The Power of Verified Reviews: Why Agencies Thrive with Clutch

The Power of Verified Reviews: Why Agencies Thrive with Clutch written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast with John Jantsch

In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interviewed Katie Hollar, the marketing lead at Clutch, a leading global marketplace for business service providers. Think of it as Yelp for marketing agencies. Her extensive experience in marketing leadership at Clutch have provided innovative tricks into how verified reviews can transform agency success and drive growth.

During our insightful conversation, we explored how Clutch connects buyers and sellers of business services and examined the importance of verified reviews in establishing trust and credibility in the B2B marketplace. In this episode, Katie Hollar shares compelling success stories and practical strategies for agencies to leverage reviews to attract ideal clients and enhance their reputation.


Key Takeaways

Katie Hollar emphasizes the critical role of verified reviews in the B2B service sector. She notes that comprehensive and in-depth reviews help agencies differentiate themselves and build trust with potential clients. With an average review on Clutch stretching around 500 words long, every review reveals detailed insights into the client experience, project deliverables, and outcomes.

She discusses the growing trend towards strategic marketing services and the increasing demand for agencies that offer more than just tactical solutions. Verified reviews play a crucial role in showcasing an agency’s ability to deliver strategic value, helping them move from being seen as mere vendors or trend-chasers to trusted advisors.

Moreover, she points out that responding to both positive and negative reviews is vital for agencies. Engaging with reviews demonstrates transparency and a commitment to client satisfaction, which can significantly influence prospective clients’ decision-making processes.

Katie Hollar’s insights underscore the power of verified reviews in shaping an agency’s success, highlighting that authenticity and detailed feedback are key to building a strong and credible online presence.

Questions I ask Katie Hollar:

[01:43] Give a little overview of what Clutch is

[03:40] What makes Clutch different?

[08:38] What are the most significant trends in this space currently?

[08:42] What kinds of buyer challenges are Agencies tasked with responding to?

[13:13] Has the demand for strategy made platforms like Clutch adapt or change?

[15:27] Do you have any case studies of agencies experiencing growth by using platforms like Clutch?

[17:34] What drew you to the Marketing world?

[19:05] Is there someplace you’d like people to connect with you find out more about your work?


More About Katie Hollar:


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Connect with John Jantsch on LinkedIn


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(01:03): Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Katie Hollar. She leads the marketing team at Clutch, the leading global marketplace for business service providers since 2022. She focuses on building a multidisciplinary marketing team to drive growth for both buyers and vendors. Before Clutch, Katie was the CMO at Dwell Full, a prop tech startup and has over a decade of marketing leadership in the online B2B marketing marketplaces, I should say. So Katie, welcome to the show.

Katie Hollar (01:38): Hi, John. Thanks for having me.

John Jantsch (01:40): So we probably better clutch, we probably better give a little bit of overview of what Clutch is, maybe what your mission is in the agency space.

Katie Hollar (01:50): Absolutely. So Clutch is an online marketplace that helps connect buyers and sellers of business services. So we have over 1500 different specialized categories of services that folks might be coming to our site to look for a provider to help them with their business. Everything from accounting firms to digital marketing agencies, to web development companies all over the globe. And so we are a resource to help you read reviews, compare different providers, and ultimately select which one is going to be the best fit for your business.

John Jantsch (02:24): So is that an expansion of the original mission I recall was Clutch primarily focused in the marketing space.

Katie Hollar (02:31): Clutch started really focused on IT services and that was where it really built early foundation, but marketing was a fast follow. And so a lot of our traffic today, a lot of our service providers specialized in different digital marketing specialties. And today we’re going to talk a little bit about fractional CMO models, which is an increasingly popular type of service that we’re seeing demand for across the platform.

John Jantsch (02:56): So essentially you are, clutch is a review and matchmaking service. So would that be fair?

Katie Hollar (03:02): Yes,

John Jantsch (03:03): Yes. All right. So to help people say it is like Yelp for B2B businesses or something like that, but you probably don’t use that characterization.

Katie Hollar (03:16): Yelp is one that comes up a lot, TripAdvisors, Zillow, this whole category of online marketplaces that help bring buyers and together. And we’ve had over a decade of history of building up this wealth of content specifically around business services and how to find the right professional services for your project.

John Jantsch (03:36): I know there aren’t a ton of competitors in the space, but there are certainly other folks in it. If somebody was asking you how Clutch was different, I mean, how do you differentiate Clutch from kind of this growing space?

Katie Hollar (03:49): Yeah, great question. So I think in a few ways, one is we’re really focused on focused this services search and helping professionals such as yourself, such as myself, who need help finding the right agencies or firms for specific business project or need. And so all of our content has really been focused on how do we get in depth reviews is almost underselling, but really deep case studies and stories around the experiences that people have had with the different providers. So an average review on Clutch is almost 500 words long. We really go very in depth with folks on understanding what was the deliverables of the project, what was the timeline, what did you spend, what was the outcome, how did you measure the success? To give people a lot of contact on is this going to be the right business for me to partner with for this industry, for this stage of my growth for this particular need?

(04:49): And so we very much focus on the services buying. There’s other sites out there that focus on software and focus on other parts of B2B buying, but that’s been our core and it remains our continued focus is really how do we make sure that we’re connecting you to the right services. And I would say another way we’re differentiated from other sites you might go to might think of an Upwork or a Fiverr that’s helping you get freelance talent. We’re really more focused on the professional services firms when you want an agency of support, not an individual who’s going to help you with a one-off task, but a more robust retainer based or ongoing project where you need a team of folks or someone with just more experience and professional structure to help you with a certain outcome.

John Jantsch (05:41): So particularly since people, especially a buyer is coming there and they’re looking for a resource, they’re really counting on you to have vetted and gone through the process and that those reviews truly are a third party. What do you say to that person that’s like, oh, I don’t know if I can trust those. I mean, how do you safeguard those to make them true reviews? True case studies?

Katie Hollar (06:04): Yeah. We go through a pretty robust verification and validation process, and I think this is increasingly coming about as there’s more AI generated content. There’s lots being put online today that I think everyone is attuned to, Hey, where did this come from and how can I trust it? And so we’ve actually found the most successful way to get this review content. If you think about the types of folks who are typically procuring agency relationships, they’re typically pretty senior in their organization. They might be a founder owner for a small business as it grows, you’re probably a VP department level, pretty senior person who’s busy and doesn’t have a lot of time to go write this whole story around the agency they worked with and what they worked with them on. And so we found the best way to get that is to actually have a phone call with that individual.

(06:57): And we actually talk, we have teammates who talk directly to the buyers or the previous buyers and understand their client experience with the agency, ask them really specific follow-up questions. And so that’s been the most successful way to verify that this is a real experience and get that really helpful content to help create a very thorough verified. But of course, we accept online reviews as well and we check for work history and identifying the relationship between the service provider and the buyer. We do accept all reviews, positive or negative. So we often get the question, well, will you allow an agency to take down a negative review? We won’t. We want it to be really biased, helpful platform that gives you the full picture of all of the client experiences. And we encourage our providers to respond to those, right, perfect. There’s always a client that had a bad experience here or there and it wasn’t the right fit, but the best thing you can do is respond to that and give your side of the story and show how you’re moving on or learning from that experience.

John Jantsch (08:07): Yeah, I always tell people responding to negative reviews is not really so much a response to that person that wrote it. It’s to the public. How you respond is probably as important as what happened. Clutch has grown very large, so you have very large database, a lot of users and buyers, both sides. Do you ever spot or do you pay attention to trends in terms of what people are looking for, maybe even agencies? Obviously we deal mostly with marketing agencies, how they’re changing what they pitch even or what are you seeing is kind of the most significant trends currently?

Katie Hollar (08:42): Yeah, really great question. It’s one of the reasons I love working in a business model. This is we kind of get the inside look on what’s trending in a sense. And so we absolutely look at that from a marketing perspective. There’s been so much change I think in recent years, but particularly in the last year and a half, two years with refocusing on efficiency. I think so many markets really had to go to task with how do I do more with less funding has been harder to come by. I’m having to make tough calls around potentially laying off my team or how to work really lean and maximize profitability for my business. And so we’ve actually found through that more demand for agency services generally because when I’m being asked to make trade offs on, well, I can’t, I can’t build this skillset internally, but I need to still deliver.

(09:42): Growth agencies offer a model that allows you to scale that up and down and have more flexibility. So we’ve almost found in a way it’s a little bit recession proof. Of course people are more price sensitive. We’re seeing contracts have taken a little bit longer to come to fruition, but by and large, there’s still a lot of demand out there for different services. And I think one of the trends we’ve seen more recently in the marketing segments is that I think there was previously a lot of demand for very tactical performance marketing type things to do more of the tactical work for their business, like run my TPC campaigns on Google ads, what really do this very more tactical work in a specific channel or specific area of expertise. And we’re seeing more of a shift for demand for more strategic work. I need product marketing agency that’s going to help me position my brand. I need fractional CMO who’s going to help me figure out I reorg and structure this for growth in the future. So we’re seeing a shift, I think a lot more towards more strategic qualitative type marketing away from, not to say away from, but just a shift in that focus. And there’s still, we want a social media agency, we want that technical type of project work, but a lot more demand for some of these, I would say higher level type of project engagement.

John Jantsch (11:18): And I’ve certainly seen the same thing. And I think part of what’s driving that is I think a lot of people were unfortunately offering tactics alone and sometimes those tactics were disconnected. There’s a heck of a lot of pressure on price. I mean, there’s people selling website design for a hundred dollars, $200. So there’s a ton of pressure on just pricing tactics. And I think what we’re seeing is whether they’re agencies or just people hanging out of shingle calling themselves a fractional cmo, that they’re actually attracting a better client who is looking for strategy as opposed to a quick fix. And I think it also changes dramatically changes the relationship with a client. If you’re brought in to orchestrate all the parts, you really become, I think more of a trusted advisor. And I think getting out of the vendor status is probably a really good move. So I think it’s reaffirming that you’re seeing more demand for it from the buyer rather than it just being a trendy thing in the market that people have decided to offer. What are some of the challenges that, if buyers are asking for that, are you seeing challenges with agencies being able to respond to that or are you seeing the same thing where a lot of them are actually putting out strategic offerings or maybe going as far as calling themselves a fractional CMO or having that as a service?

Katie Hollar (12:38): I think it varies. And there are folks who have done a really great job of niching down and defining what they are best for. And I think those are the companies that see the most success on a platform like ours. And I think on most marketing channels, as you’re out advertising your agency services, it’s the more specific can be around who you are for, whether that’s a specific expertise or specific kind of strategic skillset that you bring a very specialized expertise. That is where we are seeing growing demand as buyers are getting really specific around the types of folks they want to hire for different things. And then we are seeing providers see more success when they are really specific around who they want to target. I think the companies that have struggled as priorities have shifted as budgets have shifted, are the ones who kind of were like, we offer anything and we just want to grow and we do all sorts of marketing, so we want to be across your entire site. We want to be P-P-C-S-E-O, digital marketing advertising. We can do it all. And I think it’s hard for those businesses to focus on where is the growth going to come from if they’re trying to spread themselves too thin and be all things for all potential clients.

John Jantsch (14:02): How has, or maybe you haven’t, has Clutch evolved, you’re seeing more demand for strategic, has that caused any kind of change in your platform or is it really just you’re observing the supply and demand changing?

Katie Hollar (14:18): I think we have continued to really think about how do we one, continue to do research and understand where the demand is. We get a majority of the folks who are coming to Clutch are finding us because they’re searching for a particular type of service. And so we are constantly out there looking at what are people searching for? What’s in the news? What are podcasts like your own talking about and what are we hearing so that we are ahead of that? Who are the agencies offering these services? And let’s make sure we have those represented. And then it’s around on the service provider side, coaching them on how do you make sure that you’re placed in the right places for what your business specialized in and does your actual website and your messaging and your pitch match who you’re trying to target. And that’s been a lot of the education there. So I wouldn’t say it’s kind of a constant state of change, but nothing kind of that function. It’s just we evolve as a market evolve.

John Jantsch (15:24): So I’m sure you have many, hopefully you can recall one. Do you have any case studies that you cite of agencies that clutches actually become a significant growth channel for them?

Katie Hollar (15:34): Yeah, actually it’s funny you ask that. We were just in a internal Slack channel hearing a story from a company that said we were literally on the verge of going out of business. We had no business coming in. Growth had really slowed and we were not sure we were going to be able to continue to make payroll and continue to keep this going. And they started a clutch campaign and they got two projects that they closed this morning that kind of kept the lights on for them. So we often hear those types of stories that I think one of the great things about professional services is we’re helping what tend to be pretty small businesses, maybe a entrepreneurship more often. It’s a handful of folks who come together to form an agency that one project can really make or break their trajectory for a lot of times in their big value projects.

(16:23): So yeah, I think we have a mix of client sizes and there’s that example that I just gave, but we also have folks who are global agencies with hundreds of employees and they have lots of Fortune 500 clients and years and years of experience. And obviously that’s a different type of relationship. But I think Clutch is still a really valuable part of their marketing mix because I think sites like Clutch not only help with the discovery as folks are looking for certain types of services, but it helps with that validation kind of throughout the buying cycle. Maybe you got a referral for this agency, they’re like, well, what kind of work have they done? Have they done any work in my industry? We see a lot of folks coming directly to the profiles of the providers listed on our site to read those reviews and say, well, sure, I got a referral from someone of my network, but they’re at a totally different type of business. Is this going to be the right fit for me? And so it still influences that relationship in that way because they’re validating and they’re doing due diligence around whether this is going to be the right fit.

John Jantsch (17:32): So one last question and more of a personal one. What drew you to the marketing world?

Katie Hollar (17:37): Oh, great question. I think I’ve always had this kind of right brain, left brain combination.

John Jantsch (17:45): It’s really a struggle. More than a combination though, isn’t it?

Katie Hollar (17:47): Yes, it’s a internal puzzle war, I would say, but my favorite subjects in school were math and English and art. So I, as I went through college and narrowed in on what I wanted to do was really draw on some marketing as kind of the intersection of all of those things and being able to use a strategic analytical mindset with a more creative outlet. So I really got into it. I went to the University of Virginia, studied business, and then was fortunate to work right out of school in a small social media agency, right when social media was just becoming a concept for businesses and learned a lot there. That agency actually went out of business within a year of me graduating. It was right around the great recession. And so that first experience I think gave me one, a little taste of the agency world and how leading it can be at times if client demand is not there and living through a similar period. I think a lot of agencies are experiencing now where it’s harder to get those consistent client relationships, but was fortunate to bounce back, landed in the B2B SaaS world and really grew my career in the SaaS industry.

John Jantsch (19:00): Awesome. Well, Katie, I appreciate you taking a few moments to stop by the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. Is there somewhere you would invite people to connect with you and maybe find out more about the work at Clutch?

Katie Hollar (19:11): Yeah, absolutely. You can reach me on LinkedIn. It’s Katie Hollar and would love to connect with any fellow Duct tape listeners.

John Jantsch (19:18): Awesome. Well, again, I appreciate you stopping by and hopefully we’ll run into you one of these days out there on the road.