Agencies large and small struggle to get leads that are conversation ready for themselves even when they are masterful at getting them for their clients. It’s one of the great ironies of the marketing world. Most agency business is relationship driven and has little to do with the actual marketing they are doing for themselves.
The cause is understandable. As an agency, you are looking outside-in with your clients but with your own business you are looking inside-out and that one change in perspective is why most agencies struggle to make their own strategies work for themselves.
With your permission, I’d like to shed a little bit of outside-in perspective for five ways you can promote your own company to drive more bookings.
1. Become a “Localized” Celebrity
I put localized in quotes because since the COVID-19 pandemic the world opened up during shut down. The adoption of video conferencing fast forwarded 10 years in the span of a few months.
I remember pre-covid, trying to push video conferences on my calls and for many of these calls I would have to give the caller a walk through of the video platform before I could give them a walk through of my platform! Today, the assumption is that the call will be on Zoom and there is instant comfort and ease on the call.
Being able to video directly with people across the globe has opened the world up vastly which is unfortunately a double edged sword.
On one hand, you can reach and serve clients from anywhere and being “local” is now less important than being the best fit. The “support local” sentiment of the 2010’s seems like its fading and now “local” is no longer connected to locale. Instead, local is all about supporting your social network.
Social networks have been taken to the next level in the last year alone as if they weren’t already next level. The ability to put a face and a voice to a name through video is creating a simulacrum of a personal relationship. Producing video consistently and often, putting your personality out there makes people feel like they know you. It’s not quite the same as in real life, but it leads phone and email by a mile.
Not only is an interpersonal face to face engagement enough to make an introduction call a welcome request but it can even feel like an honor.
To support this idea, I’ll use an actual local example. The other night, I was out downtown on a double date. After dinner, we decided to walk around down town. It didn’t take long for me to bump into people that I know. The other couple started joking that they were so lucky to be walking around with the home town hero. My date commented that this happens all the time and that I know everybody.
Well, in my former business, I did run a local small business and through that business I met a lot of people. But I also produced a lot of video of my work in people’s homes. On one occasion I was working with a homeowner and she commented that her daughter was very excited to meet me because she loved interior design and I felt like a celebrity to her. The excitement in working with me was more about my local celebrity than it was about the differentiation among contractors.
The baseline assumption was that there are a handful of good contractors and a handful of bad ones, but we get to work with this well known one.
Not only did this localized celebrityhood serve me well in my city, but it also took me to the national stage of paint contractors, hosting a national podcast, keynote speaking at conferences, launching a book, building a national directory for contractors that connects them with homeowners, allowing them to book estimates directly online, and being contacted directly by some of the biggest brands in the industry.
Today, contractors contact me and ask what they can do to make it worth my time to give them even 10 minutes of Q&A. It’s an honor to be esteemed in such away and I’m happy to share both my successes and failures, but this is the power of becoming a localized celebrity. Not local to a region, but local to a community of people with similar traits.
In order to find this community of people you have to first identify a category you want to serve. Instead of being a full-service company to anyone and everyone, double down on an area of expertise. Expertise is the strongest differentiator you can have. Where other agencies are generalists and serve a variety of customers, you will have expertise in one type of business and you will know the fastest and most effective way to drive new bookings than any other company.
When you speak to this group by name, they will listen. When you know their problems intimately you can solve their problems effectively. And they will respond.
Becoming a localized celebrity is about being known among the smallest viable audience. You don’t need to amass millions of follows and likes. You only need just enough to keep your schedule booked with appointments. So start small. One little starfish at a time. And as your appointment slots get filled, you’ll know how viable the size of audience you have is.
2. Produce Content For The Senses
Adding to the theme of local celebrity, celebrities produce content. They are visible on television and in the movies. They are interviewed on talk shows and for magazines. They do commercials for products.
Of the above mentioned avenues, what is unreachable for you today? None of them. At least on a localized scale. We can produce 4K videos with the cell phone in our pockets and distribute them world-wide for free.
Here’s another ridiculous example that highlights my odd and hardly qualified version of celebrity. I once tried a marketing gimmick of renting a mall kiosk to promote my local business. It flopped horribly and I only got one small job out of the deal which only covered a tenth of the cost of the whole campaign. BUT the Israeli renter of the kiosk next to me taught me an interesting lesson.
He was a peculiar person. Much like many of the Israeli kiosk vendors I’ve encountered he had a somewhat seductive way of selling these flat/curling iron combos. He’d sort of lure women in and either straighten or curl their hair for them and tell them how attractive they looked after. Then in-between stylings he’d come over to me to talk my ear off. Sometimes he’d ask me if the beanie he was wearing made him look dumb and implore me to not lie to his face about it and other times he would just complain about how slow the mall was.
Then one day, he came up to me like a light bulb had turned on. He said, “No…it couldn’t be… are you…do you have a YouTube channel?” I knew exactly what he was talking about. I did have a YouTube channel. And he had seen This Video, where I talk about the seductive way that Israeli Dead Sea Salt kiosk people sell. It’s one of my most popular videos on that channel and apparently VERY well known in the Israel mall kiosk community. Hardly viral but significant to a sub-audience. He said it was like seeing a celebrity and after that, I could not get him to stop talking to me.
Video, targeted at a specific audience creates celebrity. What I like about video is that it hits multiple senses at once. It’s visual, it’s verbal, with captions it’s readable, and it’s usually watched on mobile so in a way it’s tactile. There is no smell-o-vision yet so we’ll have to settle for 4 out of 5. To produce decent enough video, I’ve been happy with the iPhone 12 Pro, the Rode VideoMicro Microphone, and a combination tripod/selfie-stick with a mount for the microphone. The set up is small enough that I can carry it in my backpack and set up quickly when I feel a moment of inspiration come on. I also use the app MixCaptions for adding captions and making it a square video.
Short videos that educate or inspire your audience like this are simple and we see celebrities doing it all the time to stay connected to their audience between releases.
Video interviews are also a powerful way to increase your celebrity and to establish yourself as a category authority. Becoming a guest on industry specific podcasts is a great introduction to your “mark” community. With the explosion of video podcasts coming out, you should have no problem finding a podcast to get on. Just reach out. The nice thing about podcast interviews are that the audio is usually stripped and people can listen to it in their favorite podcast app.
Other opportunities include virtual conferences, webinars, traditional commercials and recorded workshops. Be creative, but don’t over think it. Just get stuff out.
I don’t always have the convenience of a quiet room to create a video and I don’t always have a guest and sometimes I just like to write out my thoughts. I use Medium because it’s easy to write from my phone and publish quickly. But I also syndicate this article on my company blog.
People do like to read and for a variety of reasons. Some people just learn better from reading. Others like that it’s a quiet activity that doesn’t require having the sound on which might disrupt others around you. People also like to control the pace of their consumption and so if you are a fast reader or a skimmer, you can digest an article much faster than you can a video, which has the one pace. You’d be surprised by how many people don’t mind long form content, especially if it’s well written.
All written content that is distributed counts as content. From basic posts on LinkedIn and Facebook, to articles, and even books.
Fun Fact: Amazon only requires 24 pages to qualify for kindle self-publishing. You could be a published author in one weekend.
Don’t discount article writing. Even though blogs seem like such an old idea at this point, they are still the fundamental basis for building SEO and the fact is, smart people read. Your clients read. They also receive industry specific magazines, which you can write for. It’s really a lot easier than you think it is to get published in the magazines your audience reads. You just have to try.
Images are also nice content for slowing the scroll. I’ve seen people get pretty basic with this. From taking screen shots of a tweet or a note written on their phone and posting the image in another platform, to going into Canva and designing a nice little square image. The value today isn’t all in the production. The value is in the message. If the message resonates it doesn’t take much to make the content stand out.
Remember that the primary goal of content is not to pitch your offer. The goal is to be well known in your network. The more affinity you can develop the more likely people are going to be willing to spend time with you. You will have your opportunity to pitch. Don’t worry!
Just stay focused on your area of expertise. For me, I know how to get people to book meetings with me. That’s what I stick to. I talk to an audience who needs to book meetings for themselves and their clients.
No matter who they are, they can only get so far on their own and eventually they’ll need outside help. If I can get them as far as they can get on their own just with information, then when they are ready to take things to the next level, that’s when they reach out. But they have to know that I know something they they don’t know first. Otherwise, I carry no weight at all.
3. Make Appearances & Invitations
So much of connecting with people is just showing up and providing context for who you are. Appearing at conferences, on podcasts, on social media, and in virtual networking groups keeps you well engaged and helps you build sentiment with others.
In addition to being a guest at a conference, webinar, or podcast, you might consider starting your own. Being able to invite other people to be on your podcast or to your event is a great way to break the ice. I like to think of it as a peace offering. Think about the ancient tribes and how one tribe would become friendly with another. As was custom, a peace offering would be brought as a demonstration of good faith. These gifts help you to build a relationship that lays the ground work for being able to do trade and sharing resources. An invitation to be a guest on your podcast is one peace offering idea. It gives you 45 minutes with someone who would otherwise not be willing to talk to you. Whether that opens the door for trade or sharing of resources, you’ll have to find out. The video podcast requires a little more coordinated effort but with tools like StreamYard, it’s pretty simple to produce.
Another invitation you can create is to a community forum that is focused on one topic or is dedicated to a specific industry. When I ran a local contracting business, joining a Facebook group dedicated to other contractors was so powerful in helping me learn about how to run a business and how to get better. There was always an answer for any question I had and I was able to share my ideas and successes with others. I also shared many of my failures as warning signs for people wondering.
Building a community from scratch isn’t easy if you don’t have a strong brand. If you’re starting both from scratch you’ll have to work really hard to keep the engagement up. But if you have an established brand it won’t be that difficult. I helped one of my clients build a group of 1200 members in a matter of 5 months. They had the brand so getting to that number wasn’t so difficult. Now, they have an ever growing community of people who care about the same things and who are trying to solve the same problems. The value they provide each other within the community is great and the ability for the organization to connect with this group directly creates a phenomenal pool of prospects to convert into paying members.
4. Book the 1–1 (Never Eat Alone)
For 62% of marketing agencies, the majority of new business comes from word-of-mouth referrals. It’s a wonder why agencies don’t focus on referral enablement more. Regardless, the facts are the facts and instead of diverting all of their attention to getting business using the tactics of the services they provide, marketers should lean into referral enablement.
Referral enablement is done in two ways. One, by asking existing clients who they know that they can introduce you to. Two, by connecting with people who don’t know you and instead of trying to sell them on a job, offering to become referral partners.
This best happens in a 1–1 meeting. The goal is for each person on the call to share with the other, who they are and what they do with zero pitch directed at the other person and no obligation to buy, making the meeting non-transactional.
A non-transactional meeting leads to relationship building which puts everyone’s guard down. When the guard is down, you open the way for an in-depth collaborative meeting. The second you start to pitch to someone who does not have intent their guard goes up and now the discussion has an underlying current of resource guarding.
Have you ever seen a dog or a child protect their toys? That’s resource guarding. When they feel a threat that someone is going to take their possessions, the dog starts to growl and the kid gets bossy. If you start to pitch directly on a meeting where the person is not asking for it, they will start to growl and get bossy because they think you are trying to make a grab for their resources. Not good.
That’s why the alternative is so powerful. Make it about sharing each other’s networks and it will give both of you the opportunity to fully share what problem you solve, for who, and how. This will give both of you the chance to fully understand what the other does, without the pressure of being on the spot to give them a yes or no. That enables your new friend to think about whether they actually have the problem you solve, but in an emotionally safe space, and it gets them thinking about several people who they know that might have that same problem you solve.
As you connect and build your network, by going to different events, joining different groups, and engaging with your newsfeed, you’ll be warming up your audience for an intro call or even a lunch.
I’m a huge fan of the book Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi, who talks extensively about the power of networking and social connection using frequent dinner parties among other social activities as a way to build connection and network. While for the time being with COVID-19, we’ve had to adapt this to virtual meetings, the principle is the same. Try not to go a day without meeting someone new for an intimate conversation where the goal is to help each other out in anyway possible.
5. C.A.R.E. Plus — Have A Solid Meeting Agenda
In the mid-2000’s, Best Buy had a simple acronym for assisting customers that came into the store that I think applies here. Granted, people who go into a store have more buying intent than someone you cold call on the internet, but the principles work in both cases with a small twist.
The acronym stands for:
- Ask questions
- Plus (your secret magic)
When you see someone, go up, and connect. A simple introduction will suffice like “Hello.” On LinkedIn sending a connection request without a message or on Facebook just following is fine. You want to connect with as many people as you can in your target audience so that you can have a steady stream of their content for you to engage with.
As they post content, you can comment and warm them up for an intro. That also gives you the inspiration for meaningful engagement like what questions to ask or what compliments to give.
A basic question works fine. Such as, “How are you?” Let’s not make this harder than it needs to be. Ok, you may throw in a compliment to give them a nod that you are interested in more than just a basic exchange of pleasantries. It’s honestly a little bit like online dating. Something too basic and they might not know what to do with it. But if you go into full on pitch mode, they will object or ignore. Ask a question about a recent post. Something you’re genuinely interested in. Invite them to connect for a 1–1 to share insights and networks. If you really need an incentive, invite them on your podcast.
On the initial call, continue asking questions. Ask them about the stuff they know and ask them about the stuff they are trying to figure out. I like to ask, “what’s a nut you’re trying to crack right now?” If you’ve warmed them up with questions they have the answer to, they’ll be more likely to share this last one.
Explore this problem with them. Try to understand it deeply. Get to the problem behind the problem if you can. Getting them to that space of vulnerability will help you to reframe yourself as the guide. But in order to be a good guide, you have to express empathy surrounding their problems. Without empathy, it will be obvious that you don’t really care and they will withdraw. Being an empathetic ear is the most powerful tool you have in your EQ toolkit. As you listen empathetically and continue to get into that space of vulnerability with them, it’ll pay to open yourself up as well and eventually they will touch on a problem that you are well suited to answer.
Once you have uncovered a problem you understand and even have some authority behind, you can start making recommendation on what they ought to do. I like to ask for permission to give them advice. No one really likes, unsolicited advice. Even though your goal is to ultimately position yourself as their guide, you want it to be their idea. It’ll be more meaningful to them.
Your recommendations don’t have to include your offer. In fact, being somewhat agnostic in terms of solutions they choose or who they speak to in order to solve their problem gives off an air of selectivity and it sort of makes them curious about why you’re not recommending yourself.
For example, in my case, if I know someone is struggling to get traffic to convert on their website and I know that a combination of better copywriting (something I’m equipped to do) and a booking system (something I’m equipped to sell) will help them, I may play a little coy and just tell them that learning better copywriting techniques and employing a booking software will help them convert more.
Here’s another example, going back to Best Buy. They may be there exploring a better home theater solution. You have plenty of options. You have the systems that provide the biggest numbers or best profit which would be the primary one you want to sell, and there are others out there with little to no benefit to you. You start with asking questions and making recommendations.
You might ask, “What about your current system is bugging you?” They may say something like, “The frame rate is really weird and that everything looks like a soap opera.” Ok! They might not need a new system. They just need to be educated on how to calibrate their television and turn off the flow motion setting. You would demonstrate how to fix this on a television set that is really nice. Then you ask another question. “What else are you trying to achieve?” They mention the sound not being good enough. So you test the waters. Show them a few options. A sound bar versus a home theater system. Think of your services as the home theater system, the one you want to sell, and other options as your competitors.
Don’t dog on your competitors. You actually want to disqualify as much as you want to qualify. And if the cost and simplicity of your competitors is a better fit then don’t be afraid to point them in that direction. You can’t serve everyone and if they end up purchasing your services and they are too much or they don’t fit the bill, you’ll end up creating an anti-referral. If they look at the competitor and they think that’s enough, so be it. But if they look at it and think to themselves, “eh, I think I want something more,” then they may decided they want to explore your offer.
Encouragement. This could go a couple of ways. Do you encourage them to discuss your offer more? Do you encourage them to explore other options? (Crazy right?) Do you encourage them in their journey in a “rah-rah” kind of way? You’ll just have to be able to vibe the situation. But one thing is for sure, you don’t want to leave them discouraged.
Let’s talk about what discouragement looks like. A person could feel discouraged if you try too hard to pitch something they are not ready for. They could feel discouraged if all you do is think about what you want and they don’t get anything out of the call. They could feel discouraged if they leave the conversation more confused than when they came in. They could feel discouraged if it felt like they just wasted 45 minutes of their life.
How do you leave them feeling encouraged? Well, if you get down to the bottom of their problem and it feels like a fit to both of you (hint: they will tell you) then you can raise the level of enthusiasm and tell them you have so much you’d like to show them and you schedule a time for a discovery call. I use the term discovery call loosely to describe a meeting where the agenda is talking about their problem and your solution with the intention of doing business together. They will be in the proper headspace for this and so will you. Your version of a discovery call depends on your service. Let’s say you are a web designer. Your discovery call may be a quick audit of their current website with a series of questions aimed at uncovering what they don’t like about it, what they think is working well, and what their magic wand scenario is for their site. That is, if they could wave a magic wand over their site and it could get the outcomes they desire, what would that look like? The discovery call is the first step in the sales pipeline.
But what if they aren’t feeling a fit? Well, pushing a fit will make them leave discouraged. Again, it’s a lot like dating. If you push and they aren’t interested, they just won’t like you as a human being. And that’s no good. If it’s not a fit just accept it and move on. But there is a way to leave them feeling encouraged after a bad fit. Recommend them to someone else who might be a better fit. Again, this might sound crazy, especially if it’s a competitor. But if you’re friendly with this competitor, the reality is that they will have intros with people who aren’t great fits for them but are better fits for you.
For example, if you do web design, but what they want really would mean more web development that’s a pretty easy one. But what if they want web design but you are a bespoke agency and they can’t afford bespoke. Do you a) sell them a template, which steals your soul because it’s not creative enough for you, or b) recommend them to a colleague whose whole business model is selling lower cost templates? That’s for you to decide. Just don’t be afraid of the long term benefits of pointing someone in a better direction for them, even though it doesn’t serve you today. What goes around, comes around.
What if their problem has nothing to do with anything you solve or know anything about? Empathy and encouraging words will win the day. You don’t have to solve every problem in the world, nor can you. Letting them know you feel their pain and that you wish you knew what to do, but you know that they’ll overcome, will leave them feeling good and that will build their affinity toward you. You’ll have had your turn to share what you do and how it helps people, and they will file your name under the problem you solve in their mental Rolodex. They will listen for opportunities to share your name with people who have that problem.
Plus (your secret magic)
The last piece of CARE Plus is you. Don’t forget to be yourself. (I’m really starting to think this is dating advice) You have to be yourself and let your natural voice come through. If your personality is really that abhorrent then your team won’t keep you in front of people for long. But if you’re in front of people, that means you have a pleasant personality, so show it.
Don’t let your nerves force you into a stock version of yourself. You are not a 3D printed person. Just relax and remember that great business development professionals play the long game.
When you do booking generation in this way, there is no such thing as a wasted meeting. You will naturally attract the people who are eager to meet with you.
When you pair booking generation with demand generation you’ll have an audience full of people who are familiar with your brand and reaching out to you when they are ready which will be often and consistent when you are an easy person to be around.