This was originally published on HubSpot's Agency Blog...
It can be difficult for an agency to take an unbiased look at their internal workings to see if things could be done better -- if efficiencies and improvements could be made.
To you, that overly complex workflow process works for your team, even if everyone hates it. You’ve never been able to piece together a system to complete that one type of project, so it must be impossible. Don’t even get me started on the mess that is your project management tool. It’s a pain, but it’s your little pain.
Sometimes, you just need to see things from another point of view. When you see how another business has solved a problem or overcome a challenge, the solution can seem so easy. Your method of solving the problem -- in comparison -- can even look silly.
To give our employees a new perspective and expand how they solve problems in our agency, we decided to do an agency swap. Revenue River Marketing and TMR Direct, both HubSpot Partner Agencies located in Colorado, decided to see what would happen if we sent a handful of our best and brightest employees to the other agency for a day to learn about what they do and how they do it so that we all could gain a different view of how a digital agency is run.
How Can We Learn From Our Agency Friends?
It all started after last year’s INBOUND conference: That week was full of late nights at restaurants and karaoke bars surrounded by other agency friends. After a particularly fun night filled with great conversation about agency structure, processes, and tools, TMR's Spencer Powell and I started to think about how great it would be if we could take advantage of our relationships with other agencies to learn more about how things get accomplished. While we’re both very proud of what we do and how we do it, we know that our processes and ways of thinking about client relationship are not the only or even the best ways.
Within a few months after getting back from the conference and settling back into agency life, we began to work on the specifics for an agency swap. We decided to break the swap into two days during a two-week period. The first week, Revenue River would send three employees from different positions to TMR Direct to learn about the company, its culture, services, processes, and tools. The next week, three of TMR’s staff members would join us at Revenue River for the same, all while tweeting and Instagramming using the custom hashtag #COAgencySwap.
Each day ended with a happy hour where the teams came together to debrief, relax, and connect with their newfound agency friends. After day two, members from each team joined an agency swap Slack channel and began to share notes and resources before following up with a phone call a few weeks later to go over major takeaways, follow-up questions, and anything else connected to the swap.
Interested in some of those lessons and key takeaways? Here’s what each agency had to say about their time with each other:
Lessons Learned by TMR Direct
From Spencer Powell, Inbound Marketing Director:
“I found Revenue River’s 4DX (4 disciplines of execution) process fascinating. They managed to tie in everyone in the organization through a couple WIGs (Wildly Important Goals). They did this by identifying what everyone in the organization could do on a weekly basis to help hit those company goals. In their weekly meeting, they review the entire team’s numbers and are held accountable for them. By tracking this weekly, the team can easily spot problem areas that need to be corrected and see if they are on track to hit their WIGs. I loved that it involved everyone and really brought the team closer together in working towards those company goals. I’ve already started working out how we can develop our own version of this for TMR!”
From Steven Fielding, Inbound Marketing Account Manager:
“I really enjoyed participating in the Agency Swap Day at Revenue River in Denver! In the morning, I shadowed Amanda Daume, one of the Inbound Strategists at Revenue River, and in the afternoon I participated in the marketing meeting, 4DX company-wide meeting, and happy hour with the rest of the TMR Direct team. The morning consisted of client reporting, a standard client call, a sales call, and a Salesforce/HubSpot integration walkthrough. I was inspired by the level of detail the strategists at Revenue River put into marketing reports and goal analysis, and I got some ideas for how to take my client reporting and goal tracking to the next level. Overall, I loved having the opportunity to collaborate with another Inbound Marketing Agency and share ideas, marketing tactics, and processes for the improvement of both our teams!”
From Danielle Winterberger, Inbound Marketing Specialist:
“I had a couple of 'aha' moments at #COAgencySwap (yes, I’m still trying to make that hashtag trend) Day.
One of my key takeaways boiled down to the responsibility of task and time management falling on everyone in an agency. You may have a project manager, but at the end of the day, everyone is responsible for checking off everything on their to-do list or else the client suffers. There are plenty of ways to keep your tasks and time organized with tools like Trello, Teamwork, KanBanFlow, and plenty of timer apps and extensions, so there’s no excuse to miss deadlines.
Another major point of excitement at Revenue River was their blending of work and people. As we (team TMR) read in Delivering Happiness, a lot of unhappiness in the workplace stems from the concept that there’s a work version of you and a real version of you -- essentially you have to leave behind pieces of you that make you uniquely you 40 hours a week when you’re at work. Revenue River embraces the culture and happiness of its people above all else. For example, the office is dog friendly, has a fully stocked bar for long evenings, is very flexible with home life schedules, is supportive of continued education, and genuinely gets along. There’s no 'work Marc' or 'home Tom.' There’s just Marc and Tom at work and at home. I think a lot of companies are still working on smoothing out that balance, and Revenue River could teach the Harvard class on it.”
Lessons Learned by Revenue River
From Marc Herschberger, Director of Marketing:
“One of the biggest things I walked away with from my day with TMR Direct had to be their culture of continued education. We were lucky enough to be able to sit in on their team’s bi-weekly ‘Client Services’ meeting where everyone discussed a book they were all currently reading. The books are selected from a handful of different themes like personal/professional growth, client services, business, or marketing, and the entire team works to read a portion of the book before coming together to discuss anything and everything connected to what they read. I was so very impressed at the commitment by everyone on the team to find time in their busy schedules to continue to sharpen the saw. It’s something myself and others at Rev can’t wait to try out in our office!”
From Tom Burgess, Inbound Strategist:
“Visiting TMR Direct was a great opportunity for a great group of inbound marketers to get together and share each other’s wealth of knowledge of the industry. It’s great to see another team of like-minded marketers, albeit marketing for completely different client verticals. As an inbound strategist, it’s imperative that I stay on top of everything moving along in a campaign, from monthly deliverables and client communication to new idea strategy sessions and tool implementation. The takeaways were endless, but there was one idea that my team has already put in to action, and that’s the morning stand-up meeting. Every morning, TMR Direct gathers as a team and everyone discusses what they are working on that day. It takes five minutes, and by the end of it, you can gather important intel as to who is working on what, how busy they may be, and if any gaps need to be filled. I immediately implemented this procedure with my team. Not only does it give us insight as to what our day looks like from a work stand point, it gives us clarity and ownership to our daily tasks. I love it, my teammate loves it, and more importantly, our clients will love it knowing that we will be working like a well-oiled machine on a daily basis!”
From Nathan Bracy, Inbound Coordinator:
“One of the best aspects of the Colorado Agency Swap was a unique chance to see how TMR Direct works as a team, and see if I can take any of their winning strategies back to Revenue River. I was a big fan of their book clubs, in which the entire marketing team would read a section of a novel on personal or professional development, and then meet to discuss. However, my favorite takeaway from my time in Colorado Springs at TMR was their efforts to not work harder, but more efficiently. Inbound marketing is still a pretty new marketing strategy, and TMR has developed a “Kaizen” approach, a strategy of continuous improvement. Instead of working harder, they have been able to identify areas where they can work smarter. For example, their mastery of project management tools, like Trello, have given each marketer the ability to know exactly what they need to work on. That kind of efficient organization helps TMR Direct provide more value for their clients.”
How to Run an Agency Swap: 4 Key Things to Consider
As you can see, everyone involved from both agencies returned inspired by the other agency's team and with a number of great ideas and improvements they could implement. If you’re looking to get the same from an agency swap, here are a few tips from us to help you get the most out of the experience.
1) Find the Right Agency
There probably isn’t a right or wrong partner, but we do have a few things for you to consider that may help you identify the right swap partner:
Proximity: Can you easily make your visit to their agency a day trip instead of an overnight adventure? This will help with budgeting issues and time spent away from the office for key members of your team.
Our agencies are only an hour apart, so it was a little bit of an early morning, but that was just an excuse to double down on coffee.
Commonalities: Do you offer similar services? Cater to similar industries? Use the same tools?
For Rev and TMR, we are both HubSpot Agency Partners which made it easy for our employees to connect. In addition, TMR specializes in a vertical market, so we aren’t even close to being competitors.
Size: If the agency is much larger or smaller, will your employees be able to take anything away from visiting them and vice versa?
For our swap, both agencies are around the 20-person mark, so we had a lot of similar tools and systems but different ways of using them.
2) What to Do Before the Swap
Once you’ve figured out which agency you’ll be swapping with, take the following into consideration and have everything planned out well before day one.
Employees: How many employees will you bring and which ones? Does the other agency have a similar team structure so that you can easily match job roles/titles?
Rev and TMR decided to bring a director, account manager, and account coordinator to each other’s agency so that we could have people shadowing those with similar roles and responsibilities.
Agenda: What will be the main agenda items? What do you want both agencies to learn about each other, and what are some of the key areas you would like different employees to focus on?
During our swap, we decided that the days would be broken up into three different themes:
- Agency presentations
- Employee shadowing
- Relationship building
Preparation: What prep work does your agency need to do when hosting or visiting?
Consider these questions:
- Outside of a general agenda, who will shadow who? Does the person being shadowed know what she should be doing? Be clear about the expectations for each team member involved.
- Will the members of your team visiting the other agency come with a list of questions or things they would like to learn more about?
- Does your agency have a presentation that explains its history, values, services, and tools?
- Consider what you will want each agency to be responsible for -- both as the host and visitor. You want to show off your agency and make the team members feel that the swap was time well-spent.
3) What to Do During the Swap
After all of your planning and prep work, the big day is finally here! Consider the below items as both a host and visitor to make sure that the swap goes off without a hitch and everyone gets the most they can from the experience.
As a Host
- Make them feel welcome by planning an office tour and team introductions when they first arrive. Have coffee and breakfast available.
- Share a finalized agenda, and connect the different team members who will be working with each other that day.
- Give a company presentation that explains who the company is, what its values are, how it got here, what services it provides, what processes it uses, and anything else special connected to your agency.
- Sshare company-specific time and items with the visiting agency team to let them get a true glimpse into how your agency works and what you do that makes you different. This could include company-wide meetings, specific tasks, processes or projects you use or are currently working on, or it could just be a walk-through of specific documents used to track company metrics. Just like you want to see how the other agency works, you also need to be open and transparent enough to provide them the opportunity to see what makes your agency work.
As a Visitor
- Come prepared with questions that you want to learn about the other agency. If you know the agency does excels at an activity that you are currently trying to do or would like to do, come with questions about that. If you’re having trouble implementing something new in your agency, ask if they’ve tried that and if they have any suggestions.
- Keep in mind that you’re there to learn about them, not tell them what you do. You’ll get your turn to host them at your own agency, and that’s the time when you’ll be able to tell them all about your company and processes. Until then, just sit back and try to learn as much as you can about who they are and what they’re doing.
4) What to Do After the Swap
Once the swap is over, work on ways to stay in touch and continue the sharing of ideas between the two teams. Below are just a few things that we either performed or brainstormed for activities we could do after the swap ended:
- Share notes with both teams. Most of your team probably didn’t visit the other agency so be sure to share your notes and key takeaways with them so that they benefit from the visit as well. The same goes for the other agency. Seeing their own agency from another team's point of view is a great way for them to understand their work and what truly makes them different.
- Create a custom Slack channel. Promote it as a way to stay in touch and share ideas, processes, and resources with each other.
- Connect everyone on LinkedIn. Part of the reason for doing the swap is to help your team grow their network within the industry, so make sure that people are connecting online.
- Hold a recap conference call. After the swap, have anyone and everyone connected to the swap jump on a call to go over some of the key takeaways from both team. This could be a discussion about what each agency saw as the interesting practices at the agency or it could be about what each team thinks the other agency should do to improve its own processes and workflows.
Agency life is hard for a number of different reasons. Not only is the workload demanding, but the amount of change in the industry makes it so that constant education, reflection, and change is necessary to stay on the top of your game. While publications, webinars, and conferences can help you stay connected to the newest marketing trends, there isn’t much in the way of receiving feedback and notes on how you run your agency on a day-to-day basis. An agency swap might be just what you need to inspire your team to think differently, question how things are done, and find ways to improve.