Developing strategies for customers has to include adapting to the demands of the generation. In this episode, Ben Baker interviews Josh Curcio, a COO/Partner at Protocol 80, Inc., an inbound marketing agency in Bradford, PA that helps manufacturing companies with lead generation and sales. Bringing companies into the 21st century in terms of their marketing, Josh and his team helps tackle generational gaps and transitions in business. He also explains how they develop strategies that are tailored per customer and talks about the role of HubSpot in his business.
We have Josh Curcio. He is the President and CEO of Protocol 80. Josh, welcome to the show. You were introduced to me by Curt Anderson, who’s also is one of my guests. He said, "You’ve got to get Josh." I said, "That was enough for me." I love it when my guests send me other guests because when you get somebody that is passionate, it tells a great story and has a good thing. He says, “These are some other people you should talk to.” It usually goes well. Let's get into this. This show is all about who are you? What do you do? Why do you do it? Who do you do it for and why do they care? Why don't we get into the story? Why Protocol 80? What was the impetus of the company and what do you do?
We're an inbound marketing agency located in rural Bradford, Pennsylvania. Most people don't know where that is, but it's home of the Zippo lighter. It's an hour-and-a-half south of Buffalo, New York, an hour-and-a-half east of Derrick, terrible weather. As an inbound marketing agency and given our history, we primarily work with manufacturing companies. In most cases, these manufacturing companies are tier one, tier two, and tier three suppliers of contract manufacturers that aren't producing a final product. They're producing something that goes into a final product, some part. The business itself started 2002, primarily as a web development company when Donnie, my other business partner here, was still in college and at the time they were able to work with Zippo, which is a good first client to have. It got us started working with manufacturers. Given our region, being so many manufacturers here, it made sense to continue and learn more about that industry, continue to work with them and understand their problems. Build our agency around what those problems are and hiring people that can resonate with those manufacturers and write for them.
Why Protocol 80? What is Protocol 80? Is that a code term that I should know about?
It's not a code. Back when the name was created, it was in the early 2000s, the dot-com boom. Pretty much every dot-com URL was taken. If you didn't have a dot-com, you weren't a real business. I had to have a dot-com and they were looking at Protocol 80 because you got HTTP and the port that internet traffic travels over is port 80. Port 80 sounded nautical like we worked with ships but we did not work with ships. We went with Protocol 80 instead and the URL was available. That was the naming reason.
It allows you to tell a great story. That is the genius of names. It’s something that people sit and they’re going, "Why?" If you can have a name that makes people go, "Why?" I get it, but what's the story behind it? It allows you to have that conversation. When I first saw Protocol 80, I'm going, “I know it has something to do with computers. I knew it had something to do probably with web development, but I hadn't a clue.” Being able to sit there and say, "Josh, why?" Though those are how you open up those conversations. Let's get into the manufacturers and the clients that are your manufacturers, what are the type of challenges that you find that drew you? You started off with Zippo but allowed you to continue on that path. Why did you find that there was a certain niche of people, these manufacturers that could really use the services that you had?
The manufacturing world is a little bit unique. They tend to be a little bit slower to adopt things unless it's a new piece of machinery. They'll go out and buy that. Other things, it's difficult to adopt and difficult to change. While that is also a challenge that also presents an opportunity because there's a ton of manufacturers out there that are looking to grow and looking to build upon their business, but they haven't done a lot of digital marketing. They haven't done a lot online. They had realized that the old school approach that used to work is not working as much anymore, especially as you have people that maybe were in purchasing or they were engineers before that were Baby Boomers or are Baby Boomers that are retiring. You've got Millennials and younger generation people that are filling those roles. There are old school approaches that don't work anymore. Even in the B2B space, when someone's not buying an end product, they're buying a component. People still start that search online and they still have questions. They still have problems. The more complex the space, the more questions there are.
When you bring the engineering aspect into it and different types of metals, there are many questions that are asked and people are going to search engines, looking for that, referencing and reading articles that this presents an amazing opportunity for contract manufacturers. The fact that they have been behind and haven't done a lot of this, we're willing to take the time to educate so that they understand what they're getting into and what that means, why we do well and why we connect with them. They appreciate that we've worked with other contract manufacturers and are willing to take those stepping stones with them so they're making a good decision.
Let's unpack that a little bit because it's important that you understand what their challenges are because of the fact that you've specialized and say, "This is what we do. These are the clients that we work for. This is our lane." You speak their language and you speak the language of their clients. That's got to be a lot easier for you to have those conversations and to help them with the strategy to be able to communicate effectively online in a way that they're going to be responded to.The more complex the space, the more questions there are. Click To Tweet
It cuts back on the learning curve that they have to transfer while they're still going to be a learning curve because every manufacturer has something unique and different and there are so many types of manufacturing out there. When you look at the groundwork that you mentioned the challenges, a lot of those are similar. It also is helpful. With inbound, this is pretty content-driven. When people are going online and searching for things, they need to find content. Manufacturers don't tend to be good writers. We hired writers that can write for manufacturers and that same thing exists. They're working with the manufacturing industry every day. They're able to take what our clients give them technical information because they’re in it all the time and correlate that and translate it so that it can be understood by someone that is not working in that exact industry and that exact space all the time.
What's the hardest part of getting those people out of the weeds? It sounds like there are a lot of weeds. I deal with this with my clients as well. I'd be curious to know your viewpoint on it where people are so technical. They are well-versed in what they do, especially the engineers and the product people. They know exactly why this widget does this. Being able to explain it in a simplified way, that somebody that wants to buy 50 million of those things can sit and go, "That will solve my problem." How do you get them out of their own way to help them communicate more effectively?
I'm going to say that part of that is education. They understand that everyone that's reading the content and consuming these resources is not as smart as them. You throw a compliment in there as well and that helps. That continuous reiterating, we need to dumb this down so that other people can understand it is the biggest thing. The fact that our writers are doing this all the time, they understand when something is getting too much in the weeds and not, but then there's also the factor that like, "We can write some of this technical content that you want as well, because maybe you're targeting senior level engineers that's what they need." There's a place for it but there's also a place for that content that's not quite as in the weeds.
You're going to write differently for a CEO, a CTO, a CFO or their counterparts. Everyone wants something a little different. The CEO wants, “Give me a dashboard. Give me the top three paragraphs and what it's going to cost? I've got people behind me that will look at all that technical stuff. I want to make sure it's good. Is this the right thing? How many should we be buying this?” The chief engineer needs all that technical stuff. They need to feel comfortable that when they're putting your component into their solution, it's not going to fail. You have to be able to write different levels for different people. That in itself has got to be a challenge.
That makes it a little more interesting too because you've got the ability for our writers to do something different. Take something that's super technical and bring it down to everyone else's level, but then also maybe the next week they are writing and being able to keep that technical. It varies a little bit, so it keeps things exciting.
A lot of the companies that you deal with, are they generational companies? Do they tend to be more public or corporate companies where there's just a shift in age? People have gone from the Baby Boomers to Gen X to the Millennials and your decision-makers are getting younger, or is it grandfather to father to son, in a lot of cases?
In most cases, ours are generational types of companies where they've been around for a long time but they aren't to the size where they're public companies. Most of the clients that we work with, they maybe have 100 employees, maybe a little bit more. They're not massive. It is not producing usually an end part that’s a component. It's the contract manufacturing world.
When you're dealing with that generational gap, the kids want to make a name for themselves. They want to be proven to say that I'm the next person that's going to be in the big chair, but dads or granddad still wants to keep the company going one way. How do you help manage to bring them into the 21st century in terms of their marketing? When people have said, "We've always done it this way, why should we change?”
It goes back to education and continually driving that message. I will also say that our manufacturing clients are awesome. We don't get a ton of pushback, even if there's not an understanding of everything. They are cool about saying, "I don't completely get it and I don't have to get it, but as long as I see the results, it's okay." That has not been as much of a struggle as maybe we would have expected. People understand that even if they do don't like change, change has to happen. For us, the bigger challenge is not necessarily our customer base, but people that are still waiting it out. We saw this even when we were doing web development and SEO back in 2008, 2009. You would say, "You need SEO." When mobile sites came out, when people are using mobile devices, "You need a mobile-friendly site." "When did it happen? After the competition did it?” I understand I have to do this and I want it done. There's a driver and that's the bigger challenge for us. I love our customers and they've been awesome and they've been the ones that have been willing to take that change and take the leap before waiting for their competitors to do it.
Those competitors that do wait, there are a lot of scary things dealing with change. Change is scary. I don't care what it is with any organization. It's that fear of, “What if I do it wrong? What are the implications and how is this going to affect my business?” When you're dealing with a new client and you probably run into that on a regular basis, how do you educate them from the ground up? When they're dealing with something new and something that's outside of their area of expertise, everybody needs some education and some comfort level. What do you do to be able to bring that comfort level up to customers where there is no trust?
The easiest thing that conveys that message best is seeing a real-life example. We walk them through a real-life example of how a contract manufacturer is using inbound to build and grow their business and be able to reinvest in the growth of the business. Being able to walk them through that and then support it with case studies that go along with it and testimonials, that's the biggest factor. Once you present to them like, "Here's what I'm talking about" They say, "I read this blog post or I purchased this because of that exact process." The other thing is talking to them about a recent purchase that they made. You ask someone, "When was the last time you purchased a car?" People purchase cars probably within the last couple of years at least. You say, "Think back to when you purchased the car in the '90s. How different was it?" It’s completely different. In the '90s, you went onto the lot and you relied on the salesperson to tell you everything, tell you the price of the car, the features. Now, when you walk on a car lot, you know everything, you know the price and you know what the dealership down the road is charging for that same exact car. It's a different world. If they can resonate with that and they can picture themselves in those shoes, that's the best way to get them to understand what it's going to be.
Let's shift gears to strategy. When you're starting off with a new company, how do you determine what the strategy should be? All these manufacturers are different. Their customers are different. Their needs are different. Do you have a set protocol that you go through in terms of a strategic onboarding to make sure? You're not tactical, you're not sitting there going, “Here's box X. Fit into my box or that's it.” Your customers are very different. You have to have customized solutions that are based on a set of ideals but every customer is going to be the same. How do you go about developing a strategy that is right for that particular customer?
You hit the nail on the head there. I wish it was easy as checking a box and we had the secret sauce and it's like, "This is what happens for everyone." That would be awesome and easy. We do have a regimented onboarding process, which is a series of workshops and discussions with the client and getting to understand not only their business and their brand, but understanding the industry and understanding their buyers. We have that series of workshops, start compiling information, correlate that information back to our client to say, "Do we understand this correctly? Make sure that we're moving in the right direction here.” One of the biggest pieces to help us understand and even bring to light to our customers is buyer persona interviews. We will say, “You've got X number of customers. Give us names of ten of them, we'll call them, we'll interview them, ask them how they find a solution like yours before they started working with you. How would they go about thinking of finding a vendor like that?”
Talking to actual buyers is the best way to understand how to build a strategy that resonates with new buyers and new prospects. We look for trends amongst what the buyers are telling us and what the salespeople are saying are the common questions, what customer service is hearing our common questions? That's how we build the strategy in correlation with our clients to make sure that we're still going down the right path and the approach that they want to take with each one of these avenues as well.
It sounds like this is a timely process. It's not like we started a handshake and we're up and we're doing inbound. Realistically, is this a three-month-processes, a six-month-process? How long are you doing it before you're actually doing the tactical work for the customer? Once you start doing tactical work, what's realistic for a client before they start seeing ROI? Is it six months or is it a year? What expectations do you give the customer to be able to make sure they understand what the timeline is that they can be realistic?
The first part of that question, the onboarding process, “How long does that take?” We try to complete that in about two months. We've done it as quick as a month but tend to be pretty quick. I would say on average of two months. At the same time, we still try to find some tactical wins that still would correlate with the strategy. Even though our final strategy hasn't been built, we would say, "Do you have assets that we could already turn into digital that we could maybe send to your database and start to engage them?" We start with search engine optimization on the website. If they are eager to get something quickly, we might even do something like Google Ads and very targeted Google Ads so that there can be some quick wins while we're building out the strategy for the long-term approach. That's that first part of the question.When driving leads, you need to know that those leads are good or bad or else you can't build upon what is working. Click To Tweet
In the second part of the question, “When do you start seeing ROI? When do you start seeing the results?” That's going to vary for everyone because everyone has a different starting point. Maybe surprisingly some of the manufacturers that we start with are you might as well consider them getting no website traffic or not even having a website because that's how behind it's been. When you're starting from zero and you want to have enough website traffic and enough leads to start closing sales it's a marathon. It's not a sprint. It varies heavily.
I would like to say that they start seeing the value right up front, but then start to see those results coming in around that 6, 7, 8-month timeframe. We do work with them to understand, where they're at and what their goals are financially. We take those financial goals and work backward and say, "If you're going to achieve that financially and that your salespeople can generate X and trade shows can do this whatever else can do this, your manufacturer's reps can generate this. What's that Delta? Usually, that Delta is where inbound and digital comes into play. We take that number and we say, "To make up that Delta for your financial goals, we need to close this many sales based on your close rates. We need to generate this many leads. To get these many leads, we're going to need to get this much traffic. We're going to need to do all of these different types of activities." We try to be as transparent as possible because they work with us on building those goals and they understand that leap from where they are to where they want to be.
Let's talk about the communication process that goes along with that. Do you have a dedicated relationship manager for each client whose job it is to communicate where you are continually? What you're doing? What do you want to do? Where the challenges are and what does that process like? I find that's the thing. If we can keep open communication with our clients, the more informed they are, the better the relationship tends to be long-term. How do you go about doing that?
I would completely agree with that. Do you know that it's got to be a two-way relationship where you're constantly communicating back and forth? We do have the strategists would be that person that you're talking about. That is always looking at the goals, always looking at what they want to do and looking at where we are? What do we need to do to make up those goals or make those goals or exceed those goals? The nice thing is they're in communication with our clients regularly. We are more of a partner than a vendor. We almost have to be because of what you say. We need ongoing communication. If we're driving leads, we need to know that those leads are good or bad or else we can't make adjustments or we can't build upon what's working. We need candid feedback from our clients on how things are going. That strategist is usually the person that they're working with and speaking with most commonly about those types of things.
One of the biggest tools that I know that you're certified is HubSpot. You guys are a HubSpot partner. There are a lot of different programs and partners out there, but why HubSpot in terms of a partner? What did they do for you or what do they do for your clients that you find that they are superior for what you need?
You're right, we're a HubSpot shop. We have been a partner for several years. I'm a HubSpot-certified trainer and I lead the HubSpot user group in Rochester. We're into it. We dig it. It's what we use for our own marketing. We eat our own dog food as they say. For us, when we brought that on board, we were a three-person agency at the time when we've made the purchase. It was a big purchase for us. We hadn't really spent a whole lot on software, and at the time we had a lot of development knowledge in-house. We tried to build it ourselves. We tried to develop the tools and we said, "We're chasing our tails here. Why not use something that already exists and does a great job?"
We finally took the leap and said, "We're going to do it. We're going to go through the HubSpot partner program. We're going to use the software ourselves and use it for our clients so that they can see success." Why it works really well? That's a multipronged answer as well. We like them to use the CRM. Not all of them use it, but we'd like them to use it because it's very intuitive. Understanding CRMs, salesforce can be incredibly frustrating. It's beast, dynamics. HubSpot is powerful but it's so intuitive and customizable to companies like that. That's step one. Note two is the fact that it's closed-loop reporting. All of the tools are there. We can use the toolset to build traffic. We can use the toolset to build out that content and drive those leads.
The sales team on the manufacturers then can see all of the content that these are people are consuming, that their prospects are consuming, how they got there. We can use that information. The salespeople can use it to have better sales conversations because it's transparent. They see all of that. We can use it to improve our marketing strategies because we're seeing what is driving conversations, what's driving those qualified leads? What's driving RFQ? Our clients are investing in us to do a job for them. If I'm investing in something, I want it to work in the most efficient way possible. We are able to also work efficiently in those tools. Instead of trying to fumble through a handful of different tools and match up different things, we can spend our time on things that are actually providing impact for the client as opposed to figuring out 50 different toolsets and match up data accordingly.
It also gives you a better snapshot of the data and be able to sit there and say, "Here's the data that I need and be able to decipher it intelligently." Having that closed-loop system allows for all the data to be in one system, one dashboard, one look and be able to have an intelligent understanding of what we need to do. That's important. Let's get into data. There is an enormous amount of data and we're collecting terabytes of data every single day. How do you help your clients decipher what's important and what's the purpose?
That's even something that we've been doing forever. Even when we were doing SEO and PPC, it's always that battle of what's the data that really matters that drives it home? The big thing is every one of our clients, we report for them. We build the reports. We're not giving them all of the granular data that doesn't matter. If they want to see it, it's there. Instead of giving them a full-fledge report that gives them every data point that exists, either within HubSpot or Google Analytics, we break that down, give an executive summary of like, "Here are the important numbers. Here's what worked well. Here's what didn't. Here are our next steps. Here's what you need to know." The fact that we break that data down for them as opposed to handing it over and say, "Good luck, here's how we're doing, figure it out." Having those transparent conversations back and forth is what helps them understand what's important and the fact that it is a true partnership. We don't ever hand over a report. We want to talk through what's happening and whether the next steps make sense in their regard as well.
It allows you to help them make the numbers intelligible. That's what it's all about. Even myself, when I looked at my Google Analytics, I look at my backend data. Sometimes I get lost in the weeds and you start focusing on stuff that you go, "Why am I focusing on this?" It can lead you down to rabbit holes that are absolutely endless. Having a partner that can sit there and say, "Based upon your objective, based on what you're trying to do, based on where your company's going, here are the things you really need to focus on." Yes, all that other information is available. If you need it, I can get that information for you, but this is what you should focus on. That's a partnership, that's a relationship, that's understanding your client and that's true customer experience. I love that you are doing that. What's the best way for people to get in touch with you?
The best way for people to get in touch with me personally is by email, JoshC@Protocol80.com.
The website is Protocol80.com. I asked this question to every single one of my guests. As you leave a meeting, as you walk out the doors, you get in your car and you drive away, what's the one thing you want your customer to be thinking about you when you're not in the room?
It's hard to narrow that down to one thing. I want them to leave with so many memories about me. I would say the one thing is I want them to leave and be thinking, “I have faith that Josh and his team can help grow our business,” even if they don't know how we're going to do it. I want them to have faith that we can help.
That's part of the know, like and trust. People have faith that you're going to take care of them, that they know that you're on their side and that you're a partner. That's what we all want in a relationship. We always want to make sure that the people that walked out of our office understand us and have our best interests at heart and I know that you have that. Josh, thanks for being on the show. Thanks for being a phenomenal guest. Thanks for being you.
Thank you. This was awesome. This was a good time. Hopefully, people find a lot of value in it and enjoy it. I'll send you my list of people that I'd recommend to speak.
Take care and I'll talk to you soon.
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