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Do you need a new tool for [whatever]?

Like many of us, agency owners can fall into the trap of believing that tools solve problems.

The reality is that we use tools to implement the processes that solve problems.

Rather than falling in love with the latest and greatest, start by understanding what you want the tool to do for you.

Whether you are considering switching project management systems or implementing a new time tracking program or just exploring some new innovation you just heard about, the advice that Gini and Chip have to offer in this week’s episode will help.

Key takeaways

  • Chip Griffin: “We all think the tools are going to make a giant difference. The reality is they don’t.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “It’s less about the tool and more about how you can implement it with your team and whether or not you’re actually going to use it.”
  • Chip Griffin: “Figure out what it is that you actually are trying to solve for and then find the tool from therem as opposed to falling in love with the tool and then saying, okay, let’s figure out how to make this work.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “Many clients have their own systems, so they’re not going to use yours too.”


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 Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: Today I’m gonna shoot down those tools that are floating overhead in a giant balloon right after this.

You know, sometimes it feels to me like the tools that we use as agencies are kind of like all these objects that are getting shot down, over the skies of Canada and the United States. We don’t know what some of them are. Maybe it’s a weather balloon, maybe it’s a Chinese spy balloon. Then there are some weird cylinders that are putting out weird signals.

I mean, who knows? Maybe it’s ETs, but we don’t know what they are, but we’re fascinated by them, and I think that’s how agencies look at a lot of their tools.

Gini Dietrich: I mean, to be fair, both subjects are fascinating and fun to explore.

Chip Griffin: They are, but you know, I, a lot of the conversations I have with agency owners, at some point we end up talking about, oh, what tools should I use for this?

What tools should I use for that? Right. Have you seen this one? This one looks cool. Yeah. And, and I think that there’s not a lot of good clarity when it comes to tools because we all think the tools are going to make a giant difference. The reality is they don’t.

Gini Dietrich: They don’t. No. No they don’t. And I’m guilty of this as well.

Like somebody, somebody said to me, you’ve gotta check out Notion. And I checked out Notion, and I love Notion. I haven’t been able to implement it internally, but I use it personally because I love Notion. But I’m the same way, like trying to find, always checking out different tools. I mean, ChatGPT came out and I was one of the first ones on there trying to figure it out and check it out.

So I am guilty of it as well. But you are right that it is probably not the best use of time in most cases.

Chip Griffin: Well, look there, there’s, there’s nothing wrong with, with checking out what’s out there and being aware of it, and particularly things like ChatGPT that have the potential to be game changers.

It’s good to know. Is it there? What does it do? How could we possibly use it? At the same time, there’s a difference between curiosity and investigation and actually charging in and saying, oh, we need this tool. We gotta, you know, we gotta change everything up. And, and this came up in the SAGA community recently, where someone was asking about switching from, I think Asana to ClickUp, right? Which is a transition that you’ve made. You know, project management tools are one of the things that there’s an absolute fascination with in the agency community. Everybody thinks that there’s, there’s some, you know, silver bullet project management tool out there that’s going to be a game changer and help them be more efficient and effective and profitable and all that.

And so there are a lot of folks out there who are chasing every platform they can find, whether it’s for project management or time tracking or billing, or any of these different functions that we have. And yet, they don’t make as big a difference as we usually think.

Gini Dietrich: No, I mean, I think it’s, well, first of all, thank you for defending me about being curious.

Thank you. I appreciate that.

Chip Griffin: Well, I am too. I mean, I, you know, I mean you, because I mean, you have to be aware of what’s out there. Yeah. I mean, putting on blinders doesn’t help you, but there’s a difference between, you know, that curiosity and going fully down the rabbit hole and trying to change things up.

I mean, particularly when it comes to tools that you are using. Because people fail to calculate the switching cost, right? So, so take the example of switching from Asana to ClickUp or any other platform. If you’re switching project management tools, and I’ve seen people switch it either because of functionality or sometimes because of price.

Oh I can save money by going to this one. Well yeah, but how much time does it take you to migrate all of your stuff over there and retrain your team, and retrain your clients and all of these things that it takes to be effective? Those switching costs can be pretty substantial.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, I actually, that’s exactly how I responded in the SAGA community, which was, we have switched, and we did it about a year and a half ago, but it was not a small undertaking. First of all, you have the cost of the software to your point, and then I actually, it was so overwhelming and so robust. That I couldn’t personally implement it for the team because it was, it was too much and it, I, it was taking time away from me actually, you know, running the business.

And so I hired a consultant to help us do it, and get everything set up and then train the team. So there was that cost. And then as it, as we got to using it and using it more and more and more, what I found is I actually needed a project manager. So I actually hired that consultant as a full-time emplyee to be our project manager, just to manage all of that stuff.

It’s working out great, but we didn’t need all that with Asana.

Chip Griffin: Right. And it’s, you know, part of it is trying to figure out what it is that you actually are trying to solve for and, and then finding the tool from there as opposed to falling in love with the tool and then saying, okay, let’s figure out how to make this work.

Right. And, and particularly when it comes to a lot of these things, if you look at the demos and you look at the sample projects that some of these platforms provide you, they’re great in showing you the capabilities of the system, but you don’t necessarily need to use all of it. And I see this all the time in time tracking tools and I’m, I think I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of Harvest for time tracking.

It’s what I use personally, and it’s what I generally recommend because it’s reasonably priced and easy to use. However, by default, it comes with a gazillion categories for you to categorize your time. That is not helpful. That’s not helpful because, because you don’t need to have 17 different ways to list how you spent your time on a particular client.

You’re not going to use that information. Right. Similarly, in these project management tools, they have all sorts of subtasks and this and that and flows and great. You can have all those things if you need them. But very few people need them at the level of detail that the examples show you. And so you need to really just figure out what actually is going to help you do your job more effectively.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, and I think too that, you know, we, and we’ve talked about this and you’re pretty adamant, adamant about this particular thing, but it’s less about the tool and more about how you can implement it with your team and whether or not you’re actually going to use it. Like we have 90% of the agency on ClickUp, and then there’s one account team that doesn’t use it at all and it drives our PM crazy because he is like, AAGH, but it, I mean, and we started using it a year and a half ago and we will not respond. I’ve stopped, I’ve like stopped saying we won’t respond to Slack messages or email messages if it’s not in ClickUp. And so we’re trying to get them there. But, but it goes to your point that unless you have everybody agreeing to use it and using it effectively. Doesn’t matter what the tool is, it doesn’t, right? It doesn’t matter if it’s a, a post-it note or a piece of paper or what, whatever happens, it just doesn’t matter.

Chip Griffin: Well, and what you’ve underscored too is that the process matters more than the tool, right? And so, you know, making sure that you’ve got people who are bought into the process.

Whether that’s on, on your internal team or on the client side, if you’re engaging with them and, and I think one of the areas where we, we tend to be a little bit misguided is we think the clients are gonna use these tools if we give them access. And so we say, well, you know, we’ll be able to save time on calls because, you know, we’re just giving them access to Asana or ClickUp or whatever.

They ain’t gonna do it.

Gini Dietrich: No. And many clients have their own systems, so they’re not gonna use yours too. And that actually as, as someone who hires agencies to work with in different capabilities, capacities, they will ask us to use their project management system and we’re like, no, it’s not happening.

We have our own and the process works, but we’re also not gonna ask our clients to use our own project management system when they have their own as well. So from an agency perspective, we have to be super adaptable to, to those kinds of things because we may end up having to use the client’s PM system.

Like we use Wrike, we use Asana. I think those are the two big ones for our clients. And then we use ClickUp for our own stuff. .

Chip Griffin: Yeah. And, and then you also have to get into the whole thing of do you basically do double entries for some stuff, one in the client system, one in your own, so that you have…

Gini Dietrich: A pain in the neck.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. And so you really need to think about, you know, is there that much added value in doing that? Or are you better off just, you know, working with whatever the client provides, maybe providing some high level you know, updates in your own system. You know, be careful about getting into situations where the tools that are supposed to be making it easier are actually making it more difficult.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. I think, you know, your point has always been really relevant. As a tinkerer, I’ve always, every time I start to tinker with something, I think, okay, is this something that we really need to implement? Or am I just tinkering and I, I think those words, you, you sit like Jiminy Cricket on my shoulder, and you’re like, is this, do you really need this?

Chip Griffin: So, as, I mean, I mean, let’s, let’s take for instance, your example of switching from Asana to ClickUp. What, what was the driving force behind that? Why did you decide that Jiminy cricket was wrong and you shouldn’t, you know, just stick with what you were already using. What, what was that driving force so that maybe folks can start to see inside the kinds of things that do justify making the switch.

Gini Dietrich: So there were a couple of things. One was that, Asana wasn’t robust enough. We had outgrown it. Also, I hate Asana personally, but I was willing to use it. I hate it. But I was willing to use it because everybody else loved it. So I was like, okay, well I guess I can use it. So that was number one.

Number two was that we had a client that was big into it and it was so robust and the, the way that they were using it was so fast that I found my team wasn’t keeping up. And it, and we were losing things. We were dropping balls because they use it so effectively and they’ve used it for so long that we had a hard time like, even finding stuff.

 And so those two things were the biggest drivers. You know, one that we had outgrown and two that we had a, a major client that used it. So we just learned how we figured that was the best way to, I mean, we looked at Monday.com, we looked at a couple of others, but decided ClickUp was because we have clients who also use it was the most effective for us.

Chip Griffin: And as you look back, do you think it was a worthwhile switch?

Gini Dietrich: Oh yeah, for sure. It was a pain in the butt in the beginning. Right. I think I even complained about it in the Spin Sucks community because I was so frustrated. I was just like, it was a pain in the butt. But now it’s great and it’s, it works and it’s effective and everybody knows where everything is. And it really, you know, where it really helps is when somebody’s on vacation. It’s phenomenal for that. And we never lose anything. It’s great for that.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, and, and I think, you know, as you think about the, the tools that you want to use, you want to think about, you know, where can they help you perhaps in other ways if you’re using them correctly.

And particularly, you know, that can be helpful as far as making sure that you are prepared for people to take time off, whether that’s in, in project management or something else. Time tracking tools can be really helpful in making you, more aware of things to help you decide resource planning. Hiring, all those kinds of things that if you use them right, they can help you to do.

And so part of that is defining what are the decisions that I’m going to make based on how I’m using this tool. And that helps you figure out the right tool and the right setup for it.

Gini Dietrich: Yep. Yeah, it’s definitely not a one size fits all. It’s definitely not something that, you know, you can say, oh, well, Gini went from Asana to ClickUp so we can do it too.

It, it’s not, it’s not that easy. And like, you, like I will just keep saying this because I think it’s really pertinent. Like you always say, it’s not about the tool, it’s about whether or not you’re actually going to use it.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. And, and going back to what you said earlier about the process, it’s important for you to, you know, spec out the process for whatever it is for project management, for time tracking, for billing, for whatever it is that you’re getting the tool for, and then find a tool that meets that process. So you can’t let the tool be what’s driving the process, right? If you figure out this is, you know, Let’s say it’s, it’s media monitoring, right?

You know, we need to put together a daily executive news briefing for our clients. Here’s what it needs to include. Now you can go out and you can talk to all of the media intelligence vendors out there and figure out who’s got the right platform for you, because it’s got the right data, it’s got the right tools.

It allows you to do what you need to do. If you’ve done that, You’ll be in a good place. If you go and and just watch a bunch of demos and say, oh, this one’s cool. I love the colors on these charts. I’ll go with this one. Fantastic. And then, then your team is sitting here saying, but wait a minute, but, but I need to produce this report and I can’t.

Gini Dietrich: I’m laughing because, we literally had a client say, I like this tool because it does Gantt charts.

And I was like, well, so does Excel. Yeah, but that’s the, that’s your criteria. It does Gantt charts. Oh, okay.

Chip Griffin: And, and I, I mean, people do love their Gantt charts. They do. They really do. I, I don’t understand the fascination, frankly. You can get the same information in just a nice little text table too.

Gini Dietrich: Yes, you can.

Chip Griffin: I mean, do they look pretty? Yeah. Am I gonna make a decision because it’s in a Gantt chart or because a product has a Gantt chart? No.

Gini Dietrich: Oh, that makes me laugh. I literally was like, okay.

Chip Griffin: Well, and, and when I used to be in the software business, I often talked with my team about how there were certain features that we developed purely for demo purposes, but would never actually be used. Gantt charts would be that kind of thing. It wasn’t, it wasn’t the specific for, but, but there were certain features that you did. Because I knew that the sales team could take them and they would demo really well. That’s interesting. But we knew that the actual day-to-day use would be incredibly low. But you need those things sometimes in, in your sales demos. As a buyer, you need to be careful that you don’t get sucked in by those demo features and instead focus on the things that are actually gonna help you do your job more effectively, do it more efficiently so you can get profits, you can generate results for clients and, and good tools will absolutely help you to do that.

Gini Dietrich: Oh, for sure. Yeah. I mean, I’m not saying don’t, don’t use the tools, don’t use the software because you should, you know we should, we should no longer be using spreadsheets for media lists and, and results tracking results. Let’s, let’s use some software to be able to do that. But at the same time, to your point, like, let’s not do it just because it’s pretty, or we like the color of the charts, or because it does Gantt charts and another one does not.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. Oh, I would, I would push back gently on that because the spreadsheet might be perfect for a media list if you’ve only got 10 people on it. Okay, fair. Right. But, and yeah, and there, and there are, I mean, there are plenty of organizations out there who do not if you’re a local organization or you’re really niche, you may not have a huge media list to target.

And that’s okay. Don’t go out and get a really robust tool if you’re only putting 10 fields in it. Fair. That doesn’t, that’s fair. That doesn’t make any sense at all. So it really does come down to figuring out what the problem is that you’re trying to solve. And why do you want to move from the spreadsheet?

I would agree most people shouldn’t be using a spreadsheet for those kinds of activities, but it truly depends on the volume and what you’re using it for. And so start from that. Really be, be clear with yourself about what you’re trying to do. It’s, it’s like, you know, I used to have people who would come to me and, and ask to subscribe to Custom Scoop back when I, you know, ran that company and they’d, they’d show me what they were looking for and I’d be like, well, you’re only gonna get like five stories a month.

It’s totally overkill to be using our service for that. Yeah, just, I mean, for that, yes. Go ahead. Use Google News. I, I mean, you might miss one or two along the way, but probably not because your volume so low that someone’s probably gonna tell you that that was out there and, and you’ll find it. So, you know, you need to understand what you’re doing and whether it is actually solving a problem that you really have.

Gini Dietrich: That’s actually really good advice. That’s, you know, that’s something that I think everybody should be thinking about. I also appreciate that somebody came to you and asked for that and you said, we’re not the right tool. Not everybody.

Chip Griffin: I did it all the time.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. Not everybody will do that. I appreciate that.

Chip Griffin: Yeah.

I mean, and, and I’ve said before, agencies should be doing the same thing. Yep. Don’t you know, if someone comes and they’re not a good fit, tell them they are not a good fit. Yeah. But I’ll be honest with you, I very rarely see that. It, it tends to be more, how can I figure out how to be a fit.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. Don’t do that.

Chip Griffin: Don’t do that. And, I’ve seen that on both ends of the spectrum. Someone comes along who’s too big for you and you’re like, oh yeah, I see dollar signs so I can figure out how to make this work. Right, right. So, so clients, tools, figure out what the right fit is and then find the matches, whether it’s tools or clients, don’t go the other way around and look at the tool and say, you know, I can make this work for me cause I can do this and that.

And all of a sudden now this tool makes a lot of sense.

Gini Dietrich: That’s so true. But I will tell you, I mean, this is not the subject of this podcast episode, but I will tell you that when you say we are not the right fit for you, the prospect comes back and tells you why you are, and you’re like, no, no, no. We actually, no, we don’t do media relations or we don’t do consumer work.

And they’re like, no, but we, you can do. And I’m like, and 10 years ago, I would’ve let them talk me into it. Now I’m like, yeah, no, it’s not. We we’re not gonna do a good job for you because that’s not our expertise.

Chip Griffin: Yep. Yeah, no, it’s a, it’s a giant mistake to get sucked into that kind of stuff. So, you know, just be a, as you’re looking at all of the lovely tools that are out there, and as you’re in Gini’s community or my Slack community, and you’re just sitting there and saying, oh, you know, I saw that.

Oh, I should check out, ClickUp now. Go ahead, check out ClickUp, after you’ve define what you need, what your process is, and whether or not, otherwise, you’ll convince yourself that you absolutely need it. I mean, I haven’t been on their website recently, but I bet it’s really pretty. And I bet it’s got really pretty lots of cool screenshots and it does, tells you all of the amazing things that it can do.

That’s actually, and you’ll talk to Gini and she’ll tell you all the amazing things it can do, and then you’ll talk to one of their sales reps and they’ll tell you all the amazing things it can do. And guess what? It probably can do all those amazing things. Yes. But are those the amazing things that you need?

Gini Dietrich: Maybe, maybe not. I think that’s great advice. It’s very good advice.

Chip Griffin: So, of course an amazing thing is this podcast, and it is definitely something that you need. So, if you’re not already subscribed, you should be subscribed. And you know, if you’re watching on YouTube, hit the like button. You know all those cheesy things that your YouTube video hosts will say to you.

But with that, that will draw to an end this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And it depends.

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The Hosts

Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agency owners build the businesses that they want to own. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur to share the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

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