For this episode, Zach Murphy from Grey Matter and I discussed how research can improve the output of digital marketing, how important active listening is when working with customers through their marketing challenges, and how to prevent wasting digital advertising spend.
Sam Schutte: In today’s show, we have Zach Murphy. Zach is a partner and client strategist at Grey Matter. I met Zach through networking in Cincinnati. We’re going to talk about putting technology to work for sales and marketing.
Sam Schutte: Zach, welcome to the show.
Zach Murphy: Thanks for having me, Sam.
Sam Schutte: Absolutely. So how did you get started in marketing, and strategy, and sales?
Zach Murphy: Yeah. We’re going way back. So I’m a local Cincinnati guy. Grew up in Northern Kentucky and ended up going to Xavier University. I had no idea what I wanted to study. I saw, through a professor of mine … He showed us an episode of Frontline called The Persuaders. It was transformative for me, one of those aha moments for people that everyone always talks about. The real lesson in it was really the power of communication. It was looking at how companies in the corporate world were convincing people and using different methods to change minds and change ideas.
Zach Murphy: So they featured a number of different perspectives. There was a child psychiatrist on it, named Clotaire Rapaille, who was boiling down companies like Acura’s whole brand essence into a single word. They had the political pollster on there, Frank Luntz. Which, political opinions aside, it was very focused on how you can change people’s minds through communication. So from that moment forward, I was hooked on marketing.
Sam Schutte: Cool. How would you define the term sales and marketing strategy?
Zach Murphy: So sales and marketing strategy, to my partner and I, to our organization, is all about what are the different activities and methodologies companies are using to acquire more customers? How can you structure a predictable, measurable way to grow? I think the landscape today is so littered with technologies. People are shouting at you about, “You need to do this. You need to do that.” There’s no room for nuance. There’s no room for any sort of integration across these different efforts. It’s either this or that. So to us, the right marketing and sales strategy is an approach that makes sense for your customer to discover you, to learn more about you, and ultimately decide to buy from you.
Sam Schutte: Okay. When you started your business, how did you find your first customer?
Zach Murphy: Our first customer came from networking, as a lot of first customers will. I was talking to a number of different potential opportunities, and our first customer, believe it or not, was actually another marketing agency who needed help with strategy on one of their clients. And specifically, when I say strategy, they were saying, “We need help orienting the message across all the different platforms, the advertising, that we’ll be doing for them.”
Sam Schutte: So how do you bridge that gap between … When you’re working with a business, working with a client, they can’t necessarily outsource all of their sales to someone. Right? It takes a lot of knowledge, for any business, a lot of product knowledge, industry knowledge, to be able to effectively sell to people. How do you pick that up and learn that quickly, and then make sure that what you’re creating for them in a strategy is something they can actually do, and it’s going to work for them?
Zach Murphy: Yeah. That’s a great question because a lot of clients will ask us that question too. Everyone thinks that they have a very technical, unique process. And for the most part, they do. The way that we absorb all that is a very specific set of questions we ask them about, what value do you believe you provide to customers? Then we’ll ask a number of their customers, how would you define the value that this organization brings? So you bridge that gap. And then you talk to employees as well: how do you define the work that you do? So you start to paint this picture of, what does the transaction look like between organization and customer? And ultimately, you start to ask the customer, beyond their affiliation with this company, what problems do they have?
Zach Murphy: So at the end of the day, bridging that gap is really about solving problems for the customer, rather than trying to solve something. And that’s the biggest message nuance that we help our clients with.
Sam Schutte: That’s interesting because I think a lot of firms that I’ve worked with in this space in the past, their pitch or their unique fire they sell is the storytelling and the messaging and all this- [crosstalk 00:04:22].
Zach Murphy: Right.
Sam Schutte: “We’re going to wordsmith the heck out of this stuff until it’s so compelling.” Right?
Zach Murphy: Right.
Sam Schutte: But they don’t necessarily talk to those end customers. And I’ve certainly seen in my past in my career that sometimes companies don’t really know what they’re selling, like what the actual value is. Right?
Zach Murphy: That’s exactly right. There’s a couple things I want to mention there. There is a difference between selling a product and then selling the value. What is the value of the product to the customer?
Zach Murphy: But the other point that you were talking about with storytelling: whatever people call it, at the end of the day, the one question that we always start with is, how do you help your customer? How does your customer define the value? One question you can ask your customers: if you were going to refer us, what would you tell your peer? How would you define the way that we helped you? And a lot of times when it comes to technology, it’s not the tool itself. It’s not, “Oh, well, they helped us install HubSpot.” No. It’s, how did they help us understand the value of HubSpot? How did they prepare our team to use it effectively? How did they really coach us along in terms of recognizing the value and understanding how to use the technology to improve our process, not install the technology to solve a problem for us?
Sam Schutte: You mentioned HubSpot. What are some key trends in the work that you’re doing for clients that you’re seeing?
Zach Murphy: Yeah. So this is a great question, because just the other day, we’re in process with this potential new prospect that asked for “marketing services.” So inevitably, we get on there and try to understand, what is it that you mean by marketing services? Because that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
Zach Murphy: What we’re hearing most frequently is, “We have a sales team that needs help with more qualified leads. We have a marketing team that is not doing too much.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat across the table from a president or CEO and they say, “You know what? I don’t even know what our marketing team does.” And that’s a problem. So in the B-to-B space specifically, we really talk about bridging that gap between marketing and sales. But really it comes down to, we don’t know how to prioritize all the different methods, the different technologies. We need a predictable way to understand our approach to growing. That, at the end of the day, is what they want.
Zach Murphy: They will often get distracted by saying, “We need to rebrand. We need a pay-per-click campaign. We need a new website.” And we always ask why. We always get them to admit, “We’re trying to grow. We don’t understand the right way to approach redoing our website so that it helps us grow.”
Sam Schutte: Got you. Yeah, that’s funny. It reminds me, a number of years ago, I was at a group. And I met with someone that … They traveled from a pretty far distance to do this strategy session I was in. It was a bunch of consultants and stuff. This person had 100,000 people on their email list and all this stuff, but some problems with, I guess, revenue or whatever. And their whole thing was, “We got to rebrand. We got to rebrand.” I said, “I don’t know that it matters what you call yourself if you have 100,000 subscribers.” Right?
Zach Murphy: Our whole perspective is this, if we could sum Grey Matter in one statement, it is: “Single activities do not drive revenue. It is an integrated process.” So it’s not a matter of pay-per-click working, but if pay-per-click is intended to drive leads to your website, then what happens? You drive leads, what comes next? How do you turn a website visitor into a lead, a lead into a conversation, into a proposal, into a deal? It all needs to work together.
Zach Murphy: We see this all the time. The reason companies get “burned” by an agency is because they come in with the expectation that rebranding or doing a new website … We have a client right now, spent $40,000, $50,000 on rebranding and getting a new website, did not touch any of the content on their website. And quite frankly, they expected the phone to just start ringing more without really saying, “What value do you provide to clients? Is that communicated effectively? How do you drive people to your website? What do they do when they’re there?” You have to understand the roles and responsibilities of these platforms in the system.
Sam Schutte: To your point, every piece of the chain is important. We did a-
Zach Murphy: Absolutely.
Sam Schutte: We did a direct mail campaign a number of years ago, a long time ago. And it was a nice piece. I mean, obviously they put stamps on it, went out. It was fine. And actually, the companies, the targets were fine, but I had it outsourced, wasn’t watching it close enough. I look at it, and we are sending this postcard or this brochure to the CEO of these companies, of like Bristol-Myers Squibb. I’m like, “Why are we doing this? This guy is not going to read this freaking piece of mail.” Right? That was just a huge oversight because it should’ve gone to the IT manager or whatever, somebody down the line. Because the CEO of a huge company is not going to open his mail and read your thing. It’s just silly.
Zach Murphy: Right. His assistant might, I guess.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. Probably not even that, right? I think there’s some parallels there, a little bit, to what we do with software, because you can upgrade code, put it on this little server, or don’t document it well, or you had the wrong requirements, and it doesn’t matter. It’ll be a fail. Right?
Zach Murphy: It’s all about the implementation. It’s what’s the problem that these efforts are solving? It’s not just blindly implementing these efforts because you heard your website looks stale. Okay. What does that mean to your business? What is your business trying to achieve? How will doing a new website, if that’s even what you have to do, improve that?
Sam Schutte: Well, and one of the things, there was a recent Deloitte 100 article in the Cincinnati Inquirer, here in town-
Zach Murphy: I saw that.
Sam Schutte: And it was talking about the top three things that companies are struggling with. Can you talk about your thoughts on that?
Zach Murphy: Yeah. It’s great. So the number one thing, the elephant in the room, is certainly a recession. That’s a bigger thing. Our thoughts on how do you really defend against a recession is really about, are you oriented to serve your customer? Is the value of what you do to your customer seen as a cost or an investment? Can they live without you? Easier said than done, but that’s how you really start to recession proof your business, if you will.
Zach Murphy: The second thing that they were worried about, and these are businesses that are doing tens of millions of dollars into the billions of dollars, the fast pace of technology and understanding how to use technology effectively. I can’t tell you how many clients we’ve had, even prospects, where they’ve purchased an expensive piece of technology, and they haven’t implemented it correctly. And as a result, it just becomes a cost, rather than a benefit to the team. And not to mention, as soon as they install something, especially if it’s a big enterprise-level piece of software, it’s already out of date. So how do they really improve it, maintain it, continue to grow with it? You could probably speak a lot more to that point.
Zach Murphy: But the biggest thing, and this is something that we see a lot … The third aspect was implementing a strategy. So one, how do you really understand what a strategy should be? How do you pick an objective and a business goal? How do you formulate the right steps and methodologies to approach that? But more importantly, how do you implement it?
Zach Murphy: So one of the things that we’re looking forward at is, you have a lot of research firms out there that are trying to look at a marketplace, look at a consumer set, develop an approach for a company to roll out a new product, but very rarely does that research seem to translate into actually executable activities that impact the business in a positive way. Usually, it’s two or three different companies doing the research, developing the strategy, and then executing. And it’s funny that you’re seeing, at the enterprise level, companies like Deloitte, and PWC, and IBM are starting to buy agencies because they see that they have the buy-in with the C-suite. They have the trust, and they have the evidence to show, “We’ve talked to your customers. We’ve studied the marketplace. We have the data to prove that a new strategy is a need.”
Zach Murphy: And then the agencies get paid all day long because they are what actually happens. That’s what people can see. “I see the ad. I see the new website. I see the branding.” It’s harder for me to see research and to see the value of that. So what we’re really examining moving forward is, how do you effectively bridge the gap between research and implementation? And that seems to be a big concern of theirs. How do you actually make it work? I don’t need data. I need to turn data into information. And more importantly, what better business decisions do I make as a result of this information?
Sam Schutte: It’s interesting. If you own an agency or any kind of consulting company really, depending on what you want to call it, when you look at your enterprise value and talk about “Well, what if I want to sell this business some day-” [crosstalk 00:13:10]
Zach Murphy: Right.
Sam Schutte: And typically it’s, “Well, look at our client roster. Look at our technicians or our designers.” Or whatever you want to call them, programmers, whatever the people are. And there’s a value for that, yes. But it’s not like you’re a product company, that you have all this code or you have some unique patent on a whatever. But if you say, “We have all this IP and data around the research we did because we went out and we talked to these customers and we did this stuff” … Which, I mean, I know there’s plenty of firms that do that, but I don’t know that that’s something that … If you’re starting a marketing company or if you’re a small marketing company, you don’t necessarily think of that as an asset you have that has value. Right?
Zach Murphy: Yeah absolutely. And it is, in my opinion, the largest value because it’s not as if websites don’t work anymore, or cold-calling or blogging. It’s, “Do you understand the value you bring to your customers enough to speak to them on that level?” And that’s what the research will prove. If you do the effective research, that is your marketing plan. You’ll know where they are, what they want to hear, why they value you, the five Ws, and the how. That is what’s often overlooked, and that’s the biggest opportunity, in my opinion, in the agency space.
Sam Schutte: Can you talk a little bit about … Mentioning agencies, what are some of your philosophies and values that are important to you that you try to bring to your business and your clients that are different from what you see out there when you look at big agencies and just others out there?
Zach Murphy: So I have a lot of friends that work in the agency space. I came from the agency space. My first three jobs out of college were in agencies. A couple of the big things that we would see …
Zach Murphy: So I’ll start with the three values that we have at Grey Matter, are transparency. That’s the first. Why are we doing what we’re doing? Why are we doing pay-per-click? Why are we doing a website? Why are we doing any of the series of activities that is in your integrated process? That’s missing in the agency world a lot of times. And the reason that a lot of agencies don’t really highlight is that, “Well, you’re getting pay-per-click Mr. or Mrs. Client because we have a pay-per-click team we got to keep busy.” So it has a lot more to do with me, selfishly, than you. So transparency’s the biggest thing, and we purposely stay agnostic for our clients. We hire strategists, rather than subject matter experts in-house so that we can stay agnostic.
Zach Murphy: The second thing is measurability. A lot of people talk about measurement. What does it really mean? Does the client really care about the vanity metrics, email open rates or click rates, and stuff like that? Not as much as what we call business metrics. Is your ad converting somebody to a visit on your website? Is that website visitor converting to a conversation, converting to somebody who gets a proposal and a deal? So we try to connect the dots, and from a measurability standpoint, we hold ourselves accountable to one metric with clients. The ultimate metric is, are you growing? Are you getting more customers from our efforts? Yes or no?
Zach Murphy: And the third thing that is absolutely void in the agency space is accountability. What happens if this doesn’t work? Are you just going to abscond with my money, and then that’s it? That’s why we interact with so many prospects and clients. Most of them become our clients. They feel like they’ve been burned by an agency. And we explain, “Well, this is what happened. This is probably why you feel like you just spent $50,000 or $100,000 and you got nothing for it.” It’s not even that the agencies are purposely misleading them. It’s just that we do branding. And they’re not bothering to take a step back and say to the client, “Here’s the impact of branding. Is your brand stale? Yes, perhaps. Is that the biggest gap? No. That’s probably not it.” Like I said, it’s an integrated process. When you rebrand, how does that impact everything else? And you need to change everything else. You need to understand that …
Zach Murphy: The analogy we often use is that it takes 10 lily pads to get from one side of the pond to the next, to get from finding the right customers to them becoming advocates for your brand or your company. And each lily pad is a different tactic. It’s an ad. It’s a website. It’s a conversation. And if there’s a missing lily pad in there, you obviously know that the frog’s not going to be able to get to the next leg. So if the process is not really aligned, that’s where the issue comes. And chances are, your stale brand has an impact on that, but it’s not everything. It’s not the only thing.
Sam Schutte: So let’s talk about branding a bit because I think, for folks in technology, particularly if you come from that background, branding is this hand-wavy whatever. That’s not even a real thing sometimes, right? But it is a real thing, I think. What makes a bad brand versus a good brand do you think?
Zach Murphy: So you got to put your money where your mouth is, right? I mean, today, a good brand is something that is appealing from an aesthetic level, and that’s mostly what people think about when they think of brands. I know how Tide looks. I know how Apple looks. Use the iceberg analogy, if you will. The brand is 80 or 90% how that company makes people feel. The part about branding that is not as talked about or emphasized for Apple, for instance, is the quality of their products. Easy example here. Everybody acknowledges that they’re quality products, but not enough people understand what goes into that engineering to make that a part of their brand.
Zach Murphy: If you’re going to be a premium brand, you very much need to embody that. So not enough brands really live it. They talk about things. They say, “We are trustworthy.” Well, if you’ve got to say it, can I really trust you? Or can you somehow explain to me that we’re quality? How do we know Apple’s quality, beyond all the parading around that they do? What other organization can put their product on a white background and that’s a brilliant ad? It speaks for itself.
Sam Schutte: Doesn’t even have their name on it. It’s just a picture of an Apple- [crosstalk 00:19:04]
Zach Murphy: That’s exactly right. And that’s an easy, cliché example, but companies need to live it. They need to really put their money where their mouth is, and they need to understand what customers value. What does our customer really need? And just meet their expectations. Too many people are focused on, “Whoa, we need to blow these things out of the water.” Yes, just do what you say. You’re going to be better than 90% of the competition.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. Well, and it’s interesting, that how do people feel thing. I think there’s some very big brands out there that … They rely just on the fact that they have a really popular name, everybody knows who they are. Maybe their logo hasn’t changed, maybe it has, whatever. That’s all they put into it, and then they wonder why they’re struggling against, say, much cooler, hipper brands out there. I mean, you look at something like Tesla, for instance. It’s not because of the logo. People don’t even really … I think if you ask most people to draw Tesla’s logo, they couldn’t. Right? There’s a whole lot more going on there beyond even just the fact that it’s a vehicle or that it’s a- [crosstalk 00:20:06]
Zach Murphy: Right.
Sam Schutte: Right? And you look at other companies, like Kia or something. For instance, Kia just changed their logo, I noticed, recently, which-
Zach Murphy: I actually did not notice that, even as a car guy.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, it’s like a script K sort of now, as opposed to just saying the word Kia. So it’s a step up. You look at it, like “What is that? What kind of car is that?” But what’s their brand?
Zach Murphy: Kia and Hyundai have done a tremendous job because they’ve focused on engineering a brilliant car. They really have.
Sam Schutte: When you think about them, you think about the warranty.
Zach Murphy: Yeah.
Sam Schutte: Right? And quality. That’s the first thing that pops in your head, right?
Zach Murphy: And they’ve built incredible cars. I mean, what you can get for $50,000 or $60,000 in a premium Hyundai now. I mean, most people would say, “Well, I’ll buy and Audi for that much money.” But when you see that it’s on the same playing field as a $100,000 car, I mean, it’s pretty impressive.
Zach Murphy: I’ll give you one other quick thought, example, on the bad branding side: Timer Warner Cable. I love to pick on them. They spend an unbelievable amount of money marketing to me, and I’m already their customer. And they treat me like garbage. This is a perfect example of spending money on the things that they think matter, on rebranding, on getting a lot of mailers out. What they’re not thinking about investing in is their call center. When I call and they’ve got some, insert adjective here, ill-prepared person on the other end of the phone, that’s an issue because that is often the only person I’ll ever interact with at the company. And if that’s a bad experience, that’s a bad brand.
Zach Murphy: They never invest in call centers, and you got to go through an endless amount of digital hoops, pressing buttons on your phone. And all the while, how much money are they spending marketing to me? The only way to get any attention is to threaten to cancel. It’s like this whole show. And all they have to do is invest a little bit more time, effort, and training into their call centers. So that, to me, is a perfect example of assuming the brand is just all this outbound marketing, rather than actually listening.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. Well, and that’s why companies in that industry are, number one, ripe for disruption, two, being disrupted, and ultimately they’re going to be destroyed because they just cannot compete with, for instance, cord cutting and all the trends. If they had absolutely stellar service, that people would say, “They take care of me when I need it,” people would have loyalty. I mean, it’s like-
Zach Murphy: Absolutely.
Sam Schutte: As a commodity, you think about life insurance. Your life insurance company, you better feel loved or they’ll dump them in a heartbeat. Why not? And there are life insurance companies that do make you feel loved. Right? And they do a good job of that. I think the lifespan of some of these companies that have that tradition of poor service, which the cable companies are the best … It’s almost like a meme practically. Right?
Zach Murphy: It is.
Sam Schutte: They’re not going to make it in the long run.
Zach Murphy: I really believe that. And you mentioned insurance. It’s like, I almost expect that if I ever have to call an insurance company, it’s going to be a bad experience. And that is so crazy to me. I mean, that’s ultimately the big differentiator for any commodity, is service. Nobody values that. It drives me crazy, but it’s the biggest branding opportunity that exists.
Sam Schutte: Well, and it’s funny because I’ve had two recent interviews here on the podcast with folks who, their businesses are not necessarily the most revolutionary, super high tech, crazy innovative AI software. But what they talked about was their service, the quality of their service. That’s why customers love them. A friend of mine who owns a printing business was on, Bryan Vielhauer. That’s what his business is. He knows that, yes, quality printing’s important, but he’s not the only one that can do that.
Zach Murphy: Right. That’s the printer.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. And yeah, he’s got to invest in that and do all that stuff. And I think a lot of companies don’t focus enough on just the quality of their service, and those that do seem like they really take off.
Zach Murphy: Absolutely. I mean, it is the level of service. It’s the only differentiator. Chick-fil-A, for instance. I mean, they say please and thank you, and they’re a revolutionary business. And it’s really quite simple. Their chicken’s fine. It’s not top-notch. I don’t know what chicken is top-notch necessarily. But they say please and thank you, and it’s revolutionary. Oh, wow. We’ve blown their minds. And it’s like, “Well, they were just polite.” And it’s kind of-
Sam Schutte: They have other branding issues.
Zach Murphy: They also have other branding issues, but that’s their battle, not ours.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. Thank God. So what are some tools you use for clients, technology tools and software tools, that you really like? I don’t know if there’s any lesser known ones, or something that you think people should be looking into, or you get a lot of value out of.
Zach Murphy: Yeah. We use an incredible amount of tools, and I think it is the combination of how we use these tools together and effectively that really make it work. HubSpot is no secret to most people. It’s a CRM, and it’s a marketing automation tool. We really have gotten deep into how to make that work for ourselves and how to make that work for our clients.
Zach Murphy: I think the biggest conversation around technology is that more often than not, we’ll interact with a client that has an email platform, or they have some sort of big system, like a Salesforce or a Microsoft Dynamics, and they’re not sure what to do with it. They assume that purchasing the tool is going to solve a problem for them, rather than thinking about it from the approach of “Well, what is my process, and how does this technology serve that process, automate certain aspects of it?” So that’s really how we help our clients see the benefit of technology, is really say, “Wow, if we’re going to use this CRM, say Salesforce, we got to understand what are the key milestones within your sales process, understand how do you get people from one milestone to the next.”
Zach Murphy: There can’t be any ambiguity in that sales process. That’s why you see a lot of lack of adoption with CRMs, for instance, is because salespeople are not quite sure, “What is the objective on each touchpoint with the customer? And how do I get them to go down one path or the next so that I know definitively what I’m logging into the system?” I’ll admit, there’s nothing hugely groundbreaking about that approach, but the pragmatism is what’s missing in a lot of sales and marketing. I think that’s part of what makes us successful with clients, is the use of technology in a meaningful way. A lot of people get enamored with all the features of any of these platforms. They do a million things. You probably only need to turn two, three, maybe four features on at a time. And that’s going to make 99% of what you do more effective.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. I think you got to make sure those tools line up with your strategy. Right? I mean, we had a customer once, pretty big customer, they could’ve just bought any CRM they wanted. But what they wanted to measure, the two metrics that mattered, was their dollar quoted and their dollar sold. Right? Because they knew that if they just went out and quoted more, because of what nature of the type of stuff they were selling, which was kind of like a commodity, they would sell more. Right?
Sam Schutte: Well, most CRMs didn’t necessarily just measure how much stuff actually went to quote. It wasn’t a metric. It’s either open, won, or loss. Right? So you know if you lost it. You know if you won it. But open, well, was it actually quoted or not? Was it just thought about quoting it? Did it actually go out on paper? And then they drove all kind of metrics about that. So we built them a custom CRM because nothing else could do it.
Sam Schutte: So you can imagine, that customer would probably be very tempted to go out and buy a Salesforce [inaudible 00:28:06] and think, “Well, it’s going to solve all my problems. It’s a CRM. It’s the leader.” Right? But it doesn’t do that. Or, I mean, it can probably if you customize it.
Zach Murphy: Well, and the other benefit to doing something with you is, they have a relationship with you. So when they need to understand, “Well, how do I make this system do this?” they know that they can call you and get reliable service. I mean, we have a client who has had Microsoft Dynamics for a few years, and they’ve had a couple different implementation shops working with them. They can’t even get them to answer the phone for simple tasks and stuff. That’s something that people overlook because it’s not talked about enough, but those are the most frustrating things and usually the major bottlenecks that make a system really work or not work for a company.
Sam Schutte: Now, what about … You mentioned that when most businesses start, you find your initial opportunities to do networking or referrals and this sort of stuff. But eventually, if you want to really grow, you have to figure out a way to go out and find business. So if we look at that cold marketing and the outbound, making people aware that have never heard of you, what do you think works there nowadays? And what has the trend been?
Zach Murphy: Yeah. I mean, what works for us is really understanding, what problem are we solving for customers? And it’s a statement that we hear tossed around a lot. If somebody calls you and is just trying to badger you to buy something, that’s not usually going to work. And that is the traditional approach to cold-calling or cold emailing or whatever the case may be. What we have found is that if you give … One of the major levers you can pull in sales is educate, be problem-centric versus product-centric. If you’re always just trying to sell, you’re trying to get stuff for yourself, rather than trying to help somebody understand a problem they don’t understand. Do you, as a organization, understand the real problem that your customer has? And they’re going to have a number of different problems that you help with. But what is, on a day-to-day basis, really bothering them? What are they really trying to understand?
Zach Murphy: From a cold outreach standpoint, it’s really about “Hey, we have a perspective on this particular problem. We have discovered a real insight on what is creating that pain.” That’s the real insight that can separate you from your competition. That’s usually what gets people to perk up. You know what? It’s unique for an agency to come to us and explain to us why our website “isn’t working” quote-unquote, rather than saying, “Hey, would you like us to rebrand? Why don’t you give us some money? And then we’ll make everything go away.” It’s not that cold-calling can’t work. It’s become less effective, inevitably, because behaviors are changing with technology.
Zach Murphy: But email, for instance, is a very overlooked tool in marketing, and yet, it is the, by far, most effective marketing channel for the business-to-business space because it is something that is ubiquitously used. And it is something that, if you have the right message, you can get through. You absolutely can. So usually, it’s “Do we understand our customers enough, and understand their problems, and how we help them?” That’s usually the biggest gap.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. It sounds like you’re saying if you’re producing or presenting people with value, meaning you’re saying, “Look, here’s something I’ve developed,” a white paper or something, that that’s a lot more effective to reach out to someone, even if it’s a cold-call or if it’s email, whatever, to offer them that, as opposed to the many, many, many LinkedIn messages you get that it’s like, “Can we talk? Can we talk? Can we talk?” It’s like, “I’m not talking to you.”
Zach Murphy: You’re asking for something instead of giving.
Sam Schutte: Well, and you’re asking for too much. Right? But if somebody messages me and says, “Hey, there’s a webinar I think you’d like,” “There’s a white paper,” “Hey, we did this intensive research and created a white paper,” I’ll jump on that every time. If somebody says, “We have this white paper that talks about how software development consulting companies can find blah, blah,” it’s like well, you’re talking about me. So it’s targeted. Right? That works. But all the various people saying, “Hey, can we meet and talk about your estate planning?” I’m like, “What?”
Zach Murphy: Right. Yeah. Absolutely not. And using that estate planning example, what impacts of today … Nobody really thinks about estate planning until it’s too late.
Sam Schutte: Well, if I have an estate, I got somebody already.
Zach Murphy: Yeah. You’re probably good. But the other thing would be, how does that benefit or impact me today? Just to use that example, that’s what not enough people are doing, is “I’m thinking about today. I’m not thinking about 40 years from now.”
Sam Schutte: We were talking about strategy and process and alignment on that. I’ll try to get some free consulting out of you here now.
Zach Murphy: Sure.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. We’ll go through a live case study. So if we look at our podcast here, we’re creating content. We’re putting it on our website. People can go and subscribe to it through iTunes and a dozen other channels. We’ve got transcriptions of 10,000 words out there. We’ve got YouTube video versions of it. All this stuff happening. You talked a little bit about driving people to that content. Let’s assume that it’s valuable content. Driving people to that, measuring who gets there, and what they’re supposed to do once they’re there. What would you do if you were trying to promote a podcast like this? How would you figure out that strategy? What do you think some options for strategy are?
Zach Murphy: So assuming it is good content, what that indicates to me is, I know who I’m helping, and I know how I’m helping them. So I would not overlook … And this goes back to your cold marketing question, outreach. One of the other ways that you can get somebody’s attention is to ask questions. Ask good questions. So if I know that we want to talk to manufacturing firms in Cincinnati … This is a method that I use, and I’m genuinely curious about this. It’s not just lip service. I want to learn about their marketing and sales challenges. “Hey, when was the last time you really felt confident about this?” That’s a bad example. Really digging in to understand what their frustrations are.
Zach Murphy: I know that they probably have frustrations. But as simple as saying, “Can I buy you lunch and just understand this? We help companies like yours. I’m not trying to sell you anything. As a case study for me. This is a favor to me. I acknowledge that, but I’m going to buy you lunch. You got to eat every day. And can I understand more about what you’re doing?” In a similar way, I might do that for a podcast. I might start doing some one-to-one connections but really dig into the details of what this podcast can do.
Zach Murphy: Hey, the last thing anybody needs is another technology podcast. The difference between your podcast specifically, I think is, how do we put technology to work for our business? That’s the only reason we do it. We want to create some sort of solution in technology. So I would think about, what is the value that the listener gets out of this? And start talking about it in that way, and start organically, and potentially on a paid platform, pay-per-click or boosting posts. Really talk about that in a meaningful way.
Zach Murphy: And I know that’s not necessarily a groundbreaking answer. It’s not an aha moment. But the first thing I’ll preface with the marketing and sales strategies that work is that there’s no golden goose egg out there. The more you understand about your customer, the more everything you’re doing today will become more effective. If you change nothing other than tweaking a few ways that you talk about yourself, that will have the most profound impact, unless, of course, you’re doing something overtly incorrect or counterintuitive.
Sam Schutte: That’s a good point because I’ve thought about saying, “Well, why don’t I spend a couple hundred bucks or whatever on some Facebook ads, boost, and say, ‘Hey'” … So I’ve thought, just for example, we could say, “Hey, it’s this podcast in Cincinnati about business and technology innovation.” Boom. That’s it. But is that why people are listening to it? What is the … Or is it-
Zach Murphy: To me, it would be more, “Have you ever had questions about, did I buy the right technology? Are we getting the most out of this platform that we could? Is there another tool that could work more effectively for us? If you’ve ever had these questions, why don’t you tune in to this podcast?” And getting as specific as possible as well. Promote a certain podcast with somebody, not just for the marquee name. But really say, “The interesting insight that I learned from this podcast was this.” Just be genuine and conversational about it.
Zach Murphy: And you’d be surprised at how far $50 or $100 will go either on LinkedIn or Facebook. And use it as a little bit of a test. The biggest thing is testing as well, which you are starting to allude to. Put a couple ads up, and really note, what is the language difference in each of these ads? Share two different insights that you got from the same podcast. See which one gets more clicks.
Zach Murphy: That’s the other biggest thing, is not just expecting to land your Moby Dick right off the bat but really understanding “We’re going after this thing two different ways. Which one’s more effective?” And you start to build on that. That makes everything that you do an asset because you have all that base of learning, rather than just “Well, we threw a billboard up on 71, and I don’t even know if it was effective or not. But we spent that money, and I guess that worked.”
Sam Schutte: That’s interesting that you mentioned assets. That’s a key thing that I’ve really been thinking about because I think if you were to look at … I don’t know if this is the case for a lot of businesses or not, but our marketing dollars in the last, say … We’ve been in business 12 years. How many of those marketing dollars went towards valuable assets that we still have, versus they were flittered out the window on some advertising thingy that was a whatever? It’s here and it’s gone. It’s a Google ad that doesn’t actually have any tangible anything. It’s gone.
Sam Schutte: And I mean, far and way, 10 to one, it’s been the latter category, a Google ad you buy. You pay a ton of money for. In my industry, it’s like $60, $70 a click. Right? It’s insane.
Zach Murphy: Those are tough.
Sam Schutte: When I first started using pay-per-click back in 2003, maybe four-
Zach Murphy: Early adopter.
Sam Schutte: Very early. It was Overture at the point, whenever that was around. Then- [crosstalk 00:38:37]
Zach Murphy: Right.
Sam Schutte: -bought it. We were paying 10 cents a click, 20 cents a click. Now it’s $80 a click. But the idea though of developing assets, like if you go and spend $50,000, let’s say, on a series of 10 awesome white papers, no one can take those from you. You have those forever.
Zach Murphy: Right. Content is an asset. Even using the pay-per-click example: understanding what words and phrases and specific ads worked and didn’t work, you’re amassing your negative keyword list every week. I mean, that’s what we tell customers, is that this is an asset. We’re building a skyscraper, and every floor is something that you have. We can’t take away from you, whether you continue on with us or not.
Sam Schutte: It’s true. I mean, that is an asset, that knowledge about the data and keywords. What we found from pay-per-click, which you’ll probably think is funny, is we had tons of keywords. We tried over a long period of time. A lot of money, close to six figures probably on Google ads. Something like 90% of every click, no matter how much we paid, no matter how much we bid, would all go to the term “software space company.” It’s like nobody searches for anything else. Nobody searches for any other word. And Google down votes or makes inactive 99% of other words because you think, “Well, people are out there searching for custom development company, or maybe they’re searching for” … We like to think we are a custom solution partner. Nobody searches for that ever.
Zach Murphy: Well, and that’s a very good point, is what are they searching for. You might want to be seen as this, but … So for instance, we would not necessarily define ourselves strictly as a digital marketing firm, but a lot of people are interested in that. So the other important thing to understand about pay-per-click ads is, where are they going? Most people will just dump the visitors on their homepage, and they haven’t thought about how to optimize the language on their homepage. They haven’t thought about, “What happens next?”
Zach Murphy: So that’s the biggest opportunity we’re evaluating with a number of clients in the past and currently, is if they have an existing website that we did not do, what we’ll say is, “Well, we’ll start driving traffic to your website, but if we see a real gap in terms of … If we send, say, 100 people to a webpage and nobody converts on it, nobody fills out a form, nobody goes to another page, we know that that page is not delivering on the promise that the ad made.” So that’s, again, going back to our integrated process of understanding getting a lead and click is one good thing, but you ultimately need to determine, are those leads turning into actually business opportunities for a business?
Sam Schutte: So how do you measure that return on investment?
Zach Murphy: Yeah. So for ROI with us, what we’re looking at is understanding what are the key milestones of your sales process and what roles and responsibilities are people going to play. So if we’re running pay-per-click ads, as we are for a number of clients, what we’re doing is approaching it with our best practices, a lot of what we just talked about. Once they get to a landing page, we’re measuring the amount of traffic to that landing page, but then we measure, what are they doing once they’re there? So there’s a couple different tools. There’s a tool called Hotjar, which is essentially a heat map. So you can understand, are people spending time reading the messages you want them to?
Zach Murphy: The best way to measure conversion in this sense is, are people clicking on your ad? Yes. If they get to your page, are they filling out a form? Say you’re running ads for software solution for companies with sales problems. Okay. Don’t just take them to the Unstoppable Software homepage. Take them to a page that’s specifically talking about the issues, pros and cons of certain CRMs, pros and cons of the way that they’re approaching it. Share those insights with them, and make a clear call to action. Not just “Get in touch today,” but rather “Hey, would you like to download this white paper on this thing? Would you like to have a free consultation hour to better understand what you can do?”
Zach Murphy: And again, we’re just driving value. If you’re just giving lip service to people once they get on a landing page, or it’s a sales page of “Buy our thing” … It’s not bad to sell. Where people miss on selling is not connecting the value of their product, or service, or overall offering to solving the problem for the customer.
Sam Schutte: Are there any particular verticals that you find yourself working in a lot here in town?
Zach Murphy: Yeah. So our three industries that we like are manufacturing, industrial firms, industrial automation, and the like, and professional services firms. So one of the things I realized in the agency space … And in Cincinnati, you have a lot of retail companies. You have a lot of consumer packaged goods companies. I didn’t really like selling commodity products because I was, as a communication strategy person, more attracted to problem-solution fits. And in the B-to-B space, a lot of organizations across professional services, industrial manufacturing have real solutions to problems. And more often than not, what really gets us excited is that the company is doing awesome work, has a lot of case studies and success stories that they just haven’t bothered to share. So they’re walking the walk. They’re not talking the talk. So we help them talk the talk to back up what they’re already doing. That’s what we really like, is when there’s a real problem-solution fit.
Zach Murphy: The more commoditized a firm is, that’s not the nail in the coffin. The real nail in the coffin would be, do you have any ambition to expand what you do, to define what you do in a better way? To say, “Yes, we sell nails, but we also have the most expedited delivery process,” so that we can talk about value and a solution, which is a combination of a product and a service, rather than just saying, “Hey, we have nails, and our only point of competition is, did we get to you first? Are we the cheapest?” Whatever the case. That’s hard to compete on, especially with the days of Amazon.
Sam Schutte: I guess when you look at that professional services vertical that you work in … So outside of marketing technologies, what are some technologies or innovations that those firms are using that’s changing the way they actually operate that they’re wanting to get word out about and present through their marketing?
Zach Murphy: Yeah. So you see with professional services, they’re, a lot of times, using a piece of technology as almost like a SaaS product. And they have something, a SaaS product for instance, that heavily supplements the manual service labor of anything that they do. And what they’re not able to do is really articulate what that package deal looks like. “We’re a financial services firm, but we have this custom algorithm that allows us to pick better stock than anybody else.” And they don’t really tell that story effectively. They can’t speak to the outcomes that that delivers. “Hey, we don’t need to charge you as much because our process is 10 times faster, and the results to you are hugely impactful in ways A, B, and C.”
Zach Murphy: But they have a hard time really articulating the outcome and the value, rather than just talking about, “Well, we have this algorithm that” … And they confuse people. They bore people. They don’t really … A lot of times, these firms are doing awesome work. They’re not good at selling it. They’re not good at talking about it.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. That’s interesting because, I mean, if you look at financial services firms, say wealth manager or something like that, there’s some huge disruptors out there in the field, like Betterment and some of these other … I mean, there’s dozens of them that are these fintech sites. If you give them all your assets, for instance, and they’ll show you. Like, “Look, we’ll put it in index funds, and we’ll give you just as good returns.” But it costs you a quarter of a percent, instead of the industry average of whatever. Right?
Sam Schutte: The only thing holding or protecting the traditional financial services firm is that people think, “I’m going to put my money out on the internet. Wait a minute, that’s scary.” Right? But as soon as they gain trust that those platforms … I mean, those platforms are all FDIC insured. They’re just as good as any bank. Right? So they better be doing something unique and then talking about it a lot.
Zach Murphy: Here’s a free pro tip for any financial firm out there: quit talking like a finance person. Start talking like a human. And quit promising that you can predict the market better than anyone else because the number one finance guy in the world, Mr. Warren Buffett, will be the first to admit he can’t pick the market better than anybody else. So quit promising me that, and start talking about your approach to investing and how you customize an approach for me and my family’s needs-
Sam Schutte: Or your approach to customer service. Right?
Zach Murphy: Well, that’s the third point is … We’ve been in such a boom economy for the last 10 years, and you’ve seen this rise of the robo advisor. Those work great in a bowl economy. But what happens when the economy goes down and people panic, and they want to talk to somebody? The best financial managers are not even the best stock pickers, for instance, or they pick the best funds. It’s the ones that can talk people off the ledge. How do you really articulate that? How do you build that trust and keep people calm when they want to panic?
Zach Murphy: I mean, I have a financial advisor that’s sending me emails all the time about this market trend and that market trend. I think the biggest opportunity is to be more transparent. I think, like my financial manager is, be transparent about things. Don’t try and hide warning signs. Tell me what you’re doing about the warning signs. Help me understand that you’re taking the appropriate action based on truck driver trends being down. There’s very, very simple, seemingly boring market indicators that good financial managers actually watch that nobody really seems to talk about.
Sam Schutte: Kind of go that extra mile. A friend of mine is in that business. He has a customer that’s a pretty high net worth individual, very high net worth. There was a situation where this person got into a business and was like, “I need someone to run this because something’s not working.” So this person basically went and ran the company. I mean, didn’t charge anything. He just said, “I will take over running this company as CEO for some period of time to try to get things fixed.”
Zach Murphy: Holy cow.
Sam Schutte: All just because this guy has so much with them. But that makes sense. This is a customer with a problem. Do you want him to go find somebody else to do it? I mean, what if that somebody else at, I don’t know, whatever company also would say, “Well, I’ll also manage your assets for you?” You could lose him.
Zach Murphy: I hate to say it, but the secret to marketing in sales is to care. People say all the time, “Well Zach, that’s dumb.” And what’s going to make a company recession proof? Can I rely on you when we are down and out? And will you stay with me? Will you support me? And if I can’t rely on that person or company … I mean, look, anybody’s going to experience problems. I’m not going to tell you that we don’t have the occasional issue with our customers. But part of the reason our customers are very sticky is because I’m very transparent and open and honest with them, and I don’t try and hide behind things that don’t work out. I talk to them very pragmatically. “Hey, this didn’t work out. Here’s why it didn’t work out. Here’s what we’re doing to fix that problem.” And I think they appreciate that because I can promise you, you’re not going to get that level of service with other agencies.
Sam Schutte: What are some new areas outside your standard area of focus that you’re moving into, you’re innovating, and creating some new offerings within your business?
Zach Murphy: So there’s two things that we’re excited about. The first thing is a joint venture with a company called Braintrust. They have developed a science-based approach to marketing and sales. So they have three products, neuromessaging, neuroselling, and coaching. Neuromessaging is all about understanding neurologically, how do our brains make decisions? How do human beings process information and make decisions? And it has a lot more to do with stories and problems, rather than, oh, statistics and products. So Jeff Bloomfield, the founder of Braintrust, is all about really differentiating yourself and helping you create a story that resonates with people. And then second to that is really understanding, how do we take that message and train your sales force to implement that correctly in conversations across certain media and collateral pieces? And then the training and the coaching is the ongoing support.
Zach Murphy: So that really solidifies the integration with marketing and sales for us, for Grey Matter. If you consider Grey Matter really … At the end of the day, what we help with is deliver more qualified leads to customers, and we really help sales teams clarify their sales process. What Braintrust adds to that mix is a much deeper analysis of the customer and the message. So it strengthens us across the board in that regard, but it also really provides the support for the actual business development managers and reps that we weren’t providing before. So that’s what we’re most excited …
Zach Murphy: The second thing that we’re really excited about is looking at, what is really going to help an agency differentiate? I mean, we get asked all the time, “There’s 45,000 agencies in the U.S. What makes Grey Matter any different?” And the biggest opportunity that we were alluding to a little bit earlier is really understanding, how well do we understand the marketplace and your customer? And I say “your customer” speaking to a prospect. And the more that we can understand that, I think the better off it’s going to make all of our work. So really thinking about that concept, that at the enterprise level, all these consultancies are buying agencies. What about us as an agency, if you will, pushing upstream to really say, “How do we learn more about customers and marketplaces?”
Zach Murphy: So right now, we’re piloting a couple programs with some people that will remain unnamed for right now. But a couple strategy groups, product development groups, both research from a macro level and a micro level and research from a qualitative and quantitative standpoint to really build a case for, how do we understand marketplaces? How do we understand, for a company, what other ways can you grow? Because there’s really three ways to grow. You can grow your current marketing, current product sales in current markets. You can take current products into new markets, or you could create new products. So how do we really understand how to prioritize that?
Zach Murphy: One of the big concerns at these companies, all the companies on this Deloitte top 100 list, the biggest issue was implementing a strategy. So what we’d really like to help our companies do, longer term, is say, “We understand the best growth strategy for you and can help build a roadmap for that for the next five to 10 years even.” I mean, if a company, say, is doing $30 or $40 million a year and, as arbitrary as it might seem, they say, “Well, we want to go from 30 to 50 in the next six years,” how do you approach a problem that big? How do you wrap your arms around that?
Zach Murphy: So the more you understand about the capabilities of the company and how that impacts customers, you can start to say, “How do we improve our current efforts today? How do we expand into new markets tomorrow? And how about next week, we build new products based on what we have the authority and trust with our customer base to do? And how do we do that in a measured way and a way that we can actually prove the positive impact on that?”
Sam Schutte: Very good stuff. So Zach, if folks want to get your help with any of those three ways to grow your business, like you talked about, or any of these strategies, what’s the best way for them to reach out to you and get in touch with you?
Zach Murphy: Yeah. Well, we have a few. You could go to gogreymatter.com, and you can fill out one of the forms there. You can certainly look up Zach Murphy on LinkedIn, and you could drop me a line there. You can try dropping a line on braintrust101.com as well. There’s a few different inroads for us. And at the end of the day, if you really feel lost about it all, you can just talk to Sam, and Sam will talk to us, hopefully.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. And what’s your cell phone number? I’ve been trying to encourage people that if they’re driving in their car somewhere, mowing their lawn somewhere, turn off the mower if you have something that you want to talk about right now …
Zach Murphy: I love it. So you want my cell phone number?
Sam Schutte: Yeah. What’s your cell phone number?
Zach Murphy: 859-630-8295.
Sam Schutte: Okay. All right. That’s it. Dial it. You can call it right now.
Zach Murphy: Call it right now. Thank you, Sam.
Sam Schutte: All right. Yeah. Well, Zach, great diving into this with you. I always appreciate our conversations and the perspectives you bring to it because a lot of people don’t put a lot of thought into this stuff, and the data, and the research, and all this around the strategy. I think it’s what makes a difference for every dollar spent, whether you’re going to get anything out of it at all. And sadly, the vast majority of those dollars that a lot of people spend, they don’t get anything.
Zach Murphy: Yeah. That’s been the biggest inspiration for us, is looking at how much money is wasted and really unnecessarily.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, thanks again for being on the show.
Zach Murphy: Thank you, Sam.