There are 5 big 'ideas' that I've been developing in my head. I started sharing them with my team, some agency thought leaders, and the Co-Grow members this week. I've been writing things in Evernote for about 6 months. I'm going to start talking about them more publicly, so that I can get feedback and refine the ideas and refine how I communicate them. As always, I value collaboration. So please chime in.
1. The New Marketing Agency Retainer
The standard way that agencies do retainers merely enables an agency to determine how many hours that a client might need on a monthly basis so they can staff the account accordingly. It's abused by both agencies and clients. Clients often take advantage of it by ignoring the fact that they're over their time or out of scope. Agencies often take advantage by stretching out the time it takes to do things or just slacking because they can get away with it for certain clients or in certain months.
The New Marketing Agency Retainer starts by the agency understanding the client's business growth goals; how much they want to grow their revenue and working backwards towards the quantifiable marketing metrics they need to hit. They then work together to create a plan that will get the client to those goals. They agree on how to report marketing and business results to each other, what to do if they're short of goal or over goal within the budget constraints. The agency - based on their experience and data - determines what marketing activities must occurr on a monthly basis in order to move in the direction of the goal within the budget and the time frame constraints. Upfront, the client and agency agree upon the resources required at the agency and in-house in order to achieve the goal, as well as who will do what. Then, they sign an agreement. If work that is outside of the scope comes up, they do not push the agreed upon activities aside to do them; they don't do them or they are added as variances to the retainer activities.
Agencies can start securing 'New Marketing Agency Retainers' by first definining pricing and packaging of marketing retainers, so that the services included and the frequency of these services can predictably deliver the business growth that clients typically desire. I think IMPACT's pricing page is the best example of this. (I'm not necessarily suggesting that pricing needs to be published.) Once the pricing and packaging are defined, everything else flows from there. The consultative sales process must be designed to sell these retainer packages (or walk away if the client isn't a fit). The delivery processes must be developed to execute the marketing activities within the packages at the frequency needed. Marketing methodologies and software must be setup and used to execute these activities and them measure and report the impact of these activities on key marketing metrics. Project management and time tracking must then be implemented around these standardized services and processes in order to determine the actual cost to deliver them, across clients. Based on this data, retainer prices should be modified for future clients and renewals.
The best thing about this approach for agencies is that it if it's executed well, it enables them to divorce the amount of time they spend delivering marketing services from the fees they charge. In other words, because they are delivering ROI, they can charge based on the value they deliver, not the hours. This enables agencies to increase their profitability.
While clients may not think they want to pay a premium in this new retainer model, most smart clients realize that this creates the opportunity for their agency to staff with more and better talent, deliver better quality work and ultimately deliver even more value to the client. It is a true partnership where both agency and client benefit more. It is a win-win.
2. How Inbound Marketing Changes Sales
Based on the success of my 'Twitter for Salespeople' training deck (and derivative work), Frank Belzer's coming book 'Sales Shift; How Inbound Marketing Changes Sales', Todd Hockenberry's article yesterday about salespeople doing inbound marketing, the HubSpot-Salesforce webinar this week, HubSpot's success generating the majority of our sales from inbound leads, and many other experiences over the last few years... I think it's time to realize that we're not just changing marketing with inbound marketing. We're changing the way sales happens. I'm not going to suggest that the role of the salesperson is less important. Quite the opposite, Trish Bertuzzi. My argument will be that sales has changed and that salespeople need to change with it. The buyer has different expectations and salespeople need to leverage collected and gathered lead intelligence about the buyer in order to build their funnel and manage the sales process more effectively. During the sales process, salespeople must follow a truly consultative sales process, where the prospects always feels like they are being helped even when they're being challenged. Different people are calling it different things: smarketing, sales and marketing alignment, social selling and inbound sales. Regardless of the name, I'm looking forward to further figuring this out with a bunch of sales and marketing experts this year.
3. Convergence of the Media, Advertising, Marketing Services & Technology Worlds
Any media company, marketing agency or technology company that doesn't realize that their competition is all of us yet - is going to have a rude awakening this year. Google, facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Microsoft, etc. hire developers and they build web based software. But, they are really media companies selling advertising. They (especially Google) have superseded media companies in the advertising sales game, by making it significantly more efficient, less risky and more transparent for advertisers. In order to recover lost revenue (and the revenue they expect to lose), media companies are trying to innovate. They're not just innovating on their ad-driven media model, though. They are charging for content, launching their own technology-driven advertising products, trying to regain audience through web and mobile app development and... expanding into marketing services. (At HubSpot, we are helping lots of media companies expand into marketing services.)
Unfortunately for agencies, media companies are not just selling marketing services. They are combining them with some of their own ad products and delivering more value than agencies can, just like the tech companies are doing to the media companies.
Meanwhile, marketing software companies - instead of agencies - are driving the way marketers adapt to the changing environment. Marketing software companies are defining how agencies get hired and software is measuring whether agencies are delivering enough value to justify keeping them around.
Agencies - being the least profitable of the group and the lowest growth - are getting squeezed further. Some agencies are responding by diversifying revenue streams into training and publishing or even developing their own web apps or software. They are aggressively partnering with technology companies and learning new skills from them, as software and technology companies don't provide nearly enough serivce to their clients. PR 20/20 is the quintessential example of a small nimble competitor that is adapting and building a profitable business by doing all of these things; training, publishing, software, partnering. There's loads of examples of agencies doing nothing; my team talks to them every day.
This will continue to be a crazy competitive, constantly changing media-marketing-advertising-technology world this year. The change of pace will probably accelerate. In fact, I hope to cause some of it.
4. Building an Inbound Channel Sales Program
I get approached quite a bit to share how we built our agency partner program at HubSpot. It is unlike any other channel sales program. We provide a level of training and support that no other marketing software company provides to marketing agencies, who in turn use our software to help deliver retainer services and ultimately, superior value to their clients. It contributes nearly 40% of HubSpot's new monthly revenue. Pseudo-competitors and comlimentary software companies are trying to copy the model. (I advise some of the complimentary ones.)
But, we're not done innovating. Over the next year, our partners will become an integral part of our entire growth plan at HubSpot. At Inbound12, I announced the theme for the year of "Learn Together, Market Together & Sell Together". We've implemented some programs with a handful of partners and a handful of channel account managers on my team. The programs are working well. We'll continue tweaking them and will be rolling more of that out over the year to more of our partners. Ultimately, we'll provide more sales and marketing support and significantly more training for our partners. We're going to build a massive marketing and sales machine together, and together we're going to help a lot of clients outgrow their competition. We're going to do it collaboratively.
5. Inbound Networking
I'm pleased with the progress we've made with this group blog. I like the fact that we have two competing definitions and implementations for inbound networking and that we're all figuring it out as we go - out in the open.
We have 9 Co-Grow members and we have 2 solid months of contributions from them. Mary Planding is doing an excellent job as editor and group wrangler. We've also been doing weekly calls where we have guest speakers and get feedback and counsel from each other. The conversations that the blog posts are sparking are great. The webinar session conversations are even better.
I like how each of the members have a common understanding of inbound marketing, but cover different topics from different angles in their blog posts. We're going to experiment with writing on the same topic in January and see what happens. Either way, the group seems to be coalescing and we are building up traffic and lead volumes faster by working together.
In the new year, I'll be turning this site into a website that looks like a "Meta Marketing Agency". There will be pages for each member agency (example) and we'll start to list the services they provide as well as publish some case studies. I'm excited to a) turn this into a strong source of business and collaborative learning for the members and c) show that 'potential competitors' working together is more powerful than 'potential collaborators' working in silos. In reality, we compete with very few companies when we collaborate. Somehow, there is more business for all of us when we work together. Not to mention that we learn a lot faster when we collaborate.
In addition to building this group, I also expect to see some 'inbound networking' groups form in other industries where it makes sense to collaboratively market, rather than compete. I plan to get some software built that will assist these groups in tracking and managing the contribution from each member.
Also, I've held off adding new member agencies to the roster. Now that we have some processes and people in place and a bit of a track record of working well together, we'll add more members. The more, the merrier. I'll be building a scale-able way for new members to sign up, but feel free to inquire in the meanwhile.
For those that haven't caught on yet, I will personally be using this blog as a journal. It's been my style since I started blogging almost a decade ago. It helps me think, let's other people know what I'm thinking and helps me get feedback about my thoughts as I form them. If you take the time to comment below, use the #s next to the themes above in order to keep the comment stream readable. For example, if you want to comment on "inbound networking, write "Re: #5" in front of your comment.
I will read and will eventually respond to every comment. Thanks.