A few weeks ago Tom had a chance to sit down with Luke over at Toucan Advertising to talk about how ad agencies, pr agencies and frankly anyone in the consulting world, can turn conversations into customers.
The podcast, Briefly, is about 30 minutes long and they covered a number of topics including:
- How the worst day of Tom’s professional life served as the stimuli that lead him to create the Painless Prospecting approach to sales prospecting for introverts and folks that are shy — because he built it for himself 😉
- What we mean when we say, “turning conversations into customers” and why you should make that the focus of your biz dev and marketing efforts
- How you create “value” for clients and how you should be defining your value
- What’s your REAL job as an ad agency today, even if your client isn’t defining it as such
- Where is sale & marketing headed in the next 5-10 years
For you folks that prefer to read vs listen… we had the entire interview transcribed and we’ve pasted it below.
Feel free to read and enjoy.
That’s it for today… till next time, may all of your prospecting be painless.
Transcript for Biz Dev for Ad Agencies Podcast Interview
Interviewer: And welcome to “Briefly,” brought to you by Toucan Advertising. This is the show where we talk shop and strategy with marketers, leaders, and creatives about their marketing philosophies, stories, and challenges. My guest today is Tom Martin. Tom is an internationally recognized speaker, author, blogger, and owner of Converse Digital, a digital agency here in New Orleans. A lot of things that I want to go over today revolve around, you know, kind of where I first saw you, Tom. I first was exposed to you, I hadn’t heard of you before, and I saw you at a [inaudible 00:00:48] luncheon, then we talked about our initial meeting. I was really enthralled with the way that you view sales and view this whole industry. And we’ll talk about your background in a little bit, and that’s part of the reason why I was so interested, because it’s a very similar, you know, mindset as what I kind of have experienced so far and what my goals are. And I had a feeling about this kind of stuff, and you kind of just confirmed a lot of those things. So we can kind of get into that. But my first question is, you know, tell us a little about yourself, how did you get to where you are today? What’s your story?
Tom: Well, according to my mom, it was a cool summer afternoon on June 3, 1969… No, I’m kidding, I’m not gonna tell you all that. I grew up in Texas, I went to the University of Texas and got an advertising degree. Then went to Dallas and worked at Bozell and the American Airlines business, where I basically got an MBA in advertising, in about three years. Met a gal from New Orleans, and like most gals from New Orleans, she drug us back here, worked at Peter Mayer here in town for a while, started their Biz Dev program. By the time I left, I was VP of Biz Dev there. Formed my own agency, Katrina was not kind to it, went back in the agency world. And after about three years, the gentleman I was working with and I sat in his office, and we mutually agreed I was unemployable and needed to go back out on my own. So I did that. I formed Converse Digital back in 2010, and we’ve been cruising along, I guess, what, about eight years now. And it’s, you know, great. It’s nice to have your own agency, as you know, because you get to actually put your money where your mouth is. And Converse was built on the principles that I espouse and that I teach, and that I wrote about in my book. Everything I’ve written about or that I tell people about, it’s I did it, that’s how I built this agency. And so it’s a testbed for us, as well as, obviously, a way to make a little money. But so, yeah, it’s like the story, your typical ad guy, you know, turned salesman.
Interviewer: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting because, like I said, when I first heard your talk, one of the things that struck me was that you come from a business development background and as a…you know, you kind of found your niche in social media. And one of the things that resonated with me personally, is that I have worked in a couple of agencies outside of college and I started getting more interested in the business development side of things. And I always thought there was a better way to do this that didn’t have to be… As marketing sales professionals, it’s a very, very weird sales dynamic, right? Where it’s not just selling…obviously, not selling a product and not just selling a turnkey service, it’s a mixture of consulting services, intellectual property, time and expertise.
And we’re sharing that knowledge and building custom digital strategies for people. And how do you sell that? It’s one of the things that, you know, I was struggling with, but I’ve already learned a lot from you, just hearing your talk and just talking with you outside of that. And my next question has to do with how we not only craft the sales part of the message but when you start working with a client, what are your steps that you take and your process to create a digital strategy for someone? It shouldn’t be a hard sell for someone because, you know, everybody needs it these days. But where do you start? What’s your process look like?
Tom: I’m a huge fan of simplification. I absolutely think we make things way too hard in our industry, in an attempt to look smart or have some proprietary methodology, my favorite thing when people whip that out. Ours is very simple. We have six questions, and then we put them up on a board with a client, and it’s really simple. Who are we…you know, what are we trying to do? Who are we talking to? But we deep dive into that one, obviously. I think the more you can really understand your audience, the better. What do we need to say to them? Not necessarily what the client wants to say, but what do we need to say? What do they need to hear? Maybe it should be a better way to phrase that, because what’s gonna motivate them? What’s their brand relationship driver? What’s gonna put them over the edge and buy? We spend a lot of time on how, which really is tonality. We spend a lot of time trying to make sure the brand voice is right because I think, especially today, especially with younger millennial consumers, you know, that brand voice, if it’s right, they form a bond with it.
And if it’s wrong, they just don’t. I don’t care, you know, what you’re saying or doing, they’ll go someplace else. And that’s really not too much different than, I think, most folks. We take two extra steps. One is, you know, how do we extend the relationship? So we think long and hard before we ever have a client’s customer. How are we gonna take that relationship deeper? How are we gonna go further with it? Not just loyalty programs, but, like, how do you go deep? How do you really get into that person’s life to where you’re their preferred top of mind preference brand, no matter what? And then, lastly, you know, how are we gonna get them to introduce us to their friends? So how are we gonna turn them into social agents, which is what we call them, for our clients’ brand? And so, right up front, we try to plan all of that before we ever lift a pencil or start typing on a keyboard. And what we found is that if we can really, with our clients, answer those six questions correctly, we can build incredibly powerful, effective marketing programs, both digital and non-digital, for that matter.
Interviewer: So I’m gonna shift gears a little bit, go back more to the sales function of what you do, what we do. I like to ask this question because it kind of forces, not only me, to think about my elevator pitch, but other people. If you had to distill your sales pitch down to 10 words or less, what would you say and why? What’s your reason for that positioning?
Tom: Well, it’s actually on the back of our business card. We turn conversations into customers. And that has been our position since really kind of day one. And I chose it because, well, we positioned very early in social, which is conversations. So it kind of really made a ton of sense in that realm. But as we’ve grown and evolved over the years, we touch things that are not social. But, they’re still conversations, whether we’re working with a company in a sales process, like sales training, working with their sales teams or whether we’re working with companies to build marketing strategies or help them build ads or help them build social media presences or wherever the case. At the end of the day, it’s all about conversations. And there are millions of conversations happening every day about brands and services, and there are conversations that your brand is a part of, and there are conversations your brand’s not a part of. But if you can learn how to inject your brand into the conversation, if you can learn how to leverage those conversations, both direct and indirect, you can sell more stuff. As long as people have been selling things, they’ve been selling things through the art of conversation.
Interviewer: I love it. It’s a great way to look at it.
Tom: You know, and in the end, people will still be selling in conversation. You know, advertising, you know, goes in and out of fad, digital goes in and out. Like, those are all executions. So at the end of the day, though, the one thing that’s never changed is people sell stuff by talking to other people about it. So we felt like that’s where we wanted to be. We felt like it is a place that was really natural for us. I’m a big believer that there’s art and science to conversation. I think a lot of people can tell you about all the science, they can read all the books and the white papers, and the research, but they don’t understand the art. And that’s why there are people, I’m sure, in your life that you look at and go, “Man, that person could sell ice to an Eskimo.” Well, it’s because they understand the science, but more importantly, they’ve mastered the art. And that’s where, I think, is our differentiation. I think we understand the art of moving a conversation to a sale, without making the person feel like they were just sold.
Interviewer: I love the thing you say about how it’s an art and science, and that it’s a blend of not only understanding the metrics that you use. You know, for social in particular, it’s very data heavy. But data is just a tool and it’s all about how you harness it. And I think what’s great, and I had to remind myself of too, is that we’re in this business to understand human behavior and to change human behavior. And you do that, you know, measuring through data, but being a human yourself and being understanding that… Like I said, I love that that’s your position. I really think it’s a great way to look at it, is conversations that drive change, that, you know, get great conversions.
Tom: Yeah. And that’s whether it’s in social or face-to-face or, you know, just how you build your marketing and ad materials. If you can stay in that conversation or realm, I don’t know, people just…their guard is down a little bit lower.
Interviewer: Right, be a human.
Tom: Yeah, just be a human, and then, boom, it’s amazing how that turns into conversion, new product sales.
Interviewer: Yeah. So kind of go along that idea of being involved in conversations and finding success that way, every project is different, every metric… You know, they have different KPIs we measure against, right? But how do you know, at the end of the day, when you’ve done your job well? Can you explain for me how you kind of go through with your clients, the best way to measure whether or not you’re providing value?
Tom: Yeah. I’m kind of a chameleon on that subject because I am very data intensive, I love numbers. You know, we analyze the numbers. I like looking for trends and I like to be able to prove that what we did worked. But if I go back and I look at the last 25 years of my career and I look at the projects that I feel as though were the most impactful or…maybe not the most impactful at the moment we did the project, but they had the propensity to become the most impactful, or they did something or I can see things that happened years later that maybe other companies did. But you can see, it’s the genesis of something that we did. It’s that people talk about and are interested in talking about the project. When people want to have a conversation about what we’re doing, about what our campaign is or…and not just like the campaign from, like, “Oh, that’s a cool ad conversation,” but just the core essence of the idea that led to it.
That, to me, is when we’ve done our job, because it’s really hard to get people to pay attention to anything today. And when you can get them to pay attention enough to where they really wanna talk about it proactively, maybe they wanna blog about it, maybe they wanna interview you about it on a TV show or a radio show, or maybe they just wanna talk to you, you know, in a conference or something like that. And they really wanna learn more about that and they really wanna understand that, that’s when you know you’ve got a very human idea that’s touching people in a very deep emotional place. And it’s in those places, I find tend to be more universal. And so, if you can get into that universality, then it’s just a matter of like, “Okay, we did this, and yeah, maybe it was sort of successful in a short-term ROI standpoint, maybe it wasn’t.” But if it wasn’t, then we should have just gone back and done it again, and tweaked it, and figured out how to make it successful in that sort of short-term ROI basis.
Tom: Yeah. You know, iteration, evolution. And where clients have done that, we have ended up getting to places that are just absolutely incredible, where the clients were blown away, we’re blown away. But they always come back to that conversation piece. Like, people care enough to talk about it, you’re onto something. So if you as a marketer or a client, if you create a project that people talk about, but maybe it’s not in a market sense successful, man, don’t give it…don’t put…you’ve got a flame, you got a little spark. Don’t snuff it out. Feed it, give it some oxygen and you’ll get…. But too often, I think that we get caught up in the KPIs. And we allow them to kill really good ideas before the idea is fully formed or before it’s had a chance to really catch that oxygen, or marinate, right. And if we were braver as marketers and we would do that, I think you’d find you’d have a lot more compelling work out there, a lot more compelling campaigns than we have today.
Interviewer: Absolutely. I wanna shift the conversation a little bit to more about the industry itself. What are your thoughts about the future of where we’re going? And I know we talk about a lot, having to do with, you know, technology, big data, all these things that people talk about all the time. What’s your opinion, you know, based on your career? You’ve been selling these services, these types of services for so long, you’ve seen things come and go. What are some things that you think are on the horizon?
Tom: Unfortunately, my future views is rather somber.
Interviewer: Let’s hear it.
Tom: In terms of history. I think the two biggest thematics that I see are commoditization and procurement mentality to the buying of these services that we sell. Your Facebook post is worth the same amount as my Facebook post. You know, no, it’s bullshit. A, it might have taken me longer, you longer, whatever. But even in the base level, you know, we might produce a Facebook post where we generate the same amount of engagement, we might not. And if I can consistently produce better engagement than you, then my post is worth more than yours. But that’s not the mindset. The mindset is, well, Facebook posts should be $125 because that’s what Joe Blow on the corner over here with his laptop is willing to do it for. And so, you’ve got this real commoditization…
Interviewer: Race to the bottom.
Tom: Yeah. You’ve got a race to the bottom. And, you know, like I said, I’ve been in this business for 25 years. And it’s always been a little… I mean, it’s about numbers and, you know, dollars and cents at the end of the day. And you can’t just be stupid crazy with your pricing. But there was a respect for, “Hey, these people are actually better than these people over here.” And, therefore, they deserve to be paid more because their work should, on a long-term basis, prove to be more effective more consistently than maybe these people who maybe they hit one home run or they can come up with one good idea. I mean, any agency can come up with one good idea. And it’s unfortunate because I think, you know, clients are falling into that mindset, where they’re allowing a commoditization mindset, a procurement mindset, to cut them off from the people who can really build brilliant ideas for them.
And at the end of the day, we’re in the idea business. You know, how many car manufacturers are out there? You know, what’s gonna make me buy your car versus the other? Is it that you’ve got an eight-cylinder this, that, the other, and he’s got a seven-cylinder? Like, I don’t even understand the difference between those two things. It’s your brand, it’s the feeling I have, it’s the excitement you create around your brand. That’s intangible. And so, hopefully, that will turn. I don’t know. I mean, the long-term trends are not good in that realm. You see the average tenure of a CMO has dropped dramatically. You’ve seen the average lifespan of client-agency relationships has dropped dramatically. You’ve seen a big move towards insourcing, clients just bring in our services in-house. So, you know, I’m glad that I’m on the tail end of my career, frankly. But, you know, yeah, hopefully, it’ll turn. Hopefully, agencies have figured out how to once again get back to the place, like in the ’50s and ’60s, where clients saw us for ideas. And I think, we gotta do some work on our own. I think we as agencies have been guilty of resting on our historic laurels and just wanting to be important again, versus giving clients a reason to think that we’re important. So, hopefully, we’ll do our end and they’ll respect and pay us for it.
Interviewer: Yeah. Well, I think that it’s interesting that we talk about commoditization, because I think that there’s a lot of decentralization happening with different agencies. I mean, everybody talks about big agencies dying, and I don’t necessarily think that’s true. I do think that marketers and CMOs and more bigger companies who outsource for marketing on a regular basis are working more with smaller teams, with freelancers. And there’s definitely gonna be some pros and cons on both sides. And I think it’s gonna be up to us marketers to be able to prove our worth and to be able to fight through all this clutter and all this other… I think it’s temporary, essentially. I think that what you’re saying is definitely valid. I think there’s gonna be a reckoning, in a sense.
Tom: Yeah, you’re gonna have to find your spot. I mean, there’s certainly things that a big agency can do that I can’t do. You know, my little married men and women over here can’t do. But, again, we haven’t tried to position ourselves against those folks. I don’t see myself competing with JWT or any of those guys. That’s not my game.
Interviewer: Yeah, there’s a lot out there. I mean, it’s universal of abundance mentality. You gotta think about everything as a rising tide raises all ships kind of mentality of…
Interviewer: There’s a lot of work out there and it’s just been broken up into smaller pieces. The problem is, there’s a lot of people who are amateurs, who are getting in the same rooms with the big guys. And I think that’s the internal struggle. So let’s turn our gaze here a little bit towards your career and kind of the future of where careers are going. What challenges have you faced or successes have you seen in your career that you wanna share? I mean, maybe something you don’t wanna share, obviously, the bad times. But, you know, if there’s anything that you could give our listeners. You know, I’m gonna kind of combine two questions here, is, one, what are some challenges or successes that you’ve seen? And two, what advice would you give future marketers to face some of the things that you’ve seen?
Tom: I think, you know, the challenge that I… For me, personally, there was no challenge worse than Katrina. As I said, my wife and I had started this small agency, it was a couple, two, three years old. And I had thought I had prepared for every scenario, except the one where all my clients fire me on the same day, and my revenue stream goes to zero, both as a company and a household. And, you know, that was a pretty scary moment, when you wake up and realize, “I have no money coming in, and no immediate way to make money.” And there’s no… You know, we didn’t have a lot of savings and so forth. So there wasn’t a lot to fall back on. So it was kinda like, “Okay, I gotta figure something out pretty quickly.” And, you know, what I found was, I was able to very quickly reestablish a position working, you know, as a freelancer, basically, for a big agency, the one I had come from out of Dallas, on the American Airlines Business.
And then I was able to, you know, use that to then get back financially stable, figure out what I wanted to do, come back to New Orleans, etc. And what that taught me was very simple, is that we are in a reputation business. Your reputation is your resume, forget what’s on a piece of paper. I don’t haven’t had a resume in I don’t know how many years. But, you know, nobody wanted my resume after Katrina. They wanted my reputation, that’s what they were hiring. They knew or believed that I could do certain things right. They believed in me, in my reputation of me. And in many times, they knew who I was personally. But in some cases, they just knew of me and they were forming their opinions or desire to work together off of that reputation.
So, you know, what I learned is that, is you always have to be…and this is kind of my business development philosophy, is getting known for knowledge or getting known for who you are or what you know, and what you can do, and what you can accomplish. And that is what, ultimately, saved me after Katrina, was that people knew I was a Biz Dev guy. When I finally said, “Yeah, I’m gonna come back to New Orleans and I’m not going to reset up a shop right away, I’m gonna go work for agencies, somebody’s gonna hire me,” I had offers from pretty much all the big guys in town because…and they all wanted me to come back and do Biz Dev because that was my reputation. It is, I was a guy who knew how to build a successful Biz Dev program for agencies and I could put skins on the wall.
Interviewer: It’s your niche.
Tom: That’s it. And so, as a person, you know, as you’re coming into the industry, you gotta be thinking, “What knowledge do I wanna be known for? You know, what do I want my reputation?” And you have to actively manage that reputation, both…
Interviewer: Personal branding?
Tom: Yeah, both in terms of how you handle yourself, but you know, what you choose to do and how you choose to do it, etc. Because at the end of the day, that is what you’re hired. Absolutely, that’s what’s gonna hire, that’s what’s gonna get you hired. If you get to a place like you have, where you own your own firm, your reputation precedes you. And that reputation is gonna be what makes somebody call you or offer you the job or offer you the project. That’s what’s gonna allow you to charge maybe a better premium on your pricing than someone else because you’re known versus unknown. There’s a willingness to believe that you’ll be able to create the value necessary. So I would take it all down to that, you know, and really focus on, what is my brand? Who am I? How do people see me in this industry? And think of all the ways that that is built. That’s who I associate with, what conferences I go to, what clients I work on. Like, plan your freaking career a little bit. Don’t just, you know, leave it to chance.
Interviewer: Everything communicates something.
Tom: It really does. You know, everything you do is something. And, you know, I have always had a reputation of when I was in the agency business, I was always…I’m a tinkerer, I’m always doing crazy stuff that people are like, “Where do you even come up with the idea to do that?” And it’s like, “I was just curious, I wanted to see what would happen.” It might fail miserably or it might be really cool, you know. And so, again, that’s kind of that reputation of, “Okay, well, this guy really can do Biz Dev but he can also do really cool ideation. He comes up with stuff that’s out of the box.” It’s always very different. It’s usually pretty cutting edge stuff or at least in that no one else has done it. So, again, as clients are looking at us, they look and think, “Well, this is the history of what this person’s done.”
Interviewer: He did that for me.
Tom: And we want that… “Yeah, I want that kind of ideation. I want somebody who’s gonna take old dots and connect them in new ways. That’s these guys. That’s Converse Digital.” And so that’s what you do. And so I think you really have to understand, you’re in a reputation business. You build reputations for your clients, you gotta build them for yourself.
Interviewer: Absolutely. That’s great advice. And I think part of what… You know, I’m only five years out of college, so, I mean, I’ve had to think about my personal brand and think about whenever I graduated, how am I not only valuable to employers but how do I network with people who are like me? How do I make connections that are still very much connections for me now? And I think it is a big part with how you associate yourself, who do you associate with, but it’s also the stories that your employers and your co-workers will tell about you, because people talk. I mean, and New Orleans is a big, small town and it’s very important to make sure that what you do here at your job today, you’d want somebody talking about you five years from now, for sure. And that’s something I’ve always tried to do. And I think I was just, you know, raised that way. So, you know, it’s all about, you know, being a good person, spreading good work, working hard, but all those kind of roll into your career as well.
Tom: The world’s no different than your high school lunchroom, who you sat with, who you ran with. Like, that’s who you were. You know, you might not have been a cool kid but if you sat at the cool kid table and they engaged with you and looked like they knew who you were and liked you, all of a sudden, you became a cool kid. We are what we do and who we associate with, and same as it was in high school, same as it is now, whether you’re in New Orleans or, you know, Moscow. It doesn’t matter. It’s just, that’s how the world works. So it’s all about, you know, constantly building that reputation. And if you build it correctly and purposely, purposefully, I guess, yeah, you can do great things because people will call you instead of you having to constantly call them, which, you know, that makes life a hell of a lot simpler.
Interviewer: A lot easier. Well, yeah, that’s all the questions I have.
Tom: I appreciate being invited on.
Interviewer: Tom, thank… Yeah, thank you so much for coming on. Thanks, you guys, for listening.