Episode 26: The Boutique: 2 SALES TOOLS TO WIN BIGGER, FASTER, AND MORE OFTEN

There are two sales tools that allow boutique founders to win bigger, faster, and more often. On this episode we discuss how to increase sales effectiveness of professional services.

TRANSCRIPT

Sean Magennis [00:00:15] Welcome to The Boutique with Capital 54, a podcast for owners of professional services firms. My goal with this show is to help you grow scale and sell your firm at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. I’m Sean Magennis, CEO of Capital 54 and your host. On this episode, I will make the case that there are two sales tools that allow boutique founders to win bigger, faster and more often. I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Greg Alexander, Capital 54’s chief investment officer, Greg is arguably the world’s leading expert in sales effectiveness in the professional services industry. Today, he will share some of this magic with you. Greg, this is your baby. Good to see you.

Greg Alexander [00:01:14] Hey, Sean, I’m excited about this episode. These two simple tools are powerful, yet for some reason they are not used with as much discipline as they should be. So hopefully this show will help with this.

Sean Magennis [00:01:26] OK, Greg, let’s jump straight in. What are the two tools?

Greg Alexander [00:01:29] OK, so the two tools are the demographic profile and the psychographic profile.

Sean Magennis [00:01:35] And give me a simple working definition of each.

Greg Alexander [00:01:38] OK, a demographic profile is a description of a particular type of client based on unique identifier such as gender, age, industry, job title, geography, etc. It focuses on quantifiable attributes and is objective. The psychographic profile is a description of a type of client based on unique identifiers as well. But in this case, it’s things such as wants, needs, goals, challenges, priorities. It focuses on qualitative attributes and is subjective.

Sean Magennis [00:02:13] And why should leaders of boutique professional services firms care about these two tools?

Greg Alexander [00:02:19] These tools help leaders of boutiques win bigger deals win these deals faster and win them more often.

Sean Magennis [00:02:27] Greg, how do they do that?

[00:02:29] Selling services is much harder than selling a product. When a prospect buys a product, they put their trust in the product itself. When a prospect buys a service, they put their trust in the people delivering the service. Therefore, establishing trust is essential to win bigger, faster and more often. The best way to establish trust is to know the client better than they know themselves and without question know the client better than the competitors. There is an old saying he who knows the client best wins, and I believe that

Sean Magennis [00:03:05] Some of the old sayings are the best. I think this one was tested recently during the pandemic and it held up. When you must limit human contact, guess who you let in the bubble? The people you trust. Greg, demographic profiles and psychographic profiles are not new tools. Did you know the Englishman John Gaunt invented demography back in 1662?

Greg Alexander [00:03:31] I did not, but nice pull.

Sean Magennis [00:03:35] Did you know that the use of psychographics in the marketing of services began at Stanford University in December of 1917?

Greg Alexander [00:03:42] I did not know that. But I see you are a power user of Wikipedia.

Sean Magennis [00:03:45] Thank god for Wikipedia. I bring up these stats to prove my point. These tools have been around forever. If they truly can help win bigger deals faster and more often, you would think they’d be used more often. However, when I look at firms, they are either not present or if they are present, they are used incorrectly. Why is this?

Greg Alexander [00:04:09] In my opinion, the main reason is founders, especially are domain experts. They are not business experts. Let me explain myself, so, for example, if I asked an owner of a cyber security firm about the technicalities of network security. They could talk to me for weeks, however, if I asked the same owner to describe their client profile, it would be a 10 minute conversation. Because they are not business experts, they do not understand that knowing the client deeply is the key to growing revenues with new and existing clients. Most of them are technicians of a sort, domain experts, but they are not business people, so to speak, meaning worldclass a generating revenue and profits. To grow a firm, a founder must be great at both he or she must be skilled at working on the business in addition to working in the business.

Sean Magennis [00:05:04] OK, Greg, I think we’ve established what the tools are and why they’re important and why they are underutilized. A percentage of our audience are overachievers. They will get off this podcast and immediately go to work on creating these tools. How can they get started?

Greg Alexander [00:05:22] Geez, I would need a day long workshop to do this justice, but let me give the overachievers a cheat sheet. So let’s start with a demographic profile. So make a list of all your clients, current and past. Identify the decision maker, the person who bought your service for each one document the following race, age, gender, ethnicity, industry, title, education, geography and income level. Use the 80 20 rule. What is common among each of your clients? This will get you to a V1 of a demographic profile. You should have. You should have all this data inside of your internal systems. If you do not, these days there is no privacy and you can find it in all the social media platforms. Let’s switch gears to the psychographic profile, which is much harder. Take a statistical sample from the above, say maybe 30 clients or so, and interview them. Ask them about, what are their wants or their needs or their desires? What are their goals, maybe immediate, intermediate and long term, what are their challenges standing in the way of accomplishing these goals? What are their priorities? And how do they set priorities? What interests them inside and outside of work? What is their attitude? Are they optimist or a pessimist? Are they activists or passivist? Use the 80-20 rule here as well, what is common among each of your clients, this will get you to a V1 of a psychographic profile.

Sean Magennis [00:07:04] That’s very helpful I got that, very practical, and once they have the two tools built, what do they do with them?

Greg Alexander [00:07:11] Everything. I mean, there is no part of a boutique. This information will not change. I mean, every sale script changes, every process to deliver a service gets rewritten to reflect this enhanced understanding of the client. The firm should change its marketing messages, its price positioning, their hiring profiles of staff. I mean, the list goes on and on. To win bigger, to win faster and more often, requires a boutique to obsess over the client every little detail. Without this information dynamically updated regularly, you are not client focused. You are throwing darts against the wall, hoping something sticks. Here’s little fun thing to do at the next staff meeting when sitting around the table, be sure to have one seat at the table empty. Put a sign in the seat that says client when the team is trying to make a decision turned to the client who now has a seat at the table and ask what would the client say if he or she was in the room? This signals to everyone that the client is at the center of everything you do.

Sean Magennis [00:08:16] This is just fantastic. It’s brilliant and a good reminder of two tools that have been best practices for decades. Thank you, Greg. And now a word from our sponsor, Collective 54, Collective 54 is a membership organization for owners of professional services firms. Members joined to work with their industry peers to grow scale and someday sell their firms at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. Let us meet one of the collective 54 members.

Josh Mastel [00:08:54] I’m Josh Mastel, the CEO of UpRoar Partners, which is an outsourced sales solution for leaders of B2B organizations across the U.S.. At the end of the day, there’s only one reason why companies and teams missed their revenue targets, and that’s because of a lack of quality opportunities inside their sales pipeline. We fix this exact problem for our clients by deploying our sales methodology that’s been proven and executed by our team of salespeople. And the whole goal is to remove all of the hassle of generating sales opportunities completely off of your plate.. So if you have a dry pipeline and you’re not confident that you have enough, that that’s enough opportunities to get you to your revenue number by the end of this year, get in touch with us at www.uproarpartners.com or my email at [email protected]

[00:09:37] If you are trying to grow scale or sell your firm and feel you would benefit from being a part of a community of peers, visit the Collective54.com. OK, this takes us to the end of the episode, let us try to help listeners apply this. We end each show with a tool. We do so because this allows a listener to apply the lessons to his or her firm. Our preferred tool is a checklist and a style of checklist is a yes no questionnaire. We aim to keep it simple by asking only 10 questions. In this instance, if you answer yes to eight or more of these questions, then your ideal client profile is working for you. If you answer no too many times, then your ideal client profile is not working for you and you are likely getting in the way of your attempts to scale. Let’s begin the questions.

Sean Magennis [00:10:44] Number one, you have a demographic profile of your target client?

Greg Alexander [00:10:50] And it’s important to mention this is the client you want. Not maybe that’s different than the client you currently have.

Sean Magennis [00:10:57] Number two, do you have a psychographic profile of your target client? The same thing.

Greg Alexander [00:11:03] Correct.

Sean Magennis [00:11:03] Number three, do you have an elevator pitch that speaks directly to the target client?

Greg Alexander [00:11:09] That’s oftentimes a humbling experience.

Sean Magennis [00:11:11] Yep.

Greg Alexander [00:11:12] Record yourself as to what your elevator pitch is and pull out your demographic and psychographic profile and say, how would this sit with them? Oftentimes it’s off.

Sean Magennis [00:11:20] Number four, do you understand the personal goals of the client?

Greg Alexander [00:11:25] People of people, people buy from people, so personal goals are just as important as professional goals.

Sean Magennis [00:11:31] That’s right, great point. Number five, do you understand the professional goals of the client? Number six, do you understand the obstacles preventing the client from accomplishing their personal goals? And number seven, do you understand the obstacles preventing the client from accomplishing their professional goals? Number eight, do you understand the likely objections that your client is going to submit to you?

Greg Alexander [00:11:57] Right, so if you understand their obstacles professionally, personally and make your pitch, you should you should be able to anticipate what are they…

Greg Alexander [00:12:05] Exactly.

Sean Magennis [00:12:06] Good point. Number nine, do you understand the client’s top priorities? And number 10, do you understand the emotional makeup of the client?

Greg Alexander [00:12:17] Goes to client experience, right.

Sean Magennis [00:12:18] This is fantastic. Greg, thank you. In summary, know thy client. Get inside their hearts, their souls and their minds. Try to know them better than they know themselves. Take this knowledge and drive it into everything you do. When a prospect bumps into you, they should say to themselves, these people, get me. If you enjoyed the show and want to learn more, pick up a copy of Greg Alexander’s book titled The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm. Thanks again, Greg. I’m Sean Magennis and thank you for listening.

Episode 24: The Boutique: Are you Losing to “Do Nothing”?

Boutiques lose more deals to a competitor we call “Do Nothing” than any other competitor. On this episode, we discuss how boutique owners can improve sales results by defeating this pesky competitor. 

TRANSCRIPT

Sean Magennis [00:00:15] Welcome to The Boutique with Capital 54, a podcast for owners of professional services firms. My goal with this show is to help you grow scale and sell your firm at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. I’m Sean Magennis, CEO of Capital 54 and your host. On this episode, I will make the case that boutiques lose more deals to a competitor we call do nothing than any other competitor. I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Greg Alexander, Capital 54’s chief investment officer. Greg has helped many boutique owners improve sales results by defeating this pesky competitor. Greg, good to see you and welcome.

Greg Alexander [00:01:06] My man Sean, good morning. Good to be here.

Sean Magennis [00:01:08] OK, Greg, let’s jump in. Can we start off with a description of the competitor we are calling, “do nothing”?

Greg Alexander [00:01:16] Sure. So do nothing refers to the project that went away. The prospect did not hire a firm any firm. They just decided not to move forward with the project. In other words, they decided to do nothing.

Sean Magennis [00:01:28] Got it. The quirky name makes perfect sense. And Greg, you feel this competitor is the top competitor boutiques must defeat to grow. Why do you feel that way?

Greg Alexander [00:01:39] So founders of boutiques are time starved. They have too many things to do and not enough time in the day to get them all done. When they pursue new business, the pursue takes up a lot of time. If this time spent does not produce revenue, it can be devastating. Fifty percent of all lost deals are lost to do nothing in the professional services game. This stat was true in my firm and it is proving to be true in the firms led by collective 54 members. Defeating this sneaky competitor will save Founders’ a ton of time and boost revenue.

Sean Magennis [00:02:11] Wow, 50 percent is a big number. This just became a priority for many of our listeners. Before we get into the recommended solution, can you share with the audience the root cause of this issue?

Greg Alexander [00:02:24] Sure. So the root cause of the problem is founders of boutiques are peddling solutions, looking for problems. They are selling vitamins when they should be selling painkillers. Let me explain my analogy. People buy painkillers when they are in pain. When someone is in pain, they do not decide to do nothing. They buy immediately. In contrast, people buy vitamins occasionally. It is an optional activity, maybe tied to a New Year’s resolution or some new health kick. However, many people, when faced with the decision to buy vitamins, just decide to do nothing. It’s not urgent. Boutique Founders’ can get enamored with their solution. They think every prospect needs it, and they are surprised when many prospects decide not to buy it. They have a solution looking for a problem to solve. This is the root cause of this issue. Vitamin instead of painkillers.

Sean Magennis [00:03:16] Yes, Greg, I can see this. So founders can fall in love with their solution. And at times this can blind them to the commercial realities of the marketplace. They get caught up in the technical sophistication of their solution and they do not think about how it will be bought and sold. Greg, I imagine you have some practical advice to avoid this mistake. Please share it.

Greg Alexander [00:03:40] I do. And I’m excited to share it because it’s based on common sense and it is easy to implement. There are four things to do. First, be sure you can state the problem you saw for clients, clearly. This seems like a duh comment, but surprisingly it is not. For example, when I ask a boutique founder what problem they solve for clients, they tell me about their solution. They do not tell me about the client problem. I recently asked an IT consulting firm what problem they solve with clients, and he said we provide cloud migration services. This is not a problem statement. This is a solution description. In this instance, a better answer might have been our clients are trying to migrate legacy apps to the cloud. This is taking too long, costing too much and causing too much downtime. Now, that’s a problem statement and positioning a solution against this has a much better chance of resulting in a win.

Sean Magennis [00:04:33] This is a great before and after illustrative example. The difference between a solution description and a problem statement is subtle, but it’s so important. Greg, you mentioned four things to do. We covered the first. Let’s hear about number two.

Greg Alexander [00:04:49] OK, so the second thing to do is determine if the problem you are solving is pervasive. To grow your firm, you need lots of sales opportunity. If you are solving a problem only a few clients are experiencing, you are limiting your growth. This is a big reason why “Do Nothing” is the number one competitor. A founder gets in front of a prospect, makes the pitch and the prospect says something like, I can see why your solution is very valuable. And if I had the need for it, I would consider hiring your firm. But it does not apply to me right now. Check back with me in six months. You just lost to do nothing. You just wasted your time and a prospect which is never going to buy. If you have to kiss a lot of frogs who never turn into a prince, you will be celebrating your one hundredth birthday before you scale focus only on pervasive problems.

Sean Magennis [00:05:37] Greg, I must admit, I’ve heard many prospects say that to me over the years, almost verbatim. If I think about how many hours I wasted in pitch meetings with prospects like this, I cringed. Anyway, okay I’m hooked on the subject. Tell me about the third idea on defeating do nothing.

Greg Alexander [00:05:56] OK, so number three is proving that the problem is urgent. When a founder pitches a prospect, the prospect is determining if what he is hearing is worthy of making it on his priority list. Prospects just like founders of boutiques are time time starved. If they are going to take on another project, it better be worth it. Prospects prioritize their projects based on urgency. The most urgent go first and get the most budget, the least urgent go last and get the smallest budgets.

Greg Alexander [00:06:29] The action for the founder is to prove that your solution solves an urgent problem and therefore it should be prioritized. Our listeners are wondering right about now how they do this. We don’t have enough time to go into this on this episode. So let me just hit the tips of the wave. To prove you a solution solves an urgent problem, do two things. Number one, calculate the cost of inaction. Make sure the prospects know exactly how much it’s going to cost them if he does not act right now. Number two, show that the pain is getting worse over time. Make sure the prospect knows that if he does not act now, it may be too late down the road. A small problem today will be life threatening six months from now. So let’s giddy up.

Sean Magennis [00:07:19] I had heard the urgency suggestion before, but I had never heard it from a thought leader on how to create the urgency. Calculating the cost of inaction and showing the client the problem is escalating are brilliant ways to get a prospect to move from buy to buy now. Let’s hit the fourth idea.

Greg Alexander [00:07:40] OK. The fourth recommendation to defeat do nothing is to confirm the prospect is willing to pay for the solution. Often founders make the pitch. The prospect says yes, and he sees the price and he changes the yes to a no. When asked what happened, the prospect says we just don’t have the budget for that right now. And guess what? He just lost the do nothing. The fix to this is to confirm that prospect is willing to pay for the solution to the problem. So how does one do this?

Greg Alexander [00:08:10] Every proposal must come with a cost justification and the cost justification must be believable, populated with the prospects own figures. For example, in my time in SBI, we would sell prospect’s projects around sales effectiveness. Each proposal came with the cost justification based on two things. Number one, decreasing the prospects cost to acquire customers and number two, increase in the lifetime value of each customer acquired. These two items were expressed in hard dollars, and the math was based on the client’s current baseline.

Greg Alexander [00:08:47] In each, our fee was placed in this context, the client could clearly compare the benefit in the cost of the project. As a result, we defeated do nothing regularly. I am not sure what metrics our listeners would use in their cost justifications, but I do know they need to figure that out if they are going to defeat do nothing regularly, it is the only way to get the prospect to having high willingness to pay.

Sean Magennis [00:09:13] This is fantastic. So overcome the prospect price objection with a cost justification in the proposal and make it easy for the prospect to have a high willingness to pay. These four ideas state the problem clearly to pursue only pervasive problems, prove the problem is urgent, and use a cost justification to increase the prospects willingness to pay. This will defeat, do nothing and help our audience members grow.

Sean Magennis [00:09:46] And now a word from our sponsor, Collective 54. Collective 54 is a membership organization for owners of professional services firms. Members joined to work with their industry peers to grow scale and someday sell firms at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. Let us meet one of the collective 54 members.

John Ferguson [00:10:12] Hi, my name is John Ferguson. I’m the CEO TBM Consulting Group. We’re a global operations and supply chain consultancy, serving manufacturers, distributors and field service organizations in North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia. Our primary clients, our C Suite operations executives and operationally focused private equity firms. TBM helps to reduce costs, improve cash flow and to leverage those gains for sustainable, profitable growth. We provide diagnostics, go forward plans and hands on implementation support to create speed, flexibility and responsiveness throughout our client’s manufacturing and supply chain operations. If you need help leveraging operational excellence to accelerate value creation, contact us at TBMCG.COM. My direct email is [email protected] Or you can reach us via 1-800-438-5535.

Sean Magennis [00:11:13] If you are trying to grow scale or sell your firm and feel you would benefit from being a part of a community of peers, visit Collective54.com.

Sean Magennis [00:11:29] OK, this takes us to the end of the episode, let us try to help listeners apply this. We end each show with a tool. We do so because this allows the listener to apply the lessons to his or her firm. Our preferred tool is a checklist and our style of checklist is a yes no questionnaire, we aim to keep it simple by asking only 10 questions. In this instance, if you answer yes to eight or more of these questions, you are not losing to the competitor called Do Nothing. If you answer no, too many times, you are losing to the competitor called Do Nothing. Let’s begin with the questions.

Sean Magennis [00:12:17] Number one. When you explain the problem to your family, do they understand it? Number two, when you explain the problem to your friends, do they understand it?

Greg Alexander [00:12:29] So the reason why family and friends is here is because they’re not in the weeds, right? So if they can’t understand it or if they do understand it, then, you know, you’re communicating clearly. You know, I will add one little funny story. Yeah. So I used to bring my dog Rocco to work. And if I was in these early days of SBI and if I was pitching on the telephone, if he got up and left, I knew I was in trouble.

Sean Magennis [00:12:52] Rocco was a smart dog.

Greg Alexander [00:12:52] He was.

Sean Magennis [00:12:52] Number three, does the problem exist in more than one industry?

Greg Alexander [00:12:59] This goes to pervasiveness.

Sean Magennis [00:13:01] Number four, does the problem exist in companies of all sizes? Number five, does the problem exist in many geographies? Number six, are clients paying to solve the problem today?

Greg Alexander [00:13:17] Right, which is a great way to judge whether the problem is urgent, if they’re already spending money to solve it, then they’re voting with their wallet.

Sean Magennis [00:13:23] Right. Number seven, have clients been paying to solve the problem for years?

Greg Alexander [00:13:29] Yep another important thing, right?

Sean Magennis [00:13:32] Number eight, if the client does not solve the problem, are the consequences severe? Number nine, is there a trigger event that puts the client into the market for your solution?

Greg Alexander [00:13:44] Right. So a trigger event is is something that happens to the client that causes them to act.

Sean Magennis [00:13:50] And number 10, when clients have the problem, do they work to get it solved by a certain deadline?

Greg Alexander [00:13:56] From from buy to buy now.

Sean Magennis [00:13:58] It’s great, Greg. So in summary, do nothing is defeating you 50 percent of the time, whether you know it or you don’t know it. So to beat this competitor. Be sure to pick a problem to solve that is pervasive, urgent, one that prospects are willing to pay to solve. And be sure you can explain it simply. In other words, start with the problem, not the solution. If you enjoyed the show and want to learn more, pick up a copy of Greg Alexander’s book titled The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm.

Sean Magennis [00:14:38] Greg, thank you again. I’m Sean Magennis and thank you to our audience for listening.

Why Revenue Growth Flatlines in Professional Services Firms

Episode 8: The Boutique: The Real Reason Revenue Growth Flatlines inside of Professional Services Firms

Transitioning away from a partner-led sales model to a commercial sales engine is  key to creating wealth for owners of professional services firms. In this episode, Sean Magennis and Greg Alexander discuss why boutiques find themselves in this position and how they can overcome this inflection point. 

Various Speakers [00:00:01] You can avoid these landmines. It’s a buy versus build conversation. What’s the root cause of that mistake? Very moved by your story. Dive all in on the next chapter of your life.

Sean Magennis [00:00:16] Welcome to the Boutique with Capital 54, a podcast for owners

of professional services firms. My goal with this show is to help you grow, scale and sell

your firm at the right time, for the right price, and on the right terms. 

 

I’m Sean Magennis,CEO of Capital 54 and your host. In this episode, I will make the case that transitioning

away from a partner-led sales model to a scalable commercial sales engine is key to

creating wealth for professional services firm owners. I’ll try to prove this theory byinterviewing Greg Alexander, Capital 54’s chief investment officer. Greg is truly one of the

world’s leading experts in sales effectiveness. Greg, a pleasure to have you again today.

Why is this transition point a key milestone for professional services firms?

Why is Transitioning Away From a Partner-Led Model a Milestone?

Greg Alexander [00:01:14] It is a key milestone. You know, kind of the natural

progression of a professional services firm is a startup that becomes a growth firm then becomes a scalable firm and eventually sells. 

This transition point usually happens in between that growth and scale stage, and let me kind of walk the audience through this, and I point out that kind of evolutionary track, if you will, to really highlight the word here milestone. So this is something to shoot for, and it’s something that has to happen if you truly want to create an investable asset. 

Startups become boutiques by having the partners generate referrals, and boutiquesbecome market leaders by building a commercial sales engine. That’s the difference.

Sean Magennis [00:02:00] Yes.

Greg Alexander [00:02:01] You know, when you’re kind of a lifestyle boutique, you’ve got

some partners. They have great personal networks, and they’re able through positive word

of mouth, to generate business. So what’s different between them and a high-growth professional services firm that can become a market leader? It is somebody who builds the commercial sales engine.

And investors like Capital 54 and others want to see a maturing commercial capability before they make a buying decision and the sales and marketing process has to be proven capable of scaling. Otherwise, you’ll be a natural kind of limitation on the size of the market. 

So there’s an inflection point that all professional services firms run into head-on and this is when sales generation happens by employees and not by the partners. These kind of young pre-scale firms did not invest in building a professional commercial sales engine. They don’t have to. 

The partners are experts. They have very large personal networks, and these networks expand as they gain exposure to their niche. Then partners harvest these networks with businesses, and successful projects lead to more happy clients, and happy clients lead to positive word of mouth. 

And on and on it goes… You know, and the partner can really, with a group of partners, can really kind of carry the firm. I’d say for good five years, and then all of a sudden, it flatlines.

Why Does Revenue Flatline For Professional Services Firm Owners?

Sean Magennis [00:03:35] So why does it flatline, Greg?

Greg Alexander [00:03:38] So there are 52 weeks in a year, and each of those weeks has five business days and a hardworking partner is going to put in roughly a twelve hour day. Folks in professional services, particularly the partner level, work their tails off.

Sean Magennis [00:03:53] Yep.

Greg Alexander [00:03:54] This means that each partner has about three thousand one hundred and twenty hours to produce. If you subtract some holidays, a few sick days, a vacation or two, it’s more like, let’s say, twenty five hundred hours. And these twenty five hundred hours are not spent entirely on sales activity. After all, the partners are running the boutique, and as the firm scales, partners have only about half their time available for business development. So, therefore, once each partner is tapped out, sales flatline.

Sean Magennis [00:04:30] The obvious question is: Why not just add more partners?

Greg Alexander [00:04:34] Well, most professional services boutiques are very reluctant to do this, as I was, and I don’t blame those that are reluctant to do this. This is a for-profit business. We’re here to make money. 

So the profit pool is distributed to the partners. Dividing the pie by, let’s say, three partners are better than dividing the pie between ten partners. So if the sales engine requires adding more partners, it doesn’t scale. The current owners and partners end up making less, and even worse, their equity gets diluted. That’s why it doesn’t happen. That’s why they don’t just add more partners.

Sean Magennis [00:05:14] Yes, I can see how this is an inflection point, Greg. So follow-up question, what options are then available to the owners?

How Can Professional Services Firm Improve Revenue Growth Decline?

Greg Alexander [00:05:23] Yep, so the owners have to ask themselves. They’ve got to

choose between really two approaches to sales. Let’s call them option A and option B.

Option A is a partner-led model, and this means more sales but less wealth for the owners. It requires more partners to scale, as I previously discussed. 

Option B, which is my recommendation, is a professional sales model. This means more sales and more wealth for the owners. It does require investment, but it does not eat into the equity, and that is the most important piece.

Sean Magennis [00:05:58] Critical piece.

Greg Alexander [00:05:59] Yep. The partners/owners invest budget dollars in hiring a professional sales force. The partners no longer sell; the sales team does the selling. Now, investors typically want to buy boutiques that have made it through this inflection point. It indicates to them that this boutique actually has the sales capability to scale.

It’s important for the listeners to keep in mind that acquirers are buying the future growth of the boutique. They’re not buying the past – they are buying the future. So the more likely a boutique is to grow, the more they will want to buy it. Boutiques that can generate sales without the owner’s involvement are simply more likely to grow, and boutiques that take this approach can grow sales cost-effectively. A commercial sales team is less expensive than adding partners.

Greg Alexander [00:06:58] When I look at firms, and I see them either just completing this transition or in the process of this transition, I get very excited, and it makes me want to invest in the firm. 

Why is this? Number one, they become aware of the need, which is not obvious to many. Number two, they had the guts to pursue it, which is the type of people that I’d like to invest in.

Sean Magennis [00:07:22] Me too, Greg.

Greg Alexander [00:07:23] Now, I should point out that building a commercial sales team inside a boutique is not easy to do, and this is one reason why so few owners become market leaders and fail to pivot away from the partner-led sales model results in many lifestyle businesses. And as a result of that, potential acquirers are not interested in these lifestyle businesses. And I might add just one more thing if I can. 

You know, I’m making a comment that it’s not easy to do, and here’s why. When a client meets with a partner and the partner is selling the work, they say to the partner that “you’re going to be involved in the project.” And when the partner says, “yes, I’m going to be involved in the project, he or she says that because they’re trying to close the deal. 

Now, that’s the worst thing you could do because now you’re stuck. You can’t tell the client you got to be involved in the project and then be MIA for every key meeting. But partners are very reluctant to say “no, I’m not going to be involved in the project, and that’s a mistake.” 

And what I recommend, they say, is, “Mr. Client, no, I’m not going to be involved in the project and oh, by the way, that’s a good thing for you. My ability is not in delivering client work. I’m the worst project manager in the firm. My knowledge is in creating the methodology, hiring the staff, training the staff, and running the firm. I’m going to introduce you to my team who are about ten times better than delivering this work than I am.” 

And then you bring the delivery team into the sales call and then the client gets to experience your exceptional engagement manager and your analyst, et cetera, and they say, “yeah, I agree, you don’t have to be involved” and then the client, the partner, can move away. So that’s the key thing that stands in the way. Most owners of boutiques feel they have to remain committed to the project after selling it.

Sean Magennis [00:09:13] Outstanding advice. This is a big milestone, and I can also see why so few make it through this transition. That’s a challenge for businesses and for partners that are so hands-on.

Greg Alexander [00:09:24] Yes.

Sean Magennis [00:09:25] But to scale, it makes total sense, and I can see why why those professional services firm owners that are successful at doing that really become wealthy.

Greg Alexander [00:09:33] Yep.

Sean Magennis [00:09:37] We will be right back after a word from our sponsor. Now, let’s turn the spotlight on Collective 54 members who are making an impact in the professional services field. 

Collective 54 is the only national peer-to-peer advisory network for owners of professional services firms who have focused exclusively on growing, scaling, and maximizing business valuation. Today, we have the pleasure of introducing you to Jon Jones, president, CEO, and co-founder at Anthroware, an On-Demand Innovation Force creating high impact digital solutions firm.

Jon Jones [00:10:20] I’m Jon Jones, CEO of Anthroware.Anthroware makes beautiful digital products. We do this by studying people, your customers. We put them in the center of our process to make tools that they both need and love to use. 

Our work ranges from MBP apps for funded startups to big HIPAA compliant platforms for large established companies. We’re smart, a little rebellious, and we love working on hard problems.

Sean Magennis [00:10:49] Please get to know Jon and other business owners who are leading innovation in the professional services industry by visiting Collective54.com. Learn more about how Collective 54 can help you accelerate your success.

Questions to Ask When Transitioning Away From the Partner-Led Sales Model

Sean Magennis [00:11:09] So, in an effort to provide immediate take-home value for you, I prepared a ten-question, yes or no checklist. Ask yourself these ten questions. If you answer yes to eight or more of these questions, you’ve made it through this inflection point. 

Number one: Are the owners removed from the sales process?

Greg Alexander [00:11:31] So let’s talk about that. So with diligence, when I pull the sales report.

Sean Magennis [00:11:36] Yes.

Greg Alexander [00:11:38] Typically, from a CRM system, every opportunity of business has a name associated with it. If that name associated with that client record is one of the owners, I’m not in. I become less interested in making an investment in that business because that tells me the owners are driving the business. 

If their name is nowhere near any of those records and there’s somebody else in the firm who doesn’t have an equity stake in the firm who’s the person that owns that client, has sold the work, and is delivering new work – that’s a real positive. Now, if you lined up ten owners of professional services firms right now and you asked them what their forecast was for the next 90 days, they could recite it. 

And if I told them all that they could not go in the next sales call, the next five sales calls, the close of business, what would they tell you? We’ll lose the business as a result. So they have to have the courage to step away.

Sean Magennis [00:12:33] Absolutely.

Greg Alexander [00:12:34] And trust your employees that they can get the deal done.

Sean Magennis [00:12:37] Brilliantly, said Greg. So question number two: Are there are employees generating all the sales? Number three: Is business being generated from scalable sources in addition to referrals? Number four: Have sales increased consistently without adding partners or new owners? Number five: Are your financials able to handle the expense of a commercial sales team?

Greg Alexander [00:13:12] Yes. So let’s talk about that. This is another obstacle. The cost of building a commercial sales team goes into the overhead bucket. Those aren’t billable resources. So partners have to be willing to make the investment, and very often boutiques come to us at that moment in time because they don’t have enough free cash flow to do this. So they need an outside investor to help them.

Sean Magennis [00:13:33] Excellent. And that’s where we provide the growth capital, the stimulus. And by the way, your extraordinary experience in building these commercial sales teams.

Greg Alexander [00:13:42] Correct.

Sean Magennis [00:13:43] Question number six: Have the sales results from the commercial sales team been consistent over time? Number seven: Have the win rates with the commercial sales team been on par, and I’m going to throw in or exceed the partners?

Greg Alexander [00:14:00] Yep. So some advice to the owners out there. The first time you do this, the win rates will drop substantially. Just hang in there.

Sean Magennis [00:14:09] Hang in.

Greg Alexander [00:14:09] You got to go through that period. You got to give the employees a chance to improve. Eventually, their win rates will be as good as yours, but there’ll be a difficult transition there. So just buckle up for that transition.

Sean Magennis [00:14:21] Well said, Greg. Number eight: Have the deal sizes with the commercial sales team been on par with the partners?

Greg Alexander [00:14:28] Same thing. Originally, the non-partners are going to sell smaller deals, or they may cave under price objections, et cetera. You just got to hang in there and get through that period.

Sean Magennis [00:14:39] Great. And number nine:Have the sales cycle links with the commercial sales team been on a par with the partners again?

Greg Alexander [00:14:46] Correct.

Sean Magennis [00:14:47] Good. And then finally, number ten: Can the commercial sales team be expanded significantly without breaking the boutique?

Greg Alexander [00:14:55] Yeah. So this is a really interesting component. In fact, this one can be a show in and of itself. So for every quote, sales head you have you’re going to have an assumption for the amount of revenue that they can bring in. And that’s going to be impacted by a lot of things linked to the sale cycle, win rate, the size of the deal, is the salesperson generating their own leads or the leads coming from another source. 

There’s a lot of factors that go into that. But in the end, you’ll get to a point where you’ll know plus or minus 10 percent with the revenue production, per sale said is. Now, you’ve got to think through how that impacts your service deliver, because, in theory, if you go out and hire ten salespeople, you’re going to generate a lot more business. Can the back end handle it?

Sean Magennis [00:15:42] Exactly.

Greg Alexander [00:15:43] So, figuring out how to tie the delivery engine of the back of the house to the front of the house is really important. And this question number 10 is really important because sometimes that’s overlooked. They hire all the salespeople, they generate all the new business. Everybody’s excited, and next thing you know, the delivery team is 120 percent capacity.

Sean Magennis [00:16:04] And you can’t deliver the business.

Greg Alexander [00:16:05] Can’t deliver it, and then clients sat falls, employee sat falls and you actually create a problem for yourself.

Sean Magennis [00:16:10] Yep.

Greg Alexander [00:16:10] So don’t forget the downstream impact of this.

Sean Magennis [00:16:13] Outstanding, Greg. Outstanding. So the path from a boutique to market leader results in creating a viable, superb commercial sales engine. Potential buyers would rather wait until you have made it through this inflection point. Jumping in prior to this is simply too risky for many. 

If you want to sell your firm, invest resources into developing a scalable sales and marketing engine. If you enjoyed the show and want to learn more, pick up a copy of Greg Alexander’s book titled “The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm.” I’m Sean Magennis. Thank you for listening.

Episode 3: How to Prove Your Firm is Not a Body Shop

How to position your firm in its marketplace is strategically important. Learn how to position yourself well in your market which is a critical way to determine the strength of your value proposition.

In Episode 3 of The Boutique, Sean and Greg talk how to position your firm in its marketplace is strategically important. Learn how to position yourself well in your market which is a critical way to determine the strength of your value proposition.

 

TRANSCRIPT

Various Speakers [00:00:01] You can avoid these landmines. It’s a buy versus build conversation. What’s the root cause of that mistake? Very moved by your story. Dive all in on the next chapter of your life.

Sean Magennis [00:00:16] Welcome to the Boutique with Capital 54, our podcast for owners of professional services firms. My goal with this show is to help you grow scale and sell your firm at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. I’m Sean Magennis, CEO of Capital 54 and your host. On this episode, I will make the case that the position of your firm in its marketplace is strategically important.

I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Greg Alexander, Capital 54’s chief investment officer. Greg is an expert in identifying a market position and in helping firms take actions to achieve this position. An acquirer of your firm will find your boutique attractive if you are positioned well in your market. Market position is a way to determine the strength of your own value proposition. A strong market position can indicate excellent competitive positioning. So, Greg, what is
the first step in establishing the most attractive marketing position one can get for your firm?

Greg Alexander [00:01:36] You know, I think it’s important to underline something that you said there, which is market position is a way to determine the strength of your value prop. So that’s what we’re really after here is the strength of your value proposition. So with that as a grounding. Right. The first step is to think like an investor and ask this
question. How will a potential, potential buyer of my firm measure the strength of our value proposition otherwise said measure our position in the market? So there are some obvious ways to measure the strength of your value problem. So, for instance, fee level in fee volume are two basics in any due diligence process. A fee level below, let’s say 250 bucks an hour, will suggest that your body shop. Body shops, if they sell, typically do so for a very low price and on very unattractive terms, you don’t want to be a body shop. A fee level, let’s say 500 bucks an hour will suggest that you have monetize real intellectual property. You’re not selling time. You’re not selling arms and legs. Instead, you’re selling knowledge and skills. So firms such as this are capable of selling and when they do sell, they do so at a premium price. Fee volume, on the other hand, indicates market position by suggesting the size of the overall market. So, for example let’s say you’re doing 50 million dollars a year. So that’s fee volume is 50 million a year, suggests a large market opportunity. Now, why is that? It’s understood that boutiques are not the market leaders. They’re the emerging market leaders and they typically penetrate their markets at, let’s say, somewhere between one and ten percent. So in this example, if you’re doing 50 million dollars a year in fee volume, that suggests that you’re working in a market opportunity that’s greater than five hundred million dollars and could be quite a bit larger than that and buyers of firms want to buy firms that are high growth, but that also still have a lot of runway in front of them. So when they’re thinking about their position that you’re boutique has in its market relative to the competitors and they’re trying to understand the strength of your value proposition. Some of these basics, like fee level and fee volume, are ways to prove that you’re not a body shop.

 

 

Sean Magennis [00:04:07] Got it, Greg. And obviously that runway comment is vitally important to have lots of runway ahead of you. So how about some suggestions beyond the basics, such as fee level and fee volume? What else what else is there, Greg?

Greg Alexander [00:04:20] Sure. So savvy acquirers are going to consider more precise indicators of your market position. So an example that might be client return on investment and this is often overlooked in it’s absolutely critical. You know, the slang term for this is client ROI. So boutiques that can scale to market leaders can prove their worth to clients. So what’s a simple way to illustrate this? Let’s say a client buys a service for half a million dollars and the realized benefit from that project is, let’s say, five million. So this is a 10 times return on fee. That’s a clear client ROI and if you’re a firm that can prove that you’re gonna be very attractive to a buyer. That’s a savvy buyer looking at the strength of your value proposition. Is there a clear before and after result? In contrast, let’s say that a client buys a service for half a million and it’s realized benefit is something subjective, such as
well trained employees. That’s poor client ROI. Well trained employees are at benefit from the project for sure, but it’s not quantified and it’s not in relation to the cost of the project. So these boutiques are likely not to become market leaders and a savvy acquirer is gonna know that. Another way that investors measure a boutiques market position is call point.

So what does that mean? So call point refers to the title of the person buying your service. For instance, if board members are buying your service, that’s a high call point. If the CEO or the CEO’s direct reports of buying your service, that’s a high call point. However, if your call if your call point title is like a director or manager, that’s considered by investors to be a low call point and firms with low call points have a hard time scaling. This is, that’s because they’re really selling a service that’s not worthy of an executive’s time to solving a problem an executive has delegated to junior staff and this indicates that the boutiques
service is not as, not that important to clients and that’s going to make it very hard for a boutique to scale. And investors are looking for high growth firms that have lots of runway in front of them and they can scale and one way to assess that is who do you call on? Who buys your service? And maybe one more just off the top of my mind is cycle resiliency. This is particularly important as we record this. The world is suffering from COVID-19.

Sean Magennis [00:07:00] Yes.

Greg Alexander [00:07:01] And a cycle resiliency is often considered by acquirer’s as an indicator of market position or the strength of your value prop and this cycle resiliency refers to having a boutique perform in periods of recession. Recessionary periods cause clients to cut most all non-essential budgets and unfortunately, this can include discretionary budgets that many boutiques rely on. Firms that see steep declines in financial performance during recession, that have poor market position and those that do well and maybe even expand during a recession have very strong valued propositions and it’s those boutiques and have the best chance of selling their firm’s.

Sean Magennis [00:07:48] Outstanding points Greg, and lot to unpack and think about here. So client ROI call point and cycle resiliency. These are all great market proof points. Greg, when you sold your firm SBI, how did you demonstrate to the buyer that you had a really strong market position?

Greg Alexander [00:08:12] Yeah, so in my case, the strength of our value proposition and our position in the market was obvious. Our acquirer evaluated us through the lens of each of those attributes and we we happen to show really well in each category. However, we probably shined brightest when it came to cycle resiliency and in fact, I can I can tell you with clarity that that actually drove the purchase price. In fact, our purchaser paid more for our firm because of how well we did during recessions and just some quick history for those that don’t know my personal story. I found in my firm sales benchmark index in 2006
and many fragile young firms were wiped out during the great financial crisis of 2008 through, let’s say, 2010. Yet we pushed right through this period with no problems and looking back, it’s really remarkable to say that and it’s in it’s a testament to the great employees that we had there and the loyal clients that we had. You know, SBI was only three years old when the world fell apart and we were selling a discretionary item that was easily cut by clients during those brutal times but our clients didn’t cut our services. In fact, just the opposite. They added to that and our revenue and profit growth really accelerated during the Great Recession and on a peer to peer comparison basis, we were growing at roughly twice the rate of our peers during that part, period and after the deal closed, you know, the acquirer’s mentioned to us that, you know, that really struck them as to how strong our market position was and it gave them great confidence to pay a premium for our service because they felt that if we made it through the Great Recession, if another recession hit, we were likely to make it through it again and as I understand it, the firm is
doing really well during COVID-19 so that that, you know, proved out. So cycle resiliency was a big deal for us.

Sean Magennis [00:10:14] Thank you Greg, and what a great set of examples and a testament to you and your team and obviously what I’m hearing too is your loyal customers really profound. So listeners, as you can see, market position is really important to potential acquirers. It tells them whether you have a compelling value proposition. It also tells them are you a position relative to your competitors.

Sean Magennis [00:10:43] We will be right back after a word from our sponsor. Now, let’s turn the spotlight on Collective 54 members who are making an impact in the professional services field, Collective 54 is the only national peer advisory network for owners of professional services firms who are focused exclusively on growing, scaling and maximizing business valuation. Today, we have the pleasure of introducing you to an exceptional person. Joe Gagnon, he’s CEO of Performance Tea, where his mission is to help people achieve their potential.

Joe Gagnon [00:11:23] Hi, I’m Joe Gagnon, the CEO and co-founder of Performance Tea. I see myself as an adventurer, entrepreneur and innovator. I’m the author of Living the High-Performance Life, an Ordinary Joe’s Guide to the Extraordinary. I’m a multi-time turnaround CEO and founder of the High Performance Life, a philosophy regarding techniques for mental toughness, Creative Problem-Solving leadership and personal effectiveness. As an advisory board member, I provide expertise in growth strategies to emerging companies. I’m an avid blogger and passionate endurance athlete, having completed 75 marathons and ultra races and in 2017 I ran a marathon on six continents on six consecutive days.

Sean Magennis [00:12:11] Get to know Joe and other business owners who are leading innovation in the professional services industry by visiting Collective54.com. Learn more about how Collective 54 can help you accelerate your success.

Sean Magennis [00:12:31] Greg, here we go again with our top 10 checklist. Greg Alexander [00:12:34] Drumrolls.

Sean Magennis [00:12:35] Drumroll. In an effort to provide you immediate value, I prepared again 10 questions on a yes no checklist. Please ask yourself these 10 questions.

Sean Magennis [00:12:48] Number one. Is your average fee level above five hundred dollars per hour? Question number two, if not, can you prove that you are not a body shop. Number three, is your fee volume big enough to prove that you are in a large market? Number four, if not, can you prove that you are in a large and growing market with a lot of runway ahead of you. Number five, do you have a clear client return on investment? Number six, if not, can you prove that your clients realize a good cost benefit tradeoff? Number seven, do you call on the board of directors of your target client? Number eight, do you call on the CEO of your target client? Number nine, did your financial performance hold up well during the last recession? And number 10, can you prove to a potential acquirer that your boutique is cycle resilient? If you answered yes to eight or more of these questions, you occupy a really strong position in your market. If you answered no to eight or more of these questions, you have a weak market position. It would be wise to hold off on your sales process until this is addressed. Acquirer’s want to buy firms with validated market positions. This reduces their risk and increases their upside. There are many ways for a market position to be evaluated. Please be sure that your case is bulletproof.

Sean Magennis [00:15:00] If you enjoyed the show and want to learn more, pick up a copy of Greg Alexander’s book entitled, The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell the Professional Services Firm.

Sean Magennis [00:15:14] I’m Sean Magennis. Thank you for listening.