TRANSCRIPTION OF EPISODE
Chris Battis: On this episode of Intent Topics, we are joined by guest Bret Ludlow of Liquid Interactive. Today we’ll be talking about using a consultative selling approach to selling digital services.
Chris Battis: Hello everybody. Thank you for tuning into Intent Topics today. Today we have Brett Ludlow from Liquid. Brett, excited to have you on the show. Tell us what you are doing now and how you got there.
Bret Ludlow: First of all, thank you guys. I’m really excited to be here. I’m a big fan and you guys do great work, so I’m looking forward to it. My name is Brett Ludlow. I’m the vice president of strategic solutions at Liquid. Liquid is a firm based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, so just about an hour outside of Philly. We help companies become better digital businesses. We do that by enhancing their customer experience and improving operational efficiencies by leveraging digital technology in new and effective ways. We have four focus areas at the company. We have analytics, technology, brand and creative and digital marketing. So we bring all of those together under one roof to bring the best solutions to our clients. My job right now in the role I’m in is to really align with the senior leadership that our clients and our prospects, deeply understand their business objectives, their goals as it relates to digital transformation or really any of the areas of focus we have. And then work with our senior team members, and consultants that we have at Liquid to architect the solutions that meet their needs, form relationships and grow our relationships with those clients.
Bret Ludlow: One of the other areas of focus in this industry always evolves, always growing, always changing, one of my focuses is bringing new services, service offerings to market for the agency. So having that focus as well as we evolve.
Chris Battis: That’s fantastic.
Logan Kelly: That’s awesome. So you guys have clients like Mac, Volvo Trucks, Crayola. Some pretty a small clients. You guys have a lot to offer. I think there’s agencies that do pretty well focusing on one of the things that you guys offer, but you seem to bring everything together very, very, very effectively, which is great. Even your guys’ presence is awesome. We were looking at Instagram, your website, all that, very tight.
Logan Kelly: One of the things we talk about here at Union is agencies that present as a jack of all trades is sometimes hard to really find the angle to sell it. The temptation is what’s your problem? We can solve it. And it’s something we’ve seen a lot of people kind of fall into that trap, but you guys obviously have great customers, have grown very fast. How do you go to market in a way that is effective even though you have so many different competencies-
Chris Battis: Without diluting your services.
Bret Ludlow: That’s a really good question. I can tell you that it’s definitely difficult to run a company like Liquid that can maintain all of this in-house expertise across many areas. One of the other unique parts is that we’re technology agnostic. So from a platform, what we’re going to build in, what we’re going to architect solutions in, it’s really what are their requirements, what are their goals first. And then based on our experience across many different platforms and our partnerships, we’ll bring the best team to the table.
Bret Ludlow: So it’s difficult. There’s a lot of, you’re always investing, you’re always investing in new areas. You always keep looking for that next hire that knows that next expertise. It’s definitely not an easy way to go about it, but I think it’s rewarding at the end of the day because our customers can trust us to solve their problems with technology. So a lot of our times our customers, they’re smart, they know what they are trying to accomplish. They either don’t have the teams, they don’t have the resources or they’ve made an investment in a platform and their vendor left them and they don’t know how to really make it work. We can bring that all together.
Bret Ludlow: So what we like to do is lead with, you’re not even talking about necessarily our service offerings and getting granular right away. We say we’re a digital business company. We can make digital work, whatever that means for you, whatever you need and let’s just listen to what you’re trying to accomplish and we’ll fill in the blanks from there.
Bret Ludlow: One of the interesting parts is the brand side. People might say, “Why does a digital company do branding and brand strategy? It’s not necessarily traditional to what a digital digital agency would do.” From our perspective, if you are evolving your technology and you’re evolving your customer experience and you’re changing, always improving the way you do business with your customers, if your brand’s not evolving to keep pace with those changes, your customer experience really can only hit a certain evolution point. It’s a fun story to tell, but it definitely has its complexities because you go up into the market and if a company has a specific need, like, “Hey, I need an SEO partner,” and they are looking at firms that have just as many people as Liquid but only do SEO all day, every day, that’s definitely a strong contention and strong competitor for us in that situation. But we’ll try to open up their minds and say, “Okay, we know how SEO fits into the bigger picture of what you’re trying to achieve, oh, and by the way, maybe shift focus away in some areas or look at how you can compliment that in other ways with paid service.”
Bret Ludlow: So we’re taking more of kind of, maybe sometimes change a conversation, but do it with that kind of us understanding that whole picture of their digital ecosystem.
Logan Kelly: That’s awesome. I hear all the time, it’s like in this space, in the customer experience, it’s a buzz word, right? User experience, customer experience, like investment in digital platforms and all that kind of stuff. And then we talk about things like brand evolution and all that. I think it’s easy to get caught up in I have to have a good customer experience, and you have all these people talking about different KPIs around customer experience and personalization, all that kind of stuff. But when we talk about how that all rolls down to the bottom line, and you guys are talking about solving business problems and that’s what really interests me. So it’s not like we’re looking at nice looking things. What are some of the metrics that you guys look to drive when it comes to really getting that return on investment in things like customer experience and all that? What are some of the things that brands that you work with can expect to see from that investment where it’s not just like table stakes, it’s, it’s actually real bottom line?
Bret Ludlow: It’s a good question. I think we look for growth in a couple ways. One of those ways is the operational efficiencies we’ll help them discover, not just by outsourcing work to Liquid, but by us finding ways that they are under-utilizing their technology. So a lot of times we work with clients that have enterprise systems, enterprise platforms, they paid a ton of money and painful implementations, but it’s there and they’re using it, but they’re only using maybe 10% of the platform that they’re paying for. And they’re not leveraging and they’re paying for another license for another tool that does something very similar to what this other platform that they’re under-utilizing can do.
Bret Ludlow: And so we’ll jump in and just say, “Okay, just for the same costs that you’re already paying for your license fee, fold in these three platforms you’re paying for, we’ll migrate over to this one and we’ll build one ecosystem under here and you’ll fully optimize and leverage the platform you have. So there’s a cost savings and an operational efficiency side to that, that we can really tangibly track and say, how many hours of one persons manual effort did you save and put that energy elsewhere because you can optimize the connections between these two platforms, whatever it may be. So that is definitely one area of it.
Bret Ludlow: The other area of it is the growth side of it. Now the customer experience as you just said in terms of it’s a very common thing, but if you can’t prove it, it’s hard to retain that customer relationship. So we get as deeply ingrained into their metrics organization, the numbers that make them tick as we can, when we’re kind of driving these types of programs efforts. We’ll look at, for example, we have a client that B2C services, they have about 200,000 customers but their customers are cross selling into other service areas was really low. It was kind of stagnating. They’d get their customer in the door, they’d pay that reoccurring revenue fee, but their cross sell rate to other products that should be no- brainer, it was very low.
Bret Ludlow: So we dug through their customer data. They were using Domo. We dug into that. Understood, okay, what are the similarities between customers that are buying these services? What trends can we find within that customer? Okay. Now let’s leverage the platforms that they have in terms of email marketing, in terms of social targeting, and really target individuals with unique messages that meet those criteria and then see the uptick.
Bret Ludlow: So with things like that and studies like that, that they don’t have time to do, they’re just running the day to day business. They don’t have time to sit there and slice and dice and analyze because they don’t have a team of 40 people running their digital marketing. They can then see that immediate lift. So those are the types of things we’ll dive into.
Bret Ludlow: The key is for us, and this starts even before in the business development process, the key is to get deeply ingrained into the organization and the numbers that make them tick. And if a company is this kind of standoffish about that or isn’t really letting in and keeping you kind of at arms length, there’s really only so much we’ll be able to do or prove or show at the end of the day.
Logan Kelly: That’s really interesting. I like this idea of diving in and really understand the metrics. I hear this story a lot, where these companies invest a significant amount of money, six figures into some of these projects and then, you said it, they’re getting 10% of the value back out of it, which is outrageous to me. I don’t come from the big corporate, like 100000 bucks a lot of money. So one of the guests we had in the podcast is coming out soon, Sam Wright from Serious. We spoke a lot about sales alignment from sort of the business development all the way to the account executive side. What I’m interested in is how you guys think about how the digital presence aligns with sales process and that kind of stuff. Have you guys thought about how those things should align in a business? Or have you run into some cases that’s discussed in organizations or you wish it was? What’s your thoughts there?
Bret Ludlow: We have. One of the big things we’re seeing change, especially on the B2B side is kind of the evolution of the CMO and a lot of companies are even getting rid of their CMO’s and migrating some of those activities to the sales area. These B2B companies are becoming more and more sales driven and the marketers and the CMO’s and people like that are becoming more and more difficult to defend themselves because they don’t have the insight into the data to prove what they’re doing is actually helping the company. We have a service offering that we would do at that point, it was really focused on sales and marketing alignment. Not only do they need the technology, you need it in order to have all of this work. You need a CRM and you need a marketing automation tool and they need to be integrated and stood up and a powerful CMS.
Bret Ludlow: But if you have all those things and you’re still not getting the information out, it’s really just about getting the sales executive leadership and the marketing leadership in a room and agreeing to key metrics, key processes, key workflows. It’s like taking the digital out of it and saying, “Okay, we need to work as a unified front. It’s not, the marketing team can’t touch your leads and the sales team doesn’t need marketing.” We see that a lot. They need to be a unified front, and sometimes that can be difficult for larger organizations. Sometimes we even see where a sales team’s like, “I don’t want marketing to touch my customers. I have my relationships. Don’t even email them with anything because I know what they need.” And which is great, it’s great sales team to know client that much. But that’s where there’s a big disconnect, because marketers can definitely help in every step of the customer journey and it’s about unlocking some of those quick wins.
Chris Battis: So Brett, you’ve probably been in a bunch of conversations where you’re trying to get this sales marketing alignment. Have you guys at Liquid come up with a phrase for that better than smarketing. Please tell me [crosstalk 00:14:56]
Bret Ludlow: No, there is a lot of debate. It’s so hard in this space. It’s funny we haven’t used that one, I can tell you that we have not used that one. We like to dumb things down. We don’t really… Even sales and marketing alignment is buzzy, we try to avoid some of the buzzwords and try to just say, “Hey, let’s, get in a room and make this work.”
Logan Kelly: That’s awesome. So you guys are into simplicity, which, it sounds like is really the core value. It’s like make stuff work right and don’t really tinker too much. That’s cool.
Logan Kelly: So expert positioning. Let’s go back to, you came from the ground level of Liquid and have worked your way up-
Bret Ludlow: Yeah I’ve been working at Liquid, if you include my internship, which is ground level, I’ve been at Liquid for about 10 years, and different positions from Project Management to Account Executive, to digital marketing and kind of Social Media Management to the role I’m in now. So seen different angles.
Logan Kelly: Which is helpful too when you’re dealing with clients, right? You’ve got to have a pretty well rounded. So we talk about expert positioning, that’s super important. Every sales person I’ve ever trained, this is one of the things they talk about is expert positioning, like confidence comes from knowledge. So when you’re in these kinds of conversations, you’re on the front lines dealing with your clients and stuff, with so many different things that you can sell and so many different pieces of the puzzle, and you obviously know your stuff, right? So how do you really get that expert positioning? How do you build that confidence to then go and have these conversations with various different brands, talking about various different products?
Bret Ludlow: It’s a great question. It’s tough. No one person can be a mile deep expert in everything we do here at Liquid. Even for business, the two areas I have never spent time was I’ve never been a developer, programmer, I’ve never been a designer. Those are very, very difficult skill sets as you know. So when it comes to things like that, the biggest thing that our sales team does is really understand the business needs and how everything that we do can solve problems.
Bret Ludlow: We take a team approach to sales and call myself and then the other salespeople at Liquid, relationship people, they’re the tip of the spear. They go in, they might have the first meeting alone. They should be able to stand on their own and go in, and myself, talk to the senior leaders, understand what their needs are because there’s always a need. They’re always talking to us for a specific reason. Some people can analyze on the fly and do some of that strategic thinking on the fly. Others do the information and fact gathering. Ask the right questions, know the questions to ask, know where to go next, bring all that information back and then get the team together to architect the solution.
Bret Ludlow: So if you look at our leadership management team, the heads of all of our departments from creative marketing, analytics and strategy and technology, they’re not all on the clock all the time. When you’re looking at an agency model where you have everyone’s billable and their rates, all of those people, part of their job and their expectation is to be out with clients, helping architect and selling solutions. So definitely, from an agency perspective, extra overhead to have, but it helps us make sure that the experts are coming to the table as quickly as possible and the solution is really as thorough and foolproof as possible.
Logan Kelly: Interesting. So if you were just starting as a Account Executive or something, knowing what you know now, what are some of the things that, as you’ve kind of evolved in this space, what are some of the things that you would tell yourself or tell somebody now that’s starting in that role? Or tell that person’s manager, how to really get that alignment and get that [crosstalk 00:19:49].
Bret Ludlow: No, no, it’s good, that makes sense. I think one of the things I would say, we look for new people all the time. One of the easiest ways we find new people from a sales side and an Account Executive side is from within, because they’ve seen different angles and they know how things work. But I will say when we hire someone new for an example, one of the things I would say is that you need to leave your ego at the door. You might be smart, and I know you have experience and I know you know how all of this comes together, but it’s a team approach to selling. And if you’re not aligned with the team, you better be in alignment with what the rest of the team is recommending. It’s not you out there being in the rainmaker and coming back in and all of that. For example, we don’t have a commission structure here because it’s truly a team approach to working with a client, and that’s what I would say.
Bret Ludlow: The people that don’t succeed are the people that think they know it all, the people that think they are the experts and everything and their way is right and I don’t need our director of technology to come with me to this meeting, I know what I’m talking about. Oh, no, that’s not how… I would definitely say that’s my biggest piece of advice, is trust the experts, know your lane, know what you’re good at, and embrace the team’s strengths.
Logan Kelly: That’s really cool. And that’s coming from you who, if I’m not mistaken, if anybody sort of brings their ego into in the way that you guys sell it, it’ll just be a savage beating by the marketplace, right? You do not know this and we’re going to show you exactly why you don’t know that.
Bret Ludlow: Yeah.
Logan Kelly: That’s cool. That’s interesting. I like that. Here at union, we believe in the same thing. Not everybody knows everything and that’s okay. You’re in the game because you’re good at what you do. You don’t need to be good at… If you’re a defender, you don’t need to be good at scoring goals.
Logan Kelly: So consultative selling, you mentioned it, or relationship selling. These things get mentioned a lot. It’s one of those buzz words that we talk about. I believe in it, but what does it mean to you? What does that arena or style mean to you in your role and in your head?
Bret Ludlow: It really means everything to me and to how we approach things here. Business 101, it’s more expensive to find a new customer than to service your current customer and grow that relationship. You don’t want to be doing that all the time. We have a couple of clients that we’ve been working with for over 25 years. That relationship part is important to us. And I think one of the ways we operate like that, and for me specifically is that if I’m working with a client, I don’t need to be in every meeting. I don’t need to be in every discussion. Even from a sales stamp, if we have our main contact coming in for a big meeting, I don’t need to be there. I feel confident and trust the team to deliver and ask the right questions.
Bret Ludlow: So I think the relationship is key, but it has to go beyond me. We need others forming relationships at all different levels of the organization in order for us to be truly successful and be able to grow that relationship with the client. We do it in a tiered approach where we have an executive lead on the account. So on our executive team at Liquid, myself and two or three others, from a leadership standpoint, we have that open relationship with the executive team at our clients. They know who to call if there’s a major problem. If there’s a big need, they know how to get a hold of us. We meet every couple months to just work aside, let’s talk about what’s happening in the market, how they’re doing and how they’re performing.
Bret Ludlow: And then when it comes to our teams executing work, there might be three or four different touch points that are happening at any given time. It’s interesting because it helps us get that deep knowledge, now there’s risk there because if you’re not really all in lockstep with who’s saying what and what happened in one meeting that I wasn’t at and I turn around and talk to somebody else and I didn’t know that they talk about something else, you sound ridiculous, you run that risk. But we’ve learned to work well in that way. And so the relationship selling is really the only way that we’re able to succeed here.
Logan Kelly: That’s really cool. So you guys are adhesive, like a strip of tape from the top down to… So are some of you more tactical teams? Are they interacting like you guys are executive to executive and then as it goes down? Or are you also interacting with they are marketing people? [crosstalk 00:25:22]
Bret Ludlow: Everyone on the team is client facing. We think it’s best for the client. There are different ways to structure this, as you know. There are other agencies where you talk to this person and this person only. They’ll report back what our teams says and they’re going to [inaudible 00:25:36] and that’s, fine, it’s a very successful way to do things. But from our perspective, the more people that we can get out in front of the clients, the subject matter experts, they like to talk to the people they’re working with. They like to talk to the people that are on their team. They like to see the team. All the way down to tactics, executing with tactics on their team, they’re collaborating together, they’re on status calls, they’re working on slack together, and it’s really just a joint effort.
Logan Kelly: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. I love it. I love it. Cool. So talk to us about the evolutions or trends that you see having a potentially large impact on yourself or your company in the next 12 months.
Bret Ludlow: One of them would be this continued trend in large companies like some of the ones we are working with, is building in house teams. So some of the services we’ve offered over the past five to 10 years, people just continue to build more and more in house expertise in one service at a time. It started out 10 years ago, nobody knew how to handle social media, they had to outsource all of it. They didn’t know how to approach it, how to tackle it. Now most of these companies have social media teams in house, same with, and then that continues to evolve. Now some major global companies are building their whole programmatic advertising management teams, their own agencies and everything in house. That’s going to continue to evolve, and that’s why we really focus on innovation and introducing new service offerings. We have a liquid innovation team here that’s a cross functional team of people that… It’s really out there. It’s outside of the 9-5. It’s their passion. And they spit ball ideas, they come up with new thoughts or ways we can be bringing things to market or approaching things.
Bret Ludlow: But then in general, everybody at liquid is encouraged to, if you see an opportunity, if you see a new service offering, if you see a trend that you want to help Liquid jump into and fill a gap in the market, just raise your hand, talk to us and we’ll give you the resources you need to do so. But you’ll be accountable for doing that. You’re going to be the one in charge. You’re going to be helping make this a success. We’ll invest, but you’ve got to show us that it’s growing and we can sell this to the market.
Bret Ludlow: We have to continue to operate that way because we should really be… not major new service offerings, but evolving within the areas that we’re experts in. We should be continuously evolving our practices and things we could be doing within that area and what’s next in digital marketing, what’s next in data. And then that’s really what we are going to continue to focus on as companies continue to build their in house teams.
Logan Kelly: I’ve heard the term time to market. Is that just because there’s more people who do these things and so they become cheaper? And then also when it’s in house, you can get stuff done a lot quicker. Is that what’s going on or is there something else other than that [crosstalk 00:28:44] companies bringing in more and more costs?
Bret Ludlow: Yeah, it’s a lot of that and a little bit of costs driving it. You think that, okay, are we going to have an agency do these things or we can hire a couple of people? The bottom line is as we continue, we have to differentiate ourselves from that. Yes, it’s great that you have this team, here’s another area of focus you can be also looking at to help drive you to the next five years.
Bret Ludlow: But yes, I think cost is definitely a part of it. Cost savings where possible. I’m thinking of the job market, people who are coming out of college now with data analysts job descriptions are very, very high rate. Social media majors are launching across the country or countries are producing new students and graduates from across the country. You bring them on board where before it’s kind of an unknown.
Bret Ludlow: Look at the amount of people that have either graduated and are data analysts or changed their job description to be a data scientist from something they were doing that wasn’t that, they’re just popping up everywhere. So yeah, I think that’s part of it.
Logan Kelly: Wow, that’s cool. I love that idea of innovation in terms of [crosstalk 00:30:07]
Bret Ludlow: We will sponsor projects. We will have the team come together, and even even a technology, like a cool project that isn’t a new service offering, but it’s something we can deliver, develop, show off here at the office so that our customers can see how we can work with this emerging technology that maybe no one’s purchased yet or whatever it may be. That just helps us open doors and sell some more of those services, we sponsor that a couple of times a year.
Logan Kelly: Nice.
Bret Ludlow: That’s a good question.
Logan Kelly: Cool. To wrap this up, what do the next 12 months look like for you specifically?
Bret Ludlow: [crosstalk 00:30:47] We’re rolling out a new brand identity for ourselves, which has been a lot of fun to develop and test and launch. Follow along with us, you’ll start to see some new things in market. Like I said, we’ve been around for 25 years and we’ve had different iterations of the brand because as the industry evolves, we want to keep it evolving our image, so that’s going to be exciting. As a huge part of my job is making sure that we grow our new service offerings, new clients, unlocking doors.
Bret Ludlow: The other thing I’ll say is my role will probably evolved by then, you never know what’s next. I typically focus on something new every 12 months, so we’ll see what happens.
Logan Kelly: Sounds good.
Bret Ludlow: Yes, thank you. It was great talking to you guys.
Logan Kelly: I enjoyed having you on the show today. This was a great conversation.
Chris Battis: Thanks for joining Brett. So this wraps up this episode of Intent Topics. I’m Chris Battis.
Logan Kelly: And I’m Logan Kelly. Thank you so much for joining in. Please give us a follow and a five star review on Apple podcast, Stitcher, Spotify, or whatever podcast app you listen on. We will see you next time.
Chris Battis: Take care.