The Polished Geek Blog
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Watchful Hot Air Podcast Episode 6 [Special Guest Podcast]

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Polished Geek Founder & CEO Deb Cinkus was honored to be invited as a special guest on the Watchful Hot Air Podcast (episode 6, March 2020).

Deb joins hosts Steve Burge and Victor Drover for an engaging episode that talks about "the geeky side of marketing," along with many changes that have happened at Polished Geek as an agency since our founding in 2009, plus marketing automation in the era of privacy, and lots more.

Listen to the podcast now and read the full transcript below.

 

Full Podcast Episode Transcript

Victor Drover (00:03):
Hello and welcome to another Watchful Hot Air Podcast. I'm Vic Drover, I'm the owner of Watchful and I'm calling him from Milwaukee today, and I'm here with my colleague Steve.

Steve Burge (00:13):
Hey Vic, feels like a long, long time since we last spoke with each other. Wait, Oh no, we've just got back from a big Watchful meeting in London last week. We spent the last week hanging out with each other and talking about our plans for Watchful in 2020 and now right back to the podcast.

Victor Drover (00:33):
Yeah. It's never stopped on the podcast, Steve. Who are we talking to today?

Steve Burge (00:39):
Well, we are talking with Deb Cinkus. Deb is a friend of mine that I used to know when we both lived in the Southeastern United States. I lived in Atlanta and Deb lived a little bit up the road in North Carolina. At that time, we were both heavily involved in Joomla and Deb ran a web agency building Joomla sites. And suddenly, she disappeared about five years ago and she told me that she had moved to Guatemala. And I'm catching up with her today and we're talking about her move from North Carolina down to Guatemala, and we're also talking about some really major and interesting shifts she made in her business model as well.

Steve Burge (01:20):
She moved from running an agency that built websites, to an agency that focused on marketing and conversion rate optimization. And she has an awful lot to say about helping businesses make money and personalize their websites in ways that are useful for customers.

Victor Drover (01:39):
Yeah, there was a lot of really good, interesting information in this pod about all of those really technical, if you will, marketing techniques that are so popular and so successful for some of these agencies today. Without further ado, here it is, the Hot Air Podcast.

Steve Burge (01:57):
Hey Deb, welcome to the Watchful podcast.

Deb Cinkus (02:01):
Well, thanks Steve, happy to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

Steve Burge (02:03):
Me and you used to see each other quite a lot. We were living in the South East in the U.S., we were doing a lot of Joomla work. And my life has changed a little bit over the last few years but it seems as if your life has changed an enormous amount. Where are you calling in from today?

Deb Cinkus (02:25):
I am talking to you today from Antigua, Guatemala.

Steve Burge (02:29):
You've moved to Guatemala and you've made big changes in your business as well. You used to be a website building company doing a lot of Joomla work.

Deb Cinkus (02:38):
Yes. We've been in business since 2009, so now we're talking about over a decade. Right? And so as a small business, we've made a lot of shifts. We've gone from being primarily a Joomla website building company, to we did several years where we primarily focused our business around extensions, selling and supporting extensions. Then we started getting more into doing custom bespoke project based development work.

And then over time, we realized that we, well, A: didn't want to be beholden to one particular platform. We pretty much had been "all Joomla, all the time" for those first several years.

And secondly [B:], we were finding ourselves wanting more of a challenge.

Deb Cinkus (03:22):
We did a couple of things about five years ago. We did a big move, which I can share with you in a second what that was. But about three years ago we also changed what we do. We changed where we do it from and we've changed what we do. And you're right, I've had … I live a very different life than when you and I used to cross paths at those Joomla events.

Steve Burge (03:40):
Has anything stayed the same? Do you have any customers from those early days of 2009?

Deb Cinkus (03:46):
Well, maybe not 2009 but we actually do. Our average client has been with us for at least three years. That's our average.

We tend to work with a very small number of clients. We really are that boutique kind of agency that works with a small number of clients on a very deep level. We have clients that had been with us for many, many years now. Eventually, people change and move on. Their businesses change. New people come in, but I have quite a few people that we work with every single week that we have been working with for four or five years sometimes.

Deb Cinkus (04:21):
You were asking about what changed? And one of the things that changed about five years ago is we used to work out of the home office in North Carolina, in Raleigh, North Carolina. And everybody who worked for me directly, I mean, I've always had contractors elsewhere, but everyone who worked for me directly was in that general area.

People would come over, we would work out of our own homes where people would come over and we'd work in the room, in the living room or whatever. We had it set up like offices and everything else, but it was still a home office.

Deb Cinkus (04:57):
And our clients were used to working with us directly, remotely. They were attuned to that. That was the type of relationship we had. We generally didn't go after local work, so that wasn't a problem.

And then every now and then, people get kind of restless, so we'd go somewhere and work out. When I say work "out," I don't mean getting on the treadmill, I mean work out of the home office.

So, one day, everybody is sitting around and somebody says, and I wish I could remember who it was, I literally don't remember which of the six of us said this. Nobody can ever point the finger and say it was their fault that we did this.

Deb Cinkus (05:34):
But somebody said, “Why is it that we have jobs that we can do literally anywhere in the world as long as we have internet. And the most exciting place we're going to is Starbucks on Kildaire Farm Road in Cary, North Carolina. Why is that it?"

And so this big, long crazy discussion happened and this was over coffee, Steve, we weren't drunk, I promise. We all had this big crazy discussion that went on for weeks, and we looked at all kinds of crazy things.

We looked at renting a tour bus. We looked at all the different ways that you can be a digital nomad, and we ended up deciding: Let's try living outside of the country.

Deb Cinkus (06:13):
Now, I had traveled outside of the country, but we never lived outside of the country of the United States. We picked a country after a long discussion about exactly which one, we picked the country and we said, “Okay, let's go test it out, let's go for a month.”

And so we picked up everybody and we went for a month, and we rented a house, and we checked it out. And that was in Antigua, Guatemala, and we all loved it. We went back to North Carolina and we all began to divest ourselves as things we need to get rid of.

Deb Cinkus (06:43):
I sold my house, I sold my car, I sold a lot of furniture. Everybody else who was in apartments got rid of their leases and everything else. And we ended up taking six people and four cats, and living and working Silicon Valley comedy style out of one house for a year in Antigua, Guatemala.

And then after that year, a couple of people said, “That's enough for me, I miss the States.” And then the rest of us all loved it, so we've stayed here.

Now we're starting to look at our next adventure. I'm actually going to go stay for a month in Oaxaca, Mexico in June and check it out. And that may be the next place that we end up.

Steve Burge (07:22):
And again, you can pick up your laptop, you can pick up your customers with you and take them hopping around with your ventures. It's pretty crazy that literally the first place you tried was somewhere you loved.

Deb Cinkus (07:34):
I know, that wasn't even the plan. The plan was to stay for a year and then pick a new country. That was going to be the idea and then we just really love it.

And looking at Oaxaca, Mexico, it isn't that we're unhappy here or bored, or anything. We just felt like, “We've been here a while and it's time to shake things up a little. It's time to go somewhere new.”

I don't believe that you should just move to a country you've never been to before, and going up there on vacation is not enough time to know whether or not you like it. You go stay for at least a month and try to live as much as you can like a local. When we go to Oaxaca in June, we're not staying in a hotel or staying in an apartment that we rented and we're going to have to see whether we like it.

Deb Cinkus (08:15):
There's definitely challenges to living in a Latin-American country. It is not like the States. There are things you give up but there's an awful lot you get.

We get beautiful weather. The people are very kind. The architecture and the culture is beautiful. I just really love it here.

But the thing is you're right, I mean, other than the actual physical move, it's very seamless. My customers, as long as they can talk to me when they need to talk to me like you and I are talking today, as long as they can get the work done and there's visibility, we have all the tools and processes we need to work remotely.

And it doesn't matter whether we're in Oaxaca, or North Carolina, or Antigua, Guatemala, we get the job done.

Steve Burge (08:54):
We've hired a good number of people over the years from South and Central America, and as a U.S. based company, it's always worked out really well because everyone is on the same time zone. We've hired people from Mexico, from Guatemala, from Brazil, from a whole bunch of Latin-American countries, and the time zones are the same. Often, they speak English better than I do and culturally, they're very comfortable with dealing with American clients, Canadian clients.

It's suddenly moving to that part of the world as an American company is not nearly as significant to say moving to England, which culturally might be even more similar, but then there's a massive time zone shift and that may be harder in some ways.

Victor Drover (09:43):
Deb, for folks who might be considering something like this, for example, how I assume most of many of our clients are Western based or paying in U.S. dollars, for example, is our cost of living advantage to moving to Antigua, for example?

Deb Cinkus (09:58):
There is, I mean, it depends how you want to live, but there's definitely an advantage to it. One of the things I mentioned is I told you that we sold our car and we certainly didn't drive it down here, but physically you could have. We live in Antigua partly because it allows us to walk where we need to go. It's a walkable city and when you don't want to walk, there is Uber, believe it or not, there's Uber here. There's these little transportation taxis called tuc-tucs you can get into. They hold only two people, tiny little space, but they get you where you want to go very cheap. For $2 you can go across the city.

And then when you need to go to Guatemala City, you rent a car. One of the things is just being able to live like that, which I know is more common in Europe actually, being able to live without owning your own car. But in the U.S., it's very hard to live without your own car. And that's one thing, just being able to eliminate that.

Secondly, labor is much less expensive here. If you want household help, gardener, housekeeper, cook, et cetera, very affordable compared to the United States where a lot of people cannot afford that type of thing.

Food is less expensive, rent is less expensive, but a lot of things are more, electronics are a lot more because of the imports, clothes are more when they're imported. There are definitely some things that are much more expensive. It depends on your lifestyle and what's important to you.

Steve Burge (11:20):
Deb, you've made a big, brave change in terms of location, but also your business model as well has been through at least a couple of big revolutions. What are you doing now? How does your agency run? What kind of work do you do? What kind of customers do you have after this latest change?

Deb Cinkus (11:42):
I was sharing earlier a little bit about the different aspects that we went through as a Joomla agency, and I think a lot of those are pretty normal. I mean, sometimes people settle on one there. They become an extension company, and that's what they do. And maybe then when they want to branch out, they branch out to do that for Joomla and WordPress, but they still are an extension company or they're still a service like Watchful, right? They're still a service.

We looked at do we want to just do more of what we're doing, which at the time was this bespoke custom development? Do we want to do more of that just for more platforms? Or do we want to really do something different?

And so we did a lot of that stuff where you just really sit down and start listing out on the whiteboard, what are the aspects of the work that we'd like?

What is it that we find satisfying, challenging, interesting?

Oh, by the way, I got to be able to make money at it. Right? What are the things that we just really like and then what types of work will build on the skillset that we have and my team will find personally fulfilling and want to do...and also is a revenue stream that will work for us as an agency.

Deb Cinkus (12:54):
And what we came in on several years ago, actually, if you had told me about six, seven years ago, “Deb, one day you're going to call yourself a marketing agency,” I would have laughed at you and said, “Oh no, I don't like marketing. I don't want to do that. I don't want to worry about what to call it or what color the picture should be, or do paid ads,” which I still don't do by the way.

But actually that is what we turned into. We realized that what we really liked was what I call "the geeky side of marketing," right? We're Polished Geek. That name is a very deliberate name. And-

Steve Burge (13:28):
Oh wait, wait, hold on a second. You don't do any ads? You're a marketing agency, but you don't do much design work and you don't do much in the way of running paid ads?

Deb Cinkus (13:36):
No, no, we don't do that at all. We will help people who have an agency that is running paid ads for them, make those ads more effective, make those ads have a better ROI. Help them measure that maybe even from a third party position. Maybe that agency is telling them one thing, whatever.

Here's one of the things that happen: Someone hires paid ads and we think paid ads are definitely a good choice for a lot of people. They're just not what we manage and what we do, and there are people who do that for a living and do it very, very well.

But when someone is doing paid ads, a lot of times what they're being compensated on is how many people are clicking. They're being compensated often on volume, quantity.

Deb Cinkus (14:17):
And we look at it from the other side, Steve, we look at it from quality.

Are the people that are coming through on these ads, and which particular ads, are they the right people for you? Are they the right leads?

Are they taking the right actions? Are they doing the behaviors on the website that you want?

If you're lead gen company, for example, are they downloading your lead magnet? Are they watching that video? Are they doing those things?

We look at helping measure it and track that, but that's not all we do. It's not just we do those things and that can help make the paid ads more effective, but we also do this things to make your website more effective or make your email marketing more effective. That's basically what we do, is connect all that.

Deb Cinkus (14:58):
But the aspect of someone calls me up and says, “I want you to run a Google ads campaign for me.” That's not what we do.

You have one already running, we'll help you measure it and track it, and make it do better. We'll help you see what's really happening with it.

Because again, most of the time, the ad software, the ad vendors like Facebook and Google, most of the time they're trying to get you to have more clicks, more impressions, more clicks, whatever, but those clicks might not be working for you.

A lot of people throw a lot of money away, and we help make sure that they're getting ROI out of that. That's the whole point of the kind of digital marketing we do.

Deb Cinkus (15:35):
We do, I call it "the geeky side of marketing", but we do things like implementing and doing strategy for marketing automation.

We do website personalization, which I'll be happy to share some more with you about that if you want to dig into that. But it's more than just making the website say, “Hi Steve, glad you're here.” It's having the website actually adapt to what Steve cares about or what Victor cares about, and showing you a personalized experience.

And then the thing that wraps it all up is doing conversion rate optimization, which is looking at the analytics, looking at the behaviors of the site, tracking things. You get into customer psychology, you A/B Test.

You do a huge amount of processes and procedures to find ways to make the website more effective and a better investment for the client.

Steve Burge (16:25):
It sounds as if you're not exactly selling $20, $30 widgets for your customers. Those guys who are selling Amazon products or selling shippable products, absolutely fine if they have a lot of quantity and don't care too much about the quality.

It sounds as if your customer base and the work you're doing is really focused on high-end customers, customers that really want a few high quality leads, want to filter out the junk and also have the time to invest in systems that will understand and personalize information for each one of those customers.

What kind of customers are you dealing with that need that really high-touch, high-value marketing work that you do?

Deb Cinkus (17:10):
Well, I don't want to name any clients specifically, but I'll give you an example of one. There's a client that we work with that does training and consulting services. They deliver that to other large businesses, so a typical engagement with them is thousands of dollars. Like you said, they're not selling a $20 widget.

A lead for them can be very valuable, but they only have so many salespeople. Like a lot of B2B companies, they don't have unlimited time, they don't have unlimited resources. And every sales conversation, if it's a tire kicker or someone who is not a good quality lead, is time they could have spent maybe talking to somebody who was a good lead.

Deb Cinkus (17:49):
We work with them a lot on making their marketing automation more effective, helping them measure, they work with separately with a different agency for their paid ads. We help them measure that.

Last year some of the work that we did saved them over $15,000 helping point out what paid ads were not working well. And so they made some changes in what they invested in.

And we're able to do that objectively. We don't get paid more when they advertise more, we don't get paid less when they advertise less. We have no skin in the game with that.

We can be a very objective party to come in and go, “This is what we're seeing. This is how the customers that the paid advertising agency is bringing you are behaving and it's not the kind of people that are going to end up becoming customers. They're just not moving in that direction. They're coming to the site, but then they're just not doing the behaviors that we have identified and we track on the site.”

These are the things that give us clues that someone is a good potential client for them. We work with them on helping make their marketing automation more effective.

Deb Cinkus (18:51):
We've been talking to them off and on about personalizing and segmenting the audience because they know that a certain percentage of their audience is small, medium business, and the other percentage is enterprise.

How you talk to an enterprise client should be very different than how you approach a small business client. And so we've been talking to them about eventually getting to the point where when a small business comes to the site, the site should have different wording, maybe even a different menu, different headline, different images.

The kind of image that might really make a corporate customer feel comfortable, might make a small business, small, medium business look at and go, “Oh, they're too big for me. They're not going to be interested in me.” And then leave.

Victor Drover (19:34):
Deb, let me jump in for a real quick for a sec. For our listeners who might not be familiar with this, the personalization basically takes information from maybe an email referral link or a search engine referral link where you get a little information about the person at the beginning, so then you can customize the experience on the website.

And the idea being, if I'm correct, then you want to hopefully give them a better experience that either gets them into your funnel, increases their lead score. If you're doing lead scoring, for example, and makes them basically better. It gives the marketing team a better idea of who's there and if they should be pursuing that lead as a warm lead, a nurtured lead or not, correct?

Deb Cinkus (20:12):
Right, that's correct. And then the personalization also can help move that person into the right place where they can be nurtured. A lot of people who are familiar with personalization from the aspect of an email system. If they're really familiar with something like Active Campaign or ConvertKit, or Drip or Mautic, maybe-

Steve Burge (20:31):
I may need many familiar from MailChimp and MailChimp users sending me emails with a pipe bar F name and pipe bar ({ | F_name | }). That's the kind of personalization I see quite often.

Deb Cinkus (20:45):
Yeah, that's the personalization fail, right? That's your bare bone one, being able to say, hi Steve, or hi Victor instead of, “Hey there, friend.” Right? That's like the bare bone basic stuff.

But personalization inside of those systems, like we just talked about Drip and Mautic, and even MailChimp adds a little bit of this, is really just segmenting people and sending them the right communication at the right time.

For example, if someone has told me that they are very, very comfortable with UTMs, using UTMs in their digital marketing links and they're really comfortable with all of that, then I shouldn't be sending them my series in my email campaigns about here's how to use a UTM, here's what a UTM is. They're [already] comfortable with that.

Deb Cinkus (21:32):
Whereas if someone has expressed to me that they're a beginner, they probably would like that.

Those email systems tend to have those personalization elements of being able to personalize the communication that you send someone. Now when you're talking about a website personalization engine, it uses like what Victor was saying there, it uses information that maybe is in those UTMs or that came over from the email marketing system, or they can answer something explicitly.

So the personalization engine might have a little survey widget or you might have a question or something that pops up on the website at the right point, and the person may say, “Yes, I'm looking for help with this.” And then the website can change everything on the site to adapt to what they want to know.

Deb Cinkus (22:20):
And that's a really deep thing. You have to sit down and figure out your segments.

Who are you talking to? What do they care about?

I'll give you another example of a client where, again, we've been talking about personalization. We've done some stuff on the website but we haven't quite put the full dynamic personalization in yet, she's not quite ready for it. But we have a client that does custom embroidered items, and she does stuff for graduation, and she does stuff for weddings, and she does stuff for pageants.

Deb Cinkus (22:48):
Now, when someone comes to her site who's graduating from college, they don't care about pageant sashes. If someone is looking at for a pageant sash, they might… maybe they're going to graduate, but they probably don't care about grad.

It's a very distinct audience and yet these things were originally all on the site, all together in one place. Now we've separated it a lot, but we still would love to take the personalization engine approach of once we know that that's the area someone's been in, the next time they come back, that homepage should change and adapt, and show them what they care about.

Deb Cinkus (23:22):
If they've been to the website before and they've looked around at the grad stuff, when they come back, what should be on the homepage should be a grad image, grad wording, a button that says, “Finish creating my custom stole now.”

If they've been looking at the pageant and I know that they're with the Miss America pageant, I should take them straight into that. The website can remember things about people and it can remember what they have specifically told them by answering a question or clicking on something, or it can remember based on what it's been able to deduce from the email marketing or the UTMs, or the paid ad they responded to.

Victor Drover (23:57):
Deb here's a larger philosophical question and I think that I'm not properly answered for myself, but I'd love to get your opinion on.

Steve Burge (24:04):
That's why people come to the Watchful podcast, right? For the big philosophical questions.

Victor Drover (24:09):
That's right. I wish I say my degree was in philosophy but it's not. But, so here it is. You have a website that serves so many markets that you have value from personalization. That's one approach.

The other approach is that you get specific about your audience and you get super targeted with your site. And so maybe if you have so many audiences, maybe should you go more sites or should you have more personalization?

How does a company with a number of target audiences make that decision? Any thoughts on that?

Deb Cinkus (24:43):
Yeah. Well, one of the things about… you guys have been in the web industry long enough to know that websites are never finished, right? They're never done or they shouldn't be. You don't finish them and put them on the shelf and go, “There it is. And in two years, maybe I'll talk about an upgrade.”

Websites are never finished. They should be adapting all the time and growing all the time, but so should your personalization.

Deb Cinkus (25:05):
You don't have to start by saying, “Wow, I have 15 different audiences and I have to figure out how to personalize everything on every page for each of the 15.”

What you do is, you would sit down and you'd figure out, what are the two most important segments for you? What are the ones maybe that lead into other segments? What are the ones that are possibly the most profitable?

That might not be the right ones to personalize for first, because maybe the most profitable ones are the hardest ones to personalize for you. You have to balance the effort and the amount of information that you have.

Deb Cinkus (25:38):
And then you start doing a little bit at a time. You start going, okay, so it's just like a salesperson. You walk into a store and you tell a salesperson you're looking for a couch. They're going to start asking you questions.

How much space do you have? Are you going to want a couch and a love seat? Do you just want something that goes with something else that's already in the room?

They begin to adapt and what they choose to show you changes based on what you say, and what you tell them your budget is and all of that. It's the same thing with your website. You can sit down with your client and talk about what the segments are, and then figure out, “Okay, so this particular segment.”

I'm going to use grad students again. What would you say to them? What are the fears they have? What are the things that they're going through that we could talk to them differently on the website? What are the things that they will want to see during the checkout that will reassure them it's going to be on time for your graduation?

All those things. It's going to look great in pictures. We weight the bottom of the stole so it doesn't fly away when the wind blows and you're taking these pictures outside with grandma, all those things. You think about what are the things that they care about.

Deb Cinkus (26:40):
And this keeps you from having to figure out how to talk to five different people who care about five different things on the same page.

You just end up having one area and you say, “Okay, so if someone comes to this, who's grad, I'm going to say this.” Now, when someone comes to it and they're pageant, I'm going to say that.

And you can just have the website adapt and show, and they don't have to be logged in. This is dynamic with the website adapting based on what it knows about the person or can deduce about the person.

Deb Cinkus (27:06):
And so your question was, “What do I do? Do I go really niche?”

Well, maybe that's the decision you make for your business, but most people don't just come down and just say, “I'm only going to do grad and that's all I'm going to ever do.”

They say, “I have a few lines of business that are important,” and so then it's deciding how do you want to target each of those and not have to build 20 different landing pages. You have one that dynamically adapts based on the person coming to it.

Steve Burge (27:33):
Deb, if Vic is bringing the philosophy here, I have a very practical question. How does it work on a technical basis to do this personalization across newsletters and websites and other platforms?

Do you have a single CRM system to keep all the customer data? Are you using HubSpot, Salesforce? Are you using an email marketing system and then sending the data from there?

How does it work on a practical basis?

Deb Cinkus (28:07):
Real personalization where you're doing the level of stuff that I'm talking about here where the website adapts and changes its content, its menus and its images and everything, that takes a personalization engine. That's a piece of software.

Now, some companies have built personalization engines into their products, but generally, we work with a personalization engine that's standalone so that the customer isn't having to tie their email marketing into it. Because sometimes when you get these do everything tools, they do a lot of things and they don't do any of it well.

Deb Cinkus (28:42):
Personalization engines are focused on how can you take information and segment and then change what shows on the page, what offers are presented, et cetera.

I'll give you some examples of tools that we use. Very simple entry level is a tool called Unless. It allows you to do some real basic stuff. Did the person come from a certain country? Are they visiting from a certain type of device? Did they follow a certain paid ad? And then you can change a few things on the site. It's like getting your toe wet in personalization.

Deb Cinkus (29:12):
And then there's a couple others that are more midpoint. One of those is called Persosa, and it does very well at being able to store all the… it allows you to store the assets and the media, the different pictures. If you want to have five different pictures on your homepage and which one the website presents is based on which segment the person is in, then they store all that and they render all that.

And then there's a couple that are more focused on presenting the right offer. These are really attractive to my B2B clients.

So my B2B clients, they want people to sign up for a webinar, they want people to download a lead magnet, they want people to maybe even watch an informational video about their service. They are looking for people to engage on their site.

And so the tools that do those things very well, that present people the right offer at the right point in the funnel knowing they've already downloaded this. Now, the next thing I want them to do is download that.

There are tools like RightMessage that do that very well. And also ConvertFlow does that very well.

Deb Cinkus (30:14):
Now, RightMessage has the full blown personalization on the website feature. ConvertFlow does not, so it depends on whether your focus is more on converting people on the right lead magnets or converting people in the right lead magnets plus doing the website dynamically changing.

And then the industry leader, the one that's in the top leader area of the magic quadrant and Gartner is Evergage, and that's aimed at enterprises. It's a very expensive tool, frankly, and it just got acquired in the last week or two by Salesforce.

Deb Cinkus (30:47):
These big companies are seeing that personalization engines are important. Salesforce has its own marketing system, but it doesn't do personalization very well. And so they've bought Evergage and how exactly it's going to shake out and get into the tool I don't know.

But the industry for personalization has changed a lot in the last several years and is a lot more affordable now to small businesses and small B2B businesses, in particular like consultants and people who make money off of landing consulting engagements, or training engagements. It's a lot more affordable than it ever used to be.

Victor Drover (31:17):
That's really great Deb. This is related now, we'll dive in a little to how it affected you and maybe how it affects your customers. You've had a revenue switch. Sounds like from bespoke, either website work to project custom development project works, so those are more project based.

Marketing tends to be more recurring, so one, have you switched to a recurring model?

Two, have you found that more or less profitable or easier to manage, and three… I've got three big questions for you.

How have you found it for your clients? Are they understanding this process and they're willing to pay for these things now, especially some of the smaller businesses you mentioned, who may be new to frankly a lot of marketing things, but I imagine personalization will be very new to them.

Deb Cinkus (32:00):
Yes, personalization actually is a little scary to some of them. They just feel like it's an overwhelming thing.

Let me try to answer your questions in the order they were asked. I made a note here...

Steve Burge (32:15):
When we were hiring people in the past, we used to have a trick to ask people three questions, and it was meant to be an intelligence test. If someone could remember all three questions and answer each one, then they were very clever. If they just got to one, then we probably weren't going to hire them. Deb, I could see you writing frantically. [laughter]

Deb Cinkus (32:37):
And you know what? If I was interviewing, that's exactly what I would do. I always would go into interviews back in my days when I used to work at places like Fidelity Investments and stuff like that. That's my background, enterprise companies. And so you go through an interview process. I would just ask right up front, “Do you mind if I take notes during this interview?” Because yes, sometimes it's easy to get distracted, so I consider that a good sign when someone takes notes. Maybe I'm-

Victor Drover (33:03):
Me too, and Deb, I used your trick in graduate school, when you're defending your thesis. You're getting a lot of questions, and even if it was one question, I would take a minute to write it down and they always were polite enough to let me write it down. It would let me think while I was writing. That was my little trick to slow the process and give me some time.

Steve Burge (33:25):
Just very slow handwriting. Okay, buy yourself some time.

Deb Cinkus (33:29):
Yes, I did write this down. You asked first about the business model recurring versus project based.

You're right. When you're building something bespoke like a new feature functionality. One of the projects we built several years ago was somebody wanted to build a donation system off of an eCommerce store, and by donation system, they were in Malaysia and they worked with a bunch of orphanages and stuff like that.

And so every month, they would want to be able to put in that this orphanage has this many people in their thing and they needed this many different cans of beans and they needed this many different things of corn and this much bread and everything else.

Deb Cinkus (34:11):
And when people would donate it would, it would let them either choose the orphanage or randomly do it. We would do really complicated one off things like that. Then those are priced fixed price, right? You come in, you do the analysis, you figure it out. You get paid for the discovery, you spec it out and then you say, “Okay, so now we know exactly what you need. We really refined it and here. Here's what it's going to cost to build.”

But then you build it and you're like, “Okay, well, let us know when you need something else. Bye-bye.” Right?

Deb Cinkus (34:41):
We found that we had quite a few people under care plans, maintenance plans for Joomla, and we found we just really liked that. We were talking to them every single month. We were doing digital strategy with them.

What are you doing? What event are you going to? What's your new promo that you're doing? What do we need to give you on the website to make it work better for you? What are some areas where you feel we could tweak something or add a new feature?

So that just kind of led into -- There's some recurring revenue -- but that led into, “Wow, we really like working on this level with clients where we really get into their business and we're part of them growing,” not just building something specific.

Deb Cinkus (35:16):
Serves a very important need maybe, like this donation system, but being able to really look long-term. How are we going to plan ahead with you for the next year or two, three of your business?

And so we ended up getting more into this marketing approach and marketing automation, personalization options, conversion rate optimization. They all end in –tion. And looking at what can we do to measure and track and improve things? And those are paid on a recurring basis. Now, there are a few things that we have found.

You were asking about profitability...

Deb Cinkus (35:56):
This work is profitable but it's all also highly… You can't automate a lot of it. There's a lot of things in the world of extensions or even some of these services that can be automated, but when you're doing conversion rate optimization, you're doing analysis of their Google Analytics, you're looking at their tracking, you can do some automated reporting, but when you're having to go through and do a chat analysis of take, 300 of the last chat messages and look for themes.

When you're having to do work on, “Let's do a heuristic analysis and walk through the website and look at what are some ideas of things we could change. Let's come up with the right A/B test.” And then these are all very labor-intensive things.

Deb Cinkus (36:49):
First off, you have to have a team that can support all that, which we put everyone through some very intense training to get there, but you also… you can only automate certain parts of it.

I think the rest of it is you just have to do the work. I don't even know how many hours we spend on Zoom every month. We're on Zoom all the time doing working sessions. And that's with clients and without clients. Majority of the time is without clients where we just get on there and we're just doing working sessions on how we can improve things.

Profitability wise, it's probably not the most profitable thing you can get into, but it's very satisfying work and it's very challenging work.

Deb Cinkus (37:27):
And my entire team just really loves it. They love digging in and being able to be detectives and being able to be analytical, coming up with ideas.

And then you run the test and you see what worked and what didn't, and then you take that learning and you put it into the next one. It's a cycle.

How do we charge for that? We have a CRO program that people can join and it lasts six months. I don't know if we want to get into numbers or whatever, but anyway, it's a six month program, and that's our flagship product. That's the one that we would like a lot of people to go on, and we can only really start one of those every couple of months because it's so intense and we're a small team.

Deb Cinkus (38:10):
And then there's a lot of lead in things like Google Analytics audits and doing… someone coming in and asking us just to do a CRO analysis and giving them the feedback and the report and they go off and do a lot of it on their own.

There are people who make entire agencies out of A/B testing. We don't want to go there. We like the analysis and the research too much.

But yes, profitability wise, it isn't the thing that you're going to make fast money. It isn't the thing that you're going to be able to automate and get a lot of scale, but it was the right fit for our team and our background.

Deb Cinkus (38:48):
And then you asked about clients, are clients comfortable with this and that's the problem, is...people are not necessarily out there saying, “I need conversion rate optimization.” It might be very well what they need, or they might not say, “I need help with making my website be personalized.”

There's certainly people googling that. Mostly, people are like, “I have all this marketing data. We have tons of stuff. My email systems tell me one thing. My paid advertising guy is telling me another. Google Analytics is saying this. I've got website hits and everything else I'm looking at.”

They've got all this stuff and they can't see what's really going on. They don't have any clarity. They don't. It's all foggy and they can't tell what they should be doing next. And that's really hard to find those clients who are struggling with, “I just don't know what I should improve next.” And we help them put that structure around it.

Steve Burge (39:45):
If you have a product which is often perhaps difficult to understand. Maybe customers don't always know that they need it. Sounds as if you need some conversion rate optimization yourself. You need to focus very much on high quality leads rather than the quantity because you are looking yourselves for very, very specific customers.

This might be my final question. How do you yourselves go about finding customers to meet such a specific niche?

Deb Cinkus (40:18):
Well, certainly referrals are always the Holy Grail for everyone, right? A referral comes to you pre-primed to like you, right? They've been told by a friend or a trusted work colleague or somebody, “Hey, these are the people to talk to.” That certainly feeds into it.

The rest of it, actually, it's really hard to put a Google ad out or a Facebook ad out to attract this thing, so we use a variety of things. We've got LinkedIn lead generation that we're doing where we're curating the people that we approach and we're talking to them about what are the problems that you're dealing with.

Deb Cinkus (40:55):
And then we have a quiz on our website that allows people to go through and answer some questions about how well they're able to measure and track and monitor their own marketing. Can you tell what's going on?

And when they get to the end of that quiz, they get a very personalized report at the end, which by the way, uses personalization. It uses a personalization engine to take your answers and give you a personalized report and then you also get it in your email. And then I know those things about you so I can adapt the other communication that you get.

Deb Cinkus (41:28):
It helps people see where they are, what are the things they should be doing that they're not doing.

Another thing is that you have to peel things off into smaller bites. It's really hard to get someone who hasn't worked with you before and sell them on a large multi thousand dollar program. It's easier to get someone to say, “Why don't we just help make sure Google Analytics is working right? Let's do a Google Analytics audit.”

They know they have that problem, and then working with them on, “What are the other things that that we can help you with?”

Deb Cinkus (41:58):
If you could create clarity and you clear that fog for them in one or two areas, then they start to go, “Well what else could we do?”

Then work with them on what could we best do that will help them grow their business. It's very adaptable but it is hard to find people, because no one's out there googling exactly what we do.

When we used to do Joomla custom development, people were googling that: "Joomla custom development agency," right? “How did you find us?” “Google.” Now it's much more about approaching people on LinkedIn, putting lead magnets out to elicit people going, “Yes, I do have that problem,” that it starts to get the right kind of lead.

Deb Cinkus (42:37):
I appreciate you inviting me on this podcast, but I did a CRO for executives podcast recently, an overview for somebody else who wanted me to come in and explain what the heck is CRO. What's the process? What do you do? How do you decide what to test?

And so that thing also can attract the right type of client, someone who's willing to listen to that. Is really curious about that process and how it works because it can get a little techie and a little geeky. Is definitely someone who's like, “Yes, wow, I'm really ready to talk to a company who knows what they're doing in this area.”

Steve Burge (43:09):
It sounds as if with all these major decisions you've made, whether it's moving to a different country and potentially moving to a third country now or taking your business through some really major upheavals, you've always started from the point of view of what it is that you want to do and you enjoy.

You could've made some more profitable choices, you could've made some easier choices, but it sounds as if you think really hard at each step about what you would enjoy doing rather than what would put the most cash in the bank at the end of the day.

Steve Burge (43:45):
The cash is not an entirely forgettable part of the equation, but earlier in the podcast, you were talking about the decision you made in North Carolina and you spent probably five minutes talking about all the excitement of finding a new line of business in a new place, and the cash you mentioned as an afterthought like, “Oh, we need to make sure we're profitable as well.”

Is that a fair way to sum up your philosophy with running your agency over the last 11 years or so?

Deb Cinkus (44:13):
I think you're right and yes, one of the reasons I chose to go into business for myself, one of the reasons why I left the corporate world. And I enjoyed my time in the corporate world, I learned a humongous number of things that are all very, very useful to me now.

When I need to help a client put together a business case or I need to do some ROI analysis or whatever. I got all the skills from that, so I don't regret my time there, but one of the things that made me choose to go into business for myself was having that power over, “What do I get to work on?”

Deb Cinkus (44:45):
When I want to work on a type of project, I can pursue it and I can work on it. If I don't want to work on a certain type of project, I can say no and not do it. If I start finding that I'm really fascinated with a different line of business, I can look at how can I do it and what do I want to do.

Now, we're a small business. I think my newest employee has been with us for two years. We're a small business, not trying to triple our growth or anything like that. I don't look to have 40 people working for me in the next year. The people who work here, it's very important to me that they like it too.

Deb Cinkus (45:20):
I don't just make that decision as a business owner in a bubble and say, “Guess what? This is what we're all going to do guys.” We actually sat down as a team and I said, “This is what we're thinking of doing.”

And of course, none of them knew what conversion rate optimization was at first. They were like, “Eh, I don't really know what you're talking about. Why?” “Well, I want to do this.”

And of course, some of the more technical guys who had done most of the development were a little scared.

Deb Cinkus (45:40):
They were like, “Is there going to be a role for me? Like, “Oh yes, there is plenty for you to do.”

We sat down and we started talking about it. Why do we want to do it? How is this service when we deliver it going to impact the customer? It drives the customer's bottom line, drives the customer's ROI. You start to feel much more valuable as a partner.

And so we made sure that everybody felt that they were going to be on board for it and everybody was going to find it personally challenging.

Deb Cinkus (46:13):
And then I hired some more people after we made the decision and I made sure they were the personality that was going to fit in with this approach.

And then I retrained my entire team on conversion rate optimization. We invested...I think I've added the numbers up and it fell between $65,000 to $70,000 that I spent training our team over the course of a year and a half, three years ago. It was major.

Steve Burge (46:43):
Quite a commitment for a company with a few staff members.

Deb Cinkus (46:44):
It was a huge commitment. It was absolutely huge. And we got people certified by CXL Institute in conversion rate optimization and digital analytics. We had people do intense coaching with Peep Laja. I don't know if you've ever heard of him. He's the owner of the CXL Institute and I personally participated in coaching with him. That was an investment. We go to CRO conferences, et cetera.

There are unfortunately a lot of people who are jumping on the CRO bandwagon and they just stick something up on their website and go, “we do CRO.”

But they haven't been trained in the CRO process, and the procedure, and the tools, and the way to approach it, and how to think about it and how to measure it and everything else.

And yes, we invested a lot in making sure that the team was going to be in a good position to be able to do this work really, really well. And we continue to do that.

It's the world of the internet. Everything's always changing all the time, and so we constantly have to continue to teach our team and refine our team in that area.

Victor Drover (47:52):
Deb, that's super great. We're getting close to the end here.

Maybe I'll finish up with this one question. We had folks from Termageddon here a few weeks back. They're doing basically hosted privacy policies for websites, and I wonder, you made this big shift and investment into something that relies on tracking.

And so how do you see this huge shift in how we're looking at privacy online? How do you think it's going to impact your area of personalization, optimization, tracking, et cetera?

Deb Cinkus (48:26):
Well, it certainly is something that this industry is looking at, right? People are seeing the trend. There's a lot of people who come to the site and opt out, and that makes that difficult.

But the conversion rate optimization process is still important. You're still looking at what's driving sales, what behaviors, what page views, what types of things are people doing that are linked to the right behavior to move people down the funnel and actually buy. The fundamentals are still going to be there whether we can track people or not, really.

Deb Cinkus (48:59):
But beyond that, people are looking at doing more server-side stuff. Not relying upon the browser cookie, not relying as much upon things that maybe the customer allows you to store on their computer and track them, but more on, “Hey, they got this email from us because they have agreed to be on our email list, and they click that link and we send that link over with as much information as we can.”

We know they clicked on a link about this topic, we know this information, we've got your UTMs in there, and then the personalization engine can use that.

And of course, then that also ends up in Google Analytics as well, because Google Analytics will still send that over.

Deb Cinkus (49:37):
You do get data, but you have to go about it a little differently when you are not sure whether that cookie is going to still be there. There's a whole industry popping up now to focus more on server side A/B testing, where instead of the browser changing the website and adapting to do a test of this version versus that version, it's done on the server side, and the data is tracked on the server side.

The industry knows it's becoming an issue, but you still have to be able to tell what's going on or else how can you grow your business?

Deb Cinkus (50:07):
If you can't tell what's working, if you can't see what's going on, you can't grow your business.

And people also don't like getting irrelevant communication. They don't like having to bumble around a website and figure out where the thing is that they need, and they don't like getting an email that doesn't apply to them.

For instance, we talked about this client that has bridal and grad and pageant. A person who registered and joined the list from the bridal area of the site doesn't want to get stuff about pageants and vice versa, right?

People still want businesses to adapt and give them information to help them get to what they need as quickly as possible.

Deb Cinkus (50:44):
We're just going to have to approach it a little differently because there are a few technical things that are starting to be a little bit more at risk, but you'll still be able to do it.

It's another example of that, you constantly you have to keep learning thing, right? Where my team is going to have to constantly keep learning new technology, we're going to have to learn more about how to optimize the server side A/B testing instead of doing… Primarily now most of the tools are still client-side A/B testing, so there's just… stay current with that and as it shifts, making sure that we can still do our job, and still give clients the information they need so they can make the right business decisions. And that's what it boils down to.

Steve Burge (51:24):
Deb, is it probably fair to say that quite a lot of the data may be covered under privacy laws because they are existing customers?

They've purchased products, they've browsed your site, they've entered forms, they've given you information.

Doing this personalization sounds a little different, say from being Facebook and dropping your pixel on many sites which have no relation whatsoever to Facebook or even running an ad tech company that the customer has never heard of and is running entirely silently in the background.

At least in this situation with personalization, you have a customer relationship and you generally have a fairly positive goal, which is to provide the customer with useful information, obviously to sell to them too, but to provide them with useful information rather than harvest data and then sell it off to the nearest data broker.

Deb Cinkus (52:22):
Well, yes. Yes. That is a very important point there you make Steve, is that all these things that I've been talking about are helping our clients and the B2B businesses in particular that we work with.

Take the information that their customers are giving them, whether it's through their behavior on the website or through clicking a link in an email or through following a UTM'd link, and then helping them find what they need. Find the right solution to their problem and hopefully purchase, right?

And it's about giving a better experience and about giving a more satisfying experience for the customer, and of course, then the business making more money, yes.

Deb Cinkus (53:03):
But it's not about selling data.

Actually, if I had a client come to me and say, “I want you to put some automation in place that will collect this data and then let us download it and sell it to someone else.” I'd refuse that client. That isn't what this is about.

This is about growing your business and making sure that you're serving your own customers in the right way and giving them what they need and what they want. What they're asking for, whether they're explicitly asking you or asking you through their behaviors, but stuff they want.

Deb Cinkus (53:31):
This isn't about selling to people who don't want things. This is about making sure that they're getting what they need and they're finding it in the best way, and that the website is presenting the information in a way that makes sense to them instead of making them have to go figure it out.

I think privacy is one thing, and the other thing too is, one thing to remember about some of these privacy laws is it says you're allowed to use information as long as you're not selling it, you're allowed to use it, if you have a legitimate [business] interest.

Deb Cinkus (54:02):
And these businesses, when someone comes to their site and starts looking around in different areas of the site, they have a legitimate interest that the next time that customer comes back to make it easier for them to find that area of the site again.

To put that information on the homepage, to change that button that they click through, to maybe even adapt the menu. They have an interest in doing that to make that experience better for that customer.

That's a perfectly legitimate reason to use the information. Not to sell it.

Steve Burge (54:27):
Cool. Awesome Deb, so where can people follow you and your work with Polished Geek?

Deb Cinkus (54:34):
Well, PolishedGeek.com is our website and then our Twitter is @PolishedGeek. And I am easy to find on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Just look for Deb Cinkus. The last name is spelled C-I-N-K-U-S. There aren't that many Cinkuses in the world, so I should be pretty easy to find.

Steve Burge (54:53):
Are we going to be seeing some photos from your trip to Oaxaca and to Mexico anytime soon?

Deb Cinkus (54:59):
Yeah, I probably will share some in June. We are going to go to Oaxaca and check it out for a month, so we'll be exploring and seeing what life would be there and seeing if that's our next adventure.

Steve Burge (55:11):
All the best with it Deb. You've made a whole bunch of successful major changes lately and I hope the next one works out just as well.

Deb Cinkus (55:19):
Well, thanks Steve, and thanks, Victor. I appreciate it. It's been really great chatting with both of you this morning.

Victor Drover (55:24):
Great catching up Deb. Thanks much. Bye-bye.

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