Agency Advantage 54: Peter Levitan on Developing Skills a Client Can’t Ignore

Image for episode 54 of the Agency Advantage podcast

In this episode of Hubstaff’s Agency Advantage Podcast, I’m talking with Peter Levitan (Twitter) about how to develop skills a client can’t ignore.

Peter has owned his own two-office agency, bought and sold three agencies, worked for the largest agency in the world in New York and London, wrote the book Buy This Book. Win More Pitches. The list goes on, and on, and on. Peter knows his stuff.

When talking to agency owners, Peter estimates that 80% of them don’t have a real business plan written down which is a fatal mistake.

In today’s talk, Peter explains why a business plan is so important, how to develop one, and how to use that plan to develop skills that clients can’t ignore.

Referrals are great, but if that’s all you rely on for new clients and aren’t sure how to grow beyond that, then this is the episode for you.

Key Takeaways

Your agency needs a business plan [0:00 – 4:30]

In simple terms, a business plan tells you how you’re going to make money. It does that by laying out who you’re going to make money from and what you’re going to do for them.

Ultimately it comes down to understanding what your business truly does and tailoring it to the needs of the market. In Peter’s experience, 80% of agencies don’t have a real business plan.

The reason this is so crucial to the success of an agency is because unless you understand where the money is going to come from, you can’t create any real plan for how to deliberately grow your business. You can coast by on referrals for a while but to build a thriving agency, you need more than that.

You need a plan.

Develop skills a client can’t ignore [4:30 – 19:30]

Peter takes a slightly more lenient view on how narrow an agency needs to specialize but agrees wholeheartedly that some specialization is needed to stand out in the market.

If you’re a generic “full service agency” or even a “digital agency” then clients aren’t going to immediately know what you do. If, on the other hand, you focus on SEO, PPC, a specific industry, or even a specific region, then you are increasing your chances of success because it makes it easier for the clients to say, “That’s exactly who we need to partner with.”

The value of specialization goes beyond changing a few words on your website. You need to work to actively promote your brand position to the market.

For many agencies, the best way to do this is to develop a thought leadership program dedicated to addressing every pain point and fear that their target clients suffer. This isn’t rocket science, but by actually executing on it and addressing their pain points with key insights that make them go, “Aha!” clients won’t be able to ignore you and you will see real results.

“Unfortunately, business development is easy” [19:30 – 24:30]

This quote from Peter caught me off guard but when he explained it, it made sense.

None of the work surrounding business development needs to be complicated or difficult to implement. The trouble is that most people don’t actually do the easy stuff because they aren’t organized enough.

Without being organized, it will be hard to manage when to call your prospects, when to send that newsletter, and when to publish your blog post. For most of us, our day is a constant game of whack-a-mole, putting out whatever fires pop up. With just a little bit of deliberate effort, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Peter suggests keeping it simple by creating a calendar and assigning due dates for all of the various pieces of your business development plan. Whatever strategy you follow, it all needs to come back to the idea of treating yourself in the same way you treat your clients. You need to go on your client list, and when projects are due, you can’t push them off.

The last thing everyone does in their agency is their own business development but if it keeps getting pushed back, it may be the last thing you’re ever going to do because there may not be an agency any longer.

If you don’t have good processes in place for how to manage your “real” clients, then you need to fix that as soon as possible.

Transcript:

Andy Baldacci:Peter, thanks so much for coming on the show today.
Peter Levitan:My pleasure.
Andy Baldacci:Alright, so let’s just get right into it. In your experience of working with countless agencies, what do you see as wrong with the way they calmly are approaching business development?
Peter Levitan:
[00:00:30]

[00:01:00]

I usually start asking agencies a very, very simple question which, well, I’ll admit, sounds simple, and the answer generally isn’t quite as simple as it should be. I ask them a question, “Do you have a business plan?” A business plan is, really, something that, frankly, any business, whether you’re a florist, a dry cleaner, a e-mail service company, or a small digital agency should have. What that really means to me and what it says is, ultimately, that you know how you’re going to make money. You know who you’re going to make money from. You know what you’re going to do for them that will get them to want you to work for them. You’ll wind up with a client that, hopefully, is a repeat client, it’s not a one time project client. Ultimately, that comes down to really understanding what your business is and tailoring it to the needs of the market. I would say in 80% of the cases, an agency will tell me they don’t have a business plan.
Andy Baldacci:Wow.
Peter Levitan:

[00:01:30]

The next question, of course, is, “Do you have a sales plan? A business development plan?” And the answer is, again, about 80% might say, “No.” I don’t see anywhere that you can create a business development plan unless you have a business plan in the first place. Unless you understand where the money’s going to come from, how you’re going to get to having a high margin, how you’re going to make enough money to make yourself happy. Because at the end of the day, while it might be fun to be a digital agency, it’s, believe me, much more fun to have money in the bank.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:02:00]

For sure. It’s funny, I like the way you said that because a lot of times we break things down into independent silos and you’re like, “Alright. I need to do my sales plan, I need to do this, I need to do that.” But if you don’t have that overarching business plan, it’s really hard, if not impossible, to actually create the sales plan.
Peter Levitan:

[00:02:30]

Absolutely. Look at any very successful business and really ask yourself if you can suss out their business plan. In most cases, you can probably do that. I will say it is difficult in the digital agency’s face, even in the general advertising agency space. I have no idea, frankly, today, what a WP or an Omnicom has as a business plan. It’s very hard to suss out. The bottom line is without a business plan, you can’t develop a business development plan because the business development plan is the tool that you’re going to use to meet the objectives of the business plan.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:03:00]

[00:03:30]

One of the things that, when talking to dozens and dozens of agency owners that I’ve seen is that so many of them have a very common story for how they got started. They have the skill that they practice, either they’re a designer or developer, whatever it is. They go out on their own, they don’t want to have a job, they go out on their own. They find some clients. Word of mouth starts building. Then a few years later, they look around, they’ve hired five people and they almost became accidental agency owners. They just assume they can keep doing this without really having that much direction, but often times, they find first that they’re putting out fires all day, but second, that is really hard to avoid that common feast or famine path because there aren’t any levers they can pull to make things change. When you see an agency owner in a position like that, without a clear direction, how do you suggest that they get started on getting a little more clarity on what it is that they do?
Peter Levitan:

[00:04:00]

[00:04:30]

Well, there are really two things that impact agencies. One is what they do or, essentially, what they’re good at. The other is what does the market need? I’d love to think that in all cases, there’s a wonderful point where they both meet, but that’s not the case. Certainly, in the digital space, we see such rapid change that digital agencies have to really pay attention to what’s going on in the marketplace. I think that starting, obviously an agency has to start with what they’re good at and what their skill sets are, but they should really be prepared to morph them to meet the needs of the marketplace. When you meet the needs of the marketplace, this is capitalism at work, you will get business. That’s really the bottom line. Now, another element of that, of course, is how much competition is there? You just look at the SEO space and at this stage of the game, everybody tells you they’re an SEO specialist. The bottom line is that’s not the case. If you are an SEO specialist, you just have to make sure that you know how to talk about your skills in a way that makes you sound like you’re better than the guy down the street. That’s ultimately what that business development plan does.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:05:00]

Interesting. Looking at your website and looking at the way you position yourself, let me bring it right up. You say, “I help advertising agencies grow faster.” That’s a very concise, clear, to the point, definition of what it is that you do. You’re not staying, “I help…” I’m trying to think of the cliché agency terms, consultant terms, that you see up there. When you look at your site, you know what you do. How much of that specialization do you see as being part of creating a strong business plan?
Peter Levitan:

[00:05:30]

If an agency can be specialized and can really have a very easy to say and be understood pitch, that’s all the better. I use a couple of examples, both happen to come out of London which is interesting. I think that London is, in general, an epicenter of very savvy, strategic agencies. I’ll use two examples.

[00:06:00]

I went to advertising week a couple years ago, I was writing for them at the time which, when I say that I mean I was guest posting which is something that a lot of agencies should think about. I was guest posting for advertising agencies. They invited me to the conference. I went to a bar after one of the sessions and I sat down at the bar. I needed the guy next to me to move two seats down so my friend could sit next to me. I turned to him and I said, “Do you mind moving?” He said,” Not at all.” Had an English accent, I said, “Who are you?” He said, “I run this agency called Fetch in London.” I said, “Well, what do you guys do?” He said, “We’re a mobile specialist.” I went, “Wow, isn’t that great?”

[00:06:30]

Here’s a guy who, let me count the words, “We are a mobile specialist.” That’s five words. Mobile specialist. I got it in a millisecond. There’s absolutely no issue. That worked very well and, frankly, being a mobile specialist, and I met him four years ago, three, four years ago, was not a bad space to be in. Smart business plan. We’re going to nail mobile. Well, gee, guess what? Everybody has to nail mobile. That’s good.
Another agency, a great name, fabulous that they own this name. They’re called London Advertising.
Andy Baldacci:That’s probably good for SEO, too.
[00:07:00]

Peter Levitan:

[00:07:30]

Yes, very good. London, which is continuously named as the best agency in the UK by various publications, is run by an old Saatchi & Saatchi colleague of mine. If you go to their website, and I urge everyone to do this, it’s called London advertising. It is a very simple website and they make one very strong point. They win business this way. They create a single idea that can be run anywhere in the world and their target market are multinational advertisers. They’re competing with giant agencies and what they’re saying to giant agencies is, “You don’t need all of this stuff that you get from Oglevee. Just hire us.” Clients get it. Those are two examples of agencies and do it different ways. One says, “I’m a mobile agency,” and the other says, “We’re a strategic agency,” but both deliver a single minded business proposition.
Andy Baldacci:Is the goal of that to get the client to sort of raise their hand and say, “All right. You have what I need.”
Peter Levitan:

[00:08:00]

[00:08:30]

[00:09:00]

I think the goal of it is not to … Well, there are multiple goals. One is I’ve determined in the marketplace that there’s a need. The need is called mobile marketing. I’m going to tell a segment of the population that can become client of mine, this is what I specialize in. In the case of the digital agency, nothing wrong with saying, “I’m a search engine optimization specialist.” We all get it. That’s fine, but when you start getting into general ideas like, “I’m a digital agency.” Clients go, “Okay, well what does that really mean? Huh? I don’t get it.” Or, “I’m a full service agency.” Agencies that specialize in a skill set like mobile or being strategic or being creative, or in a region, you can specialize in your city or your region. You can specialize in a type of client category, say I specialize in healthcare. Those agencies tend to be more successful, or demographic. A couple of great agencies in the past year decided millennials were a good idea. I’m not sure if that is quite the case today, but it certainly was five, six years ago too, to own that category.
Andy Baldacci:Part of it is planting the flag and saying, “This is what we do.” It’s differentiating yourself in the space from all of the, “Me too, I’m a full stack,” digital agency. How do you really put yourself out there and truly differentiate yourself? Even nowadays, a lot of those spaces … If you’re saying, “We’re a mobile agency.” There’s a lot of those now, so how do you take it the next step and really stand out?
[00:09:30]

Peter Levitan:

[00:10:00]

[00:10:30]

The next step is very clearly how you message your brand position. Without having pre-thought this, let’s see if I can help. Let’s say you’re a mobile agency and you come to me and say, “Okay, we’re a mobile agency but how do we tell clients that we’re better at it than others?” You could develop a thought leadership program, which is simply dedicated to addressing every pain point and fear that any mobile advertiser has. Believe me, you could probably come up with 20 over two beers very easily. Just say that basically, the way we’re going to differentiate ourselves is by making sure that we address every pain point that a potential client has. That leads you to, hopefully, developing the kinds of insights into a skill set or category that a client can’t ignore. Having known a thousand clients in my career, more than 50% will ignore it because, frankly, they don’t get it. Of the 50% that will pay attention, and they’re the one that you want as your client, addressing their pain points is sales 101, but addressing their pain points with key insights that make them go, “Aha!” is brilliant.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:11:00]

Is this something that you’re recommending agencies do one on one? They overcome these, not objections, but they address the pain points early on. Is this something that you should be doing publicly on blogs and speaking, how do you recommend that once they’ve identified these pain points, how do they get the market to realize that they have the answers?
Peter Levitan:

[00:11:30]

It’s clearly different structures, different folks. It really goes back to your business plan. Who do I want to work for? Where do they live, what kind of budget do I need? Define the kind of client that you should have. That can be anywhere from local business that need a better website, to regional businesses that need SEO. You just go down the list. Without really figuring out who your target market is and what their persona is, imagine this client as a person. What are they thinking, what do they look like? Without doing that, it’s very difficult to do a plan. The issue with business development today, which is both an issue and opportunity, is the number of marketing tools that you can use is virtually endless.
[00:12:00]

[00:12:30]

When I work with agencies, and in particular maybe even a digital agency, I’ll say, “Why don’t you go full on analog?” Instead of writing a book, which I recommend, unfortunately most agencies are really not going to sit down and write a book, why don’t you write a zine? Why don’t you be counter-intuitive? Yes, you can do blogging, and you can do guest blogging. You can write on linked in and then you can amplify everything across all of social media. Why don’t you do something or think about doing something that stands out? Why not a one sheet, broadsheet, newspaper paper material and send that to people? Say, “Okay, here are the issues in digital marketing today and how we address it.” I understand all the digital tools, but in many cases, digital tools are invisible. Sending somebody a piece of paper is most counter-intuitive and hard to ignore.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:13:00]

That’s very true. Especially in the digital marketing place, those channels, the digital channels, they’re saturated with this material. It’s really, really hard to stand out. I was looking over at your site and I saw you talked about a project you did with Citrus back, looks like in 2010 or so, it was called The Gather Project where you did a review of healthcare social media. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Peter Levitan:

[00:13:30]

Sure. I love talking about this particular project for two reasons. One is because I stole the idea, which I highly recommend. I highly recommend theft. As long as you –
Andy Baldacci:I’m just going to clip out that sound bite and just blast that one out –
Peter Levitan:

[00:14:00]

[00:14:30]

No, no, no. Look, if somebody can point me to a brand new idea, congratulations. There are very, very few brand new ideas. I found this company called L2, so the letter L and the number 2, that’s based in New York. I found them very early in their life. They were a group coming out of NYU’s Stern School. They wanted to become a leading expert in the luxury marketing category. When I said leading expert, essentially a research and strategy firm. They don’t produce creative solutions, they’re a strategy firm. I saw that they did this report on the luxury marketplace where they compared the use of social media across a range of really high caliber luxury companies. Imagine Gucci and Fendi, for example. They looked at Gucci and Fendi and compared them. How many tweets did they have? How many followers on LinkedIn, etc, then they delivered their take on this and how many luxury marketing companies were failing at social media.

[00:15:00]

[00:15:30]

Well, I said, I get it. If you say to a market segment like luxury, you’re failing and he’s winning, you get their attention immediately. It doesn’t take very long. Everybody goes, “Wow, I have to read this.” I did the same thing for the healthcare category. Essentially, copied them, did it our own way. It ultimately resulted in our getting the attention and winning business from two of the largest hospital groups on the West Coast in the United States. What we did was we gave the information they couldn’t ignore. We gave them aha insights and all we did was assigned an intern to, essentially, create spreadsheets. How many tweets? How many likes, etc, across the spectrum of that kind of information. Then applied our strategic thinking to it, we actually wrote words, and sent it to healthcare marketers. Everyone read it. We sent it in a way that we could track.
Andy Baldacci:Was it just like FedEx, you just shipped it out?
Peter Levitan:We did hardcopy and digital. I think, if I’m trying to remember, we teased it with digital.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:16:00]

That’s what I’m thinking. A pet area that really interests me, is direct mail and that sort of thing. Having the competitor analysis in it just seems so much more powerful than just saying, “Here’s how you can improve,” because when you then say, “Here’s how you can improve and here’s how your competitors are already ahead of you doing this.” That’s going to light the fire in them. It’s actually going to motivate them to act.
Peter Levitan:
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[00:17:00]

[00:17:30]

Right. I use dating a lot as a metaphor in business development. We all know that one of the ways that you get somebody’s attention is for them to think that someone else likes you. It’s getting in that world where you’re generating the kind of information that can’t be ignored. When the information can’t be ignored, people will pay attention to you. I’ve written about somewhere deep in my, maybe five, six, ten, blog posts into my website, I have a presentation I gave to a group of Omnicom agencies and presentations called how to become an unignorable advertising agency. I’m using advertising as a generic term. How do you become unignorable? Well, one way is to deliver information that can’t be ignored. That’s one of the ways, there are others. Frankly, one way is just to be funny, but we’re all so serious in this business. What if you had a sense of humor? That’s another story, but not everyone can pull that off, but it can be done. It’s really thinking about how are you going to capture the attention of these people and get them to look at what you’ve got and say, “My God, I have to talk to this agency.”
Andy Baldacci:Once you’ve got that in their hands, one they have that aha moment, what next? Do you call them? Do you have them call you? Where do you tie it all together?
Peter Levitan:

[00:18:00]

[00:18:30]

We could do an hour on the unfortunate world of the telephone. What you then do is you make contact. You just have to follow through. You have to figure out, how are you going to reach them? When I talk about telephone, nobody answers their phone anymore, it goes to voicemail. There are you standard sales techniques for how do you deal with voicemail? One is you don’t call them in the middle of the day. You call them in the morning, maybe they’re there, you try to be their first voicemail in the morning, right when they get to the office. You’re short and sweet, you say, “I sent you this thing,” let’s say they’re Gucci. “I sent you this thing that said that Ralph Lauren is beating you, I’d just like to talk to you about it.” Something like that. Lots of techniques, dozens of people on the Internet that are going to tell you how to do a phone call. Phone call is one way, email is another. Do people read their e-mail from somebody they don’t know? Who knows. Now we’re in the land of subject line. Send them something in the mail. Send them half of the report. Bottom line, if they don’t want to talk to you, they don’t want to talk to you.

[00:19:00]

We also know rules of thumb in sales, you have to make, I don’t know what the number is anymore, four to seven contacts before somebody pays attention. That actually does work. We all get hit up by people multiple times. At some point, you go, “All right, I’ll just listen to this person.” You better be prepared when you get him on the phone to have your act together because it’s like baseball. You only have one swing. You don’t have –
Andy Baldacci:No, right.
Peter Levitan:
[00:19:30]
You strike out with one swing. It’s really being organized, even having a script. I go back, again, my dating metaphor. When I was in high school and I would call a girl up for a date, I had a script. “Hi, I’m Peter. I met you at the whatever. You said you liked the Yankees.” Who knows what the script was. It’s a sales pitch.
Andy Baldacci:Exactly. Having that is so much better than just winging it.
Peter Levitan:Yes. Really, the unfortunate part of business development is that it’s really easy.
Andy Baldacci:What do you mean?
[00:20:00]

Peter Levitan:

It’s really easy. Now, what’s the unfortunate part? But most people don’t do the easy. They don’t even do the easy stuff, which is being organized. When you get somebody on the phone, know exactly what you’re going to say to them.
Andy Baldacci:Right, and if you put all this effort into getting them on the phone, you should probably spend a few minutes preparing what you’re going to say and rehearsing, getting ready for it, so you don’t blow the chance.
Peter Levitan:

[00:20:30]

[00:21:00]

Yes. Let me go back to the beginning, if you’re a specialist. If you’re a healthcare specialist or if you’re a mobile specialist, that script is reusable. You’re not inventing the wheel every time. If you’re a website developer specialist, and it really doesn’t matter necessarily if you’re talking to a florist or a lawyer or a group of doctors, the essence of what makes a positive web experience these days is universal. Your sales pitch to these guys, again, will be scripted and will be very organized. You might branch out a little bit, but it is critical. Organization process is once you’ve decided, “I know what my business is,” now it really is a process problem.
Andy Baldacci:Interesting. One thing I also saw you mention, when we talk about the process, when we talk about all the steps that fit into this business plan, this business development plan, was you talked a lot about putting together a business development calendar to make sure that you actually follow up, to make sure that you do it. Can you talk a little to that?
[00:21:30]

Peter Levitan:

[00:22:00]

Well, I don’t know any way that a business with multiple employees, anywhere from three up, can be organized without having some calendar that says, “Our monthly e-mail goes out on Tuesday,” or, “This is the blog post we’re going to write about this particular problem that our market has.” Just being so organized. You open up the calendar and say, “Okay, this is due.” One thing I always say to agencies is, “You have to treat yourself in the same way you treat your clients.” You’re on your list of clients, you have job numbers, you have assignments, people cannot say, “Oh, I can’t get to that,” because that’s the standard unfortunate BS in the agency world. The last thing that everyone’s going to do is their own business development. Well, it might be the last thing they do because there may not be an agency.
Andy Baldacci:Exactly.
Peter Levitan:

[00:22:30]

You have to be hungry and worried and the best way to manage that is to have it on the calendar. I’m not saying anything everybody doesn’t know, but if you don’t run a consistent business development program, you will not win. It’s that simple.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:23:00]

I think a lot of it goes back to what you’re talking about how things are simple and about the power of organization. These ideas aren’t necessarily anything new, but it’s those little details that can get lost in how hectic it can be to run an agency. If you don’t set aside time where you need … You’re your own client, if you don’t set aside that time, it’s really easy to put these things aside. Then, like you said, one day you might not be able to keep the lights on.
Peter Levitan:

[00:23:30]

[00:24:00]

[00:24:30]

That’s it. I think people have to be a little nervous about this. There’s nothing wrong with being nervous, frankly, I’m sure there are all sorts of wonderful quotes that indicate the value of fear. That’s the reality is that without fear, in many cases, you’re just not going to act. I wrote a book a couple years ago called ‘Buy This Book, Win More Pitches’. A title I happen to love. The book came out of something I had read where, and let me just quote this, “Approximately half of advertising professionals surveyed by provoke insights say they are dissatisfied with their current internal approach to pitching.” So, half of the people in agencies are unhappy about the whole pitch process. To me, I don’t know how a company can win the game if half of everybody is unsatisfied with the process. That got me, I said, “I know what the process is.” So I wrote a book. The bottom line is you don’t have to over-complicate this, and in fact I suggest simplify it, but have some process. Any company that makes a good living in the digital space has a process for how to manage your client, so just pretend you’re a client too.
Andy Baldacci:Right. It’s funny because it’s probably not good for the longevity of this show, but I often say is that at a certain point, if you do enough study, if you do enough research one best practices, this and that, just how things work, you don’t need more. You need to just do it. You need to put something in place and follow it, even if it’s not perfect, having something that’s good enough is going to get you much farther than just not having anything at all.
[00:25:00]

Peter Levitan:

[00:25:30]

[00:26:00]

Yes. It’s like waiting, if you sit there waiting for your phone to ring, you can wait a very long time. This idea many agencies are saying, “We get our new business from referrals and word of mouth.” Well, yes, and I’m going to say that that is the absolute best way to win new business. If somebody says, “You should talk to my friend, he can help you,” it’s great, but for most agencies, the problem with referrals and word of mouth is that that’s the default. When they say, “That’s how we get business,” one of the reasons is that’s the only way you get new business. You don’t do anything else. If you’re sitting there waiting for people to invite you on a blind date, that will be the only way that you ever get a date. I’m suggesting get out of your chair, and I don’t know what works these days, obviously if we’re talking to digital people, they’ve got their finger on there, right now while we’re listening, they’re using Tinder, I would imagine, trying to figure out how they’re going to do whatever they’re going to do later in the day. You have to get out of your chair and go to the bar if you want to meet people.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:26:30]

Right. The same thing, it’s like these big agencies who have successful new business plans, it’s not as though they don’t get referrals too. It’s they don’t depend on just referrals, that’s not the only action because if a blind date comes in, great, but like you said, you can’t just sit there and wait. Why not be proactive? Why not actually do something about it? I want to ask this, this could be a silly question. It’s like so many agencies, especially when they’re just starting out, when it’s just a team of a few people, and they’re almost more busy than they can find the time to work. They’re putting in the 60, 70, 80 hour weeks, they don’t have the time to do something. It’s like do you think there’s a point where it’s okay to just rely on referrals and should they get to a certain size before they really get serious about creating this business development plan? What would you say is a good starting point?
Peter Levitan:

[00:27:00]

[00:27:30]

[00:28:00]

Let me say that if your phone is ringing, that’s good. That’s the first thing, the phone is ringing. Then you have to ask yourself the very important question, “Are the people on the other line when they’re calling me up and asking me to work with them, are they the clients I want to work with?” What you’re doing, unfortunately, in that situation, in many cases, is that you’re giving up your ability to reach the kinds of clients that you want to reach. We all know, I hear this all the time, agencies say, “I’m getting a lot of calls, but they’re not qualified leads.” That’s a problem. That happens for a couple of reasons. One, you may not be very clear on your website or in your marketing as to hint at the kind of client that you want. I always liked it when my phone rang when I ran the agency Citrus and somebody says, “Hi, I’d like to talk to you,” and they said, “We’re probably too small for you.” At least they started to understand at the beginning, one of my favorite calls was somebody said, “I know we’re too small to work with you, but I’ve just been looking at your work and it’s brilliant.” I said, “Okay, let’s talk.”
Andy Baldacci:Right, because you know, yeah.
Peter Levitan:

[00:28:30]

One of the things you want are clients that actually respect what you do for a living. If all that’s happening is you’re getting incoming, you have to ask yourself, “It is coming from the kinds of clients that I really and truly want?” If that’s not the case, then you have to be much more proactive than just answering the phone.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:29:00]

Yeah, it reminds me of a concept in finance where it’s called negative selection. If you’re a market maker, if you’re putting out the offer, you don’t really … You take whoever’s coming to you. You don’t get to do the terms, you don’t get to do a lot. It’s whatever comes in is what you get. If you’re just being passively the agency that’s existing waiting for people to come to them, it’s a very similar thing where you don’t have that much control over who is coming to you and if they’re not the right people, if they’re the needy clients who call you at all hours of the day, who don’t pay that well, they don’t pay on time, those types of things, you need to find a way to get to the people you really want to be working with.
Peter Levitan:

[00:29:30]

[00:30:00]

Yes. That is both in your inbound as an attractor strategy and outbound is being more of an aggressor hunter. It’s interesting, one of the question I ask agencies when I start working with them is, “Name a few agencies that you respect.” I would say in easily 50% of the cases, people will say to me Droga5 which is a D-R-O-G-A number five which is a award-winning, big, snazzy, cool agency in New York. Their phone rings, but I guarantee you, most of the time, it’s rung by the kinds of clients they want because when you go to their website and you look at their client list and you get the vibe. You’ll self select yourself either to say, “I’m the kind of client they want,” or, “I’m not.” That’s an agency that is getting probably most of their business as incoming from consultants, from search consultants, or from clients. I bet most of those people are self selecting and just saying, “Hmm, I’m too little or I don’t have enough money to call these guys up.”
Andy Baldacci:
[00:30:30]
That’s interesting. I’m curious, because I know you work with a lot of agencies on problems like this, on coming up with business development plans, and any of these other issues. I’m curious, how do you typically help agencies navigate this whole process?
Peter Levitan:

[00:31:00]

I have two ways I work with agencies now. I started out, and realize this is a business for me. I treat this the same way I treated my agency. I have a little, I don’t look at it very much anymore, but when I started, I had a business development plan. One page. A business plan, sorry, one page. Which lead to my take on a business development plan for myself. Which, by the way, is 100% in bound. I don’t call anybody up, people find me, which is good, which means that, frankly, I know what I’m doing.
Andy Baldacci:Right.
Peter Levitan:

[00:31:30]

[00:32:00]

Okay. Essentially, I have two things I do with agencies. One is a full blown marketing plan for the agency which comes out of discovery in self worth and then my analysis of who they are today, who they could be. Sometimes I say you’re doing everything right, sometimes not. The next part of that is understanding the messaging. You can say, “I’m a mobile agency,” but then how are you going to express that to people? That’s the art of advertising, frankly, and marketing is how do I say it in such a way that I’m going to get noticed, that’s going to grab their attention. Then I discuss the world of inbound marketing and the world of outbound marketing. Then I do something which I think is highly critical, which is to try to distill all of that into a two phase plan for agencies because there’s no way they’re going to do everything at once. It just can’t happen. I don’t care if you’re 250 people, it’s just not going to happen. It’s really using my history of owning an agency and working in the industry for 30 years, only recommending things that I think people will actually do.
Andy Baldacci:Mm-hmm (affirmative). When you say you split it into a two phase plan, is it sort of creating lists and cutting it in half, or are there reasons why things are in one phase versus the other?
[00:32:30]

Peter Levitan:

[00:33:00]

One is that you’ll actually get it done in six months because, frankly, it’s really important to feel like you’re moving the ball down the field, otherwise people get frustrated and they’re not happy. One is biting off what you can chew, right? That’s important. The second is starting to learn from what you’re doing. The fact is, as you start approaching phase two, you may say, “LinkedIn is working really well, but Facebook isn’t.” By the way, Facebook advertising is very interesting. It amazes me how that Facebook as a B to B marketing tool is not used more, but that’s –
Andy Baldacci:Yeah, that could be open up an entire new wormhole, but there are people killing it in the B2B space on Facebook, despite all the article saying Facebook advertising is dead for business and all of that, people are doing very, very well.
Peter Levitan:
[00:33:30]
Well, I don’t have a very active Facebook page for my business. I really only use it as an advertising tool. I happen to put, today I said, “Okay, December first? I should sell more books this month. It’s a good Christmas book.” Your friend owns an agency, here’s a book on pitching. I just, for 50 bucks, am boosting a post I put up on Facebook. We’ll see how well that works. Will it pay for itself? I don’t know, but it’s yet another thing that gets my name out. What works here is that I’m basically targeting CEOs of companies in certain cities where they have advertising in their profile.
Andy Baldacci:Interesting.
Peter Levitan:It’s direct marketing.
[00:34:00]

Andy Baldacci:

Right. That’s the thing, one of the great things about the book is that one, maybe you’ll break even or turn a profit on just selling the book, but the book is part of a bigger funnel. You don’t want someone to just buy the book and never talk to you again, you’re hoping that some percent of the people that buy the book come to you for help at a much higher cost, much higher margin service. Is that accurate?
[00:34:30]

Peter Levitan:

[00:35:00]

[00:35:30]

Absolutely. The book is an evergreen now. In fact, I’ve written about agencies writing books. I gave a talk at the Inbound Conference, HubSpot’s Inbound Conference a couple years about that. There were multiple objectives for writing a book, and it doesn’t have to be a huge book. As I said earlier, when I say write, it could be a one sheet kind of cool zine. It doesn’t have to be a book, book. I wrote this book, I forget how many words it is. 80,000 words, it’s a bunch of chapters. I have taken and repurposed much of the information in the book. I put it online, I’ve used it for guest posts, I’ve used it on my website. I have amplified what’s in the book. What happens is people buy the book and a year later, I get an email that says, “I read your book last year, I’m ready now. I need some help, my agency needs some help.” I’ve sold a few thousand of these books, does it make me a lot of money? No, the way Amazon, and I’m 100% on Amazon, the way Amazon works is they make the money. You may have noticed a rather valuable company, but for me, it’s a marketing tool. It’s not a way to make money. The book’s paid for itself easily, but it’s paid for itself much more in terms of my getting business from clients.
Andy Baldacci:When did you first write the book? I forget.
Peter Levitan:2014.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:36:00]

Okay, so once you wrote the book and you got it out there, what was the process like to really leverage that asset? Was it just put it up on Amazon and see what happens, or was it more active than that?
Peter Levitan:

[00:36:30]

[00:37:00]

Well, I did a few things. One, I can’t tell you how many interviews I have on the book, but I have a bunch. A good third of the book are interviews with other people. What’s great about that is I got to interview people from the forays, from a couple of agency networks, I interviewed agency search consultants, I interviewed negotiation specialists. I also had lawyers. I have interviews from experts that perform multiple functions. One, they offer good content and a lot of content for the book, so it’s a great way to beef up your book. That’s one. Two, I could take that interview and repurpose it as a blog post. And three, importantly, each of those interviewees are now friends of mine, so they amplified the marketing of the book as well. It’s very symbiotic, everybody wins.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:37:30]

That makes me immediately think of podcasting because that’s one of the most powerful tools of having a podcast is it creates great content from an expert because so much of the content out there, it sucks. It’s just not that good. No one wants to read it, no one wants to just read another generic 500 words on something that they don’t care about. When you’re able to interview experts, you’re able to get content that might not even be out there yet, it might not be out there in written form, in audio, wherever. You can get awesome content that people actually want to consume, but the other impact of that is you’re building a network of really great, smart people in your industry and in related industries. It’s just so powerful having that. I hadn’t thought of that from a book perspective, but it’s the same exact thing.
[00:38:00]

Peter Levitan:

Well, at some point in time, when you have, I don’t know the magic number, 20, 30, podcasts, interviews, those can all be converted to text. I use a company called Rev.
Andy Baldacci:Yep, that’s what we use as well.
Peter Levitan:

[00:38:30]

Okay, great. That immediately, overnight, turns it into text. That’s a book. Now you’ve got a podcast which people can listen to, you’ve got text that people can read, all of a sudden now you’ve got a book that you can put up on Amazon or it’s a book that you can send to people. When I said earlier, using something physical to send people instead of something digital, a book. All of a sudden, you’re an expert. If you quote in a book, you’re an expert. In your case, you’re sitting in your pajamas interviewing me. I’m giving you all this free content that you can put into your book.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:39:00]
No, honestly, it’s a super powerful tool and it blows my mind that more people don’t do it, that don’t take advantage of opportunities like this. It’s something that it’s just once you see the power of it, it’s hard not to get excited by it. Are you experimenting with any other forms of content? Are you thinking about any other books? Is there any other thing in the pipeline for you in this general field?
Peter Levitan:

[00:39:30]

Not in this. The first book I wrote was a book called Boomercide, as in baby boomer, Boomercide from Woodstock to Suicide. Very strange book, it was my sort of “I want to see if I can write a book,” book, about using suicide as a financial planning tool. I’ve been thinking about actually rewriting that book. I have to decide, why am I even bothering? I’ll use that as a segue to if you want … If you think about writing a book, you really have to sit down and have a plan for it as well. Why am I writing it? Who am I writing it for? What am I going to say that’s different from every other schmuck that’s written everything already about marketing because it’s endless. What’s my attitude and so forth. And then, how am I going to amplify it?
[00:40:00]

[00:40:30]

Again, I wrote a book, which gave me content, which I put on my blog, I put on a guest blog, I put it on LinkedIn, I put it on Twitter, I put it here and I managed to amplify it greatly. Plus, I made all these friends. Plus, it gave me something physical to send people. Would I write another book? Maybe, although I’m not sure I have to at this point. Again, when I did this three years ago, it was part of my business development program. I’m happy with the amount of income I get now. I don’t need to write another book.
Andy Baldacci:That’s interesting. You’re already, not already, but you’re at the point where the efforts are paying dividends and you have so much content out there from the book, from all the other things you’ve done, from the talks, from all of this, that really have just continued to drive it. Right now, on your blog, you’re regularly publishing things, is that the main outlet for you? Are you writing new articles or how does that work?
[00:41:00]

Peter Levitan:

[00:41:30]

Well, it’s interesting. About two or three weeks ago, I had a sense that my incoming leads were drying up, so I said, “Well, that’s interesting.” I’ve experienced this before. They come and go. Whenever I usually say, “Oh, no, nobody loves me anymore,” all of a sudden, the email starts happening. I decided I would follow my best practices and I did a few things in respect to inbound marketing. In fact, I’ve written about it. I put it up as a blog post, inbound marketing works. Which, by the way, is a very nice SEO-oriented headline. Inbound marketing works. I just talk about what I did to amplify things that I’ve already done which, by the way, I can’t directly attributed what’s happened in the past few weeks to that, but all of a sudden I’m getting qualified leads, more so than I had three weeks ago.
Andy Baldacci:That’s really cool.
[00:42:00]

Peter Levitan:

You never know why these things happen, but you better be in a position to at least say to yourself, “I’m being proactive.” If you’re sitting there and nothing’s happening, and you’re wondering why nothing’s happening, then you’re really in a bad spot. At least make yourself feel like you’re doing the right thing.
Andy Baldacci:Right, you can sit and wait for the phone to ring all day, or you can just pick it up and call somebody.
Peter Levitan:Yeah, exactly.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:42:30]

The way I want to wrap things up before asking listeners where they can go to hear more and all that, I just have a few quick questions to ask. Is that cool?
Peter Levitan:Sure.
Andy Baldacci:Awesome. The first one is what do you think you spend too much time doing day to day?
Peter Levitan:

[00:43:00]

I sometimes will read things that are not valuable. It’s so easy, in our world, to read 500 to 750, 1,000 words, before you realize that, “I’m not getting any meat out of this subject.” I think there’s, unfortunately, there’s so much content that unless you’re an excellent curator, you can waste time. I do find sometimes I’m just wasting my time. I also do the stupid thing, we all do, which is, remember that word, surfing the internet.
Andy Baldacci:Yep.
Peter Levitan:You really have to put your ADD stuff on the shelf and get focused.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:43:30]

Oh, yeah. That’s, I think, something that I can personally relate a lot to and I know it’s a huge problem, getting distracted, getting sucked into this hole, and you’re like, “Wait, why am I even doing this?”
Peter Levitan:Right, right.
Andy Baldacci:What do you think you don’t spend enough time doing?
Peter Levitan:

[00:44:00]

[00:44:30]

I think, really, sitting down and taking stock, again, of what is working and what isn’t. Really spending that half an hour looking at my Google analytics with a search engine marketing hat on, or sitting down and thinking about, “What are the next five blog posts I should write?” It’s really just going through the process myself. I preach process and sometimes I get lost and don’t. Now, I’m one person working for myself. It’s very easy for me to wake up in the morning said, “You know what? This is an interesting subject. I’ll write about it.” It’s harder if you’re a group of people, three, five, 25, 35 people. You really have to be organized about what are the things that you should be writing about and stick to it. That goes back to that calendar.
Andy Baldacci:Absolutely. The last one I just want to ask is as we’re ending the year 2016, what do you have in mind? What do you hope to accomplish in the next year?
Peter Levitan:

[00:45:00]

[00:45:30]

Well, I just keep the ball rolling. I’m in a nice stage of life and I’ve got a business that just keeps rolling. One of the things that I’ve written about lately and especially since you’ve got a digital group out there, is something that’s happening big time and it’s just happening because Facebook’s into it and Google’s into it, etc, is the world of bots, chat bots. This is a huge growth area for agencies. What’s nice about chatbots, and there are many things nice about it, one is that the platforms have been developed by the big boys. Whether it’s Microsoft, Facebook, or Google, all the artificial intelligence at this point has been developed so you can take advantage of it’s pre-existing platforms. A skill set that agencies have most is that they understand how to talk to consumers. That’s not a technology solution, that’s really a human communication issue.

[00:46:00]

Here’s another world. Like apps, ten years ago or so, apps materialized. One day, Google said, “Okay, here’s a tool to make apps,” and ditto for Apple. A lot of agencies ran with the app thing for a number of years. I don’t know if it’s still hot anymore, we probably OD’d on apps at this point. The next big thing is chatbots. Some smart agencies are going to be able to say to clients, “Gee, we can create an actual conversation with your consumer. An automatic computer to human conversation. I think it’s a real growth opportunity.” Worst case, the client doesn’t buy it, at least you found something to have a conversation about.
[00:46:30]

Andy Baldacci:

That’s really cool. I’ll make sure to link up the article, I found that article where you were talking about that. Are there any other resources where people can hear about what’s going on with chatbots, if they’re not familiar with it at all?
Peter Levitan:

[00:47:00]

Well, I wrote something. I wrote a pretty good article for HubSpot. If you search on chatbots on HubSpot, it’s an article directed to the advertising agency community. The other is VentureBeat is doing a very good job of tracking the market. Their editors are really into chatbots. They came to me and a couple of my partners in our old business, active buddy, they came to us about six months ago, found us, and said, “We’re really going to hammer this. We think this is hot.” I recommend people read VentureBeat.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:47:30]

Awesome, I’ll make sure to get all of that linked up in the show notes because that’s something that, honestly, I haven’t even begin to think about, but it excites me just hearing the passion in your voice about it. I’m definitely going to check that out, I hope listeners do as well. Peter, for listeners who are excited about what you’ve talked about and for listeners who have appreciated the insights you’ve given into business development plans and just business plans in general, where can they go to learn more about what you do, how you can help, and just hear your thoughts?
Peter Levitan:I try to keep it simple. My name is Peter Levitan, L-E-V-I-T-A-N and that is my URL. PeterLevitan.com, everything you ever want to know about me is right there.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:48:00]
Awesome. That was very simple, very straight to the point, and I’ll make sure to also get that linked up in the show notes. Peter, I just want to say, thanks so much for coming on the show. I really appreciated the time.
Peter Levitan:Thank you Andy, and I look forward to your book of your podcast.
Andy Baldacci:Yeah, maybe I’ll get you in there, I think. We’ll see.

Want to learn more?

If you like his advice in the podcast, Peter doesn’t complicate his call-to-action. In his own words, everything you ever want to know about him is right on his website at PeterLevitan.com.

Resources mentioned:

Agencies

Droga5
Fetch
L2
London Advertising
Ogilvy
Saatchi & Saatchi

Content

Peter on How To Write An Advertising Agency Book [Inbound 2014]
Why Bots Are the Next Big Frontier for Agencies
100 people to watch in the chatbot space
Buy This Book. Win More Pitches.

  • Hi, Andy! Great episode as always. What is the name of the tool that you and Peter use to transcript your podcast to text?

    • Andy Baldacci

      Hey Emilio! I followed up with you about this via email, but I wanted to post my answer here as well in case anybody else is curious.

      We currently use Rev.com for transcriptions because they are affordable and fast, but their quality isn’t perfect so we also have a proofreader give them an edit before they’re published.

      Another tool that I’m very curious about is Google’s Cloud Speech: https://cloud.google.com/speech/

      I’m going to start playing around with that to see how accurate it is. If it’s decent, then that could be a great solution because of how cheap it is.

      Hope this helps!