Sounding off: we can’t solve big business problems alone.
We’re talking about delivering results through done-with-you services. In other words, shifting from doing the “thing” to setting the strategy with the client, collaborating with them on the decision-making, and sharing responsibility for the execution.
This article is part transcript/part rewrite, inspired by a conversation between Matt Johnson (YouX Podcast) and Randy Milanovic, the founder of Kayak Marketing. Matt and Randy discuss the convergence of two business models, heralding the future of agency/client relationships.
(Matt Johnson) I love this conversation for a few reasons. Number one, Randy is one of those guys that are obsessed with the results of what they do for clients, even to the point of looking at what they do and looking at what is traditionally done in the agency world and questioning it according to the ultimate standard, that clients get the results that they expect when they engage us.
He talks about a few things in here that I love. Number one is how to use inbound marketing to prevent getting on the phone with unqualified prospects. Which, when you have a very specific customer profile, is key to maximizing your time converting the right leads.
Understanding how inbound marketing can be used to amp up your marketing and generate more leads without generating a flood of unqualified leads. Extremely important. We also talk about how Randy developed a unique five-step program for getting his clients the best results.
And that translates into one of the most interesting things about this conversation, which is when you have that process and you’re obsessed with the results, it changes the conversation.
Randy shares how that approach completely shifted his business and elevated the quality of the conversations he has with clients. The conversations stopped being around, hey, what do you guys do? What kind of website are we going to get out of this? What platform will it be on? Where it was all about the deliverables. The process elevates that conversation to where you’re talking about the result. The deliverables become tools to achieve the result.
We also talk about how that translates into other areas downstream, which is that they’re not seeking a retainer. It also allows them to go from strategy to execution very quickly. In other words, taking on a new client making decisions quickly, looking at what the data is, telling them about what their clients need, and then shifting into executing the actual marketing very quickly by getting the client’s involvement and collaboration in the decision making and execution. All participants then take responsibility for what’s being done.
We talk about why your website is not for you.
If you’re the agency that is building websites, you must understand that it doesn’t really matter whether your client likes it. If you are a client, you don’t even have to like it. What matters is whether the people who are coming to the website like it. That’s something we can all keep in mind: our website is not for us. It’s for our prospects. Are we attracting the right prospects? Do they like the website? Does it resonate with them and does it convert into actual conversations with qualified appointments?
We went into a bunch of stuff on this episode. It is phenomenal. But the key thing I want you to take away is shifting, elevating the conversation, selling the concept, selling the result that you are delivering and not the thing that you do is I think the key here and definitely go check out Randy’s company and just I love their viewpoint.
I love Kayak’s approach and their perspective on things. So I’m excited for you to dig in. I don’t care if you’re a business coach or a consultant or you’re an agency owner.
We’re talking about shifting to charging/paying for strategy, not just for the thing that is delivered.
There’s a bunch of different directions we could go. But I do want to talk about your own personal experience when you guys really started to see things turn was when you started to use more inbound marketing. You started to see the quality of leads go up, while the quantity went down.
That’s something that really jumped out to me in our pre-interview conversation. So let’s talk a little bit about that because most people are concerned about that. They don’t want to jump on the phone with an unqualified prospect, and they’re worried that if they initiate more marketing activities, they’re just going to end up being contacted by more people who aren’t ready to buy or hire them.
Sounds like you guys had the opposite experience. So what was unique about that?
(Randy Milanovic) When people came to us in the past, it would typically be with a question. “Can you send me a quote to redesign my website?” Or, “How much is your SEO retainer per month?” We could easily give them a quote and win/lose based on the price. But…
I’m a very curious person. I’ll ask, “Why?” I’d like to know what prompted the request to redesign their website. Or I’m wondering why the business feels they need an SEO retainer. In most cases, they don’t know why. They are asking for redesigns and retainers because “everybody” does it, checking it off their list of things to do. For me, that’s not nearly a good enough reason. It suggests there’s an easy button to press or a formula to follow. While standards and best practices definitely exist, website redesigns done right solve a business problem. I guarantee you it’s not about visual appearance, even if the site is ugly. It’s going to be a lack of conversions, or lack of trust, or lack of clarity. While a redesign can make it look better, it will never solve the real problem.
When a prospect asks us to quote a website redesign, I want to know if they have a simple or complex sales process, what they sell, how they sell it, and to whom. If their sales process is complex, I’m going to recommend HubSpot’s CMS to create that new design, because their CMS displays detailed data on how people engage with that content. Whereas, if somebody has a simpler or more transactional sales process, I’m going to suggest more cost-effective solutions, such as WordPress in a managed website environment. And occasionally, a self-installed WordPress instance if they also have complex technical needs. Platform selection means different scopes, which affect budgets. That all said, requesting a quote isn’t an elevated conversation.
An elevated conversation looks more like this…a prospect comes approaches us with a more specific question, such as “How do I write a lead-nurturing sequence in HubSpot”, I know that the person I’m talking to is legit and more experienced as a marketer. It’s someone I can actually help. The conversation is at the right level.
As we progress through our lead qualification process, I listen for evidence indicating which of our three arrows is present. The first arrow points to an operations-level conversation. The second points to a manager-level conversation. And the third, to an executive-level conversation. Asking for a website redesign quote – for example – is an operations-level question.
It’s not difficult to determine which role a prospect is in from the questions they ask. For example, if somebody asks me about how to optimize or improve, it’s likely management. And, if they’re asking me how to beat all the competition is likely an executive seeking big gains and business growth. While I say roles, it may not be the role so much as the individual’s mindset.
Engaging with prospects at operations, management, and executive levels mean being fluent in each. If you’ve worked with an executive, you’ll know that a common focus is business growth. And that individuals in operations generally look at your numbers while mentally comparing your quote against their salary. Viewed through these lenses, you can quickly see how important it is to know which conversation to have with each role.
In the spring of 2010, the task of clarifying and identifying our ideal client was brought into the sharpest focus ever.
I’d returned to work after a year of battling and beating stage 4 cancer. Due to my absence and the economic downturn, business was down. Way down. My team and I had no choice but to generate new business or lose our livelihood. As a result, we took on some less-than-desirable new clients. Some of whom left me sleepless with worry or frustration at a time when I was trying to heal.
I came out of the cancer battle with a different perspective (definition) on success and future and longevity. At the core of it all was a realization that the volume of work we’d done over the past decade wasn’t in the best interest of the client. That every time we took on a project without asking why/what/how etc. had ultimately been a disservice. We did what every agency and freelancer and most companies do…we did it for the money.
Because it paid the bills. But, that’s all it did. It checked a box. Even highly successful projects didn’t add to the world. Didn’t make us better people, didn’t further a cause, didn’t matter.
(Matt Johnson) Yeah, it’s funny you say that because I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Basically, you went from transactional to relational and thinking about it in terms of like, hey, if this person was in my life all the time, am I giving them the service that’s actually going to get them results, to where, if I have to see this person next week and every week for the next two years after I’ve done my thing for them, are they still happy with what I’ve done? And is it actually getting them results?
If you’re used to a transaction style, just get people in and do the best job that you can? Yeah. It’s a very different mental shift, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned to think more like that. And it does force you to think about your business because you start thinking in terms of am I doing everything that I could be doing to get them results? Not just, “am I doing the best work I can in this little slice of what I do”. And it sounds like that led to what is now your five-step kind of unique process, right?
(Randy Milanovic) It is. And thanks for the lead into that, because I love our process. Now we don’t design a website unless we know who we’re designing it for. I tell you right now, it’s never for the client. It’s for the client’s client. Again, it’s not for the client.
Some days I’ll go into a meeting and I’ll be a little rigid on that. I’ll say, if you want to make money, we have to make it for your client. As an example, if the research says your ideal client prefers blue, guess what? We’re going to use blue. If you want to pick a certain shade, go ahead. Otherwise, don’t worry about the colour. I’m letting you know what the research says, and I have no problem pushing back on that type of thing. To be honest, I only push back on things that I believe will be detrimental to a positive outcome.
We can’t do this without first getting to know the client’s client. Sales and operations can be excellent sources of great information. Outside sources can be rabbit holes at times. To avoid falling in, we apply meta-analysis techniques to our research, which means we look at trends. And, by reviewing actual historical data on a topic in a client’s existing website or from one of several tools we use in the performance of our work. Hopefully, clients are collecting data. With research in hand, we craft ideal client and ideal persona profiles. We want to identify both moneymakers and happiness makers. Because who doesn’t like the idea of working with people they love.
It’s win, win, win. We’re winning because we are helping others succeed. Clients are winning because we’ve done a great job together, and their clients are winning because they were delivered the product or service they needed. It works for everybody. To do anything else, would mean someone lost. I don’t want anyone to lose, which is rooted in my having survived cancer. I refuse to do anything that doesn’t make me feel good. I want to see people win, in my heart.
Simon Sinek’s “Start with why” book has been transformational to our process. Point blank, we’ll ask several whys (and whats) of each key person at a company. Why are you here? Are you really motivated to be here? What’s stopping you from succeeding? Share your motivation with us. Learning everything we can is critical to helping you succeed.
Through working with hundreds of companies so far, we’ve learned what whys differ, a lot. Almost every time, it starts funny because people answer, “Well, I’m here because I want to make money.” I challenge them, “that’s not your why. That’s an outcome. Let’s figure out your why.” If we can’t get somebody to share their why, the outcome will invariably be weak.
We work hard to get their why. For example, several years ago, we had a client from Edmonton. I worked with him for almost a year before I could convince him to share. The day he told me, he broke down and cried. It had everything to do with his mother. It was personal. Unaware of the power it held, his why drove him to succeed in every aspect of his life. Including his business. He’s in a regulated industry, yet he’s getting business like nobody else now because he’s become transparent about his motivation, openly sharing his story. If you’ve been in marketing for long, you’ll know just how powerful stories are when they resonate with people.
On a related note, we’ve had times when senior-level people left companies because they realized they weren’t there for the right reason. Purpose matters to us all. our why matters to us all.
(Matt Johnson) Yeah. I have a book right beside me here by a guy named David Meister. Law firms and accounting firms used to bring him in as a consultant to optimize the business. In one of his books, he shared, just be careful doing that, because when I come in and we talk about partnership issues, about half the time, some of the partners realize that they need to leave. Yeah. Because that’s just natural. You realize you have a values conflict or something, and you realize that you’re just in the wrong partnership. That’s it, nothing’s wrong. You’re just in the wrong partnership.
That what’s interesting about you guys at Kayak. And I didn’t know this about you before we hopped on our pre-interview call, is that you’re elevating the conversation in a very unique way. You’re not having a conversation about how your client can make more money. You’re not even just having a conversation about marketing. You’re having a conversation about growing the business and why they want to grow the business because I think you’ve learned what we’re all starting to learn, which is that you just can’t disconnect it. You can’t just come in and say, I’m going to generate some leads for you.
(Randy Milanovic) Agreed. And to be honest with you, this is actually one of the things that are a little bit different about us when compared to a typical HubSpot agency, because we are not seeking a retainer. In all honestly, I don’t want to do your work. Besides, you are way more qualified to do it than I am.
(Matt Johnson) I was going to ask you about that. In this whole journey from transactional to relational has the structure of how you sell the services changed?
(Randy Milanovic) It has. When we launched Kayak, our intention was to empower clients to do it themselves. Marketing isn’t rocket science. There’s a lot of strategy, for sure. But strategy can be learned. Plus, every time we learn something new, we’re going to share it with you. We consider ourselves to be your partner, not your supplier.
We want to help get you up and rolling and then help you keep it rolling. Part of that means you do some of the work. What I mean by some of it is that we do the first one together, as a real-world go-live project, and as a teaching exercise. And then you do the next one. Once you’ve got it, we’ll go up another step and share an even higher-level strategy. We go at your pace. That said, our program does follow a schedule and an order.
Our process is collaborative, where our clients participate, practice, and master each aspect. We’ll never do it for you and then send a bill. We don’t believe in that.
The origin of this approach was learned while doing creative work in the past. We’d create something for a client, who’d have another supplier deploy it, and another firm measure it…you get the idea. When a piece didn’t perform well, the fingers would start pointing. Not fun. Unfortunately, many companies still run under that disconnected model. Nobody’s fault really… It’s naturally difficult to respect or value something that you didn’t experience.
By contrast, taking a collaborative approach and making decisions together means that we all take ownership of the project. As a result, it’s incredibly rare to experience rejections. Everyone approves it as an aspect of being part of it. So things move forward. There’s one presentation. Not three. There’s one option. Not three. Solutions are based on data. We move forward quicker, efficiently, and cost-effectively.
We move from planning to execution very quickly. It doesn’t matter of we are building a landing page or a website. We focus on marketing and sales where businesses make money, instead of design and development where you spend money. We’d rather not spend time and money on a redesign when content optimization could solve the problem.
I’m embarrassed by the number of firms that would engage in a redesign when it isn’t necessary. Can’t blame them. They’re doing it for the money. They have kids in school, mortgage payments, salaries to pay. Problem is, they didn’t do what was in the best interest of the client which is insidious, really, because that client will likely return in a year or so and ask for another redesign – because the previous redesign didn’t address the real problem. At best, it was a bandaid.
Instead, we should be creating and deploying powerful offers that capture the attention of your target personas. Make your website work for you. Let’s go to or participate in virtual events. Let’s get our executives onto social platforms. For business, social media presents a networking activity, not a broadcast activity (unless you’re in retail).
Recently, we were working with the executives of a New York-based global consultancy. I shared that and they shook their heads saying, “you’re so right.” And so now they’re brushing up on their networking skills instead of avoiding social media. As a result, they are attracting multi-million-dollar deals. They saw what a huge miss it is to task a junior marketer to handle their company’s social media accounts. A junior just doesn’t have the trust or experience or credibility to reach a CEO.
(Matt Johnson) Yeah. And that’s one of the things I love about taking the approach that you guys have taken, which is from the outside, looking in is almost a hybrid of business coaching with some implementation, which I love, by the way. And I know what you’re doing. It’s absolutely the right thing. But I don’t dare say it’s business coaching because the words tend to be taken – right or wrong – as synonymous with low end or basics. I’m sitting there thinking, no one has ever expected their website design firm to ask, “why are you in this business?” I love that.
(Randy Milanovic) It’s funny because I went to a local meet-up recently that was organized by a really wonderful coach and a few of his peers. The event was for aspiring coaches. I was the first one in the door. It was a wonderful event, with around 45 attendees. The first thing the panel spoke about was wearing the tag of business coach proudly. They recognized that much of the world has a stigma that business coaches are a dime a dozen. Unfortunately, I think that’s true. So, I don’t say I’m a business coach. I say I’m a marketer and that I coach. Or I can say I’m going to coach you through this. It’s the same reason I don’t talk about social media with an executive. I talk to them about social networking. Words matter.
(Matt Johnson) I think we’re going to see this happen more and more. The business model that you guys are running, is exactly what David Baker talks about shifting more of the service into the strategy realm, which takes you straight into business coaching. But you’re selling something tangible.
At the end of the day, there’s something there that’s tangible and to me, it makes it infinitely easier to sell than when calling yourself a business coach. Plus, you’re selling time doing the coaching, even though it’s technically the same thing. And it might be a lot of the same questions and processes.
The fact that you’re offering something tangible makes your job so much easier, and it makes you a better agency owner. So to me, I see those two things are converging. I don’t think people understand why I started a podcast for coaches, consultants, and agency owners because they seem like they’re two different worlds. My theory is that they’re not. And the people who are really smart are converging and building a hybrid-type business. I think the differentiator is whether or not you’re working as a partner or a supplier.
(Randy Milanovic) One of the dirty truths out there is that when a client views you as a vendor, you will be working transactionally, like it or not. You might sign a retainer, but they’re going to be thinking about what they spend with you. Their measure of success will be dollars (how little spent, how much made) before other gains.
When it comes to sharing the space with other agencies, I recognize both competitors (they put their cash flow first) and peers (they put their client’s interests first). In my view, operating as a vendor is evidence they are focussed more on the thickness of their own wallet than yours. It’s take, not give. These ones are also doing siloed work. They are happy to redesign your website, create a logo, or whatever. It’s work. As long as they operate this way, neither the client nor the agency benefit in any meaningful way beyond that moment.
The clients that discover that partnership truly is greater than vendor-ship see greater results, hands down.
I’ll end with this… Given the options, which relationship would you prefer?