Brad Farris of Anchor Advisors has been thinking a lot about the idea of being present. In this episode, he explains what he means by that, why it is important, and how to be better at this skill.
Chip Griffin of SAGA chimes in with his perspective and expands the conversation to explore how to help team members be more present.
They talk about how being present helps to balance thinking and planning with doing. The result is better outcomes and relationships because there is more listening that results in understanding.
Brad Farris: “When we’re in a place of uncertainty, we want to eliminate a lot of the distractions and really try to focus our attention on the present moment, on what’s going on right now.”
Chip Griffin: “If you spend all your time planning and none of your time doing, where do you get? Nowhere.”
Brad Farris: “And a lot of [using tools like spreadsheets and pipelines] is actually about projecting ourselves into the future and taking us out of the present moment where we’re most able to solve the problems that we’re facing.”
Chip Griffin: “Don’t think of business development in the agency world as a sales process. Think of it as a matchmaking process. You are really trying to make sure that what you provide is what the prospect needs.”
The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.
Chip Griffin: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Small Agency Talk Show. I’m Chip Griffin, the founder of SAGA, the Small Agency Growth Alliance. I’m delighted to have with me, one of my favorite regular panelists, Brad Farris of Anchor Advisors. Welcome to the show.
Brad Farris: Thanks for having me, Chip.
Chip Griffin: It is great to have you here. I am. You know what we’re talking about today? Since it’s your topic idea? I don’t know what there’s going to be 30 minutes of hearing you talk Klingon, or whether we’re actually going to have a substantive conversation.
Brad Farris: I’m sure we’ll have a substantive conversation.
Chip Griffin: Oh, it’s just the fun part, something near the tail end of the official business week. And, so I mean with that, I actually, I guess before we do that, if anybody has missed every episode of the Small Agency Talk Show, They have no idea who Brad Farris is. Why don’t you share just a little bit before you get into the conversation?
Brad Farris: I have been working with agency owners for about 20 years, as a consultant and more recently in more of a coaching arrangement.
My business is called Anchor Advisors and you can find out more about me at anchoradvisors.com or on most of the socials I’m BLFarris.
Chip Griffin: Excellent. Well, so with that, why don’t we start to anchoring this conversation by having you tell us what we’re talking about today?
Brad Farris: So I’ve been thinking a lot about the uncertainty of running an agency.
Um, I think one of the things that people talk to me most about as I’m working with them is that owning an agency can be a bit of a roller coaster. There’s lots of ups and downs, right? There’s great things about it. And then all of a sudden they’re terrible things about it. And we can’t necessarily predict which is coming at us at what pace is that, is that your experience in terms of working with agency owners?
Chip Griffin: Yeah, I think that would be a fair statement.
Brad Farris: So in a time of uncertainty, when we, when we’re really trying to get the best outcome, you know, one of the places that I was thinking about is when you’re driving and you’re lost, right, as soon as you realize you’re lost, the first thing you do is you turn off the radio. Because of course you want to put all of your attention on figuring out where I’m going and not missing the clues and the, you know, the signs and all that sort of stuff.
And so when we, we sort of intuitively understand that when we’re in a place of uncertainty, we want to eliminate a lot of the distractions and really try to focus our attention on the present moment on what’s going on right now. Is that, is that resonating for you?
Chip Griffin: It does. I mean, I, you know, I think that that paying attention, which I have not been doing for a few seconds, because I’m understanding in internet land, that there may be some difficulties with my portion of the feed.
So we’re working on that. So if you’re seeing me pixelated, congratulations, you don’t have to actually look at me. But, but yes, I mean, I, you know, I think that that being present in your business can be a challenge for agency owners who are always drinking out of the fire hose, called their inbox.
Brad Farris: And this is, so this is what I started thinking about is that when I look at my clients and they’re in that area of uncertainty, what they tend to do is kind of scurry around with a bunch of tools that, you know, there are a lot of spreadsheets that show up where we’re doing projections and we’ve got a pipeline that we’re focused on and we’re trying to figure out how we’re going to bring the business in.
And, and so there are a lot of tools, a lot of thinking that we use to try to help us bring control to this situation that is ultimately uncontrollable, right? Like the spreadsheets don’t actually help us to control the situation. They make us feel a little bit more in control. They might support better decision-making but in working with the I’m driving and I’m lost analogy, the, the spreadsheets are really like turning the radio up, right? Like we’re trying to solve this problem. And we have all these thoughts going on about what’s going on in my pipeline and what’s going on in my expenses. And how am I going to get to bring all this together? And a lot of that is actually about projecting ourselves into the future and taking us out of the present moment where we’re most able to solve the problems that we’re facing.
Chip Griffin: Well, I think it’s, you know, it’s not just the present moment problem. It’s, it’s something that you just touched on that, that we do things because it makes us feel better. Right. Having the spreadsheets makes us feel better. Like we’re doing something and it manifests itself for agency owners in a lot of different ways.
It’s, it’s why so many agencies spend so much time responding to RFPs because it makes them feel like they’re doing something about their, their business growth problem. Even though it may not really be addressing the problem, but it makes them feel like there’s that safety blanket there or something.
Brad Farris: Like a Teddy bear.
Chip Griffin: Exactly. And I’m sure you’ve seen this too, but there are a lot of people who shall I say are addicted to coaching. I, you know, I mean, I have some clients who have three or four different coaches for different aspects of their agency business. Okay. I mean, I guess it’s good for me cause they’re paying me.
Right. And, and I feel like I’m giving them good advice. It seems like they’re getting good advice, but there are some people who just, who really like to have you know, coaches, consultants at hand, and that’s not just agencies, but I think agencies in particular have a lot of that. And so it doesn’t mean any of these things are bad, right?
RFPs are not inherently bad. Coaching is not inherently bad. Obviously. Otherwise…
Brad Farris: Budgets are good. Like it’s good to have a budget. It’s good to have a pipeline.
Chip Griffin: Financial reporting is important. All of those things are good. It’s just making sure that you’re using them in balance and understanding why you’re using them and not just using them for that security feeling.
Brad Farris: And I’m thinking specifically about really high stakes conversation. So if we’re talking to a potential client and we know that this is a client that could solve some future financial problems for us, if we’re able to maintain the relationship with them, thinking about them as the solution to our problem, our financial problem.
It’s actually taking us away from being together with them, working on their problems with their marketing. Right. And so this is what I’m talking about is that these tools or these solutions that we have that make us feel better, they, they, they can actually get in the way of us doing the thing that we need to do at the time we’re trying to do it.
Chip Griffin: Yeah. I think, I think that’s absolutely true. And if you spend all your time planning and none of your time doing, where do you get? Nowhere.
Brad Farris: So that’s a really great, I, that, that planning doing kind of thing. You could also talk about it in terms of thinking versus doing, right. And I think a lot of times, I think, see, there I go, when we’re having these conversations, whether it’s with an employee or a client, We’re doing a lot of thinking about the situation we’re thinking we’re, we’re kind of reflecting on how am I doing here?
You know, is that the right thing that I should have said? You know, when I said that last time, it didn’t really work right. And what’s this person thinking and how do I get myself? So all of that thinking is taking us away from being present with them. And if, to the extent that we could turn that thinking down, then we’re more, we have more access to our intuition, right?
To our, the body knowledge that, that as creatives, we know that thinking doesn’t make better creative outcomes, right? There’s, there’s something that comes from inside of us that helps us to have those creative breakthroughs. And then this thinking oftentimes can kind of cloud up the… what do you call it?
The windshield, the windshield, that’s the word I’m looking for?
Chip Griffin: Oh, it’s Friday, isn’t it Brad?
Brad Farris: And you know, a rough time of year.
To get back to the getting lost analogy, right? The thinking kind of fogs up the windshield and it makes it actually harder for us to get the outcome that is actually going to solve our problems.
Chip Griffin: Yeah. I mean, I wonder if, if part of what you’re saying, isn’t that an important part of being present is listening, you know, rather than doing something, whether that’s thinking or some other sort of distraction.
Brad Farris: And in that, from that frame, the thinking we’re doing is we’re trying to listen to more than one conversation at a time. Right? There’s the conversation in our head or multiple conversations in our head, you know, evaluating what’s going on, plus thinking about the future versus listening to the client or the prospect or the team member who is right in front of us.
Chip Griffin: Yeah. If you’ve got a lot of these voices talking to you in your head Brad, you may want to seek help.
Brad Farris: There’s like a whole busload back there, and they’re pretty unruly. I mean, that’s the other thing about all those voices is you can tell them to shut up, but they don’t always shut up when you’re telling them to shut up or at least mine don’t. I mean, they, they get kind of feisty back there.
Chip Griffin: Right. And I, I mean, I think being present is also about moderating different aspects. Isn’t it? Right. I mean, it’s because you don’t want to not think.
Brad Farris: Correct.
Chip Griffin: I’ve seen plenty of people in my life who just say whatever comes to mind and that’s not always a good thing.
Sometimes, sometimes thinking before you say wouldn’t be a bad thing or thinking before you take some action, wouldn’t be a bad thing, but it’s, it’s finding the right, the right balance to go back to a word I used earlier in this conversation. And that helps you achieve that presence, I think, that you’re talking about.
Brad Farris: Well, it’s interesting what you’re saying there.
I think when I just blurt things out, it’s often, cause I’m not very present. I’m not doing a good job listening. You know, there’s something that’s rattling around in my head and I don’t have the mental acuity to think about how is it that I’m delivering that in a way that the other person will hear it.
Right? And so the more that I’m present with them, the more empathy and connection that I have with the person that I’m talking to, the more likely I’m able to get those ideas to come out in a way that they can hear them. And so those additional conversations that are going on in my head about or around this conversation are in my world are more often the cause of me blurting something out.
Right. Because I don’t, I’m not paying enough attention to really the thing that I’m doing.
Chip Griffin: So, I mean, when you blurt something out in a conversation, isn’t that really just a sign that you don’t want to be part of that conversation any longer? No, seriously, for whatever reason, either because you don’t feel like you have the time for it, because it’s not something you’re interested in, because you’re frustrated with the other party.
I mean, it seems to me that that when someone blurt something out in a conversation without thinking and just sort of, you know, puts it out there it’s because they don’t want to be there.
Brad Farris: That’s a really interesting observation. I never thought about that, but I think you’re right. And if I’m, if I’m connected to the person that I’m talking to, if I’m, if I’m focused on being of service to that person, that’s almost always a fascinating conversation. It’s rare that I’m going to say, oh, I can really help this person. And this person’s really listening to me. And, but I don’t really want to be here.
Right. And so another way to say that is, When you blurt something out, it means you don’t want to be in this conversation, which means you probably aren’t in it in the first place. Like you’re just not invested enough in what’s going on at the time.
Chip Griffin: So let’s, let’s circle to that, that phrase you just used – being of service.
Brad Farris: Yes.
Chip Griffin: Because I think this is, this is a key part of the relationships that agency owners and leaders are developing and there’s, I mean, look, there are certain people that, that I’m sure you know, that I know that, that if I see their name in my inbox, it’s probably because they want something.
Brad Farris: Yes.
Chip Griffin: There are people I’ve known for decades.
And literally the only time I ever hear from them is when they want something. And I think that it’s important for us to adopt that of service mentality, particularly in the agency space, with the things that we do and really try to find ways that we can be helpful to whomever we’re being with, because that’s going to make you much more present in the conversation than if you’re trying to play your angle in that conversation.
Brad Farris: That’s right. It, it’s something – making that mental shift for myself of how can I serve this person? How can I be there for them? Has really helped me to get some of those voices to quiet down. As a consultant, before I started coaching, when I lived in consulting world, I actually kind of pictured part of my job as manipulating clients to do the thing that I knew was right for them. Right. Like I could see where I wanted them to go. And so I was trying to find the way to tell clients that so that they would get themselves there. That’s not really being of service. Right. But making the switch to saying no, I need to be with them and see from where they are, where they need to go.
That was a huge shift for me that changed the way I work with clients. And like you say, I think it makes a big difference for my clients when they’re working with their clients also.
Chip Griffin: Oh, absolutely. Because I mean, when an agency does what you just described and it’s very common, right? Because most times when an agency has got a prospect on the phone or on zoom or wherever they are of the mindset that this is potential revenue. I want this potential revenue and their main concern is will the check clear or will the ACH come in? Right. And, and so that’s a dangerous mentality to have because it may help you steer people to what you want them to do in the near term. The problem is when you know, there’s a lot of buyers remorse.
And it’s not like, you know, when they buy a toaster that they didn’t really need. Cause it’s got digital stuff on it and doesn’t just toast bread or whatever. It’s much worse because it causes reputational damage to your agency when that client realizes this isn’t what I really needed. I’ve paid this agency money and I’m not getting the results that I really wanted.
So you really have to avoid that kind of situation. And by the way, there’s a lot of pain in that agency client relationship before it gets to that point. Right? So they start acting out, they start nitpicking, they start micromanaging. Both sides get frustrated and then they’re like, they wash their hands of you and they say, forget about it. You know, we’re not working with you guys again. And so it’s why I always tell people, don’t think of business development in the agency world as a sales process. Think of it as a matchmaking process. You are, you are really trying to make sure that that what you provide is what the prospect needs. And if it’s not help them find it somewhere else, or at least tell them we’re not it.
Because you’re going to get a lot farther and have a much healthier business that you’re happier with if you’re intentional about the clients you take on,
Brad Farris: When this gets really obvious to me is in those agencies where there’s kind of a feeling that, you know, this client – they don’t make good choices.
Like we present them with creative and they always choose the safe, you know, the boring, the not as impactful, or they’re always dumbing down the stuff that we’re giving to them. And so there becomes this feeling like, you know, this client isn’t very smart or this client doesn’t make good choices and that’s us standing back and apart from them and making a judgment about who the client is.
As opposed to getting in there with them and trying to understand why they’re making those choices. That might not be the thing that we’re seeing as the thing that would be best for them.
Chip Griffin: So I kind of want to flip this on its head a little bit for a moment.
Brad Farris: I want to hear it.
Chip Griffin: So, you know, you, you’re speaking about, you know, the need for the agency leader to be present.
And, you know, you shared some ideas about how to be more present as far as quieting down voices. And that sorta thing, listening. When you’re in a meeting or when you’re in a conversation with a team member, with a client and you sense that they’re not being present and that’s holding you back, particularly team members, right.
Because clients… there’s a limited number of things you can do with clients. Team members. How do you address that as a leader, as a manager, in order to try to get the results that, that you need? I mean, how would you advise someone on that? Cause I suspect that just saying doesn’t feel like you’re present to me is, is, I mean maybe it works in some cases. I’m generally a fan of directness, but that one, just sort of feels like, I would anticipate that most team members would not respond positively to that.
Brad Farris: So when I see someone in a social situation where there’s more than one human in the room acting in a way that I don’t understand, like why are they doing that weird thing? My first assumption is always that it has to do with status.
And so in the situation that you’re talking about, where a team member is pushing their idea or their agenda and they aren’t listening. They aren’t really being present to what’s coming to them. My initial assumption is that it has to do with them not feeling important or valued, or like their ideas are being taken seriously.
And so that’s probably where I would start is to have a conversation that says, Hey, I noticed you acting in this certain way. What was going on for you there. And generally there you’re going to get Oh, I don’t know, I was off, you know, there’s going to, there’s gonna be some deflection there. So then I’ll start asking about status or about what is it that you were feeling in terms of, you know, were you feeling valued?
Were you feeling like your ideas were important? No, they kept knocking down everything that I was saying. Oh, okay. Well, let’s talk about that. How do you perceive that that happened? And just kind of walking through from there to see if they can see how that feeling inside them was starting to interfere with the communication with the client.
Chip Griffin: So I think it’s interesting that you know, that you sort of diagnose the solution as similar to addressing at least part of your own problem with being present, which is listening. Right. Because you’re, you’re now saying that the way to get someone else to be more present is to spend time listening.
Absolutely. Because by asking them questions, presumably they will respond with more than one or two words, which will cause you then to listen.
Brad Farris: Well. And if status is the issue, then slowing down and taking some time to listen to them helps them to feel more valued and connected. And so that, that tends to lower that anxiety about where’s my status.
Am I important? Am I valued?
Chip Griffin: Well, I mean, I, and I, I personally believe that listening is one of the biggest causes of problems in agencies. Right. Not listening to your prospects about what they really want, not listening to your clients when they’re providing you feedback, even if it may not be directly feedback, not listening to your team so that you understand what’s working and what isn’t.
And not listening to your own gut, frankly, because oftentimes agency owners will do things and be like, after the fact, they’ll say, you know, I knew that wasn’t the right thing, but I went along with it anyway. And I, and I sort of, I sort of think back over the course of my career at times when I ignored my gut, when my gut had a really strong feeling on something every single time, it was a mistake.
I can’t think of a single time I overrode my gut and was like, you know, I’m glad I did that.
Brad Farris: Thelma and Louise over the cliff kind of bad. You know, the real disasters, like if I go back through the very worst decisions I’ve made in my career, I was always ignoring my gut and probably ignoring my team at the same time.
Chip Griffin: Yeah. And that’s not to say my gut is always correct. It’s just when it’s really strong and I override it, that’s usually that’s usually wrong. Yeah.
Brad Farris: So, Chip, you were just saying that, the root of most of the problems in an agency is not listening to the client. Are there ever times when we listen too much to the client?
Chip Griffin: I think there are times when we don’t hear the right thing.
Brad Farris: Say more.
Chip Griffin: I think that… I don’t think listening is ever a problem.
Brad Farris: I agree.
Chip Griffin: I think you need to, to understand what’s really being said. And I think too often we hear perhaps what’s literally being said, and we interpret it very literally. I think sometimes we make assumptions about what they actually mean rather than digging and asking more questions.
I mean, asking questions is one of the best ways to be a good listener. Because questions trigger responses, which forces listening. And so if we do more of that, then we can hear what they’re really saying. And if we do that, then we’re more likely to make good decisions. Right. So when we get a prospect who comes to us and says, you know, I want a new website.
Brad Farris: Yeah. That’s a great example.
Chip Griffin: Who the hell wants a new website?
Brad Farris: Nobody! Nobody wants a new website.
Chip Griffin: Actually there are, there are some people who just want a new website, just because they want something new and shiny.
Brad Farris: People who want a new car.
Chip Griffin: People who want a new car, right? I mean, it’s, you know, and that’s fine. It’s a relative minority.
Most people when they’re coming to you and asking for a new website, it’s because something isn’t working. And so as part of your listening, you need to, to say, okay, you want a new website? Why? What, what brought you to me today? Why did you decide that it was of a level that it needed to be addressed. And that I was the one who potentially could address it for you.
And when you start doing that, then you can start to tease out what they’re really trying to achieve. Now you have to be careful, right? Because you know that there are some folks who will then try to follow it to the ends of the earth and be like, well, they’re looking for new sales. And so really I’m going to help them retool their sales process.
I’m like, whoa, timeout. That’s not what you do. Okay. Right. So, so you need to, within your lane, figure out what you can do to help if anything. But drive to it by, by actually forcing them to say what they think as opposed to you, assuming it, or you just taking that as a literal order.
Brad Farris: So another way that I would say that is that everybody has stories to tell. I want a new website, there’s a story behind that.
Right. And so we need to hear the story and we don’t always have to believe the story. Like the story that they’re telling us is exactly that. It’s their story based on the information that they have. I want to, as I’m listening to that, to expand the pool of knowledge. Oh, well, some people that are having that problem also have this problem and this problem.
Oh yeah. I’m having those problems too. Ah, well, there’s something else that might be behind that, or at least in my experience when you’re having those, that cluster of problems here is really what’s going on. Right. And so listening, but also expanding the pool of knowledge, which doesn’t mean saying, I know what’s right.
But it’s asking some questions to help kind of open their eyes to seeing things that they might not be seeing initially.
Chip Griffin: Well, and I think if you’re truly present in the conversation and listening, you will start to be able to discover perhaps some nuances. So a lot of times when an agency is working with a client there are different reasons that different people within the organization wanting to pursue something, right? Because, because there’s why the organization wants a new website. There’s why the decision maker wants a new website. And then there’s why your day to day client contact wants a new website.
Those may be three different reasons.
Brad Farris: And they may not be well aligned or even really well aligned with the overall company goals. And so you’re looking at that and thinking, why are they making this crazy decision? When you’re not really listening to, this is what this person’s objective is. And this is what this person’s objective is.
And they’re, and they’re not all necessarily aligned.
Chip Griffin: Well, as an agency you can’t succeed if you don’t know what, what each person in the chain is trying to get out of it. And I’ve seen this happen in some really bad ways in the past. There was one occasion where there was a really large engagement with a major corporation that an agency I was working with was, was doing and, and they were doing good work and the feedback they were getting was consistently good until it was time to present a semi-annual report to a key senior stakeholder.
And the problem was that they hadn’t hit the goals that that person needed for their own personal bonus.
So even though everybody agreed, it was good work, the client contact was happy with how things were going and all that. And it was, it was objectively good work. It turned out that it was a failure because someone senior who had a role in deciding whether that relationship would continue was out money because of the way the work was done.
Now it doesn’t mean that you should taint your work in order to just help someone get their personal bonus. But gosh, if that agency had known from the start that this was a key factor, it might have changed how they approached some things. And so you need to dig as deep as you can, by asking those questions, by listening, by being present in order to be in a better position to succeed.
Brad Farris: And I hear a lot of us asking the question in the sales process. You know, how does success of this project impact your organization? Right. We want to understand how this project impacts the overall success of the company, but I think a lot of people miss that next question, which is how does success in this project impact you personally? There’s always an impact.
You know, what makes me look good to my boss? I could get a bonus. I can get a promotion, actually. I’m looking to leave this place. And I want to make sure that I have a case study that I can talk about in the interviews, whatever that is. We want to make sure that we know that. So to the extent that we can, we can deliver against that.
Chip Griffin: Yeah. And obviously look, I mean, you and I do most of our work today with the top person in the agency or the organization. But when I was doing more work with, you know, mid-level staffers, I would often say to them, how can I make your life easier? What can I do that will help you internally? Because as an outside advisor, whether you’re an agency or consultant or whatever.
For whatever reason you are generally looked upon as smarter than an employee. It’s rubbish. It’s not true. We, we are neither smarter nor more effective or anything like that than an internal employee necessarily. And so, but oftentimes higher ups will listen to us. And so frankly, a lot of times I would go into an organization, I would ask the day-to-day client contact.
What can I do to make your life easier? They said, well, I’ve been trying to get this done, but nobody will agree to do it. And if I think it’s a good idea, Or frankly, even not a bad idea, I will recommend it. Sure. Because it makes my client contact happy. And guess what? That’s a key component to retention.
Brad Farris: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Chip Griffin: Cause you, we focus so much on the decision maker, but your day to day, client contact can be a real annoying squeaky wheel internally, if they’re not happy. So you better keep them. Don’t say, well, they’re just a junior person and the top dog really likes what we do. So we’re safe.
Brad Farris: I love how actually this is coming full circle. When we ignore what, what that junior person or the day-to-day client contact or whoever that person is when we ignore what’s important to them, it’s a failure of our being present and listening to the person who’s right in front of us.
We’re listening to that story that we have about what’s going on in the organization as a whole and how this is going to reflect on us as an agency. And it’s taking us out of the conversation that we’re having right here right now with that one person.
Chip Griffin: Well, and I think that draws me to sort of a final observation that I’d have as we run out of time here, but being present is also making sure that you’re respecting the individual and the information that’s in front of you.
And I think a lot of this comes from the fact that we are, we can be dismissive of people, whether they are on our team or with a client contact or a prospect, if we feel like you know, we’re smarter than they are, or we know more about this. That may be objective true, but they may still have some useful insights.
And even if we don’t believe they’re useful insights, they may still be necessary insights for us.
Brad Farris: That’s exactly right. Yeah. And solving the problem means solving the whole problem in a way that the whole organization is going to recognize it.
Chip Griffin: Absolutely. Well, Brad, if someone wants to learn more about you and Anchor Advisors, maybe have a conversation with you and being, and be present in that conversation because I’m sure you will be present with them.
Brad Farris: I will do my best.
Chip Griffin: How can they find you?
Brad Farris: Anchoradvisors.com is the best place to find me or on LinkedIn I’m Brad Farris.
Chip Griffin: Excellent. And I know you have great content or great updates rather on LinkedIn. So I would encourage people to connect with you there because there’s almost every day a good tidbit from you.
Brad Farris: Probably three times a week, but it seems like every day.
Chip Griffin: Well on that note of disagreement, we will bring this episode of the Small Agency Talk Show to a close. If you would like to see the archive of previous episodes, just visit smallagency.tv. If you’d like to learn more about SAGA, go to smallagencygrowth.com with that, have a great weekend. Everybody. I look forward to seeing you all back again real soon.