How does an Award-Winning Marketing Agency Market Itself?

In this episode we interviewed Paul Schmidt, Senior Marketing Strategist at a globally recognized inbound marketing agency, SmartBug Media. His areas of expertise include SEO, SEM, social media advertising, sales enablement, lead generation, marketing automation, web analytics (Google Analytics, HubSpot and others), and more. 



Derek: Paul thank you so much for coming to the second interview for the MSP Growth Talk Show. Good to have you!

Paul: Thank you for having me Derek, glad to be here.

Derek: For those who may not know Paul. Paul is currently a consultant for SmartBug Media, they are a marketing agency. The reason I brought in Paul, other than the fact that him and I go back to our HubSpot days [that’s how him and I met originally], is because he is working at a marketing agency that’s been really successful at separating themselves from the pack of other agencies, and I think that achievement is really interesting because it’s so competitive. I think about the MSP's, you also have the similar challenge in that, many of your potential clients unfortunately may perceive you just as another computer repair shop or another IT company.

I think we have a lot to learn from Paul, an experience both as a high-ranking consultant within SmartBug Media, but also he has been a consultant in general for marketing for other companies. He has had the best of both worlds. That’s why I brought in Paul.

I'm going to let Paul introduce himself, let him start telling his story and Paul, like a said two minutes ago, I may just ask you a few questions over here and there this is primarily for you come to tell SmartBug story, your story and that’s that. Paul does that sounds like good plan from your point of view?


1:50 - 2:53

Paul: yeah, that sounds a great thanks Derek, thanks for the opportunity, I’m Paul Schmidt I’ve been a strategist in SmartBug Media for the last four years. SmartBug is an intelligent inbound marketing agency, we help clients reach their data overall revenue goals through inbound marketing, through web-design paid media, we work with PR, and then we put some clients come work through us as they need help with sales enablement. Those are some of the mayor areas we help our clients with.

Derek was talking about how there are a lot of marketing agencies out there, and a lot of MSP's out there, so how do you really stand out from the pack? You know SmartBug has continued to see a lot of growth over the last decade, and we are going to be talking today about the things we’ve done to help drive growth. Let's just jump into the questions that you have.


2:54 – 3:02

Derek: When did you join SmartBug Paul? Was it two, three years ago?

Paul: Yes, over four years ago time has flown... crazy.

Derek: Wow! I can’t believe it, it's been four years man! When you got there, you've just left HubSpot right? You went to SmartBug from HubSpot? Is that right?

Paul: That’s correct.


3:20 - 4:58

Derek: Right, when you got there, what was SmartBug looking like? How big where they in terms of number of people, number of clients? What was sort of the mood at the agency when you arrived? What was happening there?

Paul: Sure there were about twenty of us when I came on board, about four years ago, we are probably close to 60 now. You know one thing about SmartBug is that it made you seek other technologies providers.

We were probably one of the first agencies part of the agency program with the technology provider of HubSpot. This way you are able to make relationship with technology, and take a risk on that technology service providers and really dive in with both feet, and that's something that has really woked as a great advantage for us and it helps us to have a good relationship with them, not only because we use their technology, but also being able to drive more business to SmartBug via referrals and also being able to take advantage of the success of other larger companies at that time, like HubSpot, and being able to do some co-marketing type of thing.

That’s kind of the early success that we started and was like wow, you can get a lot of referrals from our technology providers, that’s something that may be true for MSP's.


5:00 - 5:32

Derek: Folks you may not be familiar with HubSpot as Paul and I are so, Hubspot is a sales and marketing platform, they have all kinds of applications: CRM tools, blogging tool, social media, and everything. That’s what Paul is talking about, how SmartBug is part of the HubSpot partner program. Paul, can you explain what is the partner program? Dive in quickly so they can understand that part.


5:33 - 6:25

Paul: It’s like any other partner program you may be familiar with. When you partner with a technology provider, often times you’re able to get business through that client, either from referrals and you’re able to earn commissions from referring your own customers to that technology provider. That's like the base why service organizations are doing this partnerships. There are so many benefits you can get from it. HubSpot, that’s like our really big first early partnership that we had, really helped us gain a lot of growth and helped us drive more clients our way and, that's how HubSpot helped us grow bringing more business from that channel.


6:27 - 7:12

Derek: Right, right so , it’s kind of a giving, if you are part of a partner program, that if you are doing well or your existence clients, the tech-vendor that you partner with they’re gonna notice your wins and they’re gonna create ways for you to get in touch with more clients. So HubSpot has been a good source of, I imagine, many leads for SmartBug.

Let’s put that aside because, you know there must be much more that SmartBug has done to grow from twenty people, when you arrived, to 60 today... Can you talk a little bit more about some of the other efforts, sort of campaigns, or just general strategies, or things you notice at SmartBug that you guys do well to grow?

7:12 - 8:56

Paul: There  are so many service providers out there, marketing and sales service providers, and to really stand out at marketplace, it's like you need to build a reputation that you really can provide better service compared to the other hundred or thousand agencies that are out there.

If you think about our growth, a couple of lessons that we take today from our beginning, is that every single person at SmartBug is a contributor towards our marketing and it leverages all our team to be able to create educational content, with the best blog content, webinars, podcasts, videos, anything like that. And that is how a services provider stands out. I think they are really leveraging your brand, as well as the brand of all your employees, and all of the people that work with. Being able to do that really helps you elevate your brand, every team member we bring helps grow a little bit more and help us get a little more awareness in the market place. I think that’s a really big thing.

Sometimes, service providers can grow and they just think , you know, that we can just let our marketing department handle all the rest of the blogging, or handle all the marketing, and nobody else needs to be concerned with that, but thats really not true, every single one of your team member can have some sort of value that you can provide to the marketplace and really helps elevate your brand. I would say that's one big lesson, just leveraging your teams expertise.


8:57 – 9:20

Derek: Can I ask something about that contribution per person? So do you just pitch? Or do you just say to the marketing team at SmartBug, "hey I’m gonna write about this this month" and they just kind of approve? Do you guys have something like a systematic approach where you say, ok we need to target this industry so everyone is going to write about x,y,z.


9:20 - 10:30

Paul: There’s a few ways to do it. Certain people on our team are subject matter expert. For example, you know I socialize in analytics and SEO, so sometimes I'll pitch an idea to our marketing team say "hey! Look me we should go down this route, I’ve got an interesting idea". That's one way we go, with the subjects matter expert, you know that person should be writing about it.

Another one, your overall goal may be you’re trying to stand and chew another vertical, you’re launching a new solution or something like that, in that case there may be a cloud of topics that are related to that topic, you know we have our team and just concentrate in writing towards that topic, writing towards the persona, writing toward the pain points of that specific article.

We give a couple of ways but I think providing possibilities for your team is the right way, if you mandate that someone has to write this exact same topic and they don’t know a lot about it, or they don't have a lot of interest in that topic, it's hard to get that by and it's hard to creat something interesting.


10:30 – 10:45

Derek: That makes a lot of sense, and beyond the blogging, is there anything else that SmartBug is doing that you think has been working pretty well? Aside from that, something else stands up?


10:45 – 12:47

Paul: We talked about technology partnerships and things like that, I think also, you just need to be present, really understand your audience, and who exactly you’re targeting, where they hang out, what they read, and really, like instead of trying to create this "stylo" content marketing experience in your website, where you’re expecting everybody to come to your website to learn about your services, and read your blog, and whatnot. I really think about how you can get in front of your marketplace, where is your marketplace, I think that’s a big lesson.

We know that a lot of SmartBug clients, they happen to be distinct HubSpot users, so in that case it’s like “where do HubSpot users hang out?” Sometimes they hang out in HubSpot Land, sometimes they hang out on other market technology provider publications, sometimes they hang out in LinkedIn and so I think that’s a big part of it, is like we have a good idea now like where we get our best leads from or where we get our most traffic from, just do to that research.

I think that’s going to really apply in working with MSP's that, you know, sometimes MSP's are geographically based in a certain area and they’re only service clients in a certain area, or sometimes they’re vertical based technology perspective and they’re real specialist in security, and so, in that case is like “where do people that, let’s say, work in the security side, where are those people reading content, where those people are hanging out online?” and so that’s where if you can really have an understanding of where those people are, you go to them, and I think that’s a big lesson also if you are a growth, it’s like we create a lot of content for our own eco-system on our website, but we also get out there and we get off our web site, we go to other places where are audiences and we meet them there.


12:48 – 13:37

Derek: That is awesome, I think that’s a great, great tip. So I think one of the challenges is… Maybe someone listening to this and MSP might be like “Oh yes! You know, we’ve thought of this”. Do you have any suggestions for how they can break in to, say a HubSpot or, you know, a security blog or a security web site? How do you guys approach these organizations? For them to sort of be willing to take, you know, your ideas, your content, because they’re doing you a favor in the sense that, you know, they’re putting your material in front of their audience so… Is it just as simple as just reaching out like an e-mail? Or do you guys have like a nuanced approach to kinda’ build in this relationships with watering holes if you will?


13:38 – 15:02

Paul: It’s just like, you know, when I think about this watering holes is like, the lowest hanging fruit is finding people, like, going to places where you already have some sort of existing relationship, like, that’s going to be a lot easier to like trying to find those opportunities for you to interact with other people if you already know somebody there versus you trying to enter a brand new area, new eco system, and so, that’s what is, again, we’ve seen a lot of success out, like, you know, we’ve got technology partnerships with HubSpot and others, and, you know, by building this relationships with the most technology providers, we look, like, a lot of these technology providers have blogs and online channels of their own, they’ve got LinkedIn channel, they’ve got others like industry specific website, so, really, like, discovering what types of venues that you could take advantage of that are from people that you already know. I think that's the kind of the lowest hanging fruit because you don't have to go, like, if you already have a relationship built, some trust built, and you can say “look we've got some expertise”. “We've got something of interest that your audience would find of value” and I think that's the important part, first just build out that list of five to ten relationships that you have outside of your company in the industry, that would be great places for you to approach first to show, look you could add value to their audience as well through content and whatnot.


15:02 – 15:57

Derek: That's a great idea. I mean, sometimes we don't even realize that the people that are closest to us, they may in fact be our greatest resource for a connection of this nature. So makes a lot of sense. I want to shift into one more topic here before we let you go Paul. Let's say you're successful in getting a couple of guest blogs, if you will, at some of these places you're talking about and, you know, your technology partner is sending you some leads, eventually people get to your website or they get to your LinkedIn profile or what have you, and then they start reading about you on your website and there's so many marketing agencies out there, right? So, is there something about your branding or your messaging or how you talk about yourselves that helps you guys to sort of move that opportunity forward? Just want to talk and hear more about how SmartBug maybe talks about themselves. How you guys talk about yourselves?


15:58 – 17:42

Paul: I think one part of SmartBug’s success is being able to put a face to the brand. I think that’s what helps us because when people come to our website, or if you see us online, or learn about it, there's always, like, there's something, there's a face there. We're not hiding behind a logo of SmartBug, and, so I think that it really helps, kind of, put, you know, put a human, add some humaness to the brand and I think that makes you a little bit more approachable when people have questions, they don't feel scared of, like, they don't feel like they have to go to your “Contact us form” to ask a question. They can reach you on social, they can find you, maybe you're on forums and things like that, and so, I think that's a big part of how we got our brand out there. It’s really just like making sure all of our teammates are creating content and sharing that content across the board. So that's been useful.

Another big part of the Smartbug brand, we're a hundred percent distributed, or remote agency, so we have employees all over the US and Canada. You know, you can really live and work anywhere these days as long as you have connection, you know, we as an agency, we're able to hire the smartest people because it doesn't matter where you live. We don't have to have people that are within 10 miles of our headquarters. We don't need those kind of people, we can hire them from wherever and they can provide great service to our clients. And so, that's another big part of the brand is like being able to capitalize on a strong network that's throughout the US and throughout North America really.


17:42 – 19:33

Derek: I'm actually on your website now and I'm looking at the “About” section where it has the SmartBug Palooza and I think that that speaks to what you're talking about because, like, anyone who sees that in the menu, like, they're gonna be like “What the hell is SmartBug Palooza? “ and then it has all these pictures about you guys and it talks about the remote model and, you know, it’s like you said it has your picture and all the other ones and, you just look like regular folks, and it's not like this sense of like, you know, this is an agency that's just full of themselves, that they're just going to be, you know, hard to maybe make a connection with, not going to understand my business. That's not the sense that I get. It feels more like a family, that you guys are close-knit and that you're down to earth and I feel like that kind of speaks to what you're just talked about, so, it's awesome.

Well, Paul, I mean, I don't know if there's anything else. I feel like it’s a recap, so, you're talking about the recap for everyone. So we've talked about connecting, taking full advantage of the vendors in the technology platforms that we already work with, right? A lot of times they want to celebrate your successes as an MSP, and if you're successful they will send leads your way. So that's super low hanging fruit. SmartBug has done that. Also getting your team to contribute to content. So everyone's working day to day in technology, in making your clients successful in their networks and whatnot. But you may have certain specialists on security, so get them to write a blog post on security, have them contribute. And it sounds like the last part we talked about here, it was just being yourself, putting the aspects about your company on your site that... Can you remind me how to disarticulate that last part?


19:34 – 20:10

Paul: You know, showcase your employees, and your team, and your website is really gonna help you, you know, when people come to your website and they're researching you they're gonna know that you're not just this kind of corporate locked up in an office box. They're going to see there's actual people that work there that have emotions and feelings just like you. So, I think that's a big part of it. It’s really showing off your talent, showing off thats fun work there and showing that, you know, it's like they're a fun company and that you're going to be a fun company to work with.


20:11- 20:25

Derek: I think that was that authenticity that we keep hearing about. It sounds like that's sort of what it is there. Paul is there anything else that you feel like you want to mention? Or, I mean, this has been a lot but, let me give you the last word, if there's anything else you want to add.


20:26 – 21:19

Paul: I think those are the major points. Again, just don't think that all of the marketing you have to do has to be on your website. There's so many things that you can do that are affordable as well that you can do to help get in front of your audience, and I think that's some of the big success that I've seen in working with MSP's. Like, let's just figure out what we're good at, who we’re targeting, and let's really just focus on that and lets, you know, if our niche is a specific vertical then looks like, really lean into that, and let's go into those channels where our audience is having these conversations and let's be part of it, and when we go to those channels, let's not just pitch our services, but let's try to add value. Let's add to this conversation. I think by doing that there's some small things, you know, you can make in an hour, a week, that would really help you build your pipeline and help grow your brand and what can be commoditized at marketplace.


21:19 – 21:30

Derek: Awesome, awesome Paul. Thank you so much. Guys, so thanks for listening. We will post this with the full transcript on the Blog soon. All right there. Thanks for all. Have a good one. Thank you.

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