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Conquer Local Roundtable: 10 things agency owners should be doing right now to thrive and survive

In this new series, we sit down with Vendasta’s executive team and interview them on current issues facing agencies and enterprises.

Our panel includes: CEO and co-founder Brendan King, CMO and co-founder Jeff Tomlin, CCO and EVP of Sales George Leith, CTO Dale Hopkins, CSO Jacqueline Cook, EVP of Marketplace Ed O’Keefe, EVP of Product Gib Olander, and VP of Demand Generation Devon Hennig, who moderated the discussion.

What’s the economic impact of the coronavirus on local businesses and how should agencies and media companies respond? 

We challenged Vendasta’s C-Suite to tell us exactly what they would do if they were agency owners right now, outline their predictions for the future of small businesses, and elaborate on the challenges and opportunities in today’s market. The following article contains their immediate action plans, while the rest is covered in 5 SaaS challenges in the midst of COVID-19 and the upcoming 10 predictions for the future of small businesses and digital agencies.

If you were running an agency right now, what would you wake up and do tomorrow?

1. Give clients the tools they need

Jacqueline Cook: Two things. One is, I’d get really close to my existing customers, and I'd give them tools in their hands right away, and set up broadcasts on how to get the most out of those tools. So for example, real tactical things, I would set up a webinar with, "Here's how to get online." Basic, basic, basic, basic, basic for free. And in doing so, I would establish trust with my existing customers who might be going through a tough time at that point. But in doing so, you don't lose that point of contact with your existing customers.

 

2. Find those you can rescue. Then do it.

Jacqueline Cook: Secondly, there's a massive wave of other businesses looking to go online right now. So I would also take our tool kits, and I would get them in the hands of a whole bunch of other customers that I've never served before, and I would use the same tactics on, "Here's how to get online." And then I would simply educate, educate, educate, and be that source of knowledge. And not just knowledge about the Coronavirus, because there's enough of that going around. Knowledge on ways that they can get found by customers in this time, and bring in data.  

One point to note is that we were looking the other day at the search for digital agencies on Google, and that keyword alone has just surged. People are looking for help right now, so I would look at: what are other consumers looking for right now, and how can you match the increase in demand? We have a whole bunch of markets that are fluctuating right now, so we’ve got to meet that with what we've got in our customer base as well.

 

3. Focus on guaranteed wins

Brendan King: I 100% agree with Jackie. I would go to my existing customers if I had them, and I would make sure that I was stacking them all right up. I wouldn't be looking for new customers. I'd be taking my existing customers and making sure that they had everything they needed to get through this. You have a relationship already, it's in a hurry, they have time, and I'd be building them up the stack if I could. I probably would break them up into courts and say, "Who's going to make it and who's not?" and proceed that way. For new customers, I'd pick a couple of places where I knew I could help. I'd take either a gym or a church, and say, "We can help hold the service" or do whatever it took to put something in place to copy what other people have had tremendous success with - and there's tons of examples - and then drive them up. That's what I would do as an agency owner. 

 

4. Focus on content

Gib Olander: There's three big trends I think that I would think about mostly. First, I would double down on social and be doing absolutely everything and anything I could to build an audience, and try to collect as much first party data and build those relationships so that I would be ready to communicate with those people when they were able to buy from me. And again, it depends a little bit on the vertical that you're in, but no matter what, I would be gathering and building, because I think that's the most valuable thing they can have.

But basically, this is all about building an audience, right? So it's whatever kind of content that I can create, whatever kind of giveaway that I can do, a sign up, an education, a webinar. But the whole purpose is, create content to generate an audience. Because that audience is what you own, that's the only thing you can actually get that becomes an asset for you later, right? So if you can get that audience now while people can't spend money, you'll be so far ahead whenever the flood gates do open up or if there's a V curve, or an L curve, or a U curve, it doesn't matter. You need an audience, and today's tools allow you to become your own publisher, your own voice, your own network, like never before. And many of these businesses have never thought of an audience that way. So how can you gather an audience? Because that's a long-term valuable asset that will pay off time and time again.

 

5. Help customers streamline their costs and operations

Gib Olander: The second would be looking at my customers and trying to help reduce both their costs and create a centralized operating system for their software basis. So I would become somewhat of a cloud broker or a consultant to them to help them streamline the operation of their business into a centralized operating system.

Jacqueline Cook: Can I just jump in on something? This idea of cutting costs. Like, holy cow, there’s this wave of people realizing, “I’ve got to go through all my credit card bills and just start cutting costs.” The other is cleaning up, cleaning the house - the Clean Co army, right? And I think there's a real opportunity. Everyone's taking a breath right now, a moment right now, to really explore what is the foundation that I want for the future. That’s both small businesses and local businesses setting up the infrastructure for growth in the future, as well as our own customers.

I've been on a couple of sales calls [where I hear,] “I'm cutting costs, I just need to cut Vendasta”, and then once we talk to them, they're like, "You guys, what do you mean you have a sales CRM, a whole pipeline management, a whole task management system? If I can get rid of Monday.com I can get rid of Pipedrive, I can consolidate all of my solutions, and you'll give me a discount rather than grabbing 10 or 12 vendors for all my products. If I actually consolidate with you, I’ll get everything I need for way less money and hassle then having all these other disjointed solutions like I had before.”

More: Check out the entire Conquer Local Roundtable discussion here.

6. Lean into product-led growth

Gib Olander: The third thing that I would do is I would try to lean into everywhere that I could develop a true product-led approach. Because people have got more time, and they're at home researching and learning before they're making buying decisions. I would try to find whatever product I had and position it in front of those customers so they could feel it, see it, experience it without actually having to come into my business. So those would be the three things that I'd focus on.

 

7. Level up

George Leith: You're not in traffic driving to see a customer, you're not in traffic driving to your office, so you could take some of that time to level up your team's learning. Because we always talk about how you need to have constant learning, but now we actually have the time to do some of that stuff.

So inside your agency, pick where the gaps are in the development of your people and your teams, and really put the effort and hours into bridging them. I've professed this for a number of years, and it's hard to do because the whirlwind gets you. Over the last six weeks, I've actually been doing it for hours and hours a day, and it's freaking hard. It takes a lot of discipline and if you're going to do three hours of training, you’ve got to do six hours of prep. But we do have that time now to level our teams up.

So the one thing I'd add to all the other great concepts that have been discussed in the last few minutes is that this really is an opportunity to level up with some of that time that you would be spending doing things in the whirlwind.

 

8. Prove you’re a partner, not a cost

Dale Hopkins: I think really, you're supersizing your current customer focus and the idea of, "I'm not a cost, I'm a partner."

The reason SMBs hire an agency? To get the door to swing and the cash register to ring. What you have to do right now is maybe different. But in the end, the value proposition is the same. Your job as an agency is to get them customers. And, I mean, how you do that may change, but guess what? Do your homework, figure it out. They still want the same thing that they paid you to do. The question is, how are you going to do it?

And so, that means that I'm going to be basically figuring out for my top partners how to save them. I may be looking into programs, but honestly, I'm not changing my day-to-day. I'm literally figuring out for my top partners the services Vendasta and other people offer, and how I'm going to help them adapt their business. But that's what I do because I'm their partner, right? So for me as an agency, nothing has changed. The reason my partners pay me is because I'm watching what's happening and telling them what to do. I'm going to show up as the expert and tell them what to do just like any other day.

 

9. Focus on e-commerce

George Leith: On the agency side of things, I would absolutely 100% focus on e-commerce solutions right now. And one of the biggest problems people are having right now is that their cash register isn't ringing as much as it used to and the door isn't swinging. Especially with our new solution, it is easier and easier for them to enable their business with e-commerce.

 

10. Take care of yourself, take care of your business

Ed O'Keefe: So agencies and media companies, they run hard. They run hard daily, every minute, we see it every day. They're sweating, working hard, and I respect them so much. If I was an agency, I would take a minute to take my vitamin C, vitamin D, and my Zinc, and take care of myself personally, eat better, and work out a little more and go for walks right now and just get a little more healthy. But I would also do the same with my business. I would certainly put all my customers on automated drip campaigns to make sure I'm top of mind, make sure that they know I'm there and taking care of them. I'd put any tools and any proof of performance that I've had in the past, in their laps on a repeated basis, so they remember me. And then I take inventory of my product set and how I'm doing business. And I would look around for places where I can be staged to be more potent and more powerful when the consumers open up, and the SMBs open up to buy faster and quicker.

For instance, finding marketplaces where they can get volume and global buying power with almost a co-op of other SMBs and other agencies, and really come out of the gate with a stronger product set that's appropriate for the times. Probably the tip of the spear would be e-commerce, but it would also have that element of freemium and trials. And that would be my thing. But I would take the time to get healthy really quick, re-merchandise myself.

About the Author

Courtney is a Content Marketing Specialist at Vendasta who loves spending her days researching and writing about...anything really, she's honestly a pretty big nerd. When she's not blogging up a storm, you can find her collecting too many instruments while only half-learning to play them, watching too much Netflix, or planning a trip to visit all the friends she's left behind everywhere she's lived in the past decade.

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