Imagine this: You own two businesses, one marketing and business development consultancy and one graphic design agency. They’re small but profitable and provide a good lifestyle business.
One day you get the offer to join, as an employee, a new digital marketing agency which at the time has only one client. They have no track record, no sales or marketing team, your salary is the marketing budget and you have six months to prove there’s potential to grow the agency in a very crowded market. Naturally... you decide to sell your businesses.
Imagine your first day at work. How do you feel? Where do you start?
Now imagine this: Four years have gone by and you’re running the same agency. It has now received a Google award for fast growth and is one of the its first Premier Partners; you and your team are invited to share your knowledge at events globally; you have cutting-edge technology built in-house with first-in-market features and capabilities; a team of super-talented professionals with 10 native languages spoken in-house, and a client portfolio which includes brands such as Calvin Klein, Karl Lagerfeld, Hackett London, Mamas & Papas, Dwell, Amara Living, The Conran Shop and many more. Your gross profit has been doubling for the past three years and you’re winning more business than you target.
What happened? How did you get there? What the hell did you do?!
Here’s what happened: Love, passion, amazing ethos and a relentless, proactive and positive energy with non-negotiable values and unmovable ambitions. A freaking mouthful I know. Let me explain.
1. Whatever you do, do it for reasons other than just money
We’re a self-funded, debt-free and profitable business. We want to make money, like any other business. But we don’t do this for money!
Our background is in affiliate marketing, where we were rewarded for the sales we actually drove, not just from maintaining the status quo. The sales we drove were also deduped against sales completed as the result of visits that came after the affiliates clicks; meaning if we drove people to a website who didn't buy immediately and came back through another channel (PPC, email, social) we got nada. A tough environment, but one that is as purely meritocratic as anything can be.
When we set up Genie Goals we thought the digital marketing industry, particularly the paid search space, needed a big change – a new spirit. This spirit should be one closer to the one of the affiliate space – a spirit based on actual performance, not on pretty graphs and promises made of buzzwords.
2. Be tech-focused
At the start of our story we had already built Clarence, our super-powerful Cambridge-PhD-built piece of tech which was designed to drive profitable sales through its algorithmic auto-bidding functionality. But, whilst Clarence was able set bids at an extremely granular level, providing a great degree of control and profitability for each keyword, it was ‘only’ an autobidder – and not the only one on the market.
So we doubled-down on our technology. This cost money and time but when our CTO, supa-Paul, was done with it, the results were astonishing. Almost overnight, sales doubled and 'cost per acquisition' halved for our first client. But in addition Clarence began to grow to be much more than just an autobidder. Today Clarence does modelling, forecasting, feed-driven automated campaigns, product-level bidding, reporting, cross-device bidding and much more.
But what we didn’t have was experience in account management and we didn’t have the graphs and slides the other agencies had, which seemed to help them win the large accounts we were after. Often agencies won contracts for the wrong reasons, including fancy slides and buzzwords. You might be surprised at how hard it is to break an existing trend or habit, even if the current status quo isn't beneficial to anyone.
3. Be courageous and relentless
But we knew we’d be successful. We knew we could drive better performance than any other agency and we knew the account management and relationship building skills would follow – those we could learn. So we went to market and offered a performance-only model whereby a retailer would only pay us a pre-agreed CPA and we’d become liable for the media spend.
Let’s say that CPA was 25%, we’d drive £100K in revenue and the retailer would pay us £25K out of which we’d have to pay Google and Bing. It meant if we failed to drive sales at 25% we’d make a loss, not the client.
So we revolutionised the industry in some way.
It wasn’t easy though, even with such a strong model. When we started talking about our performance model we found most retailers either didn’t understand it, didn’t believe it or didn’t believe we’d be in market for long with such risky model. But I, as a business development guy, was relentless. I kept knocking on people’s doors, kept visiting conferences and building relationships. I kept asking potential clients what they wanted an agency to be – and I wasn’t going to stop until we won the business. And eventually we did.
When we started winning accounts, small accounts, some months we made zero and some months we made losses. But we learnt, because we had the freedom to experiment and take risks with these clients which other agencies were not prepared to take. We found ourselves running experiments and collating vital data that helped us learn things that could only be learnt by adopting such aggressive strategies.
Today, we never miss our profit targets and have very decent margins on all our clients.
4. Be self-aware: decide who you want to be and stick to it
To achieve our ambition to revolutionise digital marketing for great brands, and become the best digital marketing agency for the retail sector on the planet, we made the conscious decision to be a growth agency.
This means in real terms we’re not in the business of taking on a good account, which is in good shape, and manage it for the sake of acquiring a new client. We’re not in the business of building campaigns for the sake of completing tasks and activities. We’re in the business of truly revolutionising digital marketing for great brands we love. If we audit an account and it looks good – if it looks as if we wouldn’t be able to bring exponential growth – then we don’t take it on.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with managing accounts with the objective to keep them doing well, but that’s not our USP – we specialise in growth and then, once we’ve achieved it, we’re happy to keep the accounts we've grown. But to take on accounts that have reached their potential from other agencies or in-house teams isn’t where we play.
I think this has been a vital piece of self-awareness as it helped us not only place Genie in the right place in the market, but also informed hiring decisions, tech-development decisions, marketing decisions and more.
5. Invest in your people, truly
The last piece of the puzzle was that we really, truly invested in people.
We invested in our pre-growth staff by providing leadership based on a positive, lead-by-example managerial approach; providing the best possible training across multiple platforms where staff could learn, fail and grow in a culture based on true meritocracy.
Next, we invested in people by hiring anyone we felt was Genie-like: smart, good to others, did what they said they were going to do and were ambitious. Even if we didn't have a role for them, we’d hire them and build a role around their skills. We’ve had very few people leave the company and those who did either moved away from Cambridge or went back to studying.
When we hire someone we truly invest time and all sorts of resources to enable them to grow, learn and love being a Genie. Our objective is to make them excited to come to work and make them brag to their friends about how much they love working at Genie.
We do this because we love seeing people happy and truly believe that’s the way it should be. But it also enables us to have a team of truly dedicated and loyal professionals who are not just motivated by money; who don’t just live for the weekend. We have a team of people who do what they do because they have a sense of belonging, passion and take pride in working at Genie. They don’t do what they do because of money; they do it because they have truly bought into our culture – because they are our culture.
With this type of team we have not only caught up with our rivals' experience in account and relationship management, I truly feel we’ve mastered and overtaken most of them too. In a recent survey we received a 9.3/10 overall rating from our clients. We’re not just a service provider to our clients, but an extension of their team.
There are many other factors that helped us grow, but if you took away any of the five key elements above I’m not sure we'd have made it this far.
And with this, perhaps rather abruptly, I’m done. Good luck.
If you have the suspicion your paid search channels could be doing more for you and you're a retailer, we'd like to help! We're offering a free account audit to see if you're getting the most from your paid search efforts. Drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org to get the ball rolling and we'll make it happen :)