| Aug 23, 2017 | | 7 min read

Dear Agencies: You’re Screwed


A few months ago—I think it was Friday, February 17, but don’t quote me on that—I was staring into my computer’s webcam with a half-stunned, half-horrified expression on my face.

Kind of like this:

Devon dumbfounded

Someone on the other end of Google Hangouts said something, and I snorted into the camera. (Hopefully my mic was off, but again, I can’t remember.)

A bit of context: I was sitting in a remote call with Vendasta’s leadership team, and it was the rehearsal meeting three days before we were set to launch our first conference. Everyone who was presenting at the conference had gathered in a room to rehearse their slides in front of the rest of the group, and in typical leadership-team fashion, no one was done their deck yet. Hell, most of them hadn’t even started.

This was going to be a gong show.

I had settled into my office chair with a Coke and a bowl of popcorn before logging into the live stream from my remote post across the country, awaiting the video feed like an HBO fanboy counting down to a Game of Thrones premiere.

Our CEO Brendan had gotten up first.

I remember him taking a deep breath and saying the first two words of his keynote as clear as day:

“You’re screwed.”

Cue the stunned expression and the snort of laughter—from me, at least.

As far as I could tell, everyone else in the room was silent, like a group of seven-year-olds after hearing one of their buddies say something worse than “crap”, “shoot”, or “dang” for the first time.

leadership team

Brendan flashed a smile (which not only meant he had gotten the reaction he’d hoped for, but that he was just getting started) and continued reading the opening of our inaugural conference off the sheet in front of him.

“If you sell local business owners products they don’t need, you’re screwed,” he said, staring down at his speech, “and if you continue to sell to fewer and fewer verticals at higher and higher prices, you’re also screwed.”

By this point, the room was no longer quiet.

Those who weren’t outright laughing were sniggering under their breath, whispering to the people beside them, or, in the case of our CTO and director of content, howling at the top of their lungs. I don’t recall anyone from HR being there, but if they had been, even the most conservative of them would’ve been chewing their fists trying their hardest to stifle a laugh.

The best part? Brendan was just getting started.

“If you can’t train or educate your sales force,” he stated matter-of-factly, “you’re screwed. If you hard sell your customers and only show up at renewal time, you’re screwed again. If you sell products no one uses, yup, screwed. And if you can’t fulfill the products you sell or provide value or proof of performance, you guessed it, you're screwed.”

To summarize:

He certainly knows how to grab people’s attention.

But wait, it gets better!

Brendan proceeded to pull up a picture of two frogs—one that looked like it was having a heart attack and one that was sipping some sort of cocktail in a pot of boiling water.

frog in boiling water
“Usually,” he said, pointing at the frog on the left, “folks see new technology and they panic. They buy companies and implement products, but eventually they become complacent, like the frog on the right. They think, ‘Oh, the world didn’t end. We don’t have to change.’”

The frogs disappeared, and a big, bold question took their place:

Has technology made you complacent?

Being from a software company that provides resellable solutions to agencies, it was easy to see where he was going with this. He wanted to strike fear in the complacent agency owners, directors, etc. in the audience by saying that if they avoided selling products like digital advertising, listings, and SEO, they were going to boil alive.

I’ll skip that part, because frankly you already know it if you’re reading this blog.

The interesting part is when he showed his slide on the new local marketing stack.

new local marketing stack

“From an SMB’s perspective,” Brendan explained, “it goes like this: do people know about you, can they find you, do they trust you, do they like you, can you convert them, and will they remain loyal? If you’re an agency offering paid advertising to local businesses, that’s great, but if you can’t offer to fix the other foundational parts of their marketing stack, you’re leaving money on the table and your clients are suffering.”

Simple enough concept, right?

And the solution should be easy: just press a button to start selling everything.

[Cue slide flip]

local marketing is hard

It’s not easy!

It’s not simple!

Local is hard!

And herein lies the issue: if you don’t offer solutions for every part of the marketing stack—thereby helping local businesses strengthen their marketing foundation—you’re screwed. Because complacency leads to irrelevance, which leads to...

...boiling in a pot of bankruptcy.

Mmm. Nothing like bringing things full circle.

But why is selling digital so hard, you ask?

Great question.

For years, we at Vendasta have watched agencies and media companies try to sell digital solutions to local businesses, and for years we’ve seen them fail.

While there are many challenges, they usually revolve around three issues:

1. The space is crowded

Yes, businesses need a mobile-friendly site, active social channels, positive reviews, and more, but the competition for those solutions is fierce.

After all, how many companies can you name that sell websites and SEO?

2. Traditional approaches don’t work

Digital products are often recurring revenue models (e.g., monthly subscriptions) and not—as is the case with print, radio, or TV ads—one-time sales.

In many cases, older executives think the cost of acquiring customers is too high to support selling lower-priced digital products, but this is the result of not understanding recurring revenue unit economics. For a deeper explanation of SaaS metrics, see my post: Mommy, where does recurring revenue come from?

3. Lack of automation and scalability

Today’s CRMs and marketing automation systems are fundamentally flawed because of their complexity, costs, and lack of prescriptive content. All constituents, from executives through to salespeople, lack a single source of truth for their products, support, training, fulfillment and prospecting.

Meanwhile, most agencies have no data-backed prospecting strategy or follow-up cadence. They rely on salespeople to find prospects and set their follow-up schedule, and they use intuition or lack of products to predict demand (e.g., trying to sell websites to those who don’t have websites), when, in actuality, factors such as contacting businesses at the right time with the right offering is more important.

TL;DR — Selling digital solutions is difficult. The space is crowded, traditional sales approaches are broken, and current sales and marketing software isn’t helping.

How to unscrew your agency

Near the end of his keynote, Brendan posed a question: “what keeps you awake at night?”

For him, it’s simple.

He said, “The thing that keeps me awake is wondering why local businesses would buy from agencies instead of directly from technology companies.”

[In this case, technology companies = Google, Buffer, Unbounce, Facebook, etc.]

The answer is they need a trusted local expert. While a small business owner could do everything themselves, they don’t have the time or expertise to do it correctly.

That’s where you come in.

How do you become a trusted local expert?

Brendan offered up a detailed formula in his keynote—an eight-step framework—for acquiring, retaining, and growing your client base. I’ve embedded the slides below, but for the full effect, you’ll want to watch the recording.

The gist is simple: to become a local marketing expert, you need to offer businesses the right solutions at the right stage of their buying journey and then help them adopt those solutions before building out the rest of their marketing foundation.

Execution-wise, you’ll need tools that help you:

  • Find SMBs that need your help
  • Nurture business owners with educational content
  • Perform detailed needs analysis
  • Track contacts, conversations, and engagements
  • Help clients adopt your solutions
  • Show proof of performance
  • Identify upsell and cross-sell opportunities

So what’s next for your agency?

I wasn’t at Vendasta’s conference in person, but I watched it go down via Facebook Live. Ultimately, the agency crowd responded well.

I’m not surprised. The majority of them are having a hard time adapting to digital and figuring out how to sell to local, so a step-by-step gameplan was a breath of fresh air.

I highly recommend checking out the keynote here:

brendan king keynote local marketing

The great thing about the strategy that Brendan presented is that there are a lot of tools that can help you bring it together. (It goes without saying that Vendasta can help you with this, too—and since I work there, I happen to think we do it the best—but we’re not the only ones.)

If you’re curious about how we can help your agency, keep reading. If not, maybe you want to subscribe for more posts about becoming a local expert in the future? Muchas gracias.




You didn’t expect to get through this without a plug, did you 😉

Here goes.

Vendasta provides a local marketing platform to solve all of the challenges above.

With our platform, you can promote your products and services at scale and identify your best prospects, thereby decreasing your costs of acquiring new customers. You can also leverage Marketplace: an app store of solutions that you can brand as your own and resell to local businesses, including websites, reputation management, social marketing, listings correction, and a lot more.

Ultimately, you want to grow your digital revenue—fast.

At Vendasta, that’s what we’re good at. In less than twenty-four hours, you can start selling new solutions under your own brand and begin generating leads. Grab a demo today to see what I'm talking about.


About the Author

Devon is the former director of demand generation at Vendasta, a provider of sales and marketing solutions for agencies and local media companies.

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