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Why There’s Never Been a Better Time to Sell on Amazon – Return on Podcast Ep. 4 with Steven Pope

Why There’s Never Been a Better Time to Sell on Amazon - Return on Podcast Ep. 4 with Steven Pope

The following is a transcript of Episode 4 of Return on Podcast, the show where we help e-commerce sellers improve their ROI in business and in life. For more episodes, subscribe to our YouTube channel or listen on Podbean, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.

Tyler Jefcoat (00:55):
Alright. Welcome to Return on Podcast, where we talk about the experiences, obsessions, and habits of the most successful e-commerce entrepreneurs. I’m your host, Tyler Jefcoat. And I wanna welcome you to episode number four of ROP. You’ve heard of return on investment. Well, this is Return on Podcast where we’re going to guarantee you you’re gonna take away nuggets, you’re gonna take away hacks that will give you an ROI on your precious time. Thanks for spending it with us today. Now, in this episode, I’m really excited to bring in one of my close friends in the space, Steven Pope, you know him as My Amazon Guy. He’s one of the, honestly, one of the most influential thinkers in the Amazon space. And he’s crushing it. It’s a fun story. Pope, you did me the honor of – I’ll bring you in here, even though I’m gonna continue introducing you.

TJ (01:47):
You did the honor of giving me a really formal bio, and I’m gonna read part of it because I know you too well to read the whole thing. Steven and I started our companies – I started Seller Accountant, he started My Amazon Guy – within about a month of each other four years ago or so. And Steven, you have well eclipsed our little niche-y firm. This is 200-employee agency focusing on doing everything that an Amazon seller, a private label brand needs to really build their business on Amazon. I was trying to calculate in my head, Steven, how much revenue per month you and I just work together just on our combined clients, just the clients that we work together on. And I think it’s about a quarter million a month just in revenue in our small – cause we only have, you know, a handful of clients that overlap, but you got a big team, dude. You’re doing things really, really well. You own a bunch of Amazon brands in addition to that. How are you doing today, man?

Steven Pope (02:35):
I’m doing fantastic. So excited to be with you, Tyler, and mad respect right back at you. Tyler and I have made lots of predictions on social media over the last few years. We’ve predicted the Amazon aggregators. We predicted a lot of other things that have happened in the space, so it’s, you know, definitely hit that subscribe button. You wanna pay attention to what Tyler’s doing.

TJ (02:56):
Yeah. Well, thank you buddy. I really, I really appreciate it. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you, honestly. And so one of the things I love about your channel, and by the way, guys, if you’re looking for a YouTube follow that you really wanna be involved with, the My Amazon Guy YouTube channel where Steven has over 900 videos, very in depth, tactical. If you have a question related to how to manage your Seller Central account or how to do the advertising, how to put a listing, how to optimize it, Steven’s your guy, great team. And you know, Steven, as we’ve built these businesses, you know, you and I have ended up speaking at conferences. We’re on podcasts all the time. You have your show, I now have my show. And we end up giving our spiel, our nuggets, our things that we’re taken away from what we’re learning. And so I wanna do a little something different today. I wanna kind of throw you right in front of the bus here and do what I’m gonna call – it’s a game called Stump the Pope. Are you up for that?

SP (03:43):
Stump the Pope. All right.

TJ (03:45):
By the way, funny story for anyone who watches this, I’m recording something with Steven maybe two years ago, and I hear giggling in the background, and it’s because I had been just unconsciously calling him Pope and his wife was laughing at me because I guess no one calls him Pope. And for me it’s like a –

SP (04:01):
– all the time.

TJ (04:03):
Okay. So it’s funny. Yeah, I don’t know that I have a single college friend that I didn’t just call by their last name. So it’s a term of endearment for me. But Emily, both of our wives are named Emily, by the way. His Emily thought it was hilarious, but we’re gonna play Stump the Pope. I’m gonna ask you some questions, Steven. We’re gonna start with some kind of Amazon strategy questions. I know I wanna really dig into how you’ve built your agency, and how you hire people. This is just kind of a fun, you may not even know the answer to this, but what is your estimate for how many advertising dollars MAG manages each month for its customers?

SP (04:33):
Oh my gosh. Now I have to check that. It’s $750,000 a month, I think?

TJ (04:41):
Okay. And I would imagine that’s probably low, to be honest with you, just given the amount of sales that you’re managing. So kind of a connected question, and I hate to ask you this because everyone asks me this, and it’s such an irritating question, Steven, but it’s the one that they always ask guys like you and me, me as CFO boy, you as advertising guru. But across most private label brands, what do you think the optimal TACOS is in terms of percentage of sales?

SP (05:07):
So if you asked me that question two years ago, I would’ve told you 10%. If you asked that question a year ago, I probably would’ve told you 11%. Today, I think it’s between 12 and 14, 15%. And that’s because PPC costs are up 35%, which is a huge reason for the TACOS increase. And I think that brands have to spend more money on PPC and more than ever because the amount of space available on Amazon to just get your product seen in the search result is evaporating. Amazon is doing a lot of things to like try and fix that by making second brand headlines show up and second videos show up. And then you can see video ads and headline ads on people’s listings, and it’s not just in search anymore. There’s a lot of different things that Amazon’s doing to help people find products.

SP (05:55):
At the end of the day, Amazon is the number one place people go to start their product search. They overcame Google about five or six years ago to make that claim. And so with that in mind, it’s very important that your product is findable on Amazon. And when I kind of look at the basics of Amazon, everything boils down to two things: drive traffic, improve conversion rates. How do you drive traffic? SEO and PPC. How do you improve conversion rates. Design and catalog merchandising. Very, very basic. When you bring, boil everything down to the basics and you focus on the basics and you continue working on those basics, that’s what drives sales and traffic and conversion on the Amazon platform. Year in and year out, no hacks needed.

TJ (06:41):
So Steven, I have a two-part thesis about why advertising expenses are going up so much right now, and I wanted to get your take on it. So thesis point A is the aggregators, as they buy these brands, are a little bit indiscriminate in the amount of money they’re spending on ads. They’re willing to overbid. I’m seeing this as the CFO of a big pile of assets that have been moved to some of these aggregators. They’re willing to spend more to acquire the real estate; that’s thesis one. And then thesis two is as Amazon sellers, we don’t really think about the impact of Facebook, Apple’s dispute last summer on our advertising. But what it actually did was it drove a lot more money to the easier-to-attribute advertising efforts, which are now on Google and Amazon. What’s your take on my take there, buddy?

SP (07:24):
So I would’ve, if you’d asked me that question a year ago, I definitely would’ve been all in on thesis one. Knowing what I know about the aggregators after, you know, I built amazonaggregators.com, I interviewed 45 of them over the last 14, 15 months, I actually don’t think aggregators are overspending money on PPC anymore. Now I think the newer ones are, but not the ones that have been around the block. The newer ones don’t know where to put the money because they don’t know how to run Amazon businesses for the most part, right? Like most aggregators that are in the space are Excel arbitrage, Harvard MBA grads, former Amazon executives, but are not the grit mom-and-pop Amazon sellers who know how the actual Amazon platform works. And so it was easier to put money into PPC versus fix the design, versus fix the supply chain, versus work on SEO.

SP (08:22):
I don’t think maybe even 10% of the aggregators are even focused on SEO, like for some perspective. But in terms of that 35% price hike on PPC, I bet you 30% of that 35 is from thesis two. And that is because when Facebook broke the tracking in all of the different mobile phones and providers and Apple and all those things that happen, it’s very much a stampede effect of advertisers going from one sector to another. We’ll probably never know what the actual breakdown to the reason for PPC costs going up, but I firmly believe it has more to do with that stampede coming out of Facebook than it does Amazon aggregators entering our space.

TJ (09:10):
I think it’s such a great point. And so, you know, in Apple, for those of you guys who have been tracking this, Apple changed its policy last summer to protect the privacy of the dear Apple users like myself and no longer allowed Facebook to easily attribute some of its advertising traffic. The result was some, was some screeching panic from direct to consumer Amazon – not, non-Amazon, direct-to-consumer advertisers using Facebook. And so all of these sellers that had spent that money had to pivot those dollars somewhere because the money’s still there. And that actually may be another instance where the more professional money, the aggregator kind of money, they have the cash, they’ve got the budget for it, they wanna spend those dollars somewhere, and it ends up basically increasing the bid, you know, the bid amounts on Amazon and therefore advertising performance. And so, you know, you couple that Steven, with a year where our, we continue to see container cost at triple what we have the year prior coming out of China, continue having disruption and getting product into the LA port. And you wrap all those together, and it was actually kind of a tough year financially for some of our clients. What did you see in terms of like happiness? What’s the like smiley face factor for the Amazon sellers in your portfolio right now?

SP (10:23):
I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to sell on Amazon. Despite all of these challenges. And I’ll give you an example. Last Mother’s Day, I launched a mom box for Age of Sage, and I had a single product review on the box. I generated $144,000 in four weeks with one product review. And I was able to get organically indexed for 4,000 keywords in two weeks, I was able to get organically ranked number one for gifts for mom, and – right? Three days, 72 hours before Mother’s Day. So if I can do that, and I didn’t run any external traffic, I didn’t run any Facebook or Google ads, and all I used were the Amazon basics, then clearly there’s still a major opportunity on the platform. Clearly. So – and I only spent $11,000 on ads, $5,000 of that was on one single keyword, broad match, “gifts for mom”.

SP (11:16):
So if the basics still weren’t and you can launch using the basics and you can be successful using the basics, then clearly, there’s never been a better time to sell at Amazon. Now, clearly, I’d also like to go back six, seven years ago when I was getting rice cooker PPC ads clicked for two cents a click, and I was number one position. Oh my gosh, I miss those days. But I didn’t didn’t have the cash flow, I wasn’t a private label seller at that point, I was working for the man and, you know, selling kitchen equipment for a company called Nisbets. And before that I did women’s plus size clothing. And so like I was part of Amazon’s advertising beta program, before anybody even had access to it, I was doing it. So I’m part of the advertising OG crowd. But even despite the fact that PPC costs are sky high right now and inflation is out of the world, right? Like this morning we saw Amazon news, 5% surcharge being added for all FBA fees. And I think that’s the first of two surcharges coming, I think in less than 90 days. We’ll see ’em jack it up another five. That’s my prediction. And so inflation rates up, quantitative easing, and government inflation – and I know that’s probably not the rabbit hole you wanna go down on your podcast, but all of these things affect Amazon sellers big time.

TJ (12:34):
Well, and I think what you said that’s so pertinent there is we gotta be aware of the ecosystem that we’re operating in. And the best question I think you kind of alluded to there is what does the current set of circumstances make possible for me as an owner of a business? And I do agree with you, Steven. Like I’m not, I’m not bearish at all on e-commerce. I think that some of the investors in the market panicked a little bit when we had the kind of reversion from the 2020 boom of, you know, first part of the pandemic, but that does not mean that the underlying economics or fundamentals of this business model are bad. Now they’re actually great. They’re they’re they continue to be great. And I think that the adversity is actually gonna drive out some weak players. And, you know, if that’s you, if you have a brand out there that’s underperforming, it may mean you have to develop a new product, but in terms of owners that have grit, that are willing to push through, I do think that multiples are gonna continue to be high when you sell. And I think profits are gonna continue to be possible even into the foreseeable future forever.

TJ (13:33):
It’s interesting. The Amazon fees, I mean, we had an FBA hike of 8% in January. And so then we have the surcharge, Steven, that you mentioned here, literally this week, I would agree with you a hundred percent that Amazon is not – Bezos is not gonna get poor because of the inflationary environment that we’re in the middle of. You and I need to be ready for that, which means if we are not taking concrete, proactive steps to renegotiate our supply chain, if that’s possible, if we’re not keeping an eye on some of our expenses, you know, if we’re not keeping an eye on our campaigns, right? Steven, I’m sure you see this more than I do, but I can’t tell you how many times when I interact with my CFO clients that are not using My Amazon Guy, we take a look at their advertising and they haven’t even looked at a campaign in six months. Right? And so those kinds of activities will get you squashed in a high pressure ecosystem, and doing them right can actually give you a real competitive advantage when other people maybe are struggling. Is that what you’re saying?

SP (14:25):
If you haven’t, if you’ve gone six months without looking at your PPC, you might as well just be throwing cash out the window. Because there’s so many things that happen in a long time period. People should be optimizing their campaigns at least twice a week and utilizing a service provider at bare minimum. I’ll get on calls – I talked to a million dollar per month seller the other day, and they were struggling to keep up with the amount of optimizations that are required, and they were tapping out budgets, and they were not negating keywords, and they weren’t reviewing search term reports, and I’m like, “Fire yourself. Fire yourself immediately.” Right? And I know like whenever I think about culture and hiring and people and all that, there’s so much to think about as a business entrepreneur and owner, you really ought to fire yourself more frequently.

TJ (15:18):
I agree. I completely agree with that. So Steven, you and I are asked to give the prognostication, the guru predictions, and you even mentioned in the intro how we were right. I mean, literally it was early 2018 when we talked about the flood of aggregators coming, talking about consolidation amongst eight-figure and seven-figure brands. My question for you is what is gonna happen in the next 12 months for Amazon sellers that they need to be on the lookout for?

SP (15:43):
So 25% of the Amazon aggregators are gonna sell or go outta business, and they’re gonna sell to the other aggregators because they had no idea what they were doing. I think Amazon sellers are gonna realize they can’t get a jail out of free card. They can’t just sell their brand. They’re gonna have to actually run the business. It’s not hashtag passive income. And there’s nothing wrong with any of this at all. It’s okay. And so crazy valuations, ignore them. Just focus on growing your business. It’s actually better to own a business during inflation, believe it or not. Right? And by the way, my perspective is that we’re entering hyperinflation, like minimum 25% annual price increases is what I’m seeing behind the scenes. If we use the 1980 government inflation calculator, we would be at 21% as of this morning, right? Now, the government’s gonna say 7 to 9%, whatever.

SP (16:36):
All right, I’ll leave that rabbit hole there. But my, but, but the point is still the same: It’s great to be an Amazon seller right now. And all of these challenges that we’re talking about, if you solve for them, and you use basic principles that will work today and will work two years from now, you will have a glorious business. We know that if you spend time looking at your main image on Amazon and A/B test it, and it can improve your CTR, your click through rate, by running a simple PickFu test or an A/B test of some kind, and then all of a sudden you get 10% more clicks, we know that translates to 10% more sales. We know that that translates to a huge lift. And so these are basics that most Amazon business owners are not focused on. They’re more constrained, more worried about how that container is doing in the ocean right now, and whether it’s gonna land in the LA port in time. And just in time, supply chain management is dead. It’s totally dead. That’s not gonna work anymore. Buy an annual supply of inventory and sit on it. Financially uncomfortable to do that, but logistically important to do that. And when your competitors start stocking out and they have to raise their prices, but you don’t because you bought inventory early, before COGS went up, you’ll thank me later.

TJ (17:56):
Well, the principal you’re talking about there, just to kind of put on CFO hat here for a minute, is in an environment where – think about a ship in a harbor. In an environment where we have great analytics, we’re very predictable, we can really see the depth of the, ocean we can afford to sail our ship in a fairly shallow amount of water. Right? Another thing about inventory, we can afford to only have maybe 60 days worth of inventory, because we can see when we have to order, and we can predict when the inventory’s gonna hit the shore. In an ecosystem like we’re in right now, Steven, where it is very unpredictable, there could be an iceberg at any point that may stop our container from getting into a port. We may have freezes like we had a Ningbo last year, right, where the Chinese government shuts down a port, and supply chains get frozen. Because of that, we have to live in deeper waters.

TJ (18:44):
And in order to live in deeper waters, this is just to affirm what you said there, Steven, we have to be well capitalized. So if you take one nugget away from this, from CFO boy here is if you have the ability to go ahead and re-up an SBA loan, or have some additional capital, some additional cash in your business, the businesses that struggle the most to weather interesting storms like we’re in right now are the ones that just don’t have enough money. And because I think Steven, you’re mostly right. Like if you have a – and now if you have products that are terrible, you need to liquidate the products. But I think having a little bit of extra cash tied up, especially in your really good products – and in fact, we think about it like this: you kind of have your hero products, your, you know, 80% of your sales, you need to under no circumstances stock out of those hero products. I don’t care if you have to buy three years worth of product; you need to not stock out of those products. You have your yellow light, the muddy middle, where you wanna, most of the time, keep those in stock. And then your red ones that are not profitable, you just need to have the guts to kill ’em because keeping your working capital tied up in those losers instead of putting ’em into your green light, your heroes, is a real mistake. I mean, any thoughts on that, Steven?

SP (19:48):
I bet that that’s the most common conversation you have as a CFO hat, right? Like you’re going in and saying, “Hey, you’re not making any money on this product.” And the business owner is like, “What?” Right?

TJ (19:59):
Right. I know. And sometimes they blame you, right? So it’s like, “Hey, my advertising guys are really stinking it up on this product.” And my job sometimes to be like, “No, no, no, no, this is just a bad product. This is a product where you don’t have enough margin that you can afford to buy the real estate.” We need to be objective in the way we view our products and not view them like our children. And sometimes that means we have to let some of them go and that hurts, but we do it.

SP (20:20):
You gotta treat, ’em like the employee that you need to fire. Like, there are some – like if you delay that, then you’re gonna be in trouble. Like you, how much are you gonna spend to prove yourself wrong? Right? Like, that’s the question you have to ask yourself. And so like the way it – you know, I talk about culture all the time, and I always think about this because I’m in, you know, I have 200 employees, I have to do this. But like fire faster than you hire. Hire fast, fire faster, and promote fastest. Now that’s a direct quote from Gary Vee. But nonetheless, I live by that. And the same goes with your products. Sometimes you have to fire the product.

TJ (21:01):
I agree. And having the data and assessing. And that’s actually a great segue, Steven. The second part of our discussion is gonna be about hiring. There’s a great old Hebrew proverb that says “where there are no oxen, the barn is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” And so thinking about this, it’s easy to build a one man shop for some Amazon sellers, but actually as they get to that point where you mentioned to your client that does a million a month in sales, it’s time to start firing yourself. It’s time to start thinking about building a team. And if anyone’s ever hired people, you realize that as soon as you build a team, you’ve gotta build a culture or your team is a real disaster. And so I just wanted to ask you, Steven – well, first of all, let me just ask the first funny question here is, you know, what made you bald, buddy? You’ve got a great haircut like I do. Is it the four kids under six? Or is it the 200 person business?

SP (21:47):
It’s the business.

TJ (21:49):
I knew you were gonna say that. And so, you know, thinking about that and thinking about the fact that – first of all, I have a why question and then I have a how question. Why in the world did you decide to build a 200 person team?

SP (21:59):
I didn’t, it just happened. That’s the pretty – that’s the truthful answer, like no. You know, I got laid off from my last corporate job, and I got a three month severance and a lot of people would’ve gone on vacation and chilled and puttered around the couch. For 48 hours, I asked myself this question: have I peaked? I was making close to $200,000 in salary, and I was pretty happy. I was a jolly guy. And I realized that I hadn’t peaked after I had figured that out for 40 – it was a very tough 48 hours on myself. And then I was like, I am going to do some consulting work until I figure this out, but I’m not gonna put around. And so I created an agency in under 48 hours. I created a domain name, figured out what I was gonna name it. You know, wife asked, “how do people normally introduce you?” ‘Cause I had side hustled and consulted for like seven years or something. And I said, well, people don’t really care who I am. They’re not gonna remember Steven Pope, but they do remember “talk to My Amazon Guy” and introduced me. And so that’s how the name of the company came about. And what I realized very quickly is once I had to start creating work for myself instead of creating work for others, which is what most marketers are very good at. Marketers are very good at creating work for others. Growth centers constantly create work. And then the op centers always hate the marketers because they don’t, you know, like they don’t want to deal with the fallout. Right?

SP (23:26):
I go into one company, a company called Nisbets, sells kitchen equipment, owned by the British, $200 million company in the UK, number one in restaurant business equipment. They come to the States, they hire me, and they’re like, “Figure out our American plan.” They buy a $5 million warehouse. They start sending out catalogs. They were total idiots. They shipped out catalogs with things like “rubbish bin,” and didn’t figure out the prices, couldn’t understand the logistics of the cost to ship crap from the east coast to the west coast, yada yada, right? And while I work for them in less than 90 days, I launched some Amazon programs, eBay, Etsy, I launched them on Walmart and Rakuten and a bunch of other programs and Pricefalls and stuff like that, and shopping engines, and then I drove their website, and I hired a PPC firm, and I hired an SEO firm. And the list and list goes on. Well, what did that do? That made the customer services team extraordinarily difficult, ’cause now they had to navigate seven new platforms.

SP (24:22):
And so like now imagine instead of me creating that work and shoving it off to another department, now I’m doing it for myself. And so what I quickly realized, I had to hire assistants very quickly. So within two weeks I made a job offer to an assistant who started helping with Excel file template uploads, which was a disaster of amount of time suck and difficulty levels, right? Like template uploads are the number one most critical thing you need to do when you’re managing a catalog of more than 10 SKUs. And even with less than 10 SKUs, you probably have to do a template upload here and there. And so these are the dirty jobs of the space. Everybody always wants to talk about PPC, but nobody wants to talk about the dirty muck of catalog mire whatever. And that’s really what’s the key to when you’re running an agency, is you have to do all of these things unless you just wanna be a PPC agency, but we wanted to be a holistic approach. We do the PPC, the SEO, the design, and the catalog work. And so I had to hire and hire and hire. And now here’s some revelations: I’m face blind, and I can’t read a room. And so like I’m a robot, and I’m a data driven individual. And so I had to rely upon tools like Culture Index to figure out how to interact with people, and that’s how I figured out how to hire, and then I realized, Hey, everybody in agency land needs to fit certain profiles because if you don’t then you’ll lose clients and then nobody’s happy. Right? So it’s all about nonstop deliverables in an agency world.

TJ (25:48):
Yeah. It’s so good, man. So that’s, you gave us a little bit of the how there. I mean, I think the why makes complete sense. It’s kind of outta necessity. You built this marketing monster, and then you had to actually deliver on the promises you were making. Let me ask you the how question here. So you’ve hired 200 people. I know you’ve hired more than that, but you’ve netted 200 plus people in less than four years. How in the world did you do that in a way that maybe it could even be applicable to the guy out there that only has a couple of VAs right now that really wants to consider launching a team? Like what’s really made you successful as you scaled your team?

SP (26:18):
You have to build a cast of Avengers, right? If we use the Marvel concept, like you don’t put Hulk in charge of PPC, you put Hulk in charge of inventory and warehouses to move crap around, right? You hire Iron Man to run your PPC, you hire Black Widow to do your SEO, right? And maybe you put Captain America in charge of getting the team together to show up and work together and connect. Right? And so these are the sort of things you have to figure out and maybe you need a, you know, so, you know, Nick Fury to come in and bring ’em all together on occasion, right? Like that’s what your job is as CEO sometimes is to be a little bit of ferocious Nick Fury and make sure that things get done and happen. Right?

SP (27:02):
And so there are certain evergreen roles you’re always gonna need in your organization, and then there are growth roles that you don’t really know, and then you have to wear multiple hats, and then you have to bring somebody in that’s doing both PPC and the SEO and you really have to figure out like culturally speaking, like how somebody thinks. Are they driven? Are they individualistic? Are they a team player? Are they introverted? Are they extroverted? Are they a big picture thinker? Are they detail oriented? Are they patient? Are they inpatient? And once you understand what makes somebody tick, you can then manage them appropriately.

SP (27:32):
As one example, my father, he works for me. And so he’s been working for me coming up on two years and he helps run our inside sales. His name’s Dan Pope. He’s a weatherman over in Utah. And sometimes my dad’s detail orientation is a little lacking. For example, he’ll send out an email without a subject line in it. And it makes me wanna pull out what remaining hair I have on my head. And so I politely say, “Dad, please stop sending subject line-less emails.” And after the third time hits I say, “Dad, the next time that this happens, I’m going to fine you $50. It’s gonna go into the swear jar. It’s gonna come outta your commission.” And less than seven days later, he sends another one. And I’m like, “Dad, that’s it. $50.” The time between error number four and error number five was six months though. It works, right? You gotta know what sort of lever to pull on, and the fact that I can hold my own dad accountable lets you know how I hold my own team accountable, which means that the client’s satisfaction or the client’s belief in our organization is high because we hold every component of the cog of the wheel accountable. That’s what predictive culture is all about. It’s about accountability.

TJ (28:50):
That’s so good, dude. I think that there’s so much there guys. I think if you, you may have to rewind and listen to that part again. But I think having a clear mission, I’m thinking Four Disciplines of Execution, by the way in my brain right now, Steven, but this idea of having a clear focus, having the lead measures, “Hey, we’re gonna convert more sales if you put a subject line in your email,” having a clear scorecard, it was visible. And then having a rhythm of accountability where, “Hey, the expectation is that you get this done. If you don’t, there’s gonna be a consequence. Here’s what that consequence is,” and then following through, you can find that almost any team can be managed well. So speaking of managing a team, you actually are also at the helm of a really large agency that helps Amazon sellers. For an Amazon seller, for a brand owner out there that is interviewing your dad plus five other competitors out there, what are the two best questions that they should ask their prospective advertising or Amazon management agency that would help them get to the bottom of whether this agency may or may not be a good – and not even necessarily self-serving for MAG. Obviously you guys do a great job, but like if you were interviewing teams, what would you ask?

SP (29:54):
Generic question, it’s easy: walk me through your org chart. If you can’t walk them through the org chart as a sales account executive or sales manager, and they ask you that question, you’re gonna fumble pretty hard, right? Our org chart is very thoroughly explainable. We have an account management division, and then we have expertise sub-divided out in SEO, design, catalog management, and PPC, right? And most companies not have a division for SEO or their catalog. They just simply don’t exist. And so when you’re talking to agencies, you need to understand like, what is the actual deliverable coming from? Are they outsourcing their design? Are they, you know, how are they managing? Is it the account manager that you’re working with – here’s the second question: how important is the account manager to the relationship? So an account manager or a brand manager at some agencies could be 90% of the value, but at My Amazon Guy, they’re only 10%, which is very, very different.

SP (31:01):
At more boutique agencies, the account manager or brand manager will do all the work themselves. So your relationship lives or dies by the success of your direct point of contact. But at My Amazon Guy, we have 10 other experts that log into the account each month in addition to the brand manager or account manager. And so it’s more of a project management role. It’s more of like a relationship manager. And so I think lot of people, when they hire agencies, they have really bad experiences, but they can’t actually articulate why. They’re just like “I had a really bad experience,” but when you press them and try to explain it, there is very, it’s very difficult to understand like what went wrong in a relationship. And usually it’s an expectation setting issue, right? So have a clear understanding of what your expectations are, express it to whoever you’re trying to hire, and then validate that they can deliver on that. Instead of them just saying yes, ask how.

TJ (31:52):
I think that’s such a good point, and it’s – by the way, take that away guys. Because I think it’s easy – even if you were to talk to me or Steven, right? You have us on the phone. I sell accounting, Steven sells advertising or Amazon management services. And you might think you would be really sexy to have Tyler Jefcoat be your bookkeeper. But the answer is, it actually is not. I’m not detail-oriented. It’s not my strength, and if you’re assessing my firm against a competitor, I’m only as good as my lowest level person that’s gonna touch your account and the consistency with which I can deliver results to you, and Steven’s agency’s the same way. And so what I heard you say there, Steven, which is so true, is understanding how the process and the system empower the people to consistently deliver value is actually more important than the gregarious personality of whoever the sales guy is that you’re talking to.

TJ (32:40):
And it’s hard because we’re emotional creatures, right? I wanna interview agencies. I’m like, “Man, I really liked Dan Pope over whoever the alternative is. Let me pick him.” But don’t, don’t pick My Amazon Guy because you like Dan. We hope you like Dan. He’s a great guy. Pick them because they have the structure that ensures a higher probability of success for you than the alternatives. And I think it’s the same for accounting. It’s the same for CFO. What is the underlying system? Because guess what guys, this is a personal story, Steven. A year ago, literally this week, I ended up in the hospital with a pancreatitis, I had to have my gallbladder pulled out. Yeah. I’m thankfully I’m fine. But like the parts of my business that were dependent on Tyler’s personality screeched to a halt. Thank God that was a tiny, tiny fraction of my business because, now we’re not 200 people, we’re closer to 30 people at our company, but almost all of the work gets done by people who are there that are redundant. If somebody gets sick, somebody else can step in. And so my client’s experience wasn’t dependent on my health. And frankly, you don’t want the different parts of your business to be dependent on someone’s health either, right?

SP (33:42):
You do not. You need to be able to replace yourself and have redundancy at every level, right? It’s a question of scale and a question of scope. You should spend the time where you are the most expert at and make sure that that area doesn’t make the whole business run. It should just be a component of it. Right? And so I’m a really good marketer. I am not the guy that should be in charge of managing the relationship once they’re in the door. People hire My Amazon Guy expecting Steven Pope, but what they actually get is the Steven Pope process or scale of process, right? And so that’s what I try and sell. That’s what we try and sell during the sales processes. You’re not getting me, you’re getting my process. And the process fricking works. It’s basics: SEO, PPC to drive traffic, conversion and catalog to drive conversion.

TJ (34:31):
Love it, dude. Well, so, I’m gonna, I wanna hard pivot here. These are such good notes, guys. Take that away. Steven, before we drop into our final section for the show here today, where we’re gonna talk about some hacks, I wanna talk to you about a hobby that you and I share, chess. Anyone out there that’s a nerd for chess. I’m a new nerd. I’m a baby nerd to chess. I played my first full chess game about a year ago, Steven, as we’re talking about this, and that’s not true for you, man. Tell us a little bit about your chess history, man. Just how it’s been fun for you.

SP (35:01):
So during my time growing up, that’s how I made all my money was playing chess. I sold chess sets. I taught chess lessons. I taught at more than 150 elementary schools in the state of Utah. I was on the US Open chess circuit. I played and won my division in the US Open. And so I know my chess. I love it. I’ve read a hundred chess books. I’ve spent a significant amount of time, 10,000 hours probably in the game of chess easily.

TJ (35:29):
So the funny thing about chess, and for any of you guys who play, I’m pretty obsessed with it right now on chess.com. My initials TMJ45, that’s my handle. You can find me, but I’m not – Pope, what Pope just described is a good chess player. Tyler Jefcoat is not a good chess player. And I learned how these rankings work the other day, Steven, it was really interesting. So I’m about a 1200 rated chess player. You’re floating just south of 2000 is my guess. I know you haven’t played as much recently.

SP (35:59):
That’s correct – you actually nailed it.

TJ (36:00):
Okay. So in case you guys are wondering, for every 400 points in difference – so let’s just say Steven was 1600 and I was 1200. He was 400 points better. He would theoretically beat me nine out of 10 times, but once you go a magnitude further – so right now, Steven is 800 points, he would beat me 99 a out of a hundred times that we played chess unless he screwed up and I could distract him somehow, you know, I don’t know what I would have to do to distract you, but that’s – and I’m a decent chess player. I’m better than 75% of the world’s chess players. And Steven would beat me 99 out of a hundred times. And so Steven for anyone else who plays chess, this is fun. This is their geek out. If I wanted to get a hundred points better on my ranking, what do I need to focus on here over the next three months?

SP (36:45):
The fundamentals in chess are control the center and develop your pieces. Right? So when I taught in elementary schools, I always talked about the magic wizard, Chad. And Chad was an acronym: C stands for check or checkmate. Look for that every single move. H stands for hanging piece, which is a piece that’s not available for defense and so you can take it without losing anything. A stands for attack. D stands for develop and defend. And so every time you move one piece multiple times, you are losing development, you’re losing tempo. And so chess and business are very much the same. There are some theoretical openings that are pre-written and you can follow the plan, but once you get to the mid-game, it doesn’t matter what opening you started with. You could be playing the Roy Lopez, or you could be playing the semi-Slav – doesn’t matter. Once you get into move 15 to 20 or thereabouts, you are on your own from a tactical standpoint, even if the books have documented everything, you haven’t memorized the books at that point.

SP (37:50):
And so as your business develops as your chess game develops, you need to understand how to think ahead and desire what you want, right? Like have a plan and write it down and know what your plan is, right? So I know that every time I sit down to play a chess game, I’m gonna go control the center. That is always my plan. And when I play against somebody that also wants to control the center, I’m having a heyday because I know how they’re gonna play against me, and I’m very predictable about what they’re gonna do. But on occasion, I’ll play against somebody that just concedes the center and then they attack me from the sides.

SP (38:24):
And this is what happens when, you know, Amazon announces a 5% fuel charge or your supply chain wrecks, or you can’t get your item in time and you’re gonna stock out. You then have to decide, okay, I’m gonna leave the center and I’m gonna go to the, I’m gonna attack the right side, or I’m gonna take control of the dark colors of this chess border squares, right? Those are the things that you have to do in chess and business is to rotate your strategy based on what your opponent’s doing.

TJ (38:53):
Dude. That’s awesome. I love it. So by the way, guys, the reason we do this in our episodes here, and just kind of bring some human into it is life is too short to not find something fun. And excuse me, one of the advices that I gave on one of our first episodes was to find something intellectually hard and try to do it every year. And chess is just one idea I wanted to give you. It’s been really fun for me over this past year. And I think Pope, you’re right. It does apply directly to business. The ability to think two steps ahead, the ability to put together two or three move sequences, the ability to pivot to another strategy if my current plan is not working, that actually applies to my relationships, to the way I parent my kids, the way I lead my company. And so I think it could serve you guys also. So maybe it’s not that. Maybe it’s golf for you. Maybe it’s solving a Rubiks cube, maybe – whatever it is that you’re into, stay into it because life’s too short to only work.

TJ (39:39):
And so, Steven, here’s what I wanna do, man. We’re gonna close this episode like we do every episode. It’s called the Return on Podcast section. And I wanna guarantee our listener, someone who’s made it 39 minutes into the show here has frankly invested a lot of their time with you and me for the week here. And if they did one or two small habits, small hacks in a given week or a given day that might make their lives better, what might those be? And so what I’m gonna ask you is what in your life, Steven, is giving you an unusual ROI right now,

SP (40:06):
A lot of people talk about measuring things twice and cutting once. And I think that’s the stupidest philosophy ever. I think you should maybe measure once and cut a hundred times. Iteration is my number one human power skill. And so when I am thinking about how my action dictates the strategy, I’m going in, and I’m making micro adjustments constantly. Now the disadvantage to my strategy is that it causes massive amounts of chaos for those around me. But the advantage is I always get it right. I never get it right the first time though. Ever. But I do eventually always get it right. And so I just think, when you think about Amazon, micro adjustments do significantly more value, more sales, more velocity than trying to get that one thing to work. If you – it’s almost synonymous with like, “Hey, Prime Day’s coming up, I’m gonna schedule a lightning deal.” But if that lightning deal sucks, I lose my business. That is what I’m criticizing. Right?

TJ (41:07):

SP (41:07):
Micro adjustments means, “Hey, I know that I could adjust my SEO keywords today and, and put in some Spanish, ’cause I haven’t put Spanish in there yet.” Or “Hey, I know I need to put 500 words of copy into my A plus content because Steven Pope says A plus content indexes.” These are the sort of things that you can micro adjust and just get it done on one ASIN at a time. Makes a massive difference.

TJ (41:28):
I love that. So in terms of the weekly habit there, I could see that. It’s almost like iteration over perfection, right? I think so much –

SP (41:34):

TJ (41:35):
So many business owners are so worried that they’re gonna get it wrong. They’re gonna get rejected, someone’s gonna not click on it. Well, guess what? They’re not buying your product right now. Trying something and using live ammunition to correct course as you move on.,I believe that you’re correct there, Steven. I think perfection is the enemy of progress sometimes because we’re so afraid of screwing up. I think that’s a really good nugget there. Any other nuggets that you have that are practices, like anything that you do during the course of a week or a month that you think would help somebody in their business, their lives?

SP (42:03):
Get eight hours of sleep every night. I know so many crazy intellectual people who are just like bragging about how they can get by with four hours of sleep and how much extra work they get done. Right? What the frick? Like get eight hours of sleep at night. Make sure you’re exercising, right? Like I’m at 224 pounds, I want to be at 200 pounds. And so like I’m working my butt off and trying to go on hikes and walks and stuff. And so like in my opinion, my personal life philosophy is live long and prosper, right?. Like you can’t just focus on one thing, you gotta do everything prosperous. You gotta have a balance between everything. So I have four kids six and under, I have a giant business, and my personal health, and my spiritual wellbeing, all of these things need to be prosperous for me to be happy.

TJ (42:51):
Yep. Bro, that is dynamite. So iteration over perfection, and don’t be an idiot. Sleep, exercise, take care of the golden goose so you don’t kill it. Steven, everyone knows My Amazon Guy, but what is the best next step someone could take if they wanted to interact with My Amazon Guy here today?

SP (43:06):
So MyAmazonGuy.com, I’m gonna give a free thing away. So if you’re an Amazon seller today, and you want a free video review of your listing, where I tell you explicitly what you need to do on your listing to make it better – we’ll look at the SEO, we’ll look at the PPC, we’ll look at the design, we’ll look at the catalog work you’re doing – for free, go to MyAmazonGuy.com/ASIN, A-S-I-N. And you fill that out. My team will send you some awesome video analytics. You won’t wanna miss it. So that’s the best way to get in touch with us. Be happy to help you guys out.

TJ (43:40):
Oh, that’s so beautiful. Steven, thanks for being here. And guys, thank you for listening to Return on Podcast with me, Tyler Jefcoat. If this content serves you please subscribe to it. Consider following us, continue tuning in. We’re gonna try to do this every Wednesday. And Steven again, I love you, buddy. I appreciate you being here with us. I’m gonna let you guys go. Kill it this week. Do the little things. They’re gonna guarantee you a return on investment for your life. Have great week.

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