Ben Childs | From Comedy Writing, to Daily Deals, to Chatbot Marketing

Ben Childs 7:14

Yeah, so, um, sales isn’t, I mean, I am the president of the company, but I do a lot of sales. So sales and marketing is emotional sport. If you do improv, something is only funny. If people laugh, people don’t laugh, it’s not funny. If they don’t buy what you’re selling, what you’re selling isn’t good. Or at least, what you presented to them isn’t good. Or there’s some type of miscommunication. You know, from a deeper business perspective, like the terms of the agreement, the price, like all that type of stuff. And so it’s almost like a radical responsibility of like, Look, if they didn’t like your presentation, or they didn’t like your company, it’s not their fault. It’s your fault. If you’re a comedian, coming offstage being like, oh, man, they didn’t get it. Like, you’re not going to get a lot. And so it’s kind of the same thing with business and you can get up and it’s not going to go perfectly. But obviously, you do preparation, you do planning, you learn, you become good at what you do. And that increases your success rate. But you’re gonna have to pivot at some point. And just my background in improv, and comedy and things like that. helps with that. And then also, I think the thing that most helps me with is just simply reporting growing up. My dad was in sales. And so I listened to, like success tapes, and Tony Robbins tapes when I was like, seven. And so I’ve definitely kind of heard all the stories and know that lingo. But if you’re funny, I mean, people like you. Yeah. And that’s not like a weird thing to say. But I talk to people who this is their 10th meeting of the day, and they work 70 hours a week, and they’re thinking of, you know, how they just want to make it all go away. And it’s totally fine to just give them a little breath of fresh air once in a while. Yeah, yeah.

John Corcoran 9:15

Were you drawn to comedy from a young age? At what point did you decide to go into comedy?

Ben Childs 9:22

It was, um, I think the first time that I realized that I could do stuff with comp with comedy. I was in third grade. I told a joke, and one of the popular kids at my class, Gundy, laughed. And then my third-grade teacher asked what I had said, and so I realized I needed to tell her the joke, but I adapted the joke to make her laugh and told him differently, because she was you know, like 40

John Corcoran 9:53

and Damien and the poop punch line probably would not have gone over as well with her.

Ben Childs 9:56

Yeah, it was a little less sophomores. little less than or greater ish. Um, and yeah, at that point I just kind of became the person you de facto put in front of the audience, whether it was school assemblies, the person on the mic in the morning at the high school. Really anything you would just put me out there. And so I just knew that whatever I wanted to do in life, I would just be completely bulletproof in front of an audience. Because I just had the utmost complete confidence that I can either.

John Corcoran 10:31

Yeah. So this is such a natural logical progression from BA in English to comedy writer in LA to the next step, which is a daily deals site in San Francisco, right? Just natural progression. Right. So how did that come about? And what was that world? Like? Because there was, for those who don’t remember, there was a period in time, I want to say, I don’t know it was 2007 to 2010, maybe or something were group? Oh, seven to 11. Yeah, okay. Yeah, it was the height of the Daily Deals frenzy. And there, there weren’t enough daily deals, websites out there that were all valued at billion dollar unicorn valuations. But what was that world like?

Ben Childs 11:16

So I, so to start, my day job, when I was down in San Francisco was cold calling for a small digital agency. And so to just plant that flag there, I did have cold calling experience, just calling ultra small businesses and asking for credit cards and selling stuff. So when I went up to San Francisco, I went to school in the area, and a lot of my friends had moved up there, so I wanted to be with them and leave LA. A recruiter put me at a daily deal company that just needed warm bodies to call yoga shops and restaurants and stuff like that. And it’s an experience I’ll never forget, because you’re talking to businesses, but not really because if you run a yoga studio or a restaurant like the businesses you like it is the ultimate b2c while being b2b. And so, yeah, talk to a lot of people, especially the deal industry was so warped, because people that use it, a lot of times needed it. And if you need a daily deal to take half off, you’re probably in a tough spot. But it taught me a lot. I would get in there at 5am to call the East Coast, like Tampa and Baltimore. And then I would stay till six or seven to call the West Coast like San Diego and LA. And I remember, you know, I went up to our VP of sales, and I was like, hey, look, I’ve been here six months, and I’m looking at the numbers. And I don’t know if this is all gonna work out. And he was like, you just gotta try harder. You just gotta try harder. And then I went on vacation with my family to Hawaii and came back and they’re out of business. 

John Corcoran 12:59

Yeah, I think you saw something there. Think that’s interesting. You did cold calling. I feel like some of the best training in business in life is that kind of challenge, whether it’s cold calling, or going door to door for me, it was politics. I worked in politics, and you went door to door for candidates and in college, and dealing with that kind of rejection. What? How did that help you later, when you started your digital agency having done that cold calling.

Ben Childs 13:31

It’s invaluable. It’s invaluable for a variety of reasons. One is the rejection proof that you’re talking about, is just learning that it’s not going to work sometimes, and not to take it personally. And it could flagrantly not work. You could get some serious things said to you. And my first job and my first cold calling job like my first day I almost cried. Because like someone told me that half off, and I just was not ready to hear that. And a couple years in and it just became part of my day. Which I don’t know, it’s kind of a bad thing looking back, but I learned a lot like I imagined. Um, the other thing, which I think is really important, is just the realization that you can create something from nothing. If you cold call, if you go door to door, um, you know, no one’s giving you permission. If you have an idea, if you have a product, if you have a service, you can make money right now using you to pick up the phone or get out there. And so I think that’s, you know, I would recommend it for everybody for the reasons that you mentioned, which is that it kind of makes you bulletproof. But it also just makes you see the world as sort of in a richer way full of opportunity than at any time. If you want to do something, all you have to do is pick up the phone, pick up the phone and call people.

John Corcoran 14:53

Yeah. We started your digital agency which you run now for about 10 years. Go now, you started with just a small running ads, online ads, digital ads for a scrapbooking company out of Maryland. Tell us a little about how that came about.

Ben Childs 15:09

So when I got fired from well let go from the day, the daily deal site and the daily deal startup, yeah, my severance was my laptop. And so I took it home and I was applying to different jobs. And I reached out to the recruiter that I had used to get in there, and I just realized I was only gonna find cold calling jobs. So I just thought, you know what, this is kind of what I mentioned earlier is that, like, if I’m gonna cold call, I can do it for myself. I’ve sold digital agency services, paid media management services, so I can just do that. It can’t be that hard.

John Corcoran 15:46

But you haven’t done it yourself?

Ben Childs 15:48

No, of course not. 

John Corcoran 15:51

Okay. Gotta get clear. Okay, cool. 

Ben Childs 15:53

That part’s coming. I mean, if you want someone to stand up, you’re like, oh, how hard that can that be? And then you get up and it’s really hard. I went around the corner to a radio shack. That’s what that’s what’s dating this. Back to 2011. I found a magic jack and one of those old timey hangers.

John Corcoran 16:13

I had a magic jack. I had a magic jack. Yeah, yeah, yeah, they truly were magic at the time.

Ben Childs 16:20

They started a Digital Reach. I poked it into my severance computer and called off the top of my grandma’s dresser as a standing desk and Nob Hill, California and just started calling people. And I sold my first couple clients without a website, because I didn’t know how to build one. And

John Corcoran 16:40

so just to be clear, none of these prospective clients that you called to sell digital agency services to question the fact that you didn’t have a website. Oh, they all did. They did and what was your story? What was your response to that?

Ben Childs 16:55

He spent so much time working on digital marketing that I don’t have time to build my own website. That’s not a bad excuse, I guess. Yeah, people bought it, they bought it. And they were clients for like six years each. And I mean, I it also helps that one, I knew there was a product market fit back then there was a lot of big box, paid search companies without naming any that had really non transparent fees that had tons of clients that basically, you’re dealing with sales people who were begging you not to cancel. So I knew the messaging, I had done it. So I just said look like, I know you’re in this long term contract that you want to get out of, I know you can’t see your real fees. I know all you want is, you know, XYZ, I will do it for less than them. I’ll do it from month to month with no notice. And you’ll be working directly with me. And by the way, I can’t afford to lose you because I need to pay rent. You even through that part in the 100%. I’m transparent with everybody I talked to, for better or worse. And yeah, a couple of people were like, hell yeah, let’s go.

John Corcoran 18:04

And other people were like, God, I want this guy.

Ben Childs 18:07

Yeah, some people were like, Hey, man, like, you know, go with God, brother, but can’t do it. I’m like, I understand.

John Corcoran 18:14

Yeah, yeah. So what I love about that lesson is that you that your, your iteration wasn’t that dramatically different, it really wasn’t because you’d already spent all this time honing a script, you done cold calling, you did more cold calling, the only difference was who was going to be fulfilling those services is gonna be you instead of another company, but you’d sold it before you knew you could sell it again, it’s not like you are completely pivoting into new industry selling to a new type of buyer.

Ben Childs 18:43

Yeah, it wasn’t, it wasn’t that different. It’s, um, it becomes more and more different every day as we expand services, and I have to consistently kind of recalibrate who we are, what our messaging is, and who we serve in a way that honestly catches up with how we’re doing business. You know, you both kind of determine the vision of your own business while at the same time also having to catch up to where your business is and is going.

John Corcoran 19:16

And you know, you’ve got a big team now. Can you say how many team members you have?

Ben Childs 19:21

I think we have 36 Wow. Wow,

John Corcoran 19:25

I love that you don’t know the answer. It’s what but what is that like though for you? You know, not that long ago, you’re paying $200 a month sleeping on a couch to be in English. You know, it’s a trial by fire learning how to, you know, build to run a company of this size and you’re doing enterprise sales and all kinds of stuff now.

Ben Childs 19:50

I think it’s just one foot in front of the other. I think there’s no way I’m going to bring it up. We’re part of the same agency group. I mentioned that one of the things I learned there is there’s no silver bullet, there’s no panacea. There’s no book I read that was like, Oh, now I can do this. And that’s kind of liberating to hear in that, really, everybody’s figuring it out as they go. I just had a conversation with the employee here who, you know, is thinking about staying maybe one day, and we just realized that, like, no one has figured it out. And so it’s kind of freeing to learn that, like, as you learn stuff, you may be learning it at the same pace, if not faster, there, if not faster, who cares? Then, you know, other people who you may consider competitors, or only just look like they’re successful on LinkedIn. Right, right.

John Corcoran 20:49

And what has it been like for you stepping into a, you know, a leadership role of a larger team and having to set that vision and having to unify a team, especially in these times of COVID? What, how have you grown as a leader?

Ben Childs 21:07

I think I’ve realized, because so we went, we started with 25 people at the beginning of 2020. And kind of as the team grew, and both the problems got bigger, but also during COVID, kind of the problems got broader. I think we really redid our values. So we use something that’s really awesome. It’s called, oh, I just refreshed this about disco. It’s just disco. And it’s a slack app that helps you give kudos to different members of your team using specific values. And I think it was a really awesome exercise that we haven’t really done in a long time to go through and actually put our values down on paper. And so we can express gratitude towards each other, voicing it through our values, as opposed to just this amorphous, like, Hey, man, thanks. And everybody can chime in with the values that they see this person exhibiting. The other is, um, you know, they’re always going to be in business times where you have to make tough business decisions. And certainly, we’ve had to over the last 12 months. And all you can do is just be super transparent about why you’re doing it. And I’m super transparent into what goes into it, super transparent into not just how you’re dealing with problems, but also how you’re dealing with success. I think people like to see, Look, this is kind of what we plan to do with, you know, the money from this new client, or with our success and Q1, or something like that. So transparency, scaling values that I think I hold relatively close, and then just making sure that you do a good job hiring. I mean, hiring when I’m in a service business, so hiring is everything. Yeah. A call I was on earlier. They’re like Ben, like, our clients like us, like so much more than other agencies, like you don’t know, that’s so great. I was like, That’s amazing. But they’re working with you. Like, I’m just a guy here. And so, you know, I can only have so much effect on client work. And I don’t work too much with clients, but the team you hire is so important.

John Corcoran 23:43

Yeah, you touched on the values. So tell us a little bit about how you came to those values and what sorts of values you think have made the difference that have helped to shape that team?

Ben Childs 23:56

Yeah, so we created a small little values committee over the summer, and we just said, Okay, what makes because there’s the sense of like a D era or, you know, this person really exemplifies D era. But we didn’t really know what that meant. But we know when we saw it,

John Corcoran 24:14

That’s referring to your digital reach agency.

Ben Childs 24:17

Yeah. Okay, this person is a real era, or this person’s a lifer. Or, you know, whatever. Different companies call it. And we just reverse engineered what we saw that as being and we wanted to come up with maybe four things, probably not more than like six. And you’re probably familiar with Eos. But this is a part of that book as well, which I’ve dabbled in but haven’t really implemented. And so we came up with someone who is a go-getter. So pretty simple. You know, do they just go get it, go find it, go do it, as opposed to being told They need to do it. You know, people that wait on permission to either improve their department or improve reporting that they’re doing, you’re not going to, it’s not great, you’re not going to get far. The other is solution oriented. So someone that has a problem from a client, and does not have to take it up all the way to the chain, but understands enough to say, Hey, I think this is interesting. Here’s a solution, you might consider or talk to me. And instead of putting it back on me, say, Hey, we got this angry client email. What do you want to do about it? A solution oriented person would say, Hey, we got this angry client email, I recommend that we offer this. What do you think? And then someone, one of my favorite ones, is called a wizard. And it’s a, it’s a noun, wizard. It’s not a verb. And what it means is that everyone can produce unique value right where they are. So if you’re kind of the lowest man on the totem pole, or if you’re selling Cisco, or if you’re doing keyword research, or you’re doing contract renewals, or you’re an HR, everyone can impress in their own way, and everyone can delight in their own way. There doesn’t need to be some type of monetary value or some type of hierarchy in terms of the value you’re providing. If you provide value like outsize value right where you are, that’s a wizard.

John Corcoran 26:30

I love that they just named one of your values wizards.

Ben Childs 26:33

That’s awesome. We were trying to figure out a great name I wanted, like, I was like excellence, and someone’s like, well, excellence kind of hierarchical. And they’re like, Oh, that’s a little squishy. It’s a little weird. And they’re like wizards. And I was like, Alright, yeah, that’s actually better.

John Corcoran 26:49

I saw recently that Dropbox had five core values. And they were all kind of normal, except the fifth one was, I swear, just a picture of a pink sparkly cupcake. That was a picture of a pink sparkly cupcake. And it was just kind of like, you know, it’s like those are values is like, what isn’t more fun than a pink sparkly cupcake? And I thought that was so cool.

Ben Childs 27:13

Yeah, yeah. And then, um, the fourth one is neighborly. So we’ve been a remote company ever since we started almost 10 years ago. And it really matters. If you give people the benefit of the doubt when you’re talking to them. It really matters if people feel like they can talk to you. If you reach out, and they feel like they were heard, or, you know, you’re just you, you people like coming to work, because they know that their co-workers aren’t, frankly, nice people and not. Not Not Not Not Not Not Nice people, I guess I don’t know how many knots I have to put. So the neighborhood is a big one. But yeah,

John Corcoran 27:58

so we touched on it earlier. But I want to circle back to the conversation marketing piece, because we’re seeing this everywhere. Do you go to almost any website these days, and it’s got a little chat down at the bottom. So. And that’s been kind of an area in which you’ve differentiated your business. So talk a little bit about what conversational marketing is? And then we’ll get into the weeds on it.

Ben Childs 28:20

Yeah, so you mentioned chat, in a simplified way. It’s essentially putting a chat on your website, but more specifically with what we do chatbots. So it’s automated, it’s decision trees that come up, it promotes engagement. And then someone goes down a decision tree as to their answers and what to do. And it’s sort of up to the decision tree as to when a human gets involved. But chat traditionally, like when you sell people on using chat, they go, Oh, we don’t have the manpower, we can’t have someone there. 24 seven, it’s like well, that’s the point. You don’t want that. You want a decision tree where people are able to book time, specifically on people’s calendar. And it’s important because you could spend 50 grand on building a new website. Or if your website’s ducks put in a really awesome chatbot that tells a dad joke that makes people click it. And now all of a sudden they’re engaging in you know, this choose your own adventure that ends up with them putting time on your salesperson calendar.

John Corcoran 29:20

That’s awesome. Like literally like some on some clients websites that will just say, hey, one of your great dad jokes.

Ben Childs 29:26

Yes. That was where we were selling someone on implementing drift. And they didn’t see the value. And I showed them a competitor. That said, it was like I wanted to hear something great. And then you click on it and it pops open. And it’s like, you know, this product, this event, this page, and it says Just tell me a dad joke. You click on it, and it tells you a dad joke and then throws you back into the loop of different events services or another dad joke.

John Corcoran 29:56

That’s funny and it just is. I guess that proves To increase engagement,

Ben Childs 30:02

engagement is everything. I mean, if someone clicks on something, they’re significantly more likely to stay or go deeper in the site or, you know, take it all the way down the funnel buy your product, then if they don’t, yeah,

John Corcoran 30:15

yeah. Now, one of the things I think is really interesting about this area’s, it’s kind of a hybrid merger of everyone’s talking about AI coming along, but it’s a hybrid merger of technology and these types of sophisticated bot-based marketing. So I imagine you see a lot more of this sort of thing coming down the pike.

Ben Childs 30:38

It’s huge. And there’s a lot of customer companies coming out that are focused more on hyper personalization, the b2b buying committee, and how do you present a unified front to form buying committees while also handling them individually? I think it’s gonna get a lot more in depth with just simply website personalization, because that’s happening. It’s sort of a massive AI scale. I think it’s tougher to do with chatbots themselves. I mean, we’ll see how many kinds of variables you can start throwing into the language, but it has to eventually come back to the English language, which you can only throw so many different variables into. Right, right. Very cool. Well,

John Corcoran 31:27

then I want to wrap things up with the two questions I was asked, which is first, as we look around at Yeah, I’m a big fan of gratitude. But if you look around at your peers and contemporaries, however you want to define that, who out there is doing interesting things. Who do you respect, who do you admire out there doing interesting things?

Ben Childs 31:47

Are you the example we talked about earlier of Larry Kim. He’s the founder of WordStream. And he started MobileMonkey.

John Corcoran 31:53

Yeah, we didn’t talk about that on the recording, tell me tell us a story on the recording, because you have this great way of connecting you connected with this individual who you were a fan of.

Ben Childs 32:05

I think small, small things go a long way. And any relationship can turn out to be super important. But I really wanted to meet Larry. So I devised this plan. I I wrote a blog post about some of my favorite digital marketing books, and then ended it with. And there’s one book that I would like to see, which is Larry Kim should write a book. And I explained why he’s really funny. He’s very social. I published it, and then I sent it to him. And he retweeted it on his prolific Twitter account. I wrote him a handwritten letter to his Massachusetts address, thanking him for the retreat, retweet. And just talking about learning off of his blog when I was starting, that’s how I was able to start my company. There was a PPC hero from hanapin marketing, and the WordStream blog from WordStream. They were the only people talking about Google Search back in 2010. So essentially thanked him for helping me start my business. And, and then I was at a conference that he was speaking at, like a year later, and kind of waited, and he’s getting mobbed by people, and I waited, and finally kind of dove in and said, “Hey, Ben Childs, you know, nice to meet you”. And he kind of thought for a minute. And he was like, Oh, you wrote me that note? And I was like, yeah. And in the blog post, he always considered himself the data guy. Like, he uses data. And he was like, yeah, in that, in that blog post, you know, you mentioned that you found it really humorous, and you saw me as the funny guy. And I just decided to kind of take that to heart and just really embrace that. And I was like, yeah, and we talked for, like, 20 minutes. And it was amazing. And he gave me tons and tons of different life nuggets. And one of the ones that he said that I’ll never forget, is always bet on yourself. And we were talking about different partner stuff. We were talking about different business stuff. What if this happened? What if that happened? And he was just like, always bet on yourself? It’s the only outcome you can control. Hmm, great advice. 

John Corcoran 34:18

But now you have to restart your podcast so you can interview Larry Kim, you know, you absolutely have to do that.

Ben Childs 34:22

I’ve heard it’s a lot of work.

John Corcoran 34:25

It’s easy piece of cake. Ben, this has been great. Digital Reach Agency, I believe the URL is Where can people go to connect with you and learn more about you?

Ben Childs 34:38

I have an about us there. It’s all about Emma Stone gifs.

John Corcoran 34:43

Excellent. Alright then. Thanks so much.

Ben Childs 34:44

Thank you.

Outro 34:47

Thank you for listening to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast with John Corcoran. Find out more at, and while you’re there, sign up for our email list and join the revolution. And be listening for the next episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast.