Sales and marketing are different skill sets, but they both have foundations in communicating effectively.
Both types of professionals are trying to explain their value in the context of the customer/client/stakeholder’s needs.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How to help your clients think about you as an investment instead of an expense
- What you need to provide to make a better case for your work
- How to set expectations/improve communications on an ongoing basis
- How to make a pitch about them and not you
- John Doherty – Instagram
- Busy executive’s guide to hiring a digital marketing agency [blog post]
- Credo sales framework
Amanda: Today on the show, we’re welcoming John Doherty. He’s an entrepreneur, enterprise SEO consultant and the CEO of Credo. Welcome to the show, John.
John: Thanks for having me, Amanda. It is great to be here.
Amanda: I’m excited to have you because I’ve watched a lot of your content and read a lot of your content around the sales process and when I knew I was going to be restarting this podcast, you definitely came to mind because I think a lot of the things you’ve talked about in terms of sales principles apply to the people listening in a lot of different ways, whether it’s trying to get new client partnerships or new customers, but also trying to sell ideas and strategies internally.
John: Yeah, absolutely. And these days, a lot of my work is focused around selling, selling work, selling marketing services, buying marketing services, but at the end of the day it all comes down to psychology and persuasion, which is something I’ve studied quite a bit about as well. So yeah, I’m excited to dig into it because I believe when we understand people, understand data and you can match those two together, you can really make some magic happen.
Amanda: Absolutely. And for those who don’t know, Credo works to match up companies with agencies to form ideal partnerships. So I think you’ve gotten a lot of good perspective on how those types of relationships can be built, how the trust is established, and I think that will be really valuable to dig into.
John: For sure. I’ve seen 3,500+ companies come through looking to hire. Hundreds of those hire and a lot more not, and so we’ve learned a lot over the years. So yeah, I’m excited to dig into it.
Amanda: Awesome. So one of the first things I wanted to ask you was, we can talk about sales and people who work in sales, and how they can utilize those types of principles. But why do you think it’s important for marketers to also understand the basics of sales?
John: It’s a great question. And honestly, for years I was a marketer, focusing on SEO and then led growth teams and marketing teams in-house and done a lot of SEO consulting myself and there’s a couple of things. Number one, if you can’t sell, you can’t do great work for great clients, but then also if you’re not communicating what you’re doing and why it matters to the business, then you’re not going to keep that client. So I think it’s important like consulting. Consulting and sales are actually fairly close to each other. Obviously when you’re consulting, you’re not trying to get them to sign on the dotted line and pay you more money, but great consulting practices can lead to that. They can lead to expanding projects and all that. So I think I used to be guilty of thinking that really sales and marketing were pretty much the same thing, and they’re very different skill sets. Great marketers can be great salespeople and great sales people can be great marketers, but they are different skill sets. They’re not one-and-the-same and we try to collapse the two down, then we get into trouble, and a lot of the same sales principles of keeping the relationship going, talking about the benefits, all of that really, really come into play when it comes to consulting and great consulting relationships as well.
Amanda: You touched a bit on this and you talked about it in one of your videos you share on Instagram with advice that you have for people, and you said something…
John: From the card?
Amanda: Yeah, I love that. So you said something about how – and you said this I think from a consulting perspective – but you were saying how it’s important that your company understands their business, and by your company, I mean it could be your client or what have you, but that they understand their business so that they can better understand your value. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
John: Yeah, for sure. So I think what I was really getting at there is there are a lot of companies that I talk to that we see kind of coming through the marketplace at Credo looking to hire someone that …they’re talking about… they’re like, Oh, we need SEO. And I’m like, why? And they’re like, Oh, we were told we needed SEO. They’re like, I need links. And I’m like, why? And they’re like, Oh, we were told we needed backlinks. Okay, but what’s it actually going to get you? And so it goes a lot further than …and some of that just tells me kind of where they are in the maturity of their understanding of the channel, and I don’t mean that in a good or a bad way, just basically the depth of how well they understand it and how it applies to their business.
So I think it’s important that first the client really understands what is this channel doing for them, or what could this channel do for them? So like metrics, how much traffic could it drive? What are your competitors getting? How are your competitors getting that traffic, that kind of thing? And then ultimately it’s not just about getting traffic, which we all know, but it’s also about converting them into customers and the trials and the leads, whatever it is. However your business works, understanding how these channels kind of mapped to that, and then from there, the conversion kind of process from there. You hand it over to sales or there’s a free trial with good on-boarding or something like that and really understanding those metrics and it’s important both for the client at the point of contact to understand that, why they’re doing what they’re doing, but then also for the agency or consultant that’s working with them to understand that so that everything you do is strategically oriented towards achieving that end goal.
So I actually ask people when I speak with them, when they’re talking about, especially when it’s like a B2B. We have a lot of B2B companies – B2B SAS, B2B service companies, that kind of thing, and I asked them what’s your sales process? And they’re like, well, we’re talking about marketing. I’m like, I know, but you can drive all the traffic in the world, but you can’t convert it, then it’s a whole other thing, and obviously having more traffic does make it easier to get more leads and you can learn faster in the sales process. But if you already have a whole sales process from the start, then it’s going to be you pour some gas on the fire, then it’s really going to take off and so everyone needs to be aligned on that.
And I see a lot of companies or clients that kind of come through or companies that come through looking to hire, if they haven’t done SEO before, they’re not super mature in their understanding of it. They will be like, Oh I just need back links and they’ll just go and hire any old company, or they’ll hire a company to do tech requests for their eCommerce company when this person that’s doing tech requests is used to working with restaurant websites. Very different skill sets there, and so the person you hire as a company looking to hire a firm, the firm you hire needs to have that experience with at least the type of website that you are, for example.
Amanda: Yeah, I think those are really great points. I think in the topic of being able to justify what you’re doing and explain that value, it’s very difficult to do that if you’re misaligned on what is measuring that success or how these things all amount to what the client or the customer ultimately wants. And you’ve talked about that a bit too, about actually honing in on business metrics. Not just social shares and traffic, but what that all actually means at the end. Why do you think it’s so important to keep those types of metrics top of mind?
John: The reason it’s important to keep those metrics top of mind as the agency or consultant that’s providing the service is that I’m a big believer in that you need to turn your clients from thinking about you as an expense to thinking about you as an investment. And so obviously at the start, if they’re not seeing a traffic increase or something like that, it is kind of an expense. But at the end of the day, they need to know what am I getting? I’m paying X and I’m getting Y. So for example, in Credo, we’re a marketplace. So when someone’s signed with a pro as we call them, or a Credo consultant signs a client, Credo gets a commission and some people try to push back on that. And I’m like, hang on a minute here. We’re not charging you a lot of money up front and every single month in the hope of getting leads. We have kind of an upfront access fee for the year, but you’re not paying anything more unless you close work. So if I tell you that you give me $10 and I’ll give you $100, would you do that? And they’re like, Oh, right, yeah, that totally makes sense. I’m like, I would do that every minute of every day so really moving from a an expense like, Oh, I’m paying you so much money to I, yeah, I’m paying you money, but I’m getting back three-fold, five-fold, ten-fold, whatever it is. It’s hard to put a value on a visitor, or you can’t put value on a visitor if you don’t understand what that visitor is worth to your company and conversion metrics and all of that. For every hundred visitors, you get 10 demos and 3 turn into paying customers and you can kind of reverse engineer what it’s worth and therefore what you’re willing to pay to acquire that person. It’s basic ROI sort of principles, but a lot of people don’t do it and it’s hard to get those metrics. I totally understand why it is, but the closer you can get to those metrics, you can understand how much can we spend to acquire X visitors, which turns into Y customers. And then as agency or consultant, that helps you really speak to, okay, yeah, you paid us whatever 5K for the last three months, each of the last three months, but we got you 20,000 more visitors and that turned into a thousand new customers, and over the course of the next three months, you’ve doubled your investment basically.
Amanda: What advice would you give to people who when they’re doing their marketing work, they’re a little farther away from the sales part of the funnel? So take your Instagram videos for example, you’ve talked about how you do that because you enjoy teaching, but you also do that because you’re trying to establish yourself as an authority and build that trust and over time, work with people. I think what intimidates people a lot is that those types of efforts in marketing, it’s harder to directly measure how those are leading to sales. So what kind of advice would you give to people who are endeavouring on those types of tactics?
John: Yeah, that’s a good question, and it really comes down to why are you doing the thing? So the Instagram videos I shoot for example, so I publish two to four of them a week, something like that – depends on the week and depends on how well my baby’s sleeping, but the same with podcasts and that kind of thing. I have a podcast, but it’s really hard to get good podcast metrics and that sort of thing. But I’m always amazed by people like yourselves saying I watch your Instagram videos. I’m like, Holy crap, I had no idea, or Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income. He was speaking on stage. He follows me on Instagram, watches my videos, and shouted me out to thousands of lawyers on stage at a conference he was at.
Those are the people who are like, Oh yeah, I listen to your podcast every single time you publish. I’m like, Holy crap. People are listening to this. So part of it for me, it’s creating the create, but it’s also with kind of an overall strategy of I need to be in a lot of places in order to establish myself as an authority in this space, in order to in the future offer whatever it is I want to offer. So I’m not too concerned about that tracking, but I’m also not paying someone else to do it. It’s my time. It’s things that I enjoy doing versus if you’re paying someone to do it, to drive these metrics forward. You should be understanding what you’re getting back. I don’t pay someone else to edit videos or create custom graphics or something like that. I’ll only do that once I have a process for converting people from that channel into dollars basically right into customers.
Amanda: Yeah. It’s almost like you have to tell a separate narrative if you’re working with other people and you’re trying to explain why this type of effort is important. There’s a certain foundation that’s necessary if you don’t have a certain amount of authority or trust with an audience, then all of these other efforts just aren’t going to land as well than if you already had that established.
John: Right. Totally. Yeah. Some of it is just like I firmly believe in putting in the work way ahead of time. I don’t have a huge audience on Instagram. I may get some more followers after this podcast publishes, but I don’t have a ginormous following. I have like 1200 people following me. I have a lot more on Twitter, but I’m well established there and I can kind of string different channels together. But I’m also well established in the SEO industry so I can kind of move people between audiences, but if you don’t have an audience, pick a channel, invest in that, but you’re not investing a lot of money necessarily. If you’re writing on a blog, what are your expenses really? It’s your time, which is important. It is some you spend, but also it’s your domain name, which is probably 10 bucks a year. It’s your hosting, which if you are just getting started $5 a month Bluehost hosting is all it is. Basically you’re out 70 bucks for the year, just cash but then other than that, it’s time. So you do kind of have to realize where does this sit in the funnel? Why am I doing this? And then once that flywheel starts turning up an audience and all of that, everything becomes a lot easier, but it starts with that audience.
Amanda: When you’ve seen people come into the Credo system or really at any point in your career when they’re in the sales process and people are trying to explain why they should hire them or why their service is the best, what do you think are the biggest hesitations? You can answer that a couple of different ways, I guess. It could be just like what is anybody’s hesitation before they commit to something like that, or it could be that a certain sales pitch or strategy is not very good and not convincing. What do you see occur more often than that?
John: That’s a great question and there are definitely common themes that I see. The first one thing I hear most often when I ask people, because I actually ask people that I speak with that are looking to hire someone, what are you looking for, like in a firm? And some people will say, I don’t know. I’m like, okay let’s go over that first before we introduce you, because if you don’t know what you’re looking for, they’re like, I’ll know it when I see it, and I don’t think that’s true since they keep asking all these crazy questions and asking for things. Eventually the agency just gets tired of it and the ones that don’t get tired of it aren’t just desperate for work and probably aren’t the ones doing the best work.
So that’s the first problem is the client not being clear on what they’re really looking for and what they’re wanting to see. If they’ve hired before and they are looking for someone else again, it’s usually a couple of things that I hear. First one is that they need to know what they’re going to get. So let me explain that. So some people will say like, I need to know what I’m going to get in terms of traffic conversions, whatever. I’m like, okay cool. In that case you should probably start with an audit and a strategy. What’s your opportunity there? What are your current conversions, all that kind of thing so that then you can actually put together some decent numbers? Other people are like I was working with this firm and they were doing work. I was paying them X, but I didn’t know what they were doing.
I didn’t know what I was getting. And so actually on Credo when pros, when agencies pitch work send proposals, we actually require them to outline every single month. What are you going to do in this month and what’s the final price, so that the client has that transparency and that visibility into what they’re paying for, and then t the agency needs to report on that every single month. So those are the things that I often see. One kind of Gotcha! that a lot of agencies waste a lot of time on, and I see this a lot and I talk with a lot of agencies who are dealing with this is when clients ask for references, this is a constant sticking point and probably a lot of agencies stopped listening to this part. I’ve heard this before where they were like, well, do you have references for this?
It helps to have a couple just kind of on deck that you can introduce them to, you can you can refer them to. But what happens a lot is that you give them two and then they come back asking for more. And that’s always really interesting to me when they’re asking for more references, and what I told agencies to do in that case is basically say I’ll be happy to do that but first can you tell me why? Why do you want to see more references? What are you looking to hear that you haven’t heard yet? So basically what you’re doing there is you’re poking for their objections so that you can overcome those objections before they just go and you waste time kind of reaching out to people and they waste time having conversations with people and not ever really getting down to the heart of what they are looking for, because if they’re not clear on what they’re looking for, they’re just not going to close, to be completely honest with you. So that’s an interesting thing that I see a lot there, and so really it just comes back to the big one is clients just don’t know what they’re looking for and what matters to them.
Amanda: It’s really interesting that the recommendation thing, I didn’t realize that that was something that happened a lot. But like you said, people might just think I need an SEO team and they don’t know why. They haven’t thought about what impact that’s actually going to have on their business, or how it’s going to work with everything else they have going on. When you end up in a partnership like that, if you haven’t established those things, it’s very difficult to be successful because you don’t know what you’re measuring success against and what you’re actually trying to accomplish for them.
John: Exactly, exactly. I think a lot of people that when they’re bringing on a firm, they don’t think about it enough as kind of like a hiring event. It’s just like, okay cool, I’ll try this person out. Would you try someone out when you’re hiring them full time? No. You put in the time to to get to know them, to look at their experience, all of that. Why don’t people do that with agencies and consultants? It blows my mind a lot when that happens. Oh, I’ll try this one out. Trying them out is risky right there. I’d rather know. Agree to a certain thing and agree to certain metrics and that sort of stuff or at least a certain set of things that they have to do in order to keep working together, and I’m not going to I’m not going to hire them until we’ve agreed to that. And that starts with me being clear on what it is that they need to do. So people don’t do that a lot with agencies. It’s just like, Oh yeah, I’ll take a chance. You’re going to waste a lot of money. You’re going to waste a lot of time, and you’re going to be back where you are now in three months’ time if you don’t do it right, so put in the time up front to vet them out heavier, to vet them out properly so that you’re confident that they’re going to be able to do what you’re bringing them on to do.
Amanda: And so much of this I think can apply to other types of conversations when you’re trying to sell in some way, even if it’s not directly sales. If somebody is trying to sell an idea internally and there’s some other people on the show were talking more about how do you get people excited about an idea and get them to see the big picture and what could be the potential there. But I think what you’re talking about also is this other component of that’s really good to have. You definitely need that, but you also need this other piece of what is this actually going to mean for the business, and how are we going to be able to measure that? But I think it’s that sweet spot of achieving both of those things that makes a really compelling argument.
John: Right, right and this is something that one of my business coaches has been pushing me on is have you tested out that theory? So all of these things are really hypotheses. You have your experience to pull off of obviously, and so you can pull from other examples, other clients, other jobs you worked at, what have you, but at the end of the day it’s a hypothesis that this is going to move the needle, so if you’re going and you’re pitching a bunch of content and they’ve never done content before, some content is better than no content, but you also have to have something that’s going to rank, that’s going to drive leads, that kind of thing. So you really need to kind of establish this is what we want to do and this is why, and it really gets down to the why and this is how we’re going to measure it. This is how are we going to know if it’s working or not, so that you’re not wasting time and budget and all of that. There’s the old famous saying of I know I’m wasting half of my marketing budget, I just don’t know which half. Really, I know I’m wasting 80% of my marketing budget. I just don’t know which 80% of the old Paradis principle 80/20 but I think it applies there.
And so if you can actually put some solid numbers behind it, we’re going to create this content. This is what it’s going to look like. This is how long it’s going to be. I’m talking like content marketing, especially for SEO purposes. This is how long it’s going to be, this is what the focus is, this is why we’re doing it like that because our competitors are doing X, Y and Z. This is how we beat them and this is how we turn those visitors into conversions. That’s a slam dunk for a marketing director that cares about driving results for the business because that’s what lets them keep their job. So it pays to do that investigation.
Amanda: This kind of segues well into another question I had relating to setting expectations because we can talk about setting expectations in terms of what we hope this effort will achieve, and how we can measure that and what we hope to see. But also I think it was one of your Credo videos when you were suggesting setting expectations in smaller ways as well. Like, what is the next call going to involve and how tying those things together can really make a big difference? Can you talk a little bit about that?
John: It’s consulting principles is a lot of what it is and that happens both during the sales process and it also happened while you’re consulting and looking to retain that client. So I’ve done a lot of SEO consulting over the last number of years since I went out on my own. Haven’t done really any in 2019 as I focused on Credo, but sold a lot of work, done a lot of consulting work and been very successful with it. I was trained as a web developer first and then I was a consultant before I became a marketer. And so it’s really important throughout the process of going to sign a new client and then also when you have a client basically being a person of your word, having consistent check-ins, scheduling that so you’re setting their expectations ahead of time. We’re going to have phone calls on these days. I’m going to report by this day of the month, every single month. I’m going to come see you every three months, if that makes sense within how you work and budgets and all that sort of stuff, and then actually doing those things. So I think that’s an area that a lot of us can improve on, especially in the digital realm where we’re so used to being behind the keyboard but actually getting on the phone with them, talking with them, going to see them in person. That helps you retain work so much better and actually get to know the person and you have some kind of shared experiences to pull upon
Amanda: I think that’s a great point, and I think it could be something that people tend to not do. I think it’s easy to forget to make things really obvious in your day to day.
John: I built into every single contract how often we’re going to catch up. What does kick-off look like? What is reviewing audits look like? When do we catch up? How often do we catch up? What are we discussing in those calls? And it really helps them understand that when I was consulting that I wasn’t just an SEO auditor, or a SEO vendor, but I’m your consultant. I’m working with you. I’m invested in your business with you. I’m helping you see success, and that’s a very different relationship than this is our SEO vendor where I’m “buying” SEO services from them.
Amanda: I think I learned that the hard way when I first started account management. It’s assumptions. You should just never make assumptions. If there’s silence for too long, I’d be like, Oh, they know what we’re doing. That’s not ever going to be the case. Why would they know without me telling them what’s going on, what we’re working on. I learned that lesson very quickly because they started asking all these questions like where are we with this or where are we with that? And those are very reasonable questions that I probably should have offered up at the get go. But I think you’re exactly right where if you just set those expectations at the beginning and you continue to set them, not even just at the beginning, throughout the whole relationship, this is what we’re working on, this is what you can expect from us X, Y, Z that it makes a huge difference, especially with trust.
John: And that’s exactly what I was talking about earlier when I talk to clients and they’re like, well we’ve been paying this person whatever per month and we don’t know what they’re doing. That’s a bad sign right there as the agency. If they’re like, hey, what are we working on this month and you’re halfway through the month, it’s like, Oh crap, there is a lot of communication that didn’t happen there. And if they’re asking that question, it means that they’re questioning whether they should keep on working with you, whether the investment they’re making is getting them anything. So something to watch for sure. Definitely a red flag.
Amanda: So this might be the answer to this question. This tends to happen when I do these interviews. What I always ask at the end is what do you think is the biggest mistake people make when they’re trying to sell an idea or a service? What do you think is the most frequent or what would you say is a mistake you see often and what is your advice to those people on what they should do instead?
John: The mistake I actually see the most often is being … how do I say this well? Being you focused instead of them focused. I’ve seen too many proposals come through our systems that were like … remember to this point, I’ve been speaking with pretty much every client that comes through Credo looking to hire so I have spoken with thousands of companies. Always ask them about their budget, what are you expecting, etc. We also tell the people that are pitching that whoever they are introducing this client to, this prospect to, the budget that we discussed what they’re expecting. But a lot of times I’ll see a pitch come back that’s double. Too often, I see a pitch come back that’s double what the client told me they were expecting to spend. And sometimes it’s just that the agency is really good and they talked to them about all these things and the person that’s kind of low balling me, but usually it just means that the agency is like, Oh this is how we price it and we talked about doing content. Here’s content and here’s how much it’s going to cost, and no concept of what will this person actually sign off on? So in the sales process, we have a sales process that we teach people here at Credo that goes all the way. It’s a couple of calls. There’s a scope to get on the same page before you even send a proposal, and the proposal is a formality to get to a signed contract and it’s exactly what you discussed and they basically already told you that they’re going to sign off on that if you send me that proposal. So it’s just like fish in a barrel, once you get that proposal to them because you’re agreed on both sides and they’re already kind of bought in to you.
A lot of people in the process just kind of toss a proposal over the fence and they’re like, well, we’ll see what they come back with and then they never follow up and you know any of that. And then they’re like, Oh, I don’t know why I lost the deal. I can tell you exactly why you lost the deal. So that’s the biggest issue that I see when people are pitching to do work for a potential client is just saying like, well this is what we want to pitch you on and what we think you should pay us. And not actually taking into account what they’re able to pay and working within that.
Amanda: Well, I’d imagine these clients don’t feel like they were really listened to. That certainly doesn’t help matters. They have a conversation and suddenly they’re just getting something out of nowhere.
John: Right, right. Or it’s a generic thing. And I actually hear that quite a bit, Amanda and I think that’s an important piece to cover because I’ll talk to someone that they’ve been getting proposals from other places and they’re like I’ve gotten four proposals, but they’re all boilerplate. This one even forgot to remove the <insert client name here> texts. I hear that all the time. So slow down a little bit and get it right. Make it personal, show them what they’re going to be getting, show them why you’re charging what you are, tell them where you can negotiate and where you can’t. To me, it’s Sales 101 or it’s just part of the process and has to be part of the process to actually close the work.
Amanda: Well, this has been really great. I love hearing your insights, especially cause we’ve talked to so many people and I haven’t done sales directly myself, so it’s fascinating to me to hear about what a lot of these mistakes are and how people can build that trust and actually speak to the work that they do effectively. Knowing that that’s kind of the objective of our show, do you have any recommendations on who else should be a guest in the future?
John: That’s a great question. So I would actually say my coach Chris Lemma, who’s at Liquid Web, VP of Product at Liquid Web, but he’s worked to build agencies and SAS companies and that kind of thing. Would be a really interesting person for you to have on because he could talk about this on a whole other level.
Amanda: Awesome. Yeah, I’ll definitely reach out. It sounds like he’s been really helpful to you too.
John: Very helpful. Very, very helpful. Yeah, that would be a big win for you.
Amanda: Awesome. Well, John, thank you so much again. If you have any resources regarding some of these sales materials that we were talking about that you want to share with the audience, feel free to send them over and I’ll post them. I really appreciate you being on the show.
John: Thanks for having me, Amanda. This was fun.
Amanda: For more insights and exclusive resources on how to justify content marketing. Join our email newsletter by going to FRAC.TL/content- marketing