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Inbound Agencies Are Part Factory, Part Creative: How To Balance The Two

Posted by Mike Lieberman on May 12, 2016 10:30:00 AM

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Inbound_Agencies_Need_To_Be_Factor_And_Creative.jpgDoes it sometimes feel like your inbound agency is like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? You’re mad to process as many blog articles, landing pages and new websites through the shop and still make a profit while having to be hyper creative and flexible when clients need that strategic thinking?

How do you teach your team to follow your processes because the efficiency makes you inbound marketing agency money and at the same time get them to understand that each client needs to have a highly creative, collaborative and educational experience with your agency?

Yes, that’s a monumental challenge. Welcome to the world of inbound agencies, where for the first time in your history you have to be great at both to make money and get your clients the leads they need to continue supporting inbound.

Here are a few suggestions on how to do this without going insane like Dr. Henry Jekyll.

Build Creative Stops Into Your Processes

Since you have to be great at both to produce amazing results for clients, the first recommendation is to bake creative work into your internal processes. For example, we have a website workshop during our strategy and planning engagement. The workshop is designed to give our team time to be creative, collaborate with our clients, and give them an experience that produces a WOW! moment at a time in our engagement when it might feel a little academic.

We’ve built a number of these experiential off ramps into our engagement to ensure we don’t simply produce work like robots. Inbound can sometimes feel like you’re simply going through the motions like a machine and not thinking or being creative. We have similar exercises around content creation, search and the sales process redesign work. It takes more proactive thought to add these in and it adds to the cost of the strategy engagement but the outcome is a happier and more engaged client.

Create A Culture That Allows Your Team To Hear Your Clients

This is tougher than my first suggestion but everything that has culture in the description comes with its own set of unique challenges. Creating a culture of client advocacy and flexibilityis difficult and takes time. It involves a lot of mentoring, role playing, guidance and patience.

At first your team will be uncertain. Can we be flexible or do we have to follow this process? The answer is—it depends on what’s best for the client. In the beginning you’ll be the one to guide the team off-process. You’ll have to explain why, how and what it means. Over time they should get the idea that the process is there as a backstop and if the client is open to following it great. If not, they're able to adjust accordingly.

When you have solid Core Values like Every Client Is A Raving Fan your team should know that anything to make clients rave is on the table. With a stated mission to Generate 1,000,000 Leads for Our Clients, anything that moves our mission forward should be OK. Again, this will take some reinforcement but putting these foundational building blocks in place early helps the team know the boundaries.

Make Your Promise About Outcomes, Not Process

Another way to create the right balance between factory and creative shop is to reward and recognize the team on their ability to deliver positive outcomes. Make sure that everyone one realizes the process helps deliver the outcomes you’re looking for from the team.

Now you’re promising clients leads and your team is focused on delivering leads. To do so, they need to learn how to balance the systems, methods and processes that produce the work and the creativity they need to make those deliverables actual produce. Again, this is a long-term approach but one that is very sticky.

Track Factory Metrics And Results Metrics

You’ve heard me talk about “what gets measured, gets done.” If you want your team to follow process AND respond to clients creatively, then you need to measure both with clear metrics. Our teams are measured on their velocity(how much work they produce), how profitable the engagements are and how close they get to lead goal projections. This combination of metrics helps the team respond flexibly to client issues while keeping them close to delivery methodology.

Keep in mind, clients who get leads are happy and those who that don’t—well, are not…happy. So performance vs. leads expected is a key metric connecting your team to your client’s business results. It also keeps your teams on their toes in terms of doing whatever they need to do (within the client’s budget) to get them leads. Often that requires creativity and innovation. These are behaviors you want to encourage.  

Hire People Who Excel At Both

Finally, by now you should realize that this dichotomy creates a hiring challenge. Finding people who are highly organized, task oriented and love following a process plus they have the creativity gene is a major challenge. However, they are out there. Your job is to give your candidates an opportunity to follow your rules and demonstrate their creativity during your hiring process.

This is why we give almost everyone a project and why one of my personal criteria when I sit through project presentations is—did I learn something from this person’s presentation? If so, then we might have a candidate who can do both. If they simply kick back what we gave them, then I have some concerns and my team’s job is to dig into those concerns and either validate or invalidate those concerns before we move forward.

Yes, being process oriented and highly creative is a challenge for any agency owner but for inbound agency owner’s it’s a requirement. With so many “rinse and repeat” tactics going on at our shops, this is something you better get good at and get good at it fast.

InboundStart Today Tip – I usually start these tips with an assessment. After all, if you already have this nailed then why bother with any changes. But in this case I think there’s almost always room for improvement at almost every inbound agency. So the tip today is to actively look across all your processes and install those off ramps where creativity allows your agency to shine. Keep in mind that these can add cost to your engagement, but if the extra effort delivers is value to your clients—the investment will be worth it.

Agencies 2 Inbound – Helping Owners Go ALL IN ON Inbound!

Topics: inbound agency hiring, inbound agency profitability, inbound agency growth

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