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We’re Not Smart Enough to Not Have a Plan

Finding What Works

What works and what doesn’t within digital marketing is always changing. One day, a tried and true technology, a best practice, or an idea is hot, the next, it’s not. Keeping up is hard!

In this episode of Expert Marketing Matters, Mark O’Brien interviews Hamid Ghanadan, CEO of The Linus Group and author of two books, Persuading Scientists and Catalytic Experiences, on the ways scientists make decisions and how he’s been able to create a firm around that understanding.

You can listen to the episode using the player embedded above, or you can read a full transcript below.

Episode Transcript

Mark O’Brien: Hello, and welcome to Expert Marketing Matters, my name is Mark O’Brien, I’m the CEO of Newfangled. And today I am joined by Hamid Ghanadan, the CEO of Linus Group. Hello, Hamid.

Hamid Ghanadan: Hi there, how are you?

Mark O’Brien: I’m doing great. How are you doing today?

Hamid Ghanadan: I’m doing well, thanks.

Mark O’Brien: So tell us, the headline, Linus Group, who are you, what do you do?

Hamid Ghanadan: We are a marketing firm, and we’re exclusively focused on life science and health technologies. And so we work with companies that develop products and services, or consumables into anything having to do with a scientific audience or a clinical audience. We don’t do direct to patient marketing, as of right now. Although we have experience in developing patient-centric educational portals. But really we focus on the technical buyer as our client’s main audiences.

Mark O’Brien: Okay. Excellent. So on this podcast we talk a lot about positioning because it’s the heart of everything the first step on any marketing endeavor.

Hamid Ghanadan: Sure.

Mark O’Brien: And you specifically got to your positioning in an incredibly unique way, most firms we work with they come from the design side, the marketing side, or maybe the business side, or maybe the client side sometimes. But you did not come at it this way, what led you into the field of marketing?

Hamid Ghanadan: Yeah, I’m actually a trained and experienced biochemist. I was young out of school and I had much more of a passion for the way sciences communicated and interpreted then I did for actually doing binge science, and so I pursued a career in trying to understand how people learn and how people make decisions be it technical or a scientific setting. Which is a little unique, so I guess one could say that the firm was started with this positioning from the get-go, because it was the market I knew and it was the world and the environment that I knew about coming out of the lab, coming out of the sciences.

Mark O’Brien: Right.

Hamid Ghanadan: And I remember very distinctly actually asking myself this question, because the field of medicine and the field of science is so data driven that there’s an assumption that you just provide the data, and the decisions get made. Whether this is in the context of a sale, or in the context of changing someone’s mind. Quite honestly, while data is a currency in that discourse, in that conversation, data doesn’t actually drive the decision. And so I had this notion that there’s a better way to do things, and so I dove in, and I said, well I’m going to just try this out and see what happens.

Hamid Ghanadan: Again like I said, I was young, straight out of school, and so it was mostly through the idea of hey let’s just run an experiment and see what happens. And here we are.

Mark O’Brien: So you founded Linus Group right out of school, I don’t think I realized that.

Hamid Ghanadan: No, it wasn’t right out of school, I was four years out of school by the time I started it. But I was working still at an academic institution as a researcher.

Mark O’Brien: Got it, okay. And what year was that, that Linus started?

Hamid Ghanadan: It was 1996. So that was the other piece of it is if you were around back then, or-

Mark O’Brien: I was born in ’98, so … [inaudible 00:03:20].

Hamid Ghanadan: So for those who are listening, I know Mark is not telling the truth, because we’re pretty close to the same age. At the time there was this thing called the internet, and the world wide web that was just starting out. And I was also very intrigued by how communications technologies were changing the way that people were consuming information. It wasn’t some big precious thing that I imagined how it was going to completely disrupt communications the way it has, but I knew that it was important. And I knew that it was critical, and I knew that there was no going back to it. To old modalities.

Hamid Ghanadan: And so I really embraced this idea of taking additional dimensions into how sciences communicated, how marketing is communicated in the scientific and medical fields. And I just dove into that aspect of things.

Mark O’Brien: That’s wonderful. And again, like I mentioned a few minutes ago, I don’t know anybody who has gotten into owning a firm through this path specifically. I’m sure they’re out there, but I haven’t happened to have met them over the past 20 years since I was born.

Mark O’Brien: What’s so interesting to me is that you know you and I know each other very well, we’ve known each other for a very long time now, and what’s also unique about you is the discipline with which you approach your firm. In particular, the planning around it, you’ve always got a plan. And it’s a highly detailed, calculated plan. And then you stick to it. There are a lot of planners out there who are excellent at making plans, but they’re sort of perpetually just making plans, they never actually execute a plan. But you are so incredibly disciplined about the rigor around it.

Mark O’Brien: Creating the plan, but then really walking it through. And measuring progress against it, and looking back and reflecting on what the original intentions were. You’re just far more methodical than any CEO I’ve ever really been in touch with. And it’s quite intriguing, I would say it’s because of the science background, but it’s not, it’s just who you are. And that’s what brought you into the sciences in the first place, probably because that sort of mindset fits the sciences very well.

Hamid Ghanadan: Yeah.

Mark O’Brien: It isn’t typically associated with people running marketing firms. But it served you incredibly well, you’ve had a wonderful firm, you’ve been wonderfully successful over the years. And you’ve just gone about it in a completely different way than anybody else, although, you have used some tried and true systems that other owners I know have adopted over the years.

Hamid Ghanadan: Yeah, so an interesting observation that you made. I always half jokingly say this, but it’s only half of a joke, that I’m not smart enough to just go through life without having the benefit of a model or some sort of a system to help guide through the decisions that I need to make. I mean if you think about it, business owners, just small business owners in general, we go through every day and have to make decisions based on incomplete data all the time.

Hamid Ghanadan: I mean, if all the information were presented to you and you needed to make a decision, well that’s easy. Right? But the difficulty that sort of the thing that we take on as business owners is this responsibility of going into an ambiguous world and having to make really critical decisions every day.

Mark O’Brien: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Hamid Ghanadan: Right? I mean this is decisions that affect our livelihood, our employees, the fact that we can provide paychecks and jobs for them, and career paths and everything. So there’s a lot riding on these decisions. And the world is not black and white, it’s usually very ambiguous and you just have to make those decisions based on where you are. And so I’m just not smart enough to do that without having some sort of a system or a model to fall back on. And enough data, and enough historical precedence to say, oh I know how to make this decision because in the past I did this, and this other thing happened, or this cause led to this effect.

Hamid Ghanadan: I’m not always right, I mean clearly I’m wrong more than I’m right. And so knowing that and building on that experience, now we’re at a point where we don’t need to take data as much anymore because we have the systems at Linus that we’re to a point where we have ratios and coefficients that help us say, you know what, we can make this decision without having to take data because we know historically … Like for example, we don’t need to do time sheets anymore, because we just have 15 years of very very accurate analysis on time sheets, so we just don’t need it anymore.

Hamid Ghanadan: And like you’re saying, the business practices that I think I learned very early on, honestly from people like you, but others as well, I borrow those and I basically create systems that work for us whenever possible.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, so a few things around that. My apologies to the entire listening audience, but the fact of the matter is, if Hamid is not smart enough to do this without models, none of us are smart enough to do it without models. But you’re right, you’re not, and neither are any of us. We all need that, we all need models. And I think a lot of typical entrepreneurs are big picture thinkers that jump from thing, to thing, to thing, and models can feel constraining.

Mark O’Brien: In a previous podcast we were speaking with MJ Legault as a same kind of thing. They resisted the model for so long, but once they adopted it they found that the combination of their creativity and the model was really the formula for success. And so yes, identification of the importance of models I think is really quite important.

Hamid Ghanadan: I actually have a story about that, if you don’t mind really quickly.

Mark O’Brien: Please. Yes.

Hamid Ghanadan: I had the honor of working with a really incredibly talented strategist for many years, and her name was [Magalee 00:08:34]. She resisted the idea of us standardizing the way the approach to doing strategy work, because she felt that strategy truly needs to have a complete wide birth, and a blank canvas to be able to find what’s important and find what’s actionable. And I agree with her 100% that is the goal of doing strategy work. However, what I told her is, and the way we came to an agreement on this was, that what a model provides is a framework that gives her the confidence to then just go off and find what she needs to find.

Hamid Ghanadan: And it’s like the guardrails to make sure that she doesn’t miss her deadlines, or misses the quality in the work. And it’s just basically a foundation on which she can actually feel even more free to do her best creative thinking. And to me that’s exactly the difference between the two of, I know a lot of creatives, and I know a lot of agency owners who resist the idea of saying, well we don’t need to be constrained because creativity is everything.

Mark O’Brien: Right.

Hamid Ghanadan: Well, tell you what, creativity is everything. But to me, not having a model makes it more haphazard. And so you can’t really predict success if you don’t have that model.

Mark O’Brien: Yup, I think that makes perfect sense. And it’s sort of an age old thing where limitations are the necessary foundations for creativity, right? We need constraints.

Hamid Ghanadan: Sure.

Mark O’Brien: I’ve got a question for you, again, because you have gone about this so completely differently than probably anyone else listening. And you’re a different kind of person, you think differently than most agency principles, and that’s a wonderful compliment.

Hamid Ghanadan: Thank you.

Mark O’Brien: What would you say is the secret to your success? If you had to really boil it down, why have you been so successful in this field?

Hamid Ghanadan: You know, it’s funny Mark, I actually don’t even consider myself as successful. I think of this as a journey, to be honest with you. To me, success makes it sound like I’ve arrived somewhere, and I’m not sure that I’ve arrived anywhere.

Mark O’Brien: Or that there is anywhere to arrive to.

Hamid Ghanadan: Right, that’s a good point. Success makes it sound like there’s a fence at the horizon, and I’ve arrived at that horizon and I’ve gone on the other side of the fence. And as we all know, the more you try to go toward the horizon, the horizon just keeps moving out and that could be demoralizing to some people, because you’re like oh I’m never going to get there.

Mark O’Brien: Right.

Hamid Ghanadan: But if you actually look back and look at the progress that you’ve made, it’s an amazing experience where you’re just like, oh my gosh look at this view. Look at this vista, look at how much-

Hamid Ghanadan: … experience where you just, “Oh my gosh. Look at this view. Look at this vista. Look at how much ground we’ve covered.” That’s honestly the way I think about the whole success thing. The other piece of it is, not to get too philosophical, but even if there is a fence where there is success, a lot of people I know put their happiness on the other side of that fence.

Mark O’Brien: Yes.

Hamid Ghanadan: You’re never going to reach that fence because the moment you get close to it, that fence is going to move. You’re going to move it on your own because you’re a driven entrepreneur. If happiness is on the other side of the fence and it’s tied to this idea, this notion of success, then I don’t think then that you’re going to actually have a fun journey. Maybe that is the secret. I have no idea.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, maybe that… I think you might have answered the question. Question answered, thank you very much. Moving on.

Hamid Ghanadan: That’s just the way I honestly think about it on an ongoing basis is like, “What can I get done today?” I actually have a sticker on the bottom of my monitor that says, “Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing right now?” you know? I think that’s really important to just always and constantly ask yourself that. Are you doing the important work right now? That’s really the part that drives me. I’m not afraid of hard work. I’m afraid of not having a good idea, you know? That’s the scary part.

Mark O’Brien: That’s beautiful. That’s a really good quote. Yeah, I think you did just define success, right? That’s been true of you. I’ve never had a conversation with you over the past, what, 10 years where you haven’t been talking about the next thing, or the analysis of the current thing, or taking apart the last problem. But yeah, you’re never postponing happiness. That is true. You’re never fully satisfied, but that’s okay.

Hamid Ghanadan: Yeah.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah.

Hamid Ghanadan: Absolutely. That’s the whole thing is the drive and the hunger that I think many entrepreneurs have is driven by a vision of, and you call it utopian or whatever, call it whatever you want, is… We all started our business with this picture in our mind, and that picture made it seem like what would the ideal world be, and we were driven to create the world that we wanted to live in, right?

Mark O’Brien: Right.

Hamid Ghanadan: I think if you talk to any entrepreneur who basically is more than just having had some sort of an entrepreneurial seizure, right, and have decided that, “Okay, well, I’m going to go into business for myself,” not really realizing what they’re doing. The true entrepreneurs who really want to build… It’s based on that picture that we’ve all had at some point.

Hamid Ghanadan: I have a really talented designer right now at Linus. He’s only a few years out of school. He’s incredibly talented. He’s a wonderful human being. I asked him just the other day, “Tell me about your career path.” He’s like, “I’m thinking one day I’m going to open up my own shop.” I started talking to him about, “Well, opening up your own shop has very little to do with design, you know? It has a lot more to do with so many other aspects of business, and if you’re truly interested in that, I can give you what I’ve learned so far, and I can connect you with other people who’ve gone down that path so that you can make good decisions moving forward and not slowed down the way I had been because I just didn’t know any better,” you know what I mean?

Mark O’Brien: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Hamid Ghanadan: But it’s that vision. That’s what drives. Again though, I think if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing on a daily basis, then it’s maybe time to think about it another way. I’ll tell you, I have another friend who’s an incredibly successful entrepreneur in a completely different side of the world. He actually runs one of the most well-known laboratories for testing wine, and he’s in Santa Helena. I mean, just an incredible human being.

Hamid Ghanadan: He said to me, he said, “I’ll give you a piece of advice that somebody actually told me. When you wake up every day, ask yourself three questions. Am I making money? Am I having fun? Am I learning?” Every single day you have to ask yourself these questions, and the answer to two of them have to be yes in order for you to continue doing what you’re doing. It doesn’t have to be all three, but at least two of them have to be yes on that day in order for you to continue to be doing. The day where you cannot answer yes to two of them, it’s time to change. I was like, “Wow.”

Hamid Ghanadan: Even in the hardest, darkest times, if I’m asking those questions, and Linus has gone through ups, it’s gone through downs, it’s gone through changes, I mean all kinds of things. I may not be making any money in a certain day, but am I learning and I’m having fun? Yeah, you know? And so, on we go.

Mark O’Brien: On we go.

Mark O’Brien: When people do think of what having a firm would be like and they have all these visions of how it could be, you have achieved those things. Your firm is a incredibly well run firm and has had a wonderful impact on the community you serve. You’ve fostered many, many, many, many great careers over your 20 year history. You’ve blown away all of David Baker’s metrics for many, many, many years now. You’re an excellent student of coach and traction. You have a wonderfully efficient sales process. It’s a great firm. Most people would be very, very happy to take over Linus in its current condition, and that is true really at any point since I’ve known you. Even though you do have this vision and you have this zen about where you are and where you’re going, and that kind of thing, it’s worth noting that I think the raw success of it is part of it. I think one thing helps to complement the other in regard to just because you have this mindset it might help facilitate the actual success.

Hamid Ghanadan: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Thank you for saying all that. Just for the listeners who don’t know, Mark and I were in a group together where we shared financials with each other, so I think we know the inner workings of one another’s firms quite a bit. I appreciate the comments that you’re making. I mean, it is coming from you knowing what all the numbers are.

Hamid Ghanadan: Again, we don’t consistently hit those numbers every single time. I mean, there’s extrinsic events that happen. A very sad situation, I had to exit a partnership a couple of years ago because my partner become very ill, and it was a surprise and shock to both of us. Luckily, we had a really tight and well-written buy/sell agreement, and we had thought really through all of the consequences of the events that might happen in any of the situations, and had put in backups and had put in the right kinds of, again, guardrails to make sure that the firm can withstand any kind of these changes, and that both partners, both myself and he, would be financially taken care of in those situations.

Hamid Ghanadan: There was some creative thinking that went into that, but I thank God every day that we went through that. Because if those events happen, you have to assume that at least one party cannot think rationally because of the situation at hand. At least one, if not both parties can’t act rationally. Even though we had all those guardrails, Linus did take a substantial financial hit in that situation.

Mark O’Brien: Sure, of course.

Hamid Ghanadan: You just roll with it, but how blessed am I that I was able to navigate that, that my partner is thankfully well. He’s now on the other side of his illness. And we still maintain our relationship and we’re both okay.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, well, that’s a testament to planning because you put all those things in place well before he was sick.

Hamid Ghanadan: That’s right.

Mark O’Brien: Honestly, most people don’t go through that effort because, “Eh, it’ll probably work out.”

Hamid Ghanadan: Yeah.

Mark O’Brien: They don’t actually have a plan for every possible scenario.

Hamid Ghanadan: Yeah, I mean we were both young. We were both healthy.

Mark O’Brien: Right.

Hamid Ghanadan: There was no reason to think, and then yet…

Mark O’Brien: You never know.

Hamid Ghanadan: … this thing, yeah, exactly, just crawled out of nowhere.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, well that’s the thing. The planning that you put in place helps protect against the ups and downs that will happen to any single firm. I mean, you haven’t been successful because you’ve been lucky. That’s not the case. It’s been a very intentional success and you’ve had many, many safeguards to guard against life and all the things that life throws at all of us.

Hamid Ghanadan: Yeah.

Mark O’Brien: The name of this podcast is Expert Marketing Matters, so let’s get into that a little bit. Let’s get into your perspective on marketing and biz dev and what’s really required there and what your journey has looked like over the years.

Hamid Ghanadan: Yeah. Actually, it’s a timely topic because last year we went through this process of re-engineering our sales. Well, no, it’s about two years ago it started where we actually focused on marketing as a discipline. I’ll tell you, the creative professional industry, generally speaking, ad agencies, design firms, PR, because we do marketing for a living for others, we typically don’t have our own marketing departments, right? The inventory that we have to sell, and the knowhow that we have to sell on behalf of our clients, we rarely use it feed ourselves, so to speak.

Hamid Ghanadan: We flipped that, and we said, “No, we’re going to have a dedicated marketing practice.” As you know, Mark, we’ve actually taken a thought leadership approach to our marketing, well, since 2001, actually, where, with permission, I stole David Baker’s tool that he had. I don’t know if you remember this, but before he wrote his books, he had-

Mark O’Brien: Persuading?

Hamid Ghanadan: Persuading, yeah.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah.

Hamid Ghanadan: I remember when I first met him and I became enthralled with Persuading, and I thought I should create something similar to that for my industry. I reached out to him and I said, “Hey, I’m thinking about doing this for my own industry. Can I steal it?” He goes, “Go right ahead.” I started publishing these reports called Linus Reports. They were in paper and they were… I would send them to everybody. It really, completely changed the trajectory of Linus. I got a taste for, okay, marketing actually does work.

Hamid Ghanadan: Now, almost 20 years later, thought leadership has become rote, and the idea of content has become cheaper. When it’s so cheap and so easy to develop content, you have to create something that A) is not as repeatable or your competitors can copy as easily, and then you have to deliver it in a mechanism that’s utterly unique. When blogs were starting to flood the airwaves, we stopped publishing our Linus Reports, which was what we called it. It was all researched-based, so it was full of insights. But people don’t read three, 4000 words online, but people wanted more online access, and so we just thought this was a time to kill it. I wrote a book called Persuading Scientists, which really took a lot of the models, and the book then took…

Hamid Ghanadan: … Persuading Scientists which really took a lot of the models, and the book then took flight and took Linus to a different place with our ability to really garner better strategy work and move toward that. We just sold out of the printing, and so that’s now out of print.

Mark O’Brien: Wow! Really?

Hamid Ghanadan: Yeah, absolutely.

Mark O’Brien: Not to be reprinted?

Hamid Ghanadan: You know, I might write a second edition, but some of the stuff in there, being seven years old with how much technology has changed-

Mark O’Brien: Sure. I get it.

Hamid Ghanadan: Actually, I wrote a second book in 2016 called Catalytic Experiences. That’s really mostly meant as a menagerie of how to apply the concepts from Persuading Scientists, and that does have a little bit of a newer vent as far as technology and how technology plays in communications. I may actually go into a different route with maybe either a second printing or just write a third book or something like that.

Hamid Ghanadan: But right now what we’re doing, to go back about marketing, we started three different avenues of reaching out to our audiences. At the highest level and the broadest level, there’s a video series that we call Catalytic Results. This is a monthly video feed, it’s like a video blog, where we explore a different human behavior, and we talk about its implications in science and healthcare, and it’s in three minutes. So within three minutes, we describe what the human behavior is, this is actually straight out of behavioral psychology, so we describe the concept of a heuristic of scarcity. How does scarcity change the human brain, and how are we meant to act? Then, how can you apply that in healthcare to create better health outcomes, or in sales and marketing? In three minutes we deliver that. We put it up on social media, we put it up on websites, and email our team.

Mark O’Brien: That’s what I keep seeing on LinkedIn-

Hamid Ghanadan: Exactly.

Mark O’Brien: … and it’s great. It makes for a very powerful LinkedIn presence.

Hamid Ghanadan: Yeah. Well thank you. There’s a second … So that, at its highest and broadest level, it’s basically helping us describe to the world what our thinking is and how it can help them. So it’s really a platform for sharing our knowledge.

Hamid Ghanadan: Then there’s a second avenue that we have which is really based on the concepts of account-based marketing. Internally, I call it farm club. I didn’t come up with that name, that’s a strategic coach name. Just giving credit where it’s due. But basically, my farm club is I go out hunting, and I basically foster personal relationships with vice presidents or higher by connecting with them on LinkedIn, very nondescript, but then sending them a copy of the book with a very tuned letter that really talks about what I know of them and their specific part of the industry, and then inviting them to have a dialog. Then I keep up with them. I basically continue to send them notes and emails and congratulations or any kind of research findings that we have and so on in order to continue fostering that relationship. That program’s been running now for about a year, and we have gotten 25% reply rates. So that is higher than any other single-

Mark O’Brien: That’s excellent.

Hamid Ghanadan: … activity that we’ve gotten, and these are all very, very busy executives.

Mark O’Brien: Sure.

Hamid Ghanadan: And so to be able to foster that relationship through the long-term, I feel like it’s really important for me and for Linus.

Hamid Ghanadan: And then the third part of it is just really lead generation, basically, where we do a webinar based on some research findings or some analysis that we’ve done, and then we go and derivatize that content to have a longer-tail inbound marketing and nurture program for our markets. So that’s really the three prongs.

Hamid Ghanadan: So if you think about it, there’s the airwaves where it’s the broadest level just catches everybody. Then there is very specifically the executive suite that we foster long, ongoing relationships with. There’s very little sales going on there, it’s truly relationship building. And then for the level of the marketing managers and the directors, we have this webinar program which we rolled … four times a year we have a new webinar, and then we derivatize content from there.

Hamid Ghanadan: We also publish in Forbes, so a lot of times, the webinar content then turns into a Forbes article, for example, that again serves as that broad airwaves for us.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, so really about as comprehensive of a marketing approach as any agency is going to execute.

Hamid Ghanadan: Yeah, I mean we spend, collectively between myself, my marketing manager and others, we spend over 2,000 hours a year in marketing and business development.

Mark O’Brien: Wow. And when you say business development, it sounds like most of that is on the marketing side, not on the sales side.

Hamid Ghanadan: Correct. So we, essentially, also … We have a target of getting 15 marketing-qualified leads. So these are not just people who have given you their names, and they’re not contacts. These are people where you have identified … So what we call a marketing-qualified lead is someone who has identified a very specific need that we know we can address through our services, they know our value proposition with the models that we have and want it. So there’s a project in-hand.

Mark O’Brien: That’s marketing-qualified, not sales-qualified?

Hamid Ghanadan: Yeah, that’s marketing-qualified. So it’s a pretty stringent-

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, that’s a pretty high bar for marketing-qualified.

Hamid Ghanadan: It is. It is. I’ve also learned that there’s a lot of people who come to you with good intentions of working with you, but either you’re a foil for them because they’re going to work with someone else and they just needed another quote, or they honestly don’t know what they want. They reach out under the guise of wanting to do a project, but what they really want is someone to just walk them through and help them think about what it is that they want. And, you know, honestly, I’ll do that for free. I don’t charge for that. So, to me, that’s the bar of marketing-qualified.

Mark O’Brien: That makes sense.

Hamid Ghanadan: From there, it goes fairly quickly.

Mark O’Brien: Right.

Hamid Ghanadan: The definition of sales-qualified, then, is that we actually have a significant chance of winning that work, that we’ve actually talked to them, and we’ve offered them a solution, and they are interested in our solution.

Mark O’Brien: Right.

Hamid Ghanadan: You see what I mean? That then becomes sales-qualified, and then from there it’s just negotiating and closing it.

Hamid Ghanadan: So we look for 15 marketing-qualified leads per quarter, and the majority of them are just inbound.

Mark O’Brien: Of course, yeah.

Hamid Ghanadan: We’re doing all the stuff that we’re doing, and then a lead comes in through the website, or a lead comes in through a referral. Those are the two top ways that we get leads.

Mark O’Brien: Right. Yeah, and I just mentioned that your engagements are pretty high-level engagements. These are not $20,000 projects or anywhere close.

Hamid Ghanadan: Yeah.

Mark O’Brien: And so 15 of those per quarters is great, and that’s amazing clip. But I mean if you look at it, you look at the story you just told, you started doing this in earnest in 2001. And you’ve been doing it the whole way through.

Hamid Ghanadan: Yep.

Mark O’Brien: That’s really highly commendable and rare, once again, very rare.

Hamid Ghanadan: You know, it’s interesting. There was a period of time where we had a lot of clients with big retainers, and so we didn’t really “need” to do a lot of marketing, which, cautionary tale to anybody who’s listening, you never not need to do marketing. It is your insurance. It’s like basically saying, “I’m not going to pay my car insurance bill this month.” It was a stupid mistake on our part, and what we realized is that there’s enough turnover within the industry. There’s so many new entrants like new employees that come into a place of power, and there’s so much turnover in this industry that you can never stop. You can never rely on, “Oh, well I know my network. I know my industry. I know everybody in the industry.” You don’t. That was a humbling realization that we had, to be honest with you, that I had.

Mark O’Brien: Right. And it takes a while for, I think, a lot of principles to get there. And then even once you get there, it’s not a guarantee that you’re going to take action.

Hamid Ghanadan: Absolutely.

Mark O’Brien: ‘Cause it’s painful. It’s difficult to start. But once you get that flywheel moving, it’s not too hard to sustain because you’ve already developed those habits, and you’re in motion, you’re seeing the success of it.

Hamid Ghanadan: Yeah, that’s absolutely true.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah. Okay, well we should wrap up, but in one minute, I want you to give me how you stay so fresh. You’ve been doing this for almost 20 years. There’s zero sign of burnout. You’re obviously hyper-engaged, the end is nowhere in sight. You love this, you’re in it, and you have at least as much energy for this now as you did when I met you a decade ago. So how?

Hamid Ghanadan: You know, honestly, a constant thirst for learning and trying new things is really what keeps me going. As long as I’m learning, I’m having fun. As long as I’m learning and having fun, I’m in heaven. And if there’s a little bit of money that comes in through that keeps me sustained, then I feel so wonderfully blessed. But that’s it. For me, it starts from this thirst for knowledge and really wanting to learn more and really just know everything that I want to know about what I do.

Hamid Ghanadan: So I don’t actually read marketing journals or marketing props or anything like that as much as I read the Journal of Behavioral Psychology because that’s where I get a lot of really fundamental ideas. I also listen to podcasts incessantly. I’m a runner, and that’s where I get a lot of really good inspiration from. And again, I’m not listening to podcasts about marketing. I do, but I more listen to stories that just spark ideas that are associated to what I’m doing. That, to me, is just a constant of well of energy that I just draw from every day.

Mark O’Brien: Right, just keeping your mind engaged.

Hamid Ghanadan: Yeah.

Mark O’Brien: And, you know, you’ve got time to take your daughter to school, to walk her to school in the mornings. And then I should mention that too, you’ve always been really strict about your work-life balance, and you have an extraordinary work-life balance. And there’s times when you’re hitting it pretty hard on the work side, and you do a lot of travel, things like that. But on the whole, you’re not a workaholic. You work a very reasonable amount of time per week while also being as motivated and disciplined in accomplishing so much. So that’s a really nice balance, too. It’s not as if you’re working 80-hour weeks.

Hamid Ghanadan: No. The mind of the entrepreneur really never stops working, and so you technically are working 80 hours a week. But you’re right. I make sure that I take care of my body, I take care of my family, and I take care of my mind. It’s the only resource we have as entrepreneurs, and so protecting it is going to be really key and making sure that you’re doling out your time. Time is your number one strategic asset, so use it wisely.

Mark O’Brien: Beautiful. Thanks so much, Hamid. I’m sure everyone’s going to get a lot out of this.

Hamid Ghanadan: Oh, my pleasure. It’s always fun to talk to you.

Mark O’Brien: Always so inspiring. So, thanks for your time. Congratulations on living life the way you do, and for creating so many good things all around you. I really appreciate that.

Hamid Ghanadan: Absolutely. Thank you so much.