The art and challenge of business services—with Justin Dunham of Ercule

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Marketing agencies, IT services, design and development firms, video studios, consultants—the world of business-to-business services has changed radically in recent times. As clients approach their trusted service providers, they do so with new needs, new demands, and historically high expectations. How can businesses best satisfy and retain clients who are counting on them?

We sat down with Justin Dunham from Ercule, a full-service content and search engine optimization agency, to find out how he’s adapted his business and stayed on top of evolving client expectations.

Read the interview

Jill McKenna: Hello, everyone. I’m Jill. I’m the brand manager here at Ruby. And I’m so delighted to be speaking with Justin Dunham today. Justin is owner of ércule. Justin, do you mind explaining a little bit about your work and what ércule does?

Justin Dunham:
Yeah. So, ércule is a boutique digital marketing agency and our mission is to make it so that your content is successful. One of the things we’ve noticed is that people can write and produce all kinds of things, but there’s so many other things that you need to know to actually translate what you write and create into success. We do a lot of SEO for clients. We do a lot of content strategy, and we situate that in a full-service agency. We often do things, like marketing operations and analytics, too, and even paid media for folks as well. That’s what we do.
 
Jill McKenna:
I know business services clients can often come with high expectations and sometimes high dollars attached to them. Can you speak a little bit about developing those unique relationships and managing them?
 
Justin Dunham:
The number one thing we’ve found in this business is it’s all about creating that personal connection. You just can’t templatize everything. It has to be about the people who you’re dealing with on the client side and the people that you are dealing with on the agency side, and the relationship between those people. And of course, it’s about the work, but the relationship has to be really good for it to be successful.
 
So in terms of managing these projects, I think a lot of it is the emotional energy that you bring to the interactions with people. It’s being responsive to what they’re looking for. It’s being willing to sometimes not necessarily go way beyond the scope of what you’ve been hired for, but trying to be as responsive as you can to all kinds of unexpected or perhaps even uncommon things that might come up during the process. And your job as somebody who’s in client service is to do the best you can to actually help the client with that problem and help them look really good at work.
 
Jill McKenna:
But how do those relationships change over time and through multiple projects? Because you can have these relationships for a very long time. So how does that evolve?
 
Justin Dunham:
I think the way those relationships evolve, hopefully they get a little bit deeper. And as a result, they get more efficient. So I can think about lots of examples where we’ve been hired to work in one very specific area and it becomes possible to expand that work or deliver more value for our client because we’ve gotten to know them in this one area. We know their approach. We understand their business. We can work together well with them. And that lets us work on other things that might be more challenging or that might be adjacent to what we were originally working on.
 
And that’s what you really want. And that’s a huge part of this business is being able to evolve the relationship in that way. I think the other thing that happens too, is your client hopefully becomes an expert in a lot of these areas along with you. Or maybe not an expert-expert, but part of job as working in client service is to really help educate them. And so, they’re asking better questions. And so they can work with you on getting deeper and deeper into the real challenges, the real places that you might be able to create value for them.
 
Jill McKenna:
So, what kind of client experience and service standards do your customers tend to expect and how is that driven by that relationship that you’ve explained?
 
Justin Dunham:
We’re an agency with a real focus on partnership. We’ve had clients who have engaged us and a big reason has been, hey, we’re not talking to your salesperson. We know we’re talking to the actual team that we’re going to be working with. And that’s a big deal for our folks. So in terms of how the engagement works, we always try… And again, let me know if I’m giving you the answer that you are looking for here. In terms of the way the engagement works, there’s a lot of responsiveness in terms of, for example, all of our clients have their own Slack channel with directly with us. And we don’t have an SLA. You know, we don’t say like, we’re going to get back to you in an hour or two. It might take longer than that. But just having that channel where they can actually really talk with us at any time they want, even if we don’t respond right away, makes a big difference.
 
So I think that’s part the engagement and that’s part of creating that relationship with them. I think the other thing is, of course, you have your weekly meetings and there’s all sorts of other things, too. When we do reporting with our clients and updates, our decks are always in the same format. They’re really easy to read. We think a lot about the user experience that our clients are going to have in terms of parsing the data that we’re giving them. A lot of agencies, we’ve seen them send clients like Excel spreadsheets that are not very well-organized or long memos that are not formatted or not well-written. Writing is a really key part of communicating as well, especially digitally and in digital marketing with clients. And so good writing, good, well-structured writing is also a really important part of that.
 
Jill McKenna:
What do you wish people knew about business services work and what you all do and what this is really like, tending those relationships every day?
 
Justin Dunham:
I wish people knew that business services is this: To do it well is this incredibly complicated and often very fun—a combination of technical expertise, which you have to bring to the table. You have to know what you’re doing, that’s what you’re being hired for. But together with that, there’s a big emotional component to it, which is around explaining what you’re doing and why it’s valuable, being responsive to what your clients, perhaps their fears about what might happen with a project or even what might be going on with their business. And also responsive to the fact that usually clients hire you because they don’t know very much about a certain area and they don’t have the expertise.
 
You have to find a way to communicate that to them and help them understand more and feel really good about what you’re doing for them, knowing that by definition they’re not in a position to always deeply evaluate everything that you’re doing from the position of an expert. I think people really overlook that emotional component to the service. And again, technical expertise is the foundation for the whole thing. Providing the services, doing it efficiently—that’s the foundation, but there is a huge component, which is just about building the relationship, good service, keeping your client first, really thinking about what their needs are even beyond the technical stuff you might be delivering for them.
 
Jill McKenna:
Thank you for that answer. Justin, it’s been so great to talk to you today. I’m so thankful for your time. Where can people find you online?
 
Justin Dunham:
Check us out at ercule.co. We have a library there—we’re constantly writing about topics that are useful to know for small businesses and startups around marketing and how to make yourself successful and how to get everything set up. I’ve also got a chatbot. We’re always happy to do office hours. You can reach out to me on LinkedIn—Justin Dunham. I’m right up there and posting all the time. So it’d be great to hear from you all.
 
Jill McKenna:
Thank you so much.
 
Justin Dunham:
Yeah, thanks a lot.
 
Jill McKenna:
Have a good one.

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