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I'm pretty sure we've seen it all at Revenue River. We've executed on about every type of digital marketing and sales engagement. Over the last five years alone, we've worked with over 100 clients in about every industry you can think of. We've helped bootstrapped start-ups and multi-billion dollar organizations. We've worked with clients with extremely complex and lengthy B2B sales cycles, to eCommerce and direct to consumer plays.

I'll be the first to admit, it hasn't always been pretty. While we've had a ton of success for a lot of great clients, we've fell on our faces too. Honestly, I think we've learned more from the losses than the wins. It's been the relationships that never got off the ground, struggled to to perform, or fizzled out over time that have driven us to improve. It's been the failed relationships with great companies that have driven us to adapt, adjust, innovate, and improve.

 

 

This article is a compilation of those lessons and our agency's angle on what makes a success, and what makes a failure. If you're looking for agency support in pursuit of growth I hope you'll consider the advice on how to reach your goals in one year, and beyond.

 

No one enters into a partnership planning to fail

I don't think anyone in our 100-client-history hired us expecting to fail. If you're trying to grow your business with online strategies you know you're making an investment. You're making that investment with an expectation of positive return.

On the other hand, I know our plan has always been to help our clients succeed. Signing new clients just to scoop a short-term contract is just bad business. We invest a lot of resources into attracting and selling new clients. We put even more resources into the front-side of campaigns, getting them off the ground. Our historical data tells us it takes at least 7 months to break even on our investment into new client partnerships.

In short, we're both in this together. The best way for everyone to win is to work together.

To win, everyone must focus on what's most important

If we were to decide to work together, I'd suggest we focus on the same goals. If we want to succeed, we have to define exactly what success looks like. Annual goals aren't just a convenience, they're necessary. It's critical that you take a long-term approach to planning. The need to develop assets, implement systems, improve processes, and push data is real. Plans need time to take shape.

If your goals are the only thing that matters then my advice is to devote all efforts towards strategies that feed goal achievement. It's easy to get lost in the sand along the way, only to look back with regret at the end of 12 months. My advice is don't take your eye off the ball, even for a quick favor or small item. Getting off track can be a slippery slope that results in a disconnected strategy and lagging results.

What we've learned as an agency is that we have to say no sometimes. If we're being held accountable for goals we can't let our clients derail the campaign with one-off requests. Remember, we both want the same thing.

Is it lead-generation-or-bust?

It's important to understand that the digital system we build can accomplish a lot of really valuable functions to your organization. Once the technology is stood up you'll have the ability to manage a total customer experience, run talent acquisition and retention strategies, as well as demand generation and client acquisition. If the name of the game is new clients, then that's all we should focus on. We can crack the code on other initiatives down the road.

 

If we're going to put together a demand generation plan with new client acquisition as the goal, you better know your numbers. We're going to build very specific goals that include increasing a set of key performance metrics. If you don't have a solid set of baseline metrics to build goals off of, we're just guessing. I don't want to guess and you shouldn't either. Let's get real serious about goal setting.

Caution, the digital world moves faster than you realize

As an agency, we don't do anything the same way we did just a couple short years ago. I don't think we can afford too. Things are changing so fast in the digital world we're blessed to compete in.

This excerpt from Scott Galloway's book about Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple titled, The Foursums it up perfectly:

"Change is a daily constant. In almost every profession today, we are expected to use and master tools that did not exist a decade ago, or even last year. For better or worse, we have access, essentially, to infinite amounts of data, and what might as well be an infinite variety of ways to sort through and act on that data. How companies act on data quickly is a critical factor in succeeding."
"Many big enterprises will have these two-year plans, but that’s not the way the digital world works. These companies have built in the concept of “agility” into their culture. You have to be much more agile to respond to ever changing consumer buying behaviors and the overall marketplace you compete."

 

 

If you're not aware of the dramatic call-to-action to make your business relevant in today's digital marketplace, wake up. The time to act is now. I advise you to become acutely aware of the need to act quickly and decisively if you want to win.

Your organization needs to understand the need to be agile and adaptive to changing technology and tactics. You need to be decisive in these times because there are heavy costs for indecision. Grinding campaigns efforts to a halt with indecision is a guaranteed recipe for failure.

What it takes to get new clients in the digital world

Our success rates have really improved over the last couple years. They've improved because we've figured out how to solve for our clients further down the funnel. Where most digital agencies can do little beyond passing over a lead to sales, we've tripled down on system development, sales operations, and sales enablement.

We know exactly what it takes to compete and win with digital. We also know how to get our clients the success they're looking for in our first year working together. We believe the way to win in the digital world is to develop and connect a total-digital sales system.

  • Everything has to be connected.
  • Everything has to work together.
  • Everyone has to work together.

From awareness to post-purchase fulfillment, it's all one big-ass pipeline. If you don't believe that it takes a total combined effort to compete and win with digital, you're wrong. I'll lean on my last five years of success and failure to draw one commonality for success. Behind every goal reached was a combined effort for full-funnel success.

Technology plays a huge role in campaign success

You have to build your campaign in the right technology. If you don't have the necessary pieces in place, it's the agency's job to advise you properly. We run into a lot of companies with antiquated, legacy software solutions that won't scale like we need them to.

Sometimes they're too entrenched to move, sometimes they're not. It's the organizations that spend millions of dollars per year on sales personnel and trade shows while refusing to invest anything into technology that baffle me. I don't understand why you'd attempt to play online without the right weapons.

If you want to reach your goals, I'm going to sell you some software. We'll work with anything in your existing stack that's adequate but we'll likely need to add some more tools for the job. What we've learned as an agency is that implementing at connected stack of best-of-breed technology will improve results. Again, if we want to reach your goals we might as well give ourselves the best chance to succeed. Here's a look at the best of breed software stack we leverage for our clients: 

modern software stack & technology ecosystem

The agency's role in reaching your goals

Competing in the digital world has become too complex for organizations to go it alone. If you hire our agency to hit your goals we're going to expect you to trust us our expertise.

As solutions architects, you'd hire us to design your bus. Once built, we're also going to be in charge of driving the bus all the way to your goals. We're going to make room for people on your team and ask them to sit in specific seats. Our team will fill in all the remaining seats with a variety of technical expertise. Remember, it's a big bus and it's headed up a slippery digital road towards goals.

 
 
 
 

 

If you don't like the idea of my team designing and driving your bus, I understand. We might not be the right agency for you. If you want to drive your own bus, you need to realize you're the one that will actually owns the results. If you're planning to hold whichever agency you hire accountable for results, I advise you to empower them. Allow them to be the strategic experts and get everyone on your team to support them. If you want to drive your bus into the ditch and blame the agency for the wreck, don't hire an agency.

From experience, I'll tell you that there will be less damage if you just hire the right agency and empower them to generate the results you're looking for. You'll probably want to fasten your seat belt too. There's certainly no reason to pay someone like us a couple hundred thousand dollars to build you a bus so you can crash it.

Your role in a successful partnership

Just because you're not going to drive the bus doesn't mean your team won't play critical roles in our success. When we work together to execute a total-digital strategy there are a few roles you'll want to devote your time towards.

1. Executive oversight and alignment. This role will determine the success of both teams. Our agency needs a point contact to bounce ideas off, review deliverables, and provide constructive feedback for alignment and improvement. We both need everyone on your team to understand the mission and buy in to the change we're implementing throughout your organization. We'll need organizational leadership to clear the path, align the team, and set the vision to get us all through the zones of disruption and adoption.

2. Subject matter expertise. Your team will always hold more intellectual property than any agency you work with. While that probably seems obvious, tapping that intellectual property can be difficult within the throws of the campaign. It will be critical to keep your best technical resources engaged and contributing expert content throughout the year. A good agency will have methods for extracting their expertise without burdening them.

3. Executing a modern sales strategy. We're going to build your team a modern sales engine to execute in. If your sales team isn't capable of adapting to modern sales techniques, we're going to have problems acquiring clients. None of us can afford to have your sales personnel continue with outdated tactics. We can't afford a a gap in sales and marketing alignment. The digital age has transformed the sales process, whether your sales team wants to admit it or not. The Digital Marketing Institute weighed in with this: 

"It may be hard to imagine now, but there was a time when products were sold in a physical sense and salespeople were seen as the go-to experts before any sale took place.  But consumer habits change, often shifting due to advancements in technology.
 
Over the past few years, social selling has gained the attention of sales professionals looking to succeed in the altered customer purchasing landscape. With a predicted 2.55 billion social media network users globally by 2018 and consumers being five times more reliant on digital content than they were in the early 2,000’s, it is clear the digital space is here to stay.
 
An organization looking to drive sales has a raft of digital technologies to choose from to improve the selling power of a business. But, just applying and using these isn’t enough. There needs to be a digital selling strategy in place that guides the organization as a whole and ensures the digital assets are aligned with other activities that drive sales." 
Source: How the Digital Age is Transforming the Sales Process

Attacking the year in 3 phases will help everyone stay focused

In our early days we subscribed to the commonly accepted notion that hourly billing was no way to structure pricing. Instead, the answer was to offer packages of activity for fixed prices. Value-based pricing as it's referred to, presented options to companies for different levels of engagement with an agency. Many agencies referred to these options as fast, faster, fastest.

The problem with this proposal structure was that agencies were largely doing the exact same activities all year long. In our experience, doing the same limited number of activities at a varying rate did not improve results or help us hit goals for our clients. That was an absolute recipe for disaster.

We found that all campaigns needed a different blend of tactics as the year progressed. We determined a need to shift our focus dramatically as assets and data grew. We began breaking up the year into smaller periods to shift our focus and improve results. These sprints as we call them, helped both our team and our clients focus on the critically important.

12 mo plan

Phase 1 - total-digital launch pad system

This is the phase where urgency and short-term success collide. A good agency knows you can't wait 12 months for results. Over our years of designing, building, and launching campaigns we've hit both ends of the spectrum. We've focused so hard on quick-wins that we've failed to address critical elements for scale. We've been so concerned with building for tomorrow that we didn't survive long enough to realize success. A combination of the two is what makes the launch-pad system so effective.

Phase 2 - aggressive weaponization

Now it's time to kick it in the ass with some heavy building. With the foundation in place, we'll allocate the majority of our resources to building valuable assets for the entire buyer's journey. This phase should include a massive effort to develop the critical assets you need to reach and convert your ideal client types into prospects. Expect tactics to increase traffic, conversions, and qualified sales opportunities.

Phase 3 - race to goals

If your numbers are important, our initiatives need to shift dramatically during this phase. This is where we pull all the stops to reach your goals. Rather than building for tomorrow, we should promote for today. At this point in the year we should have plenty of assets in place to work with, so we should lighten the pace of build. Instead, we'll focus our allocation on heavy amplification and promotion. We'll scale up your advertising spend to get your best assets in front of the targeted eyeballs you're looking to convert into new clients.

How to guarantee we miss your goals

I know what causes campaigns to fail. That's something we've allowed to happen more than a few times over the years. Sometimes our biggest weakness as an agency is our desire to please. We love saying 'yes, we can do that!' If that gets our teams from focusing on goal achievement that's also the attitude that gets us fired. On the client's side, it's important to see the forest through the trees. There's some pretty common symptoms of failure that you'd be wise to avoid at all costs.

1. We cannot hold up publication. Holding back content from going out the door is a pretty common pitfall for digital marketing campaigns. It's easy to understand why, as client and agency often struggle to align on expectations, voice, and message in the early going. Other times, content gets stalled for trivial and inconsequential reasons. I'm telling you we can't let that happen. We have to publish. Pursuit of perfection will grind us to a halt and cost us our goals. If we need to iterate a few times before approval that's completely acceptable. Agencies are built to iterate. The key is to ensure that iteration focuses on the big picture and doesn't take weeks to ping back and forth.

2. We can't over-engineer the system. The launch pad strategy is all about getting a system-wide minimally viable product in place and and working for the business. We can't miss deadlines for system launch milestones because the system isn't 'perfect' yet. The need to launch fast and begin creating contact engagement data is critical for success. The continual improvement cycle we go into after launch will address all the wish-list items that will enhance and optimize system operation. If you get caught up in the pursuit of perfection we'll cost ourselves the results we're targeting.

3. You can't miss meetings or show up unprepared. Timelines are tight and the year will go faster than you think. Nothing stalls progress and grinds my team to a halt more than continual rescheduling. If members of your team show up without their homework it's nearly as bad. There's a highly interconnected nature to every element of a digital campaign. Positive results rely on everything to work together so unnecessary stalls and delays can cost us the banner client we need to convert. Remember, prospects aren't ready to buy when it's convenient to you, they're ready to buy when it's convenient for them. If you're not ready they'll buy from your competition. This is a race, so let's get after it.

I know the secret to reaching your goals

While I'm acutely aware of what it takes to fail, I also know exactly what it takes to succeed. If you want to hit your goals in year one, you have to allow the team to come together. You have to allow your agency to develop a connected strategy and sales engine.

We have to trust each other. You shouldn't hire an agency you don't trust as experts. On the flip side, I don't believe any agency targeting meaningful results, (not point solutions) should sign a client that wants to them to be short-order chefs.

  • Yes, we have to stay focused on the end in mind.
  • Yes, we have to launch fast.
  • Yes, we have to embrace an open-beta mindset.
  • Yes, we must focus on continual development & improvement.

I don't think any of this is achievable without trust in each other and our partnership. Winning the race to attract a higher number of prospect's attention often comes down to how quickly and efficiently we work together. The more efficient we are the more we can do with the time we're given. One year in the pursuit of digital excellence just isn't a lot of time.

So, what's it going to be?

All said, do you think you have what it takes? Does your entire organization have the mindset needed to compete and win online? If not, does your organization have strong enough leadership to set the vision? Are you prepared to see your investment through, or will you get cold feet in month 4?

To close, I'll sum up success like this:

We'll always be building. We'll always be improving. Our work will never be perfect. Competing online will never be complete. If you'll embrace this mindset I'm confident we'll find success together and we'll be setup for a fantastic second year of our partnership.

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Eric Pratt

Eric Pratt

Eric founded Revenue River in 2009 and has driven it into one of the most successful digital marketing agencies in the country. He wears many hats at Revenue River, while running the company is his job, he’s happy to be on the ground floor in the marketing and sales departments whenever the opportunity arises. On the rare occasions that Eric isn’t working, he’s somewhere in the high country stalking game or with his wife and two kids cheering on the Seahawks.

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