Concentrate Director, Greg Williamson, recently sat down with Rob Kischuk from The Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast to discuss “The Courage to Focus” after presenting on the topic in Boston, at the HubSpot Inbound Conference.
Greg Williamson, director with Concentrate, a Platinum HubSpot partner, is all about focus. He identifies his company’s mission as, “to help companies focus,” because “that’s the secret to good marketing.” In a country where sheep outnumber people 7 to 1, technology has become the third largest industry—and that technology is Concentrate’s chosen niche. Converge works primarily with companies exporting technology to Europe and the US. Greg feels the key to success is to “choose a small, achievable market that provides some profitability, and dominate that as quickly as you can.”
But what about growth? For a while, Concentrate dabbled in some other industries, including a winery and some funeral homes. Today, Concentrate grows by working with technology companies in other parts of New Zealand and, more recently, Australia. Concentrate knows immediately the top three marketing issues of its technology clients.
Greg presented “The Courage to Focus” at HubSpot’s Inbound 2018. He related how his company—based in a small city in a small country in a small economy—has grown to be in the top 10% of HubSpot’s partners. He recommended that agencies that want to grow faster at lower risk and lower cost focus on a discrete group of customers, leveraging the knowledge of what the chosen customer group needs. Refer clients that “don’t fit” to people you know who work in other agencies.
He sees the future of marketing as moving from the traditional process of “getting people into the funnel, converting them, and selling them,” to a focus that includes servicing a customer’s needs to ensure customer success.
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I am live at HubSpot Inbound Conference with Greg Williamson. Greg’s a director with Concentrate, which is based out of New Zealand. Welcome to the podcast, Greg.
GREG: Thanks, Rob. It’s great to be here.
ROB: Great to have you here. Why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about Concentrate and about what makes Concentrate great?
GREG: I suppose it’s all in our name, really. We’re called Concentrate for a reason. We’re founded with a mission to help companies focus because we think that’s the secret to good marketing: focusing on a strong niche and really leveraging that for a powerful way of marketing.
We decided to basically eat our own dog food and focus, and our focus is on high tech. New Zealand is a small place, and it’s mainly agricultural. We still have about seven sheep for every one person.
ROB: And they’re delicious?
GREG: Yeah. [laughs] Exactly. And then we have a lot of tourism. But technology is actually our third largest industry. We have about 30,000 technology firms, and we’ve spent the last 14 years building up first a consulting practice, then an inbound practice in the last 5 years that’s all around technology companies exporting – mainly to Europe and the U.S.
ROB: What are some companies that people around the world may already know or should be paying attention to if they’re not already? You can plug clients here if you want.
GREG: Typically the New Zealand plane is about small niches. Our large technology companies might be 50 up to upwards of 100 million turnover, so they’re tiny in an American context. They tend to focus on small niches that the big multinationals aren’t dominating.
But probably the contrast there is Xero, which is doing really well in the accounting space, which is much more of a horizontal plane. They got in early to that accounting, and they’re doing fantastically well in Australia and the UK, and they’re doing some good stuff in the U.S. Always hard in the U.S.
ROB: And a lot of people attacking that space in the U.S. You mentioned the New Zealand focus. How far away do you get tempted to act? Is there a hard boundary where you say, “We won’t go off the island, we won’t go to Australia”? Is there a boundary that you actually hold yourself to? Talk about that.
GREG: The key to focus – and this is what we tell our customers – is actually choosing a market that gives you some profitability, but is quite achievable and small, and dominate that as quickly as you can.
We started in our home city, which is 400,000 people, and we’ve expanded through the country to the capital city and in the larger city, Auckland, which is about a million people. We’ve put up a good solid practice there. But we have just recently moved into Australia as well.
Our choice of growth was going into other industries. We could’ve gone into tourism or agriculture or consumer goods or whatever, but we decided to grow by getting more technology clients in other parts of New Zealand, and now in Australia.
ROB: Right. It seems like it would be possibly easier to retain focus by doing very similar things for a few more people, a little bit further away. That’s the thought there.
ROB: I’m ignorant here – how many time zones are there in Australia? Is it just one, or are there several?
GREG: There’s two. It’s their West Coast and East Coast, which are quite a long way apart. But that’s about it. Most of the population of Australia lives on the East Coast.
ROB: So most everyone’s in your time zone anyhow.
GREG: They’re two hours different. It’s no different. But we deal a lot with the U.S. and Europe, so we’re just used to dealing with people at night or in the morning.
It’s great here. I’m here at Inbound in Boston, which is about 16 hours different from New Zealand – which means they’re all asleep while I’m up, which means I can get stuff done and respond to clients without it being super urgent. I can get back to them by the next day, at least.
ROB: You mentioned the history, a little bit. You started off in consulting and focused a little bit. Talk us through further. Did you start the company?
GREG: Yes, myself and another person.
ROB: What led you to start a company? What created that desire and action in your life?
GREG: I actually started out studying politics. Very useful degree. Bachelor of Arts. Then I went into lobbying. I actually worked for a lobbying firm in New Zealand’s capital. That was sort of interesting for a while, but then I got sick of the whole politics. You have to be really into it to stay in there.
Then I fell into software, and I worked for a software company for a number of years. I worked with my business partner now there, in sales and marketing jobs. We just saw a big opportunity – in the sector, there was a lot of really talented technologists, a lot of engineers, data scientists, with great ideas, but they couldn’t initially commercialize them effectively.
We just took the knowledge that we’d learned through trial and error at this software company and decided to go out contracting on that basis. New Zealand is a reasonably sophisticated economy, but it’s a couple of years behind the States in terms of trends. We could leverage that a little bit by using things that we could see happening here to teach and help Kiwi companies.
ROB: What are some trends that are hitting the island now that may have been a couple years prior here? Just for people to think that through and understand that a little bit.
GREG: I suppose the inbound marketing side of things. We had been HubSpot partners for about 5 years, and when we started, nobody in New Zealand had even heard of HubSpot. The penetration was really low with marketing automation.
We tested every year, and about 4 years ago about 13% of tech companies had some marketing automation. Now that’s up over 50%. I’m not sure of the comparative – in the States it would be a lot higher. People are really waking up to leveraging digital technology in their marketing now, but it’s been a little bit behind where the U.S. has been.
ROB: How many HubSpot partner agencies are there in New Zealand . . . now?
GREG: There’s three Platinum and a bunch of Gold. I think there’s about 50, maybe, but there’s only a handful of people really active.
ROB: Right. Some of those are a couple people who do HubSpot sometimes.
GREG: Yeah, and the other side is the larger advertising agencies who might become HubSpot partners, and it’s just one of many, many things that they’re doing. But there’s only three or four really dedicated agencies like us that are all-in on the HubSpot side of things.
ROB: You were here speaking this week as well.
ROB: Some of it resonates very much with what we already talked about, but tell us particularly what you were sharing in the talk, if you were to distill it down to some thoughts to share with a broad audience.
GREG: The title of the talk was “The Courage to Focus.” It’s a story about we’re based in a small city, in a small country, small economy, but we’ve built a large HubSpot practice which even compared to all the HubSpot partners is a reasonable size. We’d be in the top 10%. We sell licenses and things.
But we’ve done that by focusing on a market. It’s just such a lower cost, more efficient way of generating business. By really building some capability in an area and focusing on a discrete set of customers, you can actually get things moving.
That was my main message. It sometimes seems counter-intuitive to turn people away, but by doing that and by leveraging what you know, you can actually grow a lot faster at lower risk, lower cost.
ROB: What’s a big opportunity you’ve said ‘no’ to in recent memory, and what did you do with it?
GREG: What we’ve learned over time is to develop a good network of contacts in other agencies. We basically refer people on to those agencies. Probably every week we have inquiries about things.
And we have in the past – in our early days, we would take on those attractive things. We did a vineyard company, which was fun. Doing a winery, it was just great. We enjoyed it.
ROB: You make good wine over there.
GREG: Exactly. World class wine. So we had a great time there for a while. But we just felt we couldn’t deliver the same sort of value. We can go into a software company and we know straightaway what their top three marketing issues are going to be. With the vineyard company, it was much different. It was a consumer brand; it was a whole lot of different models of taking things to market. While we did some good stuff, it just wasn’t the same. So we decided not to.
We also did a big funeral homes business for a while, which was part of a big multinational. That was lucrative, but again, it was quite a different world from high-tech marketing.
ROB: Both of those are a little bit of a trick to track. I was talking to someone else who was talking about their consumer marketing, and they’re doing consumer marketing with HubSpot, but they’re doing it in situations where you can give somebody a coupon.
At least here, you can’t give people coupons for wine. It’s not allowed anywhere that I know of. And it’s probably distasteful to give people a coupon for a funeral home. [laughs] Both of those seem to be a little bit challenging to navigate that with.
You mentioned you started the company with a partner.
GREG: Yes, that’s right.
ROB: What were some of the key hires along the way that have helped you scale?
GREG: I think one of the challenges you always have in these businesses is selling. Because scaling is all about selling, really. How do you sell effectively? There’s different ways of doing it. You can hire in a salesperson, business development.
But what we decided in our business is myself and my business partner would continue to lead the sales. What we hired in was account management expertise. Different firms do it differently, but that was how we decided to do it, to get somebody who was really good at managing accounts and driving productivity through the team. That was really key.
The other key hire was HubSpot expertise aligned with a real information technology bent. Sometimes with these agencies, you’ve got a whole bunch of marketers like me and other people, and we just don’t have that real good information technology/data structure type discipline.
Having somebody that really thinks that way has been fantastic because as you get into larger projects for larger customers, it’s easy to make mistakes if you haven’t got somebody that’s got that methodical, analytical way of approaching the task. HubSpot, you can just do all that stuff, but you can do a lot of bad stuff as well. Messy stuff.
ROB: Is it a challenge to hang onto talent? I would imagine in some ways your staff has a little bit of a target on their LinkedIn or on their career.
GREG: Yeah, that’s right. As an agency, we can’t necessarily compete with a corporate salary package. They just will pay more. So we have to offer more flexibility, opportunities for – sometimes we’re offering equity to people so they can be building something of their own. And they’ve got a lot more flexibility in terms of being able to take their own career in different paths.
What we find, actually, is that some of the really good people will come out of corporate because they’ve sort of done that, and they realize that that’s a certain pathway and you have to approach that in a certain way. Some like more freedom. So that’s who we try to appeal to. But yeah, it’s always a challenge. It’s always a battle.
ROB: You said you’re a Platinum partner?
ROB: I would imagine you’ve been to Inbound before, then.
ROB: How many times?
GREG: This is only my second time.
ROB: What are you learning, and what keeps you coming back, then? Why did you give it another run?
GREG: I came – must’ve been about 3-4 years ago the first time. It was then one of the best conferences I’d ever been to. I tend to find with conferences, you might get stuff out of about 20% of the sessions you went to. But here, it was much higher than that.
For us, the real gain is meeting other partners. For us, that’s the biggie. A lot of the leadership things you can consume online, on YouTube, through video and blogs. It’s good to go and see the speakers, but what’s really valuable is talking to people like us, other Platinum partners or Diamond partners that we aspire to be. How do they approach business? What are their problems? How do they solve this, how do they do that?
Some of that networking is really good. I mean, it’s good to see some of the world class speakers up there, but it’s not necessarily – I wouldn’t come just to see them. It’s much more being part of that HubSpot community and understanding and sharing with them.
ROB: Granted, you have a focus that would feel very safe to a lot of agencies to share with you, but some people would sometimes be a little bit defensive to share their secrets. But there is such a sense of community mindset. How does that work? What makes people so willing to share their secrets with other people who might go take business from them in this conference?
GREG: Yeah, that’s true, Rob. I think that is quite unusual, in a way. We’ve worked with our customers in a lot of other partner communities – Microsoft, IBM, Salesforce, all those kind of things – and it’s not quite the same.
I think there’s a bit of an element in HubSpot agencies of “This is a new area, almost, and we’re really trying to change how marketing is done.” There’s this whole world of traditional advertising agencies who do business in a different way, and we’re something new and different. We’re sort of in this together.
A lot of the time, even the HubSpot partners in New Zealand who we compete with for business sometimes, we still share and talk and have a good relationship with them.
ROB: For people who aren’t familiar, what does it take to be a Platinum partner? What does it take to be a Diamond partner? I think that may be inside baseball in this conference that people who are listening who aren’t in this world might not quite have a handle on.
GREG: It’s basically a measure of how many licenses you sell of HubSpot, and then how many accounts you manage. There’s different dollar values that you have to reach. It’s just like any partner program, in a way. You just have to get over the line, and you get that badge.
We always joke at work that you get this Platinum thing and all of a sudden the world’s going to change, but actually nothing is different. [laughs] There’s nothing different at all. It’s not like the doors open and lots of people start ringing you up.
But it’s just a goal to have. It just gives you incentive to keep on focusing and keep on growing, really. That’s what it does. You get extra support and things like that as you rise up the ranks. But it doesn’t really replace the need to just grind away and sell, sell, sell.
ROB: I think that’s a hard thing for every entrepreneur to really understand – that balance between celebrating and enjoying, but also realizing, to your point, that it changes almost nothing. Maybe it’s too reductive to say it changes nothing, but you kind of celebrate and then you get back to work.
I had a friend this week who’s excited, “I’m going to be in the newspaper.” I’m glad for them, but also reminding them that probably no more people are going to call them for that. You can get on TV – people think it’s more credible to your existing and future customers to see those things, and it’s good for your team to celebrate that, but no matter what Triple Platinum, Triple Diamond, whatever, you’ve still got to serve the clients and sell them and all of those things.
GREG: Absolutely. None of our existing customers really get excited about that kind of stuff. They just want their traffic and leads to keep on going up.
ROB: [laughs] “What’s the cost per lead? What do we close from it?”
ROB: Awesome. What are some lessons that you have learned through the process of building Concentrate?
GREG: I think one of the key things is – and it’s ironic, because we always tell our customers this too – you should always be going hard on the selling and the sales and trying to drive that ahead. The temptation sometimes is you run some good campaigns, generate a whole bunch of leads, and then you can sit back a little bit and just cruise along.
We’ve probably been guilty in the past of not being proactive and aggressive enough around that. So that’s really what we’re doing a lot of work on in recent times. Just keep the foot down. You can’t actually go too hard.
And it’s a good problem to have, really. If your resources are really constrained at the back end, that’s a high quality problem. Whereas if you go hard for one and then take your foot off the gas, actually getting momentum again is really hard. There’s a lag, and it takes time.
We always tell our customers – especially when they’re saying, “We’re really constrained, we don’t have enough developers” or whatever – we say, “Just keep on going.” What happens is the more you have coming in, you can just be focusing on higher value type customers, or you can increase prices. You can do all kinds of things. Don’t take your foot off the pedal. Just go, go, go.
ROB: I love it. In a situation, I think one of those challenges that happens is you win opportunity and then you have to digest. I don’t know, maybe you’re able to quite well keep yourself out of the execution loop, but I think that’s the trap some people fall into.
How do you avoid falling into this trap of having to digest the execution of business you’ve earned and thus take your eye off the ball when it comes to driving new opportunities?
GREG: We’ve had to learn that over time, and it’s still an ongoing battle. It’s all about a good process and good people. Having a really good onboarding process and then integrating good people into accounts quickly. People just want to deal with people they like and trust, so the sooner you get those people from your business in front of the customer, the better.
In the past we’ve made the mistake of – we’d sell and build the relationship, and then down the track just hand them off to somebody else. It doesn’t feel right to the customer, and then something goes wrong and they want you back on the account. It becomes messy.
ROB: They always want you, Greg, right? [laughs]
GREG: Yeah, that’s right. Then they’re saying you baited and switched and all these kinds of things.
But we’ve found that if we have a good onboarding process, get people in early, that sort of works. Then we can just plug back in at regular intervals rather than have to come back in in a crisis.
ROB: Did this process come naturally for you?
GREG: No, not really. [laughs]
ROB: How did you build that muscle?
GREG: We hired that in, really. That’s where I was talking about our account director. We actually did a thing for our agency called StrengthsFinder. It’s a Gallup-based methodology where we tested all our team. It’s really good. It looks at all the strengths of the people.
But the most valuable thing was it shows you as a team where the gaps are. We had a real gap around process, managing activities and things. So we hired for that gap, and that made a big difference. It’s interesting; until you actually do that, you don’t necessarily identify that that’s the big weakness. It was a big gain for us.
ROB: Wow. It runs kind of counter – some people’s inclination is “I’m not good at process; let me work really hard to get better at process,” which is kind of like teaching a penguin to fly.
Have there been any other interesting, unexpected spots you’ve hired for where you realized that there was just a really good spot for someone to thrive with a strength that wasn’t intrinsic to the current team?
GREG: Certainly our strategy has switched over time as we’ve grown, as we went from a consulting company to more of an inbound marketing services company. We initially hired generalist marketing consultants who could advise clients and work with them on a bunch of stuff, but as we got bigger we needed to get specialists. That’s been a bit of a transition.
Luckily, a couple of the generalists have really stepped up in certain areas, particularly in HubSpot. That’s been a nice surprise; I’ve been able to really grab it. Others have struggled and not been quite as strong at grasping onto some special areas, whether we need a content specialist or whatever else. It’s a bit of a challenge and a transition.
ROB: Got it. If we look forward a little bit, what is coming up in the business of Concentrate or even more broadly, marketing, that you’re excited about/looking forward to? What’s next?
GREG: HubSpot’s been good for us in terms of – we’ve stayed in this technology area. We started off just being a marketing agency, and HubSpot’s enabled us to expand, do sales enablement and CRM type work as well. Three or four years ago we wouldn’t have even thought about doing that. It’s given us the ability and the confidence to get into that.
Now there’s the service desk opportunity. They’re rolling out software around that. We see that as probably the real future of marketing, in a way: to focus more on the customer success side of things. We’ve tended to focus on getting people in the funnel and converting them and they get sold, and that’s it.
But particularly in the SaaS world – we’ve got a lot of SaaS customers – actually, the best marketing is happy customers. The marketing capability should be focused on that. What is the NPS? What are the stories of customer success we can pull out and publish? I think ramping up that area is going to be really key.
We saw it organically. We had a customer who was an enterprise ecommerce company, and they were on Salesforce, they had the whole nine yards and everything. They weren’t really using it effectively. We got them on the HubSpot for marketing automation. They loved the data that was coming through, so then they went to the CRM as well. They loved the whole flow from first touch to conversion.
Then their service guys – this is before the service desk came in – started saying, “Oh wow, it’s great to see where our customers started, what their buying journey was, and what the sales guys promised them when they sold, and then is the customer a rip? I know all that, and then I can service their needs better.” That whole loop of activity starts to really work.
I think for us, getting into that side of it is pretty exciting.
ROB: It’s pretty interesting, because you can imagine that with HubSpot, when you install it, you put a script onto your customer’s site, and that puts HubSpot in a position to see what else the customer is putting on their site. I think Drift was in town and had a conference here yesterday as well – they can see these other technologies and tools coming in on the sites.
Based on what you’re seeing and where you’re sitting, are there other tools you see clients adapting that seem like an area HubSpot might jump into next?
GREG: Jeez, it gets complicated.
ROB: There’s only 6,700-7,000 different marketing technology tools. [laughs]
GREG: Exactly. That landscape keeps getting more complex. What we tell a lot of our customers is – because some of them get into that whole mindset of “We’ve got a tool for this and a tool for that.” They might have HubSpot at their core, but they’ll tend to just rush out and add this and add that. Actually getting value out of it all is hard.
We tend to say, “Let’s focus on what the strategy is first. What are we trying to achieve?” We’ve got HubSpot in there doing a bunch of stuff; is there a real good case for additional tools and technologies?
Now that HubSpot’s got their Connect marketplace, there’s opportunities to integrate other things within that plane. We don’t see any major gaps, but we use things like the meeting type things and the webinar tools and various things like that to plug in where we need to. I think with the Connect strategy, it works well.
But the risk for people is having all these different tools – because there’s a tool to do everything. You can just get yourself really mixed up, and you lose your visibility to what’s going on. That’s the key benefit of HubSpot, in a way. Actually having a complete picture of what’s going on.
ROB: Very good, Greg. Anything else you want to share before we wrap this conversation up? Any parting thoughts, parting shots?
GREG: I should do one little sell. For any of your international listeners, they need to get to New Zealand and donate their tourism dollars to our economy. We’d appreciate that. There’s lots of cool things to see and lots of hiking and skiing and surfing and things to do.
But also don’t forget, New Zealand is a bit of a technology hub these days. We have a bunch of clever companies down there. If anybody’s interested in what’s going on on the technology side, they should visit Concentrate online and find out what’s happening.
ROB: That’s fantastic. I’ll have to start trying to persuade my family to go on a trip. It’s a bit of a jaunt, but I hear it’s worth it. Thank you for your time, Greg. A pleasure to have you on and meet you.
GREG: Thanks, Rob. I really enjoyed it. Cheers. Bye.
ROB: 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.