Sustainably Growing Your Agency with Gray MacKenzie

In this episode of Agency Journey, Gray MacKenzie is joined by Dr. Jeremy Weisz from Rise25 to discuss ZenPilot’s strategies for helping agencies grow sustainably. Gray talks about the importance of standardized processes, why boosting your agency’s organization matters, and how partnering with ZenPilot can increase your efficiency, profitability, and peace of mind.
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Gray MacKenzie is the CEO and Founder of ZenPilot. ZenPilot helps agencies streamline operations and scale their businesses using proven systems and processes. Over 1,800 agencies have grown quickly and sustainably thanks to ZenPilot’s services.

Gray also founded GuavaBox, which helps B2B tech and SaaS companies build a better growth strategy. Additionally, he is the Entrepreneur in Residence for eCenter@LindenPointe, a startup business incubator.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Gray MacKenzie shares an example of how ZenPilot turned things around for a growing agency with organizational issues
  • Why a standardized process is essential for efficiency and client satisfaction
  • Should you bring in a professional to organize your company or train someone from within?
  • How long ZenPilot’s systems and training programs take to implement
  • The different plans ZenPilot offers for agencies of every size
  • How partnering with ZenPilot can increase your retention, profitability, and peace of mind

In this episode…

Your company is ready to grow, but how do you keep it organized? What can you do to make sure your clients get the same great product on time, every time?

Gray MacKenzie and his company, ZenPilot, have helped over 1,800 agencies grow sustainably. They’ve developed standardized systems and processes to help any team reach its full potential, increase profitability, and stay organized. They also offer training for implementing ClickUp, an all-in-one app for tasks, documents, chat, goals, and more. Now, Gray is here to share his expert insights and advice with you.

In this episode of Agency Journey, Gray MacKenzie is joined by Dr. Jeremy Weisz from Rise25 to discuss ZenPilot’s strategies for helping agencies grow sustainably. Gray talks about the importance of standardized processes, why boosting your agency’s organization matters, and how partnering with ZenPilot can increase your efficiency, profitability, and peace of mind.

Sponsor for this episode…


This episode of Agency Journey is brought to you by Oribi, an all-in-one marketing analytics tool. Say goodbye to Google Analytics.

To start your free trial, visit Use the coupon code agencyjourney and get 20% off any plan.


And be sure to check out ZenPilot, where we help agencies optimize their operations using our proven systems and processes.

ZenPilot knows that you are tired of wasting time on trial-and-error — that’s why we provide tried-and-true solutions that will help you grow and scale quickly and sustainably.

So, what are you waiting for?

Go to to learn more.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Episode Transcript:

Gray MacKenzie  0:10  

Cool. There we go. All right, welcome into another episode of agency journey. This is Gray MacKenzie from ZenPilot. And this is the show where we talk with agency founders and leaders about the systems and processes that make their agency thrive. And today, I have Dr. Jeremy Weisz of Rise25, who's done 1000s of interviews with successful entrepreneurs and CEOs. And we've flipped the script today, he's going to be interviewing me,

Jeremy Weisz  0:34  

you know, first of all, great, thank you. And I encourage anyone to listen to all of your episodes of Agency Journey. I've been binge listened to them. If you are an agency owner, it's a must listen, because you go through the journey and you go through some of the trials and tribulations and how people can up level. So I encourage people to check out episodes, what's a couple episodes that people that are must listen to

Gray MacKenzie  0:55  

There's a handful, but one that always sticks out to me, Marcus Sheridan, at the time was running the sales line now as a partner at Impact Brand and design. He was on maybe Episode Number 56 way back in the day, and is awesome one that we can link up in the show notes here. And then he was a big time speaker. Also he is he has a bunch of events a bunch of speaking. Yeah, poor guy turned, turned a little bit of internet celebrity in terms of speaking at events, I think the most charismatic speaker I've seen in person so I love it definitely episode I don't

Jeremy Weisz  1:28  

think I've listened that one. I need to listen to that one. And, you know, before we get into this, we're gonna go over there is this walk through the journey and how this one agency up leveled and paid as agency will go through that that kind of some of their journey and trials and tribulations before we do, I want to just say this episode is brought to you by ZenPilot. And if you don't know them by that you should check them out. They help agencies leverage proven systems and processes in streamline, that you have streamline operations using ClickUp. And so if you want an expert set of eyes on your current operations, I suggest everyone should, Gray, you know, because that's really what makes clients happy. It's what makes teams happy. And this helps agencies scale. So you can go to check out more if you visit, you can schedule a conversation with their team. And I've talked to their team numerous times, they are, you know, their superpower is this. So check them out. And so this paid ad agency comes to you Gray, what were some of the pain points they were experiencing.

Gray MacKenzie  2:36  

So they were not too similar to most agencies. And there's a little bit of, there's always an element of chaos at the root of everything that we're dealing with. But specifically trying to figure things out that awesome sales pipeline, really good network from the founders, the ability to win deals is never been an issue for them. The challenge is, as we're scaling up, what's the right organizational structure? How many accounts can we load onto our account managers and our media buyers are what's the right org structure in terms of how we handle this and scale. And then inside of that, the distinction or the difference between kind of like a player, account manager, strategist, and B player, or C player on the team, there's such a disparity in terms of the outcomes that clients were getting, because there's no standardized process. So if if they had someone who was great at running Facebook ads, or Google ads, on the account, the account did well, and if they had somebody else, you know, there might be things that were missed, or the account, there was just a lot of variance in the client results.

Jeremy Weisz  3:35  

That makes sense. Like if you go to McDonald's anywhere in the country, you know, you're an order hamburger and fries, and they're gonna taste probably almost the same. And I guess we don't think of that from from agency, if you you know, you don't want to you want to kind of take some of the human as much of the human element out as you can, right?

Gray MacKenzie  3:56  

Yeah, I think there's, I think of it not as I think bits, though, that can feel a little bit robotic, like I don't, I don't want to remove people's creativity. We're all creatives here in this space. But I think of it as giving people the guidelines to operate within where they can exercise their creativity and maximize the impact of that creativity, once they have the structure that they need to operate within.

Jeremy Weisz  4:17  

Yeah, and so so that's a pain point, like making sure all people are doing, you know, following a similar system. So you because you want the clients to get the the outcome. And you mentioned, you know, sales, managing different components of the business. What are some ways people use, I guess, ClickUp that maybe before they were using they didn't think of it?

Gray MacKenzie  4:42  

Well, there's one common use case inside ClickUp this new, almost every agency that we work with, and call it our account dashboard. And it's what's the profile of each client account that you're managing right now, on that account we'll have who's the team who's assigned to it? what services are they paying for what's the billing status what's the health of the client, what's the feedback scores that they're given kind of the is the one home base of your client accounts. And that account health piece, the visibility and then standard, you know, the standard process around how that gets updated. And, and communication gets sent back and forth internally on how accounts operate. That's, you know, that's one small piece of the overall puzzle of operations. But standardizing that, and the expertise expectations around it. And then being able to using ClickUp and create these different views or visualizing it has one account managers or their accounts doing versus another or by service line, we're looking at who's doing Facebook ads with us versus doing Google Ads with us versus doing CRO with us? What's the health by service line, and so being able to grab that has been packed. And that's not I'm talking about it from a ClickUp perspective, it's something you could do in any tool, it's easy to do and ClickUp, you could set up that same system and in pretty much any tool.

Jeremy Weisz  5:55  

I'm curious. ClickUp is so flexible and could pretty much do anything you want. Are there certain things you recommend people not using ClickUp for so it ends in this, as you mentioned, the sales pipeline? Do people use ClickUp for their sales pipeline?

Gray MacKenzie  6:11  

There are we are working with agencies who are using ClickUp as a CRM, it's not my standard recommendation. So from a CRM perspective, almost always push that out to our default recommendation is HubSpot. And there's a couple variables that might push us to recommend a pipe drive or a copper. And then for very simple setups, I recommend ClickUp often just to simplify the tool stack. But but that's kind of a unique set of circumstances. Right now I think long term, we're gonna see more ClickUp CRM usage or kind of using ClickUp as a CRM, and we've got got a starting point in terms of ClickUp CRM is that will plug in for agencies we're working with. But yeah, there's, there's a ways to go there before Yeah, fully functional. So

Jeremy Weisz  6:53  

some people will use it, but a HubSpot pipe drive copper, those are those are tools that you will

Gray MacKenzie  7:01  

draw the line and say pre revenue, push that into HubSpot, or push that into the CRM that you have in place post revenue, once someone signed up, that certainly has to live inside click on

Jeremy Weisz  7:11  

any other use cases that you're like, you know, what, ClickUp is great for all this other stuff. This is not something that you should run in, click up like an external tool.

Gray MacKenzie  7:23  

We've got a lot of folks who want to run invoicing or cost analysis inside ClickUp. And there's elements I see this pop up all the time. In terms of criticism, click OK. We can't track external costs, or we can't track track some of the kind of variable costs associated with projects. And you actually can with the right setup, it's not native functionality. But we've got kind of some some really robust functionality built on top of ClickUp for tracking it. But if you want to do labor rates, billable rates, cost analysis and invoicing integration. ClickUp is not the right tool for that right now. And so we'll make some specific recommendations about when to plug in a third party tool, when to use click up and just do exporting. But that's probably the other one that comes up pretty frequently that I'll push people and say, Look, I know I'm supposed to be the ClickUp person. But this is this is just not the job that had higher click right fundamentally for you right now, what

Jeremy Weisz  8:15  

are some of those third party integrations that you've mentioned before

Gray MacKenzie  8:19  

the harvest, and every hour are the two primary depending on the use case, the two primary third party time tracking tools that will recommend or that will help people plug in? And then obviously, from an invoicing perspective, it's primarily QuickBooks Online and Xero are the two main players with a side of freshbooks and accounting.

Jeremy Weisz  8:38  

Got it. So we talked about this, you know, paid ads agency, some of the pain points are having Is there anything else around their situation, that would be notable when they came to you?

Gray MacKenzie  8:50  

So this is not uncommon at all. But they'd already tried to solve this internally with a couple of different efforts. They'd already just tried taking a block of time and making an internal effort around let's build out our processes. Let's get this streamlined. Then,

Jeremy Weisz  9:06  

where are they trying? clickup? Or were they trying other tools? Yeah,

Gray MacKenzie  9:09  

they were Yeah, they were using Asana at the time. Okay. So then went and hired somebody internally in a leadership capacity to kind of come in, in the CFO type role and, and build it out. And that lasted for seven or eight months. They were paying, you know, a pretty healthy six figure salary to somebody. And just did not get very far in terms of the current setup. Having an actually be adopted by the team having a there's a lot of edge cases that come up and issues that are that are hard to fight through. So they already tried to solve it internally a couple times. And that was actually what was interesting was we had a conversation with them. Right before they made the decision to hire somebody internally. And that's not uncommon and not yet we've got in our sales cycle. We've got two different types of customers. To get customers to the pain is intense, we're ready to buy we'll buy right now. And we've got customers who say, I'm just digging, like, I'd love to see it, I'd love to know how it works. And then they'll go sit on it for a couple months and come back at some point, there's really a barbell in terms of our sales velocity. And this is one of those where

Jeremy Weisz  10:16  

they're debating, should I bring someone in house to do it? Now? You could do both. I mean, right? Someone could hire someone to house and be like, cool, this person is gonna be head of this. I'm gonna work with ZenPilot to implement everything. But on the other case, what do you think is holding them back in their mind when they're like, I'm just gonna bring someone internal to do it? What do you tell people? When you're like, well, that's fine, but...

Gray MacKenzie  10:42  

right. I mean, it's like any other job that you hire somebody for, if they've got if you trust the experience, and they can prove that, hey, we've got the system and processes, I know how to plug this in and know how to train a team, I know how to motivate people, I know how to make this all work together. And I know the right tech for us, if you're confident, then that person long term, and you're gonna have that person long term capacity. It makes more sense than hiring somebody external. You know, if there's a high enough level of confidence, but the best case scenario is when you have somebody who's the internal champion. And then you also bring in an expert who's seen it hundreds and hundreds of times, and can give you hey, here's the here's the playbook for yours and customized to your specific situation. Here's the playbook to follow and scale with. And so combining those two makes a lot of sense for the majority of agencies. And it's not always a new hire. Sometimes it's upskilling, somebody who's already on the team, or giving somebody a framework. Sometimes it does mean hiring somebody as well, on the inside.

Jeremy Weisz  11:40  

Yeah, you get the best of both worlds in that situation. So they go off and they hire someone, they try and do that role. First, I guess they tried to do it internally, then they hired someone specifically to do it. And then then what happened.

Gray MacKenzie  11:54  

So want to come back, let their internal person go, once they figured out Hey, this is although they had agency experience, and they've run Ops, none of that translated to, to the way that they were trying to run their business. engaged with us, we went through of our audit process on the front end, let's pinpoint what the main issues are, let's benchmark your performance against the hundreds of other agencies that we've benchmarked it against, figure out a prioritized action plan or game plan, and then into an implementation of ClickUp combined with kind of developing out the processes that they need and standardizing that. And then training the whole team on what those expectations are, how the processes work. So that's the that's kind of the next steps in the journey.

Jeremy Weisz  12:38  

What were some of the questions I asked you, I imagine people say, Gray, like, we need to get this out the door? How long is this going to take? How many hours what what were the common questions they were asking? And then what did you say?

Gray MacKenzie  12:54  

One thing that we get a lot of pushback around is the timeline. So I told them, Look, you're biting off a lot here. This is gonna take you this is somewhere between eight and 12 week engagement if we're going to move fast, but get this done, right. And then like most agency owners, not very patient, like nope, let's make it a four week engagement. I was like we like that's even if we had the bandwidth to dedicate all our time to you. You're still running an agency in the day to day your team already has a lot on their plate like you guys want. You just want there's there's so much that needs to happen here, that it's not going to get knocked out and be done well, in four weeks. That's that's one of the objections obviously around how can we accelerate the process? One of the other ones was, can we just have a like, Can we can you guys give us the playbook and then just kind of reactively support afterwards and talk through the pros and cons of, of what the setup is. But that's that's one of the most common ones is how do we accelerate the timeline? How do we make sure that this is going to work for us? Is this really going to be the solution when we've already been burned? We tried to do it internally. We spent a lot of money to pay someone else to do it and got burned on that. How do we make sure this isn't a repeat of past history?

Jeremy Weisz  14:12  

You know, great. There's, you know, there's two things right. There's you do help them through the guide implementation. There's another one that some sometimes that's probably I would say, you know, it seems like the most popular one. What's the alternative to someone who doesn't want that one? Yeah, maybe explain the difference between the two, right?

Gray MacKenzie  14:36  

Yeah, well, yeah, kind of high level in our models we will do from time to time there. You know, there may be somebody who needs a super large agency, they need a customer engagement work coming in and doing it for them. Ultimately, it's not the best solution for people but you know, that would be a 50 to 100k project if we're going in building and all that training the team and then training them how to use and manage the system. The I'm kind of the middle tier in terms of our service offering is our favorite and our most common, which is a guided implementation process where we're doing it alongside an agency's team. And in those situations, you've got somebody internally who's kind of being coached the whole the whole time. But we're playing quarterback, we're coordinating the whole project, even though they're clicking the button. So they're learning the system. And they're, they're running it. We're the ones who are leading the project. And then we've got a ClickUp for agencies program right now, where we're giving people the playbook, we're giving them the prebuilt training assets, we're giving them the prebuilt, ClickUp install, and we're giving them support. And there's some proactive pieces to it, but when they're getting the quarterback, and we're leaving it to them to say, hey, go as fast as you can into this. We're gonna, we're gonna check in with you. And we're gonna answer questions as they come up. But you're the one now who's assuming that, that role and responsibility of m&a, I'm gonna save some money, but now I need to play quarterback and make sure that this is getting completed on time. And, and well,

Jeremy Weisz  16:03  

so for this case, they chose the middle tier. And what were some of the things that you did with them? Because, you know, I think people have in their minds what they want, but they don't really know how it's going to work. And what's going to happen, what were some of the things that you took them through, that maybe opened their eyes inside of using ClickUp, or even their systems that help them manage their company and clients better.

Gray MacKenzie  16:32  

So in their case, there's some mapping out simply of the journey that they lead clients on. First, to say this has to be consistent across the team, you can't have one person who's running a client call every week for the same size account, and someone else who decides they're going to do it once every two weeks, or once every three weeks. So we got to standardize some of the inputs here, or else we know the process building will just never stop, it's gonna be there's always going to be process improvement. But I want some type of time box, hey, here's, here's how many processes we have to get built out. This is kind of the first piece of simplifying or standardizing the inputs. From there leading the team through the first thing is kind of the vision What does a healthy paid media agency setup in ClickUp look like? And is that you know, is this get them excited about here's the here's the potential when you have your work plan in this way, here's the type of clarity that it gives to individual contributors, managers, and executives. And then leading them through the process build out inside click up itself, to building out and standardizing and there was so much edification that happened of the internal team talking through Why don't you do things this way, I do these things that way. And there's that could go on and on forever. So our job is to streamline that and make that as efficient as possible. So those meetings don't spiral out of out of control.

Jeremy Weisz  17:57  

Yeah, you have to kind of sort out someone's internal baggage of processes in a sense, right? Right. Because then Okay, here, you got to choose a path. And it may be a combination, especially if they don't have all of it documented. Taking everyone's and meshing it into actually a standardized process everyone can follow.

Gray MacKenzie  18:18  

Right? And, and for them, I mean, one thing that they really had going for him was they had strong leadership to step in and make decisions when decisions and to get made. And again, that process for us falls behind. It's almost always indecisive team where no one wants to commit to anything. And we have to push hard to say, here's our here's our recommendation, but you have to make the decision on are we going to do weekly meetings? Are we gonna do bi weekly, and there's got to be decision made if we're because we need to standardize this somewhere.

Jeremy Weisz  18:46  

I'm gonna give you a new nickname, and tagline. Gray, which is it's a working nickname, but like the process psychologist or something, but you like step in and like, okay, let's let's, let's figure out what's best for the team and navigating the process. Counselor psychologist. That's funny. Yeah. Um, anything else with the kind of implementation that sticks out that was helpful for them? Or that that stuck out that helped them create efficiencies

Gray MacKenzie  19:21  

the team are being trained on here's exactly how what your morning routine looks like, and what the expectations are. And the day to day was a big piece. And at first that felt cumbersome. Most teams that we work with go through a little bit of a soft trough of sorrow for the first week or week and a half after implementation.

Jeremy Weisz  19:37  

What do you mean by that?

Gray MacKenzie  19:39  

They're being asked to do more than they were being asked to do previously. And there's no way around the fact that that's true, because most of the time, no agency has, hey, here's the expectations, they might say don't have any overdue tasks. But the easy workaround is just don't add your tasks into the platform and then you don't have any overdue tasks.

Jeremy Weisz  19:56  

So is it because they're not used to the platform, whether it's like a learning curve or more, they just see more of the processes up. So it seems like there's a lot more to do. But actually, that's the stuff they're already doing. It just wasn't being tracked. Yeah,

Gray MacKenzie  20:09  

yeah. So the fundamental rule for us is, if it's not in clickup, it didn't happen. We're trying to make this a single source of truth. And that can only happen if the inputs are good. So yeah, at first, it's going to, you know, there's, hey, here's more stuff that I'm being asked to do. And the outcome that they got to was, hey, we were now at a point where they had multiple account managers on the team, say, I used to wake up in the middle of night thinking about did I remember that thing? Or did I write it down somewhere. And now I'm sleeping through the night because I know that all my stuff is in here. And I can forget, I can let it go at the end of the workday, because it's all centralized. All the context is there, the tasks are there, the team knows what to do. And once that once a couple influential people on the team had that experience, that was kind of the switch that flipped for the whole team, where all of a sudden, everyone said, Okay, well, if they're into it, I can be into it as well, that's super common in these implementations.

Jeremy Weisz  21:03  

Let's talk about that for a second. So one outcome is that that was really that stuck out to you and was just team satisfaction. And I could see how that can just help with Team retention, because everyone just kind of knows what they need to do. They know the expectation dissolved there. What are some other outcomes that you see either with them, or with other companies, agencies, in their specific use case, there's

Gray MacKenzie  21:30  

a big uptick in terms of number of accounts, once the process has got standardized, and junior team members kind of got the expectation, here's the time allocated to these accounts. Their efficiency increased pretty dramatically. So which the byproduct of that is obviously profitability, if you can get your same account management team to deliver the same or better results to clients in less time, their capacity increases, which allows your your profit really obviously to, to increase? So we see that pretty common, and then just the data into like, how do we make decisions around where there's things that need fixed? They had kind of that all the data points that they need to prioritize, oh, here's the service line, and you see it fix next, or here's the client that needs to let go and the clients that we need to clone and try to figure out how to find more of,

Jeremy Weisz  22:19  

yeah, so it helps, it helps the marketing and sales team as well. Because they Oh, we're spending all this time, once you have the data, you can, oh, we're spending a ton of time on this type of client. But in this this person, like a just a thrill to work with. And we want 10 more of these. And you can track that more with the data from what you're saying,

Gray MacKenzie  22:39  

for sure. And really get a little bit of that. But you know, right now, we're wrapping up a client with a replicable project with one of the largest HubSpot partner agencies. And and we've worked with a couple in HubSpot elite tier here over the last couple of months. And the the differences between how they there's a couple of fundamental things that have made one client specifically much more challenging to work with, sort of take that back to our growth team or sales team and say, hey, these are things that you need to watch out for, and that you need to, you know, issues to address during the sales process to set clear expectations in terms of how are we going to create profitable, efficient, streamlined on time projects?

Jeremy Weisz  23:22  

Great. No, we're at the time I have one last question. I want to point people to ZenPilot, check out more, check out more episodes of the Agency Journey. It's a fantastic podcast and great guests. Last question is about clients decline throughout this to clients notice, or did they say oh, things are smoother? Or what's what's usually the feedback from the client side?

Gray MacKenzie  23:45  

During the implementation itself?

Jeremy Weisz  23:46  

No, just once it's released. Yeah, afterwards.

Gray MacKenzie  23:49  

Yeah. So from the end client. We've got there been a number of agencies who can't get

Jeremy Weisz  23:54  

your clients client.

Gray MacKenzie  23:56  

Yeah, exactly. Who kind of promoted it to their Hey, we worked with a team who's worked with 1900 agencies to streamline our operations, here are some things that are changing. And it's a great way to couch especially if you're resetting some client expectations. It's a great way to kind of frame changes that we're making, Hey, I know we were doing an hour long weekly call, we're going to a 30 minute weekly call. But here's the thing that we're adding in it's going to be better. And this is all part of working with someone else. But they're for sure noticing we're measuring client retention, and client outcomes. And so the retention side, there are direct comments or direct feedback that agencies have gotten kind of the anecdotal pieces. But client retention is where it plays out the most just increasing agency LTV, which if you're running a retainer or recurring revenue model in an agency, that's the that's the key in terms of enterprise value that you're driving.

Jeremy Weisz  24:52  

Love it. Everyone, go to and check out the more podcast episodes and Gray, thanks for having me. Awesome. Thanks Jeremy.

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