You might be surprised that most of my inspiration and innovation comes from outside our industry. While there are agencies who I admire and other larger professional services firms who we aspire to be like—there are still many interesting lessons to be learned from companies outside our direct space.
For example, a lot of what we do at Square 2 from a delivery and client services perspective has been adapted from the software development industry and the military.
The service experience we are working toward is modeled after the way Disney approaches taking care of its guests and our sales process is designed around the way a white-water rafting company would create a trip for your family.
It's not that other agencies don’t have anything to share but with the pace of change become breakneck and the number of agencies exploding—being remarkable and different are key parts of our strategy in 2019 and beyond.
To that end, you have to be creative and you have to be different when it comes to how you tell your story and how you deliver your service.
Here are some ways you can find inspiration and innovation for your agency.
Look At The Largest And Most Successful Consulting Companies
It’s good practice to look at companies that are bigger than yours, that you can aspire to be like. In the agency space, you could aspire to be a big ad agency or a big SEO firm, but if you’re like us and don’t have a specific niche or specialty then the large consulting companies are perfect fits.
Today especially, when almost all the large consulting companies do digital work, looking at Accenture Digital or Deloitte Digital and how they go to market, how they’re structured, who they hire and the services they provide makes a lot of sense to me.
Look At Companies Who Deliver Highly Complex Services
What we do is highly complex, so what other industries are also providing highly complex services and are they doing it in any innovative ways? Accounting companies, IT companies, business consulting companies and even law firms are good examples who might provide insights into how we can innovate around the delivery of marketing and sales services.
Honestly these industries aren’t known for their innovation but being open to learning how bigger professional services deliver can be eye opening.
For example, I was listening to a client talk about their engagement with Sandler Sales Training. Sandler provides very traditional sales coaching and training services. Not exactly sales enablement or sales and marketing alignment but similar.
They offer a weekly “office hours” session that their clients can tune into and either get questions answered or simply listen to other clients talk about their sales related challenges.
It's an interesting idea that would fit nicely in our highly complex, highly educational, and constantly changing collection of strategy, tactics, analytics and technology. One that we are considering adding to our suite of services.
You can find good ideas if you’re open and looking for them.
Look At Situations Where Trust Has To Be Earned Quickly
Unfortunately, almost every prospect and every client has had a negative experience with another agency at some point in the past. This means your ability to earn trust quickly is critical to you closing new clients and keeping your current clients happy.
I like to think about medical practices and doctors. When you’re looking for a new doctor your initial outreach is to their office. This is just like our agency. Initial outreach is to see if we’re a good fit. Initial outreach at the doctor is similar. Do you take our insurance? When can we get an appointment? What do we need to know about the practice? Its very similar.
Then in the second interaction you actually get to meet the doctor and she’s going to examine you using a variety of techniques including asking questions, looking at your body, running tests like blood and urine, etc. A complete examination is comprehensive but necessary to creating a diagnosis and treatment plan.
At our agency, I always consider us doing something similar. We have to ask our prospects a ton of questions, and we need to see their HubSpot or Google Analytics portals to make sure we know exactly what’s going on before we can recommend a plan.
What are your best doctor experiences? When the doctor made you feel like they had all the time in the world? When they got to know you well? When they showed some creativity or brought a new perspective to your condition? When you felt like they cared about you? This should sound very familiar.
Your agency should strive to deliver some of the same feelings. Remember, people make purchase decisions emotionally based on how they feel first.
Look At Agencies Who Are 10x The Size Of Your Agency
Finally, look at other agencies who are much bigger than yours. I’m not talking about the bigger HubSpot partners, although that does provide some insight, it's not enough. You should be looking at agencies who are $50 million or even $100 million in size because they did something to get there and there are lessons learned that might be helpful to you in your journey.
For example, many years ago I sat down with a large ad agency in Philadelphia and their advice to me was to get bigger clients. At the time, I dismissed it but today, I wish I had pursued that guidance a little more aggressively.
Sometimes what you learn from these bigger business triggers you to start thinking differently about your own smaller business. Those nuggets can’t be ignored and they can be highly valuable. If you’re never getting those nuggets, it's going to be much harder to grow.
How I Synthesize My Ideas Around Innovation
When we first started Square 2, one of our first clients was called Blue Mountain Recycling and they had created a new way to process recyclable materials, so residents didn’t have to sort the material in their homes.
This is referred to as single stream. You put all your cans, bottles, paper and plastic into a single container and Blue Mountain handled sorting it so you don’t have to. This increased recycling rates by a massive amount. Their process was highly innovative at the time. So innovative that they were purchased by Waste Management.
The reason I share this story is because when I sat down with the owners, my first question was, “How did you come up with this process?” Their response was, “Mike, we didn’t create any of the technology and we use, but the way we pieced it together was innovative.” That taught me a lot about how to set up and run Square 2.
I think most people are looking for ideas to copy. I’m looking for ideas that spur other ideas. I’m looking for successful innovation and then applying it to our agency, in my way, it works for us. This helps me find ideas in other industries and then apply them to our shop. This also helps me see what other agencies are doing and instead of simply copying them, I’m adjusting them or tweaking them to work for us.
This is also the guidance I give all my consulting and coaching clients. Don’t do exactly what Square 2 does but take what we do and apply it at your agency in a way that works best for you.
Growing an agency today is hard work, complex and heavy lifting. Where we get our ideas is key and making sure we GET new ideas is the most important part of leading an agency.
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Start Today Tip – The most important take away from this article is that you must be constantly thinking about how to innovate our agency. It’s less important where you get that insight but critically important that you do get it. It’s even more important that you turn this research into ideas for your agency and then work to make your agency either better or different over time. It might take 10 ideas to produce only one good idea, but that one idea could be a game changer. Innovation is the lifeblood of a growing agency and you need to make sure its flowing into your agency on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
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