When I was six years old, we had a small terrier puppy. I don’t like terriers. I can’t stand yippy dogs that somehow seem to be made of hate – and terriers embody that for me. My mother’s disposition toward dogs that shed rivaled my dislike of terriers but being that I was six and she was thirty-six, I had lost the battle. The dog’s only redeeming quality seemed to be its treats. I watched as this dog literally lost its mind when these treats were unsheathed from their resident box. The dog literally jumped for joy. I wanted to jump for joy too; I wanted to lose my mind. It didn’t help matters that the treats were kept on the top shelf of our pantry. Anything that was kept that far out of reach had to be good. One day, while my parents were pre-occupied, I headed to that cabinet with purpose. I was going to eat one of those damn treats. I was going to eat dog food and I was happy about it. No sooner had I clutched the box and lifted said holy grail to my lips that the smell struck me. These things smelled like shit. I remembered how happy these biscuits made the dog, how absolutely bonkers. I took a bite.
Dog biscuits don’t taste as bad as they smell, but they also don’t taste good. For this reason, I’ve always wondered why the notion of ‘eating ones own dog food’ has become so popular. I’ve always secretly wanted to scream, “DON’T DO IT!” Perhaps they didn’t have a yippy little devil dog to learn from, perhaps their palate is more evolved than mine, perhaps I needed a second bite to fully embrace the nuances of a crispy, pressed, yet somehow elusive milk bone. I don’t care to find out really, but the expression still makes me cringe. With that in mind, you’ll often hear me use the comparison of ‘Drinking one’s own Champagne’ instead. I suppose it just sounds more sophisticated. Maybe I just want to be French.
The root of the expression is interesting to me, and it should be to you as well. I believe it means that the preacher practices what they preach. It sounds like a simple prowess but frankly more conflicts have arisen over this simple concept than almost any other. Doing what you say you will is simply a rare practice.
When I started LeadMD, I was coming off the heels of a very interesting experience. I had been operating in a company of accidental millionaires for so long I was starved for substance. When you achieve without truly creating something, it’s often the subsequent wealth will be equally as hollow. I wanted to be around creators. My first stab at LeadMD was a failure because my mentality had been tainted by my surroundings in the preceding years. I white-labeled Marketo in the US – don’t ever do that. Or if you do, have a value to add. I had been white-labeling software for so long I forgot that most markets wouldn’t tolerate that without a pretty extreme niche advantage. There are some Salesforce.com apps out there that build niche functionality on the Sales Cloud SFDC platform and that works because it’s a highly customized interface that would take a large investment upfront to emulate. The white-label provider knows what functionality 95% of organizations within that vertical will need and they leapfrog the platform to that point to provide said functionality on day one. It’s a good value for the end user.
As the software portion of the business was failing, the services arm started to take off. Services are hard. It was a scary day for me when we transitioned to a service-based business, providing best practices and actually making them happen. I knew the only thing that would drive this business was results. For a new business, it’s really hard to show years of results. Instead, I decided to build everything I would want our clients to utilize LeadMD to achieve. We transitioned the business on May 1 of 2009 and I started writing content that day. In 60 days, I had 52 weeks of content –whitepapers, articles, presentations, eBooks, videos, infographics – it was a lot of writing and gathering. From that pool, we assembled what was one of the most comprehensive lead nurturing funnels anywhere at that time. We had assembled an example, a resume. Our website, our social strategy and our PR funnel were all created with the notion of being a template of what we stood for.
As a growing business we couldn’t afford to leave that strategy on the shelf, it HAD to produce revenue. Sure enough, we began to see growth, a model of movement we could forecast – moving through the stages of awareness to interest to opportunity to success. Within 6 months, we had a model that was repeatable and predictable.
3 and a half years later, that model continues to evolve. If there’s one true statement about marketing, it’s that it’s never finished. This fall we launched a new LeadMD.com, and with it our Navigate education platform. We currently produce over 10 net new assets per month, many of which land in our nurture funnel – which is in a constant state of change. Our marketing strategy and execution are liquid; they have to flow like a conversation. To effectively hold a conversation you have to know your audience and measure their reactions to your message; think of it like talking behind a curtain while wearing a blindfold. It’s an exciting surprise every time we evaluate metrics.
When you embrace a system like this, there’s no going back. We recently helped a client gain internal support for conversational marketing empowered by nurture and content to their CFO and board. They are a $4 Billion dollar company and are just embarking on their journey. It’s truly an exciting time and a milestone that would be impossible if we hadn’t been able to demonstrate a repeatable model – the same model that we began the creation of almost 4 years ago.
The truth is dog food tastes like crap, but drinking your own champagne tastes f*cking awesome.
Meet Justin Gray
Justin is a serial entrepreneur and the CEO and founder of LeadMD, the world’s largest revenue operations agency having implemented over half of the Marketo user base. Justin has made a career of launching successful companies and scaling them, with successful exits of over 200MM+ in the last decade. Justin’s latest endeavor launched in 2016 when he co-founded Six Bricks an online learning startup designed to combat employee and customer churn through experience-based education. Over the past 10 years, Justin has emerged as a strong voice for entrepreneurship, marketing and culture. As a recognized speaker, Justin has been published over 350 times in industry publications and holds his own column, Tribal Knowledge in Inc., while writing for Entrepreneur, Tech Crunch and others. Justin and his wife Jennifer met over marketing and three years later welcomed their son, Grayson, into the world in April of 2017.