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Getting agency business development right (featuring Dan Englander)

Practical advice to help you grow your agency in challenging times
Dan Englander

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On this week’s episode, Dan Englander of Sales Schema joins Chip to talk about approaches to business development that are working for agencies today. The pair discuss what’s working, what has changed, and what lies ahead.


About Dan Englander

Dan Englander is the CEO and Founder of Sales Schema, a fractional new business team for marketing agencies, and he hosts The Digital Agency Growth Podcast. Previously Dan was the first employee head of new business at IdeaRocket, and before that, Account Coordinator at DXagency. He’s the author of Mastering Account Management and The B2B Sales Blueprint. In his spare time, he enjoys developing new aches and pains via Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.


The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

CHIP: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Chats with Chip. I’m your host Chip Griffin. And my guest today is Dan Englander. He is the founder and CEO of Sales Schema. Welcome to the show, Dan.

DAN: Thanks, Chip. Appreciate it. It is

CHIP: great to have you here. And I think the topic that we’re about to discuss is one that’s on the minds of many agency owners. Because whether you’ve been negatively impacted by what’s going on currently or positively impacted, or it’s still the status quo, you probably are out there looking for new business. And that really is your area of expertise. So before we dive into that, Dan, why don’t you go ahead and share a little bit about yourself?

DAN: Yeah, of course, Dan Englander again, and I’m CEO and Founder and Sales Schema. My background is in the agency space, kind of first working on the account side for a boutique social media agency in New York and I was basically like an accounts ground like I would just pitch stuff all day that most most of it was rejected. I worked on like monster cable and big 10 network and Marc Ecko and companies like that and then moved on to Basically a new business role in the animation studio and other creative services. And we were selling into selling into enterprise. And I was in a split sort of, you know, the classic split client service sales role. And I didn’t really like identify as being in sales, I thought it was dirty, and I didn’t like take pride in it. And eventually, my boss, who I was pretty close with was like, do you want do you want training? You want to figure this out? And I was like, yeah, this is kind of a big part of my income and the future of this business. I should probably figure this out. So we got training. got really good. I mean, I got decent at it. I got lots of calls and learned a lot. I tried everything under the sun eventually, you know, not just for me, but we had a really strong offering and animation we did well, you know, grew from essentially zero to seven figures, eventually 116, fortune 500 and all sorts of other braggy stuff. And then, you know, I took that Tim Ferriss red pill. You know, when traveled Asia I self published some books, got some consulting clients and eventually, you know, focused on the agency space because that’s what I knew. And because Came what we are now, which is sales schema. And in a nutshell, we’re a fractional new business team exclusively for boutique agencies, which is a fancy way of saying, we get meetings for our clients, we keep the pipeline full. And our philosophy is that it’s better done through a fractional team as opposed to having to hire and train somebody in a skill set that our clients don’t always know, in in so far as getting beyond the kind of feast and famine dynamics of relying on referrals and personal networks alone. So that’s, that’s kind of where we are now.

CHIP: Right. And I think that’s a it’s a great jumping off point for the conversation because most agency owners didn’t come to it from the perspective of saying, hey, I want to be a salesperson. Anytime you own a business and particularly a professional services business as the owner, it’s kind of your job to be out there constantly prospecting and closing business. So you know, as you are thinking about how to do that effectively, obviously one solution is that you are doing it in the way that you’re doing or you’re doing it fractionally which I think makes a ton of sense, because if you’re an agency owner who has no aptitude or interest in sales, you still need to get it done. And as you say hiring is a real challenge. But if I’m, if I’m sort of, you know, running my own agency, and I want to be thinking about doing sales for myself, because even even in our fracture world and agency still need to be involved, right? I mean, you don’t, you don’t come in and completely supplant all of the sales activity, I assume, right. Must be working with the owners.

DAN: Correct? Yeah. And I think that’s a really good point that, that we encounter, you know, relatively often where we get you know, an owner or like a creative and they’re looking to offload sales because they hate it. They hate the rejection, they hit the work, and I get it, it can be tough, but it’s pretty it’s like the Peter teal line, like look around you. Do you see salespeople? If not, then you’re the salesperson sort of situation like, you know, the process of selling a complex service in the agency space is pretty much an in house thing like that’s, I’m not going to say never, but it’d be very difficult to do that through an outsource. model, you know, it’s going to take somebody really getting to know your offer getting trained on it. Oral philosophy, those that the top parts of the pipeline, teeing up stuff is probably not best done by the person who needs to be building relationships, creating proposals, and that sort of thing. It’s better done through division of duties. So that’s where we come in. And I think that, you know, a lot of a lot of the times our clients are, are thinking of it the same way, but they’re kind of like trying to hire the driver before they have the car. So they’re going from, alright, I’ve gotten all the business for years on end from referrals. And now I’m going to hire a salesperson to go out and get business and hire them, push them off into the cold and often doesn’t work, you know, as opposed to kind of building the machine first and getting used to just, you know, having a system that’s getting those relationships built or teed up to plug somebody into so that’s kind of kind of how we like to think about it.

CHIP: So let’s talk about the the way that you work with agencies is your focus primarily appointment setting, do you take people further down the funnel of a mat, you know, talk a little bit bit about how you fit into the puzzle.

DAN: Yeah, for sure. So yes, our main focus is appointment setting, and basically living linear clients know what we’re seeing in the market and then building, you know, building that strategically, I think the thing that’s changed since we started the business is that it’s moving much more towards specialization, both for our clients and in terms of how we do the process and less and less automation. So there used to be a time where you think you really could just buy a list and play a numbers game and then spit out leads from it, I think those days are, are long overdue for a lot of different reasons that I can go into. So it takes us you know, really having to be more of an extension of our clients teams to understand new stuff they’re doing, which is kind of like the fuel for the outreach we’re doing. Understand the market, which we’re good at, because you know, we only focus on marketing leaders in the agency space, and so on. So that’s the main thing like in addition to that, a lot of what we’re doing is honestly an exchange of what we’re doing right now is getting our clients plugged into the right audiences. So getting them on podcast publications, and our whole thing is like, it’s just such an untapped opportunity. Because there’s, there’s so many entities that have done all the hard work to build audiences. And very few agencies are doing the work to get on these places, you see lots of authors and consultants and gurus like me and you right, like, like blabbering. But but not as many of the people that are actually doing really compelling work. And I think that there’s a lot of just head trash that’s, you know, pervading the agency space where they’re like, well, I can’t tell the story. It’s proprietary, and like, you could tell a version of the story or, you know, whatever, you know, just, I’m not used to it. I don’t feel like it or whatever the the excuses, but that’s our whole thing is that you might as well start by plugging into the right audience. So we also do a lot of training and support around regeneration. That’s that’s kind of what we’re thinking about.

CHIP: Yeah, I think that makes sense. And, you know, one of the things I’ve noticed with agency owners I’m curious if you see it the same way, which is that You know, whenever you start talking about sales to them, they immediately start thinking cold calling. Right? That’s that seems to be like the instinctive response, ah, cold calling. I don’t want to do it. But what you’ve said is that there really is a lot more to sales than that. Right. It’s, it’s about, you know, getting out there being in the right places. Yeah. You’re demonstrating, you know, thought leadership and expertise and all so there’s a lot of different pieces to the puzzle.

DAN: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I think that Yeah, again, people’s first thought is Glengarry Glen Ross, like some sort of boiler room where you’re just kidding, you know, dialing for dollars and getting rejected all day. And I think the way that outreach is moving is kind of becoming more like a digital networking sort of dynamic, right? So, okay, you might not know the person you’re reaching out to, but if you’re specialized, you know, you probably know people they know, you probably are referencing work in their field reaching out to CPG. you’re referencing work you’ve done in CPG referencing details that show that you’ve done a little bit of homework, and now like this This thing that you’re asking for this call, I guess it’s cold and that you don’t know them. But it’s not that cold, cold, it’s pretty worn at that point. So, it’s not easy to do that. It’s simple, but it’s not easy. It takes work, it takes a strategy it takes optimizing it to get to the point of being able to do this at relative scale. And that’s, that’s a lot of what we’re doing. But I think that, you know, I think people have fears of like, if we do this wrong, we’re gonna destroy our brand forever with the people reaching out to you. And I just haven’t seen that happen yet. Like, with with the campaigns we do, and I’ve definitely seen bad cold emails, as we all have. But I haven’t seen those fears get realized with my own eyes yet so. Right.

CHIP: And I think, you know, one of the things that I’m hearing from you too, is that, you know, you need to be thoughtful about how you’re going into these conversations. It’s not calling someone up and saying, hey, let’s get married, you know, become my client that you know, it’s, it’s really thinking about, you know, that networking element, how can you find ways to work with them and Sort of begin to build the relationship.

DAN: Yeah, exactly. And just to get, you know, maybe maybe more lofty or philosophical and I go on a tangent, I’ve been thinking a lot about what marketing is, is ethical, right? where somebody I was reading a slate star Codex and Scott Alexander, which is a great a great blog, and he made he was making a point against paywalls on news articles, right? It really clicked Beatty headlines, and the whole the whole the whole like, first principle was, you know, in a capitalist system, you you put out, you put you put stuff out there and you say, here it is, you want to buy it or not, but in a clickbait situation, somebody is exposed to something that they may or that they didn’t even go into that day knowing that they want it they’ve created a need for something and pulled somebody into that. So so I was in total agreement with this dynamic because it’s it’s like does that ethical does that work? And then I started thinking about it and I’m like, what, what sort of effective marketing doesn’t involve some sort of interruption there really isn’t much there, as opposed to organic referrals. That’s the only thing really, and those are great. But you know, obviously, that’s not enough to sustain almost any business aside from Apple and dynamic companies, even those companies have to market to an apples interrupting me with a billboard or an ad or whatever it might be. So, you know, I’m not sure like, I’m not sure what the rules are, what they should be, I tend to think that if you’re making a targeted list of about 100 people, and you’re doing your homework on them, and your contact, asking them through email, or phone or LinkedIn or whatever, that’s a whole hell of a lot more ethical than what programmatic advertising is doing right now. Does that make it? Okay? I don’t know. You know, I don’t know what the rules should be. I know what the rules literally are, legally, but then we’re obviously always in compliance with that. But I think a lot about this, you know, in terms of how we should operate as marketers and what’s okay and what’s not and, you know, sort of evolving question, I guess.

CHIP: No, I think you’re absolutely right. And it is, I mean, obviously, you know, in the agency space, agency owners are already thinking about that in terms of what they’re doing on behalf of their own clients. But I think it’s just as important that they think about it on behalf of themselves and where and how they are doing, you know, their marketing, their sales, their outreach, their networking, and, and it’s, it is certainly an evolving area. So I it’s, it is something I think more folks need to give thought to.

DAN: Yeah, yeah. And I don’t know. Yeah, again, what the right answers are, but we’re, I mean, for us, you know, in response to, to all this crisis, what was what it sort of compelled us to do is move more towards more targeted campaigns, and it sort of just accelerated trends that were already in motion for us, I would say. So, you know, we’re doing research on companies for a lot more research than we used to do. Like, we don’t want to be contacting companies that are laying off a bunch of people if we are if we are contacting them, we’re doing it in a bunch of different way, right? And, and so on. So that’s kind of how we’re thinking about it.

CHIP: But it’s it’s I think it’s particularly challenging right now. Because, you know, in some respects, you do have to be careful that you’re not taking advantage of companies that are having problems. But at the same time, agencies have a lot of valuable solutions that that can be beneficial to businesses that are struggling right now. And so trying to find that delicate balance of, of offering something that’s useful to them, and that they may be looking for, while not looking like you’re taking advantage of, of their difficulties.

DAN: Exactly. And we’re, you know, I sometimes feel like we’re a little bit like radio operators in a war, like, we get lots of chatter, and we have to kind of make sense of it. Because we’re not we don’t get the whole picture ever. I don’t know if anybody does, but that’s, that’s what we’re seeing a lot of is there’s things that have surprised us, and you know, like, we had a client in the event space, and we got the meetings with hp, Google, Microsoft, I want to say Lenovo, you know, one to two week period, and this was you know, in person events and that’s because it’s not like these cards, are saying, okay, we’re just going to cut off all in person events forever, they’re like, we need to find a way to replace this with something else, you know, be digital be at some way to think about this. So there they are looking for people that understand those dynamics. And, you know, just because a company for example, focused on in person events, they still It doesn’t matter if it’s digital, it’s still humans, right? It’s still the same, the same cues, the same sort of understanding about what’s compelling and what’s not. So, you know, I think even the places that are seemingly wiped out or hurt, at least on that from the outside looking in, or actually might be the best place to help to Rubicon who you might know as well was talking about his his clients that are focusing on restaurants are actually like their phones are ringing off the hook, you know, there’s, there’s more places for them to help so I don’t know if you know, I don’t want that to be like a glass half full platitude because I do think that it’s really tough but I do think that this is a horse that dead horse are always beating, but the agencies that are specialized are the ones that are receiving when right now, I’m not sure if or when that dynamics can change.

CHIP: Yeah. Well, let’s let’s tuck into that a bit, because you’ve mentioned mentioned specialization a few times now, and I agree with you that I think that is important. And there are different kinds of specialization that agencies can do, right. So you can specialize in terms of the services you’re offering. You can specialize in terms of geography, you can specialize in terms of industry verticals, you know, what are you seeing, as far as the most successful country? Do you really need to kind of have a mix of all three of those or more?

DAN: Yeah, it’s a good question. And I think it’s easier to figure out, you know, what, what doesn’t work and to figure out every way it could work, and I used to work let’s talk about that. Yeah, I think what doesn’t work is the day trader approach where people are like, okay, what’s hot right now, you know, what’s what can I sell it to you right now.

CHIP: And there’s a ton of that right now. Right? I mean, if your client base is anything like mine, there are a lot of folks who are saying, you know, what, what should we be pivoting to? What industry should we be focusing on there? You know, that are resilient. Right now or that need help? And that’s, that’s a mistake in my mind.

DAN: Exactly. Because it’s like, if you’re asking that question now you’re way too late, you know. So I think the best starting place is to look at where you can be useful, as opposed to what kind of work do you want to do? We hear that a lot, too, where it’s like, you know, we want to work on stuff we’re passionate about, like, we want to work on stuff that gets us up in the morning. I’m like, Yeah, I get that. That’s, that’s great. But that’s not how markets work. markets work in terms of usefulness, right. And hopefully, you can start with the usefulness and then work backwards and become passionate about helping people, you know, be useful to people. So I think that that’s, that tends to be a mistake. So that’s the main thing and you know, I used to frame this in terms of niching. And I think specialization is a better way to think about it because there are exceptions. You know, there’s there’s a social a social media agency that we were talking to maybe a couple months ago, and they work all across the whole consumer sphere, but they They have worked with so many humongous brands right and done really incredible work and have incredible case studies that they can flex a little bit more and kind of get away with it and work with a wider breadth of people but that’s not most agencies. I think most agencies the clearest cut ways by some version of verticalized. And that might not be saying, okay, we only work with CBG might be saying, we work with Drew McClellan causes connective tissue, which I think is a great way to think about this like, might be healthcare and, and banking and high compliance areas or something like that. It might be a through line between a few different areas. But then, but then from there, like we talked to agencies that have that, but then they’re afraid to flaunt it, you go to their site, and it looks like just a Noah’s ark of work. So I think, you know, it does take the risk and the courage to put up that shingle to say, this is what we do. And I think that that’s the next step that people need to take now.

CHIP: Yeah, yeah. And I agree. I mean, I think that you You need to be very clear about what it is that you do. And I agree with Drew about the connective tissue concept. You don’t want to be doing, you know, three different targets that are completely unrelated because then it becomes very difficult to tell your story. And in fact, I was I just had this with an agency that I was talking to recently, and I went to their website, I actually, I thought they had been hacked. Because on the there was an item on their their pulldown menu on their website that just seemed like it was out of left field and had nothing to do with the rest of what they were doing. And so I talked to the agency owner, and he said, he said, No, no, no, that’s just one of our areas of specialties. I’m like, Well, it looks like someone hacked your site, because it’s so far afield from everything else that’s there. Yeah. Yeah. So you need to be able to tell that story in a consistent way.

DAN: Yeah. And that’s, I get that like, as you know, the guy running running a company. It’s really easy to have a whim one morning and just throw a grenade of chaos and your agency. got this idea. We should make masks now. You know,

CHIP: frankly, most of us as business owners have done that at one point or another, and so I will fess up to that I have done it. And my apologies to all of my former staff members

DAN: probably done it this hour, you know,

I get it, I get it. But But yeah, it’s it helps to have somebody that’s like, what are you doing right now?

CHIP: Now, the one interesting thing that that you said was, you know, that that you didn’t, the agency owners who said, You know, I want to do something I’m passionate about that, that sort of conflicted with, you know, finding the right markets to be in and I want to dig a little deeper on that because I’m, I’m personally of the view that you need to kind of have both you need to have a market that works. But you need to have something that you are passionate about. Because if you if you hate what you’re doing every day, even if you’re generating revenue doing it that’s not sustainable. So I’m, I’m curious to dig a little bit deeper on that and, and understand more about, you know, what you’ve seen with the clients you’ve been working with?

DAN: Yeah, I think that’s really fair. I think it might be an order of operations thing, you know, so I don’t think it’s it’s mutually exclusive. Passion, I do think you’re right. If you hate it, it’s definitely not going to be sustainable. But then there’s different decision trees or decision limbs, right? So so maybe that means you paid it, you’re hiring somebody to do it that doesn’t hate it, or you’re selling your agency or whatever, but right, you know, Nothing happens without you fitting in, like a puzzle piece into into the market and being useful. And so that’s, that’s kind of how, how I would think about it. And I think that, you know, it could be that there’s ways that you can go deeper into the same market or whatever, it doesn’t have to be verticalizing could be with technology that you’re serving a wider market, but doing something more specific for them. But But I think that that what we’re seeing to work is like you know, if you are if you are specializing, maybe you can innovate more with what you’re doing for those clients, right and do and do more of what does interest you are what you think you what you think would be helpful, just as long as you have you’re hedging your bets, so might be that a percent of your work is this specialty stuff that pays the bills, and then you have a skunkworks project. That’s the real the stuff that gets you up in the morning. And then if that happens to work and pays the bills, too, then you’re in even a better place. Right? So that’s kind of how I, one, you know, mental model for

CHIP: approaching it. Yeah, I mean, I sort of with my clients, I try to think of it as sort of a Venn diagram where you have, you know, a circle for passion, a circle for expertise in a circle, a circle for marketability. And so it’s where those three intersect you if you give up on any one of those three, and I’ve seen it you know, someone you know that someone’s really passionate about a certain industry, but they’re not interested in the services or they’re passionate about an industry but they don’t have the expertise to deliver what they’re, they’re trying to deliver. You know, you need to have all three of those. Yeah, any lack of any one of them is going to cause it to fail.

DAN: Yeah, I agree. Mostly, I just think that maybe the passion bubbles a little bit should be a little bit smaller than the others because the password bubble will should should work on its own if the others are there. It tends to work on its own. And if the others are there, you know, so that’s that’s part of it. Yep.

CHIP: Fair enough. So, I mean, let’s say that I’m a typical agency owner, and, you know, my business has been getting by on random referrals over the past, you know, number of years and, and now I’m sitting there saying, Okay, I need to put together a proper sales program, you know, what are the first steps that I should be thinking about to build a real sales operation as opposed to just, you know, whatever phone rings? I answer it?

DAN: Yeah, it’s a great question. And I think it’s, it’s all about specificity. Right. So that’s the first thing is thinking about the who and moving from first person to second person. So a lot of agencies tend to be, you know, frankly, self absorbed. And I get that, you know, like, that’s, that’s kind of the way these services were sold for so long was sort of this pick me sort of way. But I think that that has to change. And a lot of it is like, you know, I’ve just I just did a group training with a bunch of agency owners and a lot of The stuff that we’re moving towards was, you know, using getting names and faces in front of you, when you’re coming up with these campaigns, regardless of what you’re doing without getting into the nitty gritty, it could be whatever outbound inbound, writing a blog post, writing a cold email, whatever it is, but actually having the names and faces of the people you want to talk to you in front of you, their industries, their titles, what they’re doing, so that you can figure out, you know, who you’re reaching out to, and what you’re up against. And I think that the source of those names or faces, it’s best to start with where you again, where you’re most useful, where you have the strongest case studies and that sort of thing. So from there, I could go way further into the into the forest of building a sales strategy. I think that’s probably the best starting starting place. Yeah.

CHIP: Well, this has been a great conversation. I think you you shared a lot of good tips for folks and, you know, hopefully things that they can start to use to, to work to improve their own sales operations or start their their sales operation if they’re at that mode with it. Their business. But if someone’s interested in in more resources, learning more about sales schema, where should they go?

DAN: Yeah, for sure. So we just did a webinar that is to put up there for people. It’s called, basically how to sell agency services and uncertain times, which, frankly, I know is a little bit of a click Beatty title. Because I was getting kind of sick of the uncertain times things because, frankly, times have always been uncertain. But, but anyway, that’s what we called it because we can’t help ourselves. And we

CHIP: call it something. Because I’m in the same position. You were, you know, you call it the current crisis. Do you refer directly to COVID-19? You refer. I mean, it’s just it gets very confused, but you need to have something so I say to people just get over it.

DAN: Yeah, exactly. But but in short, it’s kind of like what, how we’ve how we’ve approved about approaching campaigns over the last six weeks and how we’re planning on moving them so it’s all about you know how to set up cold email, how to do outreach, do planning. So that’s a sales schema.com slash crisis. prospecting, one word, basically.

CHIP: Simple enough. Well, Dan, this has been this has been very helpful. I appreciate the time you’ve taken to share with the audience. And again, my guest today has been Dan Englander, the founder and CEO of Sales Schema.

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