Virtual Marketing Success: 60 Employees, 3,000 Miles, 25 States, 2 Provinces, & 4 Time Zones

Ryan Malone, Founder and CEO of SmartBug Media, an inbound marketing agency, HubSpot Diamond Partner, and winner of more than 100 awards, founded his company on this premise:  That clients would be best served by providing them with marketing strategists who had in-the-trenches P&L, product launch, skin-in-the-game experience and an understanding of the impacts of wrong decisions.

Ryan started his career leading marketing teams for publicly traded and early-stage technology companies. He saw agencies that threw any available talent at the strategic function – using interns, copywriters, and graphic designers to develop marketing plans, then blaming poor performance on his company’s failure to provide the correct inputs for the marketing agencies’ “whiz-bang” strategic processes.

Ryan wanted to build his agency with the best veteran marketers he could find. But, how could he do that in Orange County, CA, where local talent would be limited to those who would be willing to drive in community that ranks first nationally in stressful (nightmarish) commutes?

Ryan decided to hire the best-fit marketers for his agency, regardless of location, and to put his strategists front row with clients, instead of interjecting “account managers” into the company-client relationship. Today, his company has almost 60 employees, all completely remote . . .located in 25 states and 2 provinces. He warns that the idea that companies will save money by hiring remote employees is a misconception – the cost savings of not having physical facilities is more than offset by the added costs of building a strong team and company culture.

Every year, SmartBug brings all the employees and their families together at a top West Coast resort for a training, team-building, quality-time event, SmartBugaplooza. Ryan believes the quality of talent he has been able to acquire through hiring remote is a strategic advantage – but, focusing on culture is critical to making the long distance relationships work.

Another practice that Ryan has found to be effective is that he interviews prospective new employees ahead of need (SmartBug is always hiring) and queues up candidates with scheduled onboarding. Again, his hiring field is not local . . . it’s all of North America . . .and having potential hires “ready” means he is not forced into making potentially risky “emergency hires.” Ryan also explains why it is important to establish corporate policies when a company is small.

Ryan talked about growing his agency and covered some of what is in this interview in more depth when he presented “Building a Remote Agency at Scale: The Big Decisions You Will Face and Must Conquer” at Hubspot’s Inbound 2018 conference.

Ryan can be reached on his company website at:, by email at:, and on LinkedIn at: Continue reading “Virtual Marketing Success: 60 Employees, 3,000 Miles, 25 States, 2 Provinces, & 4 Time Zones”

Why You Need to Know How Your Clients Define Success

Jackie Hermes is Owner and CEO at Accelity Marketing, A Hubspot Gold partner that provides B2B inbound marketing and lead generation, conversion, and nurturing. Accelity works primarily with B-to-B software companies operating at a pre-revenue, fundraising, or bootstrapping level on up to around $80 million in revenue. Accelity guarantees results: warm leads every month, and coordinates. product launches for unknown companies, helping them to bring new products to the market. The company focuses on building long-term, “deep” client relationships with fewer clients . . .

Jackie observes that internal marketing initiatives often don’t fail so much at promotion as they do in the ancillary functions: testing, measuring, and reporting successes. At the same time, conflicting objectives, failure to identify and appeal to the correct target market, and a lack of understanding of and clarity about the desired result all play a part in marketing initiative failure.

Jackie feels it is important to meet a client’s leadership team and stakeholders to learn their industry and their pain points and who they’re targeting. Have they identified the correct target market? Are they approaching that target market correctly? Who are their decision-makers? Have they done all of this work? Does her team believe the information is accurate and complete? What is the potential for long-term success?

As a project is conceptually developed, Jackie believes it is critical that stakeholders reach consensus on who they’re targeting, what comprises the project deliverables, and what success looks like. An agency can only be effective when this foundation is set – when it truly understands the client’s business – and when the client stakeholders are aligned in their expectations.

Within Accelity, Jackie tracks each employee’s profitability every month to monitor agency health and track the impact of internal projects on productivity. Many agencies use unpaid interns as profit centers. Jackie doesn’t do this because she wants to ensure her clients get top quality services and interns can’t provide the full-time, long-term relationships (typically 3 years) Jackie thinks are best for her clients.

Jackie sees many companies making the old-school mistake of tasking cold-callers to generate business, and shorting the budget on the marketing side . . . because they don’t understand that marketing can function as a powerful lead generator. For companies using cold-calling, she highly recommends HubSpot ‘s Sales Boot Camps (These programs are only available to HubSpot partners) as a way to dramatically improve cold-calling results. She took the program early in her career and spoke about it a Hubspot’s Inbound last year.

Jackie is available on LinkedIn at /thejackiehermes and is @thejackiehermes on every platform (Instagram, Twitter). Accelity is on all of those platforms as well.

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When the Agency Outgrows its Name and its Geography

Kade Wilcox, CEO and Owner of Primitive Social, was working at a church when he started managing business Facebook pages in 2011 as a “side gig.” Two to three years into this work, a friend challenged him by labelling his Facebook work as “a hobby.” It was time for some planning, goal-setting, and business “underpinnings.”

Some 5 years later, Primitive Social offers a far broader range of services, including custom software development; custom designed and developed websites; content marketing; a full inbound marketing, lead gen, marketing technology setup and implementation; social media management; and creative work—end to end business solutions that address customer needs. Primitive Social addresses marketing issues and the heavy tech solutions that can make a business’s internal organization more effective and efficient Expected revenues in 2018 should come in around $4 million.

In this interview, Kade talks about the quandary a company can face when it “outgrows its name.” Primitive Social? What about all the other things his company does? Kade feels his company needs a new name to convey the broader scope of what his company now has to offer. But, if he changes the name, how does he maintain the value of his brand and the goodwill his company has earned through the years?

Primitive Social is headquartered in Lubbock Texas, which, in 2018, had a reported population of 252,506. That’s not a lot of people if you want to keep a company growing. In addition to the limited number of potential clients in the Lubbock area for the services the agency offers, Kade has found the Lubbock area to be slower that other parts of the country in adopting technology and digital solutions. In order to grow, the company has had to “develop a presence” in other locations.

Lubbock is also not a hotbed of creative talent. Kade likes to hire local, but when local talent ran out, what could he do? He did not want to restrain his company’s growth. He did not want to limit the company on what it could do to serve clients. or the quality of the work. He did not want to expand by investing in brick-and-mortar in new locations. Solution? He hired remote employees. Today, twenty of his 50 employees work remotely from other parts of the country.

Kade notes that it takes thought, intention, and consistency to make sure remote employees are allowed to contribute to the corporate culture. He has had to make an extra effort “to create opportunities for organic communication and getting to know people.” Although having remote employees has not worked perfectly, Kade describes it as being “a blast.” Future company direction? Kade intends for the company to simplify what it is doing and what it is leveraging to accomplish success for its clients . . . and go deep.

Based on his experience, Kade identifies some of the lessons he learned (the hard way):

  1. It’s better to grow slowly with the right client at the right place than to grow rapidly with the wrong client at the wrong price.
  2. Think about how you are growing as you are growing . . . How do we think about growth? What do we do with our growth? Who are we? Who do we want to be? How are we going to get there?
  3. Don’t focus on the growth of gross revenue—focus on the growth of profit.

Kade can be reached on his company website at:

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Branding for Everything in Between

Greg Andersen is CEO at Bailey Lauerman. Fifty years ago, before Greg’s time, Bailey Lauerman published a lifestyle magazine promoting activities around Lincoln and Omaha and created ads in the publication for companies in exchange for their financial support. When these companies asked Bailey Lauerman to create ads to use in other venues, the publisher pivoted to start the journey to become the agency it is today—focused on authentic brand connection with people outside America’s 10 largest cities.

Why that target market? Greg feels that too much of marketing’s focus has been on the people who live in the 10 largest cities in the US, when 92% of the population lives elsewhere, in what Greg refers to the “Everything In Between.” He thinks that metropolitan agencies have a hard time understanding these “overlooked segments,” but Bailey Lauerman, located in the middle of the “Everything in Between,” Omaha, Nebraska, is positioned by geography and philosophy to understand these diverse people.

Greg believes that social media has made influencer marketing too slick, too formulaic, and mainstream. In response, Bailey Lehman launched the Everything in Between Influencer Network. The company partners with hundreds of bloggers, influencers, and tastemakers “across a range of geographies, verticals and platforms” who will share their pride, values, attitudes, and opinions about the communities where they live. Marketers will have access to small/mid-sized influencer communities from people living “Everywhere in Between.” Expect increased engagement, lower cost, and reduced follower fraud as people from these less populous areas share their pride, values, attitudes, and opinions.

A native of Nebraska, Greg spent 23 years in New York advertising agencies and 3 years leading RAPP’s LA offices. Omaha, Nebraska is not a hotbed of high-profile advertising agencies, but Greg had been aware of nationally-recognized Bailey Lauerman for years. When he got the call that the agency was looking for new leadership, he knew it was time to return home. The first challenge—how could he take what would be considered a competitive disadvantage (geography) and turn it into an advantage?

By being what it was . . . just as so many years ago, Greg had learned to succeed by being himself—the boy from Nebraska.

When Greg started working in New York, he tried to play it as he expected a big-time New York agent would . . . until he realized that people valued his midwestern background. He had a different perspective and could tell them how things would be perceived in places other than New York. Creating brands that resonate with highly populated metropolitan areas does not guarantee that those same messages will work for the 92 percent of the population who don’t live in those super-cities. That, Greg says, is the strength of his company . . . Bailey Lauerman has a long history of “connecting brands to a part of the country” that companies need to reach in order to scale their businesses. Greg is leveraging that history to continue his company’s legacy of excellence.

Greg can be reached on his company’s website at

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Scaling your Business for Inbound Marketing Growth . . . In Any Language

Verity Dearsley is the Managing Director at The B2B Marketing Lab. In this interview, Verity explains how and why B2B Marketing Lab, originally a public relations company, changed its focus from content to inbound marketing and grew to become the first Hubspot Diamond partner in the UK and Singapore, a Hubspot trainer, and the largest Hubspot partner in London.

Public relations is marketing targeted to enhance the image of the client . . . and that personae is the “product that is being sold.” But, when your “product” is your client’s public image, how do you measure sales?

When B2B Marketing Lab had difficulty tracking client ROI impact metrics, Verity “crawled through Google metrics and numbers,” then latched onto 5-year-old Hubspot, and launched customers on its marketing automation platform as well. Using Hubspot helped Verity realize that, when clients paid for an agency to create great content, it didn’t make sense to present the material on a website in the form of a static online brochure.

Instead, content could be the beginning of an outreach to customers. Blogging valuable information targeted to interested potential clients helped build relationships. Strategic content “gating” – holding back some critical pieces of information – could provide fuel for future lead generation. Verity also learned that, beyond marketing, it is important to create effective sales, customer engagement, software implementation, and client management processes – to build a robust backside infrastructure to support client growth amd healthy marketing company scaling.

Hubspot Partnership enabled B2B Marketing Lab to “grow another business” – and with great success.

Verity’s presentation at Hubspot’s Inbound 2018, “To get to Platinum, you just have to sell, but to get to Diamond, you have to scale up your business,” covered the strategies B2B Marketing Lab uses to support the high level of sales, managed services, and ongoing retainers required for Diamond ranking. She discusses working past the fear of bringing on non-client-facing staff, the challenges of finding and retaining great talent, the necessity of firing certain clients, and the pain of corporate introspection. She says, “Holes in anything will only get bigger if they’re left unattended,”

Verity also talks about the differences between her company’s work in EMEA and in Singapore and explains the importance of knowing how Google processes multiple language websites. She warns that improper website setup can result in cross-country customer cannibalization and lauds Hubspot for deploying the Hreflang tag on individual language pages.

Verity can be reached on her company website at, on LinkedIn, on Twitter, and on Instagram

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A Strategic Marketing Merger: Why Invoke Marketing and Tank New Media Got Married

When Jon started Invoke Marketing, a scrappy startup agency, he made things up as he went. As the company pivoted and grew, his clients also pivoted and grew, and agency and client interests diverged. Jon, in his eagerness to help, also took on too many clients who were poor fits.

Jon’s intense drive for growth and eagerness to help led him to take on clients that didn’t fit the services Invoke wanted to provide. Pushing too hard too fast led to making mistakes fast, and then moving on too fast to learn from those mistakes. Jon warns that agencies need to be careful about their growth rate and about making sure that they select clients who need the services their agency wants to sell.

When relationships were no longer mutually beneficial, some clients left, and Invoke found it needed to release others. That resolved the immediate “poor fit” problem, but financially? The company either had to reinvent itself fast . . . or “join forces” with another agency.

Invoke was a Hubspot Gold Partner. Surely, among Hubspot’s 4,000 partner agencies, Invoke could find another agency interested in a synergistic partnership. In his research, Jon was aware that he wanted to find an agency that would be good for his clients and one that kept him employed. Invoke’s assets included a great client base, Hubspot implementation experience, Jon’s ability to grow an agency (to 7 employees in 3 years), his leadership skills, and his passion for sales. (He notes that he understands marketing, but he is good at sales.)

Some of the 9 interested agencies wanted only part of what Invoke had to offer. The initial search to signing on as a partner with Tank New Media took a quick 4 months. Jon and one other employee remain anchored in Lancaster, the other 7 members of Tank New Media are located in Kansas City. (Jon says that Thad and Krista, at Tank New Media, Kansas City are “phenomenal marketers,” but don’t enjoy sales.)

Tank New Media focuses on brand experience, creating healthy partnerships with its clients, collaborating to develop the right strategies, the right solutions, the right tactics and building a cohesive experience across the entire relationship lifecycle. Proof that it excels in building relationships? Tank typically retains clients for about 4 years, a long time in the marketing world.

Jon has three roles with Tank: 1) new business development (selling), 2) working with client sales teams to facilitate sales (which includes a sales-aligned CRM system), 3) growth-focused leadership.

The “Why?” at Tank? Creating a great experience for customers, employees, and customers’ customers. Jon warns that customer relationships are important, but, even as an agency takes care of its customers, it also has to take care of itself. Overzealous attempts to keep customers happy can destroy companies. A company has to survive to be able to continue to support its customers.

Jon can be contacted LinkedIn, on Twitter, but probably most easily by email at

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Transparency: Staying True to your Core, to your Strategy and to your Passion

Perry Nalevka, CEO at Penguin Strategies, has almost 20 years of working in technology at various start-ups, with the last 10 years in sales and marketing. For the past 5 years, he has run Hubspot’s first Israeli Partner, Penguin Strategies, a niche agency for technology firms with its “packages” named for different species of penguins. Why penguins? “They’re just a cool bird,” Perry says.

Penguin Strategies’ website is very transparent on how much a client is buying of what and for what price. Using a system of “credits” enables Penguin to be far more flexible, transparent, and nimble in its response to market conditions. Penguin can adapt its strategy to changing customer goals as needed on a month-to-month basis. Posting the prices for the its services means that, if clients want to add something extra to the mix, they don’t have to haggle over what it will cost them . . . they already know. Posting prices also has the benefit that clients can see that they aren’t being charged any more or any less than the next client.

Initially focused on Israel’s technology firms, Penguin bridged to the international market when tech firms sought it out. Ten time zones between Israel and Silicon Valley proved a challenge, so Penguin opened a subsidiary in the U.S., which has greatly facilitated scaling.

Perry believes that focusing on a niche, “on something smaller, you’ll get more.” When Perry took on some manufacturing companies, the methodologies he had set up for the tech companies did not work, and his employees started to leave. Perry considered setting up a division to work with the manufacturers, but, in the end, decided to stay true to his vision. Divesting Penguin of the manufacturing companies led to some hard conversations and cut revenue 15 %, to the tune of $25,000 to $30,000 a month.

Perry says most agencies know marketing tactics, how to use the marketing automation platforms, and how to create beautiful designs. Yet, very few agencies have the creative and strategic thinking to help companies get “to the next level.” Creativity and strategy are what “really make the difference.”

Perry can be reached at his company’s website:, or by email at

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People Don’t Buy Widgets—So What are you Marketing?

Frank Cowell is CEO of Elevator Agency, a full-funnel digital agency providing a fully-integrated, synergistic marketing “ecosystem,” differentiates his agency by a number of things. The first one is that accounts are managed by strategists instead of by account managers. Why strategists? Frank has found that strategy development, system testing and optimizing, and working with the client is a big, full time job, and should be a billable function, not something to be covered through the less transparent means of skimming off other line items.

In this interview, Frank explains why he believes that most agencies (and many other companies) fail to sell the “right thing” . . . they more often talk about the “line item” services or skills their companies offer instead of selling outcomes. His company’s “elevator formula” involves understanding “what you want a business to ultimately be,” the “outcome of what you are selling,” and “the methodology for achieving those outcomes on a consistent, predictable basis.” Everything must be crafted with that end in mind, including the client selection process and team-building. He feels that companies start out as “consultancies,” and only become “businesses” when the principals can walk away for a month and the company continues to operate.

To achieve this level of organizational maturity, Frank notes that a company has to have a completely clear vision on its branding: Who is it going after as clients? What is its value proposition? and What brand promises does it need to make to win this business? It also needs to implement some variety of an Entrepreneurial Operating System whereby the organization focuses on a limited number of issues over 90-day cycles so that problems are truly solved and the company can move forward. In marketing itself, the company has to sell outcomes . . . and to differentiate itself from the competition.

Frank outlines his Elevator Formula, which provides a both repeatable methodology and service differentiation. The Elevator Formula is a defined process the agency uses for selecting clients, developing a winning proposal, and delivering a strategic plan that produces the outcome a client wants.

  1. Assume the majority of contacts don’t have a problem you can solve, or, for some other reason, are not a fit for your agency. Only consider taking on a client when you are certain they are a right fit . . . and that you will be able to help them accomplish the desired outcome. Is the outcome what this prospect wants and/or needs?
  2.  The next part of the process is discovery. What are the prospect’s target markets? What is their business model? What outcomes are they targeting? The purpose of discovery is to identify the “opportunity,” but also to qualify the contact at a high level. Does the contact have the budget and the authority to act?
  3. In the collaborative planning stage, the prospect and agency work together to fill in the blanks on the Elevator Formula blueprint, building a high level strategy. When the client helps build the plan, they are more likely to accept the presented solution/proposal . . . because they already have vested interest in it.

Frank’s emphasizes the importance of an agency fully understanding itself, what is it really selling, who is it selling to, and what is its desired outcome . . . and mirrors that model when describing what an agency needs to do to effectively serve a client: to understand the client, what is the client selling, who is it selling to, and what is its desired outcome . . . These critical questions that can redefine marketing strategies for both the agency and the client.

Frank can be reached on his company’s website at:, on Instagram and Twitter as @FrankCowell or by email at:


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Why a Catch and Release Agency Practices Client Psychology

Matt Hodkinson, Chief Exec Agent, Influence Agents, introduces his agency as “mutinous.” He feels the old agency model of schmoozing for long-term retainers is not in a client’s best interest. Instead. Influence Agents tells clients from the beginning that it “will not be there forever” and targets a two-year client relationship with these small companies, which are mostly mid-market B2B tech companies.

The agency’s “sweet spot” clients are the IT Managed Service Providers and Value-Added Resellers – techie companies that rarely excel in self-promotion. Matt notes that these companies are “not the best at telling stories about how great their technology is, and certainly not doing it in a way that engages people in the right way.” They will often talk about solutions at a technical level – an ineffective approach at best. Effective marketing, he says, talks about challenges and heightens problem awareness and need.

Influence Agents coaches clients to “marketing greatness.” filling in the gaps, designing strategies, implementing technologies, and providing in-depth training to ensure long-term success. At the end of the relationship, the “educated” client owns the marketing knowledge and expertise as a company asset. Matt is in the process of creating a knowledge base of marketing strategies, which will be exclusively available for Influence Agents’ clients. Catch, set up the client for success . . . and release.

Influence Agents, a HubSpot Gold partner (almost Platinum), focuses on customer psychology – understanding B2B prospects’ emotional and logical triggers for making purchase decisions – and marries that with producing tangible outcomes – the metrics of revenue, qualified leads and customers.

To gather psychological information about a client’s ideal prospects, Influence Agents defines and identifies them, interviews them away from their work environment, and asks open-ended questions about the challenges they’re facing – in all aspects of business. By recording and reviewing the stories and examples these ideal prospects provide, Influence Agents can tease out trends and themes, gain an understanding of the challenges and pains these prospects face, and discover how to add real value to help these potential customers. Knowledge of what the ideal customer needs directs the marketing strategies Influence Agents develops for its clients.

Matt cam be reached on his company’s website at: or on LinkedIn at — but please send a personalized intro.

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Build a Thriving Digital Agency Where?

Jacob Baadsgaard is Founder and CEO of Disruptive Advertising, an agency that helps companies grow to the next level using Google and Facebook ads, leveraging the platforms with revenue—through a CRM- or lead-gen-based campaign or by ensuring that the ecommerce analytics are strong so everything is revenue-driven, testing website experience to see what resonates with potential customers, and perfecting the website experience so clients can effectively scale.

Jacob started his career in web analytics implementation with Omniture. He soon discovered that pay per click (PPC) was the easiest metric to track and provided the most insights, and left Omniture shortly after it was acquired by Adobe to go out on his own. As his agency grew, it leaned heavily on Google-Adwords-based paid search to drive traffic to landing pages—but had no way to measure conversion until they implemented to refine the landing page experience.

Disruptive Advertising is located in Lindon, Utah. With a 2017 population of almost 11,000, Lindon nestles between beautiful Mount Timpanogo and Utah Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Utah. In 2009, 2011, and 2013, CNN Money Magazine listed it as one of the “100 Best Small Cities to Live in America.” Lindon is part of the Provo-Orem Metropolitan area, with a 2016 population of slightly over 600,000. Lindon is not the bustling metropolitan area where one would expect to find a thriving advertising agency with over 100 employees.

Disruptive Advertising has around 500 clients—and they’re not the mom-n-pops. An enterprise team manages accounts with monthly spends of $100 to a million dollars. A small business division works with lower-spend clients, e.g., healthcare and home service companies. The majority of Disruptive’s clients have an average Facebook and/or Google monthly spend of $20,000 to $50,000. Hardly average. How does that happen?

Jacob credits his company’s success to the fact that it takes its own marketing and branding very seriously, to the tune of a million dollars a year. Disruptive drives a lot of inbound, but, at the same time, maintains a laser focus on its performance-driven PPC and PPC ancillary services. When clients request “other” types of work, Disruptive provides these by partnering with agencies that excel in those specialties. Quality control is also critical for keeping Disruptive’s customers happy.

In order to track the performance of over 100 employees, Disruptive uses a technology that continually audits all accounts to confirm that best practices are consistently and universally implemented. Employees and their managers are likewise responsible for ensuring this is done. In addition, product owners in the areas of Google Ads, Facebook Ads, site testing, and analytics review all accounts on a specified schedule—a triple redundancy that ensures customers get the services they expect.

For years, Jacob put all his energy into growing his company, to the detriment of his health and his relationships. He felt the success of his business was a reflection of his value as a human being and that, the minute his company stopped growing, he would no longer be a good person . . . he would be a failure. A company valuation and mergers & acquisitions expert asked him some pivotal questions: “What is your plan with the business? What is your exit strategy? What is going on?”

When Jacob didn’t know whether he wanted to sell the business or what he enjoyed about it, the expert told him, “If you love what you’re doing and you love the people that you’re working with, run it the way that you love running it, take a little more off the table along the way, and just be involved with it long term.” When Jacob realized he could define his own success, he fell in love with his business all over again.

Jacob can be reached on his company’s website at or on its LinkedIn account at:

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