[Recap] "Our agency rocket ship hits wall, then explodes..." | Highlights from month 7 leading HubSpot Partner, IMR Corp
Our new team/client management model hits a wall by mid-May
May was a watershed month for the inbound agency I have been leading up, Innovative Marketing Resources (IMR Corp). There were essentially three forces that came into play during this pivotal month in the agency's history:
- We continued to grow the number of accounts we were managing overall. The client work demand continued to expand.
- We were in the 3rd month of our team's pivot to being more of a pod-based model where the entire team was helping across all client accounts based on their desired areas of specialization.
- We let a team member go at the beginningof the month and experimented with outsourced consulting to vet potential new team member.
The combigned forces of growing client demand, having the team members involved across all accounts and essentially playing with a man down on the team with subcontractors/recruitment efforts going on in the background made for a very demanding month. All of these items were the right things we felt the agency needed to do to thrive long term (and the team was essentially asking for these changes), but what May showed us is that these changes were causing the rocket ship of our growth to essentially come apart.
- As a reminder to put all you're about to read in context, we've set out to develop a new way of doing business as a HubSpot Agency Partner. So I've been very open to experimentation throughout this experience and expected there would be a need to change and adjust on how we do things as we learned and grew.
Let's explore the highlights of what happened here in month 7.....
Business Mangement and Strategy
Below is an excerpt of an email I received from one of our most driven and organized team members, Danielle Winkler, half-way through May. It was important to me that I built trusting relationships with everybody on the team so they felt comfortable coming to me when they felt things were getting out of whack. I felt the same way when Danielle sent me this email with the subject line: Hitting a Wall....
- We learned our new model of handling client services work as a team being responsible for a certain aspect of works across all account based on speciality was not sustainable once we got over a certain number of clients (like we did in May):
- One person couldn't be project managing every account
- One person be leading the consulting/strategy calls for every account
- One person couldn't be providing all the HubSpot implementation
- One person couldn't be doing all the writing for all the content projects
- One person couldn't be doing all the website design and development
- To deal with this reality, we decided to finish May with our team-based approach experiment and then go back (with renewed appreciation and lessons learned) to a "one account manager per 4-6 accounts" strategy that IMR had in place originally. This would be where an Inbound Marketing Consultant (IMC) would be providing project management, hosting weekly consulting/strategy calls and taking on core HubSpot implementation items items (while continuing to look to our writer and designer on staff for content/design/dev projects).
- Dispite our painful lessons in the transition, the team had still honed their strengths in the particular areas they specialized in for the last few months, so everybody's skills were stronger there. We all learned to be much more open to collaborating on eachother's accounts going forward, even if each IMC was now back to being ultimately responsible for focusing on the day to day management and success of a select group of accounts (we'll talk more about that in next month's recap post).
Comings and goings:
- At the end of April, I let my first team member go. This team member had served with us for over a year and a half. This person was great to be with and I struggled with the decision. Ultimately, for the growth of the agency and the team, we couldn't afford to keep this person full time. We parted ways amicably and I'm happy to say this person is now gainfully employed once again with some fellow IMR alumni at a software company nearby. So greatful this worked out for the best!
- We started to recruit in earnest for a new senior-level IMC who could help inspire and bring new skill sets to the team over all. I did a number of interviews and even hired one of my recruits, a former HubSpotter, to work with us on a short term consulting engagement.
- We learned that swapping team members in and out (even if it's just temporary) comes at a cost culturally and operationally. IMR's processes and technology are pretty damn good for the agency's size/age to be sure, but nobody is just plug and play as a new team member on day one, and no team member who's been around for a year or more can just be transitioned out and not have the impact be felt by the others.
HubSpot's Annual Partner Day:
In contrast to new challenges and decisions on the team front, month 7 brought us something Agency Partners look forward to all year - HubSpot's Annual Partner Day. This thing gets bigger and better every year. While I was hard pressed to take a couple days away from the office with so many urgent demands, I thought it was important that as a Platinum HubSpot Partner, that our agency make a strong showing at this event and also to take time to reflect and learn. So Kevin and I carved out the time to go, attend sessions, and catch up with old friends in the network. I still ducked out for a few client/team calls anyways and the rest of the team kept things moving ahead with our accounts just fine otherwise.
Shots of me reuniting with old friends from my days consulting to Agency Partner pros at HubSpot - LEFT: Tara Robertson and Nick Heim (now leaders at HotJar) RIGHT: Marisa Smith of The Whole Brain Group (with a Pete Caputa photo bomb to boot).
2016-05-18: My old boss, HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan showing us Agency Partners the potential market for our services that will come from increased inbound software sales to the mid-market in the years to come. I'm ready to tap into this!
Dharmesh always brings something a little special to HubSpot Partner Day. I'm still inspired to make this guy proud....
Hanging out at the after-party with two of my favorite people in the Partner Program - George Thomas of The Sales Lion and Angie O'Dowd, head of Partner Marketing at HubSpot.
Partner Day: “We’re Not Alone"
So one of the biggest things that Kevin and I learned from Partner Day was that every HubSpot Agency Partner we spoke with was struggling in some way with their staffing/service and growth model. Every one.
- Some are "virtual" companies.
- Some are "traditional."
- Some are 3 days in the office, 2 out.
- Some hired seasoned agency people.
- Some hired only millennials.
None of that seemed to matter.
We found universal agreement around the following problems:
1) Do not know how to charge enough for services
2) Can't implement a career path for staffers based on inbound skills
3) Can't scale because every account is different
It seemed to us from the sessions we attended that the solutions were either that inbound agencies must "productize the service" (which is what IMR's Content Marker's Blueprint seeks to do) and have many smaller accounts or selectively choose a small number of clients with businesses that an agency can grow with and treat every client as unique and staff and charge accordingly. The first model is much more aligned with "inbound". The second looks more like a traditional agency with advertising, PR etc.
Our current agencie's model and plan calls for profile #1 and requires that we productize the service offering. We have never really considered profile #2... mostly because our sales pipeline was up until now filled most with clients closely aligned with HubSpot and we have never invested in a sales person to go sell a company that needed the full scope of agency services and had that kind of budget (June and July would change that, stay tuned).
This conflict of client services strategy is also the essence of the disconnect we had been experiencing in conversations we've had with some of the other Agency Partners about teaming up together on client aquisition and services. Many are talking about building this kind of special snowflake full service agency (without being able to qualify what would make the agency they want to build different) and IMR has been (up to this point) pursuing a model of productizing marketing services to make them easier for all involved to understand, sell and fullfill.
If you're reading this as an inbound agency pro, these are things for us ALL to think about...
All in all, I felt refreshed by HubSpot's Partner Day. As you can see by the pictures above, HubSpot continued to bring the inbound thunder to this event and they were terrific hosts. I also learned that our challenges are not all that different from other inbound agencies out there trying to help organizations succeed with a transformation from outbound to inbound marketing cultures.
- HubCast Episode 94:End of episode interview of Nick Sal reflecting on HubSpot's Annual Partner Day event
Marketing and Lead Generation
Continuing Marketing by Committee:
As the agency is still in turnaround/growth mode, we continued to pool our resources for lead-gen efforts in month 7:
- Matt, our inbound writer, brought content/writing focus
- Bev, head of design/development, brought the web/design focus
- Myself, being a HubSpot hound, brought the HubSpot strategy focus.
- It was fairly effective and we got some content and pages up as well as applied for some local opportunities for co-marketing with HubSpot.
Matt, Nick and Bev on one of IMR's Internal Marketing Committee's weekly meetings in May 2016.Our major focuses for marketing in month 7:
- Lead gen not a problem in May. We had enough in the pipeline. So, shifted our own content strategy from targeting keywords to build awareness and instead started to publish case studies to assist with contacts in the consideration and/or decision stage of their journey.
- We also had had some great wins with our inbound retainer clients recently and we needed to get their stories out:
- Applying for HubSpot's Impact Awards
- Applying for IMR to speak at INBOUND2016
The "marketing seeds" we planted in May/month 7 paid off as the summer kicked off in June + July. More on that in my next update...
Inbound Project and Retainer Sales Updates
Nick and Kevin DING! a new client deal that was closed in May
Selling on site:
The consultative sales process that's facilitated through our 30-day inbound audit allowed both IMR and our prospect to get up close and personal with eachother before diving into a high stakes retainer relationship.
Part-time IMR inbound consultant, Drew Wallace and I meet with the folks at Wireless Analytics and scope out some of their marketing collateral they could be better leveraging on their new investment in HubSpot this month.
Customer Success Highlight for May:
We love receiving emails like this one (above) from clients - where they share our work together setting up HubSpot Workflows and Email is helping to generate quality inbound leads for their organization and bringing tangible proof that our efforts are paying off.
Agency Team Culture / Development / Fun
Corporate Kegorator: Kevin and I were proud to show we got pretty good ROI on our investment in a keg of Sam Adams at the IMR offices this month...
Still encouraging the IMR team to visit HubSpot once a month minimum:
IMR Inbound Marketing Consultant, Ross Simons and I seen here participating in a meeting of ToastSpot, HubSpot's employee chapter of Toastmasters International. I received by Competent Communicators Award (10 speeches) just before I finished working at HubSpot full time.
For our team development efforts in May, I invited my good buddy Dan Murphy, former HubSpot marketer and now stop lead-gen stud over at OnShape, to swing by IMR HQ for a lunch&learn and give us an hour of Q&A on how he generates so many MQL's at one of Boston's hottest start-ups.
In our continual efforts to improve the space in which we work each month, we added this awesome mural to the IMR office walls in May. Thanks to Amy Jorgensen who volunteered to come in and help paint + design this wall for us! :)
How's baby Grantham Sal?
I dunno, you take a look at the pics and tell me.... ;)
Grantham being a goof and wearing his lovie on his head one afternoon.
"Grantham saying , 'Keep reachin for those goals, daddy!'"
THANK YOU, tell me what you think / your own agency journey?
Thanks for reading all the way to the end! Thank you also for your patience in my getting this out to you. May, June and July were just SUPER intense in terms of change and growth for the agency. I didn't want to rush each recap post out without making sure I could give you some quality content. I hope this was worth the wait.
NOW, since I'm done here, what do you think?? Are you leading an inbound agency team and have similar experiences to share? Maybe a contrary perspective/experience? All are welcome here. Please post a comment below and I'll get right back to you.
Love and loyalty,