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A macro conversion funnel is the most important part of any sale procedure on any website. In fact, the macro funnel conversion is almost the final step before a sale is sealed.
The Conquer Local Podcast is in sunny San Diego this week to talk to Frank Cowell, CEO at Digitopia Agency and author of Building Your Digital Utopia. He found his passion for technology in the 90s, creating a webspace on AOL and built an information superhighway. His passion is sales and marketing, so he knows when to get technical in a conversation with a potential customer. Frank takes us through what a macro conversion funnel should look like, obsessing over the bottleneck in your conversion funnel, and how to get the testimonial from your customer.
With 20 years of digital marketing experience, Frank regularly works with executive teams who are looking to create amazing brand experiences while accelerating growth. Frank is the author of Building Your Digital Utopia, which details a concept he pioneered to help brands create digital experiences that systematically accelerate growth. Frank regularly presents an energetic and entertaining speaker to regional and national organizations on topics related to revenue operations, business strategy, and digital marketing. When Frank founded his first agency in early 2004, his primary focus was website development and Internet marketing. He started by developing a successful website content management system (CMS) from the ground up. Over the past 15 years, he has helped his agency morph into a digital marketing agency that works in the areas of digital strategy and execution.
George: It’s another edition of the Conquer Local podcast. I’m your host, George Leith. This week on the Conquer Local podcast, we’re going to speak to Frank Cowell, the CEO at Digitopia Agency. Frank is based out of San Diego, and he’s been in the digital space since 1998, all the way back in the good old AOL days. You got mail. We’re going to talk to Frank in a few moments about his experience as the CEO of Digitopia Agency over the years as he’s watched the industry evolve. And most recently, he is a new author of a book called “Building your Digital Utopia,” published in February of 2020. It’s went on to become an Amazon bestseller. We’ll speak to Frank about his experiences as CEO of Digitopia Agency and as author of “Building Your Digital Utopia” when we return on the Conquer Local podcast.
George: Welcome to the latest edition of the Conquer Local podcast. I’m your host, George Leith, and joining me this week. It’s Frank Cowell, the CEO at Digitopia Agency. Hey Frank, thanks for joining us.
Frank: Hey George, thanks for having me.
George: Well, you know, we always like talking to folks from San Diego, and because I bet you the weather is better there than it is where we are here at our studios. So maybe we could soak in a little bit of your sunshine. How beautiful is it today in beautiful San Diego?
Frank: Well, you know, San Diego, we get a little spoiled here. You know, if it’s not perfect all the time, we start asking for refunds on our taxes and whatnot. So we’re definitely spoiled here in San Diego. For example, today’s high is going to be 72, and that’s going to be like, well, you know, I wish it was hotter. I wish it was warmer than that then. So that’s the kind of spoiled we live in here in San Diego, but all in all it’s, it’s a gorgeous place. No real complaints.
George: Yeah, it is beautiful, that’s for sure. You know, you, when I was reading through your bio, that producer Colleen had prepared for the episode, you’ve been in digital for a long time. Tell us back what year it was that you started in the digital space.
Frank: Well, back then, we didn’t even call it digital George. We just heard about this thing called the information superhighway, and it was coming. And that was the word on the street. And even before then, if we go back to my days in, you know, junior high and high school, we were dialing into what were known as bulletin board systems, BBS’s, and, you know, we were doing kind of the original chat and information archive and whatnot back then. And then that led into, you know, early web, or it was things like web space on your AOL account. And you would upload webpages there. And there was this kind of little worldwide web happening within AOL that a lot of people didn’t really know about. And so I was dabbling there and selling information and selling things online. And this was back when people would physically mail you a check, and then you would physically mail them back the thing that they bought. Instead of sending them a PDF, you would print it out. And so this goes back to the late 90s and, you know, back then, I started accelerating that, started doing some flat-file programming, eventually built a content management system that was built on a sequel database and whatnot. So yeah, it’s been quite some time. So we’re talking pre-2000.
George: So, as the CEO at Digitopia Agency, you also have a programming background. Tell us a little bit about your organization, and then I want to get into you know, you became an author here in early 2020. We’ll talk about the book in a moment, but let’s just talk about Digitopia Agency and how a programmer ends up as CEO.
Frank: Yeah, so, you know, as I mentioned back in the day, in the late 90s, this information superhighway thing as they called it was coming. And, you know, I started dabbling and looking into it, and you know, I had had some programming experience when I was in junior high with Applesoft BASIC. And so when the web came around, I did some of the typical stuff and built some web pages using some of the, you know, editors at the time. And, you know, eventually, that led to wanting to do more complex things. So then I had to teach myself how to program. And the first programming language I dove into was called Pearl. And I built a flat-file database, a job board kind of website. Eventually, I got into the Microsoft space and developed on ASP with a SQL server backend, and just started, you know, I built my own content management system from the ground up, and you know, that coincided with wanting to do web development for people. And eventually, I went out on my own and started doing that with my own company. And for the longest time, we were doing primarily web development. That eventually morphed into doing branding and web development because I was always a marketer and salesperson at heart, but I also could program really well. And so it created this interesting combination for the agency, which was, you know, branding and web development. You know, I did the company’s web development for a while, but eventually, you know, I passed that off.
When to get Technical
George: Over the years, I’ve found it to be fascinating speaking to founders with your type of a background coming from the programming side, because you then, as you continue to grow that business, you know, you’ve had to build leadership teams, you’ve had to understand buyer’s journeys, and you’re able to do that with a technical background. Do you think that’s given you a bit of an advantage?
Frank: A little bit. I mean, certainly like I mentioned, I mean, at heart first and foremost, I’m a salesperson; I’m a marketer at heart. That’s first and foremost, and I just happened to have these, you know, programming abilities that I really enjoy, and I don’t really do it anymore, but I used to back then. And so when you put that together, I think the advantage was in certain selling situations, you know, I could navigate those waters in a way, maybe better than someone I was competing against. That helped me understand because of the balance of both of those skillsets, helped me balance when I should go deep in the technical aspects and when I should stay very surface level. And so, from a selling standpoint, I’ve always avoided going really deep technically because I realize in selling, that’s not what people buy. And so that’s helped me stay out of, you know, hot water, so to speak, by just opening a can of worms around a topic or a feature that doesn’t really matter.
George: Well, I hope that our listeners are listening intently to what you just said because it really is one of them, you know, the secret tricks, and it’s not even that big of a trick. It’s just, you know, you are technically proficient. You could have a technical conversation, yet you avoid it like the plague and try and keep it quite simple when you’re referring to the prospect and trying to articulate the story.
Building Your Digital Utopia
George: I was quite fascinated by your book, “Building Your Digital Utopia.” You published it back in February, and it went on to become an Amazon bestseller. Congratulations, tell us about the book.
Frank: Thank you, thank you. Yeah, so I wrote this book for executives. This book actually isn’t for marketers. If marketers pick it up, they may not see anything new under the sun when they read it. But I wrote this book for executives to get a handle on digital and how to go about digital strategically and in a relationship-driven manner. And so that’s my take that you can take a relationship-driven approach when it comes to digital, and you can be very strategic about it, and you can do it in a way that helps you build brand and differentiation. And that’s really what matters today because we live in such a commoditized crowded, noisy world that if companies aren’t focusing on building brand and differentiation, then they’re just going to have a hard time competing. And differentiation today, and the way we go about creating that looks a lot different than maybe how we did it 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago. And so, 50 years ago, you created differentiation through your feature set. Today, you create differentiation by who you’re for and how deep you go for that individual.
George: So is it? I’m trying to understand where we’re going with this. Are you saying then it’s more important for an organization to discover who they really serve well and go deep into those relationships? Rather than having that large horizontal approach? I think that’s what I heard you say.
Frank: Yeah, it depends on the type of business model. Of course, my book speaks primarily to B2B organizations. And so for B2B organizations, I think they have to definitely find out who they’re for and figure out how they go really deep with those individuals before trying to jump to another audience. The problem that most organizations have is they’re trying to address too many people with too many things at the same time. And so nothing ever really catches momentum, and momentum is absolutely critical when it comes to growth and success. And so the way to capture momentum is to show an audience that you’re for them, unlike any other vendor or brand out there.
Macro Conversion Funnel
George: So I think this brings us to discuss the macro conversion funnel. Tell us about the macro conversion funnel.
Frank: Yeah, so one of the things I do when I work with executives is I try to help them understand the macro conversion funnel of their business. Everyone hears funnel, and they understand like, oh yeah, we’re going to have a piece of content, and we’re going to lead magnet somebody, and then we’re going to nurture them. And we’ve got this automation. So everyone understands that kind of funnel, but when I talk about macro funnel, I’d look, I mean through the lens of your buyer and the journey they go through with your brand, and as you architect and define that out, you identified the major milestones in that journey that are the critical points in that journey. These are the points that have the opportunity to be optimized to create maximum profit, maximum output, maximum growth for your brand. And so I often talk about the macro funnel as being a profit path in that it each step of the way, each major step, those are points at which you can optimize to then create greater profit at the end. And so where a lot of people stop when they develop a funnel is okay they became a customer, they became a client, they became a patient, and a subscriber, remember, what have you? But after that, what are the things that happen that can help drive additional profit? And so we look at things like retention or repeat buys. We look at things like testimonials, leaving reviews on websites. We look at things like content that they may be able to participate in, which would drive even more people to your brand. And so by looking at the post-purchase aspects, you look at the flywheel potential that your business has, and so when mapping all of that out, then you know, the thing that I help people do is define a KPI for each of those areas, one or two KPIs for each of those milestones. And that would be the macro funnel or, again, you know, something I refer to as the profit path.
George: So one thing Frank, if we were to look at this and take a look at a business, and we understand the lens of the buyer, and we realize that we’re leaving dollars on the table because we’re not maximizing that profit post-sale. So these are the upsells, the cross-sells, taking that retained customer, growing the business. What would you say are some of the mistakes that you’ve seen over the years in dealing with businesses as you really have that full buyer’s journey? I like to call it from lead to bleed.
Frank: Yeah, so I think one of the biggest mistakes is that businesses get addicted to the new, and they don’t look to the other end of the spectrum. It’s one of the, if you read the book, one of the things I talk about is top-down optimization. So what I mean by that is at the very top are your fans, and at the very bottom are your strangers. And so I look at it as a relationship ascension path, as opposed to a funnel that goes top, you know, from the top down, mine goes bottom up. So at the very top of that are your fans. And so where if you look at top-down optimization and that philosophy says that we’re going to start with the question, you know, are we turning customers into fans at an acceptable rate? Are we happy with what we’re getting there? And if we’re not, then we should be looking at the things that we’re doing as a business that could be turning people into fans because if you leverage your existing client base, oftentimes there’s more fruit there than you could ever imagine. And that often happens faster than trying to go get brand new eyeballs and brand new leads and opportunities, which is very expensive to do. Everyone knows it’s cheaper to retain and do business with an existing customer than it is to go get a new one. That’s no surprise to anyone. And so optimizing from the top down and figuring out how you can leverage that existing base is really critical. And most organizations don’t do that. They’re just so addicted to the new that they forget that there’s this whole, you know, leverageable asset that they have.
George: So, your timing is impeccable. When I was reading through the pre-show notes, we were talking about how do I get that testimonial? And how do I gain that referral? I was actually just talking to a couple of sales managers about that this morning, where, you know, I don’t know if we can get referrals from this customer. And I’m like, okay, well, tell me how you tried to do that. And what scripting were you using? And they’re like, well, you know, I haven’t really asked in a while. Do you find that to be pretty common? It’s one of the oldest school tricks in the book to ask for a referral, but it just is something that people aren’t all that good at. That’s been my experience.
Frank: Well, I think what most business people aren’t good at is just asking for the sale. So, and that’s used in a generic sense, right? Just asking for whatever it is you want to have happen next. And so people aren’t asking, you know, people aren’t approaching their customers and engaging them. I mean, part of that may come from the fact that maybe if some of your listeners today may be thinking, well, I don’t want to poke the bear. Maybe, you know, I don’t want to remind this client that, you know, they’re actually buying from us. You know, maybe the service isn’t going that well, the product isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do. And so that’s obviously job number one is making sure that your offering creates the transformation that you promised when the client bought your product to begin with. If that is happening, then you have every right to go, ask for a referral. And it just is, it’s very simple. There’s no magic here. There’s no secret sauce. You just have to go ask, and it can be as simple as, Hey George, we’ve really enjoyed doing business with you. And one of the most meaningful things to us is to receive referrals from our existing clients because the more we can work with people like you, the better our organization gets, and the better we can serve you. Would you happen to know of anybody that is in a similar space that you wouldn’t mind referring to us? It’s a really simple ask. You know, you don’t have to like complicate it. And I think oftentimes organizations complicate things. And this isn’t a complicated thing. Just go ask.
Frank: Now, it’s best obviously if you operationalize your referral program, and what do I mean by that? I mean, put together some sort of process that is automated to some degree to ensure that the referral request happens every time without fail. And so, if you can operationalize those things into your business, then you won’t go through these peaks and valleys. Oh, we went on a big referral request spree six months ago, and we haven’t done it since. That’s oftentimes what happens with initiatives like this, and so I highly recommend figuring out how to operationalize your business. Maybe there’s a point in the customer relationship. Maybe it’s the point at which they signed the contract. Maybe you start asking for a referral right then and there. Maybe it’s three months in after they make it over some hurdle. Whatever it is in your business, operationalize it and automate it so that way that task that reminder comes up automatically. You know, another strategy that I’ve heard some organizations implement. I haven’t done this, so this is just an idea I’ve heard is. You know, even building it into your contracts. In fact, you know, we actually did do this with a prospect recently. I take that back. We did do this where we put into the contract that, hey, if you wanted certain terms or if you wanted certain things as part of this deal, that one of the things that we’re going to request is an introduction to two people, two referrals. So you can actually build that in as part of your contract negotiations. So if you ever get an opportunity where they say hey, you know, I would really like to do this over three payment terms, not two, or I’d like to do this at 5% less or, you know, they’re starting to negotiate with you. You know, one of the tools you can bring to the table and say, hey, I’m happy to do that, but I can only do it if you will do this. If you will provide us two referrals within 30 days. There are ways you can build that in. In fact we did that with, I can’t believe I forgot. We did that with a prospect recently, and they closed, and so within 30 days, they have to provide us a couple of referrals.
How to Tackle the Bottleneck
George: One of the key messages that I wanted to get you to expand on from the book was this obsession that you have to try and find a business’s bottleneck. What, you know, I’d love for you to explain that a little bit more for our listeners. And then, you know this obsession obviously comes from your experience. I’d love to hear what the win might be.
Frank: Yeah, so this goes back to what I mentioned a moment ago, two things I mentioned, which was the profit path, the macro funnel, and then top down optimization. So when you put those two together, what ends up happening is when you’re in a regular rhythm of looking at your profit path and then looking at top-down, meaning starting from the end and working backward. When you come across a stage in that profit path where it’s underperforming, that is your primary bottleneck. Now, the degree to which you have to then use some of your own logic and critical thinking, because if you’re off on a particular stage by let’s say only 5%, then maybe that just needs a little bit of love and attention and reminding the person who’s in charge of that particular stage to step it up a bit, or be mindful that they’re a little bit behind. But when you get to the stage, that is severely underperforming, and it’s a major issue. That’s your first bottleneck, because if you were to look at it as an assembly line that profit path, or a pipe, then at one point you’re going to find that the pipe is really choked. It’s a bottleneck, right? And so if you just picture the flow of water going through there, that’s the point that’s going to limit your flow at the end. It doesn’t matter how big the pipe is at the beginning and how big the pipe is at the end. If there’s a pinch point, which is the bottleneck, that’s going to dramatically affect the potential. And so your job as a business owner or if you’re in a business where you’re the CEO or the general manager, your job is to optimize flow. My guy, that to me, if I can put it simply, the CEO or the GM’s job is optimized flow. And that flow is finding those bottlenecks, and then ensuring that for that quarter, that you have at least one project, you have at least one initiative to address that bottleneck where you’re going to elevate that issue to a very high level within the company to where it’s visible to everyone in the company, to where everyone knows this is what we’re working on. This is the biggest bottleneck in our business right now. And everyone in the company should be aware of that. And so that’s what I mean by, you know, obsessing over the bottlenecks. And so that means you want to deploy a disproportionate amount of effort towards that bottleneck. Because once you free that up, you automatically have more output at the end. In any given system, if you optimize 0.2 or later, you’re going to get more output with the same amount of input. And in any system, generally speaking, input is the most expensive thing. In our world here, when we’re talking about business, input is new eyeballs, new customers, or excuse me, new visitors, awareness, that stuff’s expensive. And so if in our pipe, if we can optimize 0.2 or later, we get more output without affecting input. Does that make sense?
George: No, it absolutely does. One of the phrases that we’ve used is removing friction, but I think that, you know, the way you put it, what I really like about this is you’re looking at your performance. And if the choke point is tight enough, it could really dramatically impact that number at the end. If you can get that thing cleaned out so that it’s flowing better, you could see a 10X or even a 20X lift. Give us an example of someone you’ve worked with recently where you’ve saw a massive lift by identifying what that chokepoint was.
Frank: Yeah, so one of the things that we noticed with a particular client is that, you know, they generated a lot of leads, but they didn’t generate a lot of opportunities. And so what we realized was we don’t need to drive more visitors. We don’t need to convert more visitors in their path. What we needed to do is help them figure out why a lot of those leads that were coming in the database weren’t turning into opportunities. And so what we were able to do is help them to define the kinds of information and the kinds of content that that person needs to see, that that person needs to be fed with in order to get them to take interest and then request a review of sorts or whatever the consultation was for this client. And so by doing that, you know, we were actually able to open up that flood gate, if you will, and start to see a conversion rate that started to make sense and started to put a more consistent opportunity on the sales team’s plate. And you can do this same exact thing, and we’ve done it with companies that have, you know, customers, and, you know, they’re just not getting the repeat buys like they should. Or they’re not getting the retention that they should or the referrals. And so, you know, you might be deploying your effort there. You might say, hey, our sales team is doing a great job. We’re closing business. We don’t have anything in the path there that looks like it’s failing, but, you know, we’re not getting the retention that we would like. Oh, okay, well, let’s start digging in there and finding out why. Is it a service quality problem? Is it an account management problem? You know, what is it? Is it not being proactive? And so when you start to dig into that, then you start to develop those 90-day initiatives to start to attack the bottleneck there.
George: Right. Oh, you missed one, oversold by the frontline sales team.
Frank: Oversold. That never happens, George.
George: No, no. Never does.
Frank: As someone who sells, that never happens.
George: Frank, one question, those leads that you had written into the contract, were you finding that when they were provided, they were as genuine as a referral that was just given out of the blue?
Frank: Yeah, you know, because they now have an obligation, and they made a deal, they actually work harder to get you a better referral. There’s no guarantee that they’re always going to close, of course, but yeah, generally, you know, we see a good referral coming from that.
George: Right. You know, I’ve always liked that of write it down, and get two parties to sign it, whether it’s a contract or it’s an ongoing addendum to an agreement, it just makes it real. The book is called “Building Your Digital Utopia,” and congratulations on getting to that Amazon bestseller status. And we really appreciated you joining us today, Frank, and sharing some of your experience over the years. Frank is the CEO at Digitopia Agency. And not only living in beautiful San Diego but has been at this for a number of years and has that new book “Building Your Digital Utopia.” And you can, we’ll put the link to the book inside the podcast information. Frank, thanks for joining us here on the Conquer Local podcast.
Frank: George, thanks for having me.
George: Really appreciate Frank’s insights as we had a chance to understand more about that buyer’s journey. And it’s interesting that the theme around the buyer’s journey has been in a number of our episodes over the last 10 months, as more and more people are obsessed about those magic moments as the buyer comes into your funnel. And in Frank’s words, getting that testimonial and asking for that referral, he spent a lot of time speaking about retaining, getting that raving fan, upselling them, cross-selling, building a deeper relationship with that customer rather than always being focused on adding the new client. We need to do both of them. There needs to be a balance. But you could tell that Frank is really a disciple of that idea of doing a great job with the customer, getting a testimonial, asking for a referral, even going as far as putting it into the contract during negotiations. Be interesting to see what that might do to your organization if you deploy some of those best practices. And then the idea of that bottleneck and really looking for those friction points. SaaS software companies lament over this. They lose sleep over it. They’re constantly focused on trying to find those choke points. And what we’re shooting for is that flywheel—the flywheel where your product and your service become the marketing. And by doing a great job in building those raving fans, they can become your next sources for leads or your next sources for an increase in that monthly recurring revenue. Thanks to Frank Cowell, CEO of Digitopia Agency, for joining us on this week’s Conquer Local podcast. We’d love for the conversation to continue. If you’d like to speak to Frank or any of our guests, reach out and the Conquer Local community. And we also are looking for feedback for season four. We’re looking for ideas for next season, for guests, topics that you would like us to cover. Reach out to myself or producer Colleen again at the Conquer Local community to give us some of those ideas as we start to plan for 2021.
My name is George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.