In this episode of Hubstaff’s Agency Advantage Podcast, we’re talking with Eric Baum of BluLeadz, who shares how he overcame the evolving problems he faced as his agency grew.
One of the struggles of hosting this podcast is that I know listeners are at different places in the lifecycle of their agency. Some just made their first hire, others have a growing team, and others are as big as they want to get.
This makes picking topics to cover difficult because as agencies grow, their problems change.
In today’s podcast, Eric shares how those problems evolved over the growth of BluLeadz from a solo practice all the way up to their current team of 17 (they are one of only 11 Hubspot Diamond Certified Partners), and what he is preparing for as they continue to grow in the future.Your agency faces new challenges as it grows - learn how to overcome them in this podcast Click To Tweet
If you’re looking for a refreshing view on how to overcome the evolving problems as your agency grows, then this is the episode for you.
Growing your clients as your agency grows [5:00 – 8:00]
If you want to stay at the forefront of your field, that means offering new services as you grow or a new way of delivering your old service. When you don’t have a track record for these services, it can be a tough sell, especially when your clients are used to things being done in a certain way.
When Eric started transitioning towards inbound marketing, he had to take a very gradual approach. As the services changed, so did the pricing, but he had to make small jumps. First they went from $500/mo to $750, then to $1,000, $1,500, and eventually $2,000. This wasn’t an overnight process, and even today it isn’t complete. Their lowest client is paying them $1,500 a month while their biggest client pays $32,000 a month.
When you have a major change, you can start with a clean slate with new customers, but you have the uphill battle of getting the people who have been with you from the beginning to accept that. Don’t try to rush this process.
Standing out in a crowded space (getting found and building trust) [20:00 – 26:30]
When you run a marketing agency, it can be tough to stand out, especially when you are competing against other skilled marketing agencies. To Eric, standing out in a crowded market comes down to two things: getting found, and building trust.
First, you have to get found. It’s literally simple as that. If you’re in front of your ideal clients at the right time, and with the right information, then they’ll download your e-book and say, “Okay great. These are the guys I want to talk to.” You may get some companies or individuals who will download ten different e-books from ten different agencies, and try to compare them all. When Eric runs into that at BluLeadz, they typically remove themselves from that conversation right out of the gate.
Once you get in front of them and get them interested, you need to build trust to close the deal. When you get to a certain point with your agency, and you’re being compared to your peers, typically they’re all about the same. One agency may specialize in a different vertical or they might have more experience in your industry, or they might be better at design than video, but at the end of the day, the client cares about trusting the people they are going to work with.
If you can build trust into your sales process and reliably get in front of your prospects, you won’t have a problem growing.
Learn from those who have already done it [27:30 – 32:00]
Eric is a huge fan of learning from what other people have created and done before. There is an incredible amount of information out there about what successful agency owners have done to get where they are, and many of the industry leaders host training sessions to help shortcut the process.
He takes advantage of these opportunities whenever he can, then he internalizes the information, and takes what works, removes what doesn’t, then makes it his own. When there are so many successful agency owners willing to share their hard-earned lessons, you’d need to be pretty conceited to think there is nothing you can learn from them.
Don’t let your ego get in the way of learning from those who have been there before.
Don’t lose sight of your client’s goals [37:00 – 41:30]
When BluLeadz was first starting out and working with smaller businesses, they were almost always dealing directly with the business owner. But as they grew and started working with bigger clients, their point of contact in the business was often a CMO or VP of Marketing. This doesn’t seem like an issue, but the trouble arises when the point of contact doesn’t have the same priorities as the business owner.
Sometimes a CMO or VP of marketing is focused on activity, while the business owner or CEO ultimately cares about generating a positive ROI on their marketing dollars. Eric learned the hard way that while people may think that they’re doing a great job and making the client happy, at the end of the day if you’re without a direct line of communication with your CEO, it can be easy to lose focus on the ultimate goal; results.
Losing sight of this can spell disaster when a big client leaves the agency with seemingly no warning.
|Andy Baldacci:||Eric, thanks for coming on the show today.|
|Eric Baum:||Happy to be here.|
|Andy Baldacci:||You have quite the interesting background. Before building a HubSpot diamond partner agency, you ran a successful plumbing company. Can you tell us how exactly that transition happened|
|Eric Baum:||Yeah. That’s a great story. As a matter of fact, this agency is the sixth business that I’ve owned in the past twenty-five plus years.|
|I’ve owned a couple businesses in the sewer contracting, sewer manufacturing space. That’s how I got into the plumbing arena. Actually owned two different plumbing franchises, one here in Tampa and one in Orlando. How that transitioned into the agency world was way back when, before the recession in 2005 and 2006, I was spending a ton of money on yellow page advertising, and losing my shirt, quite frankly, because it was costing me too much for cost per call. That’s cost per lead back in the day, and not making enough on a job average. I dipped my toes in the water with digital marketing. I started doing pay per click advertising. I found somebody, hired them in house to do so, and create a website, more so than the franchiser was given us. Started doing the PPC, lead gen thing way back when, before content marketing, before inbound marketing really came on the scene. I did it out of necessity.|
|Then all the other franchisees, across the country who I was friend with because of the manufacturer company prior to that, that had them as customers, I knew them all. They’re like, “How are you doing that?” Me being not a plumber by nature, but a business person by nature was like wait a second, let’s take my first employee, which was an internal employee, pivot that individual to a new company. Immediately I had like thirty plumbing companies as clients, very low end stuff though. Like literally two hundred and fifty dollars to five hundred dollar retainers back then doing just like templated sites, a couple page sites, SEO, a little bit of pay per click advertising for them.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Okay. When did that transition from you? Nowadays you’re a Hubspot partner, you are fully kind of embodying the inbound mindset. When did you go from focusing just on SEO and PPC to realizing, or at least noticing that there was more out there?|
|Yeah. I found the light back in 2008. BluLeadz started in 2009. In 2008, it was Baum Marketing Group, when that first employee that I moved over. I found HubSpot in 2008. I initially found them by HubSpot TV, which with Karen Rubin and Mike Volpe, were on. Every Friday afternoon at four o’clock, I’d watch it, kick back in my office, drink a beer and be like, “Man, let me learn a little bit about what these guys are doing.” I was like, “These guys are on to something.” I totally bought in. At that point I was like I’ve got to shift. Over the next six months, culminating in the beginning of 2009, I completely re-branded the company, and started getting away from all the just straight SEO and stuff. Said, “We’re now going to do inbound marketing. I’m not exactly sure what the hell that is, but these guys are on to something.” I’m going to be on this horse. I just happened and got lucky that I bet on the right horse at the right time.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Yeah. I was like a good horse to bet on.|
|Yeah, but it completely changed the way we did business, to a point where we had one plumbing company that we still work with, that has been with us for five years now. Our average retainer now is six thousand dollars a month as opposed to five hundred dollars a month. The value that we’re bringing that client is dramatically greater.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Yeah. I’m guessing it wasn’t just an overnight thing. You talked about kind of being exposed to the process of it and then taking your time to go all fully in. For your clients that you were working with, was it just alright guys we’re going inbound now? What was that process like of transitioning them or even just growing beyond them?|
|Painful. I think that everybody who’s listening to this can identify with this. When you see something as an agency owner, whether you’ve got twenty people, or sixty people, or it’s just you and another person, and you want to make a shift. You want to pivot your business, you’ve got this great idea, but it’s usually unproven at that point. It’s kind of a leap of faith and you’ve got to do a really good job of selling this new dream to your clients. It worked for some clients. Specifically the new clients, the new people that came on board, we’d be like, “This is what we’re doing and this is how much it is. Here’s all the things that inbound marketing is going to do for you and your company.”|
|Andy Baldacci:||Yea kind of a clean slate with them.|
|Yes, exactly. That was easier. The other clients, current customers, we had some natural attrition to corporate franchisees and they put the end to having those external websites. That was like a natural attrition. Some of the clients we just said, “You know what, this isn’t our business model anymore. We’re not going to do this anymore.” Internally, we weren’t making any money. I didn’t know it at the time. I was like, “Hey this is great. We’ve got thirty clients and three hundred dollars a piece. This is fantastic.” I had no idea what the economics needed to be in order to make that scalable. Once I saw that, I was like, “Well, this doesn’t make any sense at all.”|
|It was painful because making that transition it was very gradual. It was okay, now we’re going to charge seven-fifty a month instead of five hundred dollars a month, and then we’re going to do a thousand dollars a month, then fifteen hundred, and two thousand. Here was are today, our lowest client, who we’ve had for almost the entire time is still at fifteen hundred dollars a month. Our largest client is at thirty-two thousand dollars a month. There’s a big disparity there, but I have some loyalty to some of the people who have been with us so many years, I’m just like, “Yeah, whatever.”|
|It’s funny because one of the big things that lets an agency really grow is having kind of the dependable revenue of retainers of ongoing work like that, and because it’s always the kind of saying goes that it’s always easier to sell to your current clients and find new ones. The other side of that is that when you do have a major change or you’re changing kind of what you’re doing, or else just your billing, you have an uphill battle of getting the people who have been you from the beginning to accept that.|
|Eric Baum:||Yeah. That is super tricky and we haven’t quite figured it out yet. You’d think we would over the last seven years but the reality is that we haven’t. We think we’re moving towards a new pricing model, actually starting in August in the next couple of weeks, we’re finalizing now that may help us with that up sell of our current customer base. Again that’s yet unproven. We have not done a good job of that. We still have a fifteen hundred dollar a month client. Now, what we do for that client compared to a four thousand dollar a month client is a world apart. We still haven’t been able to up sell that client at fifteen hundred a month. Something doesn’t compute there.|
|Right. Once you started getting those clients outside of the plumbing industry outside of the ones that were with you from the beginning, where were they coming from?|
|All over the place. Originally things shifted, initially it was word of mouth in our own inbound marketing effort drove the majority of things. Then once we started Hubspot in the first year or so of us being a partner, they actually created the partner program officially. Once we started creating a brand name for ourselves and really moving up the ranks in the HubSpot community, and doing good work, and getting good referrals, the seesaw kind of shifted a little bit for us. We started get more and more work from HubSpot, from people inside of HubSpot that referred customers to us, either their prospects that needed to outsource to an agency before they bought the software or their current customers that were struggling, that needed an outside agency to help with, or referrals from our current HubSpot clients, or outside people that had just knew they were looking for a HubSpot partner. It was kind of weird because up until that point we were eating our own dog food. We’re like, “Yeah man, we’re cranking. We’re getting leads from inbound marketing. We’re doing all this stuff.”|
|Then all the sudden, we woke up one day and we said, “Wow, half of our client base is coming from HubSpot.” That’s about what it is still till this day. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a good thing because we’re doing such a good job for the HubSpot clients. About twenty-five to thirty percent of our current prospects come to us from our own inbound marketing efforts. Whatever the rest is, twenty-five to fifty percent or so come from repeat business, from clients that have come back to us, that maybe we’ve done one off projects for, or referrals from just being out in the community.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Oh my goodness.|
|Eric Baum:||I know, you would think we should be driving the majority of our leads from our own inbound marketing efforts. Now, had we not had HubSpot be such a big fan of us, then we would be completely lopsided with our own inbound marketing efforts. I guess that would be a good thing and a bad thing.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Exactly. It wasn’t that the inbound wasn’t effective, it was that you had this other channel grow unexpectedly.|
|Exactly. To give you an example, because it’s not just leads. I don’t want people to be confused. On average we generate between a hundred and sixty and a hundred and seventy leads a month for our own inbound marketing efforts. The problem with that is that the vast majority are marketing qualified leads. They’re in our database. We’re marketing them on a consistent basis, and only a small percentage, ten percent let’s say, are SQL, sales qualified leads in opportunities. The only thing that we get from HubSpot are sales qualified leads and opportunities. It’s disproportionate to what actually turns into a sale as to actually leads generated. Does that make sense?|
|Sorry my microphone was muted when I was typing something. No, that makes perfect sense. The one thing that I do want to kind of back up on, I’ve lived in Boston for the last four years before moving down to Tampa, so I have been kind of in this world for a bit, so HubSpot is something that I immediately know what it is. I am immediately familiar with inbound marketing. For those that kind of aren’t as familiar, they might have heard it but they’re kind of in their kind of SEO world, or their PPC world, and aren’t familiar. How would you describe this at a high level? What the inbound methodology actually is?|
|It is a holistic way of educating your prospect about your product and service based on their pain points and their needs. It’s done through content. Understanding what their problems and their pain points are, and then creating content in the form of blog posts, e-books, and tip sheets, and guides, and slide shows, and podcasts, and video, and all those things that answer their questions. Once they come to your site, and they consume that content, then you ask them for a piece of their information. You get them to click on a call to action and download something else, in direct proportion to the value that they receive. You ask for a couple of things that’s the same value of the information that you’re giving them respectively. Then once you get them in your database, then you continue to market to them, and give them information.|
|Now, the key to inbound marketing unlike some of the other marketing techniques is you’re giving, giving, giving, giving. You’re waiting for them to raise their hand and say, “Hey, I need your service. I want to talk to you.” That goes back to, we generate a hundred and sixty to a hundred and seventy leads a month, but we never really reach out to those individuals. We don’t call them and say, “Hey, we noticed you downloaded this ebook.” We only call them if they ask to be called. It’s a very laid back approach. When done effectively and putting the lead nurturing campaigns in effectively, it creates this humongous pipeline for you.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Right. Then when you do have that conversation, when they do reach out, it’s a much different conversation than if you’re cold calling or anything like that.|
|Eric Baum:||Yeah. You’re a trusted advisor at that point. They’re like, “You know what, we’ve been consuming your stuff.” That’s what they normally say, “We’ve been reading your stuff and you guys know what you’re doing. We need your help.” That’s a much easier conversation to have than, “Hey, Mr. Jones, I noticed you downloaded an ebook and I was wondering what you had questions about.” Nobody does that in today’s world.|
|Right. Even just out of the blue, just saying, “Hey, I was looking at your website and it looks like it could use an update.” Like how about check out these services. It’s an entirely different conversation, because like you said, you’re a trusted advisor. Like you said, we’ve been checking out your stuff. That’s the kind of go to phrase. They’ve read your stuff and know how you think, so it’s not even trying to convince them about that, they’re already on board.|
|Eric Baum:||Yeah. It’s a much easier, consultative sales process. Quite frankly it fits my personality as an agency owner. I’ve done hard core sales stuff in my past. I’ve worked for MCI and American Express Financial Advisors. Doubled dialed and then been like, “Yeah, you were requested information.” “No, I didn’t.” “Well let’s talk about your financial future.” I’ve done that stuff. That stuff is hard and nobody wants those phone calls. Nobody wants to make those phone calls.|
|Exactly, and I think especially for a lot of listeners of the show who started out as freelancers or who want to build an agency, but kind came from it because they really like doing the work. They didn’t like the sales. They didn’t like all that process. This seems like a great fit for that inbound marketing, because it is like you’re saying, it is laid back. It’s not in your face. It’s proving your worth before having those more sales-y conversations. Even when you have them, it’s still night and day between a cold call.|
|Eric Baum:||Yeah. Now, it takes a little bit longer to grow that way. That’s the downside to it, but that’s okay.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Right. I mean that’s the thing. If you were starting an inbound agency from scratch and didn’t have that sort of … I know that other clients are smaller but you had thirty clients paying you money. If you didn’t have that, how would you approach building an inbound agency?|
|I don’t know that I would have to be honest with you. I don’t say hey this is uncharted blue ocean territory, this is what I need to do. I’ve got this great idea that nobody else has. I guess, I’m not that adventurous. I’m more of the guy that’s like here’s an opportunity that’s being under served and I can make money at it immediately. Any of the businesses that I’ve started and/or co-founded with other partners, we’ve walked through the front door day one being profitable, with no seed money besides we threw five grand on the table or whatever. From my perspective it’s not like hey, I’m going to do this and struggle. It’s like is there an opportunity? Is it under served? Do I have business immediately? Do I have a customer? Do I have a contract? If so, great. Can I build on that? Let’s do it. It’s not like, I’m going to start this business and I’m going figure out how to get customers. That doesn’t make sense to me. You can’t pay your bills that way.|
|Right. That’s right. I work with a bootstrapped startup, and so I talk to other startups all day. It’s funny, there’s huge differences in mentality between a VC funded startup where profitability is not a thought. It’s nothing that they need because money is still coming in, money is there. When you are doing this and you have to pay the bills and no one else is just going to cover them for you. You’re right. You do have to have a different mindset entirely.|
|You absolutely do. I’ll give you a perfect example of this. I spoke to an agency owner the other day. He called me for advice. Again, to your listeners, I’m happy to hop on the phone with people and say, “Okay, here is what I would do in your situation.” He said, “It’s me and my wife. We’ve got some freelance copywriters and designers. We’ve got X number of less than ten clients. We’re struggling to figure out how to get to the next level and get the right margins.” He gave me the particulars. I said, “The solution’s easy. You don’t need to focus on how to tweak things and get your margins better. You need to sell your ass off.” You need more sales. Sales is the only thing that’s going to fix that.” I think some start up businesses don’t take that to heart enough. Growing an agency or growing any business can be messy. You’re going to make mistakes and you’re not going to be as profitable in certain areas along the way when you’re growing quickly, but you need sales.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Right. Without that, that’s the best driving force. As you grow, you can then work at it, just at scale, you’re going to have some benefits of improving your margins, lowering your inefficiencies, just by being at scale. You don’t want to prematurely optimize. You want to make sure you get there first.|
|Eric Baum:||Yeah, exactly. I’m pretty fortunate at this point. I’m at a plateau that twenty people, X number of clients were doing very well. We are. We’re tweaking, and optimizing, and figuring out how to be better, but at the same time in parallel we’re growing as well. We’re not taking our foot off the gas.|
|Yeah. One thing I want to ask you is that as an inbound agency, I know you get a lot of leads, that we talked about from the HubSpot partnership program, and just from being in that kind of Ecosystem. You still get a significant amount from inbound marketing itself. How do you stand out in the inbound marketing world, when there are so many other agencies trying to do the same thing, trying to put out some more blog content, trying to do similar things as you?|
|I wish I had a silver bullet for you. The only good answer that I can say, is that you’ve got to have that trust with the client initially. Everybody is doing it. When you get to a certain point, at a certain level at an agency, and you’re being compared to your peers, typically they’re all about the same. Nobody wants to hear that but that’s the truth. One agency may specialize in a different vertical or they might have more experience in your industry, or they might be better at design than video. There might be some slight variations, but at the end of the day, it’s the people inside of the agency, that’s going to be working with the people inside of the client. Those people need to build that trust in the sales process. That’s what makes the deciding factor that I’ve seen.|
|Okay. I’m trying to think how to phrase this because in my mind, a lot of the trust comes from putting out the good content. A lot of the trust comes from not being overly salesy from nurturing that relationship from day one. I’m sort of wondering, when you’re competing against other inbound marketing agencies that are also … It’s one thing to probably in the very beginning when you first started getting into inbound marketing, there was a lot of low hanging fruit. It was almost as if you tried, if you put out a blog that taught something instead of trying to sell, you’re going to stand out, you’re going to be different. The bar was a lot lower. As it gets a lot more competitive, does sticking in a local area make it easier for you to kind of get your content read? Why would someone read your e-book rather than another inbound marketing ebook, or email course, or whatever the actual asset is?|
|Eric Baum:||Only because it’s in front of their face at that given moment.|
|It’s about getting found. That goes way back to the original pitch of HubSpot and inbound marketing. First you have to get found. It’s literally simple as that. If we’re in front of them at the right time, and with the right information, then they’ll download the ebook and say, “Okay great. I may or may not want to have a conversation with these individuals.” You may get some companies that some individuals that will download ten different ebooks from ten different agencies, and try to compare them all. When we see that, we typically remove ourselves from that conversation right out of the gate. Even if we know and the person’s come to us and said, “Hey, our board of directors and our SOP requires that we get three competitive bids, so to speak.” We don’t want to know about that. We’re just like okay, well here’s the next call is going to be about this. We’re going to dive into your analytics and your metrics. We don’t ever compete. We don’t ask about the competition. We don’t want to know about it. We stick to our lean. We stick to know what we know, and how we do things. If we’re a good fit for them at the end of the day, that’s fantastic. If we’re not, no hard feelings.|
|Was that a mindset you had of kind of from day one? Not even just a mindset but also the processes, the knowing how to handle that. Was that something you started out with? How did you develop that over the growth of your agency?|
|I guess it’s just a mindset that I had as an individual going into it. Whether I knew that innately or read it somewhere and just absorbed it, I don’t know. I just know that I don’t like to react to things. All the bad decisions in my life, I’ve made because I reacted to something and based out of fear of something. Once you start going down that road of like, “Oh, where are we going with such and such? What do we need to do?” That’s a fear based decision. I don’t want to do that. I want to say, “Okay, here’s how we do it.” Almost like a blinders on a race horse. Now, we’re not a race horse, we’re more like a donkey just trying to get there. That’s our mentality is. We’re so focused on great, here’s what we need to do to fix what’s broken inside of your marketing efforts. Here’s the results that we can expect. We don’t even listen to the noise. I guess that’s been driven by me. The reason behind it, I don’t know.|
|No, that’s interesting. I think that’s kind that existential question. You’re not always sure where it came from, it’s just you picked it up and developed it yourself along the way. I think that’s a mindset to have. There can be so many distractions along the way. It’s not even just during the pitch, it’s in running and growing an agency. There’s going to be so many shiny objects that can you get you off the path of growth. The path that you’ve built that works for you. We talked about this before the call, you saying about you’re not the smartest guy out there, but you can grind, you can hustle, and you can do the work day after day. By not sticking to the game plan, it’s really hard to do that. Having that mindset, it seems like goes in hand in hand with that as well.|
|Eric Baum:||Yeah. I agree. It really is just about staying in your land and knowing what you’re good at, not worrying about what everybody else is doing. I get that, people ask me all the time, like clients, they’re like, “We need to look at our competitors every week.” I’m like, “No, you don’t.” “Yes, we need to do a competitor analysis.” Yes, we need to review them and see what’s going on in the marketplace on a monthly or quarterly basis, but we do not need to drive our own strategy based on what your competitors are doing. Stay in your lane, do what you know to be right, and you/we will succeed. Invariably that happens. The people that get distracted on what their competitors are doing, never end up doing well.|
|I think to go beyond that, to go to what I think is related to that, is that the external factors you can’t account for them. You want to be aware of them to some extent to see just what’s going on, but you don’t want to be obsessed with it. You don’t want to let it get you out of your lane. Internally, as you’re growing as an agency, a lot’s going on as well. What were some of those kind of internal struggles, that did kind of take you out of the lane, or at least made you think alright, we’ve got to figure this out? What were some of those early on things that you had to overcome to stay on this growth trajectory?|
|I’m going to give you two answers to this question. First, I’m going to start with the second answer, I guess. I’m going to be hypocritical because although I’m not concerned about what my competitors are doing in the sales process, as we go through that with a prospect, I am a huge fan of modeling, and building, and learning from what other people before have created and done. The other inbound marketing agencies, and other agencies in general that have built businesses, successful businesses, and done really well, I’ve asked them and some of them have written books, and done training sessions. We take those. We internalize and take what works for us and what doesn’t work, and make that our own. I want to be clear that there’s a lot of things to learn from other agencies out there. We’re not conceited. Again, I’m not the smartest guy in the world, I just know, okay this is going to work, let’s put it in place. This is a great idea. If that person’s willing to share that with us, lets use it. That’s fantastic.|
|The first answer to your question is some of the difficulties internally that we faced along the way was okay, once we found out what inbound marketing was, how do you actually do it? That was the biggest one right out of the gate. How do we actually create an inbound marketing campaign? Remember, our experience was create HTML template sites, keyword stuff them for SEO, right.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Right, at that point, yeah.|
|Eric Baum:||Do a PPC campaign, then you were rock stars. Then all of the sudden we came along we’re like, “Writing blog posts? What the?” I had no idea how to, so what we did, again we leveraged HubSpot. It could have been anybody. It could have been the guys, I forget the gentleman’s name that started the Content Marketing Institute, and the movement around content marketing.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Oh yeah, yeah. I think it’s Joe Pulizzi.|
|Yeah, Joe Pulizzi, exactly. It could have been him that we modeled. We just happen to fall under the HubSpot umbrella. HubSpot knew that. That was so key to their success. They created the inbound marketing and what they did for their customers, and more importantly for their partners was say, “Hey guys, here’s the step by step processes and how you do all this stuff.” They built a huge library and training academy to teach us how to do it, so man that’s what I did. I leveraged them. Then came along throughout as agencies started getting going, I started reading and learning a lot of stuff. Then some of the senior inbound marketing agencies today, we were well behind. Guy’s like Paul Roetzer, PR 20/20 and Mike Lieberman at Square 2 Marketing, and Bob at Impact Branding, and John over at Kuno Creative. Those guys started putting out content, some of them even training sessions.|
|Paul Roetzer created Marketing Agency Insider Training. I was really happy to give him my six hundred bucks or whatever it was so we could learn how he was doing stuff. He was very generous to put that training program in place. It was those internal processes initially, that were the struggle. Then after that it was really figuring out, okay what are the specific team members that I need to put in place, and at what times, at different levels. Like one to five team members, at that five to ten team member level, and then again getting up to twenty, I think the most we’ve had is twenty-two people so far. What does that team structure look like?|
|Right. It becomes a certain point where obviously, you can always improve, and you want to stay up to date, and you want to make sure your skills don’t get rusty. At a certain point it’s no longer going to be having the skills that you provide a client. Improving them is no longer going to be your most burning concern. You have other challenges you have to face, namely literally growing the agency’s staffing. What were some of those? I know you said, yeah the different kind of standpoints from five to ten, and then up to twenty. How did things change in practical terms? What were some of the employees that you maybe originally didn’t think you needed. Was there anyone you hired and you were like, I wish we would have hired them months ago, or a year ago? Was there ever a position where you were like, hey we waited way too long to make this hire?|
|It seems like my whole agency journey is made up of those. I hate when people like listen to this is like, “That guy’s got it all figured out.” I’m like, “No.” I still wake up every morning and I’m like, “Crap, man that was a bad decision I made last week. I should have done that. I should have done something different and done it six months ago.” It’s never ending. In a more direct answer to your question, it’s like initially from a structure standpoint, I would have scaled and made hires in a different order. Here’s an example, we started out and after the first hire, I had a guy by the name of Mike Patino. He could basically like do everything. Besides that unicorn, I hired an IMC, Inbound Marketing Consultant, like an account manager. I kind of did that backwards. What I should have done was hire a copywriter as my first hire, and say, “Okay copywriter, here’s what I want you to do, but in three to six months, I want you to be an account manager.” I would look for a person that’s great at copywriting but that has a skillset to be an account manager. What that does, is it allows you to be profitable from an internal investment on that employee, I would call them team members, that team member right out of the gate.|
|They’re producing content, which any good copywriter can learn the business fairly quickly, and get in there and start producing content. An account manager takes a good three to six months before you can hand over the reins and in fact, it takes a little bit longer when you’re working with higher level clients. You don’t want to put somebody who’s only been there three or six months on an account that’s paying eight or ten thousand dollars a month. There’s not enough trust there and experience. I would have hired a copywriter first, turn him into an IMC. Then got a designer onboard and then another copywriter, then scaled that way. At some point, I waited too long to bring a full time sales person, because I inhibited my growth. When you get to a point that it’s easy and the owner of the agency is passionate about his business. I still everyday, my wife’s like, “When are you going to think about retiring?” We’re talking about retirement. I was like, “What the hell you talking about?” I want to do this until I’m ninety. I absolutely love it. She’s like, “Well there’s not that many seventy year old agency owners.” I was like, “Yeah, I’ll be the first one.”|
|My point was, when you’re the agency owner, you can sell, and you’re passionate about that. If that’s your personality. Mine is that way if you can’t tell by now. I waited too long to put a full time salesperson in place. That stopped my growth at some point. I just didn’t have the time, and I wasn’t being effective as a full time salesperson, myself. I was also focused on client deliverables, and managing the team. That was a big miscalculation on my part.|
|Andy Baldacci:||I usually ask this question a little bit later, but it fits in perfectly with that. The question is basically what do you not spend enough time on? I’m guessing that if you’re hiring someone to help take the sales role, not away from you, but to help augment that, what are you going to use the time it freed up to do?|
|Yeah. I’m still in that position. I’ve had a salesperson onboard for almost two years now. Ultimately, I would like to focus my time more on growing the agency, figuring out ways to grow the agency. That might be top level PR, speaking engagements, and brand awareness stuff. Also spend more time with some of my clients too. I’ve noticed that’s a huge part of things when you’re an agency. As you grow you can kind of loose sight of that, and that connection with your clients. I think if I had to pick one area that I’d want to spend more time in, it’s with direct communication with the CEOs, and the owners of the businesses that are clients. I think that’s invaluable. That’s come to bite us in the butt a couple of times in the past.|
|Andy Baldacci:||How so? Is it just that you didn’t realize that there was kind of the relationship was on thin ice, or what was it?|
|Yeah. This year, this has been a growing pain that we’ve learned very acutely. We’ve lost a couple of clients due to this. What the owner of a business, and I say owner of a business, if it’s a ten million or less company, you’re typically dealing with the owner of the business, they’re your direct point of contact. Once you get into that mid level, medium, fifty to a hundred and fifty, two hundred and fifty million in revenue, typically your direct point of contact is usually a CMO, or VP of marketing, or maybe even a marketing manager. The person making the call, the person writing the check, not literally but at the end of the day, is the CEO or the owner of that company. What they’re concerned about is ROI, as am I from a CEO’s standpoint and owner of a business, I’m concerned about ROI, and a few of the key performance indicators. I want visitors, leads, customers, costs of customer acquisitions, things like that. Those are what the CEOs are concerned about, and driving sales.|
|Sometimes a CMO or VP of marketing is more focused on activity. What we can do as agencies is lose focus on why they’re paying us. It’s to drive results, not activity. We’ve learned the hard way with a few clients. The CMO’s like, “Yeah, everything’s fine and dandy. Oh no, don’t worry about increasing the leads. I want to focus on this trade show thing that we’re doing or this other event, blah, blah, blah.” We’re like, “Okay, great.” We feel like we’re being useful. At the end of the day, at the end of that six months, a year, or whatever it is, the CEO is like, “Wait a second, we haven’t driven any sales. Where’s the numbers?” We’ve been cognitive of that over the last year and made a big shift in the way we operate.|
|That has come to bite us in the butt a couple of times. You think that you’re doing a great job, and you’re doing all this stuff, and making the client happy, but at the end of the day if you don’t have that direct line of communication with that CEO, he’s like, “No. We don’t need these people. Why are we paying them? We’re not making any money off of them.” It’s as simple as that.|
|Yeah, no, it really does come down to that. It’s something because at a smaller scale, a lot of times the kind of mindset for freelancers, for individuals, or even smaller agencies, you don’t always want to be an order taker. You don’t want to just do what the client is exactly telling you to do, just follow this, because that’s almost a commodity. The service they can charge a premium for comes from when you can look at the business results. As that becomes even more important, when you’re not, like you said, when you’re not dealing with the actual person who is signing the checks, because you need to make sure the buyer is happy. You also need to make sure that their boss is happy with your service. When you are selling to those bigger companies, there are a lot of different stakeholders that you need to make such that you’re appeasing. At the end of the day, if you’re making them more money, if you can show an ROI, they’re going to be happy.|
|Eric Baum:||Yeah. You broke it down very effectively. As we grew as an agency, we were dealing in the initial first years, we were dealing with smaller companies, where we were dealing directly with the owner. That owner knows what we’re doing, and if they tell us they want this, then they’re happy because they know what they’ve gotten.|
|As we moved to the midsize and larger companies, there’s that disconnect. That’s what we didn’t pay enough attention to. A few years ago, or really over the last year presented a couple of problems. We’ve adjusted since then, but we were like how’d that happen. Now we know.|
|Andy Baldacci:||No. That’s the thing. I’m sure a lot of people are listening and they assume sometimes, you can have guests on who aren’t necessarily more reserved but just the way people tell stories usually, it’s seems like there aren’t those kind of shocking moments where you’re surprised how life goes around. People like to talk as though they have it all figured out, but most people don’t, almost nobody does. You learn a lot of times through getting burned on something.|
|Eric Baum:||Yep, without a doubt.|
|Andy Baldacci:||One thing I’m curious about though, before we wrap things up, what do you see as the future of BluLeadz? I know you said you want to focus on growth, but where what’s the end goal for you with that?|
|Man, that’s a great question. I don’t have an exit strategy. Some agencies are like, I’m going grow to ten million and then I’m going to get acquired by one of these larger traditional agencies. I love what I do, and I like to drive the ship, and be able to make the decisions for my team that are in their best interests. I guess that’s the long winded way of saying, I don’t want to sell. Whether that’s bringing in any seed money to grow, or sell to another agency, because I’m really happy with how I treat our customers, and our team members. I don’t want to see that deteriorate when you sell. For me, I want to grow and I always use this, man I want a five hundred person agency, but I would really like to create that kind of an agency that’s doing really well, that the team members are able to send their kids to college, and go on vacations, and do all these things. I want that as an agency.|
|[00:43:00]||Now, maybe what you’re asking is okay, but where do you see the future of your business going from a services perspective? The the answer to that question is, it’s not inbound marketing. You’ll see this over the next few weeks or so as we change our site, and change our messaging. We are really going to be focused more on inbound as a holistic term, which is going to wrap into inbound marketing, and inbound sales, and inbound design. It’s truly just like generating revenue, as opposed to just one piece of the puzzle, so to speak.|
|Right. One of the things us actually, it’s funny, I talked to Johnathan Dane, who has a big, young, but very quickly growing PPC agency. What he said that he did that sets him apart from a lot of the other agencies, is that he doesn’t just say, “Alright, I’m going to get you a bunch of leads, that’s my success factor.” He says, “No, if they don’t know how to sell those leads, I’m not doing my job. Even if I am doing my job as it’s written out, they’re not going to keep paying me if they’re not actually making money from these leads.” It seems like you have kind of a similar conclusion with the inbound sales training. If these leads aren’t actually converting into sales, they’re not going to keep paying you.|
|Eric Baum:||Yeah. I learned that the hard way. We literally had one client that he had a couple of salespeople, one of which was the VP of sales. Over the course of six months we were crushing it. We took this company from zero leads and a complete almost no traffic, to generating fifty to sixty leads a month.|
|They weren’t selling anything. I’m like, “Okay, what’s going on?” I worked with their sales manager, and built the processes, built the emails, built the phone call scripts, built the entire inbound sales process for this guy, but the guy wouldn’t pick up the phone. I’m sitting at the end of this, whatever it was, call it six months, with the CEO and the VP of sales, of the team of two or three. The CEO’s like, “Okay, but we haven’t sold anything.” I’m like, “Well here’s all the leads. Here’s what we’ve done with them on top of what we should be doing with them.” X person, I won’t name this guy, like “What’s happened with these? How come you haven’t closed any of these?” He turned to me and he goes, “Well you know, you mind picking up the phone and calling these people?” I’m like, “I’m sorry, we can no longer work with you anymore.” If you literally can’t pick up the phone and dial the leads that we’ve hand delivered to you.|
|Andy Baldacci:||As a salesperson?|
|Yeah. I’m like that is insane. That’s the extreme case, but time and time again, that’s what we’re running into. To a point where moving forward, we’re actually going to require with new clients, that if they have the sales team, that they go through the new inbound sales training as a prerequisite before we’ll actually start working with them, because there’s been such a disconnect. We have modules now that we’ve built out for sales development training, and also an inbound sales module to actually coach their sales team on how to deal with inbound leads and the right approach.|
|Interesting. That’s the thing, it goes back to what you’re just talking about earlier. How about at the end of the day, the bottom line ROI matters. You can talk about all the other metrics. You can talk about the number of leads generated. You can even talk about cost that a lead requires. You can get into whatever you want to get into, but at the end of the day, what matter is how much it costs to actually turn someone into a paying customer. If you’re doing everything in the top of the funnel, it’s on point, but everyone’s leaking out before they become an actual customer, you’re not going to be successful. It’s just so, it really is a holistic system once you add in the sales training. I’m going to be excited to see how that all turns out. This is something that you’re going to be rolling out more aggressively soon? What’s the timeline?|
|We’re actually changing our messaging and changing our pricing in the way we operate this month. Hopefully by the middle of this month we’ll have a new site up, parts of a new site, I should say. Have a new pricing model with different modules that addresses a couple different things, that being one of them. Offering those services, which we’ve offered at points with our clients over the last year already, but really clearly defining what those services are. Something that we do that may be a little bit different from some of the other agencies out there, is we work on a month to month basis with our clients. We don’t do long term contracts. They can take us or leave us at any given month. For those modules and plugging those different services in, you might need an SDR, Self Development Rep training, and us handling that for three months. Then you don’t need it after that because you’re doing stuff internally. The same thing with sales training, actual sales rep training, or video services, and those kinds of things. That’s a different model for us, to plug that stuff in as needed. Hopefully, it will work out. We’ll see, it’s a little bit of a gamble but we’re going to try.|
|Yeah. I mean it’s clearly well educated, well thought out gamble. I’m excited to see how that turns out. The last question I’m going to ask you is this is a little bit different. For the HubSpot partner part, the hub, there’s eleven diamond partners. This is out of thousands in the partner program, but you’re still talking as though you’re a new agency owner, and still figuring things out everyday. Is there a moment where you’re like, okay I got this? I know what we’re doing. It seems like there’s a little bit of the impostor syndrome at work here. Am I misreading it? Do you think there’s a point where that goes away? Do you hope it never does? Do you ever want to look back and say there’s nothing new to learn?|
|Yeah. We kind of about six months ago, about the beginning of this year, I’m a voracious reader, and learner… About the beginning of the year, I looked around and said, “I’ve consumed absolutely everything from everybody and there’s no new ideas that are cropping up.” I’m like, “Okay, I’ve graduated. Now it’s time to make my own stuff.” I did, I had that moment. What we’re talking about here is iterating. Up until last year, the end of last year, I always thought there were better ideas, and somebody else had figured it out. After consuming all that stuff for six years, I finally came to the realization that, hey while there’s new ideas that crop up, I’ve consumed the vast majority of them. There’s no more excuses, now I have to make my own decisions, not based on what other processes that have been put in place, whether it’s HubSpot, or another training module, or whatever it’s been. I’ve got to figure things out moving forward, specifically for myself and stop trying to plug in other processes. That’s helped. Now, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to learn from your mistakes and pivot when things aren’t working, or the method, or the strategy needs to change. That feeling of I think somebody else has it figured out and I don’t has gone away.|
|Andy Baldacci:||Right. It’s not that the learning stops. I think no one should ever get to that point, where they think there’s nothing left to learn. It’s going from out of the book and into practice, doing the iterating, and learning from experience.|
|Eric Baum:||Yep, exactly.|
|Andy Baldacci:||alright, to wrap things up Eric, you gave us a ton today. I’m sure you and I could talk for another few hours. Where should people go to kind see what you guys are up to at BluLeadz and follow what you’re doing?|
|Obviously our website is a good place to start, www.bluleadz.com. They can always reach out to me on Twitter at Eric_Baum, B-A-U-M. Then through LinkedIn is usually the best way to hit me. Send me a message through LinkedIn. I invite, I talk to on average, probably an agency owner every couple of weeks that calls out of the blue, or sets up a time. It’s like, “Hey, I’m struggling with this. What’s been your experience on this?” I’m happy to talk. Happy to do so, I’m not in the business of charging for my time. I’m happy to help anybody that wants to listen.|
|Andy Baldacci:||That’s great. If people do want to reach out and call you, how do they do that?|
|Eric Baum:||I’m mean they can just call me directly on my cell phone or send me a text at 727-214-7688.|
|Andy Baldacci:||That’s super generous of you Eric. I can’t thank you enough. I won’t put the phone number in the show notes. People have to listen to get that. I don’t want you to get overwhelmed with that. I’ll link up everything you said. Again, I just want to say thanks again for coming on the show.|
|Eric Baum:||Well, I appreciate you having me. Thank you.|
Want to learn more?
To stay on top of what BluLeadz is up to, you can check out their website and follow Eric on Twitter. If you want to reach out directly to Eric, you can send him a message on LinkedIn or even call him on his cell phone (yes, really!), but you have to listen to the episode to get his number. Eric is happy to help anybody that is willing to listen, so if that’s you (and as a listener of this show, I hope it is), don’t hesitate to reach out.