Episode 72 – How an E-commerce Consulting Firm Developed Multi-Year Client Relationship – Member Case with Bart Mroz

Firms that focus on delivering a great client experience along with their high-quality work reach scale. On this episode, we interview Bart Mroz CEO at SUMO Heavy Industries to discuss the client experience and trust-building to develop long-term client relationships. 


Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the boutique with Collective 54 a podcast for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. For those that don’t know us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community to help you grow, scale and exit your firm bigger and faster. I’m the founder, Greg Alexander, and I’ll also be your host today. And on this episode, we’re going to talk about client experience, and our guest today is member Bart Mroz. Bart, good to see you. 

Bart Mroz [00:00:45] Hello there. How are you? 

Greg Alexander [00:00:46] Pretty good. Would you mind properly introducing yourself to the audience? 

Bart Mroz [00:00:51] Sure. I am CEO of SUMO heavy industries. We are a e-commerce consulting firm. We’ve been around for almost 12 years, started as a web development shop. Grew into a lot more consulting work then than just, you know, development. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:09] I’m looking at these sumo wrestler behind your shoulder and I can see the name of your company, so I have to ask, where did that originate from? 

Bart Mroz [00:01:19] It’s in a way I wish. It was a crazier story, but it’s actually our director of marketing and myself known each other for almost 20 years now, and the issue is actually him in it. And Moe is me. And then we didn’t want to have a company name that’s like web development or anything like that. And then everything in Japan is heavy industries. And ironically, our little tagline sometimes says surprisingly agile, which sumo wrestlers are. So we build a work on big things, but we’re also a really small team and we’re surprisingly agile. Very cool. So it kind of fit. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:54] Yeah, that’s does. Yeah. Excellent. All right. So today we’re going to talk about client experience, and I’m going to set this up a little bit. So it’s my opinion that when boutiques are trying to scale, they need to get more sophisticated in the client experience and understand the difference between quality and service. And most of our members are true domain experts as you are bought and they focus entirely sometimes on the quality, meaning I delivered what I said I was going to do. But the experience of the client goes through along the way is equally important because usually clients are doing this for maybe for the first time and they’re engaging with you and building a relationship. And there’s all kinds of kind of emotional feelings that are happening as we go through the engagement. And clients can become Long-Term clients if they literally feel good about the relationship, and that feel good is in addition to the results that you produce. Sometimes firms don’t scale because they just produce great results, and they wonder why that they don’t have longstanding client relationships. They’ll hear things like Greg. I’m doing a great job and I got fired. Or, Hey, I’m clearly the best service provider, but I didn’t get hired. And that’s because sometimes clients can’t tell they can’t recognize your brilliance. And what separates the fast-growing firms from the average firm? Is this this dimension of client experience? So I guess let me start with my first question part in that is just maybe a broad overview of what your thoughts are regarding client experience. And you know, have you have you documented it or how do you think about that with your firm? 

Bart Mroz [00:03:39] It’s a huge part of our firm, so we are in our 12 almost 12 years. We switched to a full retainer kind of company. So it’s a long term sort of process. I think our longest client has been with us for 11 now. Wow. So our shortest is two months, but we just signed a few new clients. So there’s that average like five years right now, which is yeah. So it’s a long term. We are there all the time. We happened to be an industry that’s E! Commerce, that’s longer. But it’s all about for us. It’s Sure. We produce awesome work and work with clients, but it’s helping them understand it. So I know this is like a long ground about a thing, but sets up the whole course of this is like half our clients are about 12 five million dollars and under online sales, and half of them are one hundred and over two different versions. Two different things you have to do with them, right? The smaller client and needs the hand-holding and being them with them on all times. And it could be anything right there like we’re trying to get a new vendor and we have nothing. We don’t know what to do with it. We’re not going to make money off of that, but we’re helping a client get through that process. And it makes it simple for us too, because then we know what the vendor is. We can help them with that on the largest client. It’s that it’s having those relationships where they’re just longer for us. And the way I can kind of describe that, is it ever and technical sort of engagement? You always have the internal team technical team come to. Two to the table, right? Oh my God, they’re bringing you consultant, then what’s going to happen and eventually becomes where they tell most of the senior staff to leave and let the developers talk because it’s the idea of like making relationships that way. So for us, it’s about the relationship. It’s about being friendly and just kind of hand-holding a lot of times in the beginning of the relationship, and eventually it becomes a long term type thing for us. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:39] You know, that example you just gave us about the internal team coming to the table and they’re like, Oh gosh, how come the consultants? You know, it’s a great story for us to maybe pick on a little bit because I think sometimes we forget that external consultants, whatever type you are, it’s a threat to the internal team. The internal team might think, Hey, this is my job, I know what I’m doing. What do we need these guys for? So when you’re when you’ve dealt with that and clearly you have a you have multiyear relationships with your clients, how do you overcome that particular concept of they’re threatened by you? 

Bart Mroz [00:06:16] I think from the from, we don’t sit in that meeting, but for us, it’s always been understanding like our job is to walk in the client and make them better than we left them. But that means most of those answers are going to be with the people that been there forever. So in reality, as a consultant, our job is to take those people sort of answers and present them to the management and go, Hey, this is what’s had to happen. By the way, we’ll work with your team because they know better to implement them. So that’s kind of like a weird way of looking at it, but it gets us on the same page with the people actually do the work. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:52] Yeah. So we’re talking about client experience and how emotionally charged client relationships can be. We just discussed one of the emotions which is threatened. Another one that I run into all the time is clients can be worried. And what I mean that is, they can be worried that you’re going to make them look bad in the process. So in that example that you just gave us, you’re working with the team, you uncover an answer to a problem. You present it up to management. Does the team ever feel like you’re going to make them look bad? And how do you get around that? 

Bart Mroz [00:07:20] I think it’s more of they might. But we don’t feel that just because we tried to make that relationship with that team very solid and the knowledge between the two. I don’t. It’s a it’s a weird way of looking at it, but the teams kind of jive really well within the first, you know, first few weeks we go through a we call it, we call it something. We have what we call our discovery similar our way and it’s a longer process, but it’s that whole relationship building at the same time while we’re actually learning the client’s business. It’s a part of that is is that and I think just being in the trenches of with people and going, we can help you. That’s where it doesn’t. It’s the trust factor. Eventually, I think that from many years of doing this, we have this weird knack of being very friendly and making sure those guys are together because we know where some of that work comes from. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:22] Yeah. So this process you just mentioned the way in which obviously works very nicely with the name of your firm. Is this like a formal process to try to overcome some of these trust issues? 

Bart Mroz [00:08:35] Yes, it is what we start our relationships with every time or projects. It’s a two month process. It’s very structured, a lot of phone calls, a lot of Zoom calls, and it’s spread out between depends on the client. We work in e-commerce, the ferocity they’re looking at, what the client needs, what the business looks like, what the tools are, code reviews. Those kind of things are very important. It’s very structured on purpose. It’s also very long. It’s not your typical discovery. 

Greg Alexander [00:09:03] Yeah, I love it. I think it’s a great idea. And what I like about it is that it’s built for scale, meaning every client goes through the way. And so all of your employees after a while are going to get really good at conducting the way in and you’re hardwiring the client experience right into the delivery of the work. Mm hmm. And that’s probably one of the reasons why your client relationships are so long and tenure. Okay, let’s talk about another emotion, which is ignorance. You know, you’re clearly an expert and you go into your clients, and they might not know as much as you know about this particular thing. And you know, they might feel stupid at times. So during the weigh in process, how do you how do you help them open up and not feel dumb? 

Bart Mroz [00:09:43] It’s asking those questions and make sure my sort of employees, my staff, all the management understand it’s not. It’s asking questions, right? And no question is wrong. It’s about their business. So in reality, the way we walk in is like Sure. We know how to solve a problem, but the client knows their business right. They might not know what kind of tools they need to solve that problem. But our job is to kind of get that from them. So I feel like that’s the weird reverse. Like, that’s a. That’s where it kind of reversed that is that we’re just curious basically about the business itself. And then we work through. All right. Hey, listen, you know, you have an old system, you’ve been in the business for a while. Let’s help you go through that. And that’s asking questions. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:28] Yeah, OK. All right. Then one more emotion that I’d like to share with you and see if the way in process which is your client experience journey addresses this and that is this issue of suspicion. You know, sometimes relationships get destroyed because people are suspicious, like, who are these guys? And can I trust them? You know, it takes time to earn trust. And even though the way in process is long, by most standards it’s still short. It’s only a couple of months. So how do you earn trust that quickly? 

Bart Mroz [00:11:01] So a lot of the clients we have now are coming from people who left and went to other plate., I say so. And some of them, I think, would just find a client that the guy that the person that brought us in, he’s on his world is fourth. Mm-Hmm. So you just bring us in. But this is just over the years working through sort of the process of learning people, understanding them. And then in reality, it’s having a good reference network. I mean, that’s you know, and I know that’s going to maybe a cop out, but it isn’t. If it’s a brand new, we’ve never seen a person that is just making sure that our way in is making them comfortable, making sure they are comfortable. And we had sort of one. I think we’ve had weigh ins where we do for just two months and we get to a point where it’s like, Guys, this product is not going to go anywhere or you can take it. It’s too small for us to actually execute. You can take this whole plan with you and go ahead debt and people had come back to us or went somewhere else. So that’s our trust, but that’s the trust we built. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:06] Yeah, that’s fantastic. All right. Well, I love it. I mean, this is a best practice here. So for those listening to this, challenge yourself to do what Bart does, which is document your client experience, not just the quality of your work. Think about the emotional context of your client and how you build trust quickly. Maybe come up with your version of the way in and it will go a long way as you try to scale. And and Bart’s an example because it’s client relationships are are measured in years, not weeks and months, which most of us are. Well, Bart, thanks again, man. I appreciate you being here and dropping mad wisdom on us. And for those that want to learn more about this subject or others like it, you can find our book called The Boutique How to Start, Scale and Sell the Professional Services Firm on Amazon. I’m proud to say I just became a bestseller in our niche, and if those of you who are interested in meeting bright, capable people like Bart, consider joining our mass in my community and you can find us at Collective54.com. Bart, thanks again. I appreciate it. 

Bart Mroz [00:13:09] Thank you so much. This was great. 
Greg Alexander [00:13:10] OK, take care.