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How my Agency Builds Digital Marketing Talent to Grow Client Revenue and ROI (Even if the staff…
Hiring & training employees is one of the biggest challenges that makes or breaks an agency. Even if you have a rock-solid sales and…
Hiring & training employees is one of the biggest challenges that makes or breaks an agency. Even if you have a rock-solid sales and marketing process, even if you have a solid referral network, it will be all for nothing if a team can’t retain clients.
In my ecommerce agency, I’ve iterated through 4 different organization training models over the years. Many of them “broke” under the pressure of scaling. But today, I think I’ve finally found the one I’m confident will help us retain better as we put on more marketing budget.
This new training model has helped me train my team from almost zero marketing knowledge to a team that churns out results for our clients day in and day out. Many are fresh graduates.
Snapshot of Our Results
Furthermore, we got reviews such as this:
Most importantly, this training model has helped free up my time to do more “CEO work”, such as sales, marketing, and strategy.
To start, I’ll share the training models that didn’t work for me.
Three Agency Training Models that People Said Would Work (But Didn’t)
For the first couple of iterations of my training model, I’ve tried to learn as much as I can from agencies who came before me. After tapping my network and consuming lots of courses, the common denominator was that I needed to put everything into a standard process.
EMyth-style Processes Don’t Work for Complex Knowledge Work
While this process has worked for a while, I’ve noticed that the lifespan of my Standard Processes was very short.
For example, I couldn’t use a process that has worked well in Ecommerce to Lead Generation. Nor could it last through a change in toolset or even a simple UI change Facebook. There was always a new theory or methdology that broke my processes.
The lifespan of a process was about 6 months. And I usually had to spend 45 days or more just to complete a 1000+ page marketing playbook. And I did I rewrote that playbook three times, each using different formats. I tried a procedural approach, just like what you’ve seen in E-Myth and I tried programmed learning, like what you would see in this chess book ( Bobby Fischer Teaches chess) and in this programming book( The Little Schemer).
Eventually, what I realized I needed to do was that I needed to teach my team how to reason and think like an elite marketer.
After failing a third time, I started researching heavily into how programming and chess coaches train their mentees fast. And from that research, I finally found a training method that stuck well with my employees.
Below shares how it looks like in three simple steps.
The Digital Marketing Training Model I Learned from Chess FIDE Masters and Open Source Programmers
We can distill the training model that helped develop my employees fast into these three stages. Apart from Kathy Sierra, I also mixed in ideas from Erik Kislik & Dan Heisman (Chess), from Zed Shaw & Marc Andre Cournoyer (Programming), and I made a generalized model for it.
Learn Marketing Concepts fast with Labelling Exercises
Learn Well-formed Marketing Thought Processes with Copywork Exercises
Innovate & Break the Rules of Marketing by Extending & Combining Mental Models
It looks like a lot of theory, but I’ve backed these with real action and real results. And as you go through it below, I’ll share practical steps complete with screenshots straight from our internal playbook.
Here’s step 1.
Step 1: Learn Marketing Concepts fast with Labelling Exercises
In this step, you’ll first need to find marketing concepts through some introductory course. You normally bump into these in your reading or in a forum. Here’s a starter list:
Once you have chosen a concept, it’s not important to get the rationale and theory right. Instead, you need to master how it’s best implemented. That means you need to gather about 10 or more examples of each concept.
Labelling is Perceptual Learning in Action
The big idea here is that by gathering as many examples as possible, you develop a “gut” for the concept. We call this training model as Perceptual Learning and has proved to be a solid method for training painters, architects, pilots, and others.
After gathering a long list of examples, then begins the next phase, which is an exercise that I call labelling.
Labelling is when you tag an ad, a sales letter, or a landing page with concepts. You then teach this annotated ad, letter, or page to your staff. This step is important because it allows your team to “learn in context”, not “learn from theory”.
I’ve found this to be a simple yet powerful method to get people to have a “gut” for marketing fast — even if they have zero experience.
This is not something I made up.
Examples of Labelling from Chess and Drawing
In chess, one of the best validated tactics for beginners is to dive head first into tactics. The guideline is that you need to keep doing it until your ability to label / find the tactic correctly is more than 85% and you’re able to solve it within 15 seconds.
Below shows some examples how I do this exercise for my team.
Below contains a list of annotated ads and landing pages that I’ve made for my team. I have about 100+ annotated ads for their perusal.
Examples of Labelling for Digital Ads and Sales Pages
(Digital Ads Example) Here’s an ad that does lead generation for a dance studio:
(Digital Ads Example) Here’s an ad that sells tickets for a workshop:
(Advertorial Example) Here’s an annotated advertorial that sells a book:
(Sales Page Example) Here’s an annotated sales page that sells Japanese pork:
How The Team Does the Labelling Exercise Themselves
After they go through it and immerse themselves with clear examples of each concept, the next step then is for them to start labelling ads themselves.
I then tell them to open up the Facebook Ads Library and then go through an ad of interest and start labelling them and explaining why it’s effective or not.
Every single new person of my team, zero marketing experience or not, goes through this on their very first day.
By the end of that first day, they have a visceral, concrete understanding of what “Social Proof” is instead of banking on some fluffy words that they had to memorize.
Practical knowledge is built.
While this improves pattern recognition, how do we help them translate this into strong, well-formed execution?
This is where copywork comes in.
Step 2: Learn Well-formed Marketing Mental Models with Copywork Exercises
The second stage is copywork.
In more traditional fields such as painting, this meant copying by memorizing. A painter would look at a masterclass painting (Picasso’s, Van Gogh’s), then they’ll attempt to emulate the brush strokes as much as possible straight off their memory.
Plus points if they can articulate in their mind the concepts that they used (e.g. negative space, edges, gestalt, and more).
If they get one thing wrong, they repeat the copying process all over again.
Rote Learning & Exposure Creates the “Marketing Gut” You’ve Been Looking For
This ridiculous rote learning is important because it helps you learn the techniques that may not have been articulated in books or in person. It helps you learn techniques at a visceral level.
This is as important as a pianist doing their chords, a basketball player doing their drills, or a chess grandmaster replaying & memorizing classic world championship games.
In our agency’s case, the way I’ve coached the team is by getting them to copy lots of analysis. Analysis of what Facebook Ads, Facebook Targeting, landing pages, and or emails worked and didn’t work. This allows them to think and speak using technical words.
I get them to start off with a template like this: Quip Template. This forms the initial thought process that everyone should follow.
Then they start filling out the blanks.
Once they fill it all up, the output is well-reasoned analysis.
Analysis, that if they verbalize it well enough, they can have a good conversation with a client.
Knowledge of marketing jargon and how to discuss it with the rest of the team normally happens by the 2nd week inside Monolith.
Step 3: Innovate & Break the Rules of Marketing by Extending & Combining Mental Models
The third and final stage is innovation through remixing.
There are two conditions that make that happen:
The manager should have a large collection of benchmarks or references
The manager should have had experienced a wide variety of client cases, with a deep knowledge of what worked and what didn’t work.
Armed with what worked before as a baseline, the manager can then mix various benchmarks or references into a new & innovative solution.
This works as innovation is about stepping on the shoulders of who came before you. By mastering through copying, you get to have intimate knowledge of what worked for others. By having a solid thought process (also by copying), you get to test out these ideas and see what has worked for your specific context.
After enough reflection, you can arrive at new & innovative ideas to test.
Here are Two Examples of How We Break Rules & Build New Marketing Strategies for Clients
Below, we developed a new ecommerce strategy matrix based on what we learned — this has proved to be stable across 95% of our client base.
Below, we decided to go against best practice and added 6form fields on a product page of a client. It worked for them as this market wanted a lot of customization (i.e. it’s a cake ecommerce store and we added the message, the number of candles, events, and ideal time for delivery fields)
In short, this is a space where most businesses grow up from “tactical” to “strategic”. A short-term, tactics-oriented approach gets results, but there’s a ceiling to copying your competition.
When you find yourself stagnating in growth, that’s a sign you need an innovative shift in strategy to break out of it.
For any self-funded services company like ours, capability-building should be at the forefront. It has helped me build an organization starting with only $1,500 (legal costs) and grow it purely from profits.
If you’d like to strengthen your marketing team’s capability through coaching / mentorship, or if you’d like our services in helping you grow your revenue & leads, I invite you to a free strategy call with me here: schedule a free 30-minute strategy call with Kenn.