Marketing agency StoryTeller Media Communications has steadily grown from a one-man band in 2009 to 14 people today by increasingly focusing on their strengths.
They first made a movement towards specialization when they become an early HubSpot partner in 2011.
Ed Heil, the founder of the agency who started his career as a sportscaster and journalist, niched further by being an early pioneer of video content marketing with their partnership with Wistia.
More recently, they’ve started helping several private clubs with their marketing, even starting a podcast called “Crushing Club Marketing” to focus on it.
But, the path to specialization wasn’t a straight line.
One example of them veering from their strengths was the different ways they’ve tried to build websites for clients.
Kathy Heil, Partner at StoryTeller shared, “We worked with several different web design agencies. But our sweet spot is working with HubSpot customers and it was clear they didn’t know how to build [sites] on HubSpot. [Unfortunately,] we didn’t know any better [at the time].”
Brand Builder Solutions was on a very similar path towards specialization when Joe Jerome, founder of Brand Builder Solutions and Ed Heil met in a mastermind group a few years ago.
Except Jerome’s team was specializing in the area that StoryTeller was not: building websites on the HubSpot content management system.
That’s when they decided to start working together.
“[With a new client, we worked with Brand Builder Solutions] to launch their website just last week. We wouldn’t have gotten that opportunity had we not had a web design solution as part of our retainer work. [They] looked at eight different agencies and they chose us.”
In this podcast with Heil and Jerome, we discussed how and why their relationship works and how their combined team of 21 people work together to solve for their clients.
Lessons Learned from Partnering With Another Firm
Based on the podcast, here are 6 lessons for how to partner with another firm:
1. Start Small
When StoryTeller started outsourcing website design and development work to Brand Builder Solutions, it wasn’t a big strategic deal. “We just started working together on a few small projects,” said Heil. Jerome added, “[The StoryTeller] site had some code that was done by another group recommended by HubSpot who wasn’t primarily agency focused. So I think you fell to the bottom of their priority list. And we came in and said, ‘Oh, We’d love to help [you] out [by] cleaning up this boring stuff, cleaning up code and let’s fix these few things you’re having a problem with. And you had a couple clients with those same situations. So nothing [regarding our partnership] was really high level. It was more like, ‘basically come in and see what you can do to fix these couple of things.’”
The relationship expanded from there. Jerome continued, “And we did [help solve those issues for the StoryTeller site and their client’s site] and then we started talking about other projects and I think some light bulbs went off in both of our heads on the potential of bringing such a focused content group [like StoryTeller] who not only has fantastic content, video content, marketing campaigns, etc [and combine it with what we do] including the website coding and [mapping the website with the] buyer’s journey, the analysis [of the website’s conversion path] on the front end.”
2. Align at Every Level of the Organization
[We have] a strong relationship between our two companies. At the ownership level, there’s a strong relationship and then I think at a team level there’s a strong relationship because [our services are] so complimentary. [Also,] I think because we understand each other’s worlds, that our teams kind of operate almost as one company in many ways at times when we’re on projects.” per Heil.
3. Coordinate Sales Efforts
“One thing that Kathy and Ed and the team there got right away was that it was okay to introduce us.”
Jerome shared how he supports Heil’s sales pursuits, “The beauty of the relationship working with partners like Kathy is that she’s just wonderful at developing relationships. So it’s very easy for us to go in as a trusted advisor and come in and assess the project on the front end and give the client the solution they’re ready for at the time. We do a pretty solid evaluation upfront on the sales side [together].”
“Joe [Jerome] makes me look smarter. We’ve had some calls together where we’re [looking at things from] different sides to help them think bigger and more broadly. There are times where there just to, you know, add, add two cents, early on in the process, and we might not go back to [that client’s project or] conversation for six months.” per Heil.
“When do you get three owners of a company on the phone with you versus a rep that might be at a larger agency”? Jerome posited as a rhetorical question.
4. Be Transparent About Who is Doing What
StoryTeller does not upcharge or take a commission when they leverage Brand Builder Solutions on projects. Per Heil, “We made a decision a long time ago to be transparent [about who is doing the work and that we are two separate companies]. The value that we gain from partnering together works out in the long term through our [stronger] relationships with our clients.”
5. Be Flexible About How You Work Together
In marketing services and websites, every project is a bit different. Despite this, Jerome has built a repeatable process for building on the HubSpot CMS that is flexible for his clients and partners.
The usually start by looking at data, but how much data and how much time they spend depends on a few factors, “[Before we commit to a client project], we’ll take a quick glance at the data and in that first stage. If they’re getting any sort of [website traffic] volume, we’ll recommend a deeper dive. [We] may need a few hours, we may need a few weeks of our team’s time really diving in. By looking at the data, we can expose buyer journey and conversion point issues. We use google analytics to measure the bounce rate and exit rates. At a micro level, we record [website visitor] sessions to see at an individual level what people are doing.”
Depending on how deep the client needs to go, Jerome’s team uses several tools including Google Analytics, Hotjar, Google Search Console and SEMRush to do deeper dives both before and after they launch a site.”
But where Jerome’s flexibility really shines is when they are tasked with building a new site or updating an existing one.
One of the ways Jerome’s team works closely with Heil’s is when it comes to launching new content marketing experiments, “We did this giant long pillar pages video that loads in two seconds. Like we helped [StoryTeller] out on that, but they came up with the great content and the great structure for that. We just helped them make it easy to use.”
Jerome finds, “A lot of [marketing] folks are stalled in their creativity [because developers take] shortcuts that marketers won’t recognize. But a developer will. [It’s critical to code websites so that marketers] can easily modify pages. There have been situations with their folks couldn’t update pages or drag things around because the prior developer broke the drag and drop editor.”
Read: How Not to Get Screwed by Your Developers When Building a Website on the HubSpot CMS.
6. Focus on the Client’s Goals
Throughout the interview, both Jerome and Heil talked about why their partnership benefits clients. Of course, the proof is in the pudding.
Here are results from one client, “We had the ability to measure the results over three years worth of website [changes]. They had seen a 65% increase in event sales, which was really important to them as a club. They also had 115 new golf memberships, which is pretty significant. They increased their wedding business by 60 percent too.”
How are you partnering with complimentary service providers to serve your clients better?