130: Turn Strangers Into Evangelists With Wayne Mullins


Wayne Mullins is a passionate entrepreneur and the CEO of Ugly Mug Marketing, a digital agency whose core business is to deliver results for growth-oriented businesses. We discuss the benefits of exceeding customer expectations, how businesses can turn strangers into raving fans, and why company culture is your competitive advantage.

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Turn Strangers Into Evangelists With Wayne Mullins

My guest is Wayne Mullins, the CEO of Ugly Mug Marketing, a digital agency whose core business is not to build you a new website, revamp your brand, help you with your marketing but to deliver results to your growth-oriented business. Wayne, welcome to the show.

Thank you, Steve. Thanks for the intro. I’m excited for our chat. When we briefly chatted before, it sounds like we have a lot in common and shared beliefs, so I’m excited for this.

Me, too. I think we have some good topics here. Let’s start with your journey. Yours is a particularly interesting one. I guess that’s another commonality. I used to listen to Zig Ziglar’s CDs as well. How did you go from being an ambitious kid, listening to these CDs to selling ads, starting a landscaping business, and ending up running a marketing agency?

In rewind, that story unfolds exactly like you just said it. For whatever reason, Steve, one year for Christmas, my parents gave me some CDs from Zig Ziglar. I don’t know what led to that decision to give me those CDs, but they gave me some CDs. For those who don’t know what CDs are, it was back before everything was digital. I’m dating myself slightly.

They gave me those CDs, and Zig’s CDs were on selling. Over the course of listening to those CDs, Zig sold me on the profession of selling. I knew from that point forward that I wanted to go into sales. I altered what I was going to do right out of college. I wanted to get a few years of experience in sales, and that’s exactly what I did.

I wish I could tell you that I was good at sales when I started, but Steve, I was absolutely horrible. I have this one trait, which is stubbornness. That served me well in that instance. Sometimes my stubbornness doesn’t serve me well. In this case, it served me well because I kept learning, kept growing, and literally kept knocking on doors, having doors slammed to my face, but I kept on going.

Over the course of three years, I’ve honed those skills. What I noticed was that I was selling more and more for my company. The amount of revenue I was bringing in for the company kept growing and growing. Although my pay was increasing, those numbers kept getting further apart. In other words, there was a bigger gap between what I was bringing in and my pay.

I had this dangerous thought that pops in my head sometimes, “What if I went and did something for myself? What if I went and started something for myself?” The only other skill I had at that time was cutting grass. I’d cut grass all through high school and college. I decided to leave a good corporate sales job Monday through Friday, 8:00 to 5:00, all of the perks and benefits, and start a lawn and landscape company.

I’m in Louisiana. Summertimes in Louisiana are not fun places to be. This was going to be outside most of the days. Over the course of a three-year period, I grew that company from a startup to a very large company. We were 1 of the 2 largest in our region. It was December, and I decided to put the business up for sale. I was ready for the next challenge.

Within two weeks, I had two different offers on that business. It was during the course of growing that business, though, to that point that a lot of our actual customers from the lawn care company and a lot of other business owners in the area started coming to me asking, “How are you growing? What are you doing to grow your business this quickly?” At the end of the day, that answer was marketing. We were doing some very unique and very creative things with marketing. Those conversations turned into consulting, and that eventually turned into the business I have today.

You went from sales. A lot of people, I see that in the marketing world, that they figure out they get really good at marketing. They then look for a product that they can sell because they figured or estimated that they can make much more money for themselves than an employee. You actually switched horses because you realized that the product could actually be the service of marketing.

That’s a great segue into our next topic, which is the framework or the management blueprint. I talk about it on this show. We talk about this concept that you call something like a natural progression framework where you gain the trust of your customer over time. How does that work? How did you discover this framework, and what’s the mechanics of it?

This framework actually comes from cells. It comes from human psychology. As I was developing my sales skills, I noticed that people always go through these same stages when making purchasing decisions. If you want to become more effective as a salesperson, marketing starts coming into play. You start figuring out, “How can I position? How can I market myself so that I’m able to sell more?”

When we think about selling, we think about humans making purchasing decisions. The stages they go through. First of all, they obviously have to know about you, your products, your service, or whatever it is. They have to like you because if they know about you and they don’t like you, there’s no chance of moving forward.

The next step is they have to trust that your product, your service, or your thing is going to be worth more value to them than the money they part with. Knowing, liking and trusting are these core components of making purchasing decisions. When we think about marketing, what I realized was that out there in the world, there are a bunch of people who are strangers.

They don’t know about our company, our product, our service, or even us and our salespeople. Step one is I have to get those people, the people I believe would be a good fit for what I do, the product or service, to know about me. The question comes, “What can I do to put my message and my name in front of people who don’t know about me but who would probably benefit from what it is that I offer?”

That’s moving people from what I would call strangers to friends. Once we move them to friends, they now know about us and they like us. The big ingredient that moves people from friends into customers is that word that you talk about. Trust. If people don’t trust us, they’re never ever going to pull out their wallets and hand us this stuff called money.

The big ingredient that moves people from friends to customers is the word “trust.” Click To Tweet

It’s our job, though, to convey or evoke trust in this process. Where we get in trouble is this. We believe that if I stand up here loud and long enough and preach about how great my product or service is, eventually, I’m going to wear you down and you’re going to trust me enough to pull out your money. It doesn’t work that way. As a matter of fact, it’s actually the opposite effect.

We begin tuning out those people who are “screaming” at us the loudest, trying to convince us, and twist our arm to take action. I always tell people, “Think about it. If you buy things on Amazon or any website, what’s one of the first things you do when you look at a product you’re considering? You scroll down to the reviews and you read the reviews of that product.

Here’s the interesting thing, Steve. That company could have paid all of those people to go leave those reviews. It’s against some terms of service, I’m sure, but companies could do that. Yet we still trust those random strangers way more than we trust the company who actually made the thing that we’re considering buying.

All of that to say, that’s part of the natural progression. That is the attracting side. In other words, we’re attracting strangers, turning them into friends into customers. The last super quick part of this progression is that we have an opportunity as marketers to take our customers and turn them into evangelists for our company’s products and services.

I believe that so many marketers are shortsighted because we believe our sole job is to bring people to the point of purchase, to get them to pull out their money. We’re all searching for the next stranger out there in the world. I believe the greatest opportunity for marketers is to spend some of that time, attention, effort and dollars turning existing customers into evangelists. We know what happens when we have evangelists. They tell their friends and family, and it makes our jobs so much easier.

This is something I’ve been thinking about as well as to what this progression is. In my mind, I call it the customer journey. You get the customer and then you increase the value that they are getting from you. You make them successful, basically. That allows you to make that customer into a permanent customer that continues to give you money.

The next stage is to turn them into some kind of strategic partner for your business. Maybe that strategic partnership is them bringing further customers. It could be selling each other products or sharing channels. This is an important idea to not stop by getting those customers, even making them permanent, but leverage them and make them into an evangelist. How does it work? How do you turn a customer into an evangelist?

The number one step is this. We have to be honest with ourselves. Here’s the thing I know about entrepreneurs because I work with a lot of them. We are jaded and biased. We have blinders on. We often don’t want to see the truth about our business. Why? It’s because it’s our baby. It’s the thing we’ve poured our heart, soul, and our life into.

We’re working around the clock on this thing and we don’t want to hear people tell us the ugly truth sometimes that we need to hear about our businesses. What I would do is I would recommend doing what I call a litmus test. We need to find out are we actually meeting expectations or are we exceeding expectations?

If you’re not exceeding customer expectations, you have no hope and no chance of turning them into evangelists. Yes, you can have “satisfied customers” by meeting expectations, but satisfied customers aren’t enough. We need evangelists for our brands. Step one is we have to be willing to hear the harsh truth, pull off these blinders, and seek out feedback that sometimes hurts us when we hear it.

Is there a process for exceeding expectations? Is it about listening to the customer, or maybe there’s something else? What does that look like? Do I manage their expectation, to begin with, so that I can exceed them? Do I sandbag what I offer? Do I go out and innovate? I can offer them more than I offered everything I could when I saw them, but I have no more to offer to them. This is how I exceed? What is your process for exceeding expectations?

Exceeding expectation begins with a clear understanding of what a reasonable customer have the right to expect when they interact with us. We understand that there are going to be a few people who are unreasonable. We’re not trying to figure out how to exceed their expectations necessarily. What we’re looking for is the vast majority.

What are they coming to us expectation-wise? One exercise that’s super simple to do is to take out a sheet of paper. Write all the way down the left-hand side all of the points of interaction that someone has with you during the purchasing process. From the first time they visit your website or pick up the phone, or walk in the door, ask yourself the question, “When they pick up the phone, what does a reasonable person have the right to expect?” Do we answer the phone in 1 or 10 rings? Do we answer it live? Does it go to voicemail first? Does it go to one of them things where you start pushing 1, 2, or 7, 14 different hours? What do they expect? Until we clearly identify what they expect, we don’t know if we’re exceeding that theme.

We’ll move to the next phase. When someone orders our product, how long do they expect before it’s delivered? Is it 2 days, 10 days, or 2 weeks? Is it the same day? What do they expect? Until we crystallize that on paper, we don’t know if we’re meeting that. If you go down the list and you write all the points of interaction all the way down the side and what it looks like to meet their expectations.

You can then say, “If they expect us to answer the phone in 3 rings, we can exceed that by answering it in 1 or 2 rings.” If they expect to receive the product in a week, can we get it to them in five days? You have the sheet of paper that, then, you can say, “I want you to follow a customer through their journey,” like you were talking about. “I want you to follow them through this process and document are we meeting or exceeding those expectations?”

You benchmark the expectations of a reasonable customer, and then you beat it. It’s a value analysis. Maybe the rest of the market, this is what they have made these customers used to. Maybe it’s a fourteen-day delivery. Maybe not picking up the phone, but with one punch, you can reach someone or they call you back in half an hour, then you can beat them by picking up the phone. You have a clear list.

This is actually very tangible. Love it. I’m switching gears here a little bit. We talked about this actually when we were chatting on your LinkedIn post, that the culture of one organization is really important. One of the things that you mentioned that perked my ear was that you have a very young staff, mainly Gen Zs, and you’re at a very high performance and accountability culture.

I totally believe that young people can perform very highly. A lot of people tell me, “This young generation don’t want to work. They just want life balance.” Even in ancient Rome, people were complaining about the young generations. That’s not a new thing. What do you specifically do to get your young people be accountable and high-performing?

I love this question, Steve, and I love this topic. What I believe to be true nowadays is that your culture is the ultimate competitive advantage. In the marketplace and the world that we live in now, a strong culture is going to beat the best strategy that exists. Was it Drucker who said that? Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Your culture is the ultimate competitive advantage in the marketplace. Click To Tweet


First of all, what I would say is this. If you have the expectation that Gen Z or Millennials or whoever are going to be poor performers, they don’t want to work, they don’t want all of these things, you’re going to look for evidence that makes those things true about your team. Your belief is confirmation bias. We begin looking for those things that we believe to be true.

If I believe that about my team, I’m only going to see those things. On the flip side of that, if I believe that this younger generation wants to contribute, deliver high value, pour themselves into their work, and want a good mission to pursue, I’m going to look for evidence of those things. 1) Getting clear about our own personal beliefs. I believe that that is fundamental to all great leadership.

2) Expectations. What I’ve discovered is this generation, because of our beliefs about the generation, we lower our expectations of them and for them. Instead, I believe that I hold my team to a very high standard and very high expectations and because of that, they live up to these expectations and standards. There are a lot of things that go into the making of all of this and the blending of all these ingredients together, but at the core, those are the two fundamental pieces.

On culture, specifically, I think it’s important to remember that culture comes from the same Latin word as cultivate. When you think about farming, you think about cultivating the soil. It’s not a one-and-done thing. You’re going to cultivate the soil before you put the seed in it. You’re also going to cultivate the soil once the plants and the crop starts growing because you got to keep the weeds out of it.

After that crop is done, you’re going to re-cultivate. You may till in the dying crops to re-fertilize or whatever all that does to the soil. It’s this constant effort of cultivating the soil. A culture is not something that you just do one time or you do at a quarterly team meeting and you’re done with it until next quarter. It’s living, it’s breathing and it’s daily in our organizations.

That’s a great analogy and etymology. Thanks for sharing this. I’m going to use this with my clients. Cultivate. It’s a daily thing. It’s not a one-and-done. You don’t just put it on the wall and then you’re done with your culture. That’s actually the beginning. You have to leave it, breathe it, and remind people. I love it. I assume you’ve got a great culture if people are performing highly and they’re accountable.

What about autonomy? The other thing that we talk about is that you can have high-staff autonomy, and at the same time, you can have high alignment. How does it work? Sometimes, people think about this. If I let people do their own thing, then it’s going to be difficult to align them because they’re going to be focused on their own vision. If I align them too much, they might feel micromanaged and their autonomy is hurt. How do you handle the dichotomy of autonomy and alignment?

It is definitely a dichotomy, Steve, between those two things and keeping those two things balanced. I’d love to think of it as a chart where on one axis, we have alignment, on the other, we have autonomy. If you have an organization that is very highly aligned, you’re going to have a lot of order. Everything’s going to be in order and all put together.

In the other axis, let’s say that we don’t have high alignment, but have high autonomy. What we end up with there is chaos. No one knows what to do. They’re just running around doing a bunch of business stuff and it’s very chaotic because they’re not aligned around a central thing. When we have both alignment and autonomy, what we end up with is the ability to scale a company.

How do we achieve those two things? That’s where the trick comes in. That’s where it gets tricky balancing these two things out. What I believe to be true is that you’re able to do both of those things simultaneously. You’re able to keep those two things balanced, but you can’t do it if you’re not aware that both of those things are at play.

All too often, when I’m speaking to entrepreneurs, they’re stuck in this battle between micromanagement and freedom, like chaos. In reality, there’s a point in the middle. That doesn’t mean sometimes we’re not leaning heavily into “micromanaging,” but there are also times when we’ll be leaning the other way.

What I believe to be true. When we think about alignment, the ingredients that are needed there, we have to have a very clear, compelling future. What’s the vision? Where are we going? Second. What’s the mission? Why are we here? Why do we exist? What do we get up for in the morning? What’s our why? Those are two core things that we need there, the vision and the mission.

When it comes to the team itself, 1) They want to know where we are going. 2) Why does it matter that we’re pursuing this thing? 3) What is my role in this process? In other words, for me as an individual, based on why I am here in the company, what is my role in that vision? The direction we’re going. The next question is, now that I know my role, how are you going to measure my performance?

How’s my performance going to be measured in the pursuit of that thing? When we get clarity around those few simple things, in other words, we provide that picture to the team members, we’re able to then balance the alignment around the vision and the mission, where we’re going, and why we exist. We are creating the parameters of the frameworks that allow autonomy. They understand where we’re going. We also give them, “Here’s your role in this process. Here’s how you contribute to this mission that we’re on.”

This is also what I teach my clients. I look at it like a mountain where you have the moon in the background. Your why is the moon, so you’re never going to reach your why, but it’s something that creates the inspiration for you to move forward. It’s long-term. That’s how you change the world. The tip of the mountain, the pinnacle, is basically your BHAG, your Big Hairy Audacious Goal, your long-term focus, single goal that’s like the North Star.

You break it down from there. What are your milestones medium term? What is your strategy? How are you different? You’re not competing to be the best but to compete to provide a different value. You break it down into an annual plan. You have your quarterly objectives, the weekly metrics, and the daily activities that feed into it.

I see this as a mountain with the daily activities at the bottom, and everything feeds into your mission in the end. You need the structure, and then people can feel autonomously, but they are also highly performing. I also like to think about this as making people mini-CEOs. Define their function, basically draw the structure for them, and then let go. “You own sales. Now figure out how to grow sales. You own delivery. Figure out how we are going to scale delivery. It’s your initiative, still, we align.”

What about communication? One of the things that a lot of entrepreneurs fall down on is communication. They have the vision in their head. They share it once a quarter with the team, but they are just doing their own thing and they expect everyone to remember it the whole quarter. What is in your mind with communication? When you say over-communicate, what does it look like?

I got this from a gentleman who has a company. He has about 700 employees. They do around $70 million a year. He’s the cofounder and CEO of the company. He told me that his role in his head now is the CRO, Chief Reminding Officer. He views his entire role as “I have to ensure that the vision and the mission gets pushed down through and into the organization.”

He talked about the need to constantly repeat it, communicate it, and do it in different ways. Not just verbally but to do it visually, to do it all these different ways to help push it down into the organization. When you are tired of saying it, they are just now beginning to truly understand it. That’s number one. The other way I love to do this within our company is to have other people help communicate those things within the company.

Constantly communicate with your team. Once you are tired of saying it, they are now beginning to truly understand it. Click To Tweet

My primary role is to push that down into the organization. It’s about alignment so that they can have autonomy. To have them and give them responsibilities at our meetings. We do weekly team meetings where every single person’s there to talk about the core values. “Give me an example of how you live this out, you saw someone in our team live this out, or you saw a customer or client who lived this out.”

Same thing with vision and mission. We rotate through. What it does is it creates this identity of people watching for other people to live our core values, other people to live into our vision for where we’re going as an organization. I would say this. As entrepreneurs, typically, what I find is that we believe that once we’ve expressed the thing we want to be true, our work is done, and we can move on to the next idea. We love jumping from thing to thing, idea to idea.

One of the lessons I had to learn is to back up. I’ve had to learn to tamp some of my ideas down, to put them down for the sake of not creating confusion in the organization, and for the sake of clarity around what matters most right now. That’s why I think it’s important for entrepreneurs to have a coach or a mentor. Someone they can go to with their ideas, vet their ideas, and talk about their ideas.

If you are going to your team all the time with all of your ideas as an entrepreneur, 1) I can promise you you’re creating confusion. You’re talking about the vision, the mission, and the goals are the most important things, but yet you’re bringing all these other ideas, and so they’re getting confused. 2) I think it’s important because it gives us a sounding board. Someone to vet those ideas off of who gives us an outsider perspective. What I would say is, in this whole makeup of typical entrepreneurs, we have to be aware of how the things that naturally serve us. On the other hand, naturally, cause us to stumble and to be weaker in certain areas than we need to be.

As entrepreneurs, you must be aware that the things that naturally serve you can also cause you to stumble. Click To Tweet

That totally resonates with this. This is actually very challenging. Most entrepreneurs I know that are really entrepreneurs are in it because they love to come up with ideas. They’re excited about innovating and figuring it out. Playing with ideas that they may not want to implement, but they want to discuss with people because they are curious about the concept. People think that this is already a thing, and they get confused.

From the entrepreneur side, it’s really hard not to do that because that’s the whole thing that interests you. It’s day-to-day business, learning the business, it’s boring. You want the exciting stuff, which is strategizing, growing the business, and coming up with new concepts to sell and innovate. That’s a huge challenge.

That’s a good point to find a coach and to use the coach as your sounding board. Some people say that you need to have a COO, and the COO is going to be the filter. You can basically tell the COO, “Don’t take everything at face value. We just could’ve discussed it.” They’re going to push back if this is too much, and they act as the filter, but to have a coach is also a great way to handle that problem.

Wayne, lots of exciting things. We have to build a great culture where people are empowered. They are accountable and highly performing. They know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. They are aligned to your vision. Their function is clearly defined, and then you have to over-communicate the message.

I love the Chief Reminding Officer and what you said about not just verbally but visually and not to confuse your people. These are all very important messages. If people would like to learn about how your agency doesn’t confuse people, how do you clarify the message? How do you allow people to actually differentiate themselves? Where do they find out about it? How do they reach out to you? How do they contact you? Where are you?

The easiest place is our website. That’s UglyMugMarketing.com. Email addresses, phone numbers, all of our social media links are right there on our website. That’s probably the easiest spot to find us.

Definitely check out Wayne Mullins from Ugly Mug Marketing. Actually, I have to ask you a final question. Why Ugly Mug Marketing?

The name Ugly Mug Marketing comes from a quote by a gentleman with the name David Ogilvy. David Ogilvy was a cofounder of Ogilvy & Mather. At one point, the largest ad agency in the world. They’re still in the top 10. David Ogilvy’s background was in direct response marketing. Rumor has it that in the offices of their company, he had a phrase that he would say often. That was, “I would rather an ad that’s ugly and effective over one that’s beautiful but isn’t.”

In our industry, the advertising industry, what’s interesting is there are all of these design awards and there’s this constant pull to enter to win design awards and film awards, all of this stuff. From the very beginning, I wanted to ensure that our name reminded us of why we exist. We don’t exist to win awards. We exist to get results from our clients. I didn’t want us to become distracted by doing “beautiful things” for the sake of beautiful things.

We have a chocolate brand in Hungary. It’s a badly-looking chocolate. It’s a very rugged piece of chocolate. It’s not straight. It’s a weird thing. The tagline is, “Ugly but delicious.” That’s the same idea. All right, Wayne, thank you for the conversation. Do check out Wayne Mullins. CEO of Ugly Mug Marketing. Check out their work. They have a great website and great social media work as well. Reach out to Wayne. He is on LinkedIn. He’s not the easiest to find, but you can find him on LinkedIn and you can reach out to him there as well. Thank you, Wayne. I wish everyone a good day.

Thanks so much.


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