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The problems that became our products.

If you follow me on Linkedin (if not, click here) you'll know that I'm constantly saying that the key to building a successful agency is to sell solutions, not services.


People are far more likely to invest money with you if you're solving a problem that they have, or you can talk about the outcome of the investment, not just list the things you'll do.


Well, you'll be pleased to know that I practiced what I preach at my own agency. And this blog will list a handful of the problems that we identified that our target clients had, and how we solved them.


In case you're new here, my agency was focussed on supporting brands with all elements of selling on Amazon. The product listings, the ads, the SEO, the analytics, the stock forecasting and much more.


If you listed the full offering (which we did on early creds decks) it was pretty confusing. Hence why we decided to start talking about problems instead.


Got problems?


'Doing' Amazon

It seems crazy to think now, but back in 2017 when I launched my Amazon agency, many of the household name brands didn't want to be associated with Amazon.


The volume Amazon was selling was far lower than it is now, and they were well know as price discounters. So most of the things that the Sales Directors at these brands heard everyday was complaints about Amazon. And when they looked at their sales reports, Amazon was bringing in a fraction of the revenue that Tesco, John Lewis etc were.


So most brands had no interest in selling on Amazon.


Which was unfortunate for a fledgling agency helping brands do it.


So rather than talking about all of the great things we could do for the brands, we had to address the problem in the market. Instead of saying "we'll grow your sales on Amazon", we said "we'll help you control Amazon".


Control was what the brands craved, over and above growth. So that's what we sold them.


Our actual service offering didn't change at all. But what we did was just change the KPI's associated with the work we were doing. We knew that by doing Amazon properly, rather than leaving it to 3rd party sellers and distributors, we could help them reduce the price discounting and we could actually turn it into a profitable sales channel.


So for the first 18 months of my agency's life, we were 100% selling Amazon, not ourselves.


At the point that the brands agreed that they should give Amazon a go, there was no question of which agency to pick. They only knew of us, and we were the ones that were going to take their problem away.


Profitable growth

The above strategy worked great, all the way up until COVID.


Amazon was one of the winners of the pandemic, with bricks and mortar retail shutting down. Anyone that hadn't been an Amazon customer was suddenly forced to be. And therefore any brands that weren't embracing Amazon, were missing out on significant revenue.


It was great news for my agency. You could have put a 15 year old, 2-legged dog on Amazon and it would have sold.


But it was less good news for our sales narrative. Suddenly every brand was 'doing' Amazon, so we had to think up another way to get the attention of potential clients.


So we started questioning any brands that would speak to us. What were their biggest struggles with Amazon. What was keeping them up at night.


It was quickly very clear.


All of our competitors were leading with the offer of helping brands grow their sales on Amazon. In reality, that was the last thing most brands needed.


Sales were up everywhere. But brands were realising that it was difficult to actually make any profit with Amazon.


Fees were high, shipping costs were high, ad spend was growing.


Brands were losing a fortune, but weren't really sure why.


Perfect. We had our new narrative. Profitable growth.


We adapted our offering to focus on ways to drive profit, not revenue.


And during this period, we could pretty much sign up any client we wanted. All by just asking brands what their problem was, and tweaking our pitch accordingly.



Translation

At this stage, we were around 3 years old and very aware that we had a year or 2 to get ready for acquisition.


We needed to grow revenue, but also increase the size of our clients to look more appealing to a buyer.


All of these target clients already had an agency helping them with Amazon. So we needed to think outside the box. We needed to find something that we could sell in alongside the existing agency.


We needed to find an Amazon problem that the client had, but their agency couldn't deliver.


Back to the phones and the questioning.


Again, we managed to find a common problem. International expansion was proving essential with Amazon. In Europe, the logistics had been made pretty easy by Amazon, but brands were really struggling with translating their content for each market.


The solutions that existed were pretty bad. Traditional translation agencies charged a fortune. Automated tools were terrible. There was an opportunity for us to attract major brands if we could figure out a way to do it better.


We had an office in Spain at the time, and we decided to task them with creating a translation product. The team already spoke French, Italian, Spanish and German. So it was a case of scaling it up and productising it.


We hired a network of freelancers, that not only spoke the languages, but also lived in the countries. So they could translate, but also transcreate the copy for the local shoppers.


Within a few weeks we had a product that could offer transcreation at scale. We created a 2 or 3 slide deck, gave it a name and then started contacting brands.


It was a massive success. We must have created hundreds of thousands of product pages on Amazon. And it was a great foot in the door with big clients, that gave us the opportunity to chip away at upsells over time.


Operations

As we approached our acquisition, we needed to change the message one last time.


People had caught up with the translation offer and it had become a bit commoditised. Margin was down and it wasn't capable of walking us into new clients any more.


This time, rather than speaking to various brands to get their feedback, we focussed on one.


Unilever.


One of the largest consumer brand owners in the world.


We were pretty sure that if we could get in there, we could get in anywhere.


Out came the white board, and in the middle was UNILEVER written in capitals. Our job that afternoon was to think of all the possible ways we could get them as a client. And not in 3 years time. In 3 weeks time. Time was ticking for us.


None of our current services would cut it. We had to go super niche. Tiny problems for Unilever were still worth millions.


We came up with a handful of potential products, that we were pretty sure we could deliver if we found a demand. The main one was Amazon fines.


Amazon would fine brands for all sorts of reasons. The wrong shipping labels, not confirming PO's on time, the wrong type of bubble wrap. You name it, there was a fine for it.


Silly little things, that were costing brands like Unilever millions every year.


If we could find a way to reduce the fines, and even claim some back, we had a winner on our hands.


We asked the question to Unilever and many large brands like them.


"Have you got any challenges with Amazon fines?"


We almost didn't get a no.


We had our new hook. We just had to find a way to deliver on it.


Queue a couple of very specific, niche hires from Amazon and we were up and running.


We signed some massive clients using this hook. We barely made any profit from the service itself, but it opened the doors and the opportunity to upsell to our heart's content.




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