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In this episode of the Conquer Local Podcast, we are joined by Corey Quinn, an accomplished entrepreneur, sales leader, and former Chief Marketing Officer of Scorpion, a digital marketing agency that experienced exponential growth under his leadership.
Corey shares his insights and strategies that propelled Scorpion from $20 to an astounding $150M in recurring revenue within six years and challenges the notion that more is always better.
Corey is the Fractional CMO and GTM Strategist at Corey Quinn, Inc., providing practical tips and secrets to help agencies and B2B SaaS businesses unlock their full potential. As the host of the “Vertical Go-To-Market” podcast and the author of the eagerly anticipated book, “Focus Vertical,” Corey is at the forefront of the latest strategies and trends in the industry.
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The Power of Verticals and Go-To-Market Strategies
Jeff: Welcome to the Conquer Local Podcast! Our show features successful sales leaders, marketers, thought leaders and entrepreneurs who will inspire you with their success stories. Each episode is packed with practical strategies, as our guests share their secrets to achieving their dreams. Listen in to learn the highlights of their remarkable accomplishments and get tips to revamp, rework, and reimagine your business. Whether you’re a small business owner, a marketer, or aspiring entrepreneur, the Conquer Local Podcast is your ultimate guide to dominating your local market. Tune in now to take your business to the next level!
I’m Jeff Tomlin and on this episode, we’re pleased to welcome Corey Quinn.
Corey has a 25-year track record of extraordinary success as an entrepreneur, sales leader, and CMO of Scorpion, a digital marketing agency serving SMBs where they grew from $20 to $150M in recurring revenue in just 6 years. Today, he unlocks sales and customer loyalty for Agencies and B2B SaaS by doing less, not more. He’s also the host of the “Vertical Go-To-Market” podcast and author of the book, “Focus Vertical” to be released soon.
Get ready Conquerors for Corey Quinn coming up next on this week’s episode of the Conquer Local Podcast.
Corey Quinn’s Agency Growth Expertise
Jeff: Corey Quinn, hey. It is a pleasure to have you on the Conquer Local Podcast, sir. Welcome, and how are you doing?
Corey: I’m doing great, Jeff. Super excited to be here.
Jeff: Hey, well, glad to have you. So we went through a little bit of your background throughout the intro, but why don’t you tell the audience a little bit more about you and about your life, and life as a fractional CMO and all things great.
Corey: Sure, so, thanks for that. I have over two decades of experience, a combination of entrepreneurship and sales and business development. About 15 of those years directly in an agency as an operator. My last role at an agency was as a Chief Marketing Officer of a company called Scorpion. And Scorpion is a digital marketing agency and technology company that services small to medium-sized local businesses with a focus on vertical, a couple of verticals. And while I was there, I joined the company in 2015. And at the time, it was about 100 employees, 1000 customers, and about $20 million in revenue. By the time I left the agency it was, at the end of 2021, it was 1000 employees, 14,000 clients, and about $150 million in revenue. So during those six and a half years, just we had that explosive growth, and gosh, I learned so much. I had such a good time, and made lifelong friendships. And now what I’m doing is I’ve left Scorpion just over a year ago, and I’m spending my time helping agencies to grow by leveraging some of the big sort of insights and learnings that I had both of my time at Scorpion, as well as across my professional career.
Scorpion’s Growth: Vertical Focus, Inbound, Outbound Marketing & Relationships
Jeff: So you’ve helped SaaS companies and agencies grow from seven to eight figures. You’ve grown Scorpion from 20 million to 150 million, which is an incredible amount of growth and a really incredible top line. So talk a little bit about some of the practices that you had in place. So like, how do you take something from 20 million to 150 million? Not a lot of people have reached that level of growth. And so you must have some war wounds and battle scars and some practical experience to share.
Corey: It was not a straight line. You don’t get there. It was definitely an interesting experience for sure. So when I arrived on the scene at Scorpion, as I mentioned, it was about 100 person company and a nine-person sales team. I’ll talk a bit more about that in a second. But what I remember, I was in the conference room, I was interviewing for the Chief Marketing Officer role, which by the way was their first marketing hire for the agency. Previous to that, the founder and CEO had kind of done random acts of marketing to get the phone to ring. But the thing I learned in the interview process, I was interviewing with my colleague on the sales side, my counterpart on the sales side. He was already at the company at that time. And he shared with me something that frankly I did not believe when I first heard it. And so what he shared with me was that the client retention rate was 93%. Which for any agency of any size, that’s a fantastic number. But when you’re dealing with small local businesses that come in and out of business and change locations, and you know, it’s more volatile potentially than larger companies, just to due to their size, I was taken aback. And I eventually was given the job, given an offer to join Scorpion. I took the offer in part because there was something special about the company that I wanted to understand and to help the CEO to grow the company from where they were. And what I learned was a big part of Scorpion’s success, in my experience and others, is the vertical focus, the vertical go-to-market. And I’ll explain to you what that means specifically in this context. Out of the thousand customers that were Scorpion clients, the vast majority of them were attorneys, and the vast majority of those were personal injury attorneys. And so they’d really built the business since 2001 to 2015 when I was there, when I joined, around really focusing in on that specific customer. And as a result of that focus, we were able to drive a lot of value for those customers and resulting in that great customer retention ratio. So one of the big factors, and this is one of the things that we could talk more about, I share with my clients, is taking a vertical focus to the market. The other thing that was really instrumental in our growth was there’s sort of three legs to a marketing, sort of go-to-market process, it’s inbound, outbound, and relationship-based marketing. When it came to the sales team, it was a nine person sales team at the time, and they all drove very nice cars, they all lived a very comfortable lifestyle, and it was a good time to be a scorpion salesperson. And the reason was because there was a ton of inbound interest. A lot of inbound leads and a lot of people, attorneys raising their hand and saying, hey, I wanna be a Scorpion customer. I wanna learn more about your services. The reason why was because every single Scorpion client got a brand new website that was SEO optimized. And back in the early 2010s, it was a lot easier to rank for competitive keywords than it is, I’d argue, today, but even still. And so the way that an attorney would shop for a website is that they would go to Google and they search for attorney in whatever city they’re in. In Los Angeles or Baltimore or whatever it is, and they would look, see who came up in the search results, and they’d click on those websites. And inevitably, it would be a Scorpion website client, and they’d go to the bottom of the client website and there would be a link over to Scorpion. And that’s how they’d get a lot of the business. The challenge was, and part of the reason why I was brought into help Scorpion was the founder, as I mentioned, really wanted to grow, really wanted to grow the business. Wanted to help more people, wanted to reach more people. And the way that, we were not going to be able to reach our revenue targets by just depending on inbound. We had to do something that’s called outbound. And outbound sales and marketing is really about going into the market and having proactive conversations before people reach out to us. And so we had taken a very inbound focused sales culture, and we brought in an outbound methodology, we trained the folks up on that, and we brought that in. And by doing that alone, that really helped us to almost double the business overnight just by adding outbound to the inbound process. And then the third thing that we did, which is really critical for, especially if you want to be a specialist in a vertical, is do something what I call relationship based marketing. And from a high level, that’s basically building trust with the people in the industry that you’re targeting through going to the conferences, associations, and being sort of value driven.
Vertical Focus Streamlines and Specializes in Marketing Impact
Jeff: Yeah. So I’m still reeling a bit by the retention rate that you talked about. 93% is really unheard of because one of the reasons some, investors particular who stay away from the SMB space is because there’s a natural rate of churn built into the market. And 93% is absolutely unbelievable. And so you talked a little about the vertical strategy. So unpack that a little bit. What are specifically some of the benefit focusing on a vertical like you guys did at Scorpion?
Corey: Yeah. Well, through my experience as well, I have interviewed a bunch of vertical specialists, agency, the founders of those agencies. I’ve asked them the same question. Everyone comes back with the same answer, which is everything becomes easier and better when you are focused on a vertical. Now what I mean by that is you know what lists to buy or to create. You know what content to write. You’re not just writing a generic infographic about SEO, but you’re writing an infographic for SEO for dental offices, right? You’re making a much bigger impact with your content. You know where to advertise, you know which conferences to go to and which associations to get involved in and which podcasts to start and so on and so forth. So it just brings a lot of focus and clarity to an agency or any business, it could be SaaS or agency, that helps to streamline and create a bigger impact in today’s world, especially in the crowded world of agencies or this particular audience. Being a generalist, it makes it very difficult to get your message across. That’s number one, it makes it easier. And then number two, I would just add to that that when you are vertically focused, you’re able to operationalize your business. You know, we went from 100 employees to 1000 employees, but 14 times our number of employees. And the way that we were able to do that with great client retention rates was through operationalizing the business. And the only way you could do that is if you’re doing very, very similar things every day, all day. Repeated actions lead to processes and systems. And then we built a lot of software that allowed us to provide the same amount of value that a human would, in some respects, in certain aspects of the business, without relying on humans to do it. So we brought a lot of software in to help us to run the operations of the business.
Jeff: That makes perfect sense. And I can understand it too, I came from a world where we focused on building real estate websites and building real estate website platform had the same benefits that you’re describing, and it totally resonates. You’ve got a very target audience and you can create repeatable systems.
Corey: One more thought I wanted to add on that you reminded me, which is that you begin to get really familiar with your buyer. If you’re just servicing a real estate agent or, you know, in your case, you become very familiar with them, their world, the problems you’re solving for them, and that allows you to stand out even more with your marketing and your positioning ’cause you are a specialist in their world. And in many cases, in the case of Scorpion, what we were able to do was to solve problems that they didn’t even realize they had yet. Because we knew their business, we knew what success looked like for them. And many cases, these attorneys were not very sophisticated when it came to marketing. So we were able to use our specialization and our familiarity with their world to help them to achieve a lot of growth in a short period of time.
Jeff: Must make things easier on your sales floor and building repeatable processes on the sales floor too. Because similar to all of your marketing efforts, your salespeople are becoming experts at speaking to a very specific client and a lot of repeatability that you can build into that I can see for sure.
Vertical Go-to-Market Podcast
Jeff: One thing I did wanna note, by the way, ’cause I heard you mentioned podcast, you have a vertical go-to-market podcast, and I wanted to ask you, I can imagine what the focus is, but who’s the target audience in that podcast?
Corey: Thank you. So it’s the Vertical Go-To-Market Podcast, and it’s for business owners, agency owners who have been successful by being a generalist, meaning serving businesses of all shapes and sizes, and they’re at that point where they wanna specialize. And they know that they need to sharpen their focus and get more vertically oriented potentially. And so that’s really the audience. And what I do on this podcast is I interview founders of agencies and of SaaS businesses who’ve already made that transition from a generalist to a specialist, and they’ve been wildly successful. So this the sort of the after, the people who’ve, like I said, been through that transformation. They’ve been through the process of being a generalist, knowing what that’s like, and then deciding to specialize and then being very successful as a result.
Vertical focus: Inbound, Outbound, and Relationship-based Marketing.
Jeff: Well, there you go. So one of the other things that you had touched on earlier on is the three legs of the stool. And can we back up to that a little bit and you go through that?
Corey: Sure, of course.
Jeff: Because I think that it’s such an important concept for people to be super clear on their go-to-market strategies. And it’s just an important concept.
Corey: I speak with a lot of agencies who really today focus on inbound as their primary channel for growing their business. And I think that there’s nothing wrong with that, and I think it’s a very good way to go to market. It becomes a challenge, however, when you want to increase the volume of business that you’re driving. You’re sort of subject to the market. And what I mean by that, let’s just say you’re targeting local businesses or it could be any vertical. At any one point, and there’s been various studies about this, let’s say three to 5% of the market is searching for a solution. They’re actively looking. Which means that 95% of the market is not currently looking. However, there’s gonna be some percentage of those businesses that would benefit from your service. And so, you know, inbound is, and what I’m talking about is outbound, I’ll talk about that here in a second. But from an inbound perspective, the way to do inbound very effectively is, number one, if you speak to me, I’ll always say that you need to be vertically focused. You need to understand your specific consumer, the person you’re buying to at a very deep level. As a result of that, you’re able to communicate to them much more effectively than if you were a generalist. And so doing the customer research and being vertically focused is really important. And the purpose of inbound is to make sure that your offer and your brand is in front of those three to 5% of the market who’s actively searching for a solution. So that means being on search, being on social. It’s a bit about putting out great content that educates the buyer about the problem that they’re trying to figure out, so on and so forth. That’s what good inbound is is being visible in the buyer’s journey so that they can include you to the list of businesses that they’re thinking about interviewing to become their partner or vendor. That’s inbound. Outbound is targeting the rest of the market that’s not currently shopping. And I’ll share with you a concept that I talk about with my clients, which is the zone of indifference. Probably haven’t heard of that, heard of that concept.
Jeff: I have not heard of the concept.
Jeff: Fill us in.
Corey: Okay. So yeah, all right, I’ll fill in the gap here. So I’ll give you an example by sharing a story about my wife. So my wife has the iPhone X, okay? I think right now, the latest iPhone is the 14. And the phone crashes. The memory card is full, it’s slow. It has a short battery life. And she complains about it once in a while. However, for whatever reason, she doesn’t go and get the new phone. I encourage her like, honey, all this stuff will be resolved by just going to the store. We’re with Verizon here. And I said, “Go to the Verizon store.” And she says, “Well, you know, “I really am frustrated by this phone, “but gosh, I don’t wanna lose my photos. “And so I’m just gonna, you know, “I’ll go down there sometime.” And of course she never does. And so where she is is she’s in what I call the zone of indifference. She doesn’t love her phone, but she doesn’t hate it enough to actually go and fix it. She’s not yet in that three to 5% of the market that’s actively looking for a solution. She knows what she needs to do, but she’s not doing it. And that’s what really good effective outbound does. It attacks that zone of indifference. It finds the largest percentage of the market that you’re targeting who know they have a problem, but it’s not bad enough yet for them to actually go through the pain of making a change. We all hate change, right? Human nature. And so what good outbound does is, assuming you really know who your target customer is, you can go outbound to them and encourage them to think about the problem that you solve in a way that helps them to realize, hey, I can actually solve this really easily through these services and do so proactively. What the great thing about outbound is, from a strategic perspective is, by the time they’re in the buying process, they’re already in the inbound process. They’re gonna be shopping, and they’re gonna be comparing you to everyone else. If you reach out to them directly, you can bypass that whole comparison sort of competitive nature. You can have a direct conversation with them and influence them potentially to buy your service right out the gate. So that’s number two, inbound outbound. And the third one is relationship-based marketing. The focus of relationship-based marketing, and I mentioned this briefly a minute ago, but it is in any vertical or industry, there are going to be places where the people who are a part of that industry go and spend time and socialize and hang out. Things like associations, conferences, events, meetings. All those things are really important when you’re focusing in on a vertical. But in addition to that, there’s an author, Gladwell, who mentioned this concept of connectors and mavens. And where I apply this in, Malcolm Gladwell, sorry, where I apply this into my work is, in any vertical industry, there are going to be people in that industry who have more social capital than anyone else. They’re the ones that everyone else looks to to make decisions. Maybe it could be the biggest brand, it could be the biggest influencers. And so from a strategic perspective, knowing that these folks, these influential folks are out there and they’re very believable by their vertical, building relationships with them is really a smart thing to do, as well as targeting the companies and the brands in your target vertical who have the most credibility. If you can bring them on as your clients, you’re gonna make your sales process a lot faster and a lot smoother than if you didn’t.
Engineering Powerful Word-of-Mouth and Meeting Customers’ Unrecognized Needs
Jeff: You know, in the past two episodes, we had Barrett King and Jack Pires who were speaking to us. And in both episodes, the idea of the trifecta, inbound, outbound, and partnerships or word of mouth and referral-based marketing came up. And so I’m so glad to hear you talk about it because it reinforces that, hey, some of our positions on this, we’re not just making this shit up. This is a great way to think. And you made a couple of things a little bit sharper. And number one was focusing on verticalization for inbound, which I think is super smart. And then you layered in this concept of this gap of indifference, which I think is a really cool way of thinking about the opportunity with outbound because we do know if you can quantify the amount of pain that somebody has and get them to see that actually solving that amount of pain, even if they think it’s kind of small, you go a long way to getting them to agree to a certain path.
Corey: Yep, that’s right.
Jeff: And one of the things we were also chatting about in the previous episode was partnerships. And Barrett King at HubSpot was talking a lot about, his focus is on global partnerships there. And there’s a couple of different ways of looking at that at sort of indirect channels if you will. Indirect being word of mouth and referral, and you have an equation when you’re thinking about word of mouth. You wanna explain that a little bit?
Corey: Yes. Sure, absolutely. So I am basing this off of the work of Chip Conley. Chip is the ex founder and CEO of a boutique hotel group called Joie de Vivre. It’s no longer in existence. They were bought by some massive company, and he ended up becoming the Chief Customer Officer over at Airbnb for a while. And what he taught in a book he wrote as well as just in general is that the way to really build word of mouth predictably is to meet your customers’ unrecognized needs. So I’ll give you an example of what the heck that means. So I do use an equation. So the first part of the equation is you wanna meet your customers’ needs. I’ll use Scorpion as the example. So what we did at Scorpion is they came to our attorney clients and later other verticals, but the attorney clients came to us because they had a need to fill, which is they needed more cases. And so of course in order for us to stay in business, we needed to make sure that we were delivering on that need. The challenge with stopping there as a business is that it becomes a very transactional relationship. Did you get me the leads today? If you did, great. If you didn’t, then I’m gonna find someone else. You end up becoming a commodity and competing on price and all these really horrible things. And so what you don’t wanna do is you don’t wanna stop at meeting your customers’ needs, you also wanna meet their wants. And so what does an attorney want with a company like Scorpion or other agencies? Well, they probably want, based on my experience, they want someone who is gonna answer the phone, is gonna listen to my questions and help me to understand what’s going on and be an advisor, really, and be a trusted resource. And when you are able to meet their wants, you create more customer intimacy. And sure, you’re gonna get some word of mouth and some referrals over time, but there’s one more level, which is to meet your clients’ unrecognized needs. And so the context for this, and I’ll again use Scorpion, is that what we realized was, because a lot of attorneys were new to internet marketing, they didn’t really know what to do with leads. And so, as a result, I’ll give you an example. So they would advertise on Google, and then maybe a potential client or potential case would call in and no one would answer the phone or maybe they wouldn’t get back to them in a couple days. And what we found was the best attorneys, who are our clients, would have a really what I’d call dial dialed in intake process. And that’s the process of what happens as the campaigns are running, what happens when the phone rings or when someone sends in an email. Like how do you process those leads? And what we realized was that a lot of these attorneys would not be successful with Scorpion or anyone else if they didn’t have someone to help them figure out really what is the best practice when it comes to intake. And so what we learned by working with some of the best law firms in the country is like, we inherited sort of an understanding of how to do the best intake. And so what we would do as part of the sales process, we would ask them, “So tell me about your intake process. “What happens when the phone rings?” And we would begin to consult them on things far outside of just, you know, is my website ranking on page one of Google? We got into more of a position of a business advisor, a true trusted business advisor. Someone who really cared for their business. And what that did is it really solved an unrecognized need that, in our case, the attorney clients really needed. They were a fish out of water when it came to internet marketing. They needed someone who could take care of them and help them to understand what’s going on, as well as how internet marketing fits within the larger context of their business. So as a result of us being more of that trusted advisor for these attorneys and helping them to grow their business on topics across the entire law firm, we were able to really resolve or solve an unrecognized need. They weren’t coming to us to help them with intake and these other sorts of larger business growth topics, but that’s the value that we provided. And as a result of that, the client intimacy went through the roof ’cause we were solving very profound problems, but we were only charging them for a fraction of the value that we were creating. You do that enough with enough of your clients over a long enough period of time and you’re gonna generate a lot more word of mouth than if you were just meeting their needs.
Jeff: I can completely agree with that. We had another gentleman on the podcast, his name was Tim Riesterer with Corporate Visions, and he talked about this idea of an unconsidered need. And if you can uncover it or you can introduce an unconsidered need in a sales conversation, instantly you create this break in this status quo bias that the the buyer has. This bias to just stay with the way things are because you get them scratching their head and say, hey, maybe things aren’t all perfect over here. And it opens up their mind. I really like that, I like that thinking. I can perfectly see how you can’t get to that level of understanding of your buyer persona if you’re not vertically focused in a particular correct area.
Corey: Correct. It goes back to just continually doing the same work for the same buyer. Over time, that intimacy goes through the roof from an institutional perspective. Your salespeople get really smart, your account managers really understand it, and the value that you’re able to provide as a result of that goes through the roof.
Verticalize your business for long-term success
Jeff: Hey, it’s a privilege being able to chat with such a seasoned marketer. These are amazing insights. And I learn something new with everyone that I chat with. Especially on your one idea of the zone of indifference. When I go home this evening and my wife asks what I’d like to make for supper, I’m gonna tell her that I’m just currently in a zone of indifference. Tell her I just learned that today. Hey Corey, it’s been a pleasure having you on. One thing that we like to do in the Conquer Local Podcast is to leave people with one takeaway. There’s a an awful lot to digest in some of the great insights that you had on the chat, but if there’s one thing that you wanted to leave people with, what would it be?
Corey: This is gonna shock you, but I’m gonna recommend that you verticalize your business. And that doesn’t mean necessarily day one you have to commit yourself to one vertical and only do that. If you’re a younger or an agency that’s just getting started, I actually prefer that you do the opposite and really take on a lot of different clients and say yes a lot. But over time, you begin to understand and see really where your best fit customer is with regard to the work that you do, the value you create, who you like working with. Once you have some of those signals, it’s time to start verticalizing, focusing your business so you can benefit from some of the things we talked about in today’s episode.
Getting in touch with Corey Quinn
Jeff: I’ve learned the incredible value of consistent messaging, and I totally agree with you and your stance on verticalization. Hey Corey, if someone wants to get ahold of you and reach out, they’ve got additional questions, how can they reach you?
Corey: Great, so the best way to find me is on my website. It’s coreyquinn.com, that’s spelled C-O-R-E-Y-Q-U-I-N-N .com. I also have a daily newsletter where I send out marketing tips specifically around this concept of going from a generalist to a specialist. If that’s of interest to you and you may wanna check it out, you can find the link to sign up on my website. So thank you.
Jeff: Hey, it’s been a pleasure having you on the Conquer Local Podcast, and it’s been a pleasure chatting with you. I wanna thank you for taking some of your very valuable time to spend with us and chat today, and hope you’ll come back and visit us again and we can have another chat in the not-too-distant future.
Corey: I would love that, Jeff. Thank you so much for the opportunity, appreciate it.
Jeff: It was a pleasure speaking to Corey about Verticals and Go-to-Market strategies. Focusing on a vertical go-to-market strategy, which includes inbound, outbound, and relationship-based marketing, can lead to success in maintaining customer retention and driving customer success. Outbound marketing is particularly useful in targeting the market that is not buying and engaging the zone of indifference. And lastly, relationship-based marketing involves building a relationship with influential people in the industry who can become trusted business advisors.
Providing value to clients through client intimacy and assisting them with growth across multiple platforms can lead to success in helping agencies and SMBs grow their business. Understanding the consumer and being visible in the buyer journey through inbound marketing, such as being on search, social, and putting up educational content, is key to being a trusted vendor or partner. Adding outbound marketing can help double the business by proactively targeting potential clients before they reach out.
If you’ve enjoyed Corey’s episode discussing The Power of Verticals and Go-To-Market
let’s keep the conversation going and revisit some of our older episodes from the archives: Check out episode 530: Increasing Revenue with Social Selling with Jamie Shanks or Episode 523, Lead Generation through Podcasting with Collin Mitchell
Until next time, I’m Jeff Tomlin. Get out there and be awesome everyone!