Episode 373 - Todd Westra / Angela Hill

00:25 Hey, welcome back to another episode of the Growth and Scaling Podcast. Today, we are blessed to have with us Angela Hill. Angela, will you please tell us who you are and what you do?

00:36 Hi everyone, I am the founder and CEO of Incitrio. We are a branding and marketing agency in North County, San Diego. I started my agency 19 years ago after working for big brands and big agencies for many years. 

00:52 Wow, 20 years, almost 20 years. I mean, 1920-ish, that's a long time to run an agency. Who do you serve with your agency? Who's your ideal avatar that you're going after? Who do you help?

01:05 So, right now we work with a lot of B2B companies that are typically in some kind of technology space. So it could be software, fintech, complex manufacturing, hardware engineering, medical device. As long as there's something complicated about it and it's B2B, that's usually a good fit for us.

01:31 You like the complicated.

01:33 I do.

01:35 That's awesome. Now, tell me about that, because that's an interesting phrase you just said. I mean, complicated means what to you?

01:48 Oftentimes when we work with clients, what I have found is that there's typically a founder CEO who is incredibly brilliant. They've got this amazing idea for either a product or service, and they've gotten their business to a certain point, and then they're stuck. And that point may be that they've flatlined. It could be that what was working for marketing and sales before doesn't work now. It could be that they're going down. They have a downward trajectory or could that they the founder CEO is just getting tired of doing the business and they want to exit within 18 to 24 months. And what I found is in those scenarios, when you have a very technical brilliant founder CEO, they're really great at coming up with a solution to a problem. And their product or service is typically exceptional, but they are not great at targeting their ideal customer audience, differentiating from their competition, and crafting either the right brand visuals or messaging or using the right marketing tools to accomplish their revenue goals. Because they can do it, but they can't explain it.

03:28 Right, I was gonna say they do it, but they don't really know how they got to where they got, right? And part of that, I mean, you and I both recognize this pretty immediately. What the problem is that some of them just don't know how to define their ideal client, right?

03:48 Well, and it's more than just defining the ideal client because they may know like, I wanna go after this job title or I wanna go after this industry or I wanna launch in this region or I wanna stay with the US or I need to go international. But in that next step of understanding how typography or colors or pictures or video or words either effectively or ineffectively communicate why someone should buy what it is they've made, that's where they get stuck. Because they could do the technical speak, but then they may not be able to translate it for other people that are part of the sales process that also need to have buy-in on that purchase.

04:37 Totally agree, totally agree. Now your agency, what you do for these people is what? When you find someone in one of these, in one of these scenarios that you've just described, what's one of the first things that you do to try and help them?

04:50 So a lot of times I will initially engage with either a branding strategy or a marketing strategy. That may happen on a project basis or sometimes I come in as a fractional chief marketing officer.

05:07 Love it.

05:08 And what that does is it enables me to take a look at the back end infrastructure. Do they have the right team in place? Does the team have the right skill sets? Do they have the right systems and processes? What about the software they're using? What does their budget look like? Are they even able to track marketing ROI? Do they have a clear understanding of their sales sequence and the sales pipeline? There's so many things that go into marketing and branding that pretty much 100% of the time something's missing.

05:47 Of course.

05:48 But you have to identify, what you want to fix before you engage. So the analogy that I use with my clients is, if your company is a car and I'm a mechanic and you bring me your car to fix it, I have to look under the hood to figure out what's wrong with the engine before I can give you an estimate or a timeline or details regarding the best way to fix the problem.

06:19 It's very tough to put a bandaid on something that could be like a burst artery or something, right?

06:27 Right. Yeah. So sometimes I'm an ER surgeon, you know, working trauma. And sometimes a general practitioner saying, okay, you're not in terrible shape, but there's a couple things we can fix.

06:45 Right, right. I love the way you look at that, and I love that analogy because, you know, truly there are sometimes very simple tweaks that that's the reason why the car can't go over 35 miles an hour, right? I mean, it sometimes can be a simple messaging thing, it could be a simple sales typically saying, it can be a simple targeting thing, but they really just don't know why they're stuck at 35, right?

07:07 Exactly. And that's often why companies plateau because what worked six months ago or 12 months ago isn't working now and they don't really know what else they should be doing or how to do it differently to get to that next stage.

07:27 Right, right. And having worked with as many companies as you have over a 20 year lifespan as a marketing agency, I gotta believe that you've seen so many different elements of companies in this stage where they're like, okay, I kind of don't know where to go next. And as you take these first few steps of them and you look under the hood, what are the most common red flags that you're seeing? What are the things that just kind of pop up and you're like, Ah,  that belt's broken, that piston's not working. What are you seeing most regularly?

08:06 So there's a couple of things that I see on a regular basis. One is that maybe they have a sales CRM and a marketing automation system, but the two systems aren't talking to each other. So you're missing that business or brand intelligence. 

08:21 Totally.

08:22 The other thing that I see is that you have a well-meaning person within the organization that is missing knowledge and they're overspending, and they're on the wrong software, or the wrong keywords in a Google AdWords campaign, or they're not putting tactics in place to track the effectiveness of their marketing in order to demonstrate ROI from their marketing efforts. So they don't even really know what's working or not working.

09:04 Totally agree. And as you see that, I mean, those are definitely some common things. And for those listening, if you're in this boat, please know that Angela is describing, not just you, she's not just talking to you. She's talking to like a lot of people in that say two to $10 million range. These are huge, hugely common problems. And so you're not alone. Angela, what do you do when you see these things and like these disparate systems and no real metrics of measurement? How do you help them?

09:38 So we typically try to meet them where they are. So if they have an existing infrastructure, an existing technology stack with certain software that they're currently using, we first try triage to see if we can fix that. If you can't, or if the needs that they have are too great and the software or the people that are working on the software need training, or you need to switch out something the way I like to describe it is it's your house, and I'm like your interior designer slash architect. You tell me what your dream home looks like, and I will come in, I'll clean it up, I'll fix it up, I'll make sure everything's working great, and then I will hand it back to your internal team.

12:02  Love it. Love it. And that makes such a difference, doesn't it? I mean, how do you improve on something you're not currently measuring? That's a huge problem. And I think that so many business owners and operators are running this business like you said, spending a lot of money on marketing and ad dollars and things like that without really even knowing, oh my gosh, I could have bought this long tail keyword for a third of the price instead of spending all that money on something that all my competitors are doing, right? Lack of strategy.

12:42 Well, it's not even just lack of strategy. It's what I like to call the shiny object syndrome. So maybe the CEO or the head of sales or marketing goes to a trade show or a conference, or they read an article and they go to the marketing team and they say, hey, let's try this. And the marketing team says, okay, boss, you got it. I'm gonna do what you asked for. But, at no point is anyone saying, time out, is this the right place for us to be spending our time and energy

13:15 Is there a return there?

13:16 considering our current budget and our current team skill set? So there's just some common sense stuff. Like if I'm working on a brand and it's B2B and it's financial and I'm targeting male CFOs 45 to 65 and I'm choosing colors, I'm probably not gonna choose bubblegum pink. Like that's a common sense kind of thing. I'm probably not going to advertise on TikTok. Like I might, or I might go on Instagram, but for the most part, probably not. So there's just some unspoken rules about color theory or understanding your audience and where are they on social media.

14:08 Agreed.

14:09 And my philosophy is don't waste your time doing every possible marketing strategy and tactic. Instead, figure out what's working, figure out what's not working, focus your energy on what's working, and then keep monitoring and adapting and evolving and refining. Because there's no, unfortunately, there's no such thing as a set it and forget it marketing plan.

14:37 Agreed. And every case, every company is different, every stage of the company is different, every client you're going after is different. There's really not a good cookie cutter recipe for this. How do you, you mentioned earlier that you've, you've had this agency for almost 20 years now, and in the past few years, you've kind of delved into some fractional CMO relationships with people. How has that been different than managing from an agency level versus being in on an executive level within a company.

15:12 Yeah, it's, I don't know how to explain it other than it works better. 

15:25 Interesting.

15:26 Because when I can get in there, I can be the translator between the C-suite, the sales team and the marketing team. And C-suite can say, Hey Angela, I really need to understand how my different departments are performing. Like even within sales, like you might have different teams focused on different service or product lines. And the CEO needs to see the overhead picture, but then the CEO or maybe the VP of sales just needs to see what's specific to sales. But then the CFO needs to see that same information, but from a different perspective. And so I really enjoy like we do a lot of work in HubSpot, we're a HubSpot agency, and I really enjoy building out these reports and dashboards. And if I can't do it in HubSpot, then it's good old fashioned Excel where I'm building out a spreadsheet. But I'm leveraging marketing automation tools to plug in the data and then be able to predict. Like for example, I have this amazing client that I love working with. And I was able to not only demonstrate ROI from a trade show that they went to. So it was like, we spent a thousand in marketing. It generated 2.5 million in opportunity and we closed 1.2 million in revenue. And I, and I have the attribution. I have all the details to be able to show that to the CEO. And then the CFO said, well, now, how do I look at the stuff that you're doing and be able to predict the future? I built out a spreadsheet based on HubSpot reports where I'm plugging in how many days from opening a deal to close one, what's the percentage of each stage to close one, and then how does that break out on a per project class basis for each of the different things that they sell. Based on the number of days and the percentage of close rate, I can do cash flow forecasting to help the CFO see what kind of revenue should be coming in the next two to three months. 

17:49 Love it.

17:51 And it's based on data.

17:52 Yeah, yeah, it's not just a feeling.

17:55 It's not subjective. It's not, oh, I really like that color, that picture. It's like, no, this is data based on what's really happening in your company. Now we get to make good decisions.

18:07 I love it, I love it. This has been so fun. Honestly, I think this is such a fun conversation because I really feel like our target audience for this podcast is listening thinking, okay, this is great because I don't know how to talk to agencies. I don't have anyone on my team that can talk to an agency. I love how you use the word translator between these departments because I really do think that what you said is exactly true. Most operators or CEOs in a company don't know how to talk marketing. They don't know how to read marketing reports. And most sales teams say, ah, screw the marketing team. I'm just gonna have my sales guys generate their own leads. Which is a huge mess in and of itself, right? So at what point in a company's growth is it right to say, you know what, this fractional CMO thing actually sounds really good. Where do I look into that versus, I'm just gonna trust my agency blindly to handle all that stuff for me.

19:07 Yeah, so I would say at the point that you are spending money on an agency, you need a senior person in marketing on a fractional basis to be your advocate, to look at the agency contract and make sure that what you asked for is actually in the proposal and quote that they sent. And there's not a hidden language that's going to be a gotcha later. Or some hidden clause that's going to cost you way more money. Or like I've seen, I've seen companies commit to ridiculous contracts only because they didn't realize what they were agreeing to, and then they got locked into something that didn't work and they couldn't get out of it.

19:55 And they lose all their assets and creatives and everything they spent time and money on, they're gone.

20:01 Well, and it just uses up a lot of the marketing budget. And then they're trying to make do with what little bit is left. Imagine you brought in a senior person, and it doesn't have to be me, but somebody who it is their responsibility to speak up for you and to say, no, that's not good enough. No, I need you to make an edit to that contract. Nope, I see where we're going with this creative, I need these modifications because that person acts as your brand champion. That person is thinking about your business and what we're trying to accomplish from a sales and a profitable revenue perspective. Not just can we get a bunch of marketing qualified leads in, check, I did my job, we're good. Not just did we schedule that initial meeting, sales qualified lead, check, we're good. No, it's all the way through the sales process because you have to put good quality prospects in to get good quality revenue out.

21:08 100%, 100%. I love that. I love what you've been describing. This whole conversation, I think, has been so valuable to people because they don't know when to turn to a marketing director or a fractional CMO or who is qualified to be my in-house person to be able to articulate what I want from an agency and what I want from my lead journey and that initial lead acquisition stage. Cause that's tricky. That's tricky. In fact, it's so tricky that a lot of the sales directors and fractional, yeah, I've had a lot of people on the show who are sales leaders and sales, huge sales advocates and fractional VP of sales, that kind of thing. They almost ignore what you're talking about as a marketing director to build that messaging, build that target audience, and start generating the quality leads that a sales team needs to close on, right?

22:06 Right. And that's the classic dilemma. Market says sales, I gave you good leads. What'd you do with them? And sales says marketing, you gave me crappy leads. I couldn't do anything with them. And they instead of working together and communicating effectively, and partnering to accomplish the same goal, they have an adversarial relationship. And it's not productive. But that's why you someone who can be that bridge and says, okay sales, I hear you, you say the leads are crappy, tell me why? Oh, it needs to be this size company that we're targeting or it needs to be this job title or needs this industry or this type of project we're going after. You plug that back into marketing, well now we've dialed in our customer archetype and our messaging and what we're trying to accomplish. We have our personas were way more effective in marketing.

23:07 100%. But it's not.

23:10 Yeah, well, and I always tell the marketing teams that I work with, I say, feedback is a gift. 

23:22 Yes.

23:23 Don't take it as an insult. Don't take it personally. It's a gift. It's an opportunity for you to improve the work that you're doing and get better results for the company that you.

23:31 100%. So Angela, this has been so good. We're almost to the end of where we need to be in this conversation in terms of timeline for my people. But the audience wants to know about your business. You know, 20 years in business is phenomenal. It's exciting. It's what a lot of people look for in longevity for what they're creating right now, how have you done it and what are some highlights along the way that have kind of helped you maintain that and continue to grow your client base with that agency?

24:06 So I would say the key to longevity is change, evolving and adapting as technology changes, particularly in marketing. When I started my agency, we were focused on branding and print design, traditional graphic design, like logos and brochures and catalogs, annual reports. And if it was on paper, that's what we were doing. And what happened was websites started becoming something that people really needed as a company. So then we started doing website design and development. And then we added organic search and then paid search and then email marketing and then social media and video and then marketing automation. And so the only way to survive and thrive is to be willing to evolve and adapt based on what's going on in your particular industry. That's not exclusive to marketing. It really applies to everybody. If you don't evolve and adapt, it will be very difficult to survive.

25:19 Agreed, agreed, I love it, I love it. You have done a wonderful job of doing that and I totally respect the heck out of you for being able to stick in your business this long. Obviously there's gonna be some things you're gonna do differently in the future to continue to grow and adapt, but also thinking about next stages. How important is it for you when you talk to clients is that exit strategy? I mean, do you work into that? Do you delve into that at all? You talked at one point about businesses that are, I wanna be out of this in 18 to 24 months, but I just wanna build a revenue boom. How do you look at that?

25:57 So I have quite a bit of experience working with companies that want to exit. Typically there's that brilliant owner, founder that started the company and maybe they're just tired and they're ready to exit. There are so many things that we can do from a branding and marketing perspective, either to make it easier to transition when they get acquired or appeal to that potential acquirer because that really is a marketing tactic of making your company appealing to them as a target audience. Or I have even done something where it's more like an annoyance campaign. Like we make so much noise and create so much attention and disrupt so much to try and win business away from them. But the only way they can get that company to go away is to buy them. So there's lots of cool things.

27:10 That was kind of a fun strategy. I've never heard of that one. I like it.

27:11 Yeah, I had a medical device company that I was working with and they had a superior product and their two competitors were just ginormous. And so we went to the, to the hottest, biggest trade show of the year. And it was bananas, the push that we went out there. And then six months later, that company acquired them and was like, away. You were making it really hard for us to do our job because you do have a product that's technically better than ours.

27:45 Wow, wow, I love it. That is definitely a new one. I've never gone out and done an annoyance campaign, but I love the strategy. That sounds awesome. Well, Angela, yeah, I'm sure it was. I'm sure it was. So Angela, in closing, you know, I just love what you've done. I love what you've built. This conversation is super effective for those listening because we've gone through a lot of different marketing advice, a lot of different growth and scaling advice. Tell us last of all, is there someone in your path that's been in your, I guess, circle of influence who's kind of inspired you that you'd like to give a shout out to today?

28:25 Yeah, I'd really like to do a shout out to Carrie Mayers. She was my business and sales coach when I was first getting started. 

28:36 Awesome.

28:37 She is the one that taught me about the importance of crucial conversations and that it's more important to have a difficult conversation when your problem is early and small than to procrastinate and avoid the conflict and wait until later. And that has been a really valuable lesson that I have been able to use in my business and my personal life.

29:04 Very smart, I agree. That's a good personal and business advice point. Love it. Thank you, Carrie for doing that for you. I love it. Well, thank you so much. I think that this has been valuable content. We sure appreciate you being here and taking the time to do this with us. Thank you so much for being here, and we look forward to catching all of you after this episode on the very next one. We'll see you then.

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