Scaling a boutique takes a team but firms are often started by a single founder. On this episode, Tom Abbott, CEO and Co-Founder of SOCO Sales Training, shares how he transitioned from being involved in every aspect of the business to focusing on team development.
Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the Boutique with Collective 54, a podcast for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. For those that aren’t familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community to help you grow, scale and exit your firm bigger and faster. My name is Greg Alexander. I’m the founder and I’ll be your host today. And on this episode, we’re going to discuss how a founder of a boutique processor firm is able to scale the firm by replicating himself in an executive leadership team. This is a really fascinating topic because we’re combining a couple of different chapters from our book, The Boutique, and we’ve got a great role model with us today. His name is Tom Abbott, and Tom is in the throes of this as we speak. And he’s had the courage to attempt to do this. And we’d love to hear his his story. So. So, Tom, welcome to the show. And and if you wouldn’t mind, please give the audience a proper introduction.
Tom Abbott [00:01:20] Hey, thanks for that, Greg. Yeah, a real pleasure to be here. Tom Abbott here, co-founder and CEO of So called Sales Training. We help companies to optimize their sales performance, so we do that through virtual instructor led training, through webinars and through our e-learning platform called SOCO Academy. So anything about sales, we help B2B companies particularly to optimize their performance.
Greg Alexander [00:01:44] Okay. Very good. Okay. So let me set this up a little bit. So sometimes founders and co-founders like Tom suffer from what I call the hero syndrome. And the hero syndrome is that we as human beings, we love to feel needed. We love to feel like the hero. We have our personal identity wrapped up in the firm, and it feels good. We get validated when when clients say, Hey, you have to be in the key meeting, or when employees come to you all the time with major decisions that get made. And this insecurity can get in the way of scaling a firm. And the fix here, if your aspiration is to scale beyond a lifestyle business, is to build a firm that is not dependent on you, a firm that can run without you. And this requires, you know, being able to kind of check your ego, so to speak, and surround yourself with an executive leadership team that can do what you can do as well as you can do it. And if you’re able to do that, you’re you’re able to overcome the founder bottleneck and scale yourself by replicating yourself and others. And this is a big stumbling block for many. So so, Tom, as I understand it, this was once a stumbling block for you. And it’s either no longer or it’s in the process and partially no longer a stumbling block. So would you would you share with us kind of where you are in your journey and how you first became aware that maybe you had this problem and maybe what your first steps were, etc.?
Tom Abbott [00:03:18] Wow. Okay, so there’s a lot to that question. The first the first part is it’s always a work in progress. I think the first key is realizing that you suffer from hero syndrome. And that’s the first part is the awareness. And then sort of realizing is this is this working for me? Right? Is this really helpful? Does this help me grow the business? Do I feel like a hero that I can swoop in and save the day, but at the expense of doing other things like actually growing the business and thinking about strategy and expanding and doing the kind of, you know, boss stuff. So, you know, typically, you know, that’s always a challenge. But I came to that realization, you know, probably about three years ago, I imagine, where it just became really apparent that this this company won’t grow beyond me if I don’t kind of get out of my own way. So the first step for me was to say, look, I’ve got to stop doing sales and I’m awesome at sales. So that was very difficult and I’ve got to stop delivering training programs and I’m a great facilitator and trainer, so that’s really hard, you know, you know, I’m still available for keynotes for companies still engaging to come in and do the big, you know, motivational rah rah as a thought leader. But when it comes to the training for a half day or one day or a two day program, we’ve done a really good job of of of getting freelance trainers certified through me and our training program, which I can talk about later to deliver that on our behalf. And that’s just been honestly a game changer because the training is happening all over the region, all over the world. Sometimes when I’m asleep, it’s just it’s just been a game changer. All right.
Greg Alexander [00:04:56] So I want to I want to probe in a little bit because you are great at sales and you are great at facilitating. But one of the reasons why you’re great at both is because you love it. So I think founders don’t do what you did because they they love what they do and they don’t want to. Doing what they love doing. So how did you reconcile the conflict between, Hey, I can go out and sell the next client, which I love doing, that I get energy from it it feels good with. Yeah, but that’s in the way of me trying to scale my firm. Like, how did how did you how did you put those two things together?
Tom Abbott [00:05:35] I think what I did, Greg, was I realized that there were other things that I also love to do. So I love to train. But then I could change my love for training sales teams to training my own sales team. So I can I can do that. I can change my love for, you know, sales for well, let me let me coach my sales team and then they can bring me in for some deals. On some cases, if there is, you know, three or four C-suite people on a call, they’re like, hey, Tom, if we get you on this call, you know, you sprinkle a little founder’s magic 3 minutes. That’s all I need from your time in and out. And you’re good. That’s fine, because then I can still have the team do the grunt work, the follow up to put the proposal together, to send the brochures, to answer the questions, to schedule meetings, all of that stuff that I should not be doing. Because something I realized a long time ago is I was the most expensive trainer on the planet. I was the most expensive salesperson on the planet, probably the most expensive data entry clerk on the planet, like everything we’re doing as founders. And I realized a few years ago, I always ask myself, Is this making me money? And if the answer is No, this isn’t making me money, then I’ve got to stop doing it and get someone who’s, you know, cheaper to do it for me. Yeah.
Greg Alexander [00:06:49] One of the primary, if not the primary reason why boutiques don’t scale is they have senior people doing junior work, which is what you were just talking about, because in the most senior person in the firm is the founder who happens to be the most expensive. So if you’re doing something that a junior person can do, by definition, you’re eroding all your margin. And that’s a great realization and a great reminder. So I love your answer around how you didn’t sacrifice job satisfaction to make this happen. You just redeployed your love in other areas that lended itself to scale. For example, instead of training clients, train your own staff. That’s a great example. What would you say to founders who say this to me all the time? And it’s somewhat of a religious battle between me and them at the moment that says, Well, I’m special what I do, nobody else can do. So it’s impossible for me to replicate myself. Junior people can’t do X, Y, Z. What do you say to that?
Tom Abbott [00:07:46] Well, the first thing I say is two things. One, I totally get that because I struggle with that. And you’ve got to get over yourself, because if no one’s going to be as great as you and I’ve realized that I feel, you know, and maybe, maybe we’re wrong, okay. Founders maybe were wrong. Okay. There’s a slight possibility that maybe we’re not as amazing as we think we are. However, we’ve all taken our businesses to a certain point, which means we’re great at a lot of things. But the point is, and I’ve said this to people, my 80% in front of a classroom in a workshop selling my 80% is probably most people’s hundred. Right? So if you can get someone who’s 80% of what you’re able to deliver, that’s pretty darn good. So do you want to have 100% of a small piece of the pie or get someone who’s 80% but you’re able to scale? So if I can get, you know, three salespeople who are 80% my level, that’s still better than me at 100%. There’s no comparison. If I can get three, four or five, six trainers around the region delivering training at 80% of what Tom Abbot would normally do, that’s fine. Now, a good way to solve that problem and we started doing this this year is we charge the same rates for our training across the board with a so-called certified sales trainer. But if they’re insistent on having me hey, Tom, you know, you worked with us last year. We’d love to have you back. I’m happy to do it. It’s at 50% more than our usual rate.
Greg Alexander [00:09:22] Wow.
Tom Abbott [00:09:23] Yeah. And I’ve had some people take me up on it, which is great. Okay, I’ll get out of bed for an extra 50%, like, why not? Yeah, you know, because I still love to do it. So don’t get me wrong, all the founders out there, we still love to do what we do. We’re still great at it. But we have to realize that if we want to scale, we need to get more people on the team doing what we do. And look, there’s there’s no magic. You can document this. I can talk about that, too. You can document the process. You can train people to do it. So let’s get out of our own way and leave the ego at the door. It can be done. But in the event that, you know, people are like, We really insist on having you, the answer is yes. And here is what the investment is. Take it or leave it. Yeah.
Greg Alexander [00:10:05] Which is a great way to quantify it in the eyes of the customer. And some people will say, you know what, time, yeah, you are worth it. So here’s the premium. And some people will say, okay, you know, I’m okay with. You’re a certified person and that gets you out of it gracefully. Right. It’s a it’s a really excellent example of that. And 50% is a big number. Okay. So here so I’m going to play the role of of these.
Tom Abbott [00:10:24] And let me tell you, I a 50% is a big number, but it has to be big because I played around with that. And if it’s too close to the regular rate, they’ll just pay that all the time. And then you will never get out of doing that delivery ever.
Greg Alexander [00:10:37] Okay. So here’s the next objection that when you speak to our members in the future about this subject, this is what you’re going to hear. They’re going to say, okay, I get it. However, I’m time starved. So the time it takes for me to teach somebody to do what I do as well as I do, it just takes forever. I can just do it myself in half the time. So I’m going to scale that way. What do you say to that?
Tom Abbott [00:11:02] I say that’s actually going to take a really long time. And the reality is the quickest way to scale. Get someone to follow. You want a sales call? The quickest, easiest thing to do. You’re already doing it. Get someone to shadow. You want to call, get them to follow you on a sales call. That’s number one. Number two, hit the record button on Zoom. Super easy. That doesn’t take any time. You can. Then what we’ve done is we’ve recorded all of my sales calls over the last two years. And look, we’ve been in COVID for so long. If you haven’t been recording your Zoom sales calls, you’ve missed out on a tremendous opportunity to start this learning bank. So it’s a lot easier than you think. So we’ve got literally dozens to hundreds of different sales calls that we label and tag. Oh, this was an inbound prospect. This was a discovery call. This was a follow up call. This had multiple stakeholders, you know, whatever. This was a follow up call. So you can tag those. And then when you’re onboarding your reps, you just send them the link. Hey, watch this, watch this, watch this. So it’s not as hard as we think. And then you just start documenting. So you’ll notice that with your emails that you send out, you’re probably doing your own kind of a copy paste almost every time. So it’s just a matter of, you know, you save those, you put them in a folder, you copy paste, he put those on on a note, you put it in Dropbox or put it on Google Drive before you know it. Before you know it, you’ve got the makings of a sales playbook. It’s not as easy. It’s not as hard as we think. And you could be doing it right now and you don’t even know it.
Greg Alexander [00:12:29] A lot of our members have handled this issue in the sales function, meaning other people are now selling work on their behalf. Most of them have done that because they’re not like you. They don’t enjoy selling. You know, if I’m a management consultant that specializes in cybersecurity, I can geek out about all the possible hacks that I might deal with. But I don’t want to talk to a client and sell it. So they they delegated that just out of the fact that they didn’t enjoy doing it where they really get nervous about delivering the work. So a client hires me to go to do X, Y, Z. I’m supposed to be an expert with charging them a lot of money, and then I’m going to trust somebody else to deliver the work. It scares them. So how have you overcome that?
Tom Abbott [00:13:12] Well, there’s a couple of ways. The first thing we do is we we certify all of our facilitator. So how do we do that? One is, you know, knowledge. So we’ve got testing. So I’ve written two books on sales, for example. So we make sure that they read the books, they watch all of our videos and so called Academy, which is our e-learning platform, and then we actually test them on content. Are you a sales expert? Are you a subject matter expert? I can’t teach you to do that. I don’t have time for that. So are you competent and confident in training sales? Do you know your stuff? That’s number one. Then number two is the the skill of actually facilitation. So that’s what we need in our business. Number one is you’ve got to have the sales acumen and knowledge. But the second is you need the delivery skills, the so-called platform skills. Can you engage an audience? Are you good, coach? Do you know how to answer tough questions? Can you put people in breakout rooms and facilitate discussion and role plays? So that’s all part of my world in the training world. So preferably we get people that have had some certification in training. They’ve gone through a training program. They understand about curriculum development or they are or were an internal trainer within a large company. So they’ve got their chops. Having done that, I don’t have to teach them how to do that. So we would test them. So test them in knowledge, which is a written test, some multiple choice, some, you know, short answer as well as delivery. So we get them to actually deliver a sample session with our team and we recorded on Zoom and then internally we look at it and give them feedback so we can see them in action if they’ve got a demo video even before they come to the interview process. Even better. So that’s how we can guarantee that, okay, we’ve got good people. Then they’ll work with me personally and I will train them. Okay, so this is how I handle this situation. This is how we do it here at SOCO. So there’s you as a sales trainer, and then there’s how do we do it here at SOCO? So then we just have to be able to guarantee to our customers that the experience will be the same. So a lot of people think that it’s about the trainer and in a sense it does have a lot to do with the trainer for sure. However, what most of our customers want is a consistent framework or a consistent methodology for all of their sales teams around the region or around the world. We’re able to do that through the certification program. So that’s that’s been really helpful for us.
Greg Alexander [00:15:32] Okay. And then the last objection I get sometimes is, hey, if I hire these people to do what I do, I got to pay them. I’d rather just put the money in the bank account and not pay anybody to do this. So what do you say to that?
Tom Abbott [00:15:46] I mean, you can do that. But again, it’s you know, do you want just like a mom and pop, you know, like a hobby business or what? But do you want to grow? Right. So if you actually want to grow and you want more business, you have to find a way to meet the needs of customers. And there’s just not enough hours in the day. I know that. There’s just not enough hours in the day to to service everybody. Now, maybe you’re happy just having a lifestyle business and maybe say, look, all I want to do is this many hours and and that’s fine. But if you actually have aspirations of, you know, reaching as many people as possible, like, you know, I have a goal. I don’t want anybody on the planet to lose a sale because they can’t sell. That’s that’s my mission. So I want to reach as many humans on this planet as possible. Tom Abbott can’t do it all by himself now. It took me about eight years to realize that, but I can’t do it all by myself. So I got to work with people. Yeah. So and it’s very hard when you feel like you’re really good to actually start bringing people on because there’s a danger in going, Yeah, but she’s not exactly like me or I wouldn’t have done it that way. That’s your biggest problem right there? Yeah, maybe they do it their own way, but following a framework, if that makes any sense, kind of, you know, you’ve got some things you need to do, but you do it your own way. You focus on the what and the why and let them focus on on the how in the sense. And and, you know, that’s just going to help you grow. You’ve just got to build that team and just trust, trust in your process. So what I’ve done, Greg, is I’ve been able to say, look, I’m going to take my energy away from sales. I’m going to take my energy away from training and put it towards training my team and becoming a leader and developing them. And I see my number one role as a CEO is to step up and be a CEO. Yeah. And run the company the way a CEO would. Yeah. Get out of my own way.
Greg Alexander [00:17:36] Well, listen, you have a tremendous amount of self-awareness. You know, being an entrepreneur is a journey. Right. And you’ve been on it for eight years, and you probably didn’t know what you know now back then. And you now know. And it’s just a wonderful pleasure to have you in the membership because of your level of self-awareness, your humility, your modesty, because you’ve had a tremendous amount of success. And just on behalf of the membership, we’re up at our time window here, but I just wanted to thank you for your contribution. You know, the way the collective works is we’ve got to contribute to the collective body of knowledge, and you’ve just made a great contribution. So thanks, Tom.
Tom Abbott [00:18:11] Hey, my pleasure. And thank you, Greg. I’ve gotten a lot from my membership in Collective 54, and I was just thrilled to be invited on the podcast to kind of give back because I’ve gained a lot already. So thanks to you.
Greg Alexander [00:18:22] Okay, fantastic. And for those that are interested in this topic and those like it, you can pick up a copy of our book, The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm. And if you’re interested in joining our mastermind community and meeting great people like Tom, check us out at collective54.com. Thanks again. Take care.