Episode 120 – How a Consulting Firm Embraced Trial and Error When Building a Sales Team – Member Case by Scott Arias

Building a sales team inside of a consulting firm is hard. However, it is a requirement if a firm is going to scale beyond a Founder-led lifestyle business. Adding to the difficulty, is the need to go through an expensive and time-consuming trial and error period. It takes patience and many experiments before a firm figures out what works for them.


Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the Pro Serv podcast with Collective 54, a podcast for leaders of thriving boutique professional services firms. If you’re not familiar with Collective 54, with the first mastermind community dedicated entirely to the unique needs of leaders of boutique pro firms. My name is Greg Alexander. I’m the founder and I’m going to be your host today. On this episode, we’re going to talk about redefining business development. A lot of us are in the process of re-engineering how we go to market, so to speak, and this is going to be a timely topic. We’ve got a great role model with as someone who’s just recently done this successfully with some outstanding results. His name is Scott Arias. Scott, great to see you. Welcome to the show. And please introduce yourself. 

Scott Arias [00:01:04] Yeah. Great guy. Great meeting you. And. My name is Scott Arias. I am the founder and the CEO of a consulting company, and we’re a boutique Professional services. It basically provides services company that works for the government. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:27] Okay. And tell me a little bit more about the types of services that you provide. 

Scott Arias [00:01:33] We have four main services. The first one is pre-construction services. That’s plan schedules, that type of thing. The second one is security services. We provide field staff for embassies and actually they’re kind of interesting. We got into Amazon nationally, companies like that. And then the the third section is skilled staffing. We we don’t only do the pre-construction plans, but we staff the management positions on a job. And the fourth sector is training. And it kind of goes back to my history because I was a college professor once in my past life. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:13] Okay, very good. So we’re going to talk about redefining business development. And the team gave me some numbers today about your business. And I’m going to go over them with you because they’re absolutely mind blowing. And I want to hear how you did this. So I understand that you added almost 100 new clients in 2022. Is that correct? 

Scott Arias [00:02:31] That’s correct. 99. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:32] Wow. My gosh. That’s amazing. You’re up over 5000 clients now and you’re getting about 80% of your business from repeat purchases. Is that also correct? 

Scott Arias [00:02:43] That is correct. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:44] I mean, so those numbers would suggest, you know, what you’re doing in the business development space. So I understand that you recently kind of redefined it. So maybe we can do a little before and after. Let’s start with the way you used to do it. Tell me about the changes that you’ve implemented and tell me about the way you’re doing it now. 

Scott Arias [00:03:03] Well, you know, when I started the company, I you know, it was just me. So I decided, you know what? I’m going to start, you know, emailing people directly. You know, so I, I found a government website that publishes all the solicitations for the U.S. government on federal construction projects. So I just started emailing about 50 people a day. And then so I did that. I say 50. But then after the first month, I didn’t get anything, so I doubled that. And then I went to next month, didn’t get anything, so I doubled that. And then it took me nine months to get my very first client and I was actually on the verge of quitting. Wow. And and so I got my first client and it was just email campaigns, essentially, you know, to find work. And that evolved over time in the first five years, you know, And it’s not you know, people ask me all the time, well, how did you come up with, like your core values that kind of lead to the success of your company? And I say, well, I didn’t just sit down and write them. It was just kind of who we were at that point. So after about six years in the company, I just, you know, I asked myself what after I visited iOS presentation Entrepreneur Operating Systems, and I thought, what are what are we really do that bring clients to us? And then we keep clients. And so we developed these three core values. We call them RUG. It stands for Do the right thing, have urgency and be the gold standard, because that’s what we were, you know, we did things in urgency. We’d get it done overnight. We stay up all night long. We always did excellent work to help the contractor and we always did the right thing. If we felt like we made a mistake, we owned up to it. And then with that kind of formula, we not only just, you know, got new clients, we kept the existing clientele. And when I say 80, it’s probably close to probably over 90 because many of our services are repeat services, because they get done with the job and then they get another project. Yep. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:21] Okay. And then this this redefining of business development in particular, meaning sales and marketing. The team explained to me that you experimented with different approaches and you recently went through some kind of redesign. Could you share a little bit of that with us? 

Scott Arias [00:05:37] Well, you know, I got we got to a point where our organization grew from me to probably about 120 people. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:44] Wow. 

Scott Arias [00:05:45] And and so, you know, we had played obviously, I was the business development. My background was I was a Navy recruiter. So I was used to being an aggressive salesperson, you know, And then that kind of transition away from me because I had to develop bigger relationships. So I had a somebody manage that process. So we thought at first, well, you know what? Maybe we don’t know what we’re doing and we should go out and get help. So we went and got, you know, we searched around for a company that would help with the business development and the marketing piece. We landed on a marketing company that actually does a pretty good job for us. Took a lot of headache off my shoulders. But the business development sector, after we went through it, we spent about six months. We realized that if we were better at it than they were and we knew what we were doing, we went through trial and error. We went through the school of hard knocks, so we knew what worked and we knew it did work. We knew where the target audience is, where we knew we knew our customer profile. So through that experience we realized, man, we look, we know a lot more than we give ourselves credit for. So we took that information and we separate marketing and sales. We outsource a portion of marketing. We do a combination of email campaigns, phones. You know, a lot of people think phone is dead, you know, but in the construction space, it’s not. So we we contact people. We have a person dedicated it all, all day long, every day to get us pre-qualified with different contractors via phone. And then we have two salespeople that are kind of going back to the other piece of marketing. My son is actually in charge of that sector. And he does the, you know, the filter and the thoughts and and sees who’s was awarded the jobs and gives hot leads and warm leads to our sales team and then they follow up and we have a couple of people who do do sales and I don’t really like to call sales because it has a bad connotation. But you know, the business development sector because we know once we get them in the door, our staff is going to knock it out of the park. And, you know, you can’t you can’t have a good business development and you can’t sell something unless your unless you’re really selling something of value. And that’s really what spring brings more work to us. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:21] You know, for those that are listening out there, something about Scotts business that’s a little different but makes business development more challenging, in my opinion, is that, you know, the government awards contracts and this is information that’s available for anybody to go find. So his process is to see, you know, who got the contracts and then reach out to those people and try to, you know, sell his services into those existing contracts. The problem with that is, a what makes it so hard is that everybody can see it. So it’s super competitive. I mean, there’s all kinds of companies sending emails and telephone calls because, you know, once you tell somebody, hey, there’s this $100 million project that just got funded and they need a company that can do X, Y, Z, and everybody that’s in that space is all over that and they flood them. So the level of difficulty is higher, in my view, in that setting. Now it is nice that, you know, there’s existing business to go after. You don’t have to kind of manufacture your own business, but it does take, you know, quite a ability to execute, to win. In other words, beat the bad guys. Scott Did I describe that correctly? And is there anything more to that process that’s that’s worth discussing? 

Scott Arias [00:09:30] Well, you know, you’re you’re right about our field portion of a reconstruction portion. And but for security services and training, it’s a lot more like we’re developing that. We’re work responsible. Well, our our business developing process is not creating a need. It’s the need exists. It’s just fulfilling that need. Well, in the training space, the security space, we have to go out there and get it. And that’s a that’s a little more difficult. And honestly, we struggled with that because it was out of what we were used to. But I think we’ve got a good process in place now. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:06] Okay. You mentioned you went through this trial and error period. How long did that last? And and when did you know you really hit on the winning formula? 

Scott Arias [00:10:18] Well, I believe that process equals success. So you can’t. And so we constantly go through an evolution. We get a process in place. We execute. We come back and look at the process. And I’m talking about every quarter, you know, we’re giving now our decision may be, hey, it doesn’t make sense to change anything. We have enough time or maybe we know this doesn’t work and we go see. And so it’s a constant evolution of making your process bigger, better every time. And then when you’re companies growing like me or my company went from me and I made $7,000 my first year. So we’re going to be about 22 million this year. Wow. I mean, that’s that. And it went from me to 180 some other people now. So if we’re going to sustain that kind of growth, we I always tell people last year was a bad year for us. We made we only grew 27%. And and the truth is that we’re just hitting that every every year. We just continue to just just expand our services and do more and get more clientele and. Definitely can’t just sit back and wait for people to come to you. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:11:36] You know, your your business story going from 7000 to 22 million, one person to 180 people is an amazing and inspirational business story. But you and I had a chance to chat and I learned a little bit about your personal story, particularly your military story. And that was equally, if not more so, inspiring. Would you mind sharing with our community a little bit more about your personal story and and how you how you went from this military career to this business career and the things that you deployed in your business career that you may have learned in your military career that has resulted in all of this success. 

Scott Arias [00:12:14] Well, I’m going to make a very long story very short. Okay. So unlike you do, Greg. No, I’m just joking. But I. I’ll play it back. Yeah, I, I so I, I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and my brother was in the Navy, so I joined the Navy. And the Navy fit me well. You know, I’m a little bit OCD, and so the military fit me well. The way they make amends, the way they fill their clothes. Anyhow, so I did multiple tours, went to then did a recruiting tour, did a tour at Camp David, did a tour in the Middle East during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Operation Enduring Freedom. So about my eight year mark. After I was promoted Chief Petty Officer, I got hit by a car head on. I was riding a motorcycle. My foot was was wasn’t severed, but it was a bag of bones. Not to be graphic or anything, but so they they basically took my leg that night. And then they I had went through another of what, four surgeries, ah, spent three months recovering and went back for another two surgeries, and I spent 11 months recovering. Ultimately, what Rig-i returned, returned me back to active duty service, was Carl Brashear, which is the guy from Man of Honor. If you’ve ever seen a movie with De Niro, he was the guy they made the story about. Very, very inspirational man. And then also Senator Trent Lott, which I was a senator from Mississippi. So they they interceded because the Navy told me no. And I and then after talking with Karl, I decided, you know, there’s another avenue, and that’s what I took. And so that taught me a very valuable lesson. Number one, persistence pay pays off. So when I was going through nine months of trying to find a client, I also remember the 11 months I recovered from losing my leg and go through prescription drug addiction. So, you know, that’s you know, so that was a very, very good lesson for me. Ultimately, I returned Baghdad to duty and went to the Middle East. Then, after being there for three years, I fell through an Iraqi oil platform, a bust up my leg pretty good, and then medevacked back to Walter Reed. And that ended my career. And then I went through multiple different I went through three different companies after I got out and seeking for purpose, seeking to do something greater than to make money, although money’s good, you know. So so I ultimately landed on opening my own company, and. And the rest is history. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:59] Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing that. God bless you for everything that you’ve done. It’s a great, great, great story. We’re so lucky to have someone like you in our community. I can’t wait for the member Q&A session. I’m sure they’re going to have lots of questions. But, you know, starting these firms is hard. It’s not nearly as hard as what you’ve been through personally. And but it’s great to see somebody like yourself being able to transition to a business career and not just go to work with somebody else, but start their own company and knock it out of the park. I mean, from 0 to 22 million in a short time period is pretty amazing. So again, on behalf of all the members, thanks for being here today. Thanks for sharing your story and thanks for being part of our tribe. 

Scott Arias [00:15:38] Sounds great. Great. Have a good day. 

Greg Alexander [00:15:40] Okay. All right. Couple of calls to action for those that are listening. If you’re a member, be sure to attend the Friday Q&A session with Scott. You can ask your questions directly to him. I think you’re going to get some value out of that. For those that are also running their business on EOS, like Scott is. We wrote an EOC Collective 54 integration plan. It helps you customize EOC to the unique challenges of running a boutique process firms to check that out. And then also, you know, if you’re interested in redefining your business development process, as Scott has done, a couple of templates in the resource center and in the companion courses, look for the marketing strategy template, the sales strategy template, and the account plan template. So hopefully that’s helpful. If you’re not a member and you want to meet really interesting people like Scott, consider joining. Go to collective 54 com fill out the contact us form and somebody will get in contact with you. We’re not quite ready to join, but you want to consume some great content. Subscribe to collect 54 insights and you’ll get three things every week. Monday you get a blog, Wednesday you get a podcast, and Friday you get a chart. Okay, So thanks for tuning in and listening. And until next time, good luck as you try to grow, scale and exit your firm.

Episode 92 – How a Financial Services Firm Is Scaling Beyond a Lifestyle Business by Building a Sales Engine  – Member Case with Hamid Akbari

There is an inflection point that all boutiques run into head-on. This is when sales generation happens by the employees and not by the partners. On this episode, Hamid Akbari, President & CEO at Blanc Labs, shares how the firm built its internal sales engine in 18 months and his key takeaways.


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 are not familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community dedicated exclusively to helping you grow, scale and exit your pro search firm. My name is Greg Alexander. I’m the founder and I’ll be your host today. Today, we’re going to talk about scaling beyond a lifestyle business by building a sales engine. What I hope to accomplish today is to give those listeners the courage to make the investments required. To go beyond a lifestyle business, particularly by investing in sales. It takes a lot of courage to do so, and it’s a big inflection point. And getting through that inflection point requires lots of courage and skill, and hopefully we’ll be able to share some of that with you today. And we’re very lucky to have a fantastic role model who is in the middle of this. His name is Hamid Akbari, and he is going to share with us a little bit about his journey. And he’s a member of Collective 54, and he’s in the middle of this right now. So welcome, Hamid, and would you please give a proper introduction to the audience? 

Hamid Akbari [00:01:30] Hi, Greg. Thank you so much for having me on this show. This is Hamid, my company, Blanc Labs is serving mid-size enterprises, typically defined around 500 and higher. Employees primarily market in the financial service industry. Typically, you know financial services company at about $10 billion assets under management and their boss and we started a few years ago at around five years ago and view their technology boutique so we’re serving our clients by helping them the technology helping them reimagine the future, transform themselves and grow from there. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:11] Okay. Very good. All right. Let me set this up a little bit before I jump into to the questions that I have. So start ups become boutiques by having the founder of the partners generate referrals and then boutiques become market leaders by building a commercial sales engine. That’s when they go beyond being a lifestyle business. And then someday when you go to sell your firm, a potential acquirer is going to want to see this in place. They want to see that the sales process has the ability to scale. And there’s an inflection point that all boutiques run that run into head on. And that’s when sales generation happens by the employees and not by the founder or founders. The old Preskill firms do not invest in building a professional sales engine because they don’t have to. The founder of the experts said, got large personal networks, and his personal networks expand as they gain more exposure to their niche. And then they can harvest these networks for business. And successful projects lead to happy clients, be clients lead to more word of mouth and word of mouth leads to more referrals. More referrals leads to more business. And this virtuous cycle, so to speak, produces enough business for quite a long time. The founder model can carry the firm through, let’s say, the first five years or so, but then sales flatlines. And this is the inflection point that we’re going to talk about today. Now, why is this? Well, there’s only so many hours in the day and the founder or co-founders are either selling or delivering work. And there’s a constraint. There’s a time constraint. And when when an A founder reaches this point, there’s really two options. So option A is that the is the founder led model. And this means really adding more partners to the equation, recruiting expensive partners who bring with them their own personal networks. And then you repeat this cycle over and over again. The problem with that is that to recruit partners, you’ve got to dilute your equity pool and profits get distributed to the owners. So there’s a price to pay for that. Option B is the opposite, and that is don’t recruit more partners, equity holders with personal networks, but rather build a professional sales model. And this has its own pros and cons. The biggest pro is you keep all the equity. And once you get through this expensive investment and you get on the other side of it, things are really good. But the process of doing it can be difficult. So we’re going to talk to Hamid today about how he’s going through this right now. And it’s a really interesting role model. So, I mean, would you maybe expand upon what I just shared and tell everybody exactly where you are in this journey and and how you got to this point? 

Hamid Akbari [00:05:09] Absolutely. Exactly. As you’ve said a few years ago when you started it primarily kind of like promoted our services to our network. So we landed on and the first client to people who knew me, know myself or know my senior member of your team, or they’re a friend of their friends or to referral line of the first few client. It was obviously very expensive to build a commercial sales and marketing team. They’d not have enough revenue and profit to invest in a commercial team. So I took it on myself as well as my senior team, to reach out to netball, to learn. And the first few clients, once we landed, the first few client really entire focus but deliver significant value to those clients because there is no point to bring your client if you cannot maintain your existing client, keep them happy. So they invest a lot of time and effort and then invest a lot of capital in, you know, like making sure they get most value from our technology services. And then from there, we start expanding our services because landing on a major client is noisy. And once we landed, not only we wanted to keep them happy, we wanted to understand what are their pain points. They have an amount of pain points for the pain point. We can serve them better than anyone else. That allowed us to expand our business. Be those client on churn, say a treatment contract where a longer term contract and you know, let’s let’s say a $200,000 contract to a million and so forth that gave us the scale and the team size and the capital to think beyond the next level. And that was about how to bring more client like this one, as you said. Each of us email kind of like out of our existing referral. Our next book is only a finite number of people. I can know personally, obviously, and my team can know personally. So that’s that about the time I started to think about and also engage my senior team, think about how we should escape, how we kind of scale beyond what we are today. And obvious that you could not only expand as expand your business with existing clients, but also acquire new clients. And I cannot operate fair to Greg on my journey they took on to be able to attract new clients. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:32] That’s a great set up and thank you for sharing that. As I understand it, you’re about 18 months into this journey of trying to bring on these these next set of anchor accounts, if you will. So what have you learned in the last 18 months? 

Hamid Akbari [00:07:48] So one of the things I’ve learned is that from process prospecting, there’s a process pressed on team perspective. From a team perspective, obviously it’s no easier team to to build a commercial team. I define commercial team by a sales team. People can be relational instead of directly a marketing team, but that also required to make sure the client see the value product clearly and in our case, our partners. My last name. Because in technology you can do it alone. You need to rely on big as well as niche size partner to offer the best value to the client. So the first thing I learned is that to build a team as a good fit for our culture and that would be like external hire is noisy team. You can’t really talk to definition of job description type full definition of KPI, but it’s about by takes what this took to be successful. Because then you hire someone you want to, you want to make sure you set that person up for success that doesn’t hit the quota take home drive contrast for for and that color experiment experimentation as well as a lot of that a lot of working after that you have to write higher. Obviously the second kind of process I learned that landing on you will measure a client is no easy thing as well. And to break down that big problem for smaller chunks, for example, one of the things we did is that you know how to focus on the first asset to find, bring in those new leads, how often those leads to the next stage of the funnel so that we have a discovery side to showcase our value to the next client. And then it’s about, you know, how to close and how to once you landed on that account at that new client, how to how to actually expand the business with that client. But other offering they can put on the table to really expand our business because the client as well and so forth. So really it’s a team on the team. Sighs. I learned a lot about how to build a team. Austin I’m learning because they’re growing our team as well in the process as well. I learned a lot by look at that complex problem of sales, which is really not an easy team to sell to many similar clients. Break it down to Chong’s. I’m kind of trying to conquer each stage of that process quarter at a time so that we nail it and we can escape iyon at least twice this time. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:04] So I want to probe on the team a little bit and also ask for further commentary regarding experimentation. The reason for my line of questioning here right now is when I speak to members of Collective 54 who are on this journey. They they have the initial courage to try to scale beyond a lifestyle business. And they know that to do so, they got to build this commercial sales and marketing engine, and they have the courage to invest the dollars and then they run into some trouble. You know, the first hire isn’t the right one or the second hire is the right one, etc., and they give up too early. And that’s a mistake because most of our members are domain experts, as you are, and maybe they didn’t grow up in sales and marketing. So it’s it’s realistic to think that you’re not going to get it right the first time. So in thinking about this as an experiment, my question for you would be what advice would you have for the members to set up the experiment correctly so that if they don’t succeed the first time, they don’t quit? 

Hamid Akbari [00:11:13] So that’s a very good question. I think it has two parts. Number one is the mindset. So I think building a commercial team for scale is not a quick thing. So we need to set our mindset that it’s going to it’s going to take like quite a bit of time. So we need to be patient around it and to trust the team, and it will give it some time for it to actually like fight on all cylinders and get to breakeven and also generate significant amount of profit. So if we’re fixing fixing our eyes on it very, very quick or quick out and be very quick sells. They may not get there if you’re building a new team, if you’re building it for the first time. That’s our own mindset, obviously. The second thing on the team size and experimentation is the first part of the challenge is that find the right people and honest is not easy to take. So if you had that role in the past that has worked, replicating that high and similar, that may not be that difficult, but building a self esteem for the first time, building marketing team for the first time require record not only being thoughtful, but some experimentation because we need to make sure these people join our boutique for the right motivation. It’s very different from joining Microsoft for a massive enterprise. So do they have the right motivation? Do they understand the KPI? Do you understand why takes to succeed kind of set them up or succeed? Or are they the right fit for the culture? And most importantly, do they have transferable skills that you know, because they have never broken a particular like this? Each of these particular kind of like my boutique, for example, to kind of like a unique. So do you have enough transferable skills and smarts to task? Forget a skill set and grow from there? So I think that’s that’s one part. And as thoughtful as the person is in trying to select the right person because you can’t afford for the first time for sales or marketing team or partnership team. That’s an experiment, right? And if it’s not working, obviously. So it’s in a ways, it’s a paradox. On the one hand, we’ve all heard it hardest, slowly, if it’s not working out to to a very, very quick in terms of the right person. The other part of this paradox is that you also need to trust trust the team, give them time to prove themselves. So. So how do you how do you manage this paradox? What are the KPI or the leading KPI? So that be not this is walking down the right track, you’re making progress and to give it more time and to keep learning versus this specific high of a never make it in this company. Obviously the decision not always is trivial and easy. 

Hamid Akbari [00:13:52] So that’s on the team side now on the process side, to build a scalable sales process, being the right tool, right process to qualify leads and so forth. That second process there, that’s quite of learning. If you haven’t done step on marketing before, like I haven’t haven’t done it before. It’s new stuff that you open to learning. Obviously you can go to college and I suspect, but there are certain best practices that you can follow so that the learning becomes organic learning and become better at kind of like building a sales funnel. And maybe it’s very different from every like from farm to farm by really the idea at least my idea is that like minute to minute to tackle it one at a time, right? You need to tackle the big problem, sell break, break it down to smaller part. And every month, every quarter is a piece of the puzzle until I find out you finally make it. And that’s how we did it. I built a sales team initially, the first hire, and I made it really neat for that salesperson. I did not give him the mountain. I give him like a piece of the offering. And I keep building and expanding on the sales team, on the marketing team, on the partnership team and learning so that they make incremental progress towards our goals. 

Greg Alexander [00:15:09] I love the emphasis on building the process and the experimentation. And you know, for those that are listening that are in the IT services space as a meet is sales and marketing is a process just like developing a piece of software is a process. And if you can break it down to the fundamental tasks and think about gating the process and leveraging the body of knowledge that’s out there right now, it can get a lot easier. It’s very well-worn territory. Building a commercial sales and marketing team inside of a process boutique that’s been done over and over again. So if you haven’t done it before yourself, you know, don’t go it alone. Tap into those that have done it before. I want to come to the next obstacle that I hear, which is let’s say that I’m a father of a boutique and I’ve got myself to some success and I’m making a lot of money. I like what I’m doing because I enjoy the, you know, the practice of my craft, if you will. Where’s the funding come from? How do I invest in this? Do I take it out of my pocket? Do I use operating profits to fund this? Do I go raise capital? How did you fund this? 

Hamid Akbari [00:16:22] That’s a good question. So it really depends on the offering. So if what you’re selling the offering is service offering, the solutions you have is not very profitable. It might be difficult to generate the fund to justify to invest in sales and marketing. In my case, we the VA, we made our offer and sold our offering at a price point and we made our offering of value to the client so attractive for the client that we could generate like a reasonable amount of profit to invest and grow it. And then we keep investing on more solution offering to existing clients. That means that the total contract value, the length of the value, the length of the length of those contract, the value of those contracts and the customer lifetime value are significant enough to justify investing, says our marketing team. It also means that those contract bought size and value on profit gave us the oxygen to be able to invest in our own growth, investment and our growth. But investing in that in IP new offering said they serve the customers better as well as the dollar value available to invest in a commercial to number one. It gives us cash to invest in our growth, including investing in a commercial team. And number two, it justify our eye on that to invest in the commercial team because we know the lifetime value of a new client is very significant. So as expensive it is to invest in a commercial team to try to justify your choice. 

Greg Alexander [00:17:56] Yep. So the lesson for those that are listening is you’re probably asking, well, when do I do this? Will you do this? After you’ve established a service offering in an ideal client profile that allows you to earn a substantial amount of profit so that you can redirect that profit, that earned profit towards an investment in building out a commercial sales engine. If you have not done that yet, if you’re still struggling with profit margins or maybe the lifetime value of a client is not where it needs to be, it’s going to be tough to do this. So tackle that first, as Amit has done, and then use those dollars to invest in the commercial sales engine. Okay. I mean, I have one more question for you, and that is this issue of temptation. I know that’s a strange term to use on a business podcast such as this, but the temptation of the founder who’s running a highly profitable lifestyle business is to pull all the money out of the business and stick it in the bank account. The temptation is to not reinvest those dollars into building a commercial team. And when that happens, when we fall victim to that temptation, we get trapped in a lifestyle business we never break through to become a boutique at scale and to build that asset that someday we might be able to sell for the real dollars. So how did you resist the temptation? Where did your courage come from to scale beyond a lifestyle business? 

Hamid Akbari [00:19:23] So it does start with a vision. All of us. Then we found a company. We have a vision. And if you don’t have one, that’s a problem. We need to go back to the whiteboard and build that vision, be there single handedly, or with the team and the vision to paint a picture of the future they want to be. What do you want to achieve? And that’s like guiding a staff for us to make the decision. That’s number one. Now, if the vision is to have a fairly small lifestyle company, well, then that’s okay to have a drive to profit. But if the vision is build something more scalable, then it’s then it’s questionable to big draw a profit potential lifestyle. Then when we have to have the vision for skinny the second the the other side of the coin with the vision is that the confidence it’s easy to have a vision but be very scared and frightened that we can’t achieve it. We also need faith and confidence in our vision, obviously, and the faith and confidence I need to be a bit more data driven, need to be with more market, do that. So if I, if I or any founder have a vision to achieve a certain outcome in a certain number of years, then the hard work of building that confidence if actually doing the hard work of seeking out how we can realize that vision, like you said a few minutes ago, like who is the ideal customer for five? Like, how do we serve them by their pain point? How do we differentiate once we have confidence that this idea of Customer five have a true pain point for which they’re keen to pay and we have a real value prop that we can serve them better than anyone else along those offering. Then we have the confidence, and then we can communicate that the team can communicate that to the client, and then we can overcome the temptation of withdrawing money because simply they’re scared that if you say or be scared that the vision didn’t deliver, realized. Because I’ve figured out it’s easy to have a vision. But you don’t have the hard work the. Build a road map toward achieving that vision. Then it’s become hard to have that confidence. Then it’s easy to get tempted by just like short term opportunities. 

Greg Alexander [00:21:31] Yeah, well, this is fantastic. I could go on and on forever. I got about ten more questions to ask you, but we’ll will save those for the live Q&A session when we get together with the other members. But I mean, I wanted to make sure that I publicly thank you for your contribution today, the way these collectives work as we make deposits into the knowledge bank so we can all benefit from that. And from time to time we’re able to make withdrawals as well. So today you made a big deposit and knowledge back on a subject that is of particular interest to most of our members. So on behalf of the members, I mean, thank you so much for being here today. 

Hamid Akbari [00:22:06] Great for having me. 

Greg Alexander [00:22:08] Okay. So for those that are in professional services and want to belong to a community and learn from great people like me, consider applying to Collective 54 you could find as a Collective54.com. And if you want to read more about this subject and others like it, pick up a copy of my book, The Boutique. How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm. You can find out at collective54.com or on Amazon. Thanks for listening and I look forward to our next episode.

Episode 82 – How a Technology Service Provider Transitioned from a Founder Driven Sales Model to a Sales Team – Member Case with Lenka Lechmanova

Boutiques become market leaders by building a commercial sales engine that is capable of scaling. On this episode, we invited Lenka Lechmanova, CEO at V2 Strategic Advisors. She shares how her firm has cultivated a homegrown talent strategy, established sales processes and metrics to benchmark performance, and moved away from partner selling. 


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 aren’t familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community to help you grow, scale and exit your firm bigger and faster. My name is Greg Alexander and I’m the founder and I’ll be your host today. On this episode, we’re going to discuss a sales and marketing process. The reason why we’re going to talk about this is because on the path of a boutique, from the growth stage to the scale stage to the exit stage, it’s important that a firm moves away from a partner led sales model or a CEO led sales model, and they build a repeatable sales engine of some kind. And that typically involves development of talent, process design metrics, tracking things of that nature. And it can be a stumbling block for some because our founders and CEOs are naturally gifted in this area usually, and they tend to be the chief rainmaker for a period of time, or in some cases, founders and CEOs are more operationally focused, and sales and marketing is a new skill for them, and they have to learn how to do this. And it’s a real challenge, you know, to develop this capability. And it’s essential to scale. It’s particularly essential to exit. And the reason for that is because anybody who might want to buy a firm wants to know that there’s some system in place that is going to be able to predictably and on a regular basis, bring in new clients and expand existing clients. So that’s what I’m going to talk to talk about today. And we have a role model who’s going to be our expert, if you will, and her name is Lenka Lechmanova, that I pronounce that last name correctly. 

Lenka Lechmanova [00:02:15] Yes, you did. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:16] Okay. Very good. And she’s in the middle of this. I’ve spoken to her about this before, and I’m pleased that she’s here and willing to share her experiences so far on this topic. So. So, Lenka, thanks for being here. And would you introduce yourself to the audience, please? 

Lenka Lechmanova [00:02:33] Sure. I’m Greg. Thank you for having me. My name is, as you said, Lenka Lechmanova. I’m the CEO of V2 strategic advisors. We are a technology and management consulting firm focused on Salesforce.com digital transformation projects. And our business was originally founded by by a founder that specifically focused on sales and marketing processes versus AI and operationally founded and oriented CEO that has is not selling or delivering services. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:14] So Exhibit A to what I was talking about at the at the beginning and we have many, many members in the collective in a similar situation. So your your topic in your talk today is going to resonate. So I guess let me start there. So for somebody who is a CEO and doesn’t come from the sales and marketing background, but knows that this is a critical thing for your firm, what’s the first thing you did to get familiar with it, to get started on this journey? 

Lenka Lechmanova [00:03:43] You know, truly, it is not what I did, but what the founders did to transfer that knowledge into the organization. And really how it started is they’re recognizing that this is a journey that he needs to take and transition from him running sales and marketing completely to growing the team. I will say in our organization we have tested various models and the one that has proven to be the most effective is really transferring that knowledge to someone within the organization that may not necessarily have the traditional sales background, but really understands what we do and how to sell the value of the organization. 

Greg Alexander [00:04:38] So that’s interesting and that’s encouraging because some would say that somebody who doesn’t come from a sales background is never going to be able to sell. I disagree with that. I think it’s a learned skill and it sounds like you’ve had some success with this in teaching those that don’t come from a sales background but really understand who you are, what you do, your clients, your solutions. They’re having success. 

Lenka Lechmanova [00:05:02] Yeah. I think, you know, it’s recognizing what your business sells. I think you as a business, you have to understand what is unique about what you’re selling in professional services, especially in the niche market. Like we are, we although there’s many Salesforce services providers, we have focused on specific niche market and becomes a lot of enabling a lot of education for our clients. So really that consultative approach, it was key to our sales model there and therefore that transition from founder led sales organization was critical that we bring someone who understands we’ve been there delivering the services to our clients and understands the journey so that value based selling can be created. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:00] You know, in the niche that you’re in, an understanding that niche. So for the audience, maybe, maybe go one level deeper there. What is your specific niche? 

Lenka Lechmanova [00:06:09] Our niche is we focus on a lot on media and entertainment clients or clients in this particular industry. We focus on other we expanded our repertoire, but particularly at the time and were transitioning from our founders based model. We predominantly serviced media and entertainment organization and helping that they are middle office management, standing up and creating digital transformation. And in that particular industry, understanding how ad sales management and digital sales management works is critical. It is not something that you can just you know, it is not just enough to understand the technology background and the sales force. You have to have a specific industry knowledge and understand how those type of clients operate. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:04] Okay. Well, that would explain it. It sounds like that vertical industry, knowledge, media and entertainment and how this advertisement is sold was the mission critical skill that your prospects and customers were looking for. So therefore, it makes a lot of sense for somebody who really understand your solutions in great depth to be in the sales capacity, because that’s what the prospects are looking for. Just for context, did you attempt to hire or develop traditional salespeople who didn’t have that industry experience? And it was through that experiment that you learned that that’s what’s required or that it happened more organically, that you promoted some people from the delivery team into sales and they just thrived. 

Lenka Lechmanova [00:07:52] Yes. And I will continue to expand actually on your question, because I think it’s a combination. I think the the yes, we promoted within the organization someone who worked very closely with the founder. And there are actually two aspects to it. One was sales engineering and one was actually that consultative selling. So really understanding the technical nuances and then understanding the value base. But then we also hire from outside for traditional account executive into traditional account executive roles because it was really important that we create a wealth of relationships. Our selling model is also not just purely account based outreach, but it’s also channel. So we do a lot of combination of account based sale as well as channel based sales channel for those who don’t have that model. So we have to collaborate very heavily with the account executives that sell actual sales for software and for in order to be effective, you really need to do both. You need to do prospecting activities as well as growing your relationship in a channel. And therefore, we our approach was to do a combination of few different things. So really having technical experts who can support sales cycles and those were grown within the organization as well as thought leadership. And then we hired traditional sellers from professional services, but none of them were Salesforce experts. We have tried to hire from software companies in the different stages, but those skillsets didn’t necessarily translate well. And. 

Greg Alexander [00:09:52] You know, and a lot of members have that same experience, right? So the lesson for all of us to take care is really understanding the job, the account executive. Job, the sales engineering job, in Lincoln’s case, at the detail level to know what the skills are required. Just because somebody was a successful account executive with X, Y, Z software company doesn’t mean they’re going to be successful with you. I mean, you’re using value based selling consultant to be selling. There’s a channel involved. You know, that’s a very specific job description. And I’m not surprised that the kind of nontraditional person that went into this role is having success. A delivery person in particular, what I would call a delivery person, a technical expert in your language. The question on that, sometimes when you go to technical experts and you ask them to get involved in business development, sales and marketing, they don’t want to. So how did you present the opportunity and encouraged them to to move in that direction? 

Lenka Lechmanova [00:10:58] Well, I think it was kind of a natural transition. You know, we had a couple of team members that been with the organization for a while. And, you know, as every organization, you want to grow your talent and provide opportunities. And some of these opportunities were created by inviting them to sales cycles, helping them scoping, figuring out how we deliver, you know, what are the nuances, what questions do we need to ask in order to successfully deploy our our services? And the final aspect is also that understanding really what makes us unique in a marketplace and documenting it. I think our founder had a specific methodology that he used, and before we transitioned to the sales team to try to sales team, he worked with them for about 6 to 9 months side by side and documenting some of the processes or methodologies, creating a sales structure, taking, downloading what’s in his head that he didn’t necessarily have to put down because it was a little bit more smaller team that was selling or through principal consultants or subject matter experts that were involved. But taking that knowledge and translating into a system, into operating procedures and into best practices. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:34] You know, it’s such a great point, and I’m really glad to hear that you finally took the time to do that. 6 to 9 months of documenting, you know, what was in what was in his head so other people could understand it and do what what he did. For those listening that are in the found role, that want to move to this sales model where other people in the firm can sell as well as you can sell, that’s a that’s a critical best practice to pay attention to. Like if I come to you for a moment so you are a self-described operationally focused CEO. I’m not putting words in your mouth. And we’ve talked about that. And one thing that I’ve always gained from you is that you believe in metrics. And I’m assuming that you have a set of metrics that you’re paying attention to that helps you, you know, learn what’s going on in the sales department. Would you mind sharing some of those metrics with us? 

Lenka Lechmanova [00:13:27] Sure. Absolutely. So even before I transitioned to my current role, I worked very closely with the sales organization on driving behaviors of account executives and the activities that we want to foster. So, you know, for the founders that are looking to establish metrics or stand up to a traditional commercial team, sales team is identifying what activities they would need to what activities they struggle with at a top of the funnel or the middle of the funnel as at the bottom of the funnel. And, you know, drive the metrics around around those weak points in our particular and things, it was a little bit more top of the funnel with we had once we engaged in a client we tend to build trust in relationship of a prospect and we had quite a strong closing closing rate, especially, you know, the founder. But our challenge has always been a little bit more top of the funnel. So the lead generation and therefore when we stood up commercial team, our focus was, you know, it was how do we generate those, those leads? So we focused on measuring prospecting activities, what artists, individual sellers doing in terms of the outreach. To on in terms of their account as well as in their channel relationship. And our big goal was to grow those channel relationships. So we were measuring the expansion, how many new relationships they were forming and how many meetings or calls they were. They were managing over a period of one week, 30 days, and in some instances, what has been happening over the last 90 days. Right. Because certain activities, especially when you have a territory, you have to look at the size of the territory and define what’s realistic, that there is a touch point. So, you know, looking at your territory and saying this is, you know, you have to reach out to all your 50 or 100 accounts every week. That’s probably not realistic. But what are you doing over a period of 90 days? So dissecting that then from prospecting activities, from phone calls or emails, marketing materials, you know, we are trying to generate meetings. Meetings are what form forms that trust provides opportunity. So the second layer was, you know, you do those prospecting activities so you can get meetings. Once you have those meetings, you know, what are their target move channel direct. Either way, they got a result into opportunities and those opportunities ultimately result into converted sales. So it’s a little bit of funnel building through those prospecting. 

Greg Alexander [00:16:30] And four stages activities, meetings, opportunities and then closed transactions. So that’s excellent. I appreciate you. Walk me through that. Well, listen, I could talk to you about this forever, but we’re at our our time window here. But on behalf of the members, I mean, your your story you use case is very interesting. You know, an organization that is transitioned from founder led sales to a commercial sales engine and you gave a lots, lots of stuff to think about. So I appreciate you being on the show today. 

Lenka Lechmanova [00:16:59] Thank you for having me. 

Greg Alexander [00:17:00] Okay, great. And for those that want to learn more about this topic and others like it, I suggest you pick up a copy of our book. It’s called The Boutique How to Start Skill and Sell a Professional Services Firm. And if you’re interested in meeting leaders of other process firms like Lanco, consider joining our mastermind community. And you can find it at collective54.com. Thanks again. Take care. 
Lenka Lechmanova [00:17:25] Thank you.

Don Goldstein [00:19:06] Thank you.