"We might even improve the world a little, if we got up early in the morning and took off our coats to the work"
Helping an organization from the outside demands that I tie together multiple disciplines and experiences to reach my client's goals.
I'm an engineer working backward from the desired aim to where the project stands today.
Each step forward is my responsibility.
How thoroughly I define, understand, and execute against those discovered steps is what separates a real digital strategist from a kid with a few $9 Udemy courses.
I created this for those who need a strategist and those who want to be one.
In my late teens, I got a sales job for a company called Kirby. I was a door-to-door vacuum salesman in the early 2000s.
Knocking on someone's door, unannounced, in the middle of the day to sell them on a $1600 vacuum is no easy task.
Door-To-Door Sales Brought Me Out Of My Comfort Zone:
✅ Knocking on the door (It's awkward as hell in the beginning)
✅ Introduction (I need to win you over in 10 seconds)
✅ Getting into the home (Each decade, this becomes harder)
✅ Demoing the product (Showmanship)
✅ Showing value (You've got to know the value to show the value)
✅ Closing the sale (Selling is not the same as closing)
Each phase had a considerable learning curve. I was in a van 10+ hours a day with seasoned salespeople who had been making in-home sales for, in some cases, 30+ years. They were all happy to teach a young buck like me the art.
Door knockers and Zig Ziglar CD's were life. I was eating fast food on the road on my way to the next neighborhood. With every closed deal, my confidence grew, my checks got bigger, and I finally got the rhythm, but I was not too fond of the music.
Imagine standing at the entrance of any neighborhood with the confidence you could knock your way to income. That's what I call direct to consumer. 😂
I don't recommend becoming a nomad salesperson, but I think a digital strategist should have true-blue sales experience, ideally with consumers in real-time and as close to face-to-face as possible today.
It's one thing to be rejected over email, but it's altogether another to hear "no" to your face. You learn very quickly how to overcome objections. Everything in life is some sale, and the sooner you get some practice at it, the better.
A short time later, I got into the service business. First at a car wash, then at a carpet cleaning company.
Service businesses (especially ones with a clear "pass" "fail" line) will teach you attention to detail and customer service in ways you didn't know existed. The more low-skill the job, the more my customer's true nature would reveal themselves. I learned to size folks up pretty quickly. Some people were rude, short in response, and never satisfied, no matter how hard I tried.
Other customers made the interaction an absolute joy. They appreciated my time, approached dissatisfaction as a polite question, and always offered me a drink.
This built my customer-service skills up very quickly. It also helped strengthen my "cold reading chops" and taught me how to turn any customer interaction into another sales opportunity.
I moved up through my 20's to my early 30's and held every kind of job in a company one could have:
✅ Head of sales
✅ Quality control
✅ Customer Relations
✅ Process engineer
✅ Assistant to the manager (manager without pay)
✅ Mr. Manager (young manager learning the ropes)
✅ Manager (effective senior member)
In between those roles, I had a series of businesses I tried to get off the ground with no success.
One year, I finally struck out on my own. I had a small win, then another win, then another, then...My big breakthrough.
I grew a business to millions of annual revenue and staffed up 50+ team members.
This kind of growth sounds great if you haven't experienced it.
Everything that could happen to me did happen while running an under-capitalized cash-intensive business with immense liability.
You can't advise a business if you haven't run one.
"The first step to thinking clearly is to question what we think we know about the past."
Rarely am I hired proactively. My job starts with a problem. Whether it's hypothetical or genuine and pressing, there is a problem to solve.
As a digital strategist, I have to know what questions to ask to uncover the core hurdles and difficulties. I've likely faced the exact or similar problem I've been hired to solve many times over.
I've built tool-kits and frameworks that help me tackle my clients' most complex situations over the years.
These are the skills & frameworks that I believe are essential to anyone who wants to call themselves a digital strategist.
"It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong."
The technical landscape for digital strategists is ever-changing, whether it's S.E.R.P./S.E.O. all the way down to best practices over how a mobile device handles third-party cookies.
Every year, tens of thousands of changes are issued by Google, Facebook, WordPress, Apple, and every other platform and SaaS.
Each of those updates presents a new way of how those companies do business. By extension, this means they've rethought how you do business.
Every project I start, monitor, advise, or even think about must begin with analyzing existing data.
I like to look at a client's web analytics before understanding their direct problem or revenue. This process allows me to make some inferences and assumptions from the page analytics to bring to the conversation.
There are signals on the back-end of any analytics platform that will quickly lead a seasoned strategist to understand where front-end technical and marketing holes that may exist.
I understand that not everyone uses Google analytics. I don't. 99% of the internet does. I spend an unhealthy amount of time in Google Analytics, and more often than not, it's what all of my clients are using.
The below is my workflow for most clients, but when I can, I urge my clients to move towards a privacy-first marketing strategy.
📊 Are there "goals" set up, and if so, what are they?
📊 Which pages "move the needle forward" and why?
📊 If it's an e-commerce play, what does the checkout system report back?
📊 Are we within a "reasonable" margin for abandoned carts?
📊 What kind of audience segmentation are we doing and why?
📊 How many properties are we tracking?
📊 What sort of events are outlined, and how are they triggered?
📊 (More recently) is there an Analytics 4 instance running alongside our universal analytics?
📊 What do successful (conversion completed) customer journeys look like vs. non-successful ones?
📊 What do our overall (30 day, 60 day, 90 days, 6 month & 12 month) conversion rates look like factoring seasonal variations?
📊 Are there any filtered views and what are they filtering for specifically?
This approach is a rough outline of how I use analytics to start the client problem analysis.
Getting to know the biggest ones out there is case critical. There is no way around it. My clients had built an infrastructure before I got there, I need to be comfortable in their businesses website.
I learned the ins and outs of the top ~5 and, with the rare exception, can navigate even the most obscure page builders in use.
I've built sites, blogs, e-commerce storefronts, and experimental gameshow platforms that were live-streaming events before streaming was a thing.
Any strategist should be able to handle the following on all top 5 website builders before they can advise clients:
✅ Build a page to look like any photoshop document
✅ Optimize every section for load times and SEO
✅ Load in custom java/CSS
✅ Diagnose the most common preview issues
✅ Understand how a C.M.S. works
My job is often to bridge development hurdles and barriers with client/customer expectations.
I can not be one of those hurdles.
Anything can be sold online. Silk Roads proved that. Capturing a verified payment, securely closing on the transaction, and issuing a post-sale sequence is no small task. That's without even factoring in Cryptocurrency.
There are multiple "plug and play" systems out there but established businesses often have difficulty making one of them work "out-of-the-box."
These sales processes are never simple. I've had to tackle recurring billing, third-party financiers, complicated post-purchase flows, and catalog/SKU management across multiple sales platforms. My head has spun many times, and piecing together on the service should be a "simple shopping cart experience."
If you want to get your hands dirty and realize how in-depth e-commerce can be, do the following:
🛒 Transition a brick and mortar company over 20 years old with dozens or even hundreds of employees to online only.
🛒 Work with their banks and CRMs to keep a "business as usual" feel for senior staff.
🛒 Educate seasoned company veterans digging their heels into the past, that they need to text and email over shake hands and make calls.
🛒 Process millions of revenue through new merchant I'D. 's and email addresses.
It's not pretty, but after one or two, the likelihood of seeing any new surprises dramatically diminishes.
These hard-won lessons have had invaluable crossover applications for my existing client's optimization and pitfall guidance strategy sessions.
Avoiding to set up my client's business on the edge of uncertainty is often an undervalued experience-based strength.
Every company online pays for some sort-of tech stack. The longer I've been in the "game," the more dubious I am about every new software-as-a-service company.
It doesn't matter how much time, money, or unique insight any new SaaS provides, until I feel confident they won't go belly up, abandon the project, or sellout to the highest bidder, I'm cautious about creating and executing corner-stone strategies with their products.
I take technical execution very seriously. Good development means fast load times and excellent user experience, which will always lower the cost of new business acquisition. It's also a good defense in customer retention.
When I'm digging into the backend, I'm looking at the tech stack, C.M.S., hosting provider, tracking implementations, intention, and so much more.
There are millions of ways to run a business online. These are the only ones that matter:
💻 Are we helping the end-user?
⚡ How fast does your site load?
🔒 How secure is it?
🔒 Are we properly treating our visitor's rights to privacy?
📃 Are we following Google's best practices?
Testing and improving user experience and site performance is critical for ongoing success.
I got a crash course in how important this is after spending a few thousand dollars on ads only to realize my site was loading so slow <5% of the clicks I paid for actually even saw the page.
No amount of good marketing strategy can overcome poor technical performance.
Recon work starts by adopting as much of my client's ideal customer's expectations as possible.
I'm looking through the consumer's eyes for each section of the buying journey and landing page experiences. I'm clicking on all the pages, adding to cart, scheduling appointments. If there is something I can do on the site, I do.
I want to know what a potential customer's experience looks & feels like objectively.
📊 What actions work as expected, and what others stay buried?
📊 Are we making the conversion easy enough?
📊 Are we prequalifying properly?
📊 What makes this better than the competition?
📊 Where are we falling behind?
📊 What are our Core Web Vital scores?
It's sometimes hard to be "objective" when digging into the front-end of a sales process.
Products and services range from a pair of shoes or hiring a plumber all the way to purchasing a $100-million private jet.
Here are some hurdles as a strategist auditing the product/sales funnel I need to know how to overcome:
Product/service bias: We all have different budgets, tastes, needs, intuitions, and so on. I have to ask "who is the intended customer" and then take on that personality and mindset. If the product or service is too alien to me, I'll do a tremendous amount of research and leg work to adopt the target buyer's perspective.
Age/Sex/Race: Even if I understand the product, do I know the ideal consumer's culture?
Value: If it's a product or service I would never purchase or can't afford, it's the perfect time to find the value that others see in it.
S.E.O. is a never-ending job. It's right there in the name, optimization.
S.E.O. is one of the few web elements where thoughtfulness and patience aren't an option.
Ranking in the top 10 and growing a site's "web presence" has many overlapping disciplines relying on its proper execution.
Everything gets more manageable if the S.E.O. is "on point."
💻 Keyword research (needed for P.P.C.)
💻 Site performance (Needed for user experience)
💻 Content (needed for marketing)
S.E.O. focus (real S.E.O. not the system gaming kind) will produce a positive domino effect 100% of the time.
Email is only getting better. With brands like Hey.com making it amazing and safe, as well as being a staple of productivity and documentation.
One better be good at it to help develop or improve an end-to-end process for any organization.
What email can do if properly thought out:
✉ Improve customer relations
✉ Enhance the user experience
✉ Organize a team
✉ Did I mention SALES?
✉ Save accounts
✉ Educate employees
✉ Defend or protect your business
Sending emails you'd spend your time or money on is an art form. Be great at it.
Setting up marketing campaigns is what most people think about when they think about a digital strategist.
Ad buying is the last thing I do.
First, I must vet the what and why of what I'm selling. Only then can I invest your resources into reaching the right audience.
How a strategist *invests their client's money:
📊 I position my clients on as many platforms as possible.
📊 If someone claiming to be a digital strategists go-to move is "Shopify and Facebook" to represent a business online, they are platform advocates, not strategists.
📊 I aim to invest a lot. I don't invest blind but push to "scale" as fast as possible with incoming data. Capital, gains real yardage.
📊 Data should inform every dollar invested.
*I never spend your money. I invest it.
"Spectacular achievement is always preceded by spectacular preparation."
Always something to do and some timeline to meet. I often find myself communicating with development, customer service, management, and field staff in a single week. Each of those conversations will leave a series of tasks to execute or review later.
The strategy can't stop because I forgot to jot down a note or two.
There is no shortage of tools and philosophies. I've tested a ton and found what works for me. No matter the system the fundamentals are consistent.
The secret to being an effective project manager:
💡 Understand the problem
💡 Define the objectives (milestones)
💡 Know your resources
💡 Outline the action steps
💡 Assign responsibility
💡 Show up and do the work
I know there's a lot more to it. But also, is there?
"A problem is a terrible thing to waste."
A service or product solves a problem. Most consumers love great marketing when it's timely and nonobtrusive.
The potential customer has a problem they need to be solved there is straightforward process for resolution.
The sales process looks something like this from a potential buyer:
📢 Problem discovered
📢 Problem researched
📢 Problem solved
The unrealized journey:
📌 Sales cycles (how long does it take for an average customer to learn about you and then make a purchase?)
📌 Which pain points push a researcher to converter?
📌 What medium gets the point across the best?
📌 Which micro-conversions indicate a higher likelihood of a sale?
📌 Which words in what order motivate?
📌 When does price sensitivity kick in?
Knowing how & when to position an ad for maximum impact has become much easier with machine learning.
Today, timing and frequency are handled better by machines than we mere mortals could imagine.
No matter the niche an algorithm can be built. Setting up the environment for data to be meaningful is a monumental but essential part of the process.
The individual is unique, the aggregate is predictable.
This can be done even with a privacy first focus.
"You're bound to get idears if you go thinkin' about stuff."
To do this job well you have to be curious. Almost manically so.
Everything should have a question mark over it and no rabbit-hole can be "too deep."
The tens of thousands of cumulative changes from Google, Facebook, Apple, and everyone else all have documentation to help one understand their impact and new restrictions or features.
It takes a curious mind that loves the challenge to keep up with them.
My clients rely on me to be the source of truth with the most up-to-date insights and advice.
"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."
When building your strategy, I’ll always have a degree of "out of left field" ideas or placements which need client "buy-in."
To get the investment, I have to connect all the moving parts and convey complex system dynamics in relatable ways.
Educating my clients makes them confident. Current, timely knowledge of an ever-shifting landscape makes companies nimble and proactive. Confidence allows for bigger risk tolerance. The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward.
But as always, I risk responsibly. 😎