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Strategy

What every agency owner needs to know – a Q&A with Blair Enns

By September 20, 2020 September 21st, 2020 No Comments

I’ve read Pricing Creativity, and it’s completely transformed my business.

We’ve heard this statement time and time again from agency owners. Blair Enns’ ability to provide tangible, intelligent, actionable advice is truly second to none – and the framework in his ground-breaking manifesto, Pricing Creativity, has been a game changer for so many agencies all around the world. Those of us who have been in the agency world for a while truly count Blair as one of the heroes of our industry.

Blair’s approach has changed the way so many of us think about our business, with a significant impact on how we demonstrate value to clients too. And now with budgets being tighter and the amount of uncertainty increasing steadily over the past six months, we are all faced with vital business-survival type decisions and dilemmas.

This is where the power of the community also comes in, and we are lucky at the Agency Collective that so many owners and directors are open, honest and authentic enough to come together and offer true peer support to each other. Most recently, we were incredibly fortunate to have Blair join us for a third time – spending quality time with our members and chatting through the community’s most pressing questions around strategy, profitability, pricing, selling, negotiating and winning new clients.

Those who struggle will be those who haven’t made responsive changes to their business, and are waiting for things to get back to normal.

When it comes to COVID and what agency owners can be doing right now in order to succeed, Blair had some stellar words of wisdom;

“The wake up call of the pandemic was like a shock pulse to many business owners – it really brought to the forefront business-critical issues, and in most cases actually highlighted changes which should have been made anyway. For example, I realised that for my business 55% of revenue was dependent on me getting on a plane – COVID meant that we had to adapt and change that, and I’m so thankful we did change it because so much revenue being pinned on that factor was a tricky place for us to be in.

“I’ve found that there’s this sort of first stage for agencies who are impacted by the pandemic – it’s this idea of pure survival. It’s getting through those first few weeks and months, making sure your business survives. The second step is now about adjusting to this new mid-term reality. It’s a mistake to assume “this won’t last long” – those who struggle will be those who haven’t made responsive changes to their business, and are waiting for things to get back to normal.

A key read on this topic is Blair’s fantastic response to COVID – Three Steps to Surviving and Thriving in a Crisis. As Peter Czapp, our glorious leader / Agency Collective founder puts it – “The notion that our future is actually in our control at a time like this is incredibly empowering – Blair’s article certainly made me think differently about how we can handle ourselves and our business in the current climate.”

The notion that our future is actually in our control at a time like this is incredibly empowering - Blair’s article certainly made me think differently about how we can handle ourselves and our business in the current climate.

After Blair’s session with the Agency Collective, we wanted to reflect and share some of the key takeaways covered that have got us thinking…

FEEL INSPIRED TO THINK DIFFERENTLY

  • You should feel inspired to think differently. There are other ways to do business development and sales outside of the traditional agency sphere – make your own rules and take the time to learn from others.

BE FLEXIBLE AND PREPARED TO CHANGE

  • There’s an increasing amount of fragmentation and market change happening at the moment – business owners should be re-evaluating their approach every 3 years. Consider if you need to back things up a bit – or are you still fitting to a market opportunity? You should be doing a fairly serious analysis of ‘do we need to tweak this’ (without throwing everything out) every few years.

BEWARE OF FINDING YOUR NICHE TOO EARLY

  • Beware of specialisation too early on – especially in your first couple of years of business, you should start with breadth and then narrow into your niche.

STAND OUT BY HAVING A STRONG PERSPECTIVE

  • Have a point of view come across in your content marketing. Your perspective should stem from some kind of ideology. In a competitive endless space of ‘listicles’ and top tips, you want to stand out from an ideological perspective. Then go on to sell to people who believe what you believe.

VALUE IS PERSONAL 

  • Value is highly personal, and it is really hard to have a conversation about value with those who are not charged with value creation. 
  • If you are targeting managers, and not the directors / executives, bear in mind that often managers are in charge of the present (people, processes, budgets) – and not the future of the company. Only the executive level is charged with the future of where the business is going – are you currently talking to prospects who are focused on value and the future?
  • The ability to conduct a value conversation is a significant competitive advantage – you can try pushing and selling value into manager level beyond this idea of a tactical need, and sometimes you may generate opportunities from that approach.

CONFIDENCE IS EVERYTHING

  • Confidence and the desire you create is key in attracting new customers
  • Imposter syndrome is real and something very personal – you need to think about those inner demons and how you will try to overcome them
  • You need to have a genuine belief in yourself, and that you and your business is worth the value you’re pitching

THE POWER IS IN THE SELL

  • The power is in the sale – your desirability needs to be greater than your desire to win the work. Try to make sure your expression of desire is not higher than the client’s desire to work with you. 
  • Don’t be arrogant or aloof with the client, try to be tuned in to how much the client wants to work with you. Do they see you as meaningfully different? Do they value your skills?

NEVER OFFER A DISCOUNT – BUT WHEN YOU DO, DO IT RIGHT

  • Negotiating is tough at the moment – in some cases you need to accept that budgets are cut, margins are tighter – sometimes there’s just a reality you have to deal with
  • Consider pivoting your services to clients – is there something else you can offer that they might need?
  • The key rule is never discount – but if you do, reserve it for your best longest serving clients. And make sure you document any discounts given – so they don’t conveniently forget about it! 

CREATE EXTRAORDINARY VALUE

  • Look for those few opportunities with current and new clients where you see an oversized opportunity to create extraordinary value – then shape an engagement plan where you can also ask for an extraordinary reward, based on value.

DON’T PROMISE THEM ICE CREAM 

  • Running an agency is a lot like parenting – clients need to be told in the sale where the boundaries lie. If you have the power in terms of value and desire creation, you can set the guidelines for how you work together.

AND FINALLY…

We asked Blair – “if you were to parachute into any of the Agency Collective agencies to help them succeed, what would you look at straight away?”…His reply:

“The very first thing you should do, is to look at proposals and impose constraints. One page only – three options – start with the highest options. Always start with reviewing your pricing. As a result, I would expect close ratios and margins to go up instantly.

One page only - three options - start with the highest options. Always start with reviewing your pricing. As a result, I would expect close ratios and margins to go up instantly.

“Next, impose a framework for sales conversations, qualifying and framing value. Playback your sales conversations (either record them or anecdotally) and be honest about where you could do better.

“Also look at your business’ positioning and how that may be impacting on your sales conversations. Keep reviewing, keep being responsive and make sure you’re proactive in being better.”

And there you have it! Blair, as always, has come up with the goods. A huge thank you to Blair for joining us – we, along with nearly 100 members of the Agency Collective in attendance, have been inspired to reflect on the session and think – what changes should I be making to my business right now?

We’re looking forward to continuing the discussions on Slack – and to arranging Blair’s FOURTH session with the AC!! Watch this space…


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Agency Collective members can also watch the session again on TAC101.

The Agency Collective

The Agency Collective

A peer support community for agency owners. A safe place to talk about your challenges openly – when you need the help most. An opportunity for you to build new long lasting relationships with people who can provide support and leads for future work.

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