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Jason Swenk

Episode 26: How to Build a Lead Generation System in 5 Steps, with Jason Swenk

Fresh out of college Jason was off to work for Arthur Andersen, one of the big 5 consulting firms. He quickly realized that it was not a good fit. Although it was not part of the plan, he decided to change direction, quit his day job and launch a digital agency that quickly grew to a multi-million dollar operation working with brands such as AT&T, Hitachi, and Lotus Cars. After 12 years of steady growth, the agency caught the attention of bigger agencies and Jason sold it in 2012.

Now, Jason leads JasonSwenk.com, a unique media company & consultancy helping marketing agencies grow, scale, and enjoy running their agency by applying the framework that he used to grow, scale and eventually sell his agency. Jason has helped over 10,000 agencies in 23 countries meet or exceed their business goals.

Jason generously shares it all as a frequent guest on popular radio and podcast shows. He has been featured as an expert in top media publications such as Entrepreneur and Inc. Magazine. Plus, he currently hosts two podcasts that are available for download and subscription on iTunes.

  • The Smart Agency Master Class Podcast, dedicated to providing tactics and strategies to agency owners and decision makers that cut through the BS, focus on exactly what works and what doesn’t.
  • The #AskSwenk Show, a live broadcast with questions and rapid-fire answers about agencies, marketing, entrepreneurship and business based on a lifetime of building successful, multi-million dollar companies.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Jason’s lead generation system
  • The clarity system: the first system that you need in your business
  • How to position yourself to be THE choice
  • How to create trust with Jason’s “offer ladder”
  • Why you need to create multiple channels (and the kind of channels Jason recommends creating)
  • Why you need to review proposals instead of simply sending them
  • Why you need to treat your agency as your #1 client

Ways to contact Jason:


Welcome to System Execution. The strategy and system behind today’s successful companies. Systems can make or break your company, but here we’ll solve your physical, technological, and psychological systems issues by connecting you with experts that have succeeded in overcoming those challenges in their own business, and providing you the guidelines and tools you need to implement those same strategies for immediate results. Now here’s your host Vera Fischer.

Vera Fischer: Today’s episode is sponsored by 97 Degrees West, an Austin, Texas advertising agency built on the belief that when you combine creative talent and humanity, you can help companies make their products, services, and brands relevant to the life of their customers. 97 Degrees West specializes in finance, healthcare, manufacturing, and energy. For more information go to www.97dwest.com.

Welcome to System Execution, a podcast devoted to using podcasts and systems to drive to a better outcome for your business. I’m Vera Fischer, your host. All businesses, no matter the size, relies on systems. Some of these are physical systems such as a factory, some are technological like project management software, while others are psychological systems such as checklists and organizational charts. Many of these systems will overlap in your business.

Today’s guest Jason Swenk is an agency advisor to marketing agencies throughout the world where he helps them grow and thrive with lead generation. He’s also the host of the podcast Smart Agency Master Class. Fresh out of college Jason was off to work for Arthur Andersen, one of the Big Five consulting firms. He quickly realized that it was not a good fit. Although it was not part of the plan, he decided to change direction, quit his day job and launch a digital agency that quickly grew to a multimillion dollar operation, working with brands such as AT&T, Hitachi, and Lotus Cars.

After 12 years of steady growth, the agency caught the attention of bigger agencies and Jason sold it in 2012. Now Jason leads jasonswenk.com, a unique media company and consultancy helping marketing agencies grow, scale, and enjoy running their agency by applying the framework that he used to grow, scale, and eventually sell his agency. Jason has helped over 10,000 agencies in 23 countries meet or exceed their business goals. Jason generously shares it all as a frequent guest on popular radio and podcast shows such as System Execution. He has been featured as an expert in top media publications such as Entrepreneur and Inc. Magazine. Plus he also hosts not only the Smart Agency Master Class Podcast, but another as well. He’ll tell us more about that one.

Welcome to System Execution Jason.

Jason Swenk: Man that was a long bio.

Vera Fischer: I just read. It’s what you gave me.

Jason Swenk: I need to shorten it for you.

Vera Fischer: Not at all.

Jason Swenk: Thanks for having me on the show.

Vera Fischer: Oh we’re happy to have you. I know we’re going to talk about your specific system on what you need to do to generate leads for you business, but even though I gave our listeners a bunch of information about you, would you like to give us a little bit more about yourself and your experience.

Jason Swenk: Yeah, well I’m a professional horse jockey that’s 6’3″ and 230 pounds. I ride big, big horses. No, I’m just kidding. No, you know I fell into this space. Right now I’m helping agency owners all over the world and really guide them through the system. I love that I found another person actually talking about systems because I surely believe that systems outperform talent because you could have the best talent in the world and if you don’t have the right system in place, everything crumbles. Thanks for having me on.

Building a Lead Generation System

Vera Fischer: Awesome Jason. I know there’s a ton of systems that you really are great at and excel in. Today, we’re going to talk about a system that you’re really good at setting up which is a lead generation system. I am positive our listeners are excited about this one. Let’s start at the beginning and talk about what you needed to do to start building this particular system.

Jason Swenk: I mean if you go back to think about when you actually started the business, a lot of us fell into it. I know I fell into my business. I designed a website making fun of one of my friends that looked like Justin Timberlake. The website got really popular. Then people started asking me to design websites back in 1999. I fell into it. I didn’t really have a plan of where I was going. I didn’t know who I was targeting.

The big problem is when people want to generate more leads and get the business coming to them where they’re the sought leader and they’re the cream of the crop. We start off with the wrong thing. We immediately start advertising and prospecting. You have to have the right foundation and the right systems in place. Really the first system you really need is what I call the clarity system where you clearly define where you’re trying to go and clearly who are you actually going after. That’s a big challenge for a lot of businesses because they don’t want to exclude anybody. By them not excluding anybody, they’re being like a me-too business all across the board. Does that make sense?

Step #1: Establish Clarity on Who You’re Selling To

Vera Fischer: It absolutely does. it is one of the most difficult things to do. It’s the same analogy of when someone wants to be successful. Well what does success in your lead generation system look like specifically? People have a hard time answering that question.

Jason Swenk: Yeah, so really in the clarity system, there’s defining who are you going after and really, really drilling down. You can never drill down far enough. If you thought of the business I’m actually doing right now, if I just said, “Well I sold the service space business, so I’m going to go after B to B.” All right there’s no way in heck I would be where I’m at right now if I was doing that. People would not be banging down the door in order to work with me.

You have to drill down. Then I started thinking going, “Well I understand the B to B space, but let’s drill down a little further. Let’s go after professional service firms.” Then I wanted to go, “Well let me go after marketing agencies.” Then I said, “Well let me go after digital agencies.”

Then I just kept adding more and more criteria to it because how I started looking at it is I wanted to go if I was only going to be paid on performance alone who and what does that criteria look like that I can have the biggest impact for.

Vera Fischer: How did you figure out that that’s really what you needed to do? Was it just through trial and error? How did that get there?

Jason Swenk: It took me a long time. It’s not easy. I won’t joke around. I won’t mess around with you guys. It took me awhile because I started looking … I think where people mess up is they start looking at where they want to go like someone else that’s been there. Let’s say you wanted to create another Facebook. Well the big mistake would be to go well Facebook is going after everybody, so I’m going to go after everybody. I’m going to just model what they are right now. What they should be doing is model how they actually got there. All right?

Facebook started off very targeted if everybody can remember. They started off Harvard students and then ivy league schools and then universities and then it started opening up to boyfriends and ex-girlfriends talking to each other. Then grandmas and all that kind of stuff. You’ve got to look at their track in order to get there. You’ve got to … If you’re just starting out you need to play with everything. You need to figure out what you like and what you don’t like. Then really think about what can I have the biggest impact on and which do I have passion for because if you don’t like what you’re doing … Because you’re going to be going through a lot of different tough roads and obstacles and if you don’t have passion behind it, you’re going to just quit and move on.

You’ve got to align those to make sure you’re really deciding. It took me awhile. Even when I was running the agency it took us a while to find our niche or niche wherever you’re at in the world. I know my UK friends they always make fun. They’re like “Niche.” I was like … “Are you a redneck,” I’m like “Yeah kind of.”

Step #2: Determine Your Positioning in the Market

Vera Fischer: In that lead generation system, that first step is clarity. Then really defining who you’re going after, et cetera. Then what is the next step after that?

Jason Swenk: Yep, it’s positioning. Now you know where you’re going and who you’re going after. Now it’s all about how can I position myself to be the choice rather than a choice. The biggest thing that people are doing wrong is the focus is totally on themselves. Let me explain. If you think of … I love listening to Donald Miller stuff. It’s so true. It opened up my eyes after. I’ve been doing this for years and years. I just didn’t have the analogy to use. What they do is they use an analogy of storytelling. If you think of the structure of all the movies out there, they’re really broken out into a couple of different elements. You have a hero in the story. You have a guide that actually helps the hero. You have a problem, an internal problem all that kind of stuff.

When you start positioning yourself and focusing all the attention on you, you’re making yourself the hero in the story of someone else’s story. Everybody wants to be the hero. My analogy is whenever I look at a website and it’s like, “Hey check out my big success and how I did this and blah, blah blah… all my awards.” I started going, “All right you made yourself Batman so that makes it someone else Robin. That makes your visitor Robin.” No one wants to wear the ugly green tights. Right?

Vera Fischer: Mm-hmm.

Jason Swenk: You have to position yourself as the trusted advisor. You need to be Alfred. If you look at my site, even on the homepage I could say, “Hey do you want to know how I started, grew, and sold my agency?” Well that would be focusing myself as the hero rather than I’m saying, “Do you want to know how you can grow, scale, and possibly sell your agency,” and asking a question which turns the focus to them. Even on my about page at jasonswenk.com/about I don’t even talk about myself until the very bottom when I get into my story. I lead off with questions saying like, “Hey do you want to know how to sell your agency faster, how to scale,” all that kind of stuff, so it’s totally focused on them. Does that make sense?

Vera Fischer: It does absolutely. Absolutely.

Jason Swenk: When you’re looking at your marketing, I want you guys to really look at and say, “Am I positioning myself as the trusted advisor? Am I positioning my perfect audience as the star?” Because we’ve all had that person in a meeting or in a networking meeting walk up and all they talk about is themselves. Literally, you’re looking at yourself and going, “Man how the hell do I get away from this guy?” Right?

Vera Fischer: Exactly. Exactly. Now Jason do you recommend that these companies try to do this exercise — the positioning — internally or do you recommend that they use a third party to help them formulate that positioning with a fresh set of eyes?

Jason Swenk: It’s always easier with the fresh set of eyes because we’re in the weeds. We’re in the forest. We can’t see through the trees. You really need someone to walk you through what are their problems? What does a successful outcome look like? What does a bad ending look like? What is the call to action? Why do they feel this way about their problem? When you start to do all that you can actually tell such a better story that really resonates with the audience that comes to your site or see your marketing. They can totally understand what you do, how you do it, and why they need to engage with you.

Step #3: Build an Offer Ladder

Vera Fischer: Excellent. We know who we’re going after. We know the story we want to tell. What’s next?

Jason Swenk: It’s your offering, right?

Vera Fischer: All right.

Jason Swenk: So many people get this wrong especially service companies. I can make fun of all of you guys because I used to do this. Think about another analogy. Let’s say you see someone in a bar or a pub and you walk up to them. You introduce yourself and say, “Hey I’m Jason, will you marry me?” How about this, “Hey I’m Jason. Are you single? You’re not married. Okay cool. You’re looking to get married one day. Cool, yeah. Will you marry me?” That’s basically what we’re doing with the wrong offering.

You don’t want to be that person. Because if someone says, “Yes,” right away anyway, they’re probably not the right one for you. That’s a little scary. You’ve got to build what I call this offer ladder. Think about how can you actually start to build trust and make it an easier decision for them to work with you. I’m only really … I mean I guess this applies to the consumer world, but it’s more … My mind is so on the service space businesses, so my mind is just going to keep going there. If I have to start thinking of the consumer, my mind is going to shut down because it is a Friday and I usually don’t work on Fridays.

Vera Fischer: That’s all right. That’s all right.

Jason Swenk: What you want to do is you want to really break the ice. One of my favorite shows on TV is American Pickers on the History Channel. What they’ll do is they’ll go into these barns and these old finds and they’ll try to buy stuff from these hoarders. Initially in the show, they always have a hard time buying from these hoarders because they don’t want to sell anything. What they’re trying to do is find one item that they can buy really low just to break the ice. That’s what I call the foot in the door.

As soon as you can actually get someone to make a decision, give you some money, doesn’t matter if you’re making money or losing money, you’re 20 times more likely to get more money from them if you do a good job. If you can start to think about your core service that you’re pitching marriage with and think of all the milestones and all the things that you can slice off of that in order to get them to pay you. For example in the service space business or an agency world, let’s say you want to sell a website. Well think about what’s the first thing you need to do first. Well you need to come up with a plan. What if you could actually meet with them, come up with a really good plan and you sell that to them or an audit or a strategy. Now you’ve made it an easier decision for them to work with you and then they’re starting to see value. Then you can talk about the next step.

The next step is probably not … I was talking to one of my clients the other day. He started selling a foot in the door. It’s been working really good. He sells a $2,500 foot in the door and then jumps up to $80,000. I’m like, “Whoa.” I was like, “Slow your roll.” We’ve got to put something between that. That’s a pretty big jump up. You just want to think about your offering and what offering can you do to actually provide them value and make it an easier decision.

Vera Fischer: Great. You know you can’t sell trust. It’s something you have to earn. I absolutely see the value in that foot in the door and then slowly ladder them up and get to those larger projects, but in the meantime you’re gaining hopefully a client for a really long time.

Jason Swenk: Oh yeah, I mean your lifetime value of a client goes up dramatically. I used to have a client that came to me, was selling $5,000 a month retainers. It took a long time. A long sales cycle, maybe two, three months to sell. They had to sell a month-to-month contract because they couldn’t build up trust. They could cancel at any time. It was like a car payment you could get out of and no bad things. Maybe they made $30 or $60,000 a year. We started doing the foot in the door, charged $2,500 that they used to give away for free.

Then we would position a project around like $15,000 which is basically we would look at and say, “How long does it take a client to actually see results from what you’re doing?” They were an SEO agency, marketing agency. He said, “Oh probably two, three months.” I’m like, “Okay let’s charge $5,000 a month, but let’s put it into a project. We’re going to charge $15,000 for a project.” Then after they started seeing some value in that particular project, then they would position the retainer and then that retainer would be $8,500 rather than $5,000. They would be locked in for a year.

Rather than them just making $30,000 or $60,000 over that lifetime value of the client. Now they were making over six figures with the same deal so that lifetime value went up just by changing their offering.

Step #4: Use Multiple Channels for Sales Prospecting

Vera Fischer: Mm-hmm. Exactly and gaining trust along the way. Once we’ve got the offering and it’s really not just one offer. It’s several offers depending on where they are on that journey with you, correct?

Jason Swenk: That’s right. That’s right. Now that you have the clarity, now you have the positioning, you have the offering, now you can get into the prospecting and not jump into that right off the bat. Because think about it, you jump into the prospecting with the wrong offer, wrong positioning or have no idea who you’re going after, it’s not going to work too well. It’s going to work really pretty poorly. When you actually start prospecting, I always tell people you really want to have multiple channels and not just rely on one channel. What I had always liked to do is create an inbound channel, an outbound channel, and a strategic partnership channel.

On the strategic partnership channel, I would literally start thinking about who else is going after this particular market that is complementary to what we’re actually doing and how can we work together, not just pass referrals back and forth because referrals just aren’t scalable. We want to build that channel up. Then the other channel we can start building up is the inbound channel. If a business is doing a podcast or blogs or creating content on a consistent basis, you can start to pull in a lot of this business where you can actually create your site as kind of, a good friend of mine calls a utility. We want to create that.

Then if that goes down or whatever you still want to have an outbound channel where you’re actually picking up the phone or you’re actually going out and actually getting the business, getting feet on the streets. When you can actually do that, then that’s when you can really create this really good lead generation system. Things can go down a little bit, but chances are not all three are going to go down at once.

Vera Fischer: Mm-hmm. Absolutely and especially one of the strategies that we employ with strategic partnerships is giving them something that helps them, helps their business. Oh I know how to do this, let me do that for you really quickly, so that you can be successful as well. There’s some relationship building that happens at that level too.

Jason Swenk: Oh yeah. I mean with the partnership channel, you’ve always got to make deposits before you make withdrawals.

Step #5: Review Proposals with Your Prospects

Vera Fischer: Exactly, love that. We’re prospecting. Now what?

Jason Swenk: Now you’re making leads. Now you’ve got to convert them, right?

Vera Fischer: Right, hopefully.

Jason Swenk: Then it’s all about how are you qualifying the right leads coming in, what are you doing with the proposals if you are a service-based business. I’ll give you in wrapping up because these are the last systems. If you guys are doing proposals, I’m going to give you the number one tip to stop the proposal from going … stop the prospect from going silent after you send the proposal, don’t send the proposal. Too many people just say, “Hey I’ve got this perfect lead,” and then the client or the prospect says, “Hey send me a proposal.” Then what do we do?

Vera Fischer: Send it.

Jason Swenk: We send the proposal, right?

Vera Fischer: Mm-hmm.

Jason Swenk: Be like, “No, no, no. I’m not sending the proposal. I’ll review it with you. When would you like me to review it with you?” Then they’ll probably say, “No just send it to me.” Be like, “That’s not what we’re going to do. We may not be the best fit for you.” If you do that, you will win so much more business and you’ll stop wasting time doing proposals.

Vera Fischer: Exactly. I can tell you I stopped doing that as a service-based company probably two years and it works because you weed out the ones that are just price shopping and the ones that are really serious will say, “Absolutely, let’s review it.”

Jason Swenk: Yep, that’s right.

Vera Fischer: Jason how long did it take you to perfect this particular lead generation system? I’m looking specifically for any pitfalls or any fails if you will as you were figuring this out.

Jason Swenk: I mean I think you’re always figuring it out. Right?

Vera Fischer: That’s true.

Jason Swenk: You’re always constantly making things better and better. Have I figured out a system that works for me? Yes, but I’m always making it better. I’m always innovating it because I don’t want to be the next blockbuster. You see a lot of people rise to the top and then they fade off or they have that one hit wonder. It’s because they don’t innovate. Your process will always adapt. You’ve got to figure out what’s right for you. I just wanted to give you guys a framework, an order to follow. Then you guys can make it your own because just don’t copy what other people do because their businesses are different. They’re different. You’ve just got to figure it out, but sometimes in order to figure it out you’ve got to do it the same way they do it and go, “Well that worked and that didn’t.” Then model it and create your own. That’s what I found. Man I’ve been building this system for the past 18 years. I didn’t know I was. I was just experiences going through it.

Vera Fischer: Absolutely and after you sold your agency and now you’re helping other agencies how do you ensure that they’re documenting the system and they’re actually following it? Are there any type of checks and balance that you work with them on?

Jason Swenk: I only work with a select few one-on-one. All the other ones I put through online programs or group programs. It’s hard to personally check in with them, but the biggest thing that I see that will hold every kind of person I work with or anybody else listening to this is working for, like being reactive. They’re reactive to the client that is the squeakiest wheel rather than really dedicating some time in order to building your own business and being proactive and really setting some time in treating yourself as the number one client. That’s what I’ve always been really good at, never ignoring what the business needs in order to grow where we’re trying to get to, going back to the clarity.

The biggest holdup that you guys are going to have is time and prioritization and figuring out and working on … One of the biggest things when I’m working with people on is, is please work on the biggest impact items first rather tHan the small items. We always want to knock out the small items because then we have a sense of accomplishment that we’ve achieved more. In the long run, it’s actually hurting you and the opportunity cost of actually doing the small items is greater than you really think. Just do the big items first and building the right systems specially to create a steady flow of leads and new business coming to you. I mean imagine that you could double your leads right now.

Imagine that you can then … You’re still taking on the same amount of clients so if you’ve doubled your leads now you can handpick the perfect ones. If you can handpick the perfect ones, then you could charge more. If you could charge more, then you could hire more people and more of the right people. If you could more of the right people, then you don’t have to do everything yourself. That’s how I look at it.

Vera Fischer: That’s a great way to look at it. This lead generation system is so … It’s easy. It’s simple to reflect on. I know each section of it can be time consuming and a little challenging if you haven’t done it before. It’s a very clear step-by-step process. I know I and my listeners absolutely appreciate that.

I have another, kind of a futuristic type of a question for you Jason, but as digital is taking over more and more and now we’re getting into the world of artificial intelligence and all of the other technologies from an access perspective and more software et cetera and disciplines that are based on service. Do you think this type of process is going to stand the test of time and said differently has it stood the test of time over the last 18 years?

Jason Swenk: Oh yeah. I mean this is the foundation for building relationships and building trust. The only way I think this would change isn’t until you’re selling to a machine.

Vera Fischer: You’re absolutely right. That’s great insight, very good. Yeah, that does make sense and hopefully that day will never come.

Jason Swenk: I hope I don’t see that.

Vera Fischer: What’s your next challenge for your business? What are you focused on next?

Jason Swenk: Just making sure that things are simple, that people understand exactly based on the problems that they have where they should go and how my services and solutions can help them out. That’s always the biggest challenge because as you build your business you’re always creating new and better things. As you do that, there’s a possibility to confuse the market and going like, “Well you’re known for the agency playbook, but you just created Agency University, so how’s that different.” That’s always a challenge.

Vera Fischer: Absolutely. Simplicity is to me the best. People get it. Jason, I really appreciate you being here. Before we sign off, could you let our listeners know the best way to get in touch with you?

Jason Swenk: Yeah I mean the best way is to go to my site jasonswenk.com. Swenk is spelled with an E, S-W-E-N-K. I give away tons of stuff. Then if you really want to dive … If you’re an agency or a professional service firm and you really want to dive deeper into the systems that we covered and then even going into the delivery and operations and leadership systems, definitely check out the agencyplaybook.com and that will help you guys out going forward.

Vera Fischer: Awesome. Jason, thanks for sharing your lead generation system. You’ve shown us that processes are needed to get the work done and you’ve provided some great nuances that our listeners really need to hear regarding the execution of a successful system. Thank you so much for being on our show today.

Jason Swenk: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Vera Fischer: System Execution fans no matter how many notes you took or how often you re-listen to this episode the key is every successful business uses systems to drive to a better outcome.

Attention System Execution fans do you have a system that would be valuable for our listeners. We want to know about your system. Go to www.systemexecution.com fill out the contact form with your information. Don’t be shy. Systems are cool.

We hope you found this episode of System Execution enlightening. For free examples, case studies, eBooks and more, be sure to visit systemexecution.com/resources. Contribute to the conversation by reaching out to Vera directly on email at vera@systemexecution.com. Until our next episode thank you for the privilege of your time.




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