In digital marketing sales, you’re used to doing it all. You generate leads, close deals, and service clients but when you fail to fulfill your potential, every unmet objective, missed opportunity, and sleepless night takes its toll on your business and you.
In his new book, Clone the Ace, Forrest Dombrow provides solutions to this problem with actionable tactics you can use to grow sales and build a scalable system. You’ll learn to increase lead response, build cohesive marketing plans, the ability to transform average salespeople into aces, and much more. Whether you own a digital marketing agency or you simply want to improve your sales game, this book is the ultimate resource for getting sales handled once and for all.
Drew Appelbaum: Hey listeners, my name is Drew Applebaum and I’m excited to be here today with Forest Dombrow, author of Clone the Ace: A Battle-Tested Blueprint to Sell Digital Marketing Services like a Pro. Forrest, thank you for joining, welcome to The Author Hour Podcast.
Forrest Dombrow: Thanks for having me.
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s kick this off, can you give us a rundown of your professional background?
Forrest Dombrow: I would say entrepreneurial is a keyword. I have owned a variety of businesses, everything from a gourmet popcorn company to a retail liquor store, to a digital marketing agency, and there’s others in there. I actually own a children’s T-shirt company as well and I’m also an attorney. I have a very eclectic background.
Not only have I done a lot of things in my role as a strategic marketing manager at one point in my career and then, of course, spending a lot of years selling digital marketing services, and I’ve also spoken to literally thousands of small, medium, and large business owners. I just have a very wide background on how business works and how entrepreneurship works and marketing and branding and those sorts of things.
Drew Appelbaum: Why was now the time to write this book? Did you have a moment of inspiration, an “aha moment” or simply more time on your hands because of the COVID situation?
Forrest Dombrow: Kind of both. I actually wrote the book just before COVID. What triggered it was, I had my own agency for many years. I started off as a digital marketing practitioner working with clients and at some point, quite a while ago, I switched over to the sales side of things.
Years ago, I sold my shares of my digital marketing agency and started a sales consulting agency. One of my clients eventually convinced me to come in and run sales there full-time and that was a good opportunity for me to really refine and perfect the systems and processes that I write about in the book. That was a couple of years ago and I left that engagement after a successful run. We broke all sorts of sales records and at the time, my desire was to have a professional speaking career.
Again, this was just before COVID, and so I sat down, and I said, “Well, let me start making a presentation, my first presentation to get out and start speaking.” It really started growing too large and I said, “I don’t know what part to focus on”. I had left that previous engagement and so I said, “Why don’t I just write it all in a book, the whole thing?” It was a perfect time because I did have time on my hands, I had commissions coming in for up to a year after I left there, and I had the time and the inspiration and everything I was writing about was literally the exact same stuff I was doing just a couple of weeks before.
Yeah, everything just came together, and felt like I was ready to share what I had developed over 17 years.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, you have been in the industry for, like you said, 17 years. You have been successful for a while now. But the writing process often brings out new ideas and new strategies. Were there any big learnings or breakthroughs during the writing of the book, maybe looking back at your experiences?
Forrest Dombrow: I don’t know if there were any big breakthroughs. I think what really happened for me was more of a crystallization process, rather than anything radically new that happened. What I mean by that is I had a lot of ideas. I had tried a lot of things over the years and the writing of the book was a way to really crystalize all the learning in my head, and present it in a way that was going to help my clients better than me just winging it as I had been before.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, who is this book for? Is this only for folks selling at digital agencies or can other sales folks really learn from this book as well?
Forrest Dombrow: Yeah, that’s a great question. The first short answer is definitely almost any kind of service business can pick up valuable information. Probably even beyond service companies as well, but I decided to specifically focus in on the digital marketing industry because that’s where a lot of my experience lies. I write about in the book how having a very specific niche and target audience is important for digital marketing agencies when they’re going out to market their own services.
I took a little bit of my own medicine and decided to make it very targeted to that group, those digital marketing agency owners and people. Yes, people, web developers, people that sell software, even beyond digital financial agencies, anybody that takes really a consultative selling process of services can gain a lot from the book.
Believe in What You are Selling
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s dive right in with your own personal story. You weren’t the best, let’s say, at sales early on. You were forced to step it up and start selling. What changed for you that the no’s you were getting suddenly became yes’s?
Forrest Dombrow: There’s a little bit more of a back story that’s not quite in the book. When I grew up, my father was a salesperson in the dental industry for my whole life and he was a great salesman and a great dad. I have a great relationship with him but if there was one thing I knew growing up it’s that I definitely was not going to be a salesperson.
Not because of him but I saw what he had to do, and I was kind of an introvert. Like getting up in front of people and doing sales presentations and all the stress that can come with that didn’t ever appeal to me. But when we started our digital marketing agency back in 2007, as I write about in the book, we lost our salesperson and it was kind of on the three remaining partners, myself being one of them, to either sell or go get a job and so actually, the fear of having a nine to five outweighed the fear of getting out there and putting myself out there.
Then I think the other thing that really flipped the switch in terms of your specific question about getting yes’s is really believing in what we were doing. We took some time to really create a service offering that was unique at the time, it’s a little bit less unique now but I felt very strongly about it and passionate about it, and I really wanted to succeed. That energy, almost fear of having to get a regular job, sort of drove me to get out there, push the boundaries, get up in front of audiences and speak, read sales books, and just get good at it.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, was this just a change at work, or did this change flow over to your personal life as well?
Forrest Dombrow: It was both. I mean, it was certainly a change at work because I was historically again, the guy that did the work for the clients, I was the marketing guy. It was definitely a shift from that standpoint but personally as well, because forcing myself to get out and go networking and speaking–I’ve spoken to some pretty big crowds at this point, over 500 people.
All of that stuff definitely gave me confidence because the feedback was good. When I started to get positive feedback about what I was speaking about in front of audiences but also in the sales conversations, again, it crystalized and made me realize, “Hey, I’m pretty good at this and I have a lot of passion and energy for it and people are responding well.” So that definitely gave me confidence in other areas in my life as well.
Drew Appelbaum: Another learning was not only learning to sell but you have to learn how to teach others to sell as well. How did you learn that skill?
Forrest Dombrow: One thing I have always been good at, even before I was in sales, was pattern recognition, I’m a good listener. Sometimes I’d be a little bit nervous, “All right, I know how to do this but can I really teach anybody else this?” What I found was kind of two things. If I just listened to other people doing sales, sales calls, whatever the case may be, it’s pretty easy for me to pick up on what they’re missing because one of the most common things I hear when listening in on sales calls–in fact, I was just doing it yesterday with one of my clients–is the salesperson not hearing what the customer has just said and skipping over it. I happen to be pretty good at that.
Because I’m good at that, it’s somewhat easy for me to pick out things that help people and improve on. Then the other piece is I’m pretty good and I rely pretty heavily on things like templates and processes. That’s one of the other main themes in my book is that if you build a sales system and use certain processes and templates and certain techniques in how you build your presentations, it can do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. So, you don’t necessarily have to be an unbelievable salesperson, a silver tongue so to speak, and you can still do well. It is a combination of really strong listening skills and building systems and processes that can help people deliver good sales presentations without too much trouble.
Drew Appelbaum: I think people still, in their mind, when they think of like a successful salesperson, they think of that shark and you have to have that push and that ability to sometimes cross that line. In the book, you talk about really pushing authentic, value-based selling. Can you still be successful that way?
Forrest Dombrow: Look, can you lie to people and sell stuff? Probably, but it’s not a good long-term strategy in my book. I think in today’s day and age with social media and how connected we all are and the transparency that has evolved out of that, people can sniff out bullshit pretty quickly, and so I would argue that if you’re not being authentic, you’re going to struggle.
Authenticity is kind of step one. People really respond to it, there are often times I say things like, “You know, I can’t really help you,” or, “I’m not sure,” or, “I don’t think that strategy’s going to work and here is why.”
People really appreciate it. I can’t tell you how many times people say, “Thanks for just being honest with me,” or, “No one else told me that.” Those kinds of things. Just turn it around, would you rather someone be authentic and honest with you when they’re selling you something or not? It’s pretty basic.
Six Core Principles
Drew Appelbaum: Now, in the book, you have a sales system that you built, and it’s built on six core principles, can you tell us about those principles?
Forrest Dombrow: Yeah, the six core principles I found to be the things that really underlie the whole system. For example, positioning your agency to win. That’s my favorite thing, that’s actually my personal brand that, Solve Sales, my consulting company, that’s our secret sauce. And what that’s about is a lot of times people, when they say, “We’re having sales problems,” a lot of times its lead generation problems or maybe it’s sales skills and they have inexperienced salespeople.
What I start with is, do you have something unique and relevant to a specific target audience such that selling becomes easier? The example I use in the book is a lot of agencies they are kind of generic, “We’re a marketing agency,” and they don’t really say much more than that. But if you can move yourself away from the pack a little bit and have something unique–even as simple as, “We specialized in e-commerce,” or something along those lines–now all of a sudden, you’re a little bit different.
Positioning your agency to win before you even open your mouth or try to get actually better at sales, that goes a long way. The other thing I talk about, which is related to that first point, is switching the mentality from generating leads to attracting leads. If you can make yourself unique, if you can provide something of value to a specific target market such that you stand out, you can more easily attract leads and not have to be cold calling everybody all day long.
The third one, which I think is super important and really gets to a problem that a lot of our clients have, which is it’s hard to hire good salespeople. So, what I teach is a team-selling approach, so kind of like Mcdonald’s does where they break out the steps of making somebody’s order, you know, the French Fries, the hamburger, et cetera. Instead of one person doing everything, which is what a lot of agencies try to do, they try to hire a sales pro and they can do it all and generate all the leads, close the deals, do all the admin work. And by breaking things out and having more of a team-selling approach, where you include say your subject matter experts, maybe some admin, things of that nature, it takes the pressure off of the one salesperson or having to hire someone who can do it all.
Another one, the fourth one is being more strategic. I call it switching from being an order-taker to a sales-doctor. A lot of less-experienced salespeople, they’re kind of order-takers.
A client calls up, “Hey, we need some SEO or paid search,” or whatever the case may be, and they are just there to sort of take their order. “Sure, how much paid search would you like sir?” And they’re not really selling. Being a sales doctor, switching your mentality to diagnosing the problems that the prospect is presenting, and then prescribing a strategic solution as opposed to just selling on whatever they asked for. That’s a major shift for a lot of people and it’s really well-received by prospects because it makes them feel like you’re really taking their needs into consideration and not just trying to close in on a deal.
Then we talk about authentic selling and wrapped up in the fifth pillar is also value-based selling. When you’re selling something like marketing, people always want to know, “Well, okay how much is it and how much am I going to make and by when?” Because it’s marketing, right? It’s supposed to generate more leads and sales for your customer, so a value-based approach is really important. Not just saying, “Here’s what we’re going to do and how much it’s going to cost,” but also, “Here is how much we estimate you’re going to make back from your investments.” So, taking that authentic value-based approach is important.
Then finally, something people kind of do maybe is getting better with tracking and automating your sales processes. A lot of people just wing it, the phone rings, or an email lead comes in, they pick up the phone, they’re just sort of winging it. Maybe they have a few documents, a few processes, but it is not very structured and automated, and they don’t often track the things that they need to be able to troubleshoot when there is a problem, so we do a lot with that as well.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, can you pick and choose certain ones to follow, or does each step build on the last one?
Forrest Dombrow: I would say both. I mean in the book, I tend to be kind of a logical thinker, a comprehensive thinker, so definitely everything in the book builds upon itself and it’s all stitched together. That said, if you just position your agency better, if you have something a little bit more unique and do nothing else, that is absolutely going to improve. In one of my chapters, I go into detail about how to build better presentations so that they are visually appealing.
There are just some simple techniques and they’re very powerful. If you just did that, your presentations would be better. I think the answer is both.
Where to Start
Drew Appelbaum: What’s the best way to get started? Is this, you read through the book, you take the techniques, and you have a total overhaul on a Monday morning? Or can you slowly implement these changes in your sales technique personally and in your sales department?
Forrest Dombrow: Yeah, I think definitely reading through the whole book and I make this suggestion somewhere towards the end of the book, whatever sticks out at you as like, “Wow, that’s a great idea and we’re not doing that at all,” I would certainly start there. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be the thing that’s written about at the beginning. It could be this thing in the middle.
For example, we have a whole process on how to do diagnosis calls or discovery calls when you first have a lead come in. There’s a certain document we recommend that you create, and it teaches you what questions to ask, and if you don’t currently do that, and you just want to pick that and start with that, I think that’s a great idea.
The reality is there’s a ton of stuff in the book and if anybody, even someone that was pretty good at sales and just wanted to spruce things up, it would take them months and months and months, maybe the whole year to implement everything in the book to the letter.
Yeah, definitely read through it and pick out what seems to have the biggest impact and start there.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, talking about the book itself, I think it is really interesting the way you structured each chapter because it is incredibly clear and it’s easy to read and I think it is pretty unique. Can you talk about the way you constructed each chapter?
Forrest Dombrow: What I tried to do in each chapter is give a core principle if you’re willing, whatever the chapter is about, and then I give very specific steps on things you can do, exercises to execute that particular step, and then I try to give examples. I haven’t really been doing it much with the pandemic, but I used to do a lot of speaking at conferences and things like that, and I always got rated very highly. The reason was, just like I did with the book, I sat down one day, and I said, “You know, why do people take two days off work and spend 1,000 bucks to come to this conference?” It is not to hear me blather on about nonsense. They want actionable strategies they can go back to their office with.
And a lot of speakers unfortunately don’t do that. They get up there and they just kind of talk in big generalities or maybe they’re from, I don’t know, a big company like Best Buy or something like that. They’re talking about this big giant campaign they did where they had 20 million dollars and 30 people on the team and the people in the audience can’t relate to that because they don’t have 20 million dollars or 30 people.
I really try in each chapter to lay out a key principle, explain why it’s important, what it can do for you, give you exercises and ways to actually execute it, and then show you very specific examples of what it looks like when you’re done.
Drew Appelbaum: Do you think this book would have changed your career had you had a book like this when you were coming up?
Forrest Dombrow: Yes, I mentioned that somewhere in the book as well that when I was coming up there was no digital marketing sales book because digital marketing was brand new. I mean websites were pretty brand new when I first started. I mean Facebook wasn’t even really a thing.
I definitely had to learn by trial and error and reading other more general sales books but if you are in the digital marketing agency, despite what I said earlier that other people in other industries can pick up information, every example in the book is how to sell SEO or how to sell paid search, how to sell social media, and so if I had had that when I started, I think it definitely would have been a lot shorter to success.
Drew Appelbaum: What does the future look like for you? You have this book coming out, you are now super successful. What’s your next step?
Forrest Dombrow: Yeah, so my next step, which I’m very excited about is actually, I don’t know if the phrase is ‘living the book’ but you know, Solve Sales has been historically, a more general sales consulting business and because I chose to make the book very specific and I have all, or most, of my experience in the digital marketing industry, writing the book, and maybe this is another answer to one of your earlier questions, writing the book helped me get focused.
I tend to be a person with a lot of ideas. I can do a lot of different things and so writing a book has forced me to get focused. As we get to launch, as we look at our own marketing plan, not only for the book, we’re completely revamping our website to match the book. Our services are going to be narrowed down to basically what’s in the book so if you need help, we’re going to help people with what’s in the book.
Either through consulting, coaching, online training, but it is all going to be tied right to the book and so, what’s next for me is launching it and following through on helping people with what’s in the book and not getting distracted by doing work with people in other industries. Then building my speaking career and really, I guess ‘living the book,’ if you will.
Drew Appelbaum: Well Forrest, I have to say, writing a book like this, which we just touched on the surface. There is so much in there, I wanted to talk about software and elevator pitches but it is all there in the book. I think it is going to help so many sales teams and professionals and writing a book like this is not a small feat, so I want to say congratulations for being published.
Forrest Dombrow: Thank you, I appreciate that. It was quite a bit of work.
Make Yourself Relevant
Drew Appelbaum: Now, here’s the hot seat question. If readers could take away only one thing from the book, what would you want it to be?
Forrest Dombrow: I think it’s the thing that I started off with earlier. It’s don’t just go out and try and be better at selling what you’re currently selling. Take half a step back and say, “How can I make this more relevant, more unique?” And what I mean by this is your services, right? If you sell general services, general marketing services, how can you narrow that? How can you make it such that when people call, they say, “You know, nobody else is talking about this this way,” or “You know, you focus on my industry, and nobody else is.”
Because when you do that, when you do that positioning work, which is in chapter two of the book, everything else about sales, even if your sales skills are just the same as they were the day before, you can do so much better just by doing better positioning, better branding and getting your services to appear more unique at first glance.
Drew Appelbaum: Well Forrest, this has been a pleasure and I am really excited for people to check out this book. Everyone, the book is called, Clone the Ace, and you can find it on Amazon. Besides checking out the book, Forrest, where can people connect with you?
Forrest Dombrow: On our main website, solvesales.com. That is our consulting agency and we also have free resources that we promise in the book, you can download even if you don’t have the book. So that is the best place to get anything and everything that we have to produce other than the book on Amazon.
Drew Appelbaum: Well Forrest, thank you so much for coming on the show today and best of luck with your new book.
Forrest Dombrow: Thanks Drew, I appreciate it.