03 Mar March 3, 2020 – The Agency Guy John Bertino and Hooray Health Shane Foss
It’s all about consultative selling, and you can’t
be a consultant if you don’t listen.
John Bertino is the founder of The Agency Guy (TAG), a collective of seasoned marketing executives determined to help your company source the best marketing agency or consultant. John consults with brands on all areas of marketing with a primary concentration in SEO, content
marketing, and digital PR. John has over a decade in the agency space where he consulted with clients on SEO and inbound marketing campaigns. During that time, John watched sales people and marketing agencies fight tirelessly to one-up each other and impress prospective clients with industry jargon, flashy proposals, and agency bluster. Perhaps most concerning – a remarkable amount of the strategic recommendations agencies give their clients is predicated on what’s convenient for them – not the client’s situation. Enter The Agency Guy, the world’s first true marketing consultancy, 100% focused on providing brands unbiased direction, education and vetted agency recommendations. John also teaches several courses on the subject at the University of San Diego, Drexel University, SCORE and other accredited educational institutions. He also organizes large events for marketers and entrepreneurs through his group the SoCal Marketing Club, one of the West Coast’s largest digital marketing clubs.
Shane Foss – Founder and CEO of Hooray Health
66.5% of people that file bankruptcy are due to medical related
bad debt. Yet over 70% of them had health insurance at the time.
After over 20 years in the healthcare industry, Shane Foss decided to use his passion for technology to provide affordable healthcare for all. In 2018, Shane launched Hooray Health, an unconventional health insurance company that works hard to make healthcare coverage simple, accessible, and affordable. Hooray Health has a national network of members and providers. His work at Hooray Health gained him recognition for his leadership with a nomination for “CEO of the Year” by D Magazine.
Highlights from John’s Interview
Finding the Right Agency for You
We launched about six years ago, and we noticed that there was indeed a problem. The problem was that there have become such low barriers to entry to become a “marketing agency” or “consultant.” Essentially, there are none. With technology and the web being what it is today, it’s relatively easy to throw up a good-looking website; do a couple of Google searches, watch a few YouTube videos, and you’re in business. Go to LegalZoom, set up your LLC, and you’re off to the races. I think that’s great for entrepreneurs starting the business to some extent, but it’s not so great for the entrepreneurs that are trying to hire these people because there’s just so many unqualified teams out there. The marketing landscape is cluttered and confusing. These small startup agencies, whether it’s a solopreneur or even a group of people, a lot of the advice that they’re giving businesses is predicated on the services they provide.
Let me peel back a few layers there. If you go to an agency that specializes in SEO, or at least that’s the backbone of their company, particularly referring to the smaller agencies, 9 times out of 10 they want to solve your marketing problems with SEO. You go to someone that loves to do branding and creative work, 9 times out of 10 they bias the recommendations toward branding and creative. You need a new website, “Oh, you’re on Squarespace. We got to get you on WordPress,” or whatever it is. My feeling is that that’s biased advice that’s predicated on what they like to do, what they’re good at, and they’re out there trying to solve your problems with that expertise.
There’s a little bit of a backstory there. At the time, I was selling a product or service into marketing agency. For almost a decade, I worked for marketing agencies doing a mix of strategy and sales. And then at some point, I made a shift because I needed a change. I started selling a product or service into marketing agencies, around SEO and blogger outreach. Through that process, instead of being the employee or the client of these agencies, I was their vendor. As their vendor, I got a really interesting behind the scenes look at what was actually going on at these agencies. So many of them were springing up every day, there were no shortage of potential clients. But you got to see that some agencies were just, for lack of better phrasing, chop shops. Some could not hold their employees. Many of them were claiming that they did everything, when in reality, maybe they did one or two things and outsourced everything else. There’s really nothing wrong with outsourcing or bringing in contractors to support, it’s just the transparency with what you do and the way you talk to your clients about it. So, there was that component. I was meeting a lot of agencies and seeing some of that low-barrier-to-entry problem that was in the marketplace.
The other thing that I realized from working for agencies was that, when relationships fell apart between the agency and the client, it wasn’t always as simple as ‘Oh, that agency was bad,’ or ‘that client was crazy and unrealistic.’ A lot of times they were just not a good fit: in terms of size, in terms of personality, in terms of industry expertise, and a number of other variables. So, seeing those two things, a light bulb went off and I said, I think there’s a problem here and I’m in a good position to solve it.
My background is pretty heavy in search marketing, SEO, helping people rank in search engines. I had this idea and I really felt like I was onto something. I met my business partner, Steven Picanza, and his marketing skill set was the exact opposite of mine and that was a beautiful thing. He was a design, creative branding guy, and he saw lot of the same things I saw. And I just said, this sounds like a great opportunity, I’d love to help you on it.
One of the key lessons here is that neither of us quit our jobs right away. We both continued to do what we were doing. We both were mostly transparent with our employers, which at the time, he was working for a marketing agency and I was selling into marketing agencies. We both told our employers, we see a little bit of an opportunity to do this from time to time, and we might make recommendations to an agency. In his case, he told his agency who was very particular about who they who they brought on as a client, he said, “Look, if we get unqualified opportunities, would you mind if I made a recommendation that they try another shop? We’ll refer them to my colleague, John, and let him do it,” and they were fine with that. Of course, my clients were agencies, and so if I occasionally sent them a client, they were thrilled.
Another element that might be useful to entrepreneurs is how I was able to piece this together in the first place. In a previous life prior to marketing, I was in kind of in a manufacturer’s rep role where actually I was selling to manufacturer’s rep; working with them actually is what I was doing. A manufacturer’s rep for those that don’t know, is usually in an industry where there’s complex products and services, and there’s a manufacturer making these complex products, and the manufacturer doesn’t necessarily have all the relationships to sell these products to the end user. To be specific, I was in the safety products niche, nothing exciting at all.
These manufacturers made these complex safety products and they wanted to sell them to big companies like Johnson and Johnson, DuPont, steel mills or things like that. But they didn’t have the connections and relationships. So, they worked with third-party teams, middlemen essentially, that knew the different products and services. They were subject matter experts, they were willing to talk in depth about, in this case safety equipment, and then bring them to the large or mid-sized clients that they had relationships with, and educate those clients on a multitude of different options. “Well, you might want this safety product or this situation, you might want that safety product for that situation.” That really created a good situation for everybody.
The manufacturers didn’t need to build all these relationships from scratch and they were able to get more feet in the door so to speak, by working through this liaison that knew multiple products. This sounds simplistic, but actually it’s a very key equation I’ll say that’s in many industries. It’s actually the same thing that happens in financial services. There are all these different products you can buy, funds you can buy into, so on and so forth. But it really takes a middleman or a liaison to explain the pros and cons of each of these products to the end user and give them a multitude of different options. So that’s more or less exactly what we’re doing at TAG by representing a portfolio of about 200 different agencies.
Early in my sales career, even before I was in marketing, back when I was in the safety industry and I was just learning the best practices for being a good business development representative, I came across some sales training program which was on CD at the time, it might have even been on cassette tape. It talked at length about how you would never want to walk into a doctor’s office with a condition that’s freaking you out, and before you even open your mouth, the doctor says, “I know what you need for this,” and it’s some drug you’ve never heard of. So, he just says, “Let’s just take this, you’ll be better.” That’s the worst way to conduct a sales engagement. You want that doctor in that scenario to sit, listen to what you have to say, understand the nooks and crannies of what you’re going through and say, “Aha! Based on what you told me, here’s the right prescription for you.” I’ve carried that advice with me throughout my whole career.
It’s all about consultative selling, and you can’t be a consultant if you don’t listen. That’s the whole reason why we have to sit and listen. Even if that doctor knows exactly what he’s going to suggest to you, he has to hear you out so that you understand that he understands and that he cares. So that’s the first key point. Sitting down with any brand before coming to the table and saying, SEO is going to fix your problems, or public relations is the key for you, that is just not the way. You have to sit, shut up and listen, and that’s what we do.
Also, with our model, we represent about 200 different marketing agencies. We look to match the right brand’s need or situation to the ideal marketing partner; whether it’s a marketing consultant or a team of consultants or a full-blown agency. In an effort to do that, we’re evaluating a number of different things. First of all, talking through the marketing piece; what channels are they looking to activate, what channels do we think that they should activate? We’re coming at this very objective, which again I think is the key difference in flowing through TAG and going direct to an agency, which is really saying, “Look, if we were in your shoes, how would we approach this?”
We obviously want to get some indication on budget and what they can afford to invest over three, six months, to a year. We take a look at their industry, which sounds obvious. Matching a marketing agency with industry expertise that also has the marketing channel expertise they need, and is a good fit for their budget is certainly a great way to go about it. But we take it a couple of steps further, and we’re also looking at whether or not location is a consideration. A lot of brands don’t think they care where their marketing partners are located, but in reality, they actually do, whether they realize it or not. Most small to mid-sized businesses really would prefer a marketing partner that’s in their backyard.
Couple of other things I’ll add to the equation is, we also look to match the agency to their internal resources, which is a tricky one. So rather than bringing a solution to the table that does everything or might step on the toes of the people at the brand or the company, we try to understand what that company does already internally and what they do really well and bring a complimentary solution to the table.
Last but not least, if we can really knock out of the park, we try to match down the personality. If the brand is kind of hard-headed or stubborn, we try to put them with somebody that’s a good fit for that. We don’t want to bring them an agency that they’re going to walk right over or that is going to have a hard time keeping up or dealing with that type of personality. The inverse is also true, and so on and so forth. So we take all those factors into consideration and we say, based on what we’ve learned, here’s a partner we think you should talk with, and there’s no obligation and no commitment that they work with anybody. Just that they sit down and talk to that partner and see if they like them.
More often than not, it’s best to stay away from overseas countries that don’t speak fluent English, but not always. A lot of their solutions have just gotten a bad rep. Another element I’ll add to that is, if there’s an intermediary to deal with the translation and communication frustrations that come with working with an overseas company that doesn’t speak in English, it can go just fine. There’s a lot of caveats and exceptions to that.
So, one useful tidbit from how I transitioned out of work to full-time TAG, is that I made my company that I was working for my first clients. I was selling this blogger outreach service for them, and then I actually went straight into representing them independently. So, I went straight from W-2 to W-9, and just started representing them independently, but also refer them into some products and services. It’s convoluted, but they were both my first client and my first customer in a sense. I think my business partner kind of did something similar in that, the agency that he was working for just ended up folding into our roster and they’re still there to this day; they’re still one of the teams we recommend for branding.
We’re big believers, both myself and my business partner. We’re that weird cusp of Gen X and millennials which is Xennials; which is basically that 35-40 range. We kind of learned the old school way to build relationships. I feel like especially the younger generation is too dismissive of building a book of business the old school way. And ironically, the generation over 40, in general, tends to be too dismissive of building business the new school way. For us, at that time and still to this day, we cultivated the majority of our new business opportunities through word of mouth and referral, and we built that trust in those referrals through things like teaching, speaking, hosting events, going out to network. We just had a unique value proposition that really carried its weight in our situations.
I’m a little bit of a contrarian on the subject of SEO. I do not feel that SEO is always changing, especially for your typical small business. In many ways, it’s what it was five years ago, that the key factors are content and links. Google has hundreds of factors that go into its algorithm that can be tough to compartmentalize, but let me give you the four compartments if you had to distill them down into four buckets. It would be relevancy which is the obvious one, the crawl ability or accessibility of your website, the user experience, and authority. Links fall directly into that authority bucket, and content kind of skirts a couple of them; user experience and relevancy. As far as percentage-wise, if I had to put a figure on it, less than 50% links, which is a change from the old days. Content is huge, but it’s not just content for content’s sake, the way you craft and construct that content is critical. Site speed absolutely plays into the overall algorithm, but once you’ve accomplished that, you should refocus on content and links.
When you’re pretty clear on some of the specifications and requirements you want your marketing partner, it can be hard to go out and find that. Especially, as soon as you found that entity that said, we do public relations in your niche, you’d almost be inclined to give them a shot but with no vetting and without really knowing. So, having an intermediary in there like us to sit there and say, we know these guys are solid, they’ve got a track record of success, from an unbiased third-party I think carries tremendous value.
You can find us at “theagencyguy.com. But for your listeners, we ask that you please go to “theagencyguy.com/school-for-startups”. So not only can you obviously book a consultation with us, but we’re also going to upload our eBook on local SEO. We just did about a 5000-word document for localized small businesses that want to get up to speed on the best practices for ranking in their local markets. Also, all of our social channels are right there for easy access and linking up and connecting and building relationship with us.