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Season 3 – Episode 19: Trenton Moss – Steam Sterka

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Season 3 – Episode 19: Trenton Moss – Steam Sterka

Trenton Moss (00:04.71)
Thanks for coming along. Sorry about the Did you like it?

Chris Simmance (00:40.182)
Thanks for your service, Guy. And I’m lucky enough to have on the podcast today, Trenton Moss from Team Sturka. How you doing, mate?

Trenton Moss (00:45.962)
Hey Chris, nice to see you.

Chris Simmance (00:47.694)
into the podcast. So let’s kick things off with a bit of an intro to you. Give us a rundown of like who you are, what you do, importantly what you’ve done, and now a little bit about what you do with agencies as well.

Trenton Moss (01:01.194)
Yeah, sure. Well, so I’ve spent most of my career running my own agency. So I founded my own agency almost 20 years to the exact day. In about two weeks time will be the 20 year anniversary. So I found in my agency and managed to keep it going and grow it for around 15 years. And eventually we were acquired. And then, you know, I realized very quickly after we were acquired that I had become allergic to working for someone else. So I exited as quickly as I could to about a year and a half later.

And when I was running my own agency, I mean, it was, you know, rollercoaster journey, right? As you know, if you’re running a business. And about two or three years before, before we were acquired, we had a big problem. And the problem we had was that user experience, because we were a user experience UX agency, UX suddenly became very mainstream and we wanted it to become mainstream so we could get bigger budgets, you know, seat at the table.

Chris Simmance (01:36.344)

Trenton Moss (01:56.882)
But careful what you wish for because suddenly everyone invaded our space and we started pitching against PwC and Accenture and IBM, you know, the real big boys So we knew we had to up the ante in the agency We had to compete with these guys and you know, our guys were good with clients But you know anytime we wanted to upsell anytime there was a problem with a client Anytime we wanted to really inspire a client anytime there was a senior stakeholder involved Typically someone from my leadership team had to go along and kind of lead that bit of the client engagement

Chris Simmance (02:05.579)

Trenton Moss (02:26.134)
And I didn’t feel very scalable. And we were getting sucked into things that we maybe shouldn’t have done. So me and my MD had this really random idea. Thought we’d launch a client leadership program. So we ran kind of skills training every Friday, 99 30. You had to be there unless you were sick or on holiday. And it was really successful. You know, I can talk to you for not just this podcast for like 20 podcasts about all the things I did that failed because it was relentless one thing going wrong after another, they’re about two.

Chris Simmance (02:30.912)

Chris Simmance (02:54.476)
Maybe we’ll do another recording for that.

Trenton Moss (02:57.414)
Another 10 recordings. But there are about two or three things I did in my time running my agency that were really, really successful. And this client leadership program was one of them. So the following year, we saw a 35% uplift in revenue from our existing accounts, which was obviously amazing because people now have the skills to, you know, to inspire clients, to get their work signed off, to resolve difficult situations and make sure it didn’t involve in like a week’s worth of unbillable time. And so they were doing this themselves.

But it was more than that. The program that we did was all around emotional intelligence. So people were learning loads about themselves and applying their new skills in client situations, but also with each other. So we all went on this really lovely journey together of like self discovery and being able to work together even better. So our culture really flourished off the back of this. So it was, yeah, it was great. It was one of my real successes. One of the things I’m really proud of. And so after I, you know, we sold and I left.

then I was thinking, well, what do I do now? I’m clearly unemployable and as I said, allergic to working for someone else. And so just chatting with other agency buddies of mine. And it turns out this problem that we managed to solve, every other agency has this problem. So I went on to set up my new business, which is going for about three years, which is Team Sturka, which yeah, runs this client leadership program to other agencies.

Chris Simmance (04:19.83)
it’s just to go back a little bit, it’s funny to say that, you know, you essentially built in your own unemployability. Um, I think as an agency leader, it’s a, it’s an amazing thing that you can do. You can build something pretty good. You can, you can run teams with people. Yes, it’s with the problems and stuff, but, um, it’s very hard to then have.

a boss in the future. Um, it’s, it’s worse than hiring an MD as you already know as well. Cause you did that because that person then take decisions and point to in directions and things like that. So, um, that’s, that’s cool. So, so this problem you solved is now what the, um, what team Sturka do. So do you want to talk a little bit about like how you do that? Cause you know, identified the problem. We definitely know that’s the case now. So what, what’s the, what, how have you implemented the solution as a business?

Trenton Moss (05:12.326)
Yeah, I mean, the solution that I see working is, well, at least in terms of what we do, we run this program. It goes on for around six months. You enroll all of the team in it and then we do one training session every two weeks over Zoom. And there’s a specific curriculum that I go through, which is basically to give you all the skills you need for all those difficult client situations, you know, how to inspire your clients to sell in your work, how to have difficult conversations, how to build up long lasting relationships and so on and so on.

And I get all these stories back of people telling me about how they’ve used these skills to turn around like a pitch that was going horribly wrong. And it was like, wait a minute, I think we did this in training. And they pull up the framework and, and turn all around and win the pitch. And other examples of, you know, practitioners, not client servicing people, practitioners going in with clients where the client’s really unhappy and just turning things around and getting the client to even pay for the extra work. When normally it would be like.

Chris Simmance (06:08.044)

Trenton Moss (06:08.158)
Okay, sorry, client, Mr. Client, Mrs. Client, we’ll just go and, you know, we’ll go and fix that for you. We’ll be back in a week. And you know, you’ve got two people then doing unbillable work for a week.

Chris Simmance (06:16.638)
Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Chris Simmance (06:35.026)
You can’t even escape ads in a podcast. Look at that. So you’ve been in one, you’ve run one, you’ve exited one and now you’re helping them. What do you love most about working with agencies, Trenton?

Trenton Moss (06:47.438)
I think it’s just the pace. So when I worked at agency, we worked with brands, right? And often quite big brands, generally household name brands. And because they’re big organizations, everything moves so slowly. And then when you start working in financial services and regulated industries, it moves so slowly. And I just, I love that fast pacedness of agency life. And that…

Chris Simmance (07:12.676)

Trenton Moss (07:13.918)
you get exposed to so many different industries and so many different organizations. For me, my favorite clients generally, we work with big clients like Tesco and Vodafone and RBS and so on, but they were rarely my favorite ones. My favorite ones were the ones who manufactured buttons for shirts or the ones who were in charge of the rail safety standards in the UK. These are reasonable organizations where we would do meaty bits of work with them, but you go and learn about an

Chris Simmance (07:33.948)
Thank you.

Chris Simmance (07:39.81)

Trenton Moss (07:43.982)
least for me, so random and so I didn’t even know this existed and it’s a 500 million pound industry and that for me is the most is the most fascinating thing about work in agency side.

Chris Simmance (07:55.962)
And I think the pace is one of the big draws for quite a lot of agency leaders when they set things up. You know, they don’t, they, they might start out as a freelancer or a consultant or something like that, take on a lot of work and then bring someone in and that workload doesn’t slow the pace down just because you’ve got more capacity actually, if nothing else, it speeds it up and the pace of change in the industry, as well as the pace of delivering them services and.

the pace in which you need to replace new client, lost clients and bring in new clients and find new staff and all these things, every single one of those little plates needs a lot of spinning and a lot of, a lot of speed. Um, the one is it’s relentless. And I think that there’s a certain personality type that it suits really well on for the most part, most of the agency leaders that I’ve met, and I’m sure similarly to you, um, have a kind of, um, masochistic desire to, to be permanently knackered.

Trenton Moss (08:30.455)
Yeah, it’s relentless.

Chris Simmance (08:49.13)
And there’s a, and some of it seems to be kind of an inbuilt feeling that, you know, you just, there’s another hill to climb, another thing to get done. Let’s get on with it. Come on team, let’s go. And I think that’s one of the most amazing things about the agency space. The thing you said about, you know, bringing in

as someone like the deliverable people who, or the, not the client services people into, into the programs that you deliver, so they can make some, you know, meaningful change as well. That’s quite interesting, because quite a lot of the time in agencies, teams try and silo their roles to such a degree that you own, the account manager might well be the only one that speaks to the client, and they’ve got to learn and understand what the developer understands and things like that to a point where the retention is right, or the upsell is right. So I’m guessing

What you’ve unlocked there is that the people that do the doing sometimes with some skills training can communicate what the doing does in a better way than the integer. That then helps all parties to win.

Trenton Moss (09:56.002)

Trenton Moss (09:59.97)
Yeah, that’s 100% right. I mean, look, the kind of idea of the account manager or the client servicing person being the only interface to the client, that’s quite old fashioned nowadays. Go back 20, 30 years, that’s exactly what it was. Your client services team was the front of house and everything else happened behind a black curtain. And that’s not how we work anymore. Everyone who is involved in client work should be client facing to some degree, should have some interaction with clients. Clients want to talk to the people on the ground.

Chris Simmance (10:09.034)
Very old-fashioned.

Trenton Moss (10:27.774)
Why would you want to talk to only an account manager who’s like a middle man or middle woman? It’s just not, it doesn’t work well. And what I find is a lot of those people, a lot of those practitioners, they’re quite reluctant to be client facing. But when you uncover it, when you go and find out why they’re reluctant, it’s just lack of confidence. And it’s because they feel they don’t have the skills to deal with what if it becomes a difficult conversation.

Chris Simmance (10:42.569)

Chris Simmance (10:47.819)

Trenton Moss (10:54.862)
And the reality is they don’t have those skills. They’re great practitioners and they can perhaps present their work okay. Maybe some of them are really good at presenting their work, but generally they have a often I find people have a lack of confidence around going into these meetings. And what I found that these, you know, with my programs and, you know, when I did it in my own agency, giving people processes they can follow and explaining how to handle specific situations fills them with confidence.

Chris Simmance (11:02.081)

Chris Simmance (11:09.227)

Trenton Moss (11:24.21)
and they’re more able to then go in and they may still want the client services person there just in case it gets a bit out of control, but it increases the chances of that person going in and being willing to, to talk with the client. And when you have that situation, then kind of like what I’m talking about here, the likelihood of the client being unhappy with the work reduces because the work is never the problem. The problem is always communications, right? And if you can,

Chris Simmance (11:24.354)

Chris Simmance (11:29.614)

Trenton Moss (11:51.39)
inspire your client around the work and communicate in a way that makes them realize that the work is actually really good and perhaps they didn’t brief you correctly or perhaps you know they’re mistaken it’s all okay well then you get sign off and then you don’t have to sit around for a few days waiting for your client to tell you what to do while no one’s doing billable work or you don’t get that situation where they’re like you need to rework this and I’m not paying you for it and eventually you just do so you get a week of non-billable work so by giving people these skills you really reduce the amount of non-billable work you do

But on the flip side, you win more work. Because with existing accounts, they like you more, you build up better relationships with them, they trust you more, they’re more happy to introduce you to other people in the business and to give more work to you. And then in new business pitches, you make more of an impression because look, agencies go into a new business pitch. Agency number one goes in and says, we’re really collaborative, we’re a purpose driven business. We’re gonna work with you around your business goals. And then agency number.

Chris Simmance (12:30.695)

Trenton Moss (12:49.974)
two goes in and says exactly the same stuff. We all sound exactly the same and the thing that can make you stand out is if everyone in your team goes in there and fills your client with confidence that wow these guys really are good. Yeah the MD is really good and yeah the lead client services person is really good. That’s a given. But look at these two or three delivery guys I’m working with. Wow they’re filling me with confidence and that is a USP.

Chris Simmance (12:57.11)
Yeah, yeah.

Chris Simmance (13:15.394)
Hmm. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And it kind of rolls nicely neatly into a question I’ve got for you around what you’ve seen in the sector that kind of distinguishes the best from the rest. I think you’ve

We you’ve almost already answered that in the sense of, you know, bringing these people in training, these people up and having them going in and adding value to the, to the client, what is it that you’ve seen that’s like they, uh, an agency, you know, they might want to try and do this. What, what’s the, what’s, what’s typically the, the rest, what did the rest look like? How, what, if I’m listening to this right now and I’m, and I think I’m the best.

what identifies me as the rest and they should, you know, pick up the phone and talk to Trenton.

Trenton Moss (14:06.738)
Yeah, I mean, in terms of the best agencies to the worst, I mean, I mean, look, it’s like you said, it’s hard because you’re juggling your spinning stony plate. You’ve got to keep your clients happy. You’ve got to keep your team happy. Both of which are more than full-time jobs. So trying to do both of them, then you’ve got to make sure that the profits there and that you’re tracking towards your long-term plan. It’s hard. I think what the best businesses do is they have a very, very clear vision of where they want to be in three years’ time.

Chris Simmance (14:22.722)

Trenton Moss (14:36.266)
And it’s a big goal. It can’t just be, we want to increase revenue 10% year on year. So what’s that? Maybe a 35% increase in revenue. Can’t just be that. It’s got to be some big goal about where you want to be. And then you break that down into chunks for what you’re going to achieve each year in order to get there. And then you break that down into quarters about what you’re going to do each quarter. And then you assign roles and responsibilities. Those agencies that have a plan, those are the ones that separate.

Chris Simmance (14:36.47)

Trenton Moss (15:03.132)
That’s how you separate, I think, the best from the not so good. You have that plan and that laser focus on it and everything follows from there.

Chris Simmance (15:06.187)

Chris Simmance (15:11.186)
Yeah. And that all comes from knowing what you want out of life, not just out of the business, because one has to exist independent of the other. And you want to be able to eat food and have a roof over your head and go on holidays and things like that. So, you know, no way you want to be for yourself. And then it’s easier to know how to articulate that from a business perspective to deliver those, that income, should we say, that allows for the freedom to do what you want to do.

Trenton Moss (15:26.306)
Well yes, there is that as well.

Trenton Moss (15:39.73)
Yeah, yeah. And it needs to be a big goal. Like we’re actually, there’s been some research about this. We’re far more likely to get close to big, really lofty, far reaching goals than we are to just kind of average ordinary goals. Because if you’ve got like an average ordinary goal, you say, yeah, we’ll increase revenue 10% next year, then you don’t really change anything. You’re just like, yeah, let’s just work a bit harder and hopefully we’ll make it. Whereas if you’re like, we’re going to double revenue over the next two to three years.

Chris Simmance (15:40.502)
develop that in.

Trenton Moss (16:08.278)
You really now need to think, well, what do we need to change? What steps do we need to take? And you end up doing those steps. So it’s better to have a really, really big lofty goal.

Chris Simmance (16:19.818)
Yeah. And I agree. And at least if you don’t get there, you’ve definitely made some decent steps along the way for sure. And so you guys have been going for just around three years now you say, if we imagine for a second that you’ve invested all your profits of every single year for three years into R&D to create Trenton, Team Sturcombe and you can only use it once though, because it’s the prototype.

Trenton Moss (16:28.686)

Chris Simmance (16:49.519)
What would you use this magic wand on to change one thing about the agency the second you wave it?

Trenton Moss (16:58.287)
I want to. To come to mind.

Chris Simmance (16:59.538)
Well, alright, well you have invested for three years, you can do two, go on.

Trenton Moss (17:04.15)
Okay, so the first one is about short-termism and panicking because this month there isn’t enough revenue to break even and that’s really fine. If you make a loss one month, it’s not the end of the world. You make a loss for like six months in a row, then that’s not so ideal. So I think the first magic wand that I want to wave to help them is around that short-termism and start thinking more strategic and more long-term. The second magic wand

Chris Simmance (17:08.116)

Chris Simmance (17:27.798)

Trenton Moss (17:32.558)
because you’ve allowed me to have two wishes. It’s kind of tied into the first, very good of you. Bit similar to that first one, but it’s have a vision and a long-term plan. Work out where you want to be in three years and differentiate yourself from the rest. We all, all us agencies sound exactly the same. You go into pitch and you put across all your USPs, like things I said before, and oh, but it’s the team. The rural USP we have is the strength of our team. And do you really think the other agencies all going in and saying the same thing as their USP?

Chris Simmance (17:34.09)
Yep, very kindly. You know, no one else gets this privilege.

Trenton Moss (18:02.658)
So as part of that kind of vision and that long term plan, come up with something that makes you genuinely different. And this isn’t just like a marketing ploy, this is a general differentiator in the way that you do things. And there was a really interesting book, I can’t remember the author, but it talks about, it’s called Blue Ocean Strategy. And in the book,

Chris Simmance (18:20.898)

Trenton Moss (18:24.334)
that the author talks about how you want to be swimming in the blue ocean and you don’t want to be swimming in the red shark infested sea because it’s red with the blood of everyone. And he says that I can’t remember what the percents are. So I’m going to make up the percents, right? So please don’t post on social media saying this percent, this and this percent that I’m making these percents up. But it’s something like this, something like 20% of businesses are swimming in the blue ocean and they’re doing something really unique, really different.

and they’re making 80% of the profits. And the other 80% of businesses have a commoditized offering like so many agencies, they’re swimming in the red shark infested sea waters and between them that 80% is only making 20% of the profits. Remember, I made up those percents, it’s something like that.

Chris Simmance (19:10.678)
No, they’re locked in. They’re locked in. If you know the actual numbers, listeners, um, track Trenton down on, on LinkedIn and give him, give him a, give him what for.

Trenton Moss (19:19.766)
Yeah, it’s from the book Blue Ocean Strategy. There’s a good book and it basically tells you, you’ve got to do something different to the others because if you sound the same as everyone, it’s just a race to the bottom. And that’s how it kind of is in agency land nowadays.

Chris Simmance (19:23.031)
Thank you.

Chris Simmance (19:27.863)

Chris Simmance (19:34.25)
Yeah, it yes, I can’t agree anymore on that one for sure. And Trenton, it’s been wonderful talking to you on the podcast today. Thank you very much for coming along.

Trenton Moss (19:44.514)
That’s been great. Thanks, Chris.

Chris Simmance (19:45.978)
And in our next podcast episode, we’ll be speaking to another partner, another agency advisor, or another provider of services that help you, the agency leader. Thanks very much.