Stephanie Harris, CEO of PartnerCentric
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Stephanie Harris, CEO of PartnerCentric

Episode Summary

Stephanie Harris is CEO of Partner Centric, a 60 person affiliate marketing agency. Stephanie tells us the difference between being an agency COO and agency CEO, why her top core value is professional intimacy (and what exactly that means), how to measure speed to value for customers, why she sees negative feedback as a gift, and how to identify people who want to work remote for the wrong reasons.

Episode Notes

Transcript

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David Rodnitzky (David) ([00:02]):           In this episode of Agentic Shift, we talked to Stephanie Harris, CEO of PartnerCentric, a 60-person affiliate marketing agency. Stephanie tells us the difference between being an agency COO and agency CEO, why her top core value is professional intimacy, and what exactly that means, how to measure speed to value for customers, why she sees negative feedback as a gift, and how to identify people who want to work remote for the wrong reasons. Enjoy the show.

Stephanie, thank you for joining me on Agentic Shift today.

Stephanie Harris(Stephanie) ([00:35]):  Hey, David. Thanks for having me.

David ([00:37]):          Yeah. I’m excited to get to talk to you. So we’ve known each other for a long time, and you are the CEO of PartnerCentric. Why don’t we just start with the elevator pitch for PartnerCentric just so everyone knows what PartnerCentric does?

Stephanie ([00:50]):  I guess it depends on how long of an elevator ride.

David ([00:56]):          Two to three minutes probably. This is in the Empire State Building.

Stephanie ([00:58]):  So PartnerCentric is the largest woman-owned affiliate marketing agency in the US, and brands like Capital One, Motley Fool, World Market, Hims & Hers and so on, so anything from well-funded disruptive startups to Fortune 50 companies hire PartnerCentric to find them partnerships, content sites, influencers, coupon sites, loyalty sites. If your listeners know affiliate marketing, that’s what we’re doing for those clients across hundred different clients in almost as many different verticals.

David ([01:37]):          How many people are currently at the company?

Stephanie ([01:40]):  We currently have about 60 fulltime people fully distributed across the US in a sprinkling of boots on the ground in other countries.

David ([01:49]):          A hundred remote?

Stephanie ([01:50]):  Yes.

David ([01:51]):          Before COVID, you were a hundred percent remote?

Stephanie ([01:54]):  We’ve been a hundred percent remote since we closed the office in Austin, Texas in 2015, when I became CEO. I don’t live in Texas. So that was an easy decision.

David ([02:07]):          Yeah. You didn’t need the frequent flyer miles.

Stephanie ([02:10]):  Exactly.

David ([02:11]):          Okay. So you became CEO, you said in 2015. Tell us the origins of the company and how you became CEO and owner.

Stephanie ([02:20]):  My origin story is a little bit different from the founder perspective. Like you said, David, you and I go way back. So our origin story was I was an affiliate manager for a client that you and I both worked with together, but I started my career in the affiliate space, which not many people can say, but I was there at the beginning. I worked for Scholastic, the book publishing company in New York, and I started their affiliate programs right out of college.

So it was back when they gave it to interns and recent college grads because they didn’t know what it was and stayed there for a couple of years and then went to work for two brothers who had started a business called Schaaf Consulting. And we grew that business together, which was fully remote, and then had this office in Austin at some point where account managers were remote and people in the office were doing marketing analyst type work.

And as we grew the business, I went from managing lots of different retail affiliate programs to managing account managers to becoming the COO. And then in 2015 became the CEO of that business. And through an acquisition, it became Schaaf-PartnerCentric in 2015. And in 2017, I bought out those brothers from that business and formed PartnerCentric Inc and then became the owner and CEO of what is now PartnerCentric Inc since 2017.

David ([03:57]):          So first of all, your first job out of college was affiliate marketing. Was that one of those things where you were seeking an affiliate marketing job or were you seeking a way to pay the rent and it turned out to be affiliate marketing or something in between?

Stephanie ([04:09]):  I, in college, was a double major in business and English, because I was originally an econ major. I hated it. And I told my dad, I really like my English classes and I want to go into publishing. And my dad said, you cannot get just an English degree. He was paying for college, and he wanted me to get something more practical. He went to school for accounting. So I became a business and English double major.

And then I started applying for internships at publishing houses, a summer internship I got before my sophomore year was at Scholastic. Long story short, they put me in the “software division.” They put me in the software division at Scholastic, which is their early internet group. And the person who picked me as their intern was headed with the idea to start an affiliate program for this Scholastic website properties.

I spent my summer doing that. I liked it so much, and they liked me doing it so much that when I graduated two years later, I had a fulltime job there to go to continuing to do that work.

David ([05:23]):          That’s kismet, I guess.

Stephanie ([05:25]):  Yeah. Well, what’s funny is I still have it somewhere. I didn’t think to bring it here to show you, but this project I did was one of the things I had to do was send an email out, a newsletter about the affiliate program, and all of its new things that’s brand new to the affiliates, we used the link share network. And, I as like 20-year old kid, took actual paper and put in the different promotions I wanted to tell affiliates about, and then brought that hard copy thing that I worked on for weeks to the email division at Scholastic. I want you to create this as an email, like a long form type and paste.

David ([06:08]):          Wow. You did a hard copy of a non-existent email basically.

Stephanie ([06:12]):  Exactly.

David ([06:13]):          Well, I can regale stories of using DOS to program things back in the ‘90s.

Stephanie ([06:18]):  Yeah. That would’ve been better than what I did.

David ([06:21]):          What you’re talking about, people under 30 aren’t going to understand, and I’m talking about people under 40 aren’t going to understand. So, old-timer show. So I guess what was it like becoming CEO and then eventually buying the company? What was that experience like?

Stephanie ([06:36]):  I became CEO in 2015, like I said. The circumstances were interesting because at that time, the previous owner who had been the CEO wanted to step up into a chairman position and not be as involved in the day-to-day of the business anymore. And I had been COO for two years. I had just had my third baby. I was like one week after having a baby, and I got this phone call from him that he really needed me to take this position two weeks later, because he had his own plans of things he wanted to do.

I was like, oh God. But I did it. Because I think you should always bet on yourself. I figured out what I don’t know. The hardest thing about that transition was that when I was COO and he was CEO, I would describe that dynamic as something more like I was focused inward and he was focused outward.

So I was really sheltered in some ways from the selling, selling the services, selling us as a business to prospects completely, and all of the things that you have to do as the face of the business. Even a podcast like this, I wouldn’t have been doing as a COO.

So that was a big learning curve for me. I felt like there was a big vacuum that was left in his absence from the sales perspective. And I had to figure out what that looked like for the business. The challenge I had after I was a CEO for a few years and then bought the business, then I understood at that point all of the things that it takes to run a business, including the sales side, but I had never before been the owner of a business. And then the back end, obviously as the CEO, I understood all the businesses financials. The night that that deal closed, I had imagined that for a while, what that moment would be like, but I had a raging migraine that night and felt sick to my stomach at the idea because also what I purchased and what I formed already had 35 or 40 people in it, just the weight of the responsibility and all the things that followed after of just when you’re an owner and it’s your responsibility, everything that happens good, bad and otherwise.

David ([09:01]):          So part of the change was, like you said, just having to do sales and having to be the face of the company. But being an owner, were there things that changed in the way that you looked at the business? Did you suddenly start thinking, like maybe we should be buying Costco instead of ordering lunch or was that not the case?

Stephanie ([09:19]):  One of the main reasons that I approached them about buying them out, the previous owners was we had all been together in some form or fashion for over 10 years at that point. I had been running that business for a few years on my own, but still with regular check-ins with them. And they were still responsible ultimately for the financial decisions of the business. But I felt that it was becoming harder to make the investments that I wanted to make in the business from a strategic perspective when we weren’t all as close to what was going on in the day-to-day industry.

I would say that my approaching them was because I wanted to invest more in building our own technology and getting patents for some of that technology and changing the way that we service clients, that it wasn’t, I don’t want to say just consulting, but in addition to the way that we brought these relationships to our clients, that we also looked to address some of the industry problems with technology that didn’t exist.

But that’s a major investment, and as the CEO, you can recommend that. You can champion it. But if you are working for a small private business, small comparatively to other big businesses that are out there, they ultimately have the pocket book, and it’s their money at the end of the day, asking for them to invest more or to withhold drawing out.

I would say that was the first big thing I did was start putting a lot of my husband’s and my own money into the business to start building out things that were not going to draw revenue for a while. Looking back on it, I don’t know if you’ve done much tech development. We’ve had some conversation about that before, but all of the things I didn’t know, maybe it was a good thing because I probably wouldn’t done it. Like the amount of money and how things go wrong in building technology, so yeah.

David ([11:21]):          Yeah. I’m generally against building internal technology with the caveat to say it has worked for many, many agencies, but the concerns are that it’s expensive. It often is available for less from a third party. And then it becomes legacy software that needs constant development. And then it creates confirmation bias where people in the company are like, well, we built it. So we’ve got to use it. And no one ever wants to let go because you put so much money into it.

Stephanie ([11:49]):  I have experienced all of those things. The other thing that we had experienced early on was you build something thinking it has one utility, and it does have that utility, but the bigger business needs you realize is something else, but it’s hard. Even if you build it to make money, you have this idea of what it should be. And you really hold onto that for longer than you should when really you could make a lot more if you changed your thinking and perspective just a little bit to the right and saw how people actually wanted to use the thing.

The other thing that we saw, we work with so many clients is, you have one or two clients who really want your thing for certain reasons. You build out so much more for that one or two clients and maybe no one else wants it that way. Or maybe that client doesn’t stay. Now you have this whole thing you’ve built.

That was a new experience as an owner. It probably incorporated all of the things you worry about as an owner. So you’re spending a lot, what does profit look like? How long should you be spending something without being able to see like a tremendous return on that? It’s R & D, you question like your gut on these things and your business plan on these things. I think I’m definitely at this point more seasoned as an owner and also just having gone through COVID and everything, no one could have anticipated that. So, yeah, there’s a lot to say there.

David ([13:17]):          I’m impressed that you first became CEO one week into your third child, and then you took this on and built software and grew the business and dealt with COVID. Probably a lot of people who are starting agencies don’t realize the number of one step forward, two steps backwards, or I guess one step backwards, two steps forwards that every agency has to go through.

Stephanie ([13:37]):  Yeah. I think when I bought the business with eyes open in the sense that I had helped build this as an agency and led it and understood the people, understood the client mix, understood what our strengths and weaknesses were, I somewhat naively felt like I understood how to address some of those weaknesses. In short order, we just do this. That’s a big pit for a lot of agency and non-agency owners, but I think that COVID really highlighted the vulnerabilities in agency life.

I’m sure, just from having conversations with other agency owners and leaders and other businesses that we’re not the only ones, but every client that I would’ve put up and said, this is an ideal customer, this is someone we do great work for and they love us. And we’re recession proof from this particular relationship, it’s like those were the ones that surprised me the most in the beginning of COVID and just opens your eyes to what value creation really is.

David ([14:41]):          Yeah. I think that everyone’s predictions of what was going to happen in COVID were probably wrong at some level. My prediction was that travel and hospitality businesses would be basically dead in six months. They were certainly hurt, but they were not dead, and they’ve recovered very nicely.

The other thing that I noticed during COVID was that a lot of clients initially were basing their decisions based on their predictions of what was going to happen to the greater economy rather than what was actually happening to their campaigns. And in many cases, because a lot of my clients were online clients, it ended up that after about three months, since everyone stuck inside, people spent more and more money online. And so it actually turned out to be fantastic for many of these clients and had the clients focused on the microeconomic realities of what was happening in their accounts rather than worrying about macroeconomic situations. They would’ve found an arbitrage opportunity to spend more when the economy started to turn.

Stephanie ([15:36]):  Yeah. I think in the beginning of COVID, what I saw the most was the bigger the business, the more they froze, like the more almost they shouldn’t have needed to worry about it because of what vertical they were in. And there are many big box retailers who did really well during COVID who completely paused affiliate programs in March and didn’t reopen them again either because they didn’t need the customers from that. Or they wanted to scale back on those types of relationships for whatever reason.

I saw that the bigger the relationship, the more uncertainty they seemed to have internally and just them not knowing created this, just like from March through June, early July, just a complete pause. And that wasn’t just with existing customers, but you could have a whole sales pipeline of things that you were ready to sign contracts with and people that you were talking to about starting an effort that if you had told us February 15th, what does March and April look like, all of that froze.

And then to your point, there were lots of different types of businesses come summer that were coming to start affiliate efforts because their product is more relevant than ever. Or we had a client that created like an online kids’ program called Camp Supernow for kids who were in quarantine for that summer, all the day camps were closed. So they did like a computer camp, but it’s hard for that to exist now because no one wants it anymore, but it had a time and a place. We had opportunities like that, that we never would’ve spoken to before. I think it was an interesting business climate. I think we’re still in one now and just different.

David ([17:26]):          Totally. First of all, I wish you had told me about Supercamp a couple years ago within COVID because we were scrambling signing my kids up for like 30-minute online classes 12 a week or something.

Stephanie ([17:38]):  Yeah. We had Camp Paris here. I made shirts for them. I tried to hire high school kids, come to my backyard and do arts and crafts with them. Come to my backyard and kick a soccer ball around.

David ([17:53]):          Yeah, you were more creative than I was.

Stephanie ([17:55]):  Necessity.

David ([17:56]):          Yeah. Necessity is the mother of all invention. Let me talk a little bit about the culture of the business since you’ve been there since almost the beginning. Do you have core values or promises that you share or commit to with the team?

Stephanie ([18:09]):  We do and we’ve had them for gosh, almost forever. We have four. The first is professional intimacy. I think that’s the one that’s probably the least self-explanatory, but it’s also like the softest one to point to. But anyone that you deal with at PartnerCentric should have a similar, approachable, honest, straightforward feel to whoever interacts with us. We want to be able to have honest conversation. We want to be able to get to know the people that we are working with, either partners or clients or prospects in our job as consultants, really need to be able to get to the heart of things without the artifice, but in a professional way. So that’s the first one. The second is innovation, then expertise, and then responsibility.

David ([19:03]):          Going back to the professional intimacy, what’s the process if you have a client who doesn’t share that professional intimacy?

Stephanie ([19:09]):  That’s a great question. Every client has a different flavor. I would say that the ones who do appreciate or embrace professional intimacy, we have the best results with. We certainly work with plenty of people who don’t, but it is difficult for us. I’ve never fired a client for not having professional intimacy unless there was like direct dishonesty. We have had issues with clients where once or twice in the last so many years, but I have had this where a client had intentionally misrepresented the work that was done to throw our team under the bus in a way that was damaging to us as that contact. And we did fire that client.

I have let employees go over core value violations. I have said, this is a serious violation of this. I’ll give you in the case of professional intimacy. Years ago, we had an employee who—this is when we still had the office. It also happens remote. It’s just harder—who was starting to like exaggerate, make up things about other team members because they wanted to undermine that person. They didn’t like having to work for that person.

That started coming to light that it was happening I wouldn’t say like infecting other people, just the kind of language that was being used to that person’s face was like, oh no, everything’s fine. I’m not upset about anything that’s going on, but was continuing to do this behind their back. And we then told that person, you don’t have a place here. That’s a violation of professional intimacy. We need to be able to have honest conversation without the drama.

David ([21:03]):          I think the use of the term infection is very appropriate here because if a company doesn’t fix the wound or stop the infection, it spreads. You can have zero tolerance for something like that because the moment that people see one person getting away with it, then either they leave the company or they feel like they’re emboldened to do the same.

Stephanie ([21:23]):  The hard thing about those decisions is often these are people who in their actual job are either strong or functional where it feels like a hassle from a business perspective to have to find someone else to do that job now or, well, the clients like them. But they have violated the core values. We often think about it from a two dimension of where they in living the value versus how productive are they as an employee and they’re equal for us, but we will fire over the value.

David ([22:02]):          I’ve told this story before on this podcast. So people who are listening very, very closely will have heard it before, but I had an employee many years ago who was a genius, but also a jerk. I called him into my office and I said,—changing his name here— Bob, I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is you’re a jerk. The good news is you’re really smart. And I can’t teach a dumb person to be smart, but I can teach a jerk not to be a jerk. And so if you want to keep working here, I want you to be a nice smart person instead of a jerk smart person. And he changed his tune entirely. Can’t say that I bat a thousand on changing employees, but it was like you said, there are a lot of talented people in the world who have bad attitudes or don’t play by the rules or don’t treat people nicely. And it’s like, it’s a shame because they’re smart. And with the right attitude, they could be real high performers.

Stephanie ([22:50]):  I agree with that. And also I think it’s really important and I’ve learned this over and over again, that especially when it’s a strong performer and there’s a real core value problem that you have to show the rest of the team members that you care more about the way we treat each other at work, where we spend most of our waking hours than you do about the results for the business. Because to keep someone who acts and behaves in a way that is counter to what I’m telling them I expect, if I allow that, then what am I standing for?

David ([23:27]):          Absolutely. Yeah. I think we’re at a hundred percent agreement on that. How do you hire to make sure that you find people who meet your core values? What’s your process for choosing people?

Stephanie ([23:36]):  So we have several different people in the interview process, and because we’re fully remote, there are things that we’re not going to see that you would see in person. This used to be more of its own self-selection process because a certain type of person wanted to be remote and would apply at PartnerCentric versus now when so many people are remote.

And so the first values indicator was why do they want to be remote when that’s not the norm? You can get people who really want it because they want to control their own schedule, they don’t want to bossed around. I’ve heard things like this, and some of the language that people use in that question tell you they’re in this for the wrong reasons, or they don’t really understand what this is and how would they treat other people here. But when you would hear people talk about, I want to work with great people. I need the flexibility in my life for any number of reasons. I have young kids, I have an older parent, I have whatever, but I’m looking for that sort of family atmosphere. I could do my best work. I care about furthering my career being an expert, but I’m looking for something different.

Then we would sort of dive more into like when you’re looking for something different, what does different look like? Because the first value is professional intimacy for a reason. So really have our people look for who’s being honest. Like is that an honest response? Everyone in their interview style is going to say what they think you want to hear, but are they willing to drop that and just be real. Because whether it’s an answer we want to hear or not, if they can just be open and honest, then we can have a dialogue about it.

Professional intimacy is first for a reason. It’s the most important one to us. And if you don’t have that, it’s really hard to get to know if they have the others.

David ([25:35]):          Seems like developing intimacy would be more difficult working remotely.

Stephanie ([25:40]):  Exactly. And maybe that’s why it became the most important thing to us. We used to really have to make a case to big Fortune 50 companies that we wanted to work with, why it was okay to hire us when we were fully distributed, how we are able to communicate virtually. One very large Fortune 50 company that we ended up working with for many years, I had said to them like, you’re hiring us to make these virtual connections for you to the thousands. Why would you think we can’t do it amongst each other, as a team that is in this together to make that happen?

So we needed to look for people who were good communicators, but part of being a good communicator is being able to develop rapport and trust. And that’s all part of it and wanting to do it for the right reasons.

David ([26:34]):          Totally makes sense. And I never really thought about the fact that our businesses are virtual connections between brands and consumers. And yet there’s still something about having an office lobby that attracts clients.

Stephanie ([26:48]):  Right. I would say like, I don’t have all 10,000 affiliates in my office. So how should I connect with them if you’re not trusting us to do that with the 40 people that work here at the time, if that was our size or the four people on your team that are all in different places. Post-COVID, that doesn’t happen as much. And it was really funny because when COVID happened, that team that worked for that Fortune 50 business, the Fortune 50 employees that I’m talking about reached out to us and were like, can you help us figure out how to do this now because everyone had to work from home during those first few months. And it was like sudden, and we were set up for that already. One of the few things we set up for at the time. So no one could account for childcare. That was its own.

David ([27:38]):          Virtual childcare doesn’t work so well, at least not yet.

Stephanie ([27:40]):  Yeah. People would say, oh, you guys are totally ready for this. But so many of our people who had self-selected to work from home had school-aged children, young children, who their daycare wasn’t available, the nanny could no longer come in, whatever it was. And people were like, how am I supposed to do these client calls with my kids around? That’s a story everybody has.

David ([28:01]):          Yeah. Whenever I do any Zoom calls, usually I say, well, there’s a 50% chance that either my dog, my spouse, my children, or some workman will interrupt this call, and people are just accept that now.

Stephanie ([28:15]):  Yeah. Have you liked being at home more?

David ([28:18]):          I think I do. I have this debate with a lot of people about will agencies return to the office in force. And my take is, I don’t think it’s an agency thing. I think it’s a person thing. I think the first question is it’s kind of a Myers Briggs question, are you an introvert or an extrovert? And I think if you’re an extrovert, you want to have an office because you get energy from being around people and getting into a conference room and drawing on the chalkboard and coming up with some great idea, whatever.

If you’re an introvert, you want to be alone and focused on your thoughts. For me, I’m a little bit more of an introvert, even though you made a great point about the CEO is inward and the CEO is outward. When you’re the CEO, you have to be an extrovert to some degree, because you have to close business, you have to give talks and do podcasts and all that stuff. That’s part of the job.

For me, if I’m in an office and I’m getting a ton of work done and I’m just jamming on some problem and someone comes up and taps me on the shoulder and says, Hey, did you watch the game yesterday? All of that energy I had that went into that project is now zapped and it may take me hours to recover it. So that’s a long-winded answer, but I generally find that for me, I do better if I can have like a little office I can close off to myself and then maybe a couple times a week, get out and meet clients or meet people.

Stephanie ([29:33]):  Yeah. It’s funny because you just talking about, if you’re a leader of a business, you have to be doing those sorts of things that are extrovert. I think that was one of the harder shifts for me. And I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about it before as like an introvert/extrovert. At the time, I thought, well it’s because I haven’t been required to do those things before in the same way. For me to hit my KPIs in my function, I was focused inward. But also you gravitate to like, if I’m sure if I felt alive most when I did those things, I would’ve done more of it even then.

David ([30:09]):          Yeah. What would you say your management style is related to managing virtual teams? How do you empower people and excite them?

Stephanie ([30:16]):  Great question. So I’ve learned that one of the hardest, biggest jobs that we have as leaders, certainly in a people-focused business like an agency, is emotional management. And I mean that of myself. Many people think when you get to the top of the pyramid of managing people, that you have everyone doing things for you, but I’ve over and over and over again come to the realization that my job is really how I can help everybody do this thing that we’re all trying to do. I have to very often like be very conscious of how I’m feeling and what I’m emoting to those people, because my feelings, if I’m angry, frustrated, upset, worried, any of those negative things for any number of reasons, it could be something normal happened or something abnormal happened. If I don’t filter that when I’m talking to someone that works at the business, it just becomes the feeling of the business, how I feel.

I don’t mean that in an egoistic way. I just noticed that or if I can’t control how I’m feeling and I try and just like not talk to other people in the business and be quiet or they notice that, too. Why is Stephanie so quiet? Why are we not hearing any more from Stephanie today? What’s going on?

And so needing to like be balanced every day, unless it’s something super amazing or super terrible that they need to be aware of, that’s the biggest part of management for me over the years that I’ve needed to (A) be aware of, and (B) funnel and focus appropriately for any situation, whether it’s like I’m really upset with the way someone handled something and how do I want to handle that in a constructive way versus they need to be fired and they need to see that I’m angry and the team needs to see that I’m angry versus this person did an amazing job. It’s very easy to make that mental note to yourself and move on with your day, but taking the effort to make sure I’m like, oh my God, that was so amazing. You guys are doing such a great job. I think that’s like the biggest thing.

David ([32:41]):          I think that’s a really interesting observation. First of all, what you’re saying is all eyes are on the CEO, and you have to project what you think is going to make the team feel excited and unstressed. And so it’s not just about what you feel, it’s about how you act, how other people see you acting. It’s a barometer of what’s happening in the company. I love that concept.

Stephanie ([33:02]):  Yeah. Or just inspired, like COVID, we were just talking about a few minutes ago. Like that’s a real growth opportunity for us as leaders, but I’m sure I botched it plenty of times during COVID. How do you inspire the team when you yourself are not inspired or burned out or worried?

David ([33:22]):          It’s fairly easy to be inspirational when the company’s growing like crazy. All the clients are happy and the sun is shining. One of the things that I’ve always believed as a leader, which is a little, maybe a little bit off from what you said, but I think has the same sentiment is I like the concept of accept blame and delegate credit as a leader. And so I’ve always thought that when things are going poorly, the job of the CEO is to shield the team from whatever’s happening. So the CEO is absorbing the body punches and is just dealing with whatever problem it is. And when then things are going well, the job of the CEO is to give credit to other people on the team.

I think you had another point there about how you don’t want to move too far to one end or the other because if you’re always excited and everything’s going great, and then suddenly you don’t hear anything from the CEO, people think something’s got to be wrong. So in that respect, maybe giving praise to people is important, but not being too exuberant because then if you have to walk it back, then it makes people feel like something’s not right.

Stephanie ([34:24]):  I agree with that completely. And also if our first value at PartnerCentric is professional intimacy, then my job in modeling that is, even when things are tough, to make sure people understand what’s going on in a way that makes them, if they’re scared, less scared, but also productive and constructive with what’s going on, and going to emerge on the other side.

So a lot of what we ended up building over the last few years started happening during the first few months of COVID. We said we’ve had these different things in development for different reasons, and we’re going to make it an open access tool for any of our clients who wish to use it because we want to change the conversation of what we’re talking about right now. And I truly wanted to focus the team on something forward and positive and exciting, even if they weren’t like fully baked or it wasn’t its own business plan idea. That’s a much better conversation to have than where are the clients going? Like what’s happening?

David ([35:32]):          Yeah. I agree. I think that is a skill that takes time to learn. I don’t think people are innately born with that. So kudos to you. So we talked about COVID and now COVID is, I don’t want to say ended, but it could become the new normal maybe. Do you have any goals or aspirations for the agency? Do you have any sense of where you’d like to be in a couple years?

Stephanie ([35:50]):  Great question. I have not become any less ambitious, maybe just more realistic about what can be accomplished in different periods of time. So we’re really focused on speed to value at the business. One of the big problems with affiliate marketing in the past has been just the amount of time it takes to stand it up and the amount of time it takes to start seeing a return on investment or just how you enter the space is kind of dictating what you end up doing over the next few months to years in it. There’s just so many brands who have started efforts in the space who end up quitting, like leaving the space. They closed their programs because they didn’t see enough results in the first few months or they stopped actively managing it. And they leave like a graveyard of programs across different Rakuten, CJ, whatever who are underperforming. And it also a bad taste to what affiliate can do.

I had mentioned earlier that we had patented this technology a while ago and we were using it as an attribution tool which it still is. But another benefit of it is we can launch programs within a few hours as opposed to a few weeks or maybe the fastest we can do it otherwise was seven days. And so just being able to have people enter the space and start working with partners in generating revenue. We’re seeing if they can generate revenue from the moment they decide they want to have an affiliate program versus weeks later. And now you’ve spent thousands and thousands of dollars. The burden that you have to overcome at that point, just to show that there is a reason to keep going.

So just continuing on that path of reducing the friction to participate in the space is a big objective for us, continuing to talk about the speed to value and make improvements to the technology to make that easier and easier for businesses to do.

David ([37:49]):          I like that speed the value, although it also reminds me of the TikTok generation that we’re in right now, where if people aren’t entertained in six seconds or less, they move on.

Stephanie ([37:59]):  That’s a good point. You were talking about personality of contacts and business owners before. When I was an affiliate manager, it felt like a very different climate to the way people view investment today and what their expectations are for how quickly they’re going to see results, what results should look like, what the makeup should look like of those results. It’s just a totally different game. And it could be that my industry has just evolved to the point where there’s that different level of expectation and also educational understanding on the client part. Or it’s just to your point, we’re in this strange business climate and economy where it’s just like, test it quickly, forget it. Test it quickly, forget it.

David ([38:48]):          I actually think it’s mostly the former. I think it’s mostly that Google and Facebook and maybe even Amazon have taught advertisers that success is determined if you get a sale within 48 hours after starting your campaign and you need to build and measure it to the sixth decimal point. And the truth of the matter is that marketing is always more muddy than that. And there’s always, the attribution is never perfect. People might have long consideration cycles.

I always say like when a client has a campaign on Google and they’re like, oh, well we’re getting a 6000% ROAS on our brand terms. And I was like, well, did someone just wake up in the morning and type your name in? Or was there some other influence there that you should be giving credit?

I think in some respects, we’ve gone down this rabbit hole of instant gratification, and now it’s very hard for people to make investments into anything that doesn’t have that, whether it’s TV or radio or in some cases probably affiliate, although affiliate often has a very short WIC, but anyways.

I think that this is a problem that people are going to have to face as they sort of figure out, well, I can only spend so much money on the bottom of the funnel. I’ve tapped that out. Where do I go from here? Well, you got to take a leap of faith and you have to start looking at metrics other than what you’re used to in the bottom of the funnel.

Stephanie ([40:04]):  Yes. 100%. I agree with that.

David ([40:07]):          So I want to ask you one last question. The question would be if someone was starting an agency today, what advice would you give them other than run as fast as you can and get a job as an accountant?

Stephanie ([40:19]):  The advice I would give, certain things you should take very personally and certain things you should not take personally at all. Behind all negative criticism, there’s usually something valuable, either if it came from a client, if it comes from a team member, if it comes from a prospect, what have you. So often we get angry or defensive about things like that. The work our people do is superior because of X, Y, and Z, but normally behind the emotion of whatever is shared, there’s something constructive that’s a gift that you, as someone who’s going to start a business, won’t hear from many people because you hire a lot of people to do a job. And they’re not going to tell you something sucks, but listen to the criticism that’s behind it. Can you use it as a gift that you’re like drinking your own juice?

So those things you should take personally, but I wouldn’t take personally the volatility that can often come with being in an agency business. Our job is to serve a purpose for a time. I would love to have some clients forever, but it often makes sense for my clients to end up hiring in-house when they get to a certain point, and I think those moments should be celebrated as graduations and what else can I do to provide value at that point? I want to be able to provide value at every stage of a business, and I want to have a good relationship with that business. That’s the goal.

David ([41:51]):          I love that. We actually had an earlier interview with Frank Lee at RealEyes Digital, and he literally has a program called the graduation program where he helps clients bring it in house. So great minds think alike.

Stephanie ([42:02]):  I should talk to him. I think that’s a very interesting formalized program to do. I’m curious about when he introduces that.

David ([42:12]):          Well, we’ll make an off-podcast introduction.

Stephanie ([42:14]):  Yeah, I’m curious.

David ([42:16]):          Great. Well, Stephanie, thank you. This was great. Congrats on your success with PartnerCentric. If anyone wants to reach you, what’s the best way to connect with you.

Stephanie ([42:26]):  I am very readily available on LinkedIn. Our website is partnercentric.com. You can reach any of us via email at that site. All of our current clients are listed there as well. If anyone wants to check us out, those are the easiest ways.

David ([42:42]):          Awesome. Well, thanks for joining us today. I really appreciate it.

Stephanie ([42:45]):  Thanks so much.

David ([42:50]):          A new episode of Agentic Shift drops every Wednesday. Subscribe on your favorite podcast platform or visit agenticshift.com to see the latest episode.

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Stephanie Harris, CEO of PartnerCentric
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