the objectives, we look at the competitive set, whatever it is. We look at the technology you’re using. We look at the brand, the economic environment, whatever the variables are.

 

 

 

[00:21:00]

Then we make an assessment of what needs to be done and how we would do it. Then we present some options to you on how you can engage us to capitalize on the opportunity as we see it. It takes this long, three weeks. It costs this much, $10,000 or whatever it is and here’s the name of it. That’s the first step. It’s a logical first step. The client, it needs to be priced in a way so that the client sees themselves getting value even if they choose not to hire you for the subsequent step. Does that make sense?

 

Andy Baldacci:

[00:21:30]

You’re not trying to put something together just to get money from them for money’s sake, you are actually trying to give them something that is worth what they’re paying you while also compensating you for your time. Is that accurate?

 

Blair Enns:

 

 

 

[00:22:00]

Yeah. You’re getting paid to write a proposal. You’re getting paid to understand their situation and put together a solution that … Not the solution itself but a path to a solution. To do that especially when there’s any technology involved as there is with digital firms, there’s some work required to do. That’s not worth that you should be doing for free. If the client is really serious, then they should consider engaging you to take that first step with you.

 

Andy Baldacci:Then once that you do deliver that, what will your findings look like? It will it just be a simple proposal or how do you typically recommend people will structure this, I’ve heard it called a road map or whatever you want to call it. How do you think that should be structured?

 

Blair Enns:

[00:22:30]

Think of all of the ridiculous things that go into the free written proposals. I say the ridiculous simply because they’re done for free. All of the things, background, here’s your situation, here’s what we know about all of these things. Based on things that you’ve told us through our structured interviewing an input process and other information that we’ve gone out and gleaned in and our past experience, et cetera.

 

 

 

[00:23:00]

Here’s a situation. Here’s what we think we should do. You can look at it in terms of a medical relationship metaphor. Diagnosis. Here’s what we found about your situation, the environment, the competitive opportunity, et cetera, and then prescription. Here’s what we think you should do. In your prescription, the second rule of pricing is always offer options. Here’s a strategy, here’s what we think you should do at a high level, here are three different ways that you can engage us at three different price points to help you pay off on this strategy or pursue this strategy.

 

 

[00:23:30]

You want to make sure that when you’re presenting your findings and recommendations for the diagnostic phase, I call it the diagnostic phase but includes the prescription as well. Those are never separated. The first phase is always diagnosis and prescription. When you’re presenting your findings, diagnostic findings and your prescription, your strategic recommendation, you present three options and again you want to make sure that your viewing this as a closing meeting.

 

 

 

[00:24:00]

All of the things that you would do in a closing meeting like get all the decision-makers in the room, overcome any price objection in advance and a few other lesser important variables. You would make sure those are in place so that you’re able to facilitate the next steps in that closing meeting.

 

Andy Baldacci:Do you give it to them before you get on the phone, before you’re in person because they’re all done. You jump on Skype for you or I’m guessing it will be Skype butt for others if you’re going to the office, do you bring it then? Do you send it to them before or how does that closing meeting look?

 

[00:24:30]

Blair Enns:

 

 

 

 

[00:25:00]

 

That’s a great question. Generally speaking, you never want to be in a position where you’re lobbying a proposal in over a fence and then waiting to hear back or you’re leaving a proposal behind after a meeting and you’re waiting to hear back. Now, generally speaking you’re trying to avoid those two situations. If the meeting is remote via Skype or some sort of desktop sharing or web meeting, then you wouldn’t send it in events, you’d get all the parties online and then you would send it and then you would pull it up and you would review it.

 

 

 

 

 

[00:25:30]

If you’re going to do a written proposal and you there’s some nuance here, you shouldn’t. If you do an unpaid written proposal, it shouldn’t be more than one page but if you’re going to do an unpaid written proposal where you haven’t sold the first phase diagnostic then you own the piece of paper that you’re going to share. You’ve created it, you own it. They don’t have any right to it.

 

Wait until you get all the decision-makers then you share it. We’re getting a little nuance here and there’s some power play dynamics but you could be in a situation where you share it via your desktop and then you decide for whatever reason that, “You know what. No, the meeting is over. They’re not going to go ahead and they don’t get a copy of this.”

 

Andy Baldacci:They haven’t paid for it.

 

[00:26:00]

Blair Enns:

 

Yeah. They haven’t paid for it. Maybe the CMO committed to having the president in the meeting and he didn’t bring the president, wants to proceed and your sense is that he doesn’t view you as the expert. He’s playing you as a vendor and you don’t want to enable his search as he goes off and talks to three or four of your competitors by giving him a proposal. You don’t want to be what’s known as the rabbit, the person that they’re benchmarking everybody else against.

 

[00:26:30]

 

 

 

 

 

[00:27:00]

In that situation, you might decide that, “You know what, okay, sir. The meeting is over. I don’t think it’s going to make sense to work together and you haven’t sent the document. You pull it off your desktop and they ask you for a copy of it and you could just politely say, “Yeah. You know what, I don’t think it’s in my best interest to share it with you. It’s pretty clear, we’re not gonna to work together. I’m not interested in giving, you know, handing something over that’s just gonna allow you to kind of force a better price out of another firm.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

[00:27:30]

I mean you can just say that. One of my rules is say what you’re thinking, say it early, say it with kindness. I’m not trying to be mean about it but some people might be listening to this thinking, “Are you kidding me?” I’m not kidding you. In certain situations you would say that. Somebody is trying to take advantage of you or you felt like they’re not living up to their commitments. Basically you get decision-makers together and I’ll put together a one page proposal in how we would move forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[00:28:00]

They didn’t live up to the end of their agreement. There’s no reason why you have to leave that document with them. In certain situations you want to make sure that you haven’t sent it ahead and you’re not living up behind. Back in my own agency career days, I walked out of meetings. I can remember one in particular where I reached across the table and very slowly pulled back the piece of paper that I had given to the client and out it back into my folder and I forget what I said exactly but it was pretty clear we weren’t going to work together. I just thought, “Okay. well, you don’t get to keep that.”

 

Andy Baldacci:This isn’t necessarily a power play to try to get them to come back to you down the road, this or that. It’s really just almost moralistically … Morally you don’t want to … If they haven’t honored their side of the agreement, the agreement is done with. You’re going to take back what is yours.

 

[00:28:30]

Blair Enns:

 

There are lots of great metaphors for selling. Change management is a great one. You can say change management, you’ll become a better sales person. Leadership is another one and parenting is one too and I often say to my clients, “You let your client or the prospect get away with that behavior but would you let your kids get away with that behavior?”

 

 

[00:29:00]

That might work for some people. It might not work for others. The classic example is client doesn’t return your … You’re working closely with a prospect and there’s this respectful relationship. You’re doing something for them, they’re doing something for you and together you’re doing this dance to figure out whether to make sense to work together. Everything is progressing nicely, then at some point the prospect goes dark on you and he doesn’t return your phone calls.

 

 

[00:29:30]

I always taught this. You plaster this fake smile on your face and you leave the third voicemail saying, “Hey, just checking in hoping everything is okay.” I had a client once, he left, I think it was the second voicemail message that he left for perspective client and he said, “Hey, I haven’t heard back from you on this in a little while and I’m just wondering if this is how you’re treating me before we’re working together, I’m wondering how you’re going to treat me once we start working together.”

 

[00:30:00]Then the client, the prospect call them immediately and apologize. Sometimes it makes sense to call people on their behavior and do it politely. There’s no malice here. It’s not power play for the sake of power play. How would you behave in these other relationships in your life and other professional relationships or even the personal relationship with your children or your spouse?

 

Andy Baldacci:

[00:30:30]

A lot of it seems like it’s being consistent, it’s cultivating that mindset even if doing these types of things isn’t necessarily some power play or to try to get better results down the road with the specific client or anything like that, it’s really just trying to cultivate the mindset and the attitude that this is how you want to conduct yourself, this is how you want to conduct business and if people don’t want to fit in to that, that’s their problem.

 

Blair Enns:

 

[00:31:00]

 

 

 

 

 

[00:31:30]

I think that’s a great way of looking at it. We do the buzzwords for the last decade or so that drive me nuts are authenticity and transparency. I don’t know why authenticity drives me nuts. It’s like people just woke up one day and said, “Hey, it’s actually kind of important to be authentic.” We spend a lot of time talking about what your mother taught you in the first five years of your life which I find a little bit ridiculous, but in the spirit of authenticity and transparency, I’ll be talking to a client who will be frustrated about how they’re being treated by a prospect or a client in the sale or afterwards and I’ll say, “Well, did you say that to the client?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[00:32:00]

“No, no. I would never say that to the client.” “Well, why didn’t you say what you’re thinking?” That’s one of the core values of our company Win Without Pitching. We say what we’re thinking. It’s called kind ruthlessness. We’re kind in our words, but we’re ruthless in our behavior. If there is something that needs to be said, we say it. We say it early and we say it with kindness and we advocate that our clients in the training program do the same thing. It’s one of the five rules for selling digital is that just say if I have a magic wand, I could make you say what you’re thinking in the sale. I would make you say what you’re thinking.

 

Andy Baldacci:Did that come naturally to you?

 

Blair Enns:

 

[00:32:30]

That’s a good question. I don’t know that it came naturally to me. I think I saw the power of it overtime. I think really I was struck by how I was taught to sell to the extent that I was taught at all growing up professionally and design firms and ad agencies. I saw how we sold. It’s almost like this duplicitousness, I guess. We would behave one way to prospects and we would behave another way. Maybe another way to clients and another way to everybody else. That just struck me as insincere and wrong.

 

[00:33:00]

 

 

 

 

[00:33:30]

Why don’t we just all say what we’re thinking. I had a team meeting this morning and one of our senior coaches, she leads a weekly focus call. It’s a weekly conference call for all of the firms in our program. She was talking about just that point today, “Say what you’re thinking.” We were jokingly talking about what I call the rain man approach to selling which is say what you’re thinking and say it in that Dustin Hoffman voice. “No, that’s a really stupid idea. No,” and if he could just repeat that over and over again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[00:34:00]

That’s a little bit dangerous. You want to say what you’re thinking but you want to pause for just a minute so that you can find the kind and proper words to say it. The challenge, the resentment builds and the emotions build and the frustration builds and the stress when you don’t say what you think. When you bottle it up, you bottle it up, you bottle it up and then you drop the fake smile and you lash out to somebody.

 

You say something really hurtful or do something inappropriate. If you just say what you’re thinking all of the time, that’s a great muscle to develop. Did it come naturally to me? When I’m not saying what I’m thinking, it’s really odd. There’s a little bit of pain in my gut if I’m not saying what I’m thinking. It’s just a muscle I think you develop overtime.

 

Andy Baldacci:

[00:34:30]

It’s something that you quickly saw people weren’t doing as you saw the effects of it, and even yourself when you don’t do it, you feel the effects of that so you’ve developed the ability to more easily say what is on your mind.

 

Blair Enns:Stress is caused by the things you don’t do.

 

Andy Baldacci:That’s a good way of putting it. For this last one I don’t have a good transition so we’re just going to go for it. The last rule that you talked about before was that most clients would prefer to lease instead of buy. Can you speak to that one?

 

[00:35:00]

Blair Enns:

 

That’s a rule, I don’t know if it’s specific to digital firms but when I’m talking to digital firms, I always insert that one. If you think of how clients buy software these days and you would know all about this. In the beginning it was desktop software and it was a onetime purchase price and he used that software until it was out of date and he bought that newer version.

 

 

[00:35:30]

For a few years now, software is purchased largely almost exclusively but not exclusively on a purchase basis. The way clients budget for software has changed. For website development work in particular or anything to do with the website, clients would much rather pay a monthly amount that they would like a onetime capital expense for a website.

 

 

[00:36:00]

It used to be you spent $50,000 or whatever the number was for your website and then that website was good for three or four years. Then three or four years later, it’s out of date. It’s probably out of date after about three years and the fourth year you budget 55,000 or whatever the amount is. It used to be that way with software. That’s changed. Come on what are websites? Do you customize software?

 

 

[00:36:30]

 

 

 

 

[00:37:00]

Clients would prefer to pay for their website and a lot of their marketing services that way. It’s one of the constraints I talk about in that lecture, Five Rules for Selling Digital, if I could take away via my magic wand, if I could take away your ability to sell and so you could only lease or license, I guarantee you would be more profitable. I guarantee you. Remember a few years ago, I had a client in the training program, she was saying, “Ugh, I’ve got this prospect. He won’t spend $50,000 on a website.” In the end, he committed to $3,000 a month for three years. That’s way more than 50,000. He just wanted to pay for it differently.

 

Andy Baldacci:When you’re delivering a project price like that, we’ll just go to the website example, are you simply shifting the payment terms or are you delivering something different?

 

Blair Enns:

[00:37:30]

It’s a good question and it could be both. The value you’re delivering is you should be … Part of the value proposition should be don’t worry about … If you want to pay us monthly on an ongoing basis, we will take responsibility for making sure that the website is always current in terms of technology.

 

 

 

 

[00:38:00]

You can also price in an option where you’re updating the design every so often, every six months or every 12 months. Those variables and the durations, they would change depending on the client because you’re pricing the client. You might have a client where you put together a monthly payment over three years and there’s a site redesign every six months. It might include vetting ongoing technology and making recommendations on a monthly basis on changing plug-ins, et cetera, et cetera.

 

 

 

[00:38:30]

You might include all kinds of CRO or SEO or other things. The product could be different or could just be terms. I think we should think about it as the product being different, as what the client is buying is a different level of relationship rather in a different type of relationship and a day way or different ways of delivering value than simply amortizing the cost of the website over months.

 

Andy Baldacci:

 

[00:39:00]

I actually had Luke Summerfield from HubSpot on the program a whole back and his big thing that he’s working on training agencies to do is what he calls growth driven design. He comes from the argument that putting up a website that just stays the same for a few years is not doing your clients the right service. You’re not giving them that much value. The way the web works today, it needs to be an ongoing investment and that growth driven design is something that helps the agency increase the value relationship with the client. It helps some with cash flows, it helps them with all that, but also it helps the client in the end.

 

 

 

[00:39:30]

If anyone is listening to this that has questions about how to specifically do that for web design, check out that episode but, Blaire, I want to ask how do you and your team actually work with agencies today to help them improve the way that they sell?

 

Blair Enns:The Win Without Pitching training program is an ongoing training and coaching program. It’s available to creative entrepreneurs. Owners of independent creative businesses and their teams. It’s got to start with the owner because we start with the positioning. It’s an ongoing program. The minimum commitment in terms of time is one year and there’s three years of what we consider to be a core curriculum.

 

[00:40:00]It’s not come in get some training and get out. I’m really trying to build the Hotel California where you can check out but you can never leave. The ideas, I want to keep providing enough value so that people keep going in the program as long as we have content and curriculum for them. We’ve got three years right now. It’s a minimum commitment of the year. There’s three different ways right now and that might change in the future but there’s three different ways you can go with the program.

 

[00:40:30]You can go through it at a self-direct level where you get the training materials and it’s paced. It’s a three, 12 week terms throughout the year. You get the material. It’s paced and you get access to all kinds of other content. The second level is the most common one and that’s the pure group level where you’re put into a virtual class with four or five other firms that are like yours but different in geographically dispersed.

 

[00:41:00]

 

 

 

 

 

[00:41:30]

We manage for conflicts as well. That’s led by a coach so you’ve got one on one coaching time. You’ve got classroom time with your coaches and peers and then you’ve got the training timeline on your own. Then the third level is for the larger firms or firms with a greater geographic distribution that’s a private class. It’s basically you’re buying up the classroom, all the classroom time. The only other people in the class are other people from your firm. Those are three different levels. They range from about $500 a month on the low end to 2,500 a month in the high end.

 

Andy Baldacci:What do you often hear as a primary objection that someone would have to join the course? What usually do you see stopping people from signing up?

 

Blair Enns:

 

[00:42:00]

That’s a great question. Thanks for asking it. Sometimes it’s I’m not ready which I think people say, “Oh, we’re not ready. We’ve got to get some things in order.” We begin the beginning. The entire first year of the program, there’s a bunch of stuff on sales training and we call it a sales training program for creative entrepreneurs but in the first year, the focus is really on putting in the foundational elements, building a foundation that makes it easier for you to sell.

 

 

 

 

[00:42:30]

All that stuff that you think you need to get ready, to get your positioning down, get some lead generation underway, we walk you through that and we have a framework for walking you through it and for having you develop it in the first year including intellectual property out of which we build this really cool sales tools. That’s the first one is I’m not ready and the second one is I don’t have time. I as a principal don’t have time.

 

 

 

[00:43:00]

That’s a more valid one but I like to say if you don’t have time, is that a short-term problem that you’ve just had over the last six months because of some things come up, unexpected has really come up or is this a chronic issue? If it’s a chronic issue, my advice is do it anyway. If it makes sense on the other levels to do it and the only thing is you don’t have time to do it anyway because I like to joke, we create time.

 

 

 

 

 

[00:43:30]

The way it works is you get into this rhythm and that’s one of the things I really like about the format is that the discipline that comes from the rhythm of this is training week, this is classroom week, this is training week and you have to carve out some time on your calendar and it’s generally two hours, maybe as much as four hours on the high side but it’s generally around two hours a week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[00:44:00]

If you can carve out two hours a week, what happens in the first few weeks, it’s really hard and you’re wondering how are you going to find, not everybody, just the people that are oppressed for time. How are you going to fit this in? Then somewhere around the six-week mark, you find that you’ve created the habit where you’re now creating time to work on the business through the program and not just in the business. Those are the two big ones, I think. I’m not ready and I don’t have the time.

 

Andy Baldacci:That’s interesting and it’s funny because those are the things you hear in any training industry as well and especially when it comes to service businesses, the time issue is huge because so many times, the agency owner is spending all their time putting out fires, delivering all the work. Just doing everything for a dozen different reasons.

 

[00:44:30]Once you are able to start building a real foundation around your business and start freeing yourself up to work on the business, that time then compounds because you’re just building a much more efficient business that really can partly run without you and it’s funny like you said, “Yeah. I run the six-week markets.” Once you start putting those efforts in, you really can see how your schedule is changing for the better.

 

Blair Enns:

[00:45:00]

Under this topic, I think I have a bit of a revelation last week, a frustrating moment with a client where I was saying to my wife who is my business partner afterwards, I said, “The firms that do struggle in the program, it’s incredible that they’re struggling because they don’t have a framework for running their business.

 

 

 

 

[00:45:30]

There are these creative people who started like Michael Gerber from the author of the E-Myth says, “There are these technicians who have an entrepreneurial spasm and they create these businesses and then some of them succeed to remarkable levels without ever having like figuring out how to actually manage a business.” I’m working with a really successful firm over the years, but you crack it open and you look at it and there’s no management framework.

 

 

 

 

 

[00:46:00]

Now, our business, we use entrepreneurial operating system, VOS and I think back in the days before we had any … I’m not advocating for this one, There’s all kinds of frameworks out there, but if you don’t have one, if you don’t have a go-to source for how you structure roles, how you manage meetings, how you delegate, how you focus on the things that you should be focusing on, how you hire the right people and get them in the right seat, et cetera, if you don’t have a framework for that, how are you still in business? I don’t think we would be.

 

Andy Baldacci:

 

 

 

[00:46:30]

It’s just through grit, putting up a lot of stress. It’s not a good way to be in business, but it’s something that you see all the time because so many agency owners are what I like to call, accidental agency owners. They got into freelancing because they wanted the freedom. They enjoy doing the work and then a few years down the road, they look around, they had a few employees and didn’t really know what they were doing. They’re probably making even less money working more hours.

 

I was going to ask what’s some good actual advices just for how to get started making these changes. I think this is honestly probably it, is first step before you’re ready to make any of these changes, make sure you have a framework for just how you approach the business so that changes like these down the road are actually possible.

 

Blair Enns:

[00:47:00]

Adopted framework for how you run the business. This is way beyond, way more foundational than how you run a new business development. If you don’t have a framework for how you’re running the business, then we’re … At Win Without Pitching, we’re proposing to build on top of that framework and when that framework isn’t there, it gets a little but troublesome. The second thing I would say is ask yourself what do you as an individual no longer going to do?

 

 

 

[00:47:30]

We facilitate that question as a business, what do you as a business no longer going to do but what are you as a business owner no longer going to do because as time goes by, you take on more and more things but you really need to be ruthless about the things that you’re no longer going to do. I’m fond of saying, there’s two levels of success in business and the tools that get you to the first level are the tools that impair your ability to get to the second level.

 

 

 

[00:48:00]

The first level of success that all of your clients and most of your listeners would be which is like validation. I’m earning money. The clients are paying us. We’ve got a business here. You get beyond that. I’m paying myself. I’m earning more than I would earn in a job et cetera. That first level of success, you get there through a hard work, so effort and saying yes to pretty much everything.

 

 

 

 

[00:48:30]

That’s the key to the first level of success but the second level of success, those two things get in your way because the highest level of success really comes down to it’s not hard work, what I would call innovation which is a combination of creativity, the ability to see opportunity and risk taking. It’s innovation or risk. I’m going to bet the entire business and go in this direction. It’s that and then it’s not effort. To quote Warren Buffett, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is really successful say no to almost everything.”

 

 

[00:49:00]

What are you no longer going to do as an individual? What are the very small number of key things that you should be doing that multiply the business? Then how are you going to get rid of everything else?

 

Andy Baldacci:I love that and honestly I like to ask all my guest a few rapid fire questions at the end and this ties directly into that. What was the most recent thing that you decided you’re not going to do anymore?

 

Blair Enns:

 

[00:49:30]

Coach. I run a training and coaching organization and I’ve decided I’m no longer going to do it. I’ve dropped my classes. I have two private clients left and when I’m done with them later this year I will be solely focused on … I realized I’ve been focused on the wrong people. I’ve been focused on a small group of our clients. While my other coach is focused on the other clients, I need to focus on my coaches and my CEO duty. I focus on my people and they take care of our clients.

 

Andy Baldacci:Interesting. What will that look like for your day to day? What will you then be spending more of your time doing? Is it lead generation types of stuff like marketing task and management or what will that actually look like?

 

Blair Enns:

[00:50:00]

There are four things that I should be doing. I should be writing books. I should be doing podcasts where I’m launching two podcasts of my own this year. I should be doing speeches and I should be taking care of the most important relationships in the business and that’s my people and then a very high level relationship with more clients.

 

Andy Baldacci:Interesting. I love how there’s so much clarity.

 

Blair Enns:Everything else is a distraction.

 

Andy Baldacci:Do you have a process where you review things regularly? How did you have so much clarity with that answer?

 

[00:50:30]

Blair Enns:

 

 

 

 

[00:51:00]

 

The clarity comes from making the shift from a consulting practice to a training business at the age of 47. A consulting practice isn’t really a business. I mean, it kind of, sort of is but it’s not really. I felt like I got into business for myself and the first time at 47 and it’s such an advanced age at least for starting your first real business. I just felt like I don’t have time to screw this up. I access a lot of other resources, EOS. I’m a member of strategic coach which is a fantastic coaching program for entrepreneurs

 

 

 

 

 

[00:51:30]

Those two things work together nicely. I read a lot about entrepreneurship and management and I probably listen to more podcast than I read. It’s just so clear to me. Win Without Pitching, we always start with positioning and focus and getting rid of the things, these other distracting things that are keeping you from what you’re really best at. That’s just a principle that I try to apply to my own personal professional role.

 

Andy Baldacci:Then my last question is what are the long-term goals for Win Without Pitching?

 

Blair Enns:

 

[00:52:00]

The long-term goal for Win Without Pitching is to have firms that refuse to pitch and try to command the high ground in their relationship, the practitioner high ground as the norm. We have somebody who just signed up for the program and said to us the other day that the reason they’re signing up is because all of the firms around them are using this approach and now they feel like the odd one out. There’s not much that you could say to me that would make me feel better than that. Our mission is to change the way creative services are bought and sold the world over one firm at a time. That’s the long-term goal.

 

[00:52:30]

Andy Baldacci:

 

I’m so excited to see you get there. Before we say goodbye, Blair, where can listeners go if they want to learn more about you, if they want to hear more of what you have to say, any of that? Where is the best place for people to go to learn more about Win Without Pitching?

 

Blair Enns:Winwithoutpitching.com, our website. You can find lots of information there. I am Blair Enns on Twitter and LinkedIn. I’m not on Facebook. I’m a gold level sponsor of the Shut Your Facebook Movement, but that’s where you can find me and learn more about Win Without Pitching.

 

[00:53:00]

Andy Baldacci:

 

Awesome. I’m going to make sure to get all of that linked up in the show notes and Blair, I just want to say thanks so much for coming to the show today. I really appreciate it.

 

Blair Enns:Thanks, Andy. I really enjoyed it.

 

Want to learn more?

The Win Without Pitching training program is an ongoing training and coaching program. It’s available to creative entrepreneurs, owners of independent creative businesses and their teams. It’s got to start with the owner because Blair starts with positioning. It’s an ongoing program with a minimum commitment of one year. The entire core curriculum lasts three years.

You can find Blair at WinWithoutPitching.com or on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Resources mentioned

  • I love Blair Enns’ confident, no-nonsense advice on running an agency. Win Without Pitching is a fantastic book for agency owners. I really like Blair’s approach to sales as the expert practitioner determining fit, rather than as the persuader. I’ve read it twice! Here’s my review. Thanks for having Blair on the show!

    • Andy Baldacci

      Thanks for the comment, Chad. Blair’s take is definitely refreshing and you hit the nail on the head when you said “confident.” I think many people agree with Blair’s approach, but struggle with truly applying it in the heat of the moment, but I think with practice anybody can become more confident in the value they have to offer and apply his lessons. It may be a bit uncomfortable to hold your ground with clients at first, but it can make running an agency so much more enjoyable (and profitable!).