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.
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I am excited to be joined today by Jackie Hermes, Owner and CEO at Accelity Marketing based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Welcome to the podcast, Jackie.
JACKIE: Thanks. Excited to be here.
ROB: Fantastic to have you here. Why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about Accelity Marketing and what makes Accelity Marketing great?
JACKIE: We’ve been around for 5-½ years. We actually celebrated our 5-year anniversary in May, I believe, and being in Milwaukee, we were like, “Hey, let’s have a party at this beer garden outside.” It rained, and I thought no one was going to come, but in true Wisconsin style, we just stood outside and drank beer in the rain. It was pretty cool.
So, yeah, we’ve been around for 5-½ years. We have 12 employees now. We’ve been seeing a lot of growth in the last year. What we do is lead generation and inbound marketing for mostly B-to-B software companies. Those companies are typically pre-revenue, fundraising, or bootstrapping up until about $80 million.
ROB: Have they typically been trying to do things in-house before they work with you, or have they had just some itty-bitty freelancer, or have they been doing nothing? What is the starting point when they come to you? What do they have?
JACKIE: I would say probably 25% to 30% of our clients come to us when they’re launching a product, and those are really fun projects to work on. Their audience has never heard of them; they are completely brand new to the market, and so we get to build that awareness, build email lists and do all of that fun stuff for them.
Most of the other clients that we have either have had in-house marketers that they’ve gotten rid of, that they felt didn’t understand the business, or they’ve been working with agencies and they’ve been burned by agencies – I hear that a lot – and just feel that any agency or anyone they’ve worked with doesn’t understand their business enough and has not been effective.
The funny thing is, I find that a lot of times the resources that were in place at these companies had been doing a pretty good job, but they weren’t maybe testing and measuring enough or they weren’t reporting back the success and following all the way through with what the actual ROI of the marketing was. It can be very difficult to attribute dollars to marketing.
ROB: Right. Sometimes it’s delivering results and sometimes it’s telling people that you delivered the results, both of which are 100% necessary. When in the life of the agency did you realize how important those things were and start doubling down on that?
JACKIE: When I started, I actually was consulting by myself, working with a number of companies as their internal marketer and representing them with agencies.
One of the first startups I worked with was called Okanjo, and they were working with a pretty good-sized local agency. I remember walking into a meeting with them where the agency was pitching a website, and it just seemed like they didn’t really understand exactly what Okanjo, this company, needed. That website never ended up getting launched. I have no idea how much they paid for the work that was done.
It just seemed like a really good opportunity to create an agency that digs deeper into their clients. So we work with fewer clients and we work with them on an ongoing basis, typically for years at a time, and we get really deep into their business and become more than just a vendor partner.
ROB: Being in a software company myself, I find that sometimes we don’t even know how to explain what we’re about. Coming into probably such a diverse group of software companies, how do you manage to understand where they’re all coming from?
JACKIE: A lot of times that all starts right at the beginning, where we’re getting a lot of the client’s leadership team and their different stakeholders in the room and hearing from them, and really understanding and digging deep and spending the time to understand their industry and their pain points – and see who they’re targeting, are they targeting correctly, who are their decision-makers? Have they done all of that work, and do we believe it’s all accurate and will make us successful in the long term?
The coolest part about the beginning of those engagements is getting all the stakeholders in the room and trying to get everyone on the same page, because we often find that if there are a handful of people that have opinions on marketing, they don’t agree by the time we get to them. If we’re the fifth marketing agency that they’ve worked with, how can any resource really be successful when the stakeholders don’t agree on who they’re targeting, they don’t agree on deliverables and what success looks like? Really, that foundation setting is so important.
ROB: That sounds quite important. It sounds like you’re giving us a bit of a quiet little clinic here on some of these soft skills that are necessary to succeed with a client in terms of getting everyone into the same room. Yes, I think many agencies know they have to be effective, but as you mentioned, they forget to communicate. They don’t even know the team itself internally is not aligned in what they’re expecting to get from you.
If you have 10 people who have 10 different things they want from their agency, the agency is nearly certain to disappoint many of them.
JACKIE: For sure. I was on the phone with a prospective client on Friday and they said something that I found really interesting, which was the sales process was great, and then it felt like they got shipped off to the interns.
A lot of agencies do have interns that manage accounts. I’ve interviewed so many people that have interned at other agencies in Milwaukee and they’re like, “Oh yeah, I was managing three accounts.” I’m like, “Really? Wow.” That’s not something that we do just because I want to make sure that everything we do is really high quality and make sure that we have full-time, long-term resources for our clients. So yeah, I found that very interesting.
ROB: That intern approach is certainly one path to address I guess you could say efficiency in an agency, particularly profitability. Those things are important. You seem to have some very interesting ways of thinking about these things, so how do you think about profitability and funding for growth when interns aren’t your profit center? Nobody would say that, but it turns out to be the truth so often.
JACKIE: I know. I actually was just talking to my team about this last Wednesday in our team meeting because every month I get a breakdown of basically how profitable every employee is. I think I was like negative 570% profitable because I’m not billable anymore at this point.
But looking at the rest of my team, if I see an account manager that’s only 40% or 50%, even 60% billable in a month, it’s an opportunity to take that report and go to my team and say, “What happened? Did we have a reduction in client budget? Are we pulling focus? Are we working on too many internal projects?”
I would say that where a lot of agencies focus more on profitability – which is important for cash flow and funding for growth – we often have too many internal projects going on because we’re so excited to work on our business.
So, there’s definitely a gut check every single month where I examine that report and then go to the people that manage the different resources on our team and say, “How can we be more profitable?” Maybe it’s just a matter of hiring slower, bringing in more work for certain account managers or certain resources on the team, or like I said, reducing internal projects.
We do off-sites twice a year, and I think we walk out with so many exciting ideas that at that next quarter, we’re just not as billable because everyone’s really hustling and trying to grow our business. Which is cool, but it can be a problem if the cash doesn’t come in.
ROB: [laughs] For sure. You told us a little bit about the launching of the agency and drinking beer in the rain, but let’s talk for a moment about what happened before that. What led to you starting Accelity Marketing? How did your background lead you there?
JACKIE: It’s funny because I never actually thought I would be an entrepreneur. I was a ladder-climber, and I was good at it and I liked it. I really loved putting in – all of the same time and work that I put in as an entrepreneur, I put in in corporate, which made me fairly successful in corporate.
I remember I was working at one of the biggest SaaS companies in Milwaukee, and I was running their marketing department. They had 100 salespeople and they had two marketing people. They just didn’t see the value of marketing for lead generation. We were pitching implementing a marketing automation platform and doing a lot of the stuff that I do for our clients now.
It was a really long and hard process to get them bought in and get the leadership at this company to understand how marketing can save salespeople time. They were private equity owned, and so their philosophy was just to get a ton of people cold-calling every single person in the industry and go and push that sale – which I think is more of an old school mentality.
Anyway, as I was looking to potentially leave that company, I started applying all over the country. I applied at a company in Chicago, I applied at a company in New York, and a lot of them said – not a lot, a few of them said, “We really need someone local, but you could freelance for us for now,” like that Band-Aid until they get a resource in.
I was like, “Oh God, freelancing sounds like a really good way to be poor.” It’s so hard to get and maintain client relationships as a solo producer. So, I was really nervous about it. I kept my full-time job. Was I pregnant at the time, too? I was pregnant with my son, and I was finishing the last 6 months of my MBA. I was like, “All right, if I get 5 hours of work a week it’ll be fine, and I’ll see what happens.” I ended up getting 30 hours of work a week and was just killing myself, so I quit my full-time job and was like, “All right, I’m going to give this agency thing a go.”
As soon as I did that, one of my biggest clients brought all of their marketing in-house. That was terrifying. After that I spent a few months just hustling and trying to figure out how to get clients, sitting there every day, running into wall after wall and trying to figure out how to grow the business – and submitting my car to see if I could drive for Uber and applying for bartending licenses and just doing whatever to not go back into corporate.
So that’s the story. I ended up connecting with a few people locally here in Milwaukee and getting a few clients. Milwaukee we call “Small-waukee” because it’s a good-sized city, but it feels small, and everyone here knows each other. Once you start doing good work here, it was a lot easier to grow. Now I would say probably about 50% of our business is in Milwaukee and 50% is in other places in the country.
ROB: Wow, so you got a pretty good dose of what it’s like to run an agency earlier, when you had the large client leave. I think that’s a story that everyone ends up dealing with sooner or later. But, you’re kind of saying that you didn’t want to get back into the corporate environment you had escaped, and you didn’t want somebody to re-cage you, if you will.
JACKIE: [laughs] Yep. I am so unemployable now, it’s not even funny. At that time, I would’ve gone back, certainly. I had a family to help support and things to do. But luckily, I was able to grow it pretty well and make some money in the first year so that I was able to keep going. We’re doing a lot better now.
ROB: Congratulations. Talk about the first couple of hires beyond yourself – which probably means you had a little bit more confidence that there was too much work for you to do. Who were those first couple of hires, where did you find them, what roles were they?
JACKIE: I was looking for a “me,” which is I think a classic mistake. There’s no “you” that’s going to come in. Especially a lot of times when you’re a creative that founds a company, you have a lot of those different skills that you often don’t find in one person. I was doing copywriting and strategy and building websites and doing some design, etc. Looking for that person is never really going to work.
My first hire, I met for coffee and I was like, “This girl seems amazing,” and then I hired her. She was a great help in the first year, but overall – I remember she called me one day and I was like, “This is not a fit for you, is it?” She was like, “No, it’s not.” I was like, “Okay, I don’t think it is either. Really, good luck in the next thing that you’re going to do,” but we both knew it wasn’t a fit.
I got a lot more careful after that. I started working with some freelance designers. Actually, I have two right-hand women that run the agency with me, and one of them is that first freelance designer that I started working with about 4-½ years ago.
But the problem with freelancers is they’re running their own business too, right? They’re not 100% dedicated to your company. I ended up having some – I don’t want to say issues, but we weren’t aligned in our goals and our deadlines and all of that, because I was really dedicated to my business and they were working with five clients.
Actually, another funny story. I remember the second client that I ever got in Milwaukee, I had a big project that I had to go pitch to them, and I had hired a freelancer to do the copywriting on it. The day before, I didn’t have it. Then the night before, I didn’t have it. I heard from her at 11 p.m. that she just didn’t really like the work and she wasn’t going to do it. I was like, oh my God.
I stayed up all night and did the work myself and went to this client’s office on no sleep and presented it to them, and took a nap in my car in their parking lot the next day, and they saw me sleeping in the car. They still make fun of me for that to this day, by the way, because they’re still a client – which is great. I showed that we could get the work done.
But after that, I was like “I am not doing this freelancer thing any further. I just cannot survive any more events like this.” [laughs]
So, then I ended up hiring people full-time, and of my first four hires, three of them are still with me right now, which is amazing.
ROB: Again, lots of nice little lessons in there. I think it’s so healthy when you can part ways with someone where you both know it’s a good time to part.
ROB: And that’s a great story about sleeping in the car.
JACKIE: Oh, my God, it was awful. [laughs]
ROB: Hopefully they read in some of your commitment and how much you work hard. You gave them your last waking hours and then you rested.
JACKIE: Yep. It taught me about resource management. I think I told this story in a LinkedIn video once, and everyone was like, “You should’ve gotten the project earlier.” I was like, “I thought the person was going to give it to me!” Yes, I was freaking out for the day, but I should’ve set a deadline a few days before that. It’s all a learning process, especially when you’re just getting started.
ROB: For sure. You’ve already given us a lot of really good lessons, but if you really reflect on it, what are some things you can think of that you’ve learned in building Accelity that you would do differently if you were starting from scratch today?
JACKIE: I think, like I said, we’ve made some hiring mistakes. A lot of agencies have – it’s a cash flow problem where you can’t really hire in advance. So, when you finally do need that resource, it’s because your team is all working a million hours a week, you really need that resource, and you interview a few people and you hire the best fit.
Every single time I’ve done that, I’ve had to let that person go. It’s happened three times in the last 5 years. It’s not awful, but I think it’s an easy trap to fall into, and then you end up being further behind. Then you’re switching the faces that your clients are seeing, your company doesn’t look reliable, the quality of work maybe isn’t there, and the employee doesn’t feel good either. So, hiring I think is so, so important.
I’m the kind of person that makes decisions really, really quickly. I think that’s mostly benefitted me, but sometimes it hasn’t. We signed a contract for this company to do some inside sales type work for us last year, I believe. I liked their story; it seemed like they had good results. I should’ve done more diligence on the project before I signed a tens of thousands of dollars contract with them. We got nothing out of the contract.
Not only that, this company ended up signing on as a HubSpot partner – I want to be careful how I phrase this – signing on as a HubSpot partner and offering similar services, which I found out through one of our clients who heard about it from them. So, it was a very sticky situation.
I think that a lot of times when you have a gut that something’s not right, something’s probably not right. It can be really easy as an agency owner to want that money. I look at a contract and I’m like, “Great, I have a quota, I have money to get in the door, and I have employees to pay and my own life to fund” – but every time I’ve had a bad feeling about a potential client, it’s ended up not going well.
So now we really vet a lot more for psychographics and mindset. It’s like a baby marriage. If we work with a client for 2 or 3 or however many years and we’re working with them pretty closely, we have to know that we really like them and they like us and we want to work together. So we’re a lot more careful about that now too.
ROB: I think you’ve mentioned in a couple of different spots some different tangling, both with the SaaS company you were with, with their cold calling and outbound sales, and then your own experience with this company that you hired. Have you done anything with cold calling and outbound sales since then?
JACKIE: Yeah, we have.
ROB: Dig in on that.
JACKIE: HubSpot actually has these Sales Boot Camps. Basically, they have a lot of agency partners that sell the tool for them, so of course it benefits them, but it’s also just a really cool training program that you can send anyone through to learn how to be better at sales.
When I started my career – I actually started my career at GE Healthcare, cold calling doctors in New York City, and I hated it. Who likes to cold call? I was maybe 22 and I had no idea what I was doing. Cold calling and outbound sales scared me a lot.
When I signed up for this HubSpot boot camp – which basically you were committing to make 180 calls in this 6-week program – I submitted the application and was like, “Please don’t let me in.” I specifically remember that feeling, like, “God, I hope I don’t get in because I really don’t want to do this.”
I ended up doing it. I actually ended up doing the boot camp, we had great results from it, and I ended up speaking on it at Inbound last year. Which is a really cool turnaround, to go from hating and being terrified of calling and picking up the phone to being able to speak on it and teach other people.
So now I actually have an inside sales guy who I sent through the same program, and it’s very funny because for the first few months before he did this HubSpot sales program, he was running into a lot of walls too. He wasn’t booking a lot of meetings. I don’t think that I had given him enough guidance or enough of my time.
Then he went through this boot camp, and now he called me on Friday and said, “I set five meetings for you today.” I was like, “What? Are you serious? Those are crazy numbers.” So, I just see a lot of growth in our future. A lot of it is he’s calling on people that have come to our website, so it’s a mix of inbound and outbound.
ROB: What was his experience before you hired him?
JACKIE: He was a bar manager, actually. I swear, half of my team – I like hiring people that are really high potential that might not have a traditional background.
My last hire started working full-time when she was like 14, and she’s a super hustler. She didn’t go to college. I was like, “Eh . . .” I went to college and I got an MBA, so I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hire someone who didn’t go to college. But she’s the hardest working person, and she’s so smart because she is now 20 and she’s been working full-time in marketing for 6 years, which is crazy.
But again, Patrick managed a bar locally and he worked at his brother’s company. He’s just a super people person, and I could see the potential in him. So, hiring those high potential and trainable people has been really great for my business.
ROB: Very good. You mentioned that there’s an application process with the Sales Academy. Do you also need to be a HubSpot partner to apply for this? How does it all work, if someone’s interested and wanting to get into this?
JACKIE: You do have to be a HubSpot partner. Anyone that is a HubSpot partner can apply for these boot camps, and I think they run them three or four times a year. There’s the cold calling boot camp, and then there is a boot camp from discovery call on, both of which I did and ended up loving.
ROB: Very cool. That sounds like a great resource to check into, especially – I think people can get burned on cold calling and just give up on it, and there’s usually a way for a lot of businesses, I think.
You mentioned that this rep coming up to speed, sets five meetings for you. That’s exciting. What else is coming up for Accelity or for perhaps marketing in general that you are excited about?
JACKIE: It’s so funny; I’ve never felt on the verge of something huge as much as I do right now. I was just talking to a friend about this the other day. The momentum for my business is just crazy right now.
I don’t know if you have checked out the LinkedIn videos that I’ve been publishing, but someone approached me maybe 4 or 5 months ago who was one of my first interns, one of my first hires ever, and who now runs a personal branding and video company. He approached me and said, “You should be publishing videos on LinkedIn.” I was like, “What are you talking about?” I didn’t even know people did videos on LinkedIn.
He basically said that the platform is so early that you can get really crazy reach, and now I’ve grown to a really good number of followers. All of my videos get a lot of interaction – and the great thing is, I’m not talking about marketing. I’m talking about the same things that we’re really talking about here, like mistakes and how you get started and all of that kind of stuff. It’s just sharing that information, hearing stories from other people.
I’ve talked about some fairly personal things, too, and how they affect business day to day, and how women deal with certain things as entrepreneurs. It’s been a really cool platform, and the side benefit, I guess, is that we’re getting a lot of leads and attention from it too. I think that’s pretty cool.
ROB: That’s awesome. Yes, I do see those cross my feed. One thing I think that you do that is really, really helpful is the captions that you put on the videos are probably one of those keys. I know for me, I don’t sit in the coffee shop or in the office with my volume up because I don’t want a website just blasting out noise at me.
Having that closed caption of what you’re saying along with – a lot of your videos are filmed in a personal way, where it feels like we’re in touch with you, it lets me know when I want to turn the volume on. This may be a simple thing, but how are you producing those videos? Any key tips there to think about?
JACKIE: The guy that approached me – his name is Q, or Quentin – his team produces a lot of those videos for me. They have a DSLR camera and a mic. But maybe about half of them, I’m shooting on my phone myself.
It’s funny; when you start doing video, it can be very terrifying to be on camera, right? You’re talking about your ideas and things that are happening to you and then publishing them on a platform for anyone to come and comment on, which to me was a little scary.
Now I’ve gotten to the point where I’m like, “Hey, this happened” or “I think I have a story to tell,” and I have an iPhone X and I can just pull it out and shoot a video. I left the gym one day and was like, “I want to talk about the benefits of working out,” and I’d just worked out. I don’t need to go and primp and look all done-up to do a video on why we as entrepreneurs should be caring about our health and our fitness and how it helps you mentally and how it helps you reach your goals.
So, it’s been a cool journey. Now I can take one take of pretty much every video I do, which – there’s no chance that was happening 6 months ago.
ROB: [laughs] And the average video is somewhere between less than a minute to a few minutes? Any lessons on the length of the videos that is easy to make and easy to produce and gets a lot of attention?
JACKIE: Yeah, I keep them pretty short. Sometimes they’re really short, like 30-second snippets, and then other times I’m doing things like talking about a book I just read or talking about topics where I want to give more detail, and then maybe I’ll go 2 to 3 minutes.
But most people aren’t watching videos that long. I swear, if a video is more than a minute, it has to have me really engaged for me to watch it. The great thing about these videos on LinkedIn, too, is you can put some summary text in there to tell people what you’re talking about. You can always tell when people comment if they’ve watched the video or if they’re just commenting on the text. It’s pretty funny.
ROB: And for the videos you record yourself on your phone, you just have one of those little stands you can put on something nearby to hold your phone?
JACKIE: Yeah, or I hold it. I’ve propped it up in my car a number of times and just shot a video. It doesn’t have to be – it’s more authentic, I think, when it’s not overproduced. So as long as the sound is good and you can hear me, I think it’s good to go.
ROB: That’s awesome. I feel like I need to see a behind-the-scenes video of how you film the video. That’s a little bit meta there, though.
JACKIE: I just tape it to my windshield. It’s fine. [laughs]
ROB: [laughs] Jackie, when people want to find you and Accelity Marketing, where should they find you?
JACKIE: I am mostly on LinkedIn, and it’s linkedin.com/n/… I think it’s /thejackiehermes. When I went to grab it, @jackiehermes was taken, so I am @thejackiehermes on every platform. Same on Instagram, same on Twitter. Accelity is on all of those platforms as well.
ROB: Perfect. And the other Jackie Hermes is not the Jackie Hermes, so take that.
JACKIE: Right? I know. [laughs]
ROB: Fantastic, Jackie. Thank you for your time and your lessons learned here. I would encourage our listeners to listen carefully, because you dropped a lot of gems all throughout our conversation that are key lessons – for agencies, but for business in general.
A special thank you today to one of our previous guests, Krista Ankenman from Tank New Media, for this introduction. We love great introductions like this to get us great guests like you, Jackie. Thank you for your time.
JACKIE: Thanks, Krista. It was awesome.
ROB: All right, have a great one.
JACKIE: Thanks, you too.
Thank you for listening. The Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast is presented by Converge. Converge helps digital marketing agencies and brands automate their reporting so they can be more profitable, accurate, and responsive. To learn more about how Converge can automate your marketing reporting, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit us on the web at convergehq.com.