So much to do, so little time!

If that’s your overwhelming feeling after INBOUND17, you’re not the only one.

It has been a treat: so many spectacular speakers, celebs, insights, hacks, and marketers! But then there’s only so much you can do in the limited time you have at the event. So you choose what you want to focus on. Here’s what I focused on, and what I learned.

There’s more to team training than just technical stuff

My team is good with SEO, HubSpot, PPC and a lot of other things. They are good with Toggl time tracking and project management on a variety of tools. And yes, I know what else I need to get them trained in: ABM.

How about negotiation?

No, I never thought of negotiation as a skill I needed to have my team trained in. Negotiation is not always about sealing a retainer. It’s also about the ability to create win-win situations with the client, every day. Why didn’t I think of that!

So, my key takeaway: Get your team to learn about BATNA, ZOPA, Win-Wins, Anchors, etc.

There’s more you have to do to unleash creativity

You may have a creative team. But are they creative all the time? Why not? Because they might be working under conditions of stress. What’s the impact of a sales person calling and breathing down the neck of your design person for some mockups needed by end of day?

Piera Gelardi spoke about knowing the conditions in which you are the most creative, and then recreating them when you need to be creative. Can you enable this for your team?

What would this mean? For me, it means I have to go to each person in the team, and ask them to think back to their most creative moments. And figure out what I can do to replicate those conditions for them.

There’s a lot to be learnt from Disney and Pixar about creativity that endures over decades—that’s what I learned from Ed Catmull. What has stayed in my head since his keynote is this: When you give the final decision-making authority to the director (or the account manager, in our case), they become a lot more open to the team’s inputs. I have to assess where our agency stands in this process.

There’s more to SEO than well, SEO

When Rand Fishkin comes up on stage, one thinks about the new trends in SEO. But what he really wanted us to focus on was the beliefs we brought to the table as we approached our content marketing efforts. If we just step outside of those, we will be able to see things a lot more clearly, and new ways of doing content and SEO would emerge. That’s true about life. It’s true about content marketing.

An insightful tip for those new to ABM

ABM made its presence felt this time around. Not just with the tools, but also with several sessions dedicated to the practice. Like many of you, we embarked on ABM a year or so ago, in bits and pieces. But it’s still very early days for us. And hence, Alex Embling’s tip to focus on accounts with high ROI came as a ray of light. I struggle with deep, insightful content creation for ABM, and when I heard him say this, it all cleared up for me. I have to get my sales team to identify their high ROI accounts, and then dig deeper into the challenges of those accounts. Then my content strategy would become clearer. High ROI accounts—let the smarketing team focus on those.

Selling skills, for agency owners

I have never seen myself as a sales person. An inbound marketer, a writer, a digital strategist, perhaps. But I’ve had so much resistance to sales. And that has really bad results for an agency. I know this, and yet I do not plunge headlong into sales. And I guess many other agency owners don’t either. It was really refreshing and inspiring for me to see four agency leaders demonstrate their newly learned selling skills through role plays. So, do some ground work, and pick up the phone. Also, if you get a call from me, don’t be surprised!

Design the brand experience

There are now many touch points of your brand that a customer can engage with. But how much thought has really gone into ensuring that the experience across all these touch points is exactly what you want the customer to have? And in these days of impatience, and rapid loyalty switching, should you be leaving this experience to chance, asked Brian Solis? Or should you be designing it? And if you are going to design it, you’re going to need a brand experience guide, not just a brand style guide. Lots of food for thought!

Scaling your agency

All these lessons came from the sessions I attended at INBOUND17. But the key lesson I re-learned didn’t come out of a session. It came from a discussion that happened at an agency leaders luncheon I co-hosted with Michael Cannon at The Legal Test Kitchen. One of the participants asked Michael how he has scaled his agency to 50+ employees? Michael said, first, he took time out every week (started with 4 hours, and now it’s down to 1 hour) to focus on how to build the business. Second, he focused on creating a great workplace by focusing on employee happiness, and showing a clear career path, so retention was no longer a challenge. Third, they figured out processes keeping customer success as the focus, without overriding team happiness.

As agency leaders, we all know these tips. But we lose sight of them all in the “busy-ness” of running a business. So I am going back to having my weekly brainstorms with my co-founder, starting this week. Last year, we did this religiously. Looking back, we know that we have been able to take the agency capabilities up several notches just because we stayed focused on how to build the business. Why did we let go? Oh right, the busy-ness of the business.

I still haven’t figured out what my exact focus areas for the coming year will be. Skills wise, I know I will be working on content clusters and ABM. Business wise, there’s got to be a focus on brand building. What else? I think my business brainstorm later this week will nail the ‘to-focus’ things down.


Want a Sounding Board?

Sometimes just listening to yourself talk to an agency peer can clear your head like nothing else. If you want to do that, here’s my calendar.