Chris Carr, President and CEO, Farotech (Philadelphia, PA)
Chris Carr, President and CEO of Farotech, started his agency 19 years ago as a web development company, moved into SEO, and then transitioned to what Chris calls conversion science. Today, Chris says, his agency builds integrated systems that generate leads, nurture leads into clients, and then convert clients into brand ambassadors who refer new clients to the brand.
Chris says that most companies spend a majority of their time and effort generating leads – and then alternating between generating leads and reacting to the results. He emphasizes that businesses can’t depend on a single marketing platform. A properly designed system, like a flywheel, maintains consistent momentum, gains power, and generates “really great results.”
Farotech “deep dives” for 2 months into a client’s marketing, discusses a client’s unique selling proposition, compares it to customer search volumes, and applies a software that identifies first top ten relevant Google search results in a client’s market niche. Evaluating the “winners’” readability, content, content length, infographics, and backlinks yields information about what the client company needs to do to beat the competition. After Farotech understands a client’s messaging requirements for both global audiences and the client’s segmented audiences, the agency writes great, value-imbued, data-based content. Pushing data and information makes content sharable, Chris says.
The agency provides a strategic 3- to 5-year roadmap that highlights gaps and opportunities and, over time, recommends messaging tweaks to keep the client “at the top.”
One technique Farotech uses to great advantage is placing Pixel on a client’s page to track visitor conversions, optimize ads, build targeted audiences for future ads, and remarket to people who have made a purchase. Pixel is very useful for capturing “lookalike audiences,” people who are unaware of a company and its offerings, but who are demographically similar to a company’s “good customers” or similarly challenged. Finding the “lookalike” audiences for a client’s emails and for its website users greatly expands opportunities. Chris says that blog messages should be targeted, polished, and personalized and delivered at least once a week in order for the blogger to be recognized as a thought leader.
Chris says he likes to “fail as fast as I can, and then adjust and then keep going and keep going.” He believes it is very important to invest in training staff, and lauds Greg Crabtree’s book, Simple Numbers, as an effective guide for “when to cut and when to hire.
Chris can be reach on his company’s website at: farotech.com consultation. Those who would like a consultation should email: email@example.com. He believes most companies will find this initial consultation invaluable. “He says, We work really hard to tell you where you’re weak, where you should go from here. Even if you don’t use us, these are the three things you should be doing, things like that.”
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk. I am joined today by Chris Carr, President and CEO at Farotech based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Welcome to the podcast, Chris.
CHRIS: Hey, thanks for having me.
ROB: It’s fantastic to have you here. Why don’t you start off by telling us about Farotech and what superpower you all bring to the world of marketing agencies?
CHRIS: Thanks for asking. I stared Farotech about 19 years ago. We started out as a web development company, then slowly moved into SEO, and then from SEO into what we call a conversion science. What I mean by that is when clients come to me, they usually say, “If I could only figure out my SEO, then all my problems would be solved” or “If I was only good at social media” or something like that.
What I often say is, “Hey, if you are basically wrapping all of your marketing around one particular solution, then you’re building your house on sand.” What we try to make the argument of is we build systems, not solutions. If marketing is done right and it’s turned into a system, essentially you have a system that generates leads, nurtures leads into clients, and then converts clients into brand ambassadors. And those brand ambassadors are going to be those loyal fans who create referrals for your brand.
So, the superpower that I would have is I’m going to help strategize that in the beginning of the process and help our clients get to that spot.
ROB: Where are they typically starting from? Are they just spending on anything? Are they trying to do some of these tactics that someone told them they should do, and they’re coming to you because they’re trying to be amazing at SEO even though they can barely spell it? Where are they coming from?
CHRIS: I think most people spend the large majority of their time in lead generation. They’re going to come to me saying that they might write a couple blogs. What I find is that most companies are what I call reactive marketers as opposed to proactive marketers. The reactive marketer is the idea that we live this life of quiet desperation. We have a tradeshow, so we sprint for the tradeshow, or it’s Christmas season and we need to get our products ready for that. I worked a lot in the healthcare space; certain sports change how they market.
You sprint and then relax and then sprint and then relax. A system doesn’t do that. A system is kind of like Jim Collin’s Flywheel. It just keeps spinning and spinning and spinning. Momentum turns into power, and power turns into really great results.
ROB: I think a lot of people aspire to this sort of thing, but they very quickly realize that they don’t really know what they should be talking about that’s interesting to their audience. How do you think about that? What’s an example of an industry where you’ve seen it could be hard for them to think about what to say, but in fact there is a system that can be put in play that makes a lot of sense once you get your head around it?
CHRIS: That’s a really great question. Unfortunately, I think Google tells you what to say in a lot of ways. You know your general topic; you have great products and services. It’s shocking that when you say it the way you say it and then I look in Google and I’m saying, “Hey, what you think the audience wants and what they’re actually searching for – you can try really hard to be great at your brand, but you’re trying to convert the masses on something they don’t even know about.”
What happens is I’ll sit down with a client and we’ll talk about their unique selling proposition, and then I’ll compare it to search volumes and say, “Hey, we create your messaging. These are the tweaks you’re probably going to have to make. Do you agree or disagree?” If it’s your brand, I want it to be sacred and I want to protect that, but if it’s about volume and generating leads, then we might have to tweak or pivot or move.
ROB: That certainly makes sense. Are you looking at that through the lens – I think level zero of this is you type what you think you’re talking about into Google and see what else gets suggested, but then there’s this deeper level of maybe search console and some other keywords. How do you dive down that rabbit hole and start finding out what they’re actually talking about in the eyes of their customers?
CHRIS: We develop a gap assessment right at the onset of working with a client. That’s a 2-month deep dive into a client, their marketing. It’s a 3- to 5-year roadmap to understand where the gaps are, where the opportunities are. But most importantly, I’ve got to understand your messaging and what your vision is and how you create effective messaging for not just the global audience, but to segmented audiences too.
Within that process, what we try to do is once I’ve figured out your messaging, we have certain pieces of software that before we even publish, it’s going to tell you who’s in the top 10 spots on the first page of Google, who those top 10 companies are, and what kind of content you’ve got to create to beat them. I might look at readability, I might look at the length of content, I might look at the fact that they have infographics or backlinks.
As I start to create that message, I’m going to say, we’re going to base this piece of content on data, not on hunches. That’s where we start. We start with the data.
ROB: Interesting. It seems evident that at some point you’re going to want to atomize this content, push it out into social, push it out into paid social, push it out even into – maybe what resonates even turns into some press. How do you get down to that next layer? I think there’s probably some ways where the search data is the truth and the tools you have are the truth, and there’s some places where on each platform, the audience is looking for something slightly different.
CHRIS: At the genuine level, we write content for our clients. We’ll interview our clients through a number of different ways so our writers write really great content. It starts with writing great content. That’s table stakes. You’ve got to have great content. It has to have value. I always say that it should push data and information because that’s what makes content sharable.
But then it has to go into the system. I’ll just get very tactical about it. We write content for blogs. Blogs get syndicated through social media channels. Then we’ll use paid channels to reach certain target audiences. We’ll use multiple different platforms but say it’s Facebook. I’ll Pixel on my client’s computer. We’ll find out, what are the visitors doing when they come to your website? Then I’ll be able to get your messaging to that target and then a lookalike audience as well. So now I’m reaching people that don’t even know you exist, but they are similar demographics or have certain challenges and things like that.
ROB: Very interesting. That’s been surprisingly effective for quite a while, but it kind of makes sense. Figure out how to drive the audience and then make sure you Pixel for retargeting and the lookalike audience. That combined with, maybe if you’re capturing some emails, a lookalike on the email audience, those are sometimes those core four audiences: your email, the lookalike email, the web, and the lookalike web.
CHRIS: Yeah. That’s it in a nutshell. I forgot to mention that we do – not email blasts, but we do very targeted emails.
I think the key you also want to include into that mix is segmentation. If you send one message to your entire audience, unless you have a very niche product – for example, we have a buyer persona that’s a general business; then we have SaaS companies, then we have healthcare companies, and then we have manufacturing. There’s very specific information that I share to healthcare companies that I don’t want my manufacturing potential clients to hear. It just doesn’t make sense. And I don’t want to water down a message that can be used for everybody.
I’d rather send a very segmented, polished, personalized message to a smaller audience than carpet bomb your entire database with a generalized message that doesn’t bring value.
ROB: Sure. How do you think about frequency amongst those different segments? Do you just hit each one when you have something to say? How do you make sure you’re not neglecting something too long?
CHRIS: We try to do at least a minimum of one blog a week. Everyone talks about Google’s best practices, and I think we make them up as we go along. But we found is what we call it link velocity. If you can keep up that link velocity from an aspect of at least one blog a week, usually what happens is you establish yourself as a thought leader and Google starts to recognize that.
What I don’t believe is that you should just be a mill. Don’t just publish content to publish content. What we do is sit down with a client and we develop an editorial calendar. In an editorial calendar, you’re going to know what content goes out in the next 30, 60, or 90 days. We leave some room for things to be nimble because things change, the news changes. Pandemics happen.
ROB: Yes, they do.
CHRIS: But for the most part, you want to be in a scenario where frequency of about once a week is pretty good. Especially if you’re sending out email communication as well, you don’t want to be blasting people every day. It’s kind of funny; I have a cellphone, and I also ride a bike. It’s just something you do when you’re old to stay in shape. I bought my iPhone case from a company called Rokform. Probably shouldn’t have said their name. Anyhow, the case is really awesome. Connects to my bike. Really, really awesome.
But the fact that they feel like they need to email me every single day is beyond annoying. It went from me being a loyal fan to me being like, dude, I’ve got to get around to unsubscribing, but I shouldn’t have to unsubscribe because you should know your audience better. Like, how many phone cases are you going to buy in the next 5 years of your life? Two? One? Just a pet peeve, but it relates to the frequency of communication.
ROB: Yeah, our own experiences certainly inform those conversations around frequency. I’m sure a lot of people can relate. You buy a pair of shoes and then a week later they’re like, “Do you want some more shoes?” It’s like, I am not that customer segment. I am not the weekly shoe buying guy. I buy a pair of shoes about every 6 months, and if you want to retarget me in 6 months and ask me for some shoes, I’ll probably buy some.
CHRIS: Yeah, you should be talking to my wife. [laughs] That’s my wife’s rhythm, about one pair a week. But for me – yeah.
ROB: Different customer segments. There it is.
CHRIS: Big time.
ROB: Chris, you mentioned that you started off not really even intending to start an agency, starting off in web development. What made you realize that this was actually going to be a business that was viable, that was going to stick around for a little bit?
CHRIS: Started the business about 6 months before 9/11. I was working at a private company called Vanguard. They’re an investment company. I was trying to get into IT there. Thought I wanted to be in IT; what I really wanted is marketing. I got that job, and then 3 days later, 9/11 happened and they said, “Hey, we’re going to have to put you back at your old job.” I was a phone jockey. I was a registered rep, and I was talking to people on the phone at a call center like 8 hours a day. It was at one of those spots where I’m sitting in the parking lot like, “I just don’t want to go in there.”
Anyhow, 6 months later, 9/11 happens and I have no wife, I have no kids. It takes me a whopping $1500 a month to pay my life and my bills. I was like, “You know what? Screw it. I’m just going to go out and do this thing.” Started the business. Got immediately gobbled up as a consultant for a couple years, working in a marketing company that specialized in pharma, and then 2 years later went on and started the agency.
How do you know it happens? You don’t. It’s funny; my business partner was texting me this morning and talking about payroll and he’s like, “I think I have kidney stones.” [laughs] You never wake up and feel like, “Wow, this whole agency this is just a dream. There’s never a bad day.” We started a dream, wanted to do this thing, created a product, got a client. That client led to two clients. Two clients led to more employees. More employees led to more clients. You just wake up one day, 19 years later, 150+ clients, 50 employees, and you’re just – I joke around that it took 19 years to be an overnight success.
ROB: [laughs] It becomes a lot of mouths to feed. I think one of those temptations for many folks in the agency world is to maybe look a little bit jealously at their SaaS clients. Of course, the grass always looks greener on the other side. How have you looked at that? “Man, it would be nice to have a product with 90% gross margins and the money keeps coming in.”
CHRIS: Yep. Well, be careful what you wish for, because I have SaaS clients, and they say, “Getting them to buy the software is the easy part. We make all the money in the service.” I’m like, dude, I’m a service company that wants to build a product. You’re a product company and you want to start a service. [laughs] Dude, you don’t want to talk to people. It happens.
One of the things that’s very interesting in the SaaS space is if you don’t have VC funding or you don’t have a pretty good cushion, marketing is scary. What I mean by that is – I use the analogy of Photoshop. Photoshop would sell for anywhere between $300 and $500 back in the day before SaaS was actually SaaS. Do you remember Photoshop before it was SaaS?
ROB: Oh yeah. I remember people asking who was going to buy Photoshop on a monthly payment when you can just buy the shrink-wrap or the download.
CHRIS: Yeah. Honestly, I think most of it was just downloaded illegally anyway. It was terrible. [laughs] It was the early 2000s. Napster was there, and software was not free. But yeah, nothing like going on a podcast and admitting illegal activity, right?
ROB: “I have a friend.”
CHRIS: I have a friend, right? [laughs] It was a decade ago. But let’s say you go out and buy the software and it costs $500 bucks. Now you’re like, “We’re going to lower that barrier of entry and make it $19.99. No one’s going to cancel on us because we got them for $19.99.” I’m like, that’s like $480 in cash flow that you don’t have right now. It’s going to take you 30 months for you to reclaim that other $500 bucks. It’s awesome in the aspect of you’ve eliminated your barrier of entry, you stay competitive and stuff like that, but cash flow is king.
I have SaaS clients, and the number one thing I’m looking for is, are you sustainable? Because if you don’t have that core number of clients, man, it gets scary pretty quick.
ROB: Right. You being in Philadelphia, I know there are some investors there, but it’s not the Bay Area and it’s not even New York, I don’t imagine. That services dimension of it can be a function of SaaS survival in a non-VC-heavy market.
CHRIS: Yeah. It’s a critical call to make. How do you want to live? Sometimes you’ve got to do the service until you can just be product only. And I respect that. I respect anybody who’s going to say, “I do what it takes, and when the landscape changes, then I’ll pivot.” I can respect that.
ROB: Oh yeah, I’ve certainly been down that path. It’s hard from a pride perspective, and I’m sure we all get told what we’re supposed to be when our company grows up and how it looks and what you’re not supposed to do. Sometimes practicality and eating that pride – and also just realizing who it is that you want to be instead of who it is that other people want you to be is such a key step.
CHRIS: And then you’re also worrying about – I think there’s a phrase that says for every level, there’s another devil. What happens here is that you switch out of that service-based model, you’re basically just a SaaS company from the regular sense of the word, but then your whole day is lead generation, lead nurturing, and then most importantly – which is something you didn’t have to worry about before – you’re always worrying about retention. It’s one of those things where when a pandemic happens, you might be the first thing that goes. And that’s a scary predicament too.
I remember specifically, our company hadn’t taken a hit. We thought we were going to take a hit. My business partner – he’s the COO, but he also does the CFO type stuff – came to me with this long list of everybody that we buy from, and he’s like, “This is the list of the people that can go. They’re what I would call ‘nice-to-haves.’” That’s a scary spot to be in if you’re SaaS.
One of the things from a SaaS standpoint is the same thing I say to people that are in employment. Make yourself unfirable. If you are a SaaS product that lives on the periphery of “nice-to-have,” you’re nice to have, but you can also be very forgettable.
ROB: That’s true on SaaS. I think there’s an extent to which that’s also true in services, though. You can have a contract, but when March 15th, 2020 hits, if a client comes to you and says, “Hey, we’re going to be done for a while,” what most people are going to do and what’s probably prudent is to say, “Okay, I understand. Let us know how we can help you.” You’re not going to fight and be like, “You’ve got 9 months left and another $90K on this contract, so you’ve got to pay up, bud.”
CHRIS: That’s where, for us, we always have a roadmap. The roadmap is even clients who say, “Hey, we’re not seeing the results,” I’m like, “Great. We charted this roadmap together. Where did we go wrong? Where do you disagree? Because you agreed to the same roadmap too. We might not be where we’re at right now but look at where we’re going. If you don’t believe in where we’re at now, do you believe in what’s a mile down the road?” If they say yes, then you say, “Let’s journey on this together. I’m on this journey with you.”
I want to be in a scenario here where I can be very vulnerable with you and just say, “Where are you suffering? Which part of this process isn’t working, and what can we put a little bit more energy into?” as opposed to cutting the cord. I think one of the things we try very hard to do is to not be a vendor. We try to be a partner. I hate people that overuse that, but that’s exactly how it works for us.
We have clients that are like, “We’ve got to do another advertising campaign, and I forget what we said about this, this, and this. Farotech, what do we say about that?” I’ll be like, “Dude, it’s your company. You don’t know what you said about that?” I mean, it’s an honor and a privilege, but you become so ingrained in who they are that they forget what’s been said about them, what they even say about themselves.
ROB: Makes sense. Chris, you’ve given us some nuggets already, but if you rewind and think about the 19 years of the company, what are some lessons you’ve learned along the way that you might do a little bit differently if you were starting afresh in 2020?
CHRIS: I got this questionnaire from you before we started talking and I knew this was coming, and it’s so funny – I told my assistant, it matters what day it is. Literally, I consider myself a lifetime learner, but I also say that those last 19 years, I’ve Forrest Gump’d my way to this spot right now. Meaning I like to fail as fast as I can. Everything I’m saying here sounds cliché, but I like to fail forward, I like to fail as fast as I can, and then adjust and then keep going and keep going.
I think the number one lesson that I’ve learned is if you just keep on swimming, if you just keep on pushing through the hard times, usually what happens here is the sheer diligence is enough. Especially in the service-based industry. In the product-based industry, it can be a little bit tougher because of competition.
ROB: Sure. Those landscapes can change and there’s things that can happen. It doesn’t matter how much you keep swimming; you’re not going to rebuild your Groupon competitor today and have it thrive like crazy.
CHRIS: I don’t think Tom from Myspace is going to make this dramatic resurgence against Facebook. I think at this point Mark’s got him.
But for the most part, I’ve seen two economic downfalls. Now I’ve survived through a pandemic. We signed our first million-dollar client; a year later, we decided to part from that client. I had all the staff from that client that I refused to let go of, and I tried to be a solider and say “I’m going to sell my way out of this,” which I failed miserably. They ended up hating me on their way out anyway, even though I’m putting their salaries on my credit card. It’s terrible to say – took me almost 7 years to dig out of that hole of salaries.
However, I would do it again because of the things I’ve learned. Nothing would have forced my hand like reaching the bottom of the barrel. That’s just the way it is.
ROB: Right. It’s not that you would do it that way again; it’s that doing it that way taught you more about the next time.
CHRIS: Oh, I’m sorry, yeah, I wouldn’t say I’d do it again. I’d say I wouldn’t change it. In other words, unfortunately I feel like God wanted me to take this road so that I could – I don’t think I would’ve learned if this didn’t happen to me.
ROB: Yeah. How do you now think about that alignment between the team that’s working on a client, the revenue and team – you never want to think about when to cut the line, but there’s a very tight alignment between revenue and staff in a services business.
CHRIS: Yeah, we had to hire a consultant. Right now we use two different companies. One is called CEO Think Tank, where we run all of our numbers through them. The other one is called Simple Numbers. Simple Numbers is this really advanced accounting and virtual CFO service. They look at our numbers. We live and die by data of utilization rates, of client growth, of sales growth. There’s a balance between knowing who to have on your team and when to have them on your team and stuff like that.
We have an exceptionally high retention of employees, which has been wonderful, and that – I don’t know how to describe it. Training is probably the most expensive part of an agency because we do what we believe is some radical things, and you can’t just pull a geek off the street and say, “Hey, guess what? You have an account now.” So, investing in people, investing in training has made a big dividend for us.
When we look at the numbers, we’re really hard and we really push back when the numbers say your staff is bloated. We get that a lot. We have more staff than work. We get that a lot, but our pushback is that the more trained our staff is, the better job they do. The better job they do, the more clients stick around. And when you have a retention rate of clients in the 90s, you don’t have to sell as much because your clients stuck around.
If you bleed clients, you might think you’re saving money because you have fewer employees, but you’re spending way more in sales and marketing to try to get new clients that just fell off the bus. My analogy is falling through, but you get my point?
ROB: Yeah. Simple Numbers – is that Greg Crabtree and the labor-efficiency ratio and all that jazz?
CHRIS: Oh yeah, you’re from that area. I think they’re from down that way, aren’t they?
ROB: I think he’s over in Alabama. I could be wrong.
CHRIS: Yeah, he’s a total rock star. Read the book. The book, to me – it’s called Simple Numbers, but it could’ve been called “Simple Greek.” I require a business partner who can read that stuff. I pay someone to do my taxes. I pay someone to read my email. [laughs] All I do is talk marketing. They show me the numbers and they show me the stuff, and then we make decisions from there. But for the most part, if you trust the data, it all comes out well in the end.
ROB: That makes sense. People should definitely dig in, read it. It’s a good guide. When to cut, when to hire. All helpful in there. Chris, when people want to find you and Farotech, where should they go to find you?
One thing I will say is that if you reach out and we do a consultation, this is not a glorified sales pitch. You’re going to learn more about your business in an hour than – we try really hard to bring a lot of value to the client as opposed to just using that as an opportunity to market and pitch our services. We work really hard to tell you where you’re weak, where you should go from here. Even if you don’t use us, these are the three things you should be doing, things like that.
ROB: Fantastic. We’ll put that in the show notes. I hope people will reach out. It has been a pleasure, Chris, getting to know you and Farotech. Thank you.
CHRIS: Thanks again.
ROB: All right. Be well. Bye.
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