Agency Advantage 52: Marcus Sheridan on The #1 Reason Agencies Fail With Clients

Agency Advantage 52: Marcus Sheridan on The #1 Reason Agencies Fail With Clients

For this 1-year anniversary episode of Hubstaff’s Agency Advantage Podcast, I’m talking with none other than Marcus Sheridan of the Sales Lion. Today Marcus is one of the biggest names in the inbound and content marketing world, but in 2008 he was the owner of a swimming pool company that was on the brink of bankruptcy.

He stumbled upon inbound marketing and went all-in with it, in the process turning his company’s website into the most trafficked swimming pool site in the world, with over 500,000 visitors a month.

Since then, he has been evangelizing the power of inbound and content marketing and now helps other agencies duplicate his own success.

.@TheSalesLion discusses customer buy-in and why it's so important (PODCAST) Click To Tweet

This interview was a blast and Marcus dropped a ton of knowledge into it: from why your website needs to list prices, to why sales training is crucial for every agency and even how VR is shaping up to be a game changer for agencies, but the real focus of today’s talk is on the importance of getting client buy-in.

If you struggle to get clients to devote enough time to your projects or you get blamed when things don’t go as expected, then this episode is for you.

Download a full transcript of the interview with Marcus: Get it right here.

Key Takeaways

The #1 reason agencies fail with clients [0:00 – 14:00]

The number one frustration Marcus hears from marketers is that while they know their strategies can produce amazing results, their clients aren’t giving them the resources needed to achieve those results.

Sound familiar to you?

Marcus has found the number one reason agencies generally fail with clients is because they failed to lay a foundation of buy-in from top to bottom when the engagement started. When Marcus first meets with a client, he wants to immediately get to the core issue of buy-in by asking questions like, “How does everybody else in the organization feel about your company’s need for help? Does leadership believe in this as much as you do?”

Nothing else he could talk about matters if leadership hasn’t bought in. Marcus goes further and says that this is such a red flag that he won’t even have sales calls without the leadership team present.

How to get everybody involved [14:00 – 25:00]

When talking just to the marketing department, it’s hard to get the full story and you can’t be sure that the leadership team understands their responsibilities and how accountable they are to success. To get everybody involved, Marcus requires all retainer agreements to start with a workshop for the sales and leadership teams.

These workshops address the what, how, and why of his methodology: Inbound Marketing. It addresses the individual and collective responsibilities of the team and gives them the vision of these individual roles, what will happen if they perform said roles, and what’s going to be the big picture result on the company.

His goal isn’t to force feed inbound marketing to his clients. Instead, he wants to ask them questions that lead them to the conclusion themselves. He wants clients who start off saying, “This whole Internet thing sounds stupid to me” to ask, “Why the heck are we not doing this?” just a few hours later.

When he gets them there, then he knows that everybody is bought in and understands what is required for success. If the client doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain, no longer can they blame the agency.

“But cashflow is already tight, I can’t start turning away clients” [34:00 – 39:00]

It’s hard to turn away money, and if you tried to force these workshops on all of your existing clients, you probably would lose a few. But taking this approach from the start with new clients actually works in your favor, because when you make it a “dual accountable system” as Marcus calls it, you become more attractive to the prospect.

Not only does your ability to close the deal increase, but it’s also easier to keep them as a client because you become a partner in their business. While clients fire vendors all the time, they rarely break up with partners.

This process starts early with the workshop which is meant to win everybody over, including the rest of the leadership team. Not only does this help by getting the partnership started on the right foot, but it also gives you an early win to keep the client happy while you get everything in place. Otherwise, in 30 or even 60 days they are going to ask you, “So what have we done?” and you won’t have a real answer.

Transcript:

Andy Baldacci:Marcus, thanks so much for coming on the show today.
Marcus Sheridan:Man, I tell you it’s a pleasure to be here. Hopefully I’ll say something of value to the audience, so we’ll see how it goes but no, very, very excited to be here, man.
Andy Baldacci:No, and I really want to make sure we take advantage of this opportunity and I’m going to try to cram as much value in this interview as we can, so let’s just jump right into it. First, what is client buy-in and why is getting it so important to building a successful agency?
[00:00:30]

Marcus Sheridan:

[00:01:00]

I tell you what, man. When I think about what’s happening in this whole digital space, I look at six years that I’ve been playing this game. Six years I’ve been writing about, producing content about digital content, inbound, etc. The number one email that I’ve gotten isn’t “Hey, Marcus, my business is struggling. What can I do to get more traffic leads and sales?” The number one email I have gotten, by far, is from frustrated marketers who say, “I know this stuff would work.”

[00:01:30]

“I know that we need to embrace digital, embrace the philosophies that you espouse, but I’m all alone. My team doesn’t get it. My management team doesn’t give me the resources and the people I need in order to pull this off. I’m just so frustrated and if I can’t fix this, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m going to leave.” These are the types of emails that I get, and that’s number one. That’s number one. There’s a ton, thousands of extremely frustrated marketers.

[00:02:00]

The reason, of course, is because they don’t have buy-in from the team. The number one reason why agencies generally fail with clients, what I’ve found, is because they failed to lay a foundation of buy-in from top to bottom when the engagement started. This is what separates huge success from failure. It’s what separates inbound cultures from inbound programs. Most people have a program, not a culture, and it simply isn’t talked about enough.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:02:30]

Because I’m trying to think about this. I love when you touched on the differences between culture versus program because so many people, whether it’s inbound, whether it’s content marketing, whether it’s any of these buzzwords, so many people because it’s a buzzword they’re like, “Alright, we got to do this,” and so they put out an RFP.
They’re like, “Alright, we need someone to come in. Build us this great inbound marketing plan.” When it’s just tacked on top of everything else they do, it doesn’t create that bind, it doesn’t have that culture. How do you get started when clients are coming to you saying, “We want help with this”? How do you then dig deeper and get them to start having some of that deeper buy-in?
[00:03:00]

Marcus Sheridan:

When somebody approaches us, and I think every agency has their own way of doing this, but I immediately want to get to the core of this issue of buy-in. It’s the first thing that I want to address. It’s usually one of the first questions that I’m going to ask. Let’s say that somebody from a marketing department calls me and they say, “How much would it be for consulting help from your agency?”
[00:03:30]

[00:04:00]

My first question is: “How does everybody else in the organization feel about your company’s need for help? How do they feel about we’ll just call it inbound marketing? How do they feel about inbound marketing? Does leadership believe in this as much as you do?” That’s always my first set of questions. Because nothing else we talk about matters if leadership isn’t already very much bought in. In fact I don’t think we should even be doing sales calls unless leadership, if they’re a part of the conversation.

[00:04:30]

Now granted, once you start getting in higher level companies, bigger brands and whatnot, you’re not going to talk to the CEO. If you’re talking to a sub-150, 200 million dollar company, I want to talk to the president of the company. Because I realize that if I don’t win him or her, if this person, the CEO, doesn’t have the vision, some things are going to happen where everything’s going to get screwed up.

[00:05:00]

I want to make sure that we’ve already had a conversation that laid the foundation because as you know and as I know, the best way to resolve concerns in life is to resolve them before they become concerns in the first place. An example of this. Many agencies produce content for their customers, for the clients. In the process of doing this, there’s varying degrees of participation from the client in order to get the information from the subject matter expert.

[00:05:30]

Because agencies aren’t subject matter experts. They’re agencies. Right? They’re teachers, they’re content producers, they’re writers, they’re messengers, but they’re not subject matter experts in the field of their clients 99% of the time. If a client doesn’t make themselves incredibly available early on, then you have all of these obstacles that you keep on hitting. The reason why people don’t make themselves available is because they’re convinced that they don’t have the time to help you, but it’s never about time.

[00:06:00]

When somebody says in an organization “Yeah, currently we just don’t have the time for” … It doesn’t matter what that thing is, but if they start a sentence with that, and of course it happens all the time with inbound, what they’re really trying to say is: “That thing that you just explained, I don’t value it like you do,” but they’re just not willing to say it. Instead we make excuses like time. You’ve never heard anybody say, “I don’t have time for payroll this Friday.”
Andy Baldacci:Right, they clearly have time, it’s just being spent on other things that-
Marcus Sheridan:All the other things. [crosstalk 00:06:16]
Andy Baldacci:They’re valuing those things higher.
Marcus Sheridan:They don’t get it.
Andy Baldacci:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Marcus Sheridan:

[00:06:30]

I tell people … See, the language that I use with a client on the front end shocks some agencies when … Sometimes they’ll say, “Hey, Marcus, can I do a call with you to hear how you talk with a prospect?” “Yeah, sure.” It shocks them. Let me give you just a couple of examples of how it would shock them. Because after we take the time to explain to the potential client their responsibility and our responsibilities, I tell them:
[00:07:00]“Now there’s one major part of this agreement. If you as the client do not feel like we are delivering you value and if you’re dissatisfied with us, during the retainer period you can fire us at anytime, no questions asked, but if we do not feel like you are doing your part as the client, if you’re making it difficult on us to get the information we need to help you to be world class, then we can also fire you as the client.”
[00:07:30]

Andy Baldacci:

You’re making it clear it goes both ways. There’s expectations on each party.
Marcus Sheridan:

[00:08:00]

Yeah. A lot of companies say, “Look, this is a two-way street.” “No, that’s not enough. You can fire me, I can fire you. Deal?” See, that has so much more depth to it, gravitas, than if you just say “This is a two-way street.” That’s not sufficient. Most people, they mince words when they are communicating to somebody that they’re trying to sell something to. They fluff it up. Because they fluff it up, they run into all of these problems once the engagement starts.
Andy Baldacci:Right, they’re almost supplicating themselves to the client. They’re putting the client on a pedestal and saying, “Whatever you want almost, we’ll do it. We need this.” I’m curious, when [inaudible 00:08:18] here you go through this. When they hear you say these things, how do they typically react?
Marcus Sheridan:

[00:08:30]

Well, they’re thrown aback by the boldness. My response to them is: “I see you haven’t experienced a lot of pain with clients yet, have you?” Because the moment you start to experience major pain with a client, and the reasons why there’s usually two major, maybe three major reasons why we have pain with clients … The first major reason is that they’re not getting the results.

[00:09:00]

That one, I put it in quotes because there’s usually a reason why they’re not getting results. The second major reason is because the client isn’t doing their part in the engagement process to make inbound work. That’s usually the biggest reason. I mean, that almost always is the biggest reason why they are not getting results. Well, it’s crazy, man.

[00:09:30]

There has been very successful clients we have had and unsuccessful clients, but almost every unsuccessful client relationship ends like this, and I’m not kidding when I say this, Andy. They say, “Marcus, you told me early on that if we didn’t do our part, then this would not work. We are failing to do our part and we’re just not ready for this.” It doesn’t make me necessarily feel good to hear that, but at least I know that they’re not sitting there saying, “Marcus failed us.”
Andy Baldacci:Exactly. They’re not blaming you.
[00:10:00]

Marcus Sheridan:

Inbound doesn’t work. HubSpot doesn’t work. Whatever people say. Because you hear this stuff all the time. More often than not once you start asking them questions, for those that say “That thing doesn’t work,” you ask three or four questions and you realize “Oh, they didn’t work the thing.” I mean, that’s what happened. They didn’t work the thing. They bought the treadmill, they didn’t get on it, they didn’t lose weight, and they wonder why the heck am I still 25 pounds overweight.
[00:10:30]

Andy Baldacci:

Right. When they can blame the thing … I mean, most clients are going to want to blame the thing. They’re going to want to blame some abstract concept of why they didn’t get results. They’re not going to want to blame themselves, but if you can set those expectations in the beginning, then those relationships can end where you’re not at fault and they understand you’re not at fault and you’re not getting bad word of mouth, you’re not getting kind of any blowback from that.
Marcus Sheridan:Exactly.
[00:11:00]

Andy Baldacci:

Yeah, you’re not just bold for bold’s sake. You’re doing it really to plant the seed early on and setting these expectations more than just saying, “Well, it’s a two-way street.”
Marcus Sheridan:

[00:11:30]

Yeah, yeah. Well, that’s right. They feel like they’ve got skin in the game. That’s such a big deal to any healthy relationship. If you have boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, spouse or whatever, if both don’t feel like they are putting into the relationship, the other one eventually will just leave. They’ll just leave. Because the ones that’s not putting in, they won’t appreciate what the other one’s doing.

[00:12:00]

The one that is underappreciated will say, “I’m carrying the load here and this just isn’t working. I can’t possibly carry the entire load.” It’s a relationship. Having a client is a major relationship. Laying out early, early on what the responsibilities for both parties are, that’s what it’s all about. That’s what it’s all about. I meant to say the third biggest reason why agencies get frustrated is because they have scope problems.

[00:12:30]

Right? What happens is: If you don’t set the tone the right way early on, the client feels like they can just ask you for anything and that you’ll do it. The ones that have not set that tone of “This is an equal partnership,” well then they get asked to do something that’s out of scope and they feel like “Well, I want to just keep the client happy and so I’m just going to go ahead and say yes this time.”

[00:13:00]

Then you give the person an inch, they take a mile. This is not a question of give world class service. Of course you want to give great service. Of course you want to over-deliver. I’m not saying that. When it comes to scope, you can’t dork around with it. Because it blows up in your face every single time. I could talk about this passionately because I allowed it to blow up in my face many times before I got much more real about things.
Andy Baldacci:Right, and that’s what you said before, is that when people are hesitant to do this it’s often because you assume they haven’t gone through the pain as much because once you have, you want to do everything you can to avoid going through that again.
Marcus Sheridan:That’s right. That’s right.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:13:30]
When you’re talking to a buyer, when you’re talking to a potential client and their leadership team isn’t fully on board, are you ending the conversation there or are you saying, “Let me talk to the leadership team”? How do you usually go from there?
Marcus Sheridan:

[00:14:00]

Yeah. Let’s say I’m talking to somebody in the marketing department. I’ll say something like: “Look. I have, for the last six years, talked to hundreds of people just like you that are smart and visionary and they get it. A huge amount of these people have never reached their potential within their organization from a marketing standpoint because the leadership team wasn’t bought in. It used to be that I didn’t focus so much on talking to the leadership early on.”

[00:14:30]

“What I found is if I was just talking to the marketing department and not the leadership team, I wasn’t getting the full story and I wasn’t able to make sure that the leadership team understood their responsibilities and how accountable they were to the success of this. If we’re going to continue this conversation, we’re going to need to continue it with everyone involved because that’s the only way that we’re all going to be sure that we share the same vision and everyone, as Simon Sinek would say, gets the what, the how, and the why.” Right? That’s where it starts. Then we do not do a retainer engagement without starting with a workshop with the entire team. It’s just a religion for us.
Andy Baldacci:What is that workshop?
[00:15:00]

Marcus Sheridan:

[00:15:30]

A workshop addresses the what, how, and why of inbound. It addresses the individual and collective responsibilities of the team, which is very, very important. It gives them the vision of these individual roles, what will happen if they perform said roles, and what’s going to be the big picture result on the company. Keep in mind, this workshop is a sales workshop that happens to talk about inbound. It is for the sales and the leadership team. It’s not for the marketing team.

[00:16:00]

Let me give an example. If I’m talking to somebody, we set up the workshop and they say, “Well, my sales manager can’t be there that day,” I’ll just stop them in their tracks and say, “Well, we’re going to have to reschedule.” Or if they say, “50% of my leadership team can’t be there because” … I’ll say, “No. Looks like we’re going to have to reschedule.” Because I have been burned too many times. Look, if you win 11 people on the board but the twelfth one isn’t there, you’re probably going to lose.

[00:16:30]

That sucks, but that’s reality. If everybody is there and focused in on you and the message, this is that one shot where we can lay the immediate foundation. The great thing about this is … This is also when you do a workshop the right way, assuming you’re good at it, you immediately get the respect of the entire sales team. You got to win them early, because they’re usually the subject matter experts that you’re going to be going to for content.
Andy Baldacci:What about it earns their respect? Is it just the fact that you prove to them that you know what you’re doing? What is it that earns their respect?
Marcus Sheridan:

[00:17:00]

Really, that question is a deep dive into the psychology of how to communicate in a way that you win over an audience, especially an audience that does not want to agree with you.
Andy Baldacci:Okay.
Marcus Sheridan:

[00:17:30]

I had been teaching workshops for a while. At the sales line as an agency, we’re really a modified agency because we don’t do a lot of things, and we don’t do a lot of things well. There’s a lot of agencies that do a lot of things pretty well. We only do a few things, but the few things we do we do them really, really well. For example we do content strategy really well. We do teaching people how to use the tools really well. We train them how to use it. We get buy-in really well.

[00:18:00]

Arguably the thing that we do better than anybody, I think, is that, getting buy-in across organizations to do digital inbound content, etc. This took me about five or six years to really master the art of the workshop. Two years ago I started teaching it to agencies. I was teaching it to them because so many were running into these difficulties with clients of getting the buy-in, getting the participation, and they were frustrated because they couldn’t meet their deadlines.

[00:18:30]

Not because of anything they were doing wrong, but the client just kept not coming through on their end of the bargain. Here’s the biggest key to teaching a workshop, and this is where most people fall short. The art comes in that you must allow your audience to discover the thing that you’re trying to tell them without you first actually telling them.
[00:19:00]What do I mean by that? Well, based on your ability to ask world class direction oriented questions, you can take somebody that says “All this whole Internet thing sounds stupid to me” to the point where a couple hours later they’re saying, “Why the heck are we not doing this?” I’m not going to sit here and mince words. That’s not easy to do.
Andy Baldacci:Right.
Marcus Sheridan:

[00:19:30]

It is a skill absolutely 100% that can be learned. Because force feeding the concepts of inbound doesn’t work. Now there are certain things that should be force fed to make it a culture, just like I’ve never seen a CRM work well in an organization if they didn’t tie it to compensation. If the sales team doesn’t know that their paycheck is affected by whether or not they enter the data-
Andy Baldacci:They’re just not going to enter the data.
Marcus Sheridan:

[00:20:00]

They’re not going to enter the data. I’d love to say that in this utopian society that everybody wants to enter data. No. Unless you got nerdy engineers as your sales team, and I mean that complimentary, you don’t have data. You don’t have data in your CRM. It’s the same thing here.

[00:20:30]

At first you got to get everybody agreeing that this is something we have to do, but once you get them to agree to it, because you helped them discover it for themselves, then with the sales team you make it required. You make it required. It’s not optional. Our most successful clients have it required that the sales team spends time producing content with the marketing department or the agency every single month. It’s a set amount of time. Okay?
Andy Baldacci:Interesting.
Marcus Sheridan:

[00:21:00]

Yeah. It’s a written thing. It goes down in their job description. We require that because otherwise it just doesn’t work out nearly as well, so I stopped messing around. I just go to the extreme. If we don’t need them that hour, that month, we don’t call on them, but it’s required of them to give it without complaint. Eventually they figure out quickly why it’s so important and they get into it a lot.

[00:21:30]

Because a smart agency and a smart content manager within a team, their singular goal is to make the sales team look like stars. That’s the goal. If I make the sales team look like stars and look like geniuses, they fall in love with marketing and they come to marketing with a different mindset, a different mentality. That’s why the workshop is purely directed towards the sales team. Now let me give you one example, a really, really simple one, Andy, that a lot of people have seen me use.

[00:22:00]

It’s this art of asking questions to get the desired result. By the way, this is not manipulation. It’s completely different. Manipulation is when you get somebody to say something that they really don’t feel is true. All right? That’s manipulation, or do something that they really don’t want to do. This is thoughtful persuasion, okay? One of the things that we believe in as an agency that I teach all the time is that all of our clients, they address cost and price on their website very openly, and they do it prolifically.
[00:22:30]Even though I’ve been talking about this for six years, 90% of businesses don’t talk about cost and price on their website. They just don’t talk about it. I have to go into a company and I have to convince them that they need to talk about cost and price. That’s what I have to do. How do I do that? Well, it’s a set of questions. What I’m going to do for you really quick is I’m going to play the speaker and the audience. Okay?

[00:23:00]

I’m going to play speaker and audience. I’m going to do it really fast. As you’re listening to this right now in the audience, just try to pretend that there is an audience. It would go a little bit slower than this but I’m going to do it fast just for the sake of understanding the process. It sounds something like this. I would be in front of everybody and I would say, “By show of hands how many of you have researched how much something costs online over the past year or two?”

[00:23:30]

Everybody in the room’s going to raise their hand. I say, “Okay, great. When you’re on a website and you can’t find anything about cost and price, what is the emotion you experience?” I know at least four or five or 100 people in the room, depending on the number of people, are going to say frustrated. “Frustrated. Frustrated, great. Frustrated. That, my friends, is the F word of the Internet. In this moment of frustration, what gives you the right to feel that way?”

[00:24:00]

Then I’m going to have another set of answers. Somebody’s going to say, “Well, it’s my time.” Somebody else might say, “Well, I’m the buyer,” and I’m going to agree with all of them. Then I’m going to say as the speaker, “In this moment of frustration, do you just keep digging on that website saying, ‘Oh, I’m sure I’ll find this information in here somewhere’?” People in the audience, they’ll giggle and say, “No, no, no. I don’t do that.”

[00:24:30]

I’ll say, “Well, how long do you stay?” and they might say, “Seven seconds, if that.” I say, “Okay. In this moment of frustration as the buyer, do you say to yourself, ‘Oh, that’s okay. They’re not talking about cost and price. They’re a value based business. I will call them instead.'” Everybody shakes their hand. Then I’ll say, “That’s right, you stop calling companies about five years ago.” Then I say, “Instead of calling them, instead of continuing to dig on their website, what do you keep doing?”
Then the audience says, “I keep searching.” Then I say, “And you search until what happens?” They say, “I search until I find the answer.” Then I say, “And whoever gives you the answer, generally speaking, they’re going to get what?” The audience says, “They’re going to get my business.” I say, “That’s right, and if not your business, at least they’re going to get the first phone call, the first contact.”
[00:25:00]I say, “We all agree on this. This is how we all behave, correct?” Everybody nods their head. I say, “Great. I’m glad we agree. Now by show of hands, how many of you on your website talk a lot about cost and price?” Now, that’s the first half of what is considered a segment. A segment is a period, it’s a bit, it’s a lesson within a workshop. That bit on cost and price usually takes somewhere between 15 to 17 minutes to teach it.
[00:25:30]It takes me 17 minutes to get to the point where I ask a question, “How many of you have researched online how much something costs,” to the point where everybody says … Because my final question of the bit, and again, you only hear the first half … My final question is: “Based on what we just said, is it possible that we talk a lot about cost and price on the website?” 100% of the room is going to say absolutely, of course.
[00:26:00]

Andy Baldacci:

Because it’s funny. You put it in a way where it does exactly talk about it. It lets people come to their own conclusion but not even just that. They’re going to come to it with pretty strong emotions because you conjured up all of those things that really do frustrate them, so it’s not like they’re saying, “Okay, that makes sense.” They’re almost pissed off at that point at themselves for not doing it.
Marcus Sheridan:

[00:26:30]

They’re very pissed. What will happen, too, is when I ask the first question, “By show of hands, how many of you talk about cost and price?” after I’ve finished the first half, what happens is you see anger in many people’s faces. The reason why you see anger is because they’re having a inner civil war. Because they know what they just said. They know how they feel as the buyer, and then they just said, “But we don’t do it that way.”

[00:27:00]

You see, there’s a reason why I said things like, “Do you just keep on digging?” They say, “No, no, I leave.” “How long does it take you to leave?” “Seven seconds.” Then I say, “Do you call them instead?” Because somebody later on, if I don’t say that, somebody might say, “Well, in my industry they call us.” You have to eliminate the concern or, in this case, the exit strategy. You have to close all exit doors.
Andy Baldacci:Right, you’re making it so they can’t rationalize it away at the end.
Marcus Sheridan:
[00:27:30]
Because they can’t argue with what they said. They can argue with what I said, but they can’t argue with what they said. My job as, in this case the presenter, the teacher, is to show the room a mirror and show them who they are and what they’ve become. If I can do that successfully, they can’t argue with what they see. Because the mirror never lies.
Andy Baldacci:Right. Exactly. They’re not arguing against some facts from this random figurehead. They’re arguing against what they themselves just said, or at least to themselves said.
Marcus Sheridan:
[00:28:00]
Correct. Or if I go into the room and I say, “You know what? We have found that you really need to be talking about cost and price on your website. Why the heck are you guys not doing this?” That conversation is not going to go well.
Andy Baldacci:Nope. Yeah, I mean you can go over the benefits, you can go over this and that and maybe on some level they’ll say, “Eh, that makes sense but that doesn’t apply to me. That doesn’t apply to us?”
Marcus Sheridan:Correct. Correct.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:28:30]
That’s what I’m wondering. Not to go in a completely different direction, but then how for the Alan Weiss style of true value based stuff, is that just an entirely different breed? Do you think that’s dying? What are your thoughts on just straight value pricing, don’t give up front pricing? Is that just something you think doesn’t work for inbound agencies or just doesn’t work in general?
Marcus Sheridan:

[00:29:00]

Value pricing works as well as it ever has, but the key is once you talk about cost and price on your website, now you get the chance to have the value conversation on the front end before you’ve lost them and never realize they were even there. Because so many of us … Do you realize how many companies I’ve talked to that brag to me about their closing rates yet they’re going out of business?

[00:29:30]

The reason why they’re going out of business is because closing rates don’t mean jack in 2016 and beyond. Because by the time they get to you, most of the time they’ve already … We’ve heard all the stories. 70% of the buying decision is made before they call you, contact you, set foot in your office door. Before they talk to your salesperson 70% of the buying decision is made. Okay. By the way, that’s the first thing we talk to companies about.
Because that stat there I need salespeople to say that … They have to admit that they have dramatically less influence than they ever did on the actual purchase. They have to agree to that. If they don’t agree to that, if they still think they carry 90% of the sales process on their shoulders, then we’re all screwed, and they won’t participate with marketing.
[00:30:00]

[00:30:30]

There’s a little bit of fear we need to shoot into them that helps them say, “My gosh, if I don’t dramatically alter the way that I sell, we could become the next K-Mart of our space.” That’s healthy. I mean, that’s healthy. That’s why workshops are good because you can have those conversations, you can work them all out. The idea of value based selling is as real and as alive as it’s ever been. When you talk about cost and price on your website …

[00:31:00]

There’s three elements of talking about cost and price on your website. What drives it up, what drives it down, and what is the marketplace. The marketplace is: Why are some so cheap, some so expensive? Explain why that is. I tell companies, “You don’t have to be specific to you. I’m not asking anybody to put a price list, but if you think you can ignore the question and still win me over as the buyer, you’re on crack.” It doesn’t win. That doesn’t work that way. We’ve got to be willing to address the marketplace.
Andy Baldacci:That makes a lot of sense because I had mentioned Eric Baum from Bluleadz. They have a very detailed pricing thing and I went over to your website for the sales line. I’m looking at how much does a content marketing workshop cost.
Marcus Sheridan:Yep.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:31:30]

You lean clearly more towards the true value pricing, but you don’t ignore the question. You say, “Our workshops range from 7.5 to 25K in most cases.” You give yourself a few outs, you give yourself some leeway to still do value pricing, to still adjust the pricing based on different factors, but you’re at least answering the question that is being asked of you.

[00:32:00]

That honestly just goes back to the principles of inbound marketing. Think about what your customers, what your clients, what questions they’re trying to answer and then answer them. Most of the time when people are shopping for an agency, price is a huge question and almost no one is answering it.
Marcus Sheridan:Well, that’s exactly right. Like I said, it’s still above 90%, not including e-commerce organizations. Even on e-commerce, just because you put a price of a product on a page doesn’t mean you’ve addressed cost and price on your website. They’re two very, very different things. Because, again, you haven’t explained the marketplace. It’s amazing to me how many companies come to me and say, “Marcus,” like, say, manufacturers, “we’re getting killed by the Chinese.”
[00:32:30]“Really? Are they making it better than you?” “Well, no, theirs sucks.” “Okay, so how well have you explained how theirs sucks compared to your product or service?” “Well, we haven’t really brought it up or broached it on the website because we’re afraid that if we admit it or talk about it, we just might introduce them to the competition.” This is the dumbest mentality that any person could have at this point because it’s 2016 and if they want to know-
Andy Baldacci:They know you’re competition.
Marcus Sheridan:

[00:33:00]

That’s right, it’s going to take them about three seconds with a voice command. They won’t even hit a key at this point. See, consumer ignorance is no longer a viable sales and marketing strategy. It’s dead. 100% dead. If we’re counting on the idea that they don’t know about that thing, that [inaudible 00:33:12] technology that’s special at that other company, that that is a competitive advantage, we’re in big, big trouble. The smart companies, they put it all out on a table and they say, “Okay, here’s the cards. Here’s all the cards. Now let’s play.”
[00:33:30]

Andy Baldacci:

I see. Because at this point ignoring that is just ignoring reality. If you don’t do that they’re going to go to someone who does and you can try to fight it, but this is the world we live in today. Information is at, like you said, not even [inaudible 00:33:39] your fingertips, it’s at literally your voice. You can just ask it and Siri will respond.
Marcus Sheridan:Correct.
Andy Baldacci:You can keep fighting it as much as you want but that’s just not a long term plan for success.
Marcus Sheridan:Yep. Yep.
[00:34:00]

Andy Baldacci:

I wonder, when agencies come to you … I’m putting my mind in the place of some listeners here and I’m like, “Alright, so you’re Marcus Sheridan. You have the leverage, you have the ability to turn away leads who might not be a great fit, but I am an agency owner. We go through the feast-or-famine cycle. How do I transition to this? Because I can’t just turn away work.” If someone has that mindset when they come to you, how do you approach them? How do you approach that problem?
[00:34:30]

Marcus Sheridan:

[00:35:00]

Yeah, I appreciate cashflow problems because we’ve all been there. It’s hard to turn away money. It really, really is. It’s hard to turn away money. This actually works in your favor if you really, really need the job. Because when you make it a dual accountable system you become more, not less attractive to the prospect. In other words your ability to sell increases. Your ability to hold on to the retainer after the fact increases, because you become a partner in their business.

[00:35:30]

See, we let go of vendors, we hold on to partners. That’s how it works. If you’re just a vendor that means you deliver something that somebody else could deliver to them as well maybe cheaper, but if you become a partner to their business, well then you become potentially indispensable. That’s a beautiful thing. You don’t become indispensable without the willingness to inject your opinions. In order to inject your opinions, they got to respect you.
The respect starts really, really early on. It starts in the way that you talk with them as a peer, as a partner, as a “I’m vetting you, you’re vetting me, let’s see if there’s a fit here.” That’s how it starts. It starts early and then the workshop is meant to win everybody over, including the rest of the leadership team. Then you’re off to the races with the retainer.
[00:36:00]The other cool thing about the workshop is this, I didn’t mention it earlier, is many of us struggle early on when we’re getting an inbound campaign set up to get initial victories. What happens is after the first 30 days or the second 30 days … You’re 60 days in and all of a sudden the client looks at you and says, “So, like, what have we done?” This is the period where you’re just so busy trying to get everything set up that you might not have a ton of content produced yet.
[00:36:30]You might not have e-books done. You might not have this or that done yet. These things aren’t done yet. Maybe they are, but for many they’re not done yet. You have had no victories. That’s why a lot of companies enjoy web design, at least the part of delivering it, because it’s a big victory that wins the client over for a period of time. Right? The cool thing about a workshop is you can have a massive victory on the first day of the retainer.
[00:37:00]

Andy Baldacci:

I see. That’s huge, because I’ve been talking to so many agency owners, even unsuccessful agency owners, and a lot of the time they’ll say that that onboarding period, getting through that first win, is a tenuous relationship because you don’t have anything. They’re paying you but you don’t have anything to show them. Having something where day one, kick off on this workshop, you’re getting them excited to work with you and you’re also laying out the expectations.
Marcus Sheridan:

[00:37:30]

There’s another major part to this. Because you just did the workshop and you just won over the sales team, now you’ve opened up the door to your second win. Let’s assume for a second you’re not even doing a website redesign. Your wins are based on more traffic leads and sales. Right? Which is like “Ooh, this is tough. This is tough.” Because we all know that that can take some time.

[00:38:00]

Even though they say, “Okay, I know I’m in this for the long haul,” and even though you say this could take three, six, twelve, whatever months you say to really start getting some tangible ROI results on the account spreadsheet, they don’t always remember that or want to hear that when they’re six months in and they haven’t been able to tie revenue back to the agency. The second major victory you could have is, again, a sales victory, and this is how it works.
[00:38:30]The content that you produce early with the client should be very, very sales specific content, no fluff. The sales specific content is important because yes, that’s what’s going to generate the most traffic leads and sales but also this is the content that the sales team can integrate right away into their sales process. Two, improve closing rates and decrease the sales cycle. Right? If we do this the right way, as soon as the content starts to get produced, we’re teaching the sales team how to use it.
[00:39:00]We’re showing them how to use it. Right? As we show them how to integrate it into their sales process … Remember, we’ve already earned their respect so they’re listening to us now. Now that they’re doing this and they’re instead of just saying, “Hey, let’s have that first phone call with the prospect next week,” but instead they’re integrating content into that mix so that when they have first phone call, prospect has well advanced way further down the funnel than they would’ve been otherwise-
Andy Baldacci:
[00:39:30]
Just to clarify: When you say integrate the content, that’d be something like having a salesperson say, “All right, before we get on this call let me send you over this article or this e-book or something. Check this out before we get on the calls.” It’s something like that or-
Marcus Sheridan:Yep.
Andy Baldacci:How does that usually look?
Marcus Sheridan:Yeah. Let me give you an example with our clients. The first set of content they produce always has to do with cost. Right? Because that’s the first question, main question everybody asks in a sales situation, B2B, B2C, it’s the same question. “I’m not going to hold you to it but give me a feel. How much is something like this going to cost?” Right? That’s one of the first questions they ask a salesperson.
[00:40:00]What we do is we always, always address all the cost questions as our first set of content and then we take all those questions and we turn that into our first premium piece of content, e-book, guide, whatever you want to call it. I don’t care what you call it, [inaudible 00:40:11] whatever. It’s their first set of videos. It’s cost based videos, right? Now, let’s say lead comes into the system. Your initial reaction if you don’t make a call that second … A call that second’s fine.
[00:40:30]I’m not going to say that’s wrong. It’s totally cool, totally great. It’s a good thing. Let’s say that you don’t call them that second. Let’s say you’re going to send out the email that second. The email might sound something like this: “Hey Mr. Jones, you just contacted us. I’m super excited to talk to you. You’ve got a few questions right now, I know. I know one of the biggest questions you have right now has to do with cost.”

[00:41:00]

“I appreciate that. You are not alone. In this email I’ve attached this particular video, this particular article that’s going to break down all the factors that are going to dictate the cost of this project that you’re getting ready to have. I want you to get a sense for this now before we have our first conversation because it’s going to allow our time together to be that much more productive.”

[00:41:30]

“Now, I’m going to give you a call tomorrow about 1700 hours, and I look forward to chatting,” or then you send them your [inaudible 00:41:15] link and they say, “Let me know when we can have our first call.” At least you have now separated yourself from the pack already, and at least if they do the assignment, and many of them will do the assignment, that first phone call, that first conversation is different. That’s an immediate win that you can have with a sales team. That is a win that can happen usually within 15 to 30 days in. Workshop is day one.
Andy Baldacci:Wow. Okay.
Marcus Sheridan:

[00:42:00]

Okay. Now you start producing content immediately, and your first cost piece of content hopefully is going to happen within the first couple weeks. Otherwise you’re really stinking slow. If that is happening, that immediately goes into the sales pipeline of sales resources that we use. The victories are stacking up. They’re stacking up. We’ve got a piece of content out there. It’s a cost one. We’re using it in the sales process. It’s affecting our first phone calls. That’s how we get the wins early on.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:42:30]
I see. There’s so much I’m just unpacking in my head right now because it’s like … You touched on a little bit but it’s like even if they don’t do the assignment, you’ve already separated yourselves just by giving that information. They know “All right, these guys are different. These guys get me. They understand why I’m not talking to anyone else.” Even if they’re too busy to get to it, you’re already standing out in their mind, but if they do get to it, you’re that much farther down along in the sales cycle.
Marcus Sheridan:
[00:43:00]
The conversation we’re having, Andy, lends itself to this topic of if your agency isn’t doing sales training, well then you’re probably going to get screwed at some point. Because I don’t think you can be viable at this point without sales training as an agency. I really don’t, not long term. You don’t become indispensable. The thing about this is, this is a huge value add for us as agencies. Because Sandler Sales, they’re not doing digital sales training.
[00:43:30]They don’t know jack about it. That’s why Sandler has a pretty crappy website and a crappy content marketing effort. They don’t get it yet. Now, they know Sandler Sales methodology. They’ve been doing it for years, and a lot of people that are listening to this, their clients are following Sandler Sales methodology. It has nothing to do with digital, for the most part. There’s principles that align, yes, but it’s not a digital sales strategy.

[00:44:00]

You get to come in there and you get to be the digital Sandler Sales teacher, and you now are winning on both fronts. You’re winning on the marketing side, you’re winning on the sales side. You’re focused on the part of the business that makes it rain. That’s why everything is a sales conversation. I look at a tool like HubSpot. Biggest mistake they ever made, HubSpot, Marketo, Eloqua, all of them, is they call themselves marketing automation.

[00:44:30]

That was dumb. Because the fact of the matter is, if you want to get an idea approved in an organization you call it sales. If you want to get it turned down you call it marketing. You create this movement and you call it marketing automation, when really what it is, it’s advanced sales and marketing tools. That’s what it is. It’s advanced sales and marketing tools. We have nothing but sales conversations.

[00:45:00]

HubSpot is a tool to measure the ROI of all of our digital sales and marketing efforts, first and foremost. That’s what it is. That’s how we explain it to clients. Right? HubSpot is the key for your sales team having advanced lead intelligence to make better calls to their clients. Inbound is a sales methodology. That’s how it’s always described. When you teach a workshop, it’s to the sales department. The whole time, the marketing team’s just sitting back smiling.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:45:30]
You gave me a thousand different directions I could go in. This gives me an easy way to wrap things up a little bit. I’m curious first: Do you see the Sales Lion … Do you want to become the Sandler Training of the digital space?
Marcus Sheridan:

[00:46:00]

Well, we’ve been doing a lot more of that. I’ve never thought about it like that so it’s a great question, Andy. I’ll probably chew on that one the rest of today. I do see us as business partners that are training … We’re spending more time training people how to do digital sales and how to do video than we are how to do content at this point, textual content. That makes me happy because I feel like we’re having the right conversations.

[00:46:30]

We’re having the right conversations. As an agency we’re evolving in that we’re training them how to communicate at the highest level, from the marketing front, the sales front, the video front, whatever that thing is. I do enjoy it. I enjoy it quite a bit, quite a bit, but it’s always evolving. It’s always evolving, man, like every agency should be. That’s good, that’s okay.
Andy Baldacci:Mm-hmm (affirmative). Are there any initiatives, anything you’re trying to work on to get out there and change or at least promote more with the Sales Lion in the next six months?
Marcus Sheridan:

[00:47:00]

Well, my big thing that I have coming out is They Ask You Answer the book is coming out in January. Wiley is publishing it, and it’s going to be a great book. There’s a section on inbound for sales. There’s a section on inbound for marketing. It addresses both sides of the coin. Most books about content marketing address it from a marketing standpoint. This book is about content marketing, inbound sales. That’s what it’s about.
Andy Baldacci:Oh, okay.
Marcus Sheridan:

[00:47:30]

That’s what it’s about. I’m pretty excited about it and of course you know me, I’ve been espousing They Ask You Answer for a long, long time. I’m also excited about the fact that I have been training so many agencies and individuals on how to be world class communicators, in all of its forms. I’ve taught a ton of agencies at this point how to deliver workshops more effectively. Very rewarding. It impacts how they have team meetings, as well, like all the principles that we teach. That’s been a big reward and it’s been very successful. The rest, I’m just allowing it to continue to evolve, man. That’s where it’s headed.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:48:00]
Nice. I’ll make sure to get the book linked up in the show notes and before we do wrap up, there’s two quick questions I’d like to ask everyone. The first one is just: What do you think you spend too much time on right now?
Marcus Sheridan:Email.
Andy Baldacci:That’s a very common one. If you got all that time back or more, where are the biggest leverage points? Where do you think you should be spending more time?
Marcus Sheridan:There’s no question. I need to and want to spend more time learning about, practicing, applying, experimenting with virtual reality.
Andy Baldacci:Interesting. Interesting.
[00:48:30]

Marcus Sheridan:

Not even close. As an agency we’re going to be offering VR services, I know, within the next two years.
Andy Baldacci:Wow. Because that’s the thing. I hear all about this VR and everyone who has experience with it is saying, “This time it’s real. This time things are changing that way.” VR, AR, just all of that. Just at a high level, how do you see that impacting the agency? Is that stuff [inaudible 00:48:50] people are going to need to offer their clients or is it going to help with … What angle do you see-
Marcus Sheridan:

[00:49:00]

Yeah, this is going to be the greatest differentiator for agencies in the next five years, is their ability to address the VR issue. Okay? We have a mantra currently at River Pools, a vision statement for our VR. It’s very simple. Look at it like if I was pitching River Pools as an agency, and I went in and I gave them: “This is our mantra statement for you.” The mantra statement is this. We want people to swim in our pools before they swim in our pools.
Andy Baldacci:I see.
[00:49:30]

Marcus Sheridan:

All right? Now, that is the vision. We want them to experience swimming in our pools before they actually swim in our pools. The only way you can do that is through VR technology. Within the next year, preferably six months, I want our sales team at River Pools taking on their in-home sales appointments the goggles with them, let’s just call them the goggles, the headsets, with them, to put on the child’s …
[00:50:00]So the child can wear it and say, “Mommy, this is amazing. I’m underwater right now and I’m walking around the pool.” That’s exciting. That’s going to change the game for River Pools and it’s going to change the game for all agencies, because if you went in as an agency and pitched that, people would be like, “Where can I sign?”
Andy Baldacci:Right. I’m just sitting here with a blank look on my face because that’s ridiculous. Is anyone doing that now?
Marcus Sheridan:Heck no, dude.
Andy Baldacci:I didn’t think so.
[00:50:30]

Marcus Sheridan:

Not even close. We’re still trying to hire content writers to produce the next blog post. I think we got to move past that, because I don’t think that’s a strong endgame.
Andy Baldacci:Wow. I didn’t think we would go into AR/VR stuff with this, but we have and I’m very glad we did. To wrap things up, Marcus, if people want to hear more from you where is the best place for them to go?
[00:51:00]

Marcus Sheridan:

Best place to go is thesaleslion, L-I-O-N dot com. You can just personally email me if you’re listening to this. It’s marcus@thesaleslion.com. Again, the book, it’s on Amazon right now. Just type in They Ask You Answer. It’ll pop right up. Please, hit me up with any questions. I’m always happy to help.
Andy Baldacci:Awesome, and I really appreciate you taking the time today to chat with me. It was a lot of fun.

Want to learn more?

To hear more from Marcus, follow him on Twitter, check out his site at TheSalesLion.com, or tune into the interview to get his email address. In January, Marcus’ new book, They Ask You Answer: A Revolutionary Content Marketing Strategy will be out and you can pre-order it now.

Resources mentioned:

Hubspot
Sandler Training
River Pools and Spas

Thanks for listening!