Marketing and selling professional services as you grow and scale your firm is one of the most popular topics at Collective 54. You must focus on attracting new clients while generating additional revenue from existing clients. On this episode, Noah Berk the Co-Founder of OBO shares how he has mastered his go-to-market strategy to accelerate revenue growth.
Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the Pro Serve podcast with Collective 54, a podcast with founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. For those that are not familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community dedicated exclusively and entirely to the boutique professional services space. And for those that are looking to grow, scale and maybe someday exit. My name is Greg Alexander. I’m the lucky guy who founded this place, and I’ll be your host today. And on this episode, we’re going to talk about leverage, all kinds of leverage, financial leverage, operating leverage, and how to use process and people and technology to increase the leverage ratio that you have in running your professional services firm. And we’ve got a fantastic role model, Noah Burke. And Noah is a member of Collective 54 and he’s got a lot to share with us on this topic. That’s why he was selected for this. So, Noah, great to see you. Please introduce yourself to the audience.
Noah Burke [00:01:18] Thanks for having me here. Greg My name is Noah Burke. I’m one of the co-founders of OBO. We specialize in digitizing sales, marketing, service and operations for clients using CoSport, Salesforce one, an icon working with everyone from young venture backed companies to Fortune 500 firms.
Greg Alexander [00:01:37] Okay, got it. Okay. So this topic of leverage, let me let me set it up a little bit. So. Couple of people hanging shingle. Start a firm. They know something that the rest of the world either doesn’t know it, doesn’t know it as well as them. And they shake the trees and they generate some referrals and they get their first set of clients. And every time they’re doing something, they’re doing it for the first time, which means it takes forever and it costs a lot and it’s lots of mistakes. And then over time the firm matures, the quality of the client improves. You start hiring some people, you start training them, and you wake up one day and you say, You know, I want more than a lifestyle business. I’ve already proven to myself that I don’t need a job to work for the man. I can work for myself and make a living. But now that I’ve cleared that hurdle, you know, I want to build a real firm, not a lifestyle business. And what that means is I need leverage. I need to create ways of doing things so everything isn’t dependent on me. Other people can do what I can do as well as I can do it. And therefore it frees me up to do other things to make money. That’s what the leverage is. And in the professional services space is actually a ratio for this. It’s called surprisingly the leverage ratio. And what it basically says is for every senior person, typically a partner at our world of boutiques, very often, if not almost always an owner, how many people can they keep busy? So for example, let’s say one person and I have ten people that I’m keeping busy. You know, my book of business is keeping ten people busy. I have a leverage ratio of 10 to 1. And how you create that is the key to to scaling your firm. And there’s lots of ways of doing that. So no, let me let me throw it over to you at 30,000 feet. Given that definition of leverage, how have you created leverage at Obio?
Noah Burke [00:03:50] Well, I think it’s similar to what we do for our clients. I like to think of as a force multiplier and to create leverage in a couple of different ways. One is accountability and efficiency inside of the organization itself. So is having the systems in place to measure work, assign work and distribute work to individuals? Two, It’s also the type of people we have. So you just mentioned, you know, obviously senior people with perhaps junior people. So in our organization, we have senior people and then we also have junior individuals. And we spend a lot of time through what we call our residency program, training individuals to be able to take on the type of work necessary. And this particular residency program that we have. What’s really great about it is that they go through about four months of training and this is actually classroom training several hours a day. They go through real world examples, they take on assignments, and eventually at the end when they graduate from the residency program, they get assigned to a team that has more experienced individuals on that team. So they’re able to leverage those resources once they get on the team. Is how do you organize work in an effective way that your team is is billable and that you’re fully utilizing the team at any given time? That means now you need to have systems in place that you can actually measure work, that you can hold individuals accountable, but also see how work is getting done. So you can start creating systems and processes in place that make things easier to do. So I think you had mentioned earlier that when you’re just a two person shop, it’s it’s kind of simple, but when you have 45 people, it gets a little more complicated because you can’t do it all yourself. So you have to have people who you trust in a position who can do the work and assign the work and be able to follow through on what they do. And in this particular case, in our organizations around process, as much as training, as much as the team structure. So we work more in a team environment. Over here at OBS, there’s always a junior person, senior people who are working together.
Greg Alexander [00:05:50] So the thing that kills leverage and let’s go there first and boutique process firms is two things. Number one, you have senior people who in theory cost more doing work that junior people could do. So therefore that work is expensive or more expensive needs to be. And that crushes margins and that ruins leverage and gives you a bad leverage ratio. And that happens all the time. Then you have the opposite of that. You have junior people doing senior work and they don’t have the experience for it. And the client gets upset because quality, depth and you end up losing revenue and that’s just as bad. You know, if we if we simplify it to that and I know it’s way more complicated than that, but if we simplify to that for a 15 minute podcast, what does OBO do in the first instance? How do you make sure that senior more expensive people aren’t chewing up their hours on kind of commodity stuff?
Noah Burke [00:06:52] Well, I think it comes down. We understand what work is, quote unquote commodity. We also understand what work is senior. Sometimes what we don’t necessarily want to do is miss an opportunity to train or teach our junior employees. So sometimes we do eat. Some of that time when a junior employee is working on the senior employee lesson integration project or a particular migration project that they’re learning in that particular experience where we may not actually be billing for their time. We’re really going for the senior person time and the junior person is participating with that individual on it. But I think.
Greg Alexander [00:07:32] I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I actually do that, and I’m sure you do too. That’s why you’re doing it. I view that as an investment. Like to me, that’s what it is. That’s a positive strategy, not a negative strategy. So let’s stay on that for a moment. Is there ever a situation where that senior person is doing junior work? Not for the purpose of developing an apprentice. They’re doing it anyways.
Noah Burke [00:07:54] Yeah. I mean, in any professional service organization, sometimes that can creep into the mix where they may be doing work that really they shouldn’t be necessarily doing themselves. They’re doing it simply because it’s either easier. The transfer knowledge is going to take a while and they’d rather just get it done right. And so they’re just going to do it. I think in any organization it’s human nature to be like, Well, I know how to do this, so let me just go ahead and do it. Yep. Versus well, let me spend a little bit of extra time here, not necessarily billing the client for the time, but working with the junior employee to help them get up to speed. And we try and really through our four month residency program, get the team members up to speed on what is that, quote, commodity work. So we’re trying to teach them how to learn, try and teach them how to fend for themselves and where to get information and knowledge and how to grow themselves. Because you can keep showing them and showing them and showing them, but eventually they have to be able to figure out things. On their own. So we hire for a certain degree of curiosity. Everyone in our organization will be curious. They have to want to learn. They have to want to absorb new information. They also have to be okay with the unknown. So the unexpected, especially when you’re new inside organization. Almost everything is new and you’re not comfortable with those situations and experiences. It’s very difficult to rise and grow inside a company like ourselves. So it is part of the culture of the organization to have people who want to learn and want to grow. And you are constantly looking for what else can I do to further my own career? And the senior people gravitate towards them. Because if you’re going to teach someone, you want to teach someone who has a thirst for knowledge. I mean, yes, quote part of your job. But it’s easier. The other person is really receptive to what you’re sharing with them.
Greg Alexander [00:09:38] Now, a four month residency program, that’s a big investment. And I love it.
Noah Burke [00:09:42] Because.
Greg Alexander [00:09:43] Yeah, and most of the process firms at scale have some version of that. It’s a grow your own approach. Now the people that are in the residence program during those four months, are they completely on the bench. No bill ability at all.
Noah Burke [00:09:58] On a yeah. On the bench and availability. Wow. So it is it’s an incredible investment that we made our program. Just give me an idea of the number of applicants. We’ll get anywhere between 800 to 1000 applicants for four open positions. Sure. And even then, sometimes even higher four. That’s how exclusive it is to get in. So we’re looking for people who have the right attitude, who have that desire to learn and who’ve excelled somewhere else. Hmm.
Greg Alexander [00:10:28] Interesting.
Noah Burke [00:10:29] And in in our space, it’s really difficult to find talent who while we’re in the technology space, we did have technology deployments where we’re HubSpot elite partners for money dot com North American Partners of the year we’re Salesforce partners. And it’s not just how do you implement and how do you take a task, but how do you think through process? How do you align people, process and technology? And that’s very difficult to find. It’s easy to find a pure dev, we’ll say is maybe easy to find a pure analyst. You can just say people. It’s hard to find people who can think through not just what the requirements of an individual are, but how that process should work and flow. And then how will that be translated to technology and how do we implement? And we have special specialists in and organization. So we have individuals who are more project manager roles versus individuals or individual contributors, all equally valued inside the organization. And individuals can pick their path. But more often than not, they have to have some customer facing ability. And that’s a really difficult skill set. It’s something you learn and you have it. And then you also need that type of fortitude as well.
Greg Alexander [00:11:40] Yeah. Now, when we have the Fri member Q&A, I guarantee you all the questions are going to come around this residency program probably. Yeah, because it’s very unique. And so let’s give them a little taste. So maybe think like, I don’t know, a table of contents where you would spell out to me one of the chapters of this program or the components of this program at a high level.
Noah Burke [00:12:04] So depending upon where and what particular path we’re looking for, so sometimes we have needs for more project managers versus individual contributors or how we gear the program. So I took my business partner, Rob, my co-founder, about nine months just to develop the curriculum. So the full curriculum that each week, every day they’re working on different items. There’s guest speakers coming in within the organization or lectures and it’s geared towards the different applications we work. And so you’re not necessarily and the reason why is four months is partly thinking through it. You know, we work with several different technologies and most of our clients have two or more of them. I mean, HubSpot and Salesforce, maybe they have Salesforce on Monday, they have HubSpot on Monday. And so they have to be able to understand how these technologies work, what’s the principles behind them? What is a deployment look like? What are the needs of the organization? So it kind of walks them through what is a sales organization, what’s a marketing organization? What’s a customer service organization? How does operations and project management work? What does that flow look like in the customer journey process? What are the needs of the different individuals and each side, each of those individual departments? So as you can kind of start building on top of one another, it becomes a it’s an entire education that they’re getting into the space. By the time they get on team, they can generally handle about 50% of the use cases that are thrown at them. But one of the beautiful parts of the power structure, there’s always someone on there who can help them. They get stuck.
Greg Alexander [00:13:42] Your clients, do they know that you put your people through this process?
Noah Burke [00:13:47] Sometimes I do talk about it. It’s very exclusive. We have incredibly high retention rate inside the organization. Both. I think that’s due to our culture, our training, our development and also the people that we tend to hire are just brilliant. I mean, we have brilliant team members over here. And they like the level and the type of work we do there, like how we structure our work. They like how they get to structure their days and how they get to work on these individual items. And there’s it’s always new. Yeah. For what they’re.
Greg Alexander [00:14:17] Solving. I mean, if I was a prospect and I was considering you and, you know, 20 other firms that claim they do what you do and you explain to me that process, I’d be like, Damn. I mean, I would view that as a real differentiator and probably pay a premium for it because I would the implied quality lift that comes with that is is very real. How about your technology partners, the Mondays, HubSpot to Salesforce? Do they know that you put this program together?
Noah Burke [00:14:44] Yes. Yes. So we’re one of hotspots. Half percent of partners worldwide. We’ve built a reputation inside the community as being the go to company for think of their biggest engagements, their most complicated engagements, simply because we built a reputation that not only can we get done what we need to get done, but we got the team to be able to do it and reposition ourselves as a really technology company for implementations. Whereas most of our competition in that particular space isn’t the same thing applies on Monday. Same thing applies to Salesforce. Salesforce the idea of companies like us is more, I’d say, readily known. Whereas in Hotspot on Monday less so. But the needs and requirements are expanding and our clients are now our clients. Our partners are aware of our talent. They know what we’re investing and we’re making enormous investments. And so our people, the training, development, getting them up to speed, we’re also one of the very few companies to have enough pipeline of talent to actually handle the work coming to us. Very few companies simply have the skill sets and have the it’s almost like an aptitude inside the organization. And I give a lot of credit to my my co-founder and his background being very tactical, process oriented and like to be problem solvers. So it’s definitely helped us considerably with our partnerships with all three of them because they are aware that we do and we make these investments. And it’s also important for them to know that their partners are making these investments.
Greg Alexander [00:16:18] Yeah, and I would imagine that’s why they’re throwing you work because they know you’re going to get it done. I mean, that’s how you win the award. North American Partner of the year. I would imagine.
Noah Burke [00:16:29] We pretty much our entire businesses via referral. Yeah. From from partners from travel our clients as we call them, people finding us through inbound you know, is a real it’s an awesome thing to have just all these opportunities coming our way, but that also means we have to deliver every single time because our partners revenue is based on how good are we at what we do and our partners leverage us to help and close more business. So we’re also known as closers. In that sense, when a client generally comes to us and they’re trying to sell them on working with that individual partner, we actually end up becoming a benefit to have on their call. And so it’s in our training, our team and just how we do work is, is a critical component of our success.
Greg Alexander [00:17:19] Yeah. I mean, if I was a sales rep for one of those tech providers and I was trying to convince somebody to buy my software package and all the licenses that come with it, I would bring you guys on that call because the the prospect is probably wondering, like, am I going to be able to pull this off? And then they meet you. And there’s a great sense of comfort and it gets them over their fear.
Noah Burke [00:17:42] All the time. Yeah, all the time. And there’s not very many of us that can do what we do. And so they when they when they get the opportunity, they do.
Greg Alexander [00:17:53] Yeah. Okay. Listen, is is you have it is exactly how you have it. You want to create leverage in your business. You want to scale, you want to increase margins. This is how you do it. I mean, this one example and no problem has got 25 others of this residency program is how leverage is built directly into the business. I mean, just think about the recruiting number. A thousand people apply for four spots. You know, we’ve got a lot of members and collective 54 that their biggest problem is they don’t have enough people. And here you are, you know, turning away, you know, hundreds of people. You don’t have that problem. And that’s what leverage is all about and that’s how you scale an organization. So, no, I could talk to you forever. I can’t wait for the Friday Q&A with the members, but we got to cut it short here. But thanks for being here today and sharing a little bit of your story with us.
Noah Burke [00:18:41] You got it. Thanks for having me.
Greg Alexander [00:18:43] All right. All right. Well, if you’re not a member and you think you might want to be because you get a chance to meet folks like Noah and be in a community of real peers, go to collective 54 dot com. You can fill out an application for membership and we’ll take that seriously, if not quite ready to apply. But you want to consume some more content and educate yourself. Again Collected 54 dot com. Subscribe to C54 insights. You’ll get you get a weekly podcast like this one, you get a blog, you get access to our bestselling book and you’ll get some, some charts which visually represent some benchmarking data that I think you’ll find interesting. So check that out. Okay. So thanks for listening and I look forward to our next episode.