What’s the biggest lesson learned since the outbreak?
You need a plan. Hope is not a plan. The businesses that can adapt to change easily will survive. Finding creative ways to serve your customers separates you from your competition. For example, Jimmy Johns created their own version of a drive through with merely a tent in a parking lot and online ordering, they served their audience safely and kept generating income.
Distance selling is the new normal. I think a lasting change will be the avoidance of in person meetings. This prompted agencies and sales teams to move their meetings to Zoom, leveraging video tools like Vidyard to stay “in front of” their clients. Cloud tools are the new black.
Productivity is likely increased for those who can focus - less pop in meetings, water cooler talk and out of office lunches are over. Many businesses will find they no longer need real estate, their employees do well working from home. Seeing people in their home environment is a conversation starter and I think it makes people feel more at ease - it’s a whole new less corporate feel. Seeing your client in a Foo Fighters t-shirt certainly allows you to personalize your conversations quickly and build relationships faster. Millennials must love this!
What’s the impact you and your company have seen in this climate?
Hard core marketing and sales outreach isn’t working anymore. Yes, it’s still a numbers game to convert prospects into customers, but education and sharing value; more of an inbound sales and marketing approach is working better. Having a good CRM with sales automation tools are a must. If an agency or sales organization didn’t know what their teams were working on before, what client conversations were happening, or the status of projects, they are in the dark in times of COVID-19. In addition, with employees all working separately, how do you maintain a consistent brand voice?
We are seeing an increase in businesses reaching out to “stop and strategize”. There is no better time to stop and rethink your business strategy in times of contraction. If you were unfortunate enough to have to lay off employees, you must have been thinking, “how am I going to get all this work done with less hands?” We found value in helping some businesses and agencies scale (down in some cases), re-thinking their internal workflows, productizing, and building out tools to help automate redundant tasks. In most cases, they are able to super-serve their customer experience with the same or less expense, the same or less people (out of necessity) and position themselves for growth once the market comes back. We decided, as a HubSpot Platinum Solutions agency, we needed to build a tech stack of partners around our core offering to serve this population of “downsizers” to drive more efficiencies in the contracted environment. The new buzzword is Sales Enablement and we are busy, thankfully.
What predictions do you have for the future of the industry? Where do we best go from here?
The ad industry will come back, but differently. There may be less, more focused agencies, vs. traditional shops. The agencies who can pivot to provide tools to help their clients convert and sell more (not just market more), will reap the reward of the long term relationship. Agencies who focus on the “conversion” vs. just spending the “spend” will retain and grow more customers. Retention is the new growth. Data-focused decision making will be essential in helping clients feel more comfortable about their decision to keep spending.
Where do we go from here? I think we have to focus - become really good at something. Find partner agencies to refer projects to that your agency isn’t necessarily good at. Build your stack. If you’ve downsized, find your “Gig” network. There are a ton of highly talented creative digital strategists out there who are willing to work. Find ways to build culture - not just virtual happy hours, but the things that really help employees, like unlimited PTO, work from home, career pathing and development. Empower your team, it will show up in spades for your clients.
What question would you like to ask your peers in #Agencies United?
How do you prioritize working on your “own stuff”, your agency marketing, vs. the clients who are paying you? You know the story, the Cobbler’s son has no shoes? We know we need to work on our own marketing, but find it hard to break away to do so. We are working the “land and expand” model and growing mostly on referrals, but we know that’s not a foolproof plan. We know we need to drink our own Kool-Aid; curious how others focus efforts around this.
What advice would you give agency leaders like yourself right now?
Diversify your revenue streams. Don’t put all your eggs in one or two baskets. Having one big client that makes a ton of money today isn’t a great long term strategy. COVID-19 made that obvious. Find ways to generate ongoing annuities with partners and vendors.
Advice I’ll give our agency -- outsource administrative work vs. getting bogged down and burned out. There still needs to be a good work-life balance in times like this to take care of your mind, body, and soul. Delegate and celebrate. We are a small community overall and supportive groups like this are essential to a robust, healthy industry!