Episode 149 – Why Professional Service Firms Should Never Become SaaS Companies – Member Case by Nathan Kievman

Many professional service firms foolishly think the path to scalability is to become a software company. However, founders of service firms make more money than founders of software firms, generate more wealth for themselves at exit, and succeed much more often. In this session, we will help you avoid making the devastating mistake of trying to become a software company.


Greg Alexander [00:00:10] Hi, everyone. This is Greg Alexander, the host of the Pro Serve podcast. Brought to you by collective 54, the first community dedicated to the unique needs of thriving boutique professional services firms. On this episode, we have a very interesting topic. Today we’re going to talk about the problem of having too much cash. Most of us have the other problem, which is not having enough cash. But today we’ve got an interesting story to tell you. And I’m joined by a very well-liked, long tenured, well-respected member, Nate Caveman. Nate, it’s good to see you. Please introduce yourself to the audience. 

Nathan Kievman [00:00:58] Thanks, Greg. Great to be here, guys. My name is Nathan Kievman. Nate Kievman is what my friends call me. So please call me Nate. I’m the CEO of a company called the Link Strategies Group, and we are a 12 year firm that has been in the marketing and consulting space and helping organizations grow. Helping them schedule meetings and connect with their executives. They’re at their most ideal market. And in doing so, we’ve been obviously able to grow our own company and it’s been a fun journey over the past 12 years, sending over 86 million emails, setting up 100 over 100,000 meetings for our executives over the years, working with big firms like BlackRock and Nasdaq for the world that a single person browser company. So we’re great. We’re grateful to be here and thanks for inviting me. Okay. All right. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:48] Fantastic. So, Nate, I asked you to come on the show after you and I had a very interesting conversation and I would like you to tell the story of the problem that you had by having too much cash. 

Nathan Kievman [00:02:03] For sure. So I never expected this whole story and experience to happen in my whole life. But after the fact, Greg and I had some fun, fun, fun, fun conversations and some lessons to learn from it. But now you all get a benefit from my band. So basically towards the end of 2022, our firm was looking for ways to raise capital because, you know, in short, we had gone down a path as a as a services firm to build a technology and to do the technology piece require more capital. We had quite a few developers and so forth, and I’ll walk through with the learnings from that as well as part of this journey. But we had effectively between two sources with the SBA and a private lender, were able to finance $1.8 million that into our $3.4 million business. Right? And so the prior year we had 3.4 million in revenue as an organization and we raised those 1.8. And the purpose of the raise was to stand up the technology and to stand up a sales organization within our firm and really get that functioning and going. And so I moved over to the sales side of the house, focused mostly on that. Our CEO had handed the reins over to do a lot on the allocation of resources and so forth side of the House and working with our CFO to manage that. And I really, you know, quite honestly thought much of it, and I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the distribution of cash and the changes and team members and the increase in team and the increase in salaries and pay and so forth. And all of a sudden six months into it, the money was gone and we really didn’t have a whole lot to show for it. And I was like, Whoa, what just happened? And that’s like the start of the story. Greg, do you want to jump in here, too? I’m going to continue through on with what that what what happened from there? Well. 

Greg Alexander [00:04:01] So the spend 1.8 million bucks in six months is I mean, that’s crazy. So where did the money where did it go? 

Nathan Kievman [00:04:11] Well, yeah. You know, so. Where. When the big money came in, all of a sudden we went from two executives to five. That’s a big part of it. Our executive payroll became the next year. It was equal to the next year’s total revenue. The IPO taken off the ball of serving our clients. Our client retention went down by almost 50%. Our cost went up by 100%. And my next year was a total reverse of the year prior. Right. And it went in executive salaries. We went from a team of 30 to 50 now, and we were outsourced. So it wasn’t super expensive. Like you might think that’s a lot, but we were able to leverage that. But if the people that manage half that number of clients were so firm, right? Imagine 25 or 35 at any given time. I think we were up to 40 at that point, but still we didn’t need 50 people to manage that. Right. And so those are where most of the extra developers, couple extra executives, all of a sudden that money is flying out the door. Yep. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:18] Okay. So that that helps explain it. So tell me kind of what was the short term implications and then what did you do to course. Correct. 

Nathan Kievman [00:05:32] So as the CFO came over and had a private conversation with me, this was all that money was spent between about March and September. So in September, I had a conversation, a really very candid you’re going to the doors are going to shut here, buddy. Let’s make some changes. And and because he didn’t he wasn’t a CFO at the time. He’s now my CFO, but he was like a director of finance. And he was kind of being directed by the single point of direction of all the capital. Right. So we what the biggest mistake I made is I didn’t have. Two roles vetting out the decisions for where money. What? I had one person that was able to do it who was maybe not experienced enough to do so. I wasn’t paying attention close enough. I was focused on selling deals and trying to get new things in the door. I’d sell new deals and they’d be leaving shortly thereafter. And so we had this like week happening in the business and I was like, Wait, what? So so we had a retention that we had to fix, and that was really a culture issue. That’s a different story. We can talk about another time, but you know, there is one singular, very toxic person in my company that I had to get rid of. So the learning that we had to go through, Greg, was that we didn’t have good a good process for managing the money. We didn’t put good controls in place, although we did build a budget for it and we did have that plan. It was it was undercut from the sales side because everybody’s focus needed to move over to retention. So then sales were down, then retention was down to the double. It was like a double whammy. It’s just like, this is like a yeah, what do you call that? One of the drain holes in the large sorority was getting sucked down into the vortex. Yeah. So, yeah, it was, it was a vortex. Exactly. And so we had a big team made up, our team made up in, in October and said, All right, we need to, we need to cut the fat. Everything’s got to change. So that forward six months, we cut $2 million of cost out of the business. We eliminated most executive roles, move most roles into functional delivery roles with a couple management roles of oversaw, but not senior executives. We had two senior executives, I’m sorry, one myself as a primary senior executive. And then and we kept two as part time fractional and the rest were non managers and doers. And so we cut to $1,000,000 between that. We also canned the technology build. It was just a drain on profits. We focused back on our core services model, which saved us about 1.1 million a year between the developer cost and then all the technology that we were spending money on with NWC and other other, you know, non people costs. And then we got really lean. So we went from the here’s the math, we went from a $3.4 million profit and $1.7 million cost in 2122 we flipped it 3.4 million in cost and 1.8 million in profit and revenue. And then this. And then in 23 we’re going to end up and around. Right now, we’ll do about 3.2 to 3.4 million and 1.4 million across some of you. Yeah. So he just totally flipped it around. So but it was hard and it was a lot a lot of people transitioning. Yeah. So. 

Greg Alexander [00:09:09] Well, listen, I appreciate you being vulnerable enough to share the story because, you know, there’s people going to be listening to this and they’re going to avoid this painful mistake because of your willingness to share. I want to highlight two things. First, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard the story of a service company trying to become a tech company and screwing themselves up in the process, I’d be a multi-billionaire. So I want to be very clear to members that are listening to this. If you’re a services firm, do not try to become a technology firm. Everything is going to cost twice as much as you think, and it’s going to take twice as long as you think. And it’s not who you are. Your services firm. So don’t do it. And there’s a lot of misconceptions out there. You know, people say, well, if I become a SAS company, you know, the valuation of my firm is going to go through the roof and I’m going to make a ton of money. That’s actually not true. If you look at exits of founders of services firms, they end up making more wealth than founders of technology companies. And why is that? It’s because of capital intensive intensity. Services firms don’t really require any capital, so you don’t have to take on debt as a needs case. You don’t have to dilute yourself by selling equity to people. You can bootstrap and fund the firm yourself. So upon exit, you own 100% of the firm. If you’re trying to become a tech company upon exit, you’ve got to pay the back. You got to pay the equity person and therefore your net proceeds from the sale is much less. In fact, I wrote a blog article on this. You might take a look at that. I think it’s titled Why Services Firms Should Not Try to Become SaaS Companies. But that’s a huge mistake that I want everyone to avoid. The second thing is, is that, you know, high powered senior executives that cost a lot of money and services is also not a good idea. I mean, you want everybody to be billable, either in total or partially. So their expense and running the firm, the on the business stuff is covered by revenue that’s coming in from clients. So two huge lessons there, you know, from Nate. So, Nate, let me ask you a little bit about the debt. So you raised it from the SBA and you raised it from private lenders. It’s all gone. I’m assuming you haven’t paid off the debt yet. You’re still on the hook for it. Is that true? 

Nathan Kievman [00:11:16] Yeah. Yeah. So now. But now I have to go pay that off. You know, that’s the airline’s super, super generous of the 30 year term on 3% and not paying it back yet. But that’s awesome. 24 right around the corner. So I want to add to my path of of in the business, like my my bachelor path and and and it’s just that particular. That’s just I mean, like, I’m really if something happens, I’m going to have to take care of it. So now I remember the text message and cost me $2 million at a minimum, probably like about 2.5 over a three year period of my profit. That’s out of my profit. Yeah, it would have otherwise been profit. And now the debt that I used to pay for those people, I’ve got to pay back on top of that. So I mean, that’s a really heavy cost. And Greg, stay with me. Like, this is the direction we went this way because Greg and I had a very candid conversation. He just wrote the article that week when we had this conversation on the tech. But at the end, and it was a hard decision because it’s like you’ve grown a baby for three years, you kind of want to see it through. But the end of that path was death. So I said, okay, let’s stop this now. And, you know, lesson learned. Hopefully you all can hear this because I really resonated with Greg’s story. And now we’re a super profitable company if we’re a very healthy company. But I decided to be stupid and follow these these shiny objects which, you know, can be part of our founders problem occasionally. So, you know, lesson learned. And yeah, I’ll be paying off, you know, $1.8 million of debt over the next while that’s a little less now but over the next many years. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:56] So you know, the one good thing about your story, Nate, the mistake that you did make is you didn’t sell any equity. That would have been a real kick in the teeth because equity you can’t get rid of. I mean, you can pay off the debt. You know, it sucks that you have to do that, but you can pay it off and get back to zero and then grow again from there. If you had take on an equity partner, now you got somebody owns 20, 30, 40, God forbid, 50% of your firm and you can’t get rid of them. So thank goodness that that you didn’t do that. And that’s another lesson. So, Nate, lastly, you know, if you were to kind of summarize, maybe, you know, for those listening, any other words of wisdom or advice that you would share with people that we haven’t discussed today regarding this issue? 

Nathan Kievman [00:13:39] Read the boutique and follow the instructions. I mean, if if I had read it and had some of the insights prior, that would have saved me millions of dollars. Yeah, right. And and and it did it still, even though I only did it halfway through, it still did save me. Possibly my company, actually. Yeah. You know, I would say definitely take the word of wisdom. Greg’s been a great resource for me and an advisor and from an experiential level, but also the community. I mean, I’m very involved in the community. I talk with members, I learn from members all the time, the the board board program we have. We have great value contribution to each other and insight. Um, but I would actually say my biggest takeaway of all of this is. Before you start giving away executive seats or partner seats in your firm. And then there’s the equity part of that, because I did have Greg, I did give and I brought it all back. I was able to retrieve all my equity back, but I almost lost 34% of my company while in the process of all of that. And and I would say that to. To have controls in place. So for me, the biggest thing was if I had a proper reporting mechanism that I could see weekly of what the money was going towards. I could have stopped it, but I didn’t. And I trusted really poor people more than I should have trusted them. And they abused money that they had never seen before. Right. So it wasn’t their money. It was easy to go increase everybody’s pay by five or ten grand. And then, I mean, we had a board session with with the CFO for board. And in that session, but the context of executive pay norms came up and I was like, what is what is normal for everybody? Well, I got quoted from two different people in my company that I trusted that this was normal pay for people. And when we heard the numbers on the board were like, no way down here. They’re quoting me like billion dollar corporate normal pay structures and our normal pay structure as a start up boutique. I’m like, I’m like, Oh my God, I’m paying way too much for all these different roles. And when it just it just didn’t the math didn’t work, right? So I would just say, make sure your controls are in place. Trust, but verify, especially with executive teams, have double points of control that check against each other, especially when it comes down to the money part of things. And those are my big takeaways. And don’t do that. Like you’re going to detect them on a separate entity. Go raise money for that person. Just leave your services business as its own cash cow. Awesome. I hope that’s helpful, Greg. 

Greg Alexander [00:16:25] Yeah, Super helpful, man. All right. I got three calls. Action. One for members, one for candidates for membership, and one for tire kickers. So, members, look for the meeting invite. We’re going to have a private one hour Q&A session with Nate. I’m sure all of you got a thousand questions because you either have made this mistake, which I have myself in the past. That’s why I can speak so authoritatively on this. Or you might be getting ready to do some of these things and speaking and it will be really important. So eyes open for that. Candidates for membership. If you want to become a member, go to Collective 54 Adcom Fill out an application. The membership review committee will look at it and get back to you. And if you’re not ready for either one of those two things and just want to learn more. Go to Amazon, buy the book called The Boutique How to Start Scale and sell a professional services firm written by yours Truly. But Nate, on behalf of the community, every time you make a deposit into the collective body of knowledge, it’s dead on. So thanks a bunch, man. I really appreciate it. 

Nathan Kievman [00:17:24] For sure, Greg. Appreciate you. Community is great. And for anybody considering joining Giant, it’s worth its weight in gold. 

Greg Alexander [00:17:31] Thanks for saying that. 

Nathan Kievman [00:17:31] That’s all I can say. 

Greg Alexander [00:17:32] Okay. Take care, buddy.

2x Your Revenue with this Share of Wallet Exercise

2x Your Revenue with this Share of Wallet Exercise

Play Video

You can quickly identify the available market that’s sitting inside your existing account base by conducting a share of wallet exercise. And once you identify the opportunity, you’ll start to notice the obstacles in your way.

Learn about conducting a share-of-wallet exercise, how to get more of the shared wallet, and how to manage a team with all of that in mind.

In this video, you’ll learn:

    • What a share-of-wallet exercise is
    • How to use the share-of-wallet exercise to identify growth opportunities
    • How to increase sales with existing accounts based on what they don’t know
    • Effective strategies your team can utilize based on data from the share-of-wallet exercise

Episode 142 – Why Recruiting for Sales Positions in Small Service Firms is Different and How to Adapt – Member Case by Carter Hopkins

Recruiting for sales positions in a small service firm is not the same as recruiting for sales positions in large service firm, or in a product company. This session will help you avoid making costly hiring mistakes as you build out your sales team.


Greg Alexander [00:00:10] Hi, everyone. This is Greg Alexander, the host of the Pro Serv Podcast, brought to you by Collective 54, the first community dedicated to the boutique professional services industry. On today’s episode, we’re going to discuss recruiting salespeople into a small services firm, which is a very precise recruiting process. And we have a wonderful role model with us today. His name is Carter Hopkins, and he’s a member of Collective 54, and he runs a firm that this is what they do. They recruit for sales, and he’s successfully done this for several of our members. So he’s got a lot to offer on this topic. So, Carter, it’s good to see you. Please introduce yourself to the audience. 

Carter Hopkins [00:00:59] Yes, they’re great. Thank you so much for having me. Honestly honored that you asked me to be on the podcast. So, yeah, I’m the founder of Pursuit and we are a sales and marketing recruiting firm that specializes in helping our partners scale out their sales and marketing function with top talent. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:16] Fantastic. So let’s jump into it. So my first question is how is recruiting for sales positions inside services firms different than recruiting for a similar role in a product company? 

Carter Hopkins [00:01:31] Absolutely. I think a. You know, for me, recruiting for sales in general is so different than any other type of recruiting out there. And that’s really the reason I started our company eight years ago, is because I there are a million recruiting firms out there. There’s not a lot of sales recruiting firms. And I believe sales recruiting done well is very, very different than recruiting an engineer or recruiting somebody in I.T. or something like that. And the reason why is it’s it’s it’s not as much about the resume. It’s a lot of it is about the intangibles. It’s about the person. And there’s no certification on a resume that’s going to sell anything. And so, you know, our approach to sales recruiting and don’t get me wrong, a lot of times we are looking for specific things on a resume as well. We’re looking for those intangibles that you may not necessarily be able to to see on the resume. And I think that makes it a little bit different, as well as recruiting for a professional services firm and sales within a professional services firm. Just the motion is a lot different than it is when you’re selling a product, you’re selling a product. A lot of times it’s the same sales pitch over and over and it doesn’t really have to be a solutions based sell. And when you’re recruiting somebody to a professional to sell within a professional services firm, it’s not tangible. Your the sell itself looks so different than it does when it is one product and you’re selling it the exact same way every time. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:12] I agree. That’s a that’s a really good point to bring out. You know, sell services. You’re selling the intangible as a product, as a tangible. That’s a very different emotion. So that that’s a good ad. All right. Let me let me ask the next question, which is, you know, our our membership, because you’re a member and, you know, this is is focused on boutiques, which is code for smaller firms. So let’s talk about the size dimension. So when you’re recruiting sales positions for a small company as opposed to a large company, how is that different? 

Carter Hopkins [00:03:44] Yeah. Working at a big company. Opposed to working at a small company is so different. And you know, the thing that I would encourage members that are listening to this is when you recruit, you need to sell for what you are. And be very upfront and honest what you are with these candidates. And if the candidate is the right candidate for your small firm, that will excite them. If the candidate is the wrong candidate and you’re in, you are going through the good and the bad about working for a small firm, it will scare them away. And so for us, you know, for me, I started the company eight years ago and we’ve built it out. And, you know, I have when people come in to interview with me, I have to tell them, hey, it’s it it’s not a huge firm. We may not have all of the benefits for a lot of these sales reps that are coming from from big firms. What I see is they have a ton of resources. They have a marketing department, they have all of these different resources that they have access to. And then you throw them into a small environment and they’re not used to that. Like they’re like, Hey, where’s where is the client marketing collateral? It’s like, Well, I don’t know. You may have to create that kind of small firm. And so, you know, I think for me personally, I love small business, obviously. And if you sell it correctly, because to me, there’s a lot of advantages of a small firm. Candidates want to know that they can move up quickly. And I believe that you can in a small firm, they want to know that there’s not as much team in to work through. In a small company like that. There is a big company. They want to know that they have access to the founder. There’s a lot of selling points that you you can talk to candidates about that are true. But I would also say almost sell against your opportunity. Hey, here’s what it’s not in the interview process and what it will do. We’ve lost candidates that I liked and I thought could have been good, but they didn’t want that. And I would rather know that in the interview process than figure that out four months down the road and have them leave. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:43] Yeah, I like that. So against it, that makes it’s kind of reverse psychology. And I agree with you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen our membership and even outside of our membership, people get enamored, you know, with the person with 20 years of industry experience, you know, try to bring him in to this small firm. And it’s a trainwreck because they can’t scale down to a small firm. They’re used to being surrounded by all these resources and small firm. It’s it’s largely, you know, building the plane as you’re flying the plane. And you need scrappy people that can make it happen. And sometimes these big company people, they have a really hard time scaling down like that. So that’s a mistake. We’d like all of our members to avoid making speak. 

Carter Hopkins [00:06:25] And I think real quick on that, Greg, another selling point that I believe in small business for is if you’re in sales, you want to try to you want to try to create value within your company as an individual. And I believe it’s easier to create value for a sales rep in a small company than in a big company. And the reason why is because when you work for a big company and you walk in there and the name on your shirt sells itself, yeah, it’s really hard. You’re very replaceable. Yeah, very replaceable because the company’s buy, the buyer is buying from the company and not from you. When you work for a small company and you walk in there. And when we were a, you know, a six person company that preceded you, and our sales rep walks into the room and says, Hey, we’re pursued. They don’t know who pursuit is. So they’re buying from David. They’re buying from a person opposed to buying from a company. And so for me, that’s one of the reasons I always we work with a lot of small companies, and that’s one of our selling points to candidates about going to a small company. You may miss out on some benefits and some of those things, but you’re able to create so much more value for the company, which in turn creates value for yourself. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:33] Yeah, good point. So let’s get to one of the biggest mistakes that members are making right now, and that is they’re over hiring in the sales leadership role and they’re hiring for it too early. Yeah, you and I have spoken about this previously. I’d love for you to share with our members why you think this mistake is happening and maybe what to do about it. 

Carter Hopkins [00:07:59] Yeah, I think so. Here’s kind of what I see. And we have the opportunity to work with some professional services firms, and a lot of times it’s on their first sales hire and you know, they’ve been they’ve been the CEO and they’ve been selling more or less and they may not even wait to sell. Yeah, they may like the delivery side of things and they may be specialized in that, but they find themselves selling and then they listen to Greg and they listen to collective 54. They go, Hey, I need to scale out my sales team. And and they reach out to me. And a lot of times they want us. They want a sales leader. They think that they want a sales leader. That can be a player coach at first that can come in and is going to be an individual contributor. And then go into sales leadership. Right. And what I find is, you know, they want somebody that’s been leading people. Mm hmm. Because they want them to own that sales function. But the hard part about that is somebody that’s been leading people. It’s very hard for them to go back and to go back to selling all day, every day. Right. And they end up frustrated and it ends up not working out well, in theory, in my opinion, from what I’ve seen. And so, you know, I always in most I won’t say always in most scenarios, I believe in hiring somebody that’s going to be a straight sales rep. That’s a little bit probably junior that has no problem reaching out 30, 40 times a day. The person that’s been leading other people to make 40 calls a day is really hard to get them to go back to making 40 calls a day. And what I’ve seen. Yeah. And so, you know, I always cash is king. Right. And like people, how you get cash is you get people that are selling it. I believe your first couple of hires. Most of the time it’s important as long as you can put them in the right atmosphere. It’s important to to find somebody that’s okay with getting out. It’s selling all day. Would you agree with that? 

Greg Alexander [00:10:00] I agree 100%. I mean, listen, individual contributors in sales, it’s a grind. And it is when you get to a mid point in your career or maybe even later on in your career, going back to the grind is just culturally a very difficult thing to do. And for our community, if you think about it, you know, most of them are, you know, early in the development of their sales function in general. So hiring an individual contributor to start with and using that person to kind of be the guinea pig or the test lab, if you will, to figure out what works for you. And then once you understand that maybe that person has the ability to grow into the sales leadership job, if not, at least you know what’s needed now, because you had that junior person in there grinding all the time. So, so really good advice. Speaking of which, I wanted to get to the next question, which is. 

Carter Hopkins [00:10:46] Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:47] Our members. The stereotype of our members, if I could place it on them is this. They’re absolutely brilliant domain experts in what it is that they do. And that’s the reason why they’ve been able to build their firms, is because of their, you know, intellectual horsepower and their expertise. But they didn’t come up through sales most often. Therefore, they really don’t know what good looks like. And they have out of whack expectations. So they hire somebody and they think sales are just going to miraculously come in and they don’t understand that there needs to be a whole system in place. So can you tell us a little little bit about what expectations should be like and how to avoid this mistake? 

Carter Hopkins [00:11:32] Yeah, I would always I would even caution a lot of times what I see is people want to go hire the person that’s been doing it for 15, 20 or 20 years that says they have a Rolodex of contacts and they just move over the business and all of a sudden they’re making all this money. And where I talked to founders that have made a lot of mistakes is they’ve hired people that say that. And then they get in there and they don’t they don’t do anything. Sales is not easy. It’s not that’s why their sales reps make as much money as they make, is because it’s hard and it is a grind and there are no shortcuts to it. And, you know, I I’m going to quote as a friend, this is sales consultant Gregg Stanley. So I’m not going to take credit for it. But how he talks about it is it’s like a houseplant. You go you go buy a houseplant. And if you don’t put that houseplant in the right environment, it’s going to die. And, you know, and then what ends up happening is the plant dies and you don’t know if it was the environment or if it was a bad plant. And a lot of times you think it’s a bad plant, but really it’s a bad. It’s a bad it was a great plant, but you put it in a bad environment and it died. And so that really hit home with me because I watched that happen time after time again, where you have to create a sales environment and you have to have somebody within your organization to set up that right environment. When I say environment, accountability, KPI is a sales atmosphere where they don’t they they don’t feel like they’re flying solo when the day’s tough and they made 40 calls and they haven’t talked to one person all day long. Like you have to put them in an atmosphere to where they can thrive. And it may be like, Well, Greg, how do I do that if that’s not my background? Fortunately, I love sales. You know, when I started the company, that’s my passion and my background. But for a lot of founders, that’s not their domain or expertise. And I would just say like. I believe in. If it’s not going to be you owning that function, hire a sales consultant that helps you set up that environment correctly from the get go before you go hire that salesperson to put him in that environment overall. And then also don’t think once you hire that salesperson as the CEO or as the founder, you’re just going to be hands off and all of a sudden money’s going to start showing up. You’re going to have to be involved in training, in teaching and coaching the whole way through. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:01] Yeah, I love the house houseplant analogy. You know, when I was in the sales consulting space, I used to tell my clients, Listen, you don’t put a football helmet on Tiger Woods. Yeah, but if you hand him a golf club, you’re going to win Majors, right? So it’s matching the talent to the environment and making sure that you’re putting the talent in a position to win. And it’s very often not understood. And I think your advice of maybe renting a sales consultant that can build your sales environment first. Yeah. Then recruiting in the talent is the way to go. 

Carter Hopkins [00:14:35] Well, and I’ll say the last thing I’ll say to that, Greg, is be patient. Like if you have to play the long term game, far too often I see people playing. A short term game is like, you know, they’ll call, will fill a position, they’ll call me like, hey, never sold anything. It’s like, how long it been? It’s been a month and it’s like, man, it it you have to play the long term game with some of these you know, these people in your organization as well because it’s going to take time to figure it out, especially if you’ve never had anybody doing it before and you don’t have a playbook. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:15:05] All right. Well, listen, we need to wrap this up, but I’ve got a few calls to action here for the listeners. So. So if you’re a member, keep your eyes open for the meeting. Invite. That’ll be coming to you shortly for the private Q&A session that we’ll have with Carter. You’ll be able to ask him direct questions, will go into much greater depth and more able to do in a short podcast. If you’re not a member and you want to become one, go to collect 54 Ecom and submit an application and we’ll get in contact with you. And then if you’re just someone who wants a little, little bit more, I would drive you towards our book. It’s called The Boutique How to Start Scale. And so a professional services firm written by yours truly, Greg Alexander, you can find it on Amazon. But Carter, on behalf of the membership, I appreciate you being here, making a deposit into the collective body of knowledge and I look forward to our upcoming member session. 

Carter Hopkins [00:15:59] Thank you, Greg. 

Greg Alexander [00:16:00] Okay, take care.

Episode 141 – The Secret to Big Sales: How an Executive Sponsor Program and Executive Language Wins Clients – Member Case by Carajane Moore

What role should the Founder of a boutique professional service firm play in the process of acquiring new clients? That of an Executive Sponsor. And how can a Founder perform in this role with excellence? By using executive language. Attend this session and learn about executive sponsor programs and executive language. 


Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Hi, everyone. This is Greg Alexander, the host of the Pro Serve podcast. Brought to you by collective 54, the first community dedicated to the boutique professional services industry. On today’s episode, we’re going to talk about executive sponsor programs, what they are. Why you should care. Why you should deploy them. Who should own it, how to do it, etc., etc.. And I’m joined today by a member of Collective 54. Her name is Cara Jane Moore, and she’s an expert in this area and she’s got a lot to offer on this topic. So, Karajan, it’s great to see you. Please introduce yourself and your firm to the audience. 

Carajane Moore [00:00:52] Well, thanks, Greg. It’s great to be here. I’m CaraJane Moore, president Hunt Big Sales, co-owner and Hunt Big Sales is a boutique professional services firm, and we work with the small and mid-sized businesses to help them grow very rapidly by landing large accounts. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:07] Okay, Very good. All right. Well, let me let me start at the top. So what is an executive sponsor program? 

Carajane Moore [00:01:14] Well, actually, an executive sponsor program is more of an approach to how you go about sales. What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to increase that reality in your pipeline. We’re trying to add some assurances in your forecasting and to increase the close rates of of sales. And so an executive sponsorship is about an approach that’s going to allow us to do those things. So an executive sponsor then is somebody that is at the highest level of the organization you’re going after to secure new services. Right? And so they’re at the highest level that have the business problem that you solve. And that’s really important because oftentimes we end up trying to sell us sell benefits and services instead of solving business problems. And really all biotech firms do is solve business problems. And so they’re at the highest level who have the problem that you solve and then also have urgency to solve it. So what we’re talking about is an approach that allows us to secure those types of people so that they can help us through the sales process to close. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:23] Okay. So why do you think this approach and I like that word is the right approach for our community, which is made up of founder led boutique process firms? 

Carajane Moore [00:02:38] Sure. So as a smaller firm, as a founder led, oftentimes founders are involved in the sales. So one, it’s easier for them to get to the owners of the prospect companies they’re going after because sales, when you’re solving business problems happens at a higher level in the organizations you’re hunting than the managerial levels that maybe sales reps are only able to get to. So first and foremost, we have to get to that higher level and an executive is the easiest way to do that. But you can’t teach your salespeople how to do that as well. So one, that’s true. Two, we’re trying to solve business problems. And so you need the executive sponsor inside that organization because if it’s a larger opportunity, they’re going to be the ones that are going to be making the decision to buy. But even if it’s not a big opportunity, it’s a regular sales opportunity. If you’ve got the person who has the problem, the chances are you’re going to get more information and better information than your competitors on landing that piece of business, because you’re going to understand the nuances of the problem versus working with procurement who has no problem. And we oftentimes get lost in the idea of procurement h.r. Training some of these departments who actually don’t have problems. They’re hired to execute someone else’s problems. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:57] Very good. So if you think about a boutique and the lifecycle stages of grow, scale and exit, in your opinion, is there a good time to start this, a bad time to start this? Like where in a lifecycle should a small services firm think about an executive sponsor approach? 

Carajane Moore [00:04:19] Actually, I think that executive sponsor should start the minute you start if you’re selling, which there’s no way we could be in business if we aren’t selling right. If you’re selling the best way to get efficiency and effectiveness and clarity in your sales approach is only speak to the people that have the problems you solve, not their proxies. Mm hmm. 

Greg Alexander [00:04:41] So some of our founders, actually quite a few, are some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. And when you talk to them about their domain, I mean, you literally go back on your heels and you say, oh, my goodness, this person really is an expert. It’s one of the reasons why I love the professional services industry. However, they’re not great salespeople, not because they can’t be. It’s just they were never trained. They don’t want to be you know, they really love kind of the content of their job. So how do you get them? To be the executive sponsor and sell, Empower. Sell the power. 

Carajane Moore [00:05:19] Yeah. So power to power selling is really important. And although they’re the executive for their own organization, we’re trying to secure the executive at their prospects organization, right? Yep. And because they’re a subject matter expert and they are an owner, right. Or he as a founder, they have some gravitas that allows them to get in that door to begin with, which is why most professional services firms grow based on their network of the founders. Right. And we’ve talked about that and seen the founders bottleneck. And then at that particular point in time, as you’re having conversations, all you’re doing is adding clarity to the rules of the process that both you and your prospect are going to go through to determine if you’re the right solution. So we’re not doing anything unethical or behind the doors. This is all clean up, but we’re just making it clear. So even though they don’t have sales backgrounds or they don’t even want to sell, it’s about having an easy conversation. It’s just as simple as me saying, Hey, Greg, we’ve been talking and it sounds like what we’re talking about, I can solve the problem that you’ve got. And in your end, you want us to continue to look at that. But you and I both know there’s some nuances and we’re going to need to get our teams together. So I have to bring my team together. You have to bring your team together. They have to spend some time kind of working through the details. And I just want to make sure before we get started that you’re willing to be a part of that process, that you’re willing to stay engaged, that you’re willing to give me access to your team and data as necessary to go through the sales process. You’re willing to make it a priority. You’re willing to add clarity when maybe some of the people in your team have conflicting ideas or the urgency overcomes the importance and we get into a logjam and getting data and access. Would you be willing to do that for us so that we can work through this process to determine if we can solve this problem the way you need it in the timeframe you’re asking? It’s a that’s all it takes. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:21] Yeah. I mean, that was such a beautiful summary of it. STEM to stern. I marvel at your ability to take the complex and make it simple. Let’s, let’s consider a use case here. So let’s say I’m the founder of a 50 person consulting firm and I’m trying to scale my firm, which means I’m trying to solve for the founder bottleneck and replicate myself and others and be a great delegator and build a team. So because of that, I have a business development function of some kind of sales function, and they’re out there trying to win new clients. Where how is the labor separated? Like who does what and when does the founder parachuted? 

Carajane Moore [00:08:07] Sure, absolutely. So generally, if you’re on the earlier aid of that lifecycle, right, as a founder, you’re going to be more involved at the beginning of the sales process and then again at the end when you’re closing, as you’re scaling to your point, you should be able to turn over some of those, what we would call traditional prospecting activities to somebody in the business development department who is able to then sell the services. And as a founder, depending on the size of the transaction, whether you should be involved or not really is played at that point. So if you’ve already got somebody in business development and we’re trying to get to the highest person within that organization, you should be able to turn that over because they have to be a seasoned salesperson. If they’re trying to get to an owner. If we’re selling power to power, owner to owner, then they have to have enough. Business acumen and be able to do executive language speak to get in. And there’s three secrets to landing large deals you get sent to whom you sound like. So if you don’t sound like the executive, you’re going to get deferred down to a manager or director. You stay with whom you impress, which means you have to be able to continue conversation and an engagement at that executive level, and you close and grow with those who believe, which means you also have to be convincing. And so that’s part of where maybe a founder comes back in because they’ve got the resources they’re committing to. Yeah. So you should be able to transfer that to a salesperson, but they have to have that executive language, that executive presence and that business acumen to be able to be at that level, to have those conversations. 

Greg Alexander [00:09:47] So let’s talk about the executive language. And I know that your firm has an executive language program and how critical it is. And I think it’s so relevant to our community because our founders, they speak in jargon. They speak in like their domain expertise. And if you’re going to be power to power selling to an executive, the person inside to they don’t even understand all the three letter acronyms. So So how can one of our members get themselves trained on executive speak? 

Carajane Moore [00:10:24] Yeah, absolutely. Well, like you said, we’ve we’re launching a new program, Big Sale Secrets, and it’s really about mastering that executive language to close more deals. And that’s that language is more it’s less about the details. And this is one of the things that I think is really important. Executives buy to solve a problem of the future. They’re buying a better future. So they don’t need to know the details of how what we’re doing to solve that problem is going to happen. That’s what their team is for, to evaluate. So executive language is talking about the bigger concept, the bigger idea. We’re talking about money, not price. Right. We’re talking about leading through influence, persuasion and executive through some of the data. And especially if we’re talking about our founders speaking jargon, we’re going to back it up. We’re going to lead them through data and the analysis of that data to implications. And as executives themselves, they’d rather make a decision off of an option. So you have to be able to place the options that don’t include you as a part of the decision making framework for your executive buyer, then provide the recommendation for that choice. And so by putting in some of these conversational arcs and tools, how do you use napkin math so that we’re not into the precision, but we’re giving the big picture idea bullet points, bite sized, but a full arc of concept for executives to make a decision now. So our video program does exactly that. And then we’ve added C suite fluency because it’s a new language, right? So we have to become fluent in it. And what we’re learning is in today’s world, we want to consume information so rapidly, but we don’t take the time to practice and perfected. And so when you’re learning a new language, you have to practice that language. I don’t know about you. I try to do Spanish on a Rosetta Stone, and I could read it and I could I could understand it when they said it, but when I tried to say it back to them. Error. Yeah, error because I couldn’t get the role of the hours and all. I mean, it was, it was really fun and my daughter’s just fluent and I can’t write. Well, that’s the same thing when we’re talking about salespeople or founders trying to learn how to speak at an executive language, which is not their day to day language because they work with their own peers. And if your founders are those very, very smart people, but they’re the subject matter experts in their business, they’re going to be jargon based. Yeah. So we have to elevate them into business based conversation. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:59] Yeah. You know, I’ll share a story with the membership. I made this mistake that Cara Jane is talking about. When we first hit the market with collective 54, we would talk about helping a services firm grow, scale and exit. And I thought everybody understood what that meant. And I had several people say, What are you talking about? And finally someone said, So Greg, what you’re really talking about is going to help me make more money. You can help me work smarter, not harder, and you can help me get to an exit bigger and faster. And I almost kiss the person. I’m like, Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. So we have since taken that language, which is their language, not my language. I was using industry jargon and it wasn’t, it wasn’t landing. So using their language is what really happened. And that’s what this executive language program is about. All right. One more question for you. So let’s say I’m a member and I’m listening to this and I’ve now been inspired, you know, to go implement an executive sponsor approach. What obstacles should I anticipate? 

Carajane Moore [00:13:55] Well. So first and foremost, the first obstacle and I know this seems really obvious, but everybody misses it if you’re going to go ask for an executive sponsorship. Oftentimes people are afraid and it’s our side that’s afraid. So we kind of say it. We don’t really lay it out or. And so the biggest obstacle that we find is we work with companies to get them to do that is their own teams fear to actually go have that conversation. What I will tell you is when you’re actually speaking to executive, they are absolutely thrilled that when you have a problem, you’ve got a process, you’ve got a plan, and you know exactly how to execute it. And they know where they’re supposed to step in. They are grateful for the conversation. They’re not resentful. And so first we have to get over the fear. That’s the first piece. The other piece is if the answer is no, that tells you a whole lot of information. One, if they say, no, I don’t want to be your executive sponsor, it might be because they’re not the right person. Right? Might be because they’re just kicking tires and they’re not interested. Right? Answer Stop wasting our time. Right. So there’s nothing to be afraid of. This is just an easy conversation. Right? So those are some of the key obstacles. The last thing is, it depends on who you’re selling to. If you are in big situations in which you can’t speak to anybody, you can’t ask for an executive sponsor at that particular time, even though you might be able to gather more information. Right. If you’re speaking to municipalities, we have to be careful about the language we use. We don’t say executive sponsor because that sounds like we’re for you to win versus others. And that’s not what we’re asking for. We’re asking for to guide us through the sales process like they would anybody else. Right? So government, military contracting, some of those types of things, the language has to be tweaked just a little bit. And we’re not asking them to sign an agreement and we’re not even asking them to favor us. We just have to be careful. That’s an obstacle in some of those organizations that you have to be aware of. 

Greg Alexander [00:15:58] All right. Very good. Well, listen, we’re out of our time here, but this was really intriguing. And I’m so looking forward to the private Q&A session we’re going to have with the members where members can ask you questions directly. And I’m sure there’s going to be a ton of them. But, Caroline, you’ve been a wonderful addition to our community. You’re always a giving member. You’re actively participating. So on behalf of the entire membership, I just wanted to thank you for all that you do for us. 

Carajane Moore [00:16:22] Oh, well, thank you. I love being a part of C 54, and I keep referring everybody I can because I think it’s a great organization and a great structure for professional service firms like mine and yours. So yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:16:35] Okay, so audience members, three calls to action. So if you’re a member, keep an eye out for the invitation that’s going to come for Carajane’s Q&A session. If you’re a candidate for membership, go to collective 54 dot com and submit an application and we’ll get in contact with you. And if you’re not ready for that, just want to learn more. Go to Amazon and find my book. It’s called The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional services firm. And we talk about lots of topics that hopefully resonate with you. But thanks for listening. And until next time, I wish you the best of luck as you try to grow, scale and exit your firm.

Episode 139 – How to Use the Post Project Review to Scale Your Firm – Member Case by Nicole Merrill

Listening to clients intentionally is a core competency for service firms attempting to scale. There are 5 listening techniques appropriate for a boutique service firm. They are: 1- client advisory board, 2- post project reviews, 3- client satisfaction program, 4- win loss program, and 5- conferences. In this session, we take a deep dive on #2 post project reviews. Learn what they are, why they are required, the benefits they produce, and how and when to perform them.


Greg Alexander [00:00:10] Welcome to the Pro Serv Podcast, a podcast for leaders of thriving boutique professional services firms. For those that are not familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community focused on the unique needs of the boutique processor firm. My name’s Greg Alexander. I’m the founder and I’m going to be your host. Today on in this episode, we’re going to talk about one of the listening techniques. We discussed five listening techniques in the book, The Boutique. And one of those is called a Post Project Review. We’re going to talk about what it is, why you should be doing them, when you should be doing them, who should own it, how many should be done, etc., etc.. And we’ve got a great member role model with us. Her name is Nicole Merrill and she’s a CEO of Vecteris. Nicole, it’s good to see you. And you introduce yourself and your firm, please. 

Nicole Merrill [00:01:05] Absolutely. Thank you for having me here. It’s nice to be here. Vector is works with B2B professional services companies to build products that allow them to grow without adding more headcount. It’s an important area that a lot of our organizations are struggling with. So most organizations run right to the technology, you know, the app they want to build or the elements they want to build, whatever it might be, and they run into trouble. So we help those organizations by addressing the three major challenges they face leadership, vision and alignment, product mindset and skill set, and finally developing their own product innovation process. And that’s all specific to the B2B professional services space. So and my own background is in over 20 years of designing and executing the go to market strategies for those kinds of services and products. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:57] Okay, great. So let’s start with the basics. What is your definition of a post project review? 

Nicole Merrill [00:02:06] So for us, we like to use the post product review process. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:11] Yep. 

Nicole Merrill [00:02:12] Yes. Project Review Fork for a couple of different things. We see it as an opportunity to debrief and give people our clients an opportunity to ask more questions. Look for clarity. We also see it as a time where we can get feedback on the work that we’ve done for them and also a really a wonderful opportunity to explore new opportunities. How else could we be working together? So. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:42] Okay, fantastic. And the mechanics of it, how do you do them at the terrace? 

Nicole Merrill [00:02:49] So within our consulting practice, typically we’ll do a couple of things. We have a survey that gets sent out to all the participants in the project, and then we also will schedule time with the project sponsor to really get to talk through with them. Sorry. Things are about making noises here so that we get a chance to talk through with them. The. Her opportunities there, the victories that they saw coming out of the project. So there is a interview guide that we actually use to kind of walk us through that. So that’s with our consultant, with our customers. We actually also do an internal project review where everyone from the project comes together and we also do the same victories, opportunities for development for us internally. We look for the things that we want to productize, that we want to use again and again because they work so well in that particular project and look for ways that we can work to better together. So there’s kind of three layers to our post project work actually. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:57] And when you do it internally. Um hmm. What are some things that you commonly find? One of the outputs of that. 

Nicole Merrill [00:04:09] One of them is definitely to look for the opportunities that we can do more work with someone potentially, if we haven’t already identified them. It’s a way to give the team an opportunity to give each other like kudos and great feedback on Hey, you really helped me out when you did this. So it’s a good kind of team building opportunity for them. It also gives us the opportunity to look for places where we can repeat and just, you know, get better and faster and more efficient as an organization. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:04:37] Yeah, exactly. Okay. And is there like, who owns it inside the company? Is it the person who own the project? Is it somebody else who owns the Post Project Review? 

Nicole Merrill [00:04:50] That’s a great question. So we actually have a leader in project management who is the person who kind of owns the set up of every project and then the debrief of every project. So she makes sure that we send out that survey. She makes sure that we’re scheduling that session with the project sponsor, and she makes sure that we actually have our internal debrief. So she schedules all that. She runs us through the agenda. And then she makes sure that those pieces that we want to make sure we’re repeating end up in the right place, because she is also the person who owns our playbook. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:23] Essentially, yeah. You know, the repeating concept is one that’s worth highlighting the way that we did it in my old firm and we use different terminology, but it’s essentially the same thing. What we did was we pulled out the original scope and and then we compared the original scope with what actually happened in the project. And if we were out of scope and therefore not as profitable as we needed to be, we would analyze why, you know, if the profit margin on that project was higher than normal, we analyzed why. So it’s always a good kind of closed loop process to, you know, to go back to, you know, what were the original assumptions and what actually happened. So, okay, So we talked about what it is, why members should be doing them. Who owns it in the firm? When is it done? 

Nicole Merrill [00:06:09] We usually do it within a few days of actually wrapping up the project. So we try to do it very, very quickly as much as we can. So someone’s on vacation will wait, but typically we’re doing it within days. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:21] And the theory there is there’s more time passes, the less fresh our memories are. 

Nicole Merrill [00:06:26] You forget. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. You forget what was important or you’ve lost sometimes. Well, even if it’s a particularly long project, we’ll actually fit in something mid-stream because we don’t want to miss the things that maybe happened early in the project that could have that we will have forgotten by the end. So it’s not necessarily only at the end that we’re doing these kinds of conversations. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:47] Okay. And do you do them after every project, or is there a certain project size that gets this extra attention? 

Nicole Merrill [00:06:55] No, for us, we do it after every single project. There’s really no project that we wouldn’t do it after. It’s it’s an integral part of kind of how we do business. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:07] Okay. And and the results that are gathered from this. Mm hmm. Are they use across the entire organization or is it just within client delivery? 

Nicole Merrill [00:07:20] The entire organization. So, you know, I mentioned early on that in our consulting practice, we do these post project reviews, but it’s really driven how we’ve developed our organization as a whole. So we’ve moved as an organization more and more into a subscription based advisory solution. And part of that was because we wanted our business model to to grow in that direction. But through these kinds of conversations is where we got that. Why, for our customers, like, why is this more important for our customers to be more in this advisory solution kind of approach? You know, we learned through having these discussions that essentially what companies were doing was almost outsourcing their strategy, and it was really important that they keep that strategy internal. And it became very, very clear as we were having some of those post project conversations that being able to work with and partner more with customers is really important and that it really kind of gave us the the why behind we were making a more a big business model shift. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:26] Yep. And as you do these post-graduate reviews and you guys are doing them after every project, which is, which is quite a lot, does it help you get a better understanding as to really who your ideal client is and therefore who you might target from a sales and marketing perspective? 

Nicole Merrill [00:08:46] Yes, I would say it does. It definitely helps us identify what are the. The things that are a bit different between each of the organizations so that we can be looking for those right companies when we see them, and also help us eliminate the ones that aren’t the right fit long term. Yeah, help us better understand the problems that they’re facing and so that when we’re upfront selling, where we’re positioning it better so that the people who really need us, they can self-identify as well. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:09:17] You know, in my journey from time to time, we would have a set of projects that didn’t go so well, and then we would analyze those to see what was common amongst them and they would say, Listen, you know, when you’re in the services business, you become what you sell and who you serve. So if you’re having a problem with a certain type of project and you keep selling them that project, life is going to be miserable because you going to keep putting yourself into those difficult situations. And I know it’s difficult to walk away from revenue, but not every dollar is worth the same. Some dollars are more attractive than other dollars and there’s real opportunity cost there. So I just wanted to work into the conversation on how critical it is to pull forward the post project reviews into the sales and marketing process so that what you’re bringing into the firm, other types of clients and types of projects that you want to work on because that will lead to success because again, ultimately we become what we sell and who we serve. 

Nicole Merrill [00:10:16] Now, couldn’t agree more. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:17] If you were starting a firm today and you weren’t doing this and you didn’t even know maybe what it was, would some listening to this will fall into that category and you were paralyzed because you don’t even know how to take the first couple of steps. You know, how would you get going on this? 

Nicole Merrill [00:10:34] On the process of how to do a post project review. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:37] Correct. 

Nicole Merrill [00:10:38] I’d probably chat at first. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:42] I think we’re all doing that these days. 

Nicole Merrill [00:10:44] Yeah, 100%. I don’t think. I don’t think it has to be fancy. Yeah, we, we started with a like start, stop, continue kind of framework. So we just were able to kind of help people think about all the key areas that we wanted feedback on. We’ve kind of moved into a slightly more elegant framework, which is victories, opportunities and shifts. So what are the things that really organizations felt were there where they really saw value? Where were the areas where we had maybe we had a miss that we could have filled the gap on and still maybe could fill the gap on. And then shifts in the shifts is where we get into conversations of how we do work together in the future, because it’s how their organization is shifting because of this. And we really get a nice opportunity to get expansion from those kinds of questions so it doesn’t have to be fancy. I think you can start super easy and just have a conversation with people. 

Greg Alexander [00:11:41] Yeah, I agree. You know, one thing that I might put on top of that maybe at the intermediate step, not the expert stuff, but once you pass the beginning step is to really embrace this concept of project profitability. Sometimes we measure margins in the aggregate at the firm level, and that can be a little deceiving if you’re measuring profitability at the project level. And the post project review would be the way that which you did that you start to get really granular. You know, so for example, if you were I don’t know if there were four phases to a project and phase two was 200% of scope, like what the heck happened? You know, if if Bob, who was assigned to the project, you know, had these three deliverables and he was two weeks late on each one, like what was going on with Bob, did we staff the project correctly? And then when you when you start doing it that way, you really get good and understanding scope and then you can pull that forward into the sales process so that when you put a proposal on the table for a client, maybe you can move away from hourly billing and you can move into something like a fixed, better or flat fee because you really have great understanding as to what the work is, you know, what the level of effort is going to need to be in order to pull it off. So just something to think about there for for the members. All right. Well, listen, we’re at our time here, but for members of collective 54 that are listening, I want you to pay attention to the meeting invite that will come out for the private member Q&A session, which we’ll have with Nicole. And you’ll be able to double click into this and a lot more detail and ask her her direct questions and learn a lot about the Post project review. For those that are listening, that are nonmembers. Obviously, I encourage you to become a member and you can do that. A collective 54 Adcom fill out a form and some will get in contact with you. And if want to learn about the other techniques that we advocate for, pick up a copy of our book. It’s called The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm. But Nicole, you and your team have been long time supporters of Collective 54. You’ve made just a tremendous contribution to the community and you did so again here today. So on behalf of all the members, thank you so much for being here. 

Nicole Merrill [00:13:51] And I was delighted. Thank you so much. All right. 

Greg Alexander [00:13:55] Okay. Until next time, I wish you the best of luck as you try to grow, scale and exit your firm.

Episode 138 –  Journey Maps: What Are They, How Are They Used, and Why Every Professional Service Firm Needs Them – Member Case by Miles Kailburn

Quality work is table stakes, not a competitive advantage. Lots of firms deliver quality work and many clients cannot tell the difference between great work and average work. In contrast, the client experience is a powerful differentiator. Very few firms can deliver an outstanding client experience consistently. Those that can scale. The tool they use to do so is called a journey map. Attend this session and learn what a journey map is, and how to create and use them effectively. 


Greg Alexander [00:00:10] Welcome to the Pro Serv Podcast, a podcast for leaders of thriving boutique professional services firms. If you’re not familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community focused on the unique needs of founders of boutique professional services firms. My name’s Greg Alexander. I’m the founder and I’m going to be your host today. On in this episode, we’re going to talk about one of the most important tools that services firms have at their disposal being best in class. And this tool can make a significant improvement in many areas of your business. And the tool I’m referring to is the journey map. And we have a role model with us today who’s an expert at this. His name is Miles. I’m going to mispronounce your last name. I’ll say it for me. Kelburn Kelburn. I was going to say Kelburn. So thank you for that. And Miles, it’s good to see you. Would you introduce yourself and your firm to the audience? 

Miles Kailburn [00:01:13] Certainly. Thanks for having me on today. We are a 17 year old creative firm located in northern Colorado, primarily focused on high lifetime value segments and client industries. And our company is OTM. You’ll find us at Time.com. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:35] All right, Very good. So let’s let’s start from the basics. You know, we have some young emerging firms here, and this term might not be familiar to them. So what is a journey map? 

Miles Kailburn [00:01:46] Simply put, a journey map is a visual representation of whichever audience you’re going after. Could be employees, that could be customers. Anything that we’re we’re tracking. But really, it’s it’s a visual representation of the process that they go through, whether it’s employment, buying services, things like that. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:06] Okay. And let’s let’s take those one at a time here. So if I have a journey map and let’s say I want to use it for service delivery because I want my client to have an exceptional experience, how might I use it in that context? 

Miles Kailburn [00:02:25] It’s a great question. And I just walked out of a service delivery meeting where we were going through that right now on SEO and social services. So. The first thing is to go through and map out what are the touch points in terms of I guess, first, are we looking at securing new work or delivering existing work to existing clients? 

Greg Alexander [00:02:47] So I’m going to get to the new work in a moment, but for this example, delivering existing work. 

Miles Kailburn [00:02:52] All right. So that’s what we’re going to map out. First is what our client engagement experience is. So we’re going to look at that typically on our side on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis. And so we’re going to map out all the touchpoints that we need to have with a client and really also what are the touch points and areas and timing of their business that they need to communicate with us. We’re going to lay that out kind of on a linear, flat visual map. There’s some great tools at mural near Miro smartly to to map that out. And then from there we’re going to look at what are the emotions that are driving that on the customer side, Where where are there intentional opportunities to align with the customer that we can get ahead of that we can predict? And then from there, we’re going to start to build our services really around that map. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:46] Okay, some terminology here. So touch points. What is a touchpoint? 

Miles Kailburn [00:03:52] Touchpoint would be any engagement that a prospective client or existing client has with our brand. So that could be visiting a website, reading a newsletter, engaging in social for the existing client side. It’s typically going to be more around our IT within our client engagement model. It’s going to be more around client meetings, client cadence, client reviews. Typically anything that account services leading is going to be a communication touchpoint. 

Greg Alexander [00:04:25] Yeah, Okay. Very good. And our audience here today is our members. So I’ll use Collective 54 as an example because they’ve all gone through this. An example of a touchpoint for us is your onboarding session. You know, we know that if you get onboarded well and it’s a good experience and then we’re off to the races and things are going to work out when onboarding does not go well, which sometimes happens for a variety of reasons, then you know, it’s a rocky road from there and we’re in recovery mode right away. So that’s an example of a touchpoint, that’s a milestone on a journey map. And, you know, highlighting that and recognizing it for the level of importance that it has and being really good at it is what a journey map would help you do. Now, you mentioned the word emotions, which I have to double click on because I completely agree with you on this, because sometimes with clients it’s not necessarily what you deliver them, although that is important, of course, but it’s how they feel in the project itself and emotions can get in the way. So for example, when someone comes to our onboarding session, they they kind of know like what they just bought, but not really. So they’re coming at it with, you know, a fair amount of skepticism. And then we need to know that. And so therefore we kind of go overboard in how we explain things to remove some of that skepticism and get them to open up a bit. So emotions plays a huge role here. So, Miles, how does how does your firm help clients? Because I know you do this for a living as well as use it yourself. How do you help people identify what those emotions may be? 

Miles Kailburn [00:06:00] The emotions are. I mean, to your point, that’s that’s almost almost a majority of what you’re managing from. From analyzing that, it really comes down to a bunch of different touch points. Some of it’s qualitative, some of it’s quantitative. So we use focus groups a lot. We use session recording tools like Hotjar that will record website activity to look at hesitancy and delay. But really it comes down to watching the customer in one way or another. We can you and I can sit in a room and we can hypothesize what what a pinpoint is to a perspective or where the emotional state of a prospective collective 54 member or potential sales prospect. But that doesn’t really do us enough good until we actually sit down and have those conversations like you guys do with your prospective members in measure that go back, look at the journey map. Are we addressing these touch points or are these emotions at the right touch point? And what could we do differently maybe leading into that onboarding process or things like that to actually influence that emotion? 

Greg Alexander [00:07:16] Yep. Very good. Now, these are used also in the sales process with new prospects, not just with existing clients during client discovery or client delivery. Excuse me, is it the process basically this the same into supply differently or is it an entirely different process? 

Miles Kailburn [00:07:35] The way we do it as well will basically take a look at the full funnel. So we’re going to look at it from a marketing and sales perspective first. So we’ll start to map through the marketing marketing process. So looking at awareness, consideration and acquisition and so working basically top down tracking that prospect or that persona really from the point at which they are even entertaining the idea of joining a group, buying a car or whatever, that, that buying that customer journey is all the way down through the marketing channels. The transition from marketing qualified lead an MQ out to a sales qualified lead, handing that over to the sales process. And then from there it’s a it is a separate journey inside of the sales process, but we look at it as a linear extension of that marketing, qualified marketing customer journey cycle, because really we’re looking at what is the customer’s experience or perspective customers experience going through that whole process. And then once they become a customer, then it serves to nurture and client engagement, so commonly referred to as a bow tie funnel. But really at that point, once they’re signed, you basically start a whole new customer journey. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:55] Tell us what a bow tie bow tie funnel is. 

Miles Kailburn [00:09:00] So think of two triangles that meet in the middle and the pointy side. But basically you’ve got your customer journey coming in, you’re attracting customers, you’re nurturing them, you’re getting them into your sales table. So from left to right, that’s getting a little more narrow. And that that center point in between is the conversion that client has purchased. The client has signed up, and at that point you actually start the process all over again, just well further on the right hand side of the spectrum. And that becomes what we would consider a client engagement model. So instead of looking at how are we heading them up with drip campaigns and nurturing their sales process, it’s how are we nurturing them as a customer? Are we having the right meeting cadences? Are we delivering things as planned, and are we doing our quarterly business reviews and things like that at the right cadences? 

Greg Alexander [00:09:54] Okay, got it. If I’m a member and I don’t have a journey map and I want to get started, but I might be paralyzed because I don’t even know how to take the first two or three steps. What do I do? 

Miles Kailburn [00:10:07] It’s a little funny, but the first thing I would do is the accidental way we got into this is I would go Google Starbucks journey map. There’s a couple of visuals. It we accidentally stumbled across it a decade ago, and it’s an incredibly well structured document that outlines the buying process and considerations that go into getting that daily cup of coffee. And it’s pretty spot on. I would take a look at that first. That’s pretty easy to wrap your head around as we’ve all gone through Starbucks going from there and actually putting it into use, the two resources would be smartly applied. They are a very large customer journey focused platform, but they’ve got a lot of resources. And then video audio, which is IDL, has some human centered service design courses that you can take and those are really fantastic, maybe 4 to 6 week boot camps that really can get you going from from nothing to your first map. 

Greg Alexander [00:11:12] Awesome. And the first one just to do the spell again. S a l. P y. 

Miles Kailburn [00:11:18] S a ap l y a map. 

Greg Alexander [00:11:23] My, my, my dyslexia is getting the best of me simply because. 

Miles Kailburn [00:11:31] I want to. Yeah. Napoli Yeah, and they’ve got a lot of great resources. 

Greg Alexander [00:11:37] So who in a firm should own this? Not only the creation of it for the first time, but I would imagine it gets heavily iterated against who owns us. 

Miles Kailburn [00:11:46] It’s a great clash and we see it as a cross-functional resource. So with our clients, we work with about 45 brands, pretty much all of them adopt customer Journey as a focus at the leadership level, typically at the CEO level. They’re not the ones leading it, but once we once we can align with the CEO around leveraging and managing towards and building towards customer journeys, that really allows us to build through the cross-functional teams, whether it’s customer experience, marketing, sales, h.R. And so in most of our clients, really, the ownership is usually spread out across two or three department heads that are each managing it in their own areas. We’ve got clients that use them for professional development, onboarding internally, externally sales, marketing, even down to how to build a house. Our clients have kind of taken journey maps as really the source of truth for almost everything they deliver, which has been absolutely exciting to see. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:56] Yeah, I’ll share a story to bring all this to life as maybe a way to put a bow on our session. So I had dinner with a gentleman Tuesday night this week. He reached out to me, called on LinkedIn and said, Hey, I read your book and I’m going to be in Dallas on a business meeting. I’d like to come see you. And I looked him up and he looked like somebody that would fit well with our community. So I said, Sure. So I went and met him for dinner. And he he’s really great guy. And I was so glad that he reached out and said, So what did you think of the book? And he’s like, Well, he goes, I read it about two years ago. And right there I was, dropped my fork in my plate. I’m like, What? So all of my assumptions of my journey map kind of went away. I’m like, So you read it two years ago and here we are tonight. So like, what happened? And he’s like, Well, I started listening to your podcasts and you mentioned at the end of your podcast, so that told me my call to action was working. He goes, and I went back and listen to it this time via the Kindle audio version. So and I didn’t know that right in there. I am kind of not really paying attention to those early steps in the journey map. And then he went from listening to audio and to reaching out to me, which is, you know, the idea behind content marketing. And here we are face to face. And it was something about the audio that did it as opposed to the text, you know, audio, all of it more intimate, you know, not a flat, that kind of thing. So just as an example for the audience that, you know, really understanding the behavior, the journey that a prospect or client goes on can help you make informed decisions in so many different ways. 

Miles Kailburn [00:14:35] Well, Greg, one point in there is you mentioned duration. You know, everyone has their own duration and that might be a little bit on the farther side, but respecting the duration that the customers are organically going to go through allows you to really back your tactics and and decisions to align with that and in our opinion, respect the customer journey. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:59] Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah. I mean, in fact, if I had known that he had read the book two weeks ago, my aggressive sales guys might have reached out to him and it probably would have backfired. Like he that wasn’t the way he wanted to go through it. So I guess I got lucky in that scenario. All right. Let me let me summarize a few things here. So for members that are listening to this, you’re going to get a meeting invite for the exclusive private member Q&A session. And this will allow us to double click on this much more than we can do so on a shorter podcast. And it gives you the opportunity to ask Myles your questions directly to him. So I highly encourage you to attend that. For nonmembers that are listening, get off your, you know what and become a member and you can do that. A collective 54 icon fill out a form and some will follow up with you if you don’t want to get off your you know what and you want to just, you know, investigate a little bit more. Check out the book that I just mentioned. Ironically, it’s called The Boutique How to Start Scale Sell in Professional Services Firm authored by yours Truly, Greg Alexander. And again, you can find that on Amazon. With that, Miles, you know, the way that collective works is, is we make deposits in the collective body of knowledge so that we all benefit from it and we share best practices, and that’s how we all get smarter. So you made a big contribution today. So on behalf of all the members, I want to thank you for being here. 

Miles Kailburn [00:16:15] My pleasure. I’ve been on the receiving side of that for a long time. So happy to give back. Greg Alexander [00:16:19] Okay, Very good. All right. Until next time, I wish you luck as you try to grow, scale and sell your firm. Take care.

Episode 137 – How a Fast Growth Service Firm Formalized Goal Setting to Get Focused – Member Case by Jason Mills

A strategy defines who you serve, what you do, how you do it, and how you do it differently. And a strategy begins with a clear set of goals. In this session, learn how a boutique adopted a formal goal setting methodology, called OKRs, to get focused on what matters most.


Greg Alexander [00:00:10] Welcome to the Pro Serv podcast, a podcast for leaders of thriving boutique professional services firms. For those that aren’t familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community focused entirely on the unique needs of the boutique processor firm. My name is Greg Alexander. I’m the founder and today I’ll be your host. And in this episode we’re going to talk about a popular management methodology, goal setting methodology called Okay Hours. And the reason why I’m going to talk about this is several of our members are attempting to implement them and we’re learning a lot and we want to share some of those learnings. And if you’re not using OKRs, you might be using something similar, such as the boutique framework from collective 54 or iOS or scaling up. There’s a lot of kind of techniques out there and it’s important to have one. Today we’re going to talk about OKRs and we’ve got a role model with us. It’s a member of Collective 54 from a company called Tribal Scale. His name is Jason Mills. Jason, it’s good to see you. Thanks for being here. And please introduce yourself and your firm. 

Jason Mills [00:01:25] Thanks, Greg. My name is Jason Mills. I had engineering a tribal scale. We’re a boutique services firm specializing in platform and software development, using extreme programing, which is essentially test driven development coupled with peer programing. We also use this to provide a unique approach to digital transformation. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:45] Very good. So let’s start with the basics. What is your definition of OKRs? 

Jason Mills [00:01:53] So Oscars are basically, I guess, essentially company goals. The acronym ACRONYM stands for Objectives and key results. The objective portion be more of a loosely defined company goal and the key results, more of the how to get there. So yeah, but it’s kind of like a quick overview. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:15] Yeah. And for those that might be interested, they really became famous when John Daw introduced them to Google back in the late nineties. And many in the tech world, such as tribal scale, you know, have embraced them as a result and to much great success. So, Jason, now we understand what they are. Let me ask you, why did you and your firm start using them? 

Jason Mills [00:02:40] So we’ve we’ve done goal setting exercises for several years to drive personal growth and company initiatives. But in the past, it was really just the manager collaborating with the with a report. And we came to the realization that, yeah, it’s great if someone wants to get a certification to support their growth, but what if that doesn’t align with the company’s goals? So what can we do to eliminate this gap? And as we as we look to really align the company vision in the organization, OKRs became the model to try out for us. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:15] Okay, great. And when did you begin your. Okay, our implementation. 

Jason Mills [00:03:21] So we started end of last year really trying to get the framework in place and for preparation to really launch this in Q1 of this year. So we are about two quarters in almost at the end of the second quarter right now and definitely iterated a little bit on the process. But that’s that’s where we are at this point. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:43] Which is great. I mean, we caught you at exactly the right time. If you already had everything fully baked, the the conversation wouldn’t be as fruitful because I think there’s many that are in the middle of an implementation. So to hear your your story is going to be helpful to them. So tell us a little bit about, you know, what the journey has been so far. You know, how are you using them, What’s gone well, what hasn’t gone well, etc.? 

Jason Mills [00:04:06] Yeah, sure. So we’ve gone ahead and we created for essentially for company OKRs to help line the teams. The first one was lined with white glove service. That was like an example of one of the ones we use trying to provide that ten X value to our clients. The second was service offerings kind of like complements the first OKRs, and the third was thought leadership in the form of content generation through blogs. Speaking of speaking out on podcasts or attending meetups, and the fourth one was meaningful bench work. So we were in a situation last year where a lot of times people were on bench and we wanted to make sure that it aligned with its valuable time. We wanted to make sure aligned with like with what would benefit our clients and our business the best. So those were some of the the OKRs we choose to use. And then each department really gets their own. They can add a couple of extra OKRs if they like, based on what the department needs might be. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:13] Okay, so let’s double click into into one of them and I’m going to choose meaningful bench work because I think that’s a rich topic for our audience. You know, most of our members, sometimes they’re a little lumpy in their businesses and they can find, you know, talented people on the bench for a period of time. And then unfortunately, sometimes it goes the other way your 120% capacity and everyone’s burning the midnight oil. So so what is some examples of meaningful bench work? 

Jason Mills [00:05:42] So a lot of times like the default for us just was like, okay, we’re gonna we’re going to certification certifications always help our, you know, our company in regards to Azure or things like that. But we took it a step further and we we said, you know, whatever we’re working on, it should benefit either a client that we’re going to have in the future or a client that we have currently. And we took it a step further and said, you know, how do we know we’re succeeding in this? So we put together like a metric saying that, you know, we want to we want to use whatever knowledge they’ve gained within two months of of learning it. And that’s how we know if we succeeded with that. So so that’s an example. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:27] That is a great example. So you want to use whatever you learned within two months. I can’t help myself. Two months is a very precise number. How did you pick that? 

Jason Mills [00:06:39] Oh, I it’s like it felt right. Okay. It seems like, you know, when you’re when there’s a little bit of leeway before the next client starts up, it seems like a good amount of time to prep before you actually get deep into the project. So that’s just landed there. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:58] Yeah. Okay. Well, that makes sense. All right. And you know, at the top, I mentioned that OKRs is there’s other similar systems. A lot of our members use iOS. Some use scaling up, some use the boutique. I mean, there’s a lot of them out there. And I advocate for everyone. To me, there’s not a ton of difference between them. The important thing is to have one and be committed to it and implement it. Right? So. So was there any reason why you picked OKRs over the alternatives? 

Jason Mills [00:07:27] Well, they you know, they were naturally a good starting place if you haven’t done organizational goals before. There they were from what we the research we did, they were loose, flexible to change, interpreted in different ways which which, you know, some might think that’s not you you want to make sure they’re not interpreting the phrase, but it actually allows to generate some creativity among the teams to solve different problems. And they’re not tied to compensation, which alleviate some of the pressure as well. So they were basically very forgiving if we screw this up, which we were going to screw it up. Yeah. So anyway, U.S. has its value, too, but I know that’s more of an operating system. And now that we’re two quarters in, we’re actually experimenting a bit, but laying us on top of that to kind of like help us drive and execute a lot of the a lot of the things we want to do. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:19] So that’s fantastic. So the reasons why you chose it, one of the reasons anyways, was the flexibility. And since this was the first attempt at this, that was obviously valuable, I also, I did not know that OKRs were divorced from compensation. So that’s a valuable add right there and I can see the benefits of that. Some might argue against that, but I can see if you’re early in this process that that might make it more, I guess, less stress in getting it implemented and maybe less of a shock to the system. So that’s interesting. Okay. And then in terms of the six months that you’ve been at it, you know, if you were to do it over again right now, if you had a clean sheet of paper, is there any any gotchas, any failures that happened along the way that you wish you would have known? 

Jason Mills [00:09:06] I think overall it went pretty well. We implemented this using just basic spreadsheets. Seems I think you can kind of run the world on spreadsheets and and just set up the spreadsheets, you know, kind of like doing weekly check ins, whether our our OKRs were on track, off track, or if they were done. Kind of provides that simple, simple implementation as we get into it. I think one of the challenges for the engineering team in a lot of times engineering is that one of the larger sizes is that multiple parking levels. So not having that visibility into, you know, what are the managers, the managers, you know, kind of trying to deliver. So are we all in one bucket of thought leadership and no one’s putting any any knowledge into or any time into white glove service. So that was a challenge that, you know, we are kind of working through and evolving on. Hmm. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:03] And what what are your early hypotheses as to how you might overcome that challenge? 

Jason Mills [00:10:09] So we had, I would say like long term, maybe just finding like a tool that can kind of work through and manage it and provide that hierarchal visibility. When I was working at a former Life, I built performance management systems and, you know, clients created goals from very simple to very complicated scorecards, you know, tracking metrics on time and dollar delivery. But end of the day, they all wanted to see a one page dashboard with visibility all the way down the line. So right now we are using a tool that actually integrates with our Google calendar and allows us to kind of tag each meeting that everyone has with an Oscar. And that month we can see how much time was spent across the organization and on the on the specific. Okay. So it kind of provides that visibility to Head Start, right? 

Greg Alexander [00:11:04] Yeah, very cool. Any other, you know, tools that you all leveraged or, you know, quick hacks that people might take advantage of when you got going on this? 

Jason Mills [00:11:15] And we’re we’re piloting a couple of different things, like from the iOS standpoint. There’s there’s a couple different tools that just manage that whole process. So it’s like we’re using 90 right now, which is something that we’re that we’re trying out, which is a good. 

Greg Alexander [00:11:33] Thing about like learning tools around OKRs. Were there any books that you read, any videos you watched, anything like that that you can recall that jump to mind that were particularly helpful? 

Jason Mills [00:11:43] Yeah, there were some there’s a lot of great information on some websites. Definitely read the book Traction, which was a good one on iOS, trying to think of some other ones that come to mind, but those are kind of amazing. 

Greg Alexander [00:11:57] Okay, Got it. And then my last question before we wrap up is, you know, the implementation of OKRs. Is there one person who kind of owns the the whole thing or is it distributed? You know, who’s in charge on it? 

Jason Mills [00:12:11] Yeah. So the for us we have the our chief of staff and she owns the process, kind of like owns the master spreadsheet. And then we have the department leads that kind of like manage the okay for each department, everything kind of rolls up, and that’s kind of a bogey structure. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:28] Got it. Very good. Okay, Well, so for the listeners that are members, let me draw your attention to making sure you accept the meeting invite that will come out here shortly with Jason Mill’s name on it from tribal school. And if you attend that member only private Q&A session on Friday, which is when we have a role model sessions, you can double click on any of these items and ask your questions directly of Jason. So I encourage you to do that. If you’re not a member and you think you might want to consider it, go to collective 54 dot com. You can fill out a form and one of our reps will get in contact with you. And if you want to read about other things that we do or the topics we cover. In addition to this, I pointed towards the book The Boutique How to Start the Scale and Sell a professional services firm in a video is your thing on YouTube. We have a channel called Profiting in Professional Services and you can see some videos on that. But Jason, I appreciate you accepting my invitation when I reached out to you and sharing your journey so far. And congratulations on the progress that you’ve made and we learned a lot from you today. So thanks for being here. 

Jason Mills [00:13:35] Great. Thank you, Greg. 

Greg Alexander [00:13:36] All right. Okay. And for the rest of us, you know, I wish you the best of luck as you try to grow, scale and exit your firm in the future. We’ll talk to you on the next episode.

Expanding Your Services: How to Drive More Revenue in Your Firm

Expanding Your Services: How to Drive More Revenue in Your Firm

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As entrepreneurs, we often assume that potential clients are paying attention to us. They’re not. It’s our job to make sure they’re aware of all our capabilities. 

Join us as we unravel the impact a complimentary workshop can have and the value of maintaining a relationship with your legacy clients. We also share strategies to proactively look out for the best interest of your clients while also demonstrating your expertise.

In this video, you’ll learn:

    • How to make your clientele more aware of your service offerings
    • How to create growth through new service offerings
    • Best practices in promoting new services
    • Tactics to build client trust and increase opportunities

Episode 136 – Why Podcasting Should be Part of a Professional Service Firms Marketing Mix – Member Case by Tom Schwab

Podcasting is a perfect marketing channel for boutique professional service firms. It allows a firm to authentically connect with its target market at scale cost effectively. Yet, many members are not taking advantage of this tool. This session will teach members how to leverage the podcasting channel to grow their firms.


Greg Alexander [00:00:10] Welcome to the Pro Serve podcast, the podcast for leaders of thriving boutique professional services firms. For those that are not familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community focused on the unique needs of the boutique process of firm space. 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 podcasting and its role that it might play in your marketing mix as you look to grow your firm. And we have a collective 54 member role model with us who’s an expert in this area. His name is Tom Schwab. He’s with Interview Valet Time. It’s good to see you. Please introduce yourself to everybody. 

Tom Schwab [00:01:00] Greg, I am thrilled to be here. You know, I run the agency interview valet. And my my viewpoint is that today every pro serves business problem is obscurity, right? There’s thousands, tens of thousands of people you could help. They just don’t know you exist. And I think instead of breaking through the noise, it’s much more powerful to get in on the conversation that people are already listening to. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:25] All right. So so give us kind of a State of the Union on podcasting. I’m not sure our membership community, you know, has a full appreciation for how prevalent it is, how it’s growing, etc.. 

Tom Schwab [00:01:37] Yeah. And everybody thinks there’s, you know, millions and millions of podcasts. While that’s true, less than 450,000 have gone live in the last 30 days. So there’s always room for great podcasts out there. The other thing is that not everyone is listening to podcasts. If you look at the current data, it says 51% of the U.S. adult population listens to podcasts, right? And they’re above average income. They’re above average education. These are people that are early adopters, that are looking for answers. They’re looking to make their life better right there. There’s still probably a third of the people out there that are so proud They haven’t read a book in since high school. They’re probably not listening to podcasts. Right? The people that are listening to podcasts are looking for answers, looking for ideas. Look at looking for people that can help them. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:33] I mean, if half the American adult population is listening to podcasts, I mean, that’s that’s a huge audience. So, I mean, relative to the other forms of media, it’s pretty new, although it is maturing. Why do you think it’s grown so much? 

Tom Schwab [00:02:49] It’s now, what, almost 20 years old, right? So it it’s you know, it’s going to stick around for a while. But I think it’s really because of the intimacy and also the authenticity. Right. We’re so tired of this little, you know, sound world. And while there’s a place for that to really learn, to really understand, something is going to take more of a longer conversation and it’s more authentic. Right? And we look at things that are on television that is highly edited, and we really just sort of want to see what what really happened behind the scenes. And in some ways, almost like a voyeur is a bright. You and I would be having the same conversation if we were sitting at a coffee shop or a bar. Right. The only difference is that there’s microphones and the whole world gets to listen in. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:44] Yeah, it’s really interesting. I like the concept of intimacy because if you think about our audience boutique process firms, I mean, they’re boutiques by design, which means they serve. You know, I like to say the riches are in the niches. So anything that you can do to build a more intimate or authentic relationship with the target audience and the client base is much preferred over maybe kind of mass communication techniques. So. So tell us why, in your opinion, podcasting should be part of the marketing mix specifically for the boutique processor firm? 

Tom Schwab [00:04:14] Yeah, I think it’s really because there’s this idea of you’re one funnel away and I don’t believe that, right. The best things in life don’t come through funnels, They come through conversations and there’s a great book called Clicks and How Digital Marketing is Ruining Your Business. And I love how Bill Troy says Big fish don’t swim through funnels and whales don’t click right. The people that are hiring processor firms aren’t going to hire you because you did a dance on Tik. If anything, that’s a reason for them not to hire you, right? So they want this discussion. They want to know who they are working with. And at the end of the day, none of us need more leads, right? We need more profits. We need profits come through great customers, right? So the idea of going out there and being able to communicate at length is really magnetic marketing, where it will attract the right people and retell the wrong ones. The other. The thing I love about this channel is that it becomes so easy to create and then so easy to reproduce and repurpose. Right. I’ve written a lot of blogs in my life. Most of them feel like homework assignments, right? But we can have this conversation and then take the take the audio and get a transcript, have somebody clean it up and make a blog. We can take video clips from it, audio clips so you can get a month’s worth of content out of one podcast interview. Yeah. So to my my sense, it’s it’s easy to create, it’s inexpensive to create, and it’s so powerful that you can use it in your marketing and even in your sales, right? You can for somebody who gets on a sales call, you can say, Hey, our founder did this interview. Right? And I think it’d be interesting to, you know, how they’re going to listen to 45 minutes of the founder before they even jump on a sales call. That that becomes a warmed up lead. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:10] Yeah, I agree. So there’s there’s two approaches. Should they be done mutually exclusive? Should they be complementary to one another? And the two I’m referring to is sort of collective 54 members start their own podcast or should they seek to be a guest on somebody else’s podcast? What’s your opinion on that? 

Tom Schwab [00:06:29] Well, I’ve always got opinions on everything, but I look at it, it’s like, should you be an Uber driver or an Uber passenger? Right. Say same platform, but what are your goals? Right. If you want to nurture your current clients and your current leads, then host your own podcast. And Greg, this is a great example, right? Because you take this content, we we dig into it each week in the community. Right. So it’s really for people that already know about it or part of it. Well, if you want to go out and find new leads, new customers, you know, if you build it, they will come. Doesn’t work. You really need to tap in where they’re already listening to. So I’d say be a host. If you want to nurture your current leads and customers, be a guest. If you want to go out and get new customers, new leads, new exposure, new backlinks. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:25] Yeah. I mean, so that’s I mean, and I should tell everybody that collective 54 is a client of Tom’s, and we do both. I mean, obviously here we are, here we are hosting our own podcast. And you’re right, it’s that is for our members primarily. And we are able to, you know, put role models in front of them through the podcast every week. And our members love that. But when Tom books me as a guest on another show, that’s an audience that doesn’t know who I am and I get exposure, you know, to that group. And then through that they find their way to collective 54. So I think, you know, being a guest on someone else’s show is a great acquisition technique, and hosting your own show is a great retention technique. At least that’s how I see it. I think that’s a good way to frame it. So, Tom, tell the audience a little bit about your services. And I’m giving you permission here not to be modest and humble, but, you know, your expertise is taking people like me and getting them on other people’s shows, which it’s hard to get on other people’s shows. I don’t know how people do it without somebody like you. So why don’t you tell us how it works? 

Tom Schwab [00:08:31] Yeah. So we’ve been doing this for nine years now and we have a team of 30 in Europe and North America and. When we first started out, it was almost like guest blogging, right? My background is inbound marketing and engineering, and I looked at it and said, Well, I guess blogs aren’t working anymore more. Could we? The equivalent of guest blog on podcast. And so we started with that. And Greg, the first three years, we built up the systems, the processes, and I went, I tell people about it. I’d get my elevator pitch and they’d go, What’s the podcast? Well, that changed about 2019, and people started to see the power of those. And so now, now one of our clients said, I love working with you because you let me be the guest and you take care of the rest. And I’m like, Oh, that’s good. Copy were taken that. But we’re working with thought leaders, right? Coaches, consultants, leading brands, not fiction, nonfiction authors to get them out there on the right podcast and really, you know, let them be Sinatra. And we do all the supporting work with that. So not only finding the podcasts, but prepping them for every podcast, giving in the best tools and processes for each podcast, and then also the feedback, right? I’m an engineer by degree, so, you know, in God, we trust everyone else bring data. So we license a whole lot of databases. And I think without that it’s more podcast guessing than podcast guesting, because at the end of the day, nobody comes to us and says, I want to be on a podcast, right? That’s that’s an ego thing. Now there’s always an overarching goal of I want to grow my business. Yeah, being on podcast. So that’s really what we focus on. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:24] Okay, so some of our members and I’d say quite a few are what I would describe as a brilliant domain expert. Whatever their domain is, I don’t know. Maybe they’re, you know, a brilliant creative director in a marketing agency, or maybe they’re an absolute brilliant technologist in cybersecurity or something like that. And that’s is what allowed them to get their firms to the point that they’re at. But they’re they’re not great at sales and marketing and they don’t like it. And they sometimes suffer from what’s known as the imposter syndrome. You know, they maybe don’t recognize how brilliant they really are. So putting themselves out there on a podcast can be very intimidating to that group, which is a shame because the world needs to hear what they have to say. So you mentioned that you coach them and you prep them before they get on a call. So how do you help somebody like that maybe overcome their fear and kind of hold their hand? So it’s a great experience for them. 

Tom Schwab [00:11:25] Yeah. And I think I’m going to correct you there. I think all of them are brilliant, right? They’ve all brilliance in different ways. And one of the phrase you hear me talk about a lot is what’s ordinary to you is amazing to others. Right? So that expertise that you have there that everyone knows that. And there was a friend of mine that actually helped me with this because I started out I had that imposter syndrome. I’m like, I’m not the expert, Right? I don’t think there’s anything as the expert, but there is a expert. And he said, you know, the legal definition of a of an expert is someone by their training, their education or their experience knows more than the average person. Trust me, as long as hard hours as you put in your business, in the industry, you have expertise there that others don’t have and that your clients are paying you for. And so I think to frame it that way, for people to also work through their one sheet to say these are the topics that you can bring expertise to, let’s focus on these. Right? Nobody’s going to ask you a question. You know, if you’re not in finance, they’re not going to ask you, Well, what do you think about the Fed’s move? I don’t know. That’s not my area of expertise. Yeah, right. So they want to bring you on. They they want to make you look good with that. So I really think it’s focusing that that light on where they can they can add expertise. The other thing is I love it when people come and they’re like, Yeah, I don’t like sales, I don’t like marketing, I don’t like promoting myself. Perfect, right? Because the worst thing to do on a podcast interview is to make it an infomercial. Yeah. And, you know, Rand Fishkin, who wrote the book Lost and Found Her, I love how he put out there. He said the best way to sell something today is not to sell anything, but to earn the respect, awareness and trust of those who might buy. And I would say, you know, on a podcast, it’s those who are ready to buy, right? If they listened to you for 30 or 45 minutes, they’re going to turn you up or turn you off. That’s fine, right? But if you’re the answer to. FRAYER You don’t have to sell them, right? You have to just tell them what you do, how you do it, and it will attract it to it. And, you know, the data shows that we’ve have for nine years that the leads from podcaster interviews tend to close faster for a higher initial engagement and less churn. Yeah, and it sort of makes sense. It’s not cold traffic. It’s it’s a warm referral. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:04] I mean, that’s the experience that I’ve had for sure, and that’s why I’m so committed to the podcasting piece of our marketing mix. All right. Well, listen, we’re out of our time here, but for the members that are listening to this, I want to encourage you all to attend the private member only Q&A session, which we’ll have with Tom that will allow you to ask your direct questions to Tom and he’ll answer those. That meeting invite will come out shortly, but look for that and please attend. If you’re not a member and you think you might want to join, go to collective 54 dot com. You can fill out a contact us form and one of our reps will get in contact with you. And if you’re interested in topics like this and you want to learn about other things, I would point you in the direction of our book. It’s called The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm. But with that, Tom, I mean, I appreciate you and all that you do. Thanks for being a great contributing member to Collective 54. You give a lot as well as take. So thanks for that spirit and thanks for being part of our tribe. 

Tom Schwab [00:15:02] I thank you for putting it all together. It’s such a great community and like I said before, what’s ordinary to you is amazing to others, and there’s just brilliance in there. And when people share that, it’s amazing the magic and synergy that happens. 

Greg Alexander [00:15:17] Okay, great.

The Stockdale Paradox: Scaling Your Professional Service Firm with Unyielding Optimism and Pragmatic Reality

The Stockdale Paradox: Scaling Your Professional Service Firm with Unyielding Optimism and Pragmatic Reality

In the sometimes-tumultuous waters of growing a professional service firm, the Stockdale Paradox offers guidance that founders would do well to heed. Named after Admiral James Stockdale, this paradox is about maintaining unwavering faith that you can and will prevail, despite the most difficult circumstances, while at the same time, confronting the brutal facts of your current reality.

Why is this philosophy of interest to founders looking to scale their professional service firms? Because in the thick of entrepreneurship, the struggle between optimism and reality is ever-present. And that’s where Collective 54 comes in: as a community of entrepreneurs who understand your journey, offering solutions, strategies, and support.

Confronting Your Brutal Reality

Professional service firms, especially in the scaling phase, often face a harsh reality. Whether it’s the challenge of finding the right talent, optimizing processes, or adapting to technological change, there’s no shortage of hurdles to overcome. But as the Stockdale Paradox proposes, the first step to victory is accepting your brutal facts.

Like Admiral Stockdale who survived the most trying of conditions, you too can turn your firm’s current challenges into steppingstones for growth. You need a strategy that doesn’t just recognize your brutal reality but addresses it head-on. This is where Collective 54’s peer-to-peer mastermind groups come into play. We help you get out of your own head and confront your brutal reality by offering an objective third-party perspective.

Keeping the Faith for Ultimate Success

While accepting your current reality is crucial, it’s equally important to have an unwavering belief in your eventual success. As an entrepreneur, this enduring faith can mean the difference between scaling successfully or floundering in mediocrity. Yet, maintaining this optimism isn’t always easy. You need a supportive community that shares your drive and ambition, a community that bolsters your faith in your firm’s ultimate success. Collective 54 provides precisely this.

Our mastermind group isn’t just a platform for sharing challenges and receiving advice. It is a hub for inspiration, a place where you meet like-minded professionals scaling their own firms, whose journeys can serve as encouragement and motivation. Witnessing others’ successes reminds you that, yes, success is attainable.

Navigating the Paradox with Collective 54

So, how do you navigate the Stockdale Paradox? The key is not letting either side of the paradox overpower the other. That’s easier said than done, but not an impossible task with Collective 54.

In our community, you’ll find a balanced approach to growth. We help you confront your firm’s brutal realities through strategic planning sessions, roundtable discussions, and shared experiences. And we keep your optimism alive by sharing success stories, offering growth resources, and fostering a vibrant community of supportive peers.

Collective 54 isn’t just another networking group; it’s a safe haven where you can share your challenges openly and learn from others who have walked the same path. We’re here to give you the tools, resources, and confidence to navigate the Stockdale Paradox successfully. After all, the journey to scaling a professional service firm can be tough, but with the right community, you’re never alone in the battle.

The Call to Action

In your entrepreneurial journey, the Stockdale Paradox isn’t a choice, but an inevitable reality. The question isn’t whether you’ll face it, but how well you navigate it. We invite you to do it with Collective 54.

If you’re scaling a professional service firm and you’re ready to confront your brutal reality and maintain unwavering optimism for ultimate success, then Collective 54 is the community for you. Join us today, and together, let’s turn the paradox into a pathway to success. We have the guidance, the resources, and the community to help you overcome your challenges, and more importantly, to remind you of the success that awaits on the other side.

Your journey is our journey. Your success is our success. Together, let’s embrace the Stockdale Paradox and build a better future for our professional service firms. Come join Collective 54 and make the most of the opportunity to scale your firm successfully, with resilience, optimism, and a community that stands by you.

In navigating the Stockdale Paradox in your professional service firm, which do you find more challenging: Confronting the brutal facts of your current reality, or maintaining unwavering optimism for ultimate success?