How to Qualify Leads and Stop Wasting Time On the Wrong Prospects

By Jason Swenk on July 14, 2021

Mike Poznansky was still in college when he started working at Red Bull’s college marketing division. Since then, he realized the need for agencies that understand students and deliver at the scale and quality necessary to keep up with large consumer brands. That’s why Mike founded Neato and now works alongside the world’s best brands to design and run creative marketing programs that bring new value to both brands and students. He’s here to talk about pre-qualifying leads so you can separate the good ones from the ones who are just fishing.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Separate the fishers from the rest. Sometimes clients come in and say “give us ideas” and you may have to if you’re a beginner and want to earn their respect. But there will come a point when you need to consider how much work that entails and come up with other options. Mike recommends telling potential clients the agency will interview the target audience and put together a scope. This research involves a payment to make sure that it’s at least worth their while. It’s a way to separate the fishers from the ones who will actually pay for your services.
  2. Involve the client in the process. The times of coming up with an entire concept and presenting that to the client are over. It’s better to involve the clients in the process. This way, you can understand their reasoning when they reject something and have a better chance at getting them to believe in your vision. You also have better insight on important things not reflected on a brief.
  3. Have real human conversations. This goes for both your audience and your clients. Take the time to regularly speak with your audience to really understand what they need. Also, talk to the people on the brand side, on the client-side. Try to figure out what they’re challenged with, because it could be something that they haven’t even considered.


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How to Qualify Leads and Stop Wasting Time on the Wrong Ones

Jason: [00:00:00] Hey, what’s up, everybody? Welcome to another great show. The smart agency masterclass. I have a really good episode today coming up with Mike, who’s built a really amazing agency and we’ll get into that in a second.

Now, before we jump in, I want you guys to take a screenshot of the show. And then I want you to post on Instagram and tag us so then we can give you a shout-out for being a loyal listener.

So let’s go ahead and jump into the episode.

Hey Mike, welcome to the show.

Mike: [00:00:33] Hey! Thanks for having me, Jason.

Jason: [00:00:35] Yeah, man. I’m excited to have you on. So tell us who you are and what do you do?

Mike: [00:00:39] Yeah, my name is Mike Poznansky. I’m the founder and managing director over at Neato. We’re a full-service marketing agency that helps brands connect with young audiences with a focus on gen Z and college students.

Jason: [00:00:51] Awesome. And so how did you get started in doing this and how did you connect to that particular niche?

Mike: [00:00:59] Yeah, I actually was pre-law. When I was in college, I had the, I had every intention of going to law school. I was thinking about being a sports agent or maybe working in intelligence.

And through a strange set of circumstances, I connected with Red Bull. My passion work was in the action sports world and a company I was working with partnered with Red Bull on an event. And the employees over at Red Bull said, we have a job for college students that we think would be perfect for you. So, I was a senior, I became a student brand manager for Red Bull.

At the time, I wasn’t a big fan of marketing. I just saw it to be as something that was too disruptive or annoying, you know, kind of pestering. And through my work with Red Bull, even as a student, I discovered that it could be something that actually doesn’t take away from your experience, but adds value to your day or to your life.

And I ended up continuing with Red Bull and working for them full time. I spent, uh, over a decade there and eventually was running their college marketing program for North America. While I was at Red Bull, we were one of the first brands to invest in marketing to college students.

We had a, a really large program that was very scaled. It was a well-oiled machine. So a couple of things happened that inspired me to get in the agency space. One, we started saying, how could we utilize this program to not only build the brand, but build the business? We had over 300 really capable well-connected students across the country. So we started experimenting with ways we could utilize them.

And some of the programs we add to drive traffic into retail or pull product off the shelf or support our business in the on-premise. We were really blown away by the results. And then as we scaled, we needed some external help. And just, I realized that there weren’t any agencies out there who were focused on the space that understood our business and that had high standards of quality.

So just realized there was this void that I set out to fill with Neato.

Jason: [00:02:56] Yeah, I see that so much where people are looking for something and they have no agency experience. And there was just like, let me just go into it, let me just create it. And a lot of times you don’t take that bad baggage with you from some of the bigger agencies.

What has it been like over the years of growing it and scaling it? You know, when it comes to your team or like, have you moved upmarket with your audience? Because agencies are always going through different cycles.

Mike: [00:03:25] Yeah. Yeah, it’s tricky because I think we started solely focused on college marketing and it’s a very core part of what we do today.

But one of the challenges we found with college marketing, in particular, was that it’s very tactical. So a lot of the briefs you would get, there’s an existing strategy. There may be even an existing campaign and they’re just looking for someone to really execute. And it may be something that you don’t think necessarily works for the brand, or even worse, works for the audience.

And one of the big differentiators for us is saying the needs of young people and the needs of brand’s ambition don’t need to be mutually exclusive. So we believe young people are happy, happy being marketed to as long as it adds value to their lives.

So sometimes when we get these really tactical briefs, we feel like they weren’t a great fit for the audience. Or they weren’t a good fit for the brand. And we found ourselves in a tricky position. And, of course, then you would naturally say, well, share your point of view and that works. But if you, if you have a tactical brief, and sometimes if you’re working with some of the folks at that stage who are just there to execute the program. They aren’t the one setting the strategy.

And they’re not the ones who may necessarily be part of those discussions and all that. So for us, I’d say the biggest challenge has been working ourselves, I guess, as you say, kind of upstream a little bit to be a more part of those strategic discussions. And to change some of the perceptions of what college marketing or youth marketing or field marketing could look like.

Jason: [00:05:00] So what are some things that you’ve done that you’ve seen work to fix that? Because I saw that a lot and I think a lot of agencies do, where they get this tactical thing in and they need to really move upstream to really talk about strategy. You know, I remember we were working, um, I can’t say the name of the brand.

But I can say it’s a large beverage company in Atlanta with a red logo. And, uh, so we were doing a campaign for a young urban market. Well, the guy that was making all the decisions was a fat white guy. Old white guy. And he was like, I don’t get the campaign. And we’re like, we know you’re not going to get the campaign.

Like you’re not even, you’re not, you’re so far removed from even relating to them. So what are some strategies that have worked for you in order to going from tactical to more strategic?

Mike: [00:05:51] Yeah. For us, it’s tricky because if someone comes to you with this baked brief and strategy, and they aren’t even hiring you to be a strategic partner, you’re not really in a position to credibly say, we don’t believe in this or this won’t work.

I mean, most likely, the outcome of that would be you just won’t get the business, right? They find someone else who’s onboard, especially if it’s a new relationship and you don’t have that existing credibility. So what has helped us in the past? First of all, saying… look, we have a ton of experience in this space, but I’ll call BS on anyone who says I am a, I am an expert in youth culture. I’m an expert on young people.

Because the more you do it, the more you realize it’s always evolving. So the first thing we’ll always do is we’ll talk to the audience. Have conversations with young people about the category, about the initiative, about maybe even the strategy and the campaign.

And then I’m not sitting there in a position going up to anyone on the client-side and just saying, look, this doesn’t work. We don’t like it. We’re saying, hey, you know, we talked to a bunch of young people about what you’re setting out to do and here are some of the things we learned along the way. So it’s much more credible and it’s puts you in a position to be a little bit more of a, of a partner. And someone who’s collaborating with them than someone who just has a big ego and a strong point of view that’s different from theirs.

So everything we do is really driven by insights and we fundamentally believe that that’s a critical part of our process.

Jason: [00:07:24] Yeah. And I also see it as a lot of times, I would walk away from business that if they were just so driven by that. I would actually take it a step further. You know, I interviewed, um, one of the Harmon brothers who does all the funny viral videos or ads on the internet.

And they only take on the ones that they actually believe in the product. So they’ve done like Squatty Potty. And I was like, you believe in that? They’re like we do, right? Like we saw the science, and tested it out. I was like, oh, that’s kind of interesting. But they were like, we only do work of products that we know we believe in that we actually can go do and prove, and actually have results.

And I think that’s a big departure from a lot of agencies out there that just say, oh, you got a check? Oh, you need to find someone? I remember many times where we would actually walk away from an RFP and be like, look, this is not our process, we’re not going to do it that way.

And them coming back and being like, why would this one company, this small company pull out versus, you know, Tribal and DDP and Grey? And all these big agencies are giving us free work. It would make them think in order to, I really get to the next level.

Mike: [00:08:38] Right. Yeah. It could be a little bit more provocative, right? But if it’s grounded in truth, I think it works. And it’s something we’ve, I would say, wrestled with a little bit is just how honest and straightforward you are and the initial part of that conversation, right?

Because you have a strong point of view, but it’s tricky because you have this incentive. Look, you want to work with them and not just because they’re going to pay you. But for us, we could say this is a powerful brand. Like they have some really cool resources and assets, and we think they could bring a lot of value to young people’s lives. We think they could have a really positive impact.

So for us, it’s just saying, you know what, let’s go through a little bit of a journey and figure out if they can and are willing to get there.

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Jason: [00:09:25] Yup. Now, do you do that through a small paid engagement or are you doing that on your own dime?

Mike: [00:09:32] That was the first thing that came to my mind, right? Because that’s hard work and it’s a lot of work. I mean, even if you want to find people, interview them, synthesize those insights, share them. Ideally, we’ll do that and we’re getting paid. Usually, what happens? This happened recently with an organic foods brand.

We came in, they came to us and they said, listen, we want to market to students. Here’s what we’re trying to do. Give us ideas, best ideas win and win the program. And, you know, give us the best ideas and you’ll become our agency partner. And I said, listen, I could pull a bunch of stuff out of a hat, but I haven’t talked to young people about organic foods. I haven’t talked to them about your brand. I’ve been having a ton of conversations with them lately, but not about this subject.

So what I would propose is that we go and do that and then we’ll put together a scope and we’ll get paid to make sure that it’s at least worth our while. And it, it helps the client too, because we could say at the end of this all at the very least you will have these insights and you’ll have something you could work with, whether it’s something you do on your own or something you do with another partner.

So ideally we’re, we’re getting paid. Earlier on, when someone was coming up with us, uh, to us with a tactical brief, we had to do it for free because we didn’t earn their trust and respect yet.

Jason: [00:10:44] Yeah. Yeah. I was talking to a couple agencies a little while ago and literally, I was like, if you’re just starting out, you’re going to have to do the grunt work.

You’re going to have to take it on the chin and do some of the free work. But once you start getting a little bit momentum, then you can actually be more selective and say, no, I’m not going to take it on the chin. We’re going to do it this way. Then I’d always tell people, like, treat it this way and say, look, you’re going to pay us to develop you a really good strategy.

There’s three outcomes. You’ll love the plan and you’ll go execute it yourself, which you were just talking about. You’ll love the plan you want to work with us, which is the most common. Or third, you don’t like the plan. I’ll give you your money back. So you really have nothing to lose. And then it literally takes them from like, are they really a qualified prospect or are they really just effing you up, right? Like just trying to get free work.

And I found that by doing that, that separates the fishers or the, uh, the people just fishing from the real buyers. Because I look at it too like, I think it was Dean Jackson that said, uh, you know, 50% of the people will never buy from you, but the other 50% will.

But you have to figure out when. Like, there’s a small percentage that will buy right now, which are like 15%. And then the other 35 is like maybe 90 days to two years down the road. And you have to kind of figure that out. So like I’m trying to eliminate the non-buyers right away. I love that you get, you’re getting paid for it too.

Mike: [00:12:14] Yeah. And I think one of the things that’s helped us in that process too, is that I’m not a big fan of, um, you send us a brief, we go away for two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, whatever it is. We come back and do this whole dog and pony show with a bunch of ideas. And then in that process, we learn that there’s a bunch of other things that have happened since then. Or a bunch of things that were maybe missing from the brief or there’s other decision-makers in or departments who weren’t a part of writing the brief.

So what we like to do is co-create with our clients and have a bit of a collaborative process and creative development. Because in real-time you’re getting that input and that feedback. And like I said, it just, it’s, it’s impossible for them to capture all that on paper. In that process, you could see what they’re really up for, right?

Because we’ll have a client that will come to us say we want big ideas “we want huge disruptive ideas.” And we… this happened to us very early on and they came to us and they said, these ideas are too big. Well, you wanted big ideas. That’s what you asked for, right? So I think bringing them along in that process, in the creative development process, and turning it into a conversation instead of everybody working in silos could help you feel that out too.

Jason: [00:13:27] Well, they don’t want big ideas. They want results, the smart ones. And so I totally agree that you have to do it with them. Yeah. The, the time of what is it like Bewitched? Was it? The show Bewitched, when Darren would pitch the work for Larry, which was his boss, right? Like those days are over, like literally if you’re not building with them, because then they have more skin in the game. And you can ask them, be like, what do you think if we did X, Y, and Z?

And if they say no, I think it’s a dumb idea. You find out why is it a dumb idea for in their head, especially if you believe in this. And then you get them to a point where they’re like, oh yeah, I like that idea. So then when you present the ideas, they were all there. Like they feel like it was all theirs. And then they’re like, man, I really feel like we’re connecting.

We’re like, well yeah. Like we just did this, this engagement together. And then, you know, we found that they’re 20 times more likely to engage with you if they have a good engagement or the first, rather than just going, oh, let me give you a bunch of ideas. Like, oh, I hated that. We got away from that very quick.

Mike: [00:14:32] Yeah, it’s full of assumptions, right? I mean, you just, it’s a tricky process. And then sometimes you could spend a week or two going down a path. And if you would just learn this one thing, that path may not be viable for them. Or it may be a trigger point for someone who is the decision-maker there because of a bad experience that you just, you don’t know those things.

Yeah. And on results, I agree with you. I mean, one of the things we like to do, especially with the people who are paying for it, or running the departments that are part of this program or experience or process. Is just say, okay, let’s pretend it’s December or it’s the middle of the year. We’re all sitting in a room and we’re looking back on this program and we’re celebrating.

What would we be celebrating? What do we really want to get out of this? Because sometimes you’ll find that people will bake in all these goals and KPIs and objectives that don’t align with the needs and wants of decision-makers.

Jason: [00:15:25] Yeah. I always looked at when a client comes to you, like if you think of kind of the past, the present, the future, when they come to you, it’s because they’re stuck.

And then, right? That’s in the past, they’re stuck, they’ve tried a bunch of things. Then in the present you think about, well, they have a problem. And the future is, they just don’t know what they need to do. And so we have to do, as agencies is we really have to kind of look and go, how can we switch their state?

Like get them to a resourceful state rather than a stuck state, right? The past. And then in the present, we really need to pinpoint what is the real issue. Like we need to be urgency detectives. Because the clients like they, sometimes they don’t know and they, they’re like, they don’t really know the problem.

And so really we need to identify what’s the actual issue. We need to kind of paint that picture. Then, in the future, it’s just. Let’s just shrink the scope and let’s just make it really simple for them to understand. And when we do all that, now we can take that prospect to, you know, someone actually believing us. Rather than just saying here’s all these big ideas, but that’s what we’ve seen work really, really well.

Well, this has all been amazing. Is there anything I did not ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Mike: [00:16:41] Yeah, it’s a good question. The only thing I would say is just how you identify those problems. I think has been a little bit of a learning for me and I, you know, I’ve just getting ahead of it.

I’ve just found that the most effective way to do that is through real human conversations with the people on the, on the brand side, on the client-side, to really figure out what they’re challenged with. Because it could be something that they haven’t even considered.

You know, I think a lot of people can get almost in a little bit of this like automated mindset where they’re just they’re writing briefs around specific campaigns. Or they have, they have a line item in their budget they’re trying to fulfill. And then through conversations with them, you could identify things that they’re really struggling with, that you could potentially help on.

And maybe it’s not a good fit and you could pass it on to someone else or whatever it may be. But I think, I think those real human natural touchpoints are really important to understand what the needs are of your clients and figuring out if there are ways that you could support them in navigating those issues.

Jason: [00:17:42] Awesome. What’s the website that people can go and check you guys out?

Mike: [00:17:47] Yeah. We’re at,

Jason: [00:17:51] Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show. And if you guys enjoyed this episode, I want to make sure you guys subscribe. It’s just so you are always notified when we have an episode.

And then if you guys want to be surrounded by amazing agency owners, where we get together on an ongoing basis to really work on the business, rather than in the business. And really be able to create that freedom where you can pick and choose and do the things you want to do in your agency, so you can eventually get to a point where you can actually sell it or exit the stuff that you don’t like to do anymore.

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