The new SharpSpring Agency Growth Series features an awesome curated lineup of the top influencers in digital marketing. We could not be more excited about the group of great minds we were lucky enough to pull together to make this agency-focused series happen.

The free series is made up of 14 unique web sessions, all with a livestream Q&A segment, and all focused on helping agencies accelerate their growth.

Sessions feature digital marketing superstars speaking candidly about the industry topics they know best and are most passionate about. And we want to make sure to share the love – so, in addition to providing recordings of the sessions and live Q&As, we’ll also be posting key takeaways here following each session.

Here’s a look at some of our favorite insights from our Agency Growth Series session with agency owner, consultant and author Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan on how agencies can earn their influence as an expert

Audiences out there are much more cynical about paid endorsements and things like that. And so their sniff test for B.S. is pretty strong. So the way we earn influence is by being helpful – as ridiculously simple as that sounds.

And here’s the key. A good teacher does not sell from the pulpit wherever they’re teaching. So whether it’s their podcast or they’ve written a book or they’ve they’re sharing some research they share, they teach frequently and generously, but without a sales pitch. And that’s the hardest thing for agency owners.

We are so wired to sell, but we have to think of the prospects that we are teaching. We have to think of our students as deer that we would like to come into our yard and eat from our hand. And if we rush at the deer prematurely, they run back into the forest. But if we just keep earning their trust over and over and over again by being helpful, they keep coming closer and closer to us. And sooner or later, they will ask us for help.

Drew McLellan on how can agency leaders can find their niche

In terms of determining our niche, honestly, we make it more complicated than it needs to be. If you look at the case studies you always show. If you look at the clients that you really love. If you look at the industries, or again the audience, or the methodology, that you go back to over and over again, odds are, you know, that’s what your niches are.

Drew McLellan on why agencies should find a niche

One of the disadvantages of not niching of being a generalist is you really are bound by geography. No one is going to drive by five primary care physicians to get to the sixth one. But we will drive hundreds of miles to get to Mayo Clinic over our regular doctor. So one of the challenges, if you’re a generalist, is you are bound by probably a two or three-hour drive.

So you’ve really narrowed the field of who you can serve and it makes it very difficult for you to be not only findable, but sought after because your content has to be broad to cover the butcher and the baker and the candlestick maker.

I think the reasons why agencies don’t do it are, number one: biz dev. (Although it should be the number one job for every agency owner out there.) You’re so busy running from fire to fire to fire that it’s hard for you to stop and think about these big picture things and make the changes and then implement them to your agency. So, number one, it’s a time issue.

Number two: it’s a focus issue. Number three, I think is, I think it is mostly fear based. So, for example, I’ve had a lot of agencies say to me, ‘Man, I am glad that I wasn’t in the travel and tourism industry during COVID.’ And I said, ‘You know what? Actually, the AMI agencies that specialize in travel and tourism because they were so specialists as those companies were coming back out of their hibernation and starting to spend again. Guess who they sought after? The specialists.’

Those agencies are all back in the black. They’re all doing fine. So there is no, and by the way, they were killing it for the nine years between the recession and COVID. So, yeah, every once in a while you’re going to have a tough year, but you’re gonna have that is an agency no matter what.

Drew McLellan on the services agencies should be thinking about in 2020 and beyond

Our research shows that what clients want is – and we talk about it a lot, but I don’t know that we do it very well yet as a group – they want an agency to be able to help them harvest the data that they have, and use that data to make better and more proactive decisions. And so certainly tools like SharpSpring and other AI tools and things like that give us a wealth of data.

So clients have the data they just have no idea what it means. So they need an interpreter. And that’s what an agency really can do well, is to look at the data and be able to say, ‘You know what, based on what we’re seeing, we should be heading in this direction or we should be talking more about this.’

The other thing that is really interesting is clients are asking agencies to help them with brand. They’re asking them to help them decide how to deal with or if they should deal with social issues. Right now, there’s a lot of pressure on all companies out there to have to take a stand on some of the social issues that we’re facing in the world today. And they don’t know how to do that effectively and well. And so they don’t have a lot of courage around it. So part of what an agency does for their clients is give them courage to get out there and express their opinion, if that makes sense. But a lot of it is around harnessing the insights that technology gives us that our clients don’t know how to do.

Drew McLeallan on retaining customers and customer communication

What our research shows is that clients, one of the main reasons why a client leaves an agency is because they sort of feel like they are taken advantage of. And what they say to us literally is, ‘You know what? The agency used to bring me flowers on a Tuesday because they wanted my business so badly and now I don’t even get flowers on our anniversary anymore.’ Like, I don’t feel important to them. And certainly one of the ways you can make them feel important is by being an authority. And again, that reinforces their buying decision.

But some of the other things that you should be doing as agencies are you should have a program –so when we teach biz dev – one of the categories of business development that we make you write a plan around is your existing clients, because remember, a lot of your net new income should come from those existing clients. So that’s not going to happen if you don’t nurture those relationships. If you don’t reinforce their buying decision. And so regular communication.

One of the techniques that we suggest is what I call the, ‘Pssst… Email’, which is, ‘Hey, clients, we’re watching this thing over here. We’re not talking about it publicly. It’s not on our blog or in our podcast. But we want you to know that we’re talking about it’ and sort of giving them some education, because one of the things that we’ve seen is as an agency steps into an authority position the clients go, ‘Man, you’re kind of giving away the goods to everybody. So what’s in it for me as your clients?’

You want to hold back some of your data, some of your best teaching. And we do that, for example, with our research. We release our research every year, but we hold back some of the data and we only give it to AMI members. So we’re reinforcing that they have a value in being a part of our tribe. So I think we should all be doing that as agencies.

Drew McLellan on selling when clients have decreasing budgets

Well, I think it’s a couple of things. Number one, yeah, you’re right. Right now, clients have a smaller budget, but recognize that this is a moment, not a forever. And so what I would be doing is I would be doubling down on anybody who’s in the pipeline that I already have a conversation going with and I have a relationship with.

And if their budget is smaller in the beginning, I know as we come out of COVID and the recession starts to ease up, those dollars are going to come back. I also would really double down with your current clients. They’re already giving you money. And so it’s easier for them to give you more money than it is for someone to give you the first dollar.

And the other thing I want to remind you is when you are perceived as an expert, you will be the first one that gets sought after. So one of the things that I would love for you to be doing during this time is really establishing that position of expertise so that when someone goes looking for an agency with that knowledge, you show up. And so that shortens your sales cycle significantly. And by the way, as I said in the video, you’re able to charge a premium because you’re not a generalist.

Drew McLellan on prospecting for new business when decision makers don’t know you

When you’ve defined your niche, it’s pretty easy to put together a target list of people who are going to care about your expertise. So you actually already have the expertise. The world may not know it yet. You may not have written your book yet. You may not have launched your podcast, whatever it is, but you already know your stuff. You’re good at what you do. And if you’ve narrowed down to a niche, whatever that is, you picked it because you have experience, you have case studies and you know more than the average bear about that.

So I would start talking to them about that. ‘Hey, we use a checklist for our clients that they should use before they appear on a news show. Would you be interested in seeing that? Because I know that you have been on a lot of newscasts lately.’ ‘Hey, we have a tool that we share with our clients that helps them write a blog post in half of the time, I would love to send that to you.’ So I’m being interesting, right? I’m helping them do their job better.

One of the things that needs to repeat in your brain over and over and over again is, ‘How am I helping this person do their job better today?’ Which has nothing to do with them hiring me. It’s just I am being helpful. I am being interesting. And of course, they’re gonna go, ‘I’m sorry. And what do you do again and how do you do that?’ And sooner or later, you’re gonna get into a conversation where you can talk to them about doing work for them.

But don’t rush at them because none of us like that. I mean, think about when you go into a retail store, what is the one thing you don’t want to have happen? Right? You don’t want to have four salespeople converging upon you all asking if they can help you. Same thing. They don’t like it any more than we do.

Drew McLellan on making sure your message is heard

The way you break through the clutter is by being very clear about what you’re going to teach and how the recipient can use it in their daily life, in their job to make their job better. In our cases, it’s to keep their job by making up for all the lost sales during COVID, whatever that may be.

So the clarity that you are offering, something that they can put into action right now and that it’s going to have an impact and make a difference. That to me is how you break through the clutter. And if you do that well, brevity doesn’t matter because they’re going to be so hungry for something that actually is valuable that they will consume long form content or read your book or listen to your podcast, even though it’s a whole hour.

They will consume it because it’s meaningful to them. So that’s the trick. Before you push out anything, whether you’re sending an email to a prospect or you’re pushing out something to your entire mailing list. Ask yourself, ‘Is this helpful? Am I teaching something useful? And is my recipient going to go, ‘Wow, I’m going to put away something else to look at this, because I know there’s meat on that bone.’’ If you can do that, you’re golden.

Drew McLellan on capabilities meetings

The biggest mistake I see – and I see it in large agencies, small agencies – is we talk about ourselves through most of the capabilities. Yes, they’re asking for your capabilities, but they really don’t care about you. So you need to frame your capabilities in relation to them and how you can help them. And case studies that, again, even in your capabilities presentation, you should be teaching them things that they could employ, whether they hire you or not.

So in a 30 minute capabilities or a 60 minute capabilities, the ‘about the agency’ part, where you’re really talking about yourself, should be about 10 percent. That’s it. And then the rest of it is in relation to them. How can you be helpful? And that’s the biggest mistake I see in present – in capabilities presentations – that if they’ve asked you for a capabilities presentation, they’ve already decided you’re able to do the job. This is a chemistry check. And they just want to hear how you present. See how they connect with you.

So the more you talk about them, the more interesting they’re going to think you are. Just like at any cocktail party, the people who ask us the most questions about us are the most fascinating conversationalists we’ve ever met. We have to employ that in our capabilities presentation.

Want even more insights like these from author and agency expert Drew McLellan? You can find the full recording on our website.

If you missed any of our past sessions you can check them out below:

Optimize Conversion Rates for Clients with Neil Patel

Positioning Your Agency with David C. Baker 

Turning Conversations into Clients with Tom Martin

Driving Momentum for Your Agency & Your Clients with Shama Hyder 

Plus, it’s not too late to sign up for the rest of our Agency Growth Series. You can still catch influencers like Ann Handley, Rand Fishkin and Seth Godin live!