Digital transformation in the new world

Picture of Charles McKay

Digital transformation in the new world


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Are you delivering an end to end customer experience? Is that experience going to lead to positive word of mouth marketing? Are your systems and processes in place to ensure there are no hiccups? Are you using the right technology to see the whole customer view?

For episode 01 of the Beyond Business with Synx podcast, we had the opportunity to interview Daryn Smith, Chief Strategy Officer at Huble Digital. Daryn is a valued partner to Synx and a longtime friend. 

On our podcast, we discuss how many companies today are pivoting their digital strategy to incorporate more end to end customer experiences, how today’s technology can power your business but also hinder it, and how critical it is to get your systems and processes in place. 


Some of the show highlights include: 


  • Daryn’s background and what led him to start his agency
  • How many marketers get the idea of marketing wrong — they focus on the creative, fun stuff and not the whole customer journey, which is where you will truly grow 
  • Not putting your full trust in everything a company tells you to do. Remember, they’re looking for more spend or more licenses. 
  • Marketing technology needs to have an end to end integration for a single customer point of view
  • HubSpot’s pricing strategy per contact is actually more cost-competitive than Salesforce because in order to have the full functionality you will find at HubSpot you need six or seven pieces of Salesforce’s software
  • The only marketing that will ever stand the test of time is the word of mouth marketing and you achieve this by delighting customers
  • Many organisations are siloed in their departments. They have a paid person, a PR person, an SEO person, and all of them are working independently of each other rather than what should be happening for the whole marketing program or campaign
  • CEOs need to focus on what innovations they’re creating for the company to ensure that the company will be there for the next decade and so on. 
  • T-shaped people are incredibly important to an organisation to serve as the consultant, the salesperson, the project manager. They need to have that full understanding of the marketing strategy and program in order to speak to the specialist
  • Strategy is essentially crystal ball staring. You base your ideas on your past experiences and well-educated assumptions then test and perfect it
  • Focus less on clicks and likes and more on the numbers that will show the health of your business and allow you to make informed decisions 
  • The companies that survive this challenging time will be the ones who have built the right culture 
  • Companies need to focus on having their whole system and process in place that doesn’t include reliance on email and instant messaging


Links and Resources 

Daryn Smith on LinkedIn

Huble Digital


The Infinite Games by Simon Sinek


Quotes by Daryn

  • “The only marketing that will ever stand the test of time is word of mouth marketing. And the only way you're gonna get somebody to talk about you isn't by going to an agency that does viral campaigns as many would think. It’s about absolutely delighting those customers so that they organically talk about you.” 
  • “All strategy is essentially crystal ball staring. You know, you look into the crystal ball and based on your history, your experience you make well-educated assumptions, and guess that if we do this or if we do that, what we change here, will have a positive impact. You need to then test that, and you need to be able to once you have learned ‘did that work?’, ‘did that not work?’ and perfect that. Perfect that and perfect that.” 




CM: Welcome to the Beyond Business with Synx podcast. My name's Charles McKay and I'll be your host of this podcast series where we interview go-getters, technology and service companies who are all here to make the business world a better place. Today we had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Daryn Smith from South Africa. He's the Chief Strategy Officer at Huble Digital and is a valued partner of Synx. Today we go through topics of

  • digital transformation in the New World, not the world where it didn't work,
  • how divisions have been held back and what those divisions are that are challenging
  • in the current environment how important getting your systems, processes, and people all on the same page is
  • which departments have potentially been your biggest hamstring and
  • how technology is such an enabler but can also be a massive disabler too
  • how is your business being a custodian to itself? So similar to being a custodian of the land, are you there to improve the land or are you taking from the land? Same with your business — Are you improving it from a sales perspective or a marketing perspective or are you just there to reap the profits?

And that is my little man, Archie, in the background and he also makes an appearance throughout the show. So I hope you enjoy it, and I can't wait to get into it with you.


CM: Welcome Daryn Smith, all the way from Cape Town, South Africa. Pleasure to have you on the Beyond Business podcast. Really looking forward to digging into a little bit of who Daryn is, where you come from and what you're working on today. So welcome Daryn.


DS: Yeah, thanks so much, awesome to be here.

Daryn's Background

CM: Well, so before we get into this Daryn tell us a little bit about your background. Like, obviously you're in South Africa, where did you grow up, and you know, rewind a few years to give us a bit of an understanding.


DS: Yeah. So, I’ve always been here in Cape Town. Primarily, I think being stuck here because of my sport, need to need to carry on surfing. So that's why I haven't left Cape Town, but I do have a global business so in working with people around the world I get to travel a huge amount. In terms of background, as I finished in school, going back as far as that, I didn't see much value in going to study something. I wanted to get my hands dirty and actually learn as quickly as possible. I couldn't identify what it was I wanted to do.

A lot of friends, it was kind of around the late nineties, doing computer science and so I signed up with a whole bunch of friends to do a one-year computer science degree to became a developer, which I absolutely hated. It was too mundane and too much in front of the computer.

I ended up being in the right place at the right time, where I was busy building websites for a large telecoms company. They were going through some difficulty and they immediately retrenched their entire marketing team as companies do because that's the team that is perceived to be wasting money, and most probably were wasting money.


CM: What era was this in?


DS: This was the early 2000s, very early 2000s. So, the CEO came to me and said: “well, you build websites, that's marketing, now you're the marketing manager.” So, suddenly I got, ripped out of writing lines and lines of code to actually something a lot more that I enjoy.

Twelve months later, once again in a meeting room with the CEO, and he says “our competitor is growing like this, we haven't grown. What's the problem?” So, I say “well, we actually won an award that year for the first live stream TV ad, we are taking people to the rugby, and everybody is really loving what I am doing”. He says “you know what? We'll pay for you to study marketing.” So, I went to do night classes and weekends and time studying marketing.

Within the first month of that, I knew exactly what I had been doing wrong. I really was just doing what the typical marketer does. They do fun things, they do creative things, but without a very good position and not a very good value proposition.

It also distracted me since coming out of that environment, the amount of promotions I've seen where a personal assistant or an events manager has suddenly been promoted and elevated to the role of a CMO or a marketing director. And they continually make the exact same mistakes that I made back then. But they're not realizing it, I didn't realize that. 

I thought I was doing great work, I had won awards and so on, but it wasn't helping with the actual growth of the company. I ended up working for almost eight years in that in that role, had a team of about 30 people.


CM: Wow. So, what did the team end up looking like as in the structure and what were they doing?


DS: Yes, it was like a team that was structured back then on their line of specialty. So, there were events managers, there were PR managers, they were above the line advertising managers, there was digital, and everything was in a silo. My job was to try and come up with marketing programs and campaigns. Then try and make sure that the digital person was doing their digital part of that and it aligned to what the above the line person was doing and what the events person was doing and so on.

I was supposed to be the glue between all those different teams, and also those teams had regional focuses. The endpoint for me there was a request for me to move and as I said, I'm not going to move where there are no waves. They wanted me to move to Johannesburg so that wasn't a thing.

At that point, realizing out of all the service private providers I was working with... and being one of the largest brands, we were working with the most expensive, most well-known, most awarded, most decorated agencies and consultancies. But every single one of them were still trying to win awards. 

They were really not concerned about the outcome of the work that they were doing in terms of real business tangible results. So, that's what kind of led to starting the agency because I just thought that there was an opportunity.


CM: So, between that job that you had and the agency — didn't you do something in between there before the agency officially started?


DS: Yes. Yes, I did actually. I worked for a mobile ad company for 6-7 months, around there. It was eye-opening in two senses. So, the company was headquartered out of India and had its business address out of San Francisco.

What struck me immediately was that I had been a glorified project manager up until that point. I was incapable of actually during marketing myself. Everything I did I briefed an agency. Working for an American style company, they asked me to do some things and I had no agencies… I had to do it myself and yeah, that was eye-opening.

The second thing is selling mobile ads. We were creating such a buzz around it and jumping onto that horse that everybody was talking about mobile being the next big thing… You have to be in mobile. 

We created so much PR around it, reports, that type of thing, but in reality, the only person that I've ever seen click on a mobile ad is my daughter when she is accidentally trying to play a game or something on my phone.


CM: Or skip the ad on YouTube.


DS: Exactly. I mean I've never clicked on one. Well, I did back then because we had to fake clicks because nobody was clicking on it. We had a table full of mobile devices and we would click on them.

It is crazy because the media buyers that I had worked with up until that point, I thought they really had my business interest at heart when I was a brand. What I discovered in this process is as soon as we weren't making targets, which was often because who buys mobile ads, I would put out a promotion to the media agencies and say, if you book with us within the next three days, we'll give you an extra 10% commission, and suddenly we would hit targets. So, what I realized in that process is that agencies are actually even less interested in getting results for your business. They are chasing a commission.  

One of the things that we have done from day one as an agency is that we have not taken the 15%, 20% commission on media spend from day one because it promotes bad behaviour. I mean, to be honest, if you're targeting, is that good…


CM: You should reduce spend.


DS: Exactly. If you go and do the Google AdWords certification, everything it tells you is trying to get you to spend more. Google wants you to spend more that's how they make their money. So, anybody on my team, they need to have the Google AdWords certification because it's kind of a needed thing being in digital marketing. 

But, I always tell them like, “okay, you learn the tool, learn where to click and how to do things, but take it with a pinch of salt. Take it where it's coming from. It's coming from a media company that wants more and more spend. Don't go and do everything that they say. It’s not good for our clients.”


CM: Yeah, I totally understand. And from that, you and your new business partner at the time, Graham, went and started MPULL, is that right? Did you just start the agency first, or did you build some tech? Tell us a little bit about that.


DS: Yeah. So, first of all, what we realized is my experience at the telco company was in the business to business division. There were long sale cycles, anything from three months to two years to get a company to switch to use your infrastructure.

My agencies at that time would give me reports that say, we got this many clicks on your ad or your brand equity increased by Y. I knew that… because what I used to do was… Every single ‘contact us’ form that came through our website, I got CC’d on it and I would look at the inquiry's and 99.9% of them were not our target markets. They would not be able to afford the service that we offer, many of them were actual job seekers.

So, what I wanted to work out is the true return on investment over a long sales cycle. I wanted to find a piece of software that integrated into CRM systems, that lets you track marketing entirely. And so, I think it's a typical South African thing so I went out and thought, let's build a piece of software as opposed to let's see what's there already.

So that was first business and was also called MPULL. The idea, MPULL, stands for marketing pull… meaning to pull your marketing, from all different angles and all different sources together to give you that unified view. There was a view for CMOs where you essentially have a marketing calendar and you can say “ah I’ve got a press release here in this city today, I've got an event here, I'm running in TV ads there” and then you can drill down and see what contacts were associated to that campaign.

And then it links into the CRM and you can see how much that person spent. So, I created this piece of software. This was like 2011 or 2012, around there. Nobody bought it.

We had a lot of meetings and every marketer loved the idea until we told them that you would have to actually enter the information into the software. Bearing in mind, I had realized shortly before that that many marketers are glorified project managers and the agencies do everything for them. They don't want to do work.

So, we had a breakthrough with a large financial service where we just tried a different angle. Instead of saying that we've got a piece of software we said, “no, we're gonna run your campaign, and we’re going to do all the creative and all the execution, and then we're going to give you an amazing report at the end. They agreed in the meeting to that.

I only charged them 10,000 Rand, which didn’t even cover my flights there and back twice. I had to go and see them and the hotel and that type of thing. Everything. But, you know, it was our first customer, and it actually worked.

We created an amazing piece of content. It was a long sales cycle. It took several weeks to nurture the lead. There was one, only one, out of the… I think they had about 500 leads. One eventually became qualified. That company spent millions in the end.

Essentially what we were doing was bundling our software in the service, so we started to get some traction there. But with all the money we were making, we kept on coming up with new ideas, and new features for the software. We still weren't taking a salary because we're paying developers to constantly add new features to our marketing software.

I ended up in a good coffee meeting with one of the first employees at Eloqua and explained what we were doing. He said: “Why are you trying to create software, where Eloqua does is already, ExactTarget does something… HubSpot does something similar. Why don't you just use that software? Clearly listening to you, you understand this concept more than the average person, and I know that having worked it Eloqua for the last two years that people don't understand... Marketers don't know how to do this, they don't understand it. So there's an opportunity for you to self-service it.”

So, that’s what really kicked off the service's way. We stopped developing our software.

Back then, if you look at the martech infographic, I think there were 300 or 350 pieces of martech. A large percentage of those were around the media tools like the one that I'd worked at before. So I immediately ruled out those first because I was not interested in media at all, having seen how fast that industry is.

I didn't look at Google Analytics and all those types of analytics tools. I didn't look at the social media tools because all they do is post social media updates and I didn't see much value in that. So, I went into the marketing automation space. The more end to end marketing tools. I did a full audit of them... there must have been about eight of them at the time.

HubSpot came out as as the top one for two reasons. One was the price. So when you compare that to Eloqua, ExactTarget which is now Salesforce Cloud. I think there was Silverpop at the time, I can’t remember all the others. Marketo I think was already there.

Now they were all really, really expensive. We will be running without salaries, without income for months, we didn't have money, so we went for the cheapest one, which was HubSpot at the time. Subsequently, there's a whole bunch off really, really cheap marketing automation systems like SharpSpring and Zoho and Fresh Marketing and that type of thing. We've tried them, I will not touch them again. They're just unreliable and really don’t scale.

So we went with HubSpot. Nowadays we do work with some of the other technologies, anything HubSpot and above. Back then was price, and then the other thing, was depth of functionality. So still, a lot of the people that count themselves as competitors to HubSpot are just an email platform, or just an SEO platform, or just a landing page platform.

I think the closest competitors to HubSpot is Salesforce, but the Salesforce suite. In order to get the equivalent functionality that you get in HubSpot… you need Pardot or marketing cloud, you need Adcloud or Adstudio, I can’t remember what it is called. You need social cloud. You need sales cloud, you need service cloud, and you need their analytics tool. So that's six pieces of software. All were a decent price tag.

One of the things that I've seen Salesforce do a huge amount in the market is price match HubSpot on one of their tools. So they'll say “okay, you selected Pardot over HubSpot. Okay HubSpot is going to charge you $1000 so we will match that and we'll charge $1000.” And then the client signs up because they think “oh Salesforce”.

Then three months down the line, they realize “Oh, but I also to be able to track social media and I need to run remarketing ads and suddenly there's two other pieces of software, all $7000 a month. Then they go “actually now that I'm running three pieces of software I need an analytics tool to see the data because each one only gives reports on its activity” and then you need the analytics add-on.

So I'm still, as you can hear, a massive HubSpot fan. Because it is end to end, it is  integrated, there are no hidden costs. Actually, one of the biggest objections I get around HubSpot, especially selling to more enterprise companies, is that they charge you a price per contact. But it is tiered pricing. We've got clients that have two million contacts on HubSpot. The thought of paying $10 per 1000 completely freaks people out but when you actually compare it to the cost of five or six pieces of software that don't have contact tiers, like at Salesforce, versus this it is still way cheaper.

So, it's a perception that that often needs to be broken down.

Marketing in Today's World

CM:  So, that journey, though, it's amazing. How it all flows, and it flows beautifully, and how your lessons and learnings have come through. So starting out.. the problem you were trying to solve was to pretty much stitch all of these departments and silos together and bring it all into one. 

What are you starting to see now? Like that was the initial problem, but what is the problem now. It’s been nearly 10 years since you started and working with so many brands and agencies around the world, what are the problems that you're starting to see now and where you're trying to focus your time?


DS: Yes, so what we see is that there is an increasing mistrust in marketing still. Even though marketing can be measured. Especially if you're using a tool like this.

Huge amount of companies have adopted some form of content marketing. As you know, the content marketing formula is to not push your brand, give true advice, give honest advice, but stitch your brand and your message into the story anyway.

So what can you believe in what you read anymore? Because you know that it’s been written either by a journalist that has been taken to an event and has been kind of brainwashed a little bit. Or by a copywriter that's been hired by a firm on agency. They may tell you that here are the 10 best cities to go and visit and nine of them really are, but the 10th one is Sydney and they've been hired by the Sydney Tourism Authority. You can't trust it.

I still think it needs to be done. It's very important. It's very important for search. More and more people are remote working now. They do online research. More and more people have global teams because now with everybody having experienced remote working, people have realized “well, you know what? I don't need somebody in my city that I can see”. 

Suddenly the talent pools increased. But now that means that it's not so easy for somebody to pick up the phone or even use a chat, live chat and be like “hey, how does this product work or doesn't do this or that?”

Content and content marketing has become even more important. But it is not entirely trustworthy. So what I'm seeing is is the brands of winning are winning by building amazing end to end customer experiences. They are so amazing that people tell their colleagues, people tell their friends, their family, they move jobs and go back to that company. So marketers have to spend less of their time creating ads and content and that other thing, and really be the catalyst for massive change in an organization.

You can't say on an ad that you guarantee delivery within 24 hours, and then somebody orders and they get it 72 hours later because your strategist at the ad agency said that there's an insight that people like instant delivery so you just put that on your box and just quote in the background. A bit of strategy would be to not say anything and somehow work out how to do a delivery in 12 hours and absolutely blow the customer away and then they will tell their friends and so on.

Where we've kind of pivoted the agency to, and I actually call it more of a consultancy now, is to identify end to end customer journeys. From acquisition of customers to onboarding of customers to retention of customers to servicing those customers. As a marketer, how can we make sure that there's no friction, that we remove red tape.

I'm even shocked HubSpot has preached the stuff, as well. I asked them for something the other day and they said “oh, no, we can't do that because the internal process doesn't allow us to do that.” I was like how can you be a customer-first, customer-centric organization if you say you can't do that because of the internal process.

So much of the marketer’s work is moving from being just these guys that create ads and value propositions to actually having to change a business. I suppose they're going beyond business to actually make a significant change.

Then word of mouth. So what happens now is faster and faster. You see, brands… a new thing launches, especially in digital... Tik-Tok launches. The brands that succeed are the brands that get there first because within weeks, the audience, the customers of Tik-Tok, the user of Tik-Tok have worked out how to zone out or tune out from ads. Some developer has developed a little app to block their ads. You know that type of thing. Your window of opportunity is so small because consumers do not want to be marketed to like that.

The only marketing that will ever stand the test of time is word of mouth marketing. And the only way you're gonna get somebody to talk about you isn't by going to an agency that does viral campaigns like many would think. It’s about absolutely delighting those customers so that they organically talk about you.


CM: Especially the environment that we’re in now that's more prevalent than ever. What are you finding with going from this transition, where you’re literally end to end customer. Where is most of the friction you're seeing within organizations? Is it that marketing is no longer fluffy, but they know that maybe the CEO doesn't want to have to destroy his other divisions to make that change. Where are you seeing those friction points?

Friction in Technology

DS: I'm seeing a huge friction in technology. It is so difficult in order to really delight a customer, you need a single customer view.

If a customer engages with you, whatever, whether maybe they live chat, whether they phone, you need to know who they are, what they bought, what problems they have had before, and what's their lifetime value to you? That type of thing and you need to be able to respond to their requests quickly. If you have to open five, six or seven different systems, some of which are not cloud-based, that aren't integrated… sometimes have different customer reference numbers. That is a complete blocker to amazing customer experience.

So many analyst organizations like Gardner and Forrester and type of thing have predicted for years that marketers will spend more on technology than the IT organization. This is kind of what's happening. Marketers are becoming more and more, involved in technology because often the IT guys, and I wasn't the IT guy, but they are, you know, stuck in their ways. 

They decided what? You know, we are a Microsoft house, right? They won’t consider anything else. They haven't moved on to say we're going to use best of breed technology. They just completely switched off. Or they're like, we're going to use Microsoft

Now, Microsoft Outlook might be great. Excel might be amazing. But, you know, SharePoint is terrible. Microsoft Dynamics is the worst piece of software I've ever seen in my life. Have you ever tried using that thing? It's like a desktop application most the time… there's a cloud version, but wow, it is ugly. It is slow. It is complicated. The interface is horrible and adds no value to the salesperson that is trying to use it, as an example.

But the IT guys going ‘no, no, we must be a Microsoft house.’ So this huge friction that then develops between marketing and between IT and in the end, the person that's impacted is that end customer. 

When the end customer is impacted, they then go well screw that instead of working with this old school organization… like an accountant is an amazing example of this... I'm going to switch to Xero because Xero is completely cloud-based. I can buy it with my credit card. It's easy to use. It integrates with a whole bunch of things.

With the Microsoft products, they don't have APIs for most of them. You have to be a dark neck developer if you want to integrate with them. That is kind of dinosaur-like kind of thinking, but it exists in many of the organizations around the world today. I think that's what you're going to start seeing these organizations that you think are large….


CM: Yeah, not agile enough. They're not ripping it out and going ‘you know what?’ And the young guys are gonna come in and go we can do it faster, cheaper, more efficiently, and better.


DS: Absolutely. I’ve been reading recently “The Infinite Games” by Simon Sinek and he writes about the average age or age expectancy of an organization has dropped by decades. 

The other thing that I've taken out from that book is many of these old school organizations are absolutely obsessed with these fictitious kind of time periods that they have invented, like 1/4 or a month or a year like… How did we do? What was our revenue? What was that growth? What was our profit? And they chase that and as a result, they're not thinking about the future.

And how many CEOs paraphrasing what time Simon Sinkey says here…. But how many CEOs measure themselves on the innovations that they have launched in their time as CEO that has ensured that the company is gonna be there for the next decade. Most of them go well “In the seven years that I was here, we grew XYZ by this” Okay, great. 

Why did you pick seven years? What happens next year when you leave, and because you did not ever think about you know how customers are changing and the new set of competitors you didn't even know you had. Then that following year you basically crash and die.

Structuring Organisations Today to Break Down Silos

CM: Totally. I I think it's a similar thing with land and being the custodian of land, like you never actually own it. You're realistically there on it for a period of time. So if you are running a business, you were a custodian of it. You’re not there to keep it forever. And if you come in and just drive profits for three years and hit all these records, and then two years later, you have left. Reality is that should be seen as a failure.

It’s amazing listening to you talk and how things have pivoted, changed, and evolved. And I agree that the departments that you've worked in have been the change-makers and innovators for sure. From when you guys started to where we're at today, what's that vision look like to what has actually played out? How different has it been and what’s that journey been like?


DS: It is very, very different from what we thought was going to happen. As I said in the beginning we thought we were gonna be a software company. We now resell software essentially, but we are a service's company. 

When we started, there was 300 pieces of marketing software available today. There's 8000, so many of the ways that I thought the agency would make money are now being, replaced by a piece of software that does it better, that uses artificial intelligence and algorithms and all that type of thing to get better targeting, better insights, better everything and at a fraction of the price.

So, as an example, I know some agencies that used to charge in terms of rand like 120,000 rand for a landing page. Now you can buy HubSpot for $800 a month, and you drag and drop to create a landing page. So, a lot of software has eaten the revenue that I was expecting to get. It isn't a difficult place to be in as a consultancy as a an agency. So we've pivoted a huge amount from, like, doing a lot of the work to the consulting part of thinking and giving advice and input.

Even if you take websites as example, there are hundreds of thousands of website templates available out there today. How different can a website possibly look from each other? There’s always gonna be a navigation. There's always gonna be a hero. There's always gonna be a footer. Yes, you’re going to get some amazing creatives and I still think that there's an absolute place for that.

But for many companies, it's not necessary to have this, really, really fancy website. They then go the cheap route of selecting a website template. But then they don't invest the time and effort in working out what should be on that page, why should it be there, how are we going to convert. Is customer acquisition the number one thing? Or is servicing existing customers the number one thing, or are they equal? And is your website if it is equal built for that. So, people get a copywriter to write copy, they drag and drop some modules and they go ta-da here’s my website, but it doesn't perform. They did not follow that strategy piece. 

So, the agency has pivoted, or the consultants, pivoted a huge amount to do a lot more thinking and consulting work, and then yes, if you need us to execute, execute, but otherwise you could do it yourself.

Or you can find a super cheap freelancer. We now compete in a huge amount against freelances which I never anticipated when we started and freelancers are interesting competitors. Because where I'm trying to build a long-term sustainable business that yes makes a profit, you're allowed to make a profit... I'm trying to hire people that are the best and as a result I need to hire managers to do things that the talent doesn't like doing and in turn we need premises. Although we're reconsidering that at the moment. There's a whole bunch of additional expenses.

Pretty much you take somebody's salary and we need to make 2.5 times more than what their salary is. But a freelancer only needs to make the amount they want to make for that month, their salary. They’re working from home, they have no additional expenses so often that is lower than what they would expect if they were working for an employer and so they take it.

They put 100 billable hours in the month, which means that only have to work five hours a day. They want to make $5000 for the man. They divide that, get the hourly rate and it is a fraction of what a consultancy or agency charges. Although using freelancers and so on, there's a risk because they may disappear, they may get a really nice contract and pay you less attention, they may get sick, whatever. If our rate is three times that. Some customers say “well, you know, even if they get it wrong three times, we'll have to redo it three times it’s still cheaper than working with an agency.”


CM: I think there's another part of it to which the freelancer doesn't get, which is that collaboration piece. So you know when you're going to real problem solving as a business, and you've got a really complex thing to put all of that on one person is really hard. So that's where the power of collaboration and getting multiple people in a room or multiple people around the world to solve that problem really shows the value to just having a freelancer to do it.


DS: Yeah, absolutely. I'm a huge, huge fan of T-shaped people that know a lot of stuff, but only a little bit of each thing. I believe they make the most amazing salespeople because they can identify opportunity. I think they make the most amazing project managers and high-level kind of consultants, but like they need to work with specialists and know when to pull in specialists that can go deep. Their job is to keep that person on the vision because it's so easy for somebody that goes deep to go down a rabbit hole and to lose track. So it's the T-shaped person that needs to manage that.


CM: The reality is you can't be a T shape without coming through specializing in something, going very deep in it, and then maybe jumping into something else. You've gotta have experience across everything to become T-shape.

When the T-shape sort of stuff came out a couple of years ago, people just jumped into it without knowing what they're doing in other divisions, and I think that probably found out a lot of people in that space going from traditional marketing to going ‘oh now we’re going to do this.’ But, you had never done any of that, so you need to go and learn a lot about it before you can just become a T.

I absolutely agree with your point. It's sort of like if you looked at an apprenticeship. I think today in business it would be working through a whole business through every division, it wouldn't be going and just learning a trade and doing one thing. I can probably reflect that in my career a bit that I worked in so many different divisions and departments because then you got an understanding of how the business works.


DS: And that T-shape… It is incredibly important as a coordinating role, because what I see with a lot of agencies still and it completely blows me away that they still operate like this is that they have different departments.

The salesperson goes and closes something and then that work gets divided up so that the paid media department gets the paid media portion, and the social media department gets that and the inbound marketing department gets that. They all end up doing this amazing work in their little areas, but it sometimes conflicts with each other.

Like the paid media person often ends up buying only bottom of funnel keywords and displaying bottom of funnel ads where the inbound department might be looking at how can we address the goals and challenges in top of final customer acquisition journeys. And then they don't spend any paid media and they wonder why it's not performing because they're relying completely on SEO and an organic ranking, which is a long term strategy, and you shouldn't expect to get any results for less than 18 months. Then they decide ‘well, this thing isn't working’ and so they switch it off.

I see so many agencies that have these siloed departments and have absolute experts that can deep in there but post-sale there's not a T-shaped person involved that goes “Hey, hold on this is the whole marketing strategy and program we’re running. We need paid media here, and we need it like this. And we need your social like this. And don't do it like this... What’s the point of buying that keyword where we’re spending money when we’re already number one for that keyword and I’d rather redirect that keyword somewhere else…”


CM: Or put it into some brand advertising. If your competitors are outbidding you put it at the top so people that don't know about ads will click on your brand.

So going and looking back at the journey you've been on, especially getting into this martech environment, what would be a tip for someone that's getting starting or looking to enrol their business through a digital transformation? What would be the one tip you would recommend?

What You're Measuring Yourself by is Key

DS:  I think it relates to analytics. I know that I said just now that you shouldn't have arbitrary numbers that you track against or measure yourself against, but you do need to be tracking yourself. You don't need to use that as a way to come and pat yourself on the back. But if you're not measuring something then you don't know how it’s performing.  

One of the biggest objections I've had when talking to marketers around martech is they're worried that if everything's going to be tracked then the company's going to see that for the last few years everything that they've done was bad. Well, why not rather find that out now and make a change to undo these bad things.

Analytics is not only ads and clicks and social media likes and leads. You need to identify many different ways of measuring. It might be a number of widgets produced in a day or cash flow reserves. All of the different things that you need to analyze in order to check the health of your business and then be able to make informed decisions.

All strategy is essentially crystal ball staring. You know, you look into the crystal ball and based on your history, your experience you make well-educated assumptions, and guess that if we do this or if we do that, what we change here, will have a positive impact. You need to then test that, and you need to be able to once you have learned ‘did that work?’, ‘did that not work?’ and perfect that. Perfect that and perfect that.

So you do need to be measuring numbers. As soon as you identify what are those numbers I need to measure you will suddenly realize that the systems that are in place are incapable of giving you those numbers which then leads you down “I need to do a complete system or integration project”.

Once you got the numbers, then you can start rolling out marketing programs and campaigns and all that type of thing. So start with that. Analytics would be my ultimate tip.


CM: I couldn't agree more with you about that. You know, you see a lot of people will come in and the first thing they'll probably do is a brand refresh or update this or update that. They won't go to the core of the numbers and whether it's a generational thing or not, I'm not sure.

You know, as kids I remember vividly sports and everyone knew what their result was and what their time was and you would write it down and next year you would say if you had improved, or even next month if you improved.  But are the people are fearful of that, I'm not sure. The reality is the only way to move forward is if you're tracking what you're doing and if you're not tracking it you're not going to move forward.

I couldn't agree more. So it’s been nearly 10 years now, what is something that you've looked back and gone, you know, wow, that was something that was amazing, successful, that you're proud of as well. Something that you will remember through this journey.


DS:  I think there has been many of those moments. For me, one of the overarching things has been to get inspiration from the different pieces of software that we use and different suppliers and different gurus out there.

We’ve absorbed that, we've acknowledged that, then we have built our own frameworks, our own methodologies and we've innovated ourselves. We are constantly innovating.

What I see particularly in the HubSpot ecosystem is partners sign up with HubSpot, and then they do the HubSpot academy then they take that as the only way. A lot of those methodologies and so on are created by people that have never been in professional services before. They are a software sales company. Many other things are absolutely brilliant, don’t get me wrong. But so many partners are just sheep, and they just follow what the software company is saying. It’s the exact same as Google. Google's trying to sell more media. HubSpot is trying to sell more licenses, You gotta take what they're saying when a pinch of salt.

If you really, really understand your customers problems, challenges, the macro environment, the microenvironment. If you really understand digital, if you really understand CRM and service, then you could develop your own products and services, methodologies and frameworks.

I think that’s it. That's an element of pride for me in that we haven't just copied. The thing that makes me most proud around that is that we didn't do this on purpose. I think it's just built into our DNA as the original founders. It's actually become part off our employee value proposition.

We've got employees that may have moved on, gone to different agencies, gone to brand. We have other agencies and consultancies that are trying to poach our employees on a daily basis, but we've got such loyalty from past employees and existing employees because we innovate, and we question the status quo. We  do things our own way and it stimulates them.

Otherwise, they're just following a playbook. The thing that makes me most proud is we’ve built that value proposition to the employees and have been able to create such a loyal group of employees as a result of that. 

As I said, I don't think we can take absolute credit because I think it was something that was just in Graham and I’s DNA from the beginning. It wasn't something that we purposely set out to do, but it is something that ended up happening that I think is awesome.

Digital Transformation in the New World

CM: I agree with you on that in the challenging the status quo. It's interesting, actually, because we've all had to do it and go through a lot of certifications and there's one at the minute that I disagree with a lot of it. It’s built by someone who is a highly intelligent person, but very theoretical. It's just not practical at all. 

We’re going into a practical world now where you've got to be a doer. It’s not so much do, learn and execute. If you think all day and don't execute, you're just never going to move. Especially today. Some of the stuff that's coming out is very theoretical. So, working with you guys for so long through the innovation and change, you guys at the forefront of that and I think it's awesome.

So just starting to bring this to the ground. It’s been awesome chatting with you Daryn. We're obviously in really challenging times, there is a lot of crazy stuff going on, but what are a couple of things that you're really looking forward to and have a positive outlook for that's keeping you going in these times?


DS: Yeah, like I feel like everybody's saying this, but I think it does ring true in that we're in digital. We're in building amazing customer experiences. Which involves technology and building applications, building customer journeys and marketing and sales automation and so on.

I feel that although the concept of digital transformation has been around for years and years and years… I think a lot of people have given it lip service.


CM: It didn't work, though. It now actually works.

DS: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I'm seeing some of the tools and stuff that we put in place which weren't actually being used properly because it was easier to just go over to somebody's desk and be like, “Hey, you can now do the next step in the process because I've done my step.”

That person that you've just interrupted may have been in mind somewhere else completely. They forget that you have now told them. Or you send them an email and by accident, they mark it as read and they have a rule that all read emails go to a folder or something. That's where you dropped the ball and then the customer has a negative custom experience.

So I feel that I'm excited because I think many companies are going to invest in digital. I prefer doing business online. I don't want to have to speak to somebody, I’d rather self serve. So that's my preference. I think others are gonna get it.

I think as a company I'm excited that that opportunity is going to come around. I think the world for me is going to change. People are remote working and so on... They’re suddenly going to realize that “hey, this is this is actually pretty good and it actually works”.

All those fears that we had that people are going to sit home and watch Netflix. Actually, they carried on working and they probably delivered more so we don't have to micromanage our employees. I'm sure it's failed for many companies. People are watching Netflix because of the culture they created and that type of thing.

I think that those are the type of companies aren't going to survive. Those are the type of companies that still use, like the Microsoft Suite of products, because they believe that is the thing that they should be doing.

The other thing that really excites me is part of what I do with organizations is in their digital transformation journeys. I say “okay, so how can we do this if there's no email?” Your process is only as strong as the weakest point and email is your weakest point. If you have 3000 emails because you've got a notification, an alert of you being “atted”, or whatever, it is a point of failure. As is Slack and all the other instant messaging platforms and so on.

What you need to be doing is building processes and systems and then building a routine that says ‘Oh, every day at nine o'clock, I'm gonna go in and I'm gonna check my folder for new installation requests’. Then I'll check again in three hours, and then I'm gonna go going check this system. You actually build a rhythm and routine that is not reliant on alerts and email that eat up.

Besides traffic and everything that we are saving ourselves by remote working, the other thing is if you are having to, even if you just view the email and mark it as read it still has taken a few seconds to do that. If you have 200 of those because you have 200 alerts,  that ends up being 15 minutes, and then you go and check the news sites and the sports sites and that type of thing. Next thing, it's two hours gone and you haven't actually achieved anything. I'm excited to get rid of email.


CM: It's fascinating, actually. With my previous life having been in IT. There's a guy who develops software. The way he used to explain in his sales process was to just look out on your floor of IT people and how many people are there standing behind someone with a shoulder tap? So that's that person to shoulder tap then the person at the desk to shoulder tap, times that by 365 days of the year and how many staff you've got, it's like thousands and thousands of hours. That's IT, which is generally run quite efficiently and smart. You throw that into a normal business, it's gonna be like 50 X that.


DS: It’s a terrible analogy but it sounds like how the coronavirus spreads, right? That's why you lockdown, get everybody away from email and shoulder taps they'll become efficient.


CM: That's probably not a bad headline for the podcast. Awesome. Thanks, Daryn. it’s been great to get to chat to you. I really appreciate your time.


DS: Cool. Yeah. It was awesome. Thanks so much.



Solving Your Own Problems First | Beyond Business with Synx