Notes from the Show
- How the decision to focus has made his firm more relevant and valuable to his clients, to the point where he now regularly turns away business. He stresses the benefits of specialization to all of his clients.
- How to build confidence in the direction your business is going
As Greg says, “it’s a lot easier to focus when you a deep authentic confidence in the direction that you’re going and you can’t have that until you’ve proved it”.
Intro: You’re listening to dare to differentiate a podcast for business owners in crowded industries who want to learn how to rise above the noise. In this show we focus not on doing everything for everybody, but on doing a few things for the right people with excellence. So if you’re ready to leave the herd, then you’ve come to the right place. Let’s get into the show.
Susan: Hi, this is Susan Tatum and I’m here today with Greg Linnemanstons who is from the Weidert Group. He’s the, are you the founder Greg?
Greg: No, no, we actually bought the business. My wife and I bought the business from the founder in 2003.
Susan: Ah, okay. Very cool. So I am, like I mentioned, I’m really excited about talking to you today because I think you have a unique combination of somebody that has done an excellent job of specializing yourself and also helping your clients to specialize. So there’s lots of stuff for us to talk about. I know it’s gonna be interesting, but why don’t we start off with you taking just a few moments to tell us a little bit more about you and your company.
Greg: Okay. The best place to start is I started my career doing consumer packaged goods marketing for big companies for Heinz and Pilsbury. And along the way I made my way into industrial marketing because I was getting burned by, by consumer packaged goods and especially by the lack of relationships, customer relationships. You know, when you’re a consumer products marketer, you’re marketing to faceless millions and there’s no love exchanged. And I had a chance to, to move into an industrial marketing role at a paper company and immediately got involved in some top to top selling to large customers. And it was a blast. And I really, I really found that the B2B setting was more based on relationships, more based on long-term commitments and deep vetting, deep trust, a lot more fun, a lot more rewarding.
So, even though as a young guy in grad school, the idea of being involved in national TV campaigns was exciting and spending big marketing budgets was exciting. It seemed at least but it has been much more rewarding going on the B2B side. And so that’s what got me pointed in that direction. And I left my last leadership role at a B2B company because of an acquisition and so I was forced to try some other things and I got my feet wet doing some consulting and really enjoyed it, really enjoyed being on the front line of, um, of selling. And 12 months later my wife had joined the Weidert Group as a copywriter and she introduced me to Joe Weidert and the rest is history.
Susan: Were you actually selling or were you a marketing guy?
Greg: Well, in my consulting role, when I lost my last corporate job due to acquisition, I was in a business development role and so I was dialing for dollars. I was doing about 85% cold calling and it drove me crazy. But it revealed for me that I really liked being on the front line because when I was supporting sales as a B2B marketing guy, I was not aligned. I was part of the team and I helped the team get ready for big pitches and put on events that customers participated in. And it was rewarding, but nothing like the juice of closing something that you found, you nurtured it, you brought to the table and then you closed it. There’s just nothing like that.
Greg: And so that’s, that’s when I, I started to learn more about myself and it was about that time that I came to Weidert, and the job that I talked myself into was business development and I had a lot of fun and a lot of success right off the start. And that’s what made it possible for us to buy the business, was we earned some equity. We also earned some trust and put us in a position where we could do that.
Susan: So when you got involved with Weidert, were they already specializing and you specialize in industrial, complex industrial right? Were they already doing that?
Greg: They didn’t specialize in anything. It was a do whatever you want us to do, as long as you can pay your bills and we’ll do it for anybody. And so it was a very traditional small town ad agency, you know. So, we occasionally got into placing consumer media. We did all sorts of print stuff. We would do logo development, we would do anything that. . . we would write speeches for our, our clients if they wanted us to. So we did anything and that is the road to ruin. And we started to feel it. Now the economy during the ought decade was kind of sideways until it crashed. And Yeah, and you know, if we thought sideways was no fun, the crash was a real wake up, but we were already starting to realize we needed to reinvent ourselves. And so we were already heading in the direction of more specialization specialists specializing in digital and deciding that we had to really grow our skills in social media and, you know, understand SEO much better and really focus on the emerging tools. But those are still broad categories. So around 2010, we discovered Hubspot, the software company, and inbound marketing as a discipline. And there was an epiphany that that was a degree of specialization that made sense to us because it already, it took the things we were working on, which is social media and SEO and digital marketing and web design and, and construction, all those things. And it pulled it together under the banner of growing your business better through inbound marketing, through organic lead generation. So that was the first step towards specialization that we took. And right off the bat we were differentiated from every other agency in Wisconsin because we were the first Hubspot partner and we were the first agency declaring themselves an inbound marketing agency.
Susan: So what, did you have to give up anything in order to focus? Did you have to make a conscious decision of we’re not going to do these things anymore?
Greg: We had to decide that we were going to become good at inbound and to get good at it, we had to really learn the platform, learn the technology, cause it’s a software platform and we had to learn the discipline around it. And so we had to get very good at SEO.. We had to get very good at content marketing and editorial planning. And those are things that we hadn’t really done before. We had done them sort of randomly and we had to decide we were going to be good at that. And I guess that meant we started giving up some things, but mostly we focused on those and we led with those and we started measuring all that we were doing for ourselves. We were practicing ourselves. We were our first case study, so practiced inbound on ourselves. And about six months in, we were able to start showing clients “here’s the first website we built on Hubspot” because Hubspot is a website platform as well as our marketing automation tool. Here’s the first website we built. Look at what happened when we optimized our blog, when we did all the technical SEO properly, when we had a tight keyword strategy and we started publishing and promoting through social media and we’d show people the spike in our traffic and we’d say, you know, we didn’t spend a dollar on PPC. We just did the right things. And I can remember telling people, this isn’t magic. This is blocking and tackling. And it’s every bit as hard as being a good football team. You’ve got to practice. You’re not going to be good at it at first and it’s going to hurt and I’m six months into it and it doesn’t hurt as much. And six months into it you’re, you’re looking at it and going, wow, look what we accomplished.
So we got good at celebrating stuff. We’d celebrate leads and we’d celebrate getting invited to pitch on stuff that we didn’t know about through any other means than through inbound leads. And that gradually started to change our culture where we, at some point, I think we woke up one day and realized, Hey, we are, we’re really there. This is, this is who we are. And we self-identified that way. And that’s a big step. Yeah. We were no longer interested if a big restaurant in town called us up and said, hey, can you build us a website? We’d say, hmm, no, I don’t think so because these are the things that we do. And if we do that for you, that’s going to distract us from pursuing the kind of clients we want, who want what we do. And that’s hard because we became a Hubspot partner in 2011.
And the economy was not exactly clicking at that point. We had a lot of lean years still in front of us. You know, it wasn’t until oh 14 was probably a breakthrough year for us. We won some awards and our traffic and revenue were both pointing in the same direction. You know, we started to experience some wins that really mattered, you know, landing some bigger clients and having them excited about the work we were doing. So it was probably, um, we were an overnight success after three years of working really hard.
Susan: Well then your expansion, since it sounds like you have moved a little bit away from what you were focusing on to begin with, but yet it’s all still tied together. I think you talked about concentric circles maybe that you were building out around.
Greg: No, I would, I would say that, um, that we’ve become more focused. When you think about when we became a, um, a partner and that was, I think it was February or March of 11, was when we formally became a Hubspot partner. At that time, if you asked us what our focus was, we would’ve said inbound marketing. And within a few months we had concluded, no, we’re B2B because this makes the most sense for B2B. And that’s where our experience is and we really felt the need to hone the focus. And it wasn’t until the last two or three years where we’ve started being more confident saying, well, it’s industrial and complex industries because there are B2B businesses that we really don’t want anything to do with because they’re too transactional. They’re not value added. They’re not heavy into knowledge, they’re not selling knowledge, they’re selling a commodity. And uh, for us, when we talk about what’s the ideal client, it’s somebody who’s got a long purchase cycle from their customers, their customers vet them deeply and they consider all the options.
And there’s a lot of learning to do before they make a decision. And it’s a big, a big ticket. And so you combine all those things and the opportunity to educate buyers on their journey by sharing what you know on demonstrating how good you are by sharing what you know, that’s where we’re focused. So for example, we work with a customer that makes paper converting equipment for the tissue industry. And they are a global player, they’re one of the top two in the world. And their customers take a long time to make a decision because they’re looking at adding a piece of capacity. One machine might cost $10 million and the customer knows that’s got to fit into their global production capabilities, whatever that long-term plan looks like. And so it’s a long, drawn out process. And so our customer, our client is going to nurture them with content that hopefully is engineered in sequencing that helps them to the decision that they want them to make.
Susan: Right, right. Yeah.
Greg: So they’re, they’re being as open and sharing and helpful as they possibly can be. You know, to the point of jumping out of social media with them and answering questions live when the opportunity presents itself.
Susan: I’m about to get distracted into a social media conversation but I will save that for another time.
Greg: Good, good.
Susan: It sounds like, so what I’m hearing you say is that you kind, you kind of recognized the sales and marketing and, and complex B2B sales was changing, has been changing really since websites came along.
Susan: And it’s rapidly increased and you, you saw that the inbound with technology, a way to make that really work a lot better and then what you’re describing is focusing more tightly is both as you realized how to focus much more tightly, but also as I think the technology and the whole inbound thing matured more you could say, all right, I need to focus on, I need to tighten it up. I’ll put that in the form of a question. Would it have been possible back in 2011 or whenever it was for you to have said, let’s focus on industrial inbound marketing?
Greg: Well it might’ve been except it’s a lot easier to focus when you a deep authentic confidence in the direction that you’re going and you can’t have that until you’ve proved it. And so for us it was a lot of sampling. We would take any client that walked in the door initially if we could get them to commit to inbound marketing. And so we’re still not 100% discriminating. It depends on what our projection looks like. I mean, honestly our marketing is all about our focus. The actual business development. I mean, right now we’re in a situation where we’re almost sold out for the year in terms of our capabilities. We were pretty busy and so we’re only talking to people who are really tight in terms of our target. But you know, as with anybody, if you’ve got capacity and somebody who’s, you know, maybe 30 degrees off center walks in and they’re very eager to pay for it. Well, sure.
So I’d say none of us are perfect angels when it comes to keeping our focus 100% but you know, for us, if I took you through our client roster, first of all, there’s no consumer businesses on there and there’s nobody who doesn’t at least have a connection to industrial. They either either have a service or they do financing or they sell some technology or they are a heavy manufacturer of some kind. So they’re all in that quadrant, that geography. It’s just I’d be taking it to an untruthful extreme if I said I’d never considered, I mean we occasionally get approached by software companies and I, I’m not crazy about software companies because they’re mostly startups and they’re underfunded and, and they want things now in terms of results and inbound marketing isn’t an overnight thing. It takes time.
Susan : Right. That’s a good point, Greg, because I think when I talk about focus and differentiation, I’m looking to reduce the noise that’s in the marketplace, whether it’s on social media, Linkedin or email or whatever. What I think in terms of, as you focus your marketing or your business development efforts in one area, and if something comes along that you are perfectly capable of doing, nobody says you can’t take that job.
Susan: Unless you have a resource issue that would be taking away from you taking a better job.
Greg: And that’s something that we’re experiencing now. We just got a call from somebody who seem to really want to work with us, but they were asking us to go in a direction that we know wouldn’t be easy. It’s not exactly in our wheelhouse and we have too many things in the wheelhouse that we’re either already working on or trying to get the work that we’d rather focus on. And so we passed on it. We were actually having a conversation yesterday about who to pass this lead to because we want to do somebody a favor because you know, good Karma is always good equity. And so we were trying to figure out who do we send it to. And I don’t know what was decided last night, but we politely pushed him to somebody else.
Susan: That’s a first class problem to have I think. I mean it feels good to be in that situation.
Greg: It really does. It really does cause we always appreciate it when somebody does that for us. It doesn’t happen often enough. And so when we can do it, it’s really fun.
Susan: So before we run out of time here, what would you recommend to, well, two things. One is, quickly, the benefits of specializing. When we talked on a previous conversation, you were talking about what really the important things were about being specialized.
Greg: Well, when you’re specialized in an authentic way, when you can have the fit conversation and this meeting we had last Friday was a great example. We closed with the message that there is nobody in the Midwest that can provide a tighter fit to this prospect’s needs and industry than us. That we’ve got the experience, we understand their business. We can jump in today and start writing their content because we know their language, we know who they’re selling to. And what you do when you can say that with confidence is you make everybody else less relevant. And in doing so, you make yourself that much more relevant and relevance as power. That when they look at you, they go, well, that’s who we should be working with. And when a prospect concludes that that’s who we should be working with, then it’s just, okay, treat them fairly but, but don’t give the store away. Price things fairly. See when you’ve got that, the power that comes with specialization, you lose fear. And fear is the greatest thing that destroys an opportunity. It’s you going in and pitching it from fear. You underprice yourself. You don’t do what’s right. When you’re confident and specialization gives you that confidence because of that power of relevance that you stick to your guns. And we had an earlier situation this year where somebody pushed us hard on price and we just said, No, that it is what it is. And they had other competitors of ours going after the business and we just looked at them across the table and said, We’re your best option. We know your business. We’ve got a writer who wrote in your industry, we understand your financials, we understand how you make money, put us to work for you. And they did and it’s that kind of relevance where it gives you the confidence to stand up for your principles.
Susan: It helps to know that there’s nobody else that knows it as well as you do too.
Greg: Yeah. And you can’t, I was going to say you can’t fake it but I suppose there are people who can, but it’s much more fun, not faking. It’s much more fun. Especially you want to act with integrity. So, you know, we’re around a table with some of our people, some of their people. I don’t want to say something that’s not true. And today what we’re saying is true and the integrity that comes with that and the power of that and the inspiration as well, it absolutely helps clients feel really good about the decision that they’re making. You know, it, it goes back to, this is a huge stretch so humor me on this, but back in the 80s and even into the 90s, there was a common expression, nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM.
Greg: IT directors used to say that and it was because IBM would come in and they’d do a pitch and the IT guys would go, yeah, yeah, they’re better than everybody else. That’s what specialization can do for small businesses. You don’t have to be better than everybody else. You have to be better for them than everybody else. And we’re a world today that expects and values specialization because we do understand that there’s relevant experience. And so every prospect wants to know what have you done for a business just like mine? And when you can demonstrate through your focus that, okay, these four businesses that we just finished working with are just like yours in these key ways and you demonstrate that. And if you get them nodding going, yeah, that’s just like us, they face the same challenges, they have the same lead time issues. They’ve got the same challenges with their vendors. Yeah, they’re a lot like us. And then you’re in a powerful place and when you have that power and authority in the conversation with a prospect, it changes the tone. And that’s a beautiful thing too. You can build trust by challenging the prospect, by pushing them harder because you’re coming from a position of knowledge.
Susan: You’re not just a vendor now.
Greg: You’re a partner, yeah, you’re demonstrating that you’re not afraid to talk honestly to them and that helps prospects buy. They want to be talked honestly to and so many people in a traditional sales role, don’t do it out of fear. When you eliminate fear from it, you become involved to tell the truth and to push prospects to do the right thing, even though it might cost more or be more challenging than they wanted to do. But you’re telling them, hey, this is good for you. Listen to me. I know I’ve been there. And so that’s, that’s, uh, a wonderful thing. You think about what that does, it improves your margins and improves your success with customers because you’re working with people who you know well, so you go into it knowing you’re going to deliver, you’re going to perform well. You’re not going to turn the customer over. You’re going to keep that customer. And so all of a sudden you’re starting to think about your business model and you’re looking at customer lifetime values that extend into the years, not months. And I don’t have to tell your audience, they all know what that means.
Susan: Yeah, I hope so.
Greg: I mean, yeah, that’s your profitability. It adds to your sustainability, you know, so that’s what specialization does.
Susan: So if there are people that are listening that are struggling with specialization and focusing, what kind of tips would you have for them to get started?
Greg: I would say plant some flags around your greatest successes with customers and understand why it was a success. Because you know, a lot of times you’ll think, oh, that was because of this person. He did it all. She, oh she was, she was so incredible there. That’s why it was successful. The likelihood is that it’s a customer type that you’re well built for. And you know, I’ve talked concentric circles. You start to go, okay, how do we define that customer or that group of customers? Maybe it’s 10% of your customers and you see similarities and some of those similarities are going to be vertically related. They’re going to be, oh, they’re there in industries that are very similar and they don’t all have to be on top of one another in the same industry. They can be in similar industries that you can bind together in a definition and then you start to focus your marketing on what we can do for industries like this. And it’s like anything else. If you focus water, you can cut through rock. And if you focus your message on serving one set of industries extremely well, you will stand out for those prospect bases. I mean, it’ll be a natural thing. When you think about how people learn today. If I have a question about, that I need help on my business, when I search for help, I’m going to frame it by my business type. So if I’m looking for a new financial platform to manage my business, I’m going to do a Google search for financial software for Hubspot partner agencies, right? Because I’m going to be confident that there’s somebody out there who is building a software package that works for us. And every industry that has a critical mass has that same ability and thinks that way. And so if you sell to and and support one industry very well with your set of solutions, you need to make yourself visible to that industry in a meaningful, compelling, relevant way.
Susan: Well, I think that your point about looking at your current and past clients is really critical. I mean, if you’ve been in business for a little while, if you’re just starting out, maybe you look at your own experience. But I see that it’s a combination of, like you said, long-term client value or lifetime client value and the profitability of that. Can we do a good job for them? Because you could do a job for somebody and hate working with them and lose all kinds of money, but you produce really great results. You don’t want a lot more of those. Then I think the third thing is, are they fun to work with? Do you enjoy it? Do you feel, do you feel like you accomplished something and you put those three together and that’s where the ideal client comes from I think.
Greg: Yeah, and I would take this from at least, well probably three different directions. You know, the idea of a really understanding where your greatest success as a business is and seeing if you can do some segmentation of your customers. I would also talk to your sales force and I’d pose the question that are there industries that they feel that whenever they pursue opportunities there, they have a greater opportunity to succeed because of some inherent advantages of your solution to that industry. And then I would also talk to your customer service team to find out in the relationships that they build, what do they see, where the value you deliver is most appreciated. That the intangibles are tangible to some customers, that whether it’s their industry or their business model, how they’re structured, how they buy, but they place greater value on what you do because you absolutely want to gravitate toward industries and customer types who by virtue of who they are, look at what you do and amplified the value you’re delivering.
Susan: Excellent point. Excellent point. Well Greg, thank you so much. Before I let you go, how do people get in touch with you?
Greg: They can reach out to me on Linkedin. If somebody mentions that they heard me on your show, I’ll always accept that invitation to connect. That can also find me at www.weidert.com. My happy face is on the website and anybody who fills out a contact me, I get copied on that so if you mentioned me in that, that’s an easy way.
Susan: All right. Thanks so much Greg. This has been fun
Greg: My pleasure Susan, been a pleasure talking to you. Bye Bye.
Susan: Bye Bye.