For an industry that is heavily dependent on effective sales practices, many agency owners are intimidated by the “s” word. It conjures horrible imagery of vacuum salesmen trying to trick people into making purchases they don’t actually want or need. Hiring sales teams might seem like the right step but the results are often disappointing and it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why. This can turn one of the most important aspects of building a successful agency into the most strenuous aspect.
Kevin Snow is dedicated to helping businesses and business owners think through their approach to selling, while also helping them get more comfortable with the process. He believes strongly that shifting from a sales pitch to a simple conversation is key to making the outcome more pleasant and effective on both sides of the table.
In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Kevin and I demystify what it means to have a successful sales model. We look at ways to approach sales comfortably, regardless of your personality type. We unravel what it means to have sales automation that doesn’t feel phony or contrived, and we ultimately hope to help business owners reimagine this “necessary evil” as an enjoyable conversation with an outcome.
A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.
What You Will Learn in This Episode:
- The best small business sales model
- Sale tactics for introverts
- Making the most of sales automation
- The important shift in how to approach sales
Ways to Contact Kevin Snow:
- For information, text “Sell Smart” to: 1- 612-429-4298
- Website: https://www.time-on-target.com
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kevinesnow/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/timeontargetMN
- Twitter: @kevinesnow
- My Future Self Mini-Course
- Sell with Authority (buy Drew’s book)
- Facebook Group for the Build a Better Agency Podcast
If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute, Build A Better Agency podcast, presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to midsize agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market. We’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road, sellable. With 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.
Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute. Welcome back to another episode of Build A Better Agency. I am back with guests. I am done with my six week solo cast fest. Thanks for tolerating that, I hope you found it helpful, but it’s fun to have guests back in the studio, air quote to the studio, and be able to have these kind of conversations again. I know that you are going to be glad to hear a voice other than mine for a change, and I’m happy to bring today’s guest to you, which I think is going to be a great conversation around sales.
Before I do that though, I want to remind all of you that we have some really great workshops coming up. We have the running your agency for growth and profit, which is in March, March 14th and 15th, and that’s really for agency owners and leaders. We’re going to look at all of the best practices for all of the back-of-the-house systems. So, finances, HR, biz dev, leadership growth, all of those things. We’re going to talk a lot about your role as an agency owner, we’re going to talk about how you reap the most benefit out of owning an agency and how we can reduce some of the stress and worries that you have. So, it’s a great workshop, it gets rave reviews, it’s in Chicago, March 14th to 15th, and we would love to see you there.
Then we also just announced that we are bringing the Mercer Island Group folks back to do the selling with strategic insights workshop that we sell out every single time that we offer it. And so, we have opened it up and we are going to do it in July, and it is July 19th and 20th. Again, we’re going to do it in Chicago. Again, that workshop sells out at 50 attendees, so do not wait to check out either of those workshops and learn more about them. Head over to the Agency Management Institute website, and under the how we help tab, you’ll see workshops, and then you can move over to the right and you will see both of those with some detail and you can also register for them there. So, we would love to have you at both or either if they will serve you well.
All right. Then I want to tell you a little bit about today’s guest. So, Kevin Snow, really interesting background. He’s been a sales guy, was in the military, and now owns his own company where he coaches and helps businesses and business owners just like us, really get comfortable with the idea of selling and thinking through the way we approach selling and how we can be more effective and also be more comfortable doing it. So many of us find the whole S-word a little bit intimidating. And so, Kevin has some great strategies around how we can approach that a little differently and be a little more successful. So, let’s just jump right into the conversation and welcome him to the show. Kevin, welcome to the podcast, thanks for joining us.
Thanks for having me, Drew. I’m excited about our conversation this morning.
Yeah, I am too. Tell everybody a little bit about your background and how you came to run Time On Target and the work that you do so that they understand the context before I start peppering you with questions.
Sure. I’m actually supposed to be a high school agriculture teacher and college or a wrestling coach. That’s actually what I went to school for. I graduated college and I got offered a teaching job that was going to pay me $19,000 a year, and then I also got offered a sales job in the neighboring state that was going to pay me $39,000 a year base plus commission. So I was like, “Oh, hi mom, I’m moving. I’m going to this other state.” And I took the sales job, and that was the start of my sales career.
And it got to a point where I’d been a top sales producer for multiple companies. I had started working with a networking organization, supporting their chapters and their members and doing some coaching, and I was really good at launching the chapters and making big chapters, doing it quickly. People started asking me to come train their teams and paying me to do it. And I was like, “Okay, I need a business.” That’s how I launched Time On Target, because people wanted to give me money, and I had no intentions of having a business other than what I was doing at the time.
But then other people started paying me to come speak at conferences about sales and networking and to teach their … come to their organization’s chambers and different professional groups. So it turned into this side business for me, it was really cool. And then I deployed, I ended up in Middle East for a year with the army, and I came back and I was like, “Oh crap. I have no speaking gigs on my calendar, and I have nothing in my pipeline.” I just found the major flaw in my business model. It cannot survive me not being around.
And I had this huge realization that I didn’t actually have a business, I had a job and I was in the point where I had to make decisions like, “Do I keep doing the speaking thing and rebuild everything, knowing I’m going to have to deploy again at some point? Do I just go find a job and go back to the corporate world?” That got ruled out really quick because I had found I really liked the independent thing. Or do I pivot and figure out another way to apply all my skills that is scalable. That’s what I did. I did a huge pivot with my business, where we went from the speaking being the product base, and me being the product to actually going into businesses and consulting and coming in and helping them actually build and launch their sales team.
I was working with all second stage growth companies. It had some success, they were all doing really good, and now they’re trying to figure out how they get to that next level, and we’d come in and actually do all their sales stuff for them. We’d figure out how to write the job description, teach them how to interview sales people, because it’s different interviewing a salesperson than a developer or a customer service rep. We’d help them map out their sales process, we’d help them figure out how to put the automation in, how to train those new sales people, how to manage them. The whole gambit of what you need to do if you’re going to have a sales team.
We’d help them document and put into place and launch the team. And that was awesome. But I discovered unless I was going to have a huge team of consultants working on stuff, I couldn’t scale that business either, because there were certain parts of it that were just so labor intensive. I don’t know if you’ve ever gone through a hiring cycle to hire three to four salespeople at a time. That’s all you do. All you do is [crosstalk 00:07:26]
[crosstalk 00:07:26] Yeah.
Yeah. And you’re like, “Oh my God, I can’t have more than one client at a time when I’m doing this.” So I had to shift again and I started niching down to where we’re at now, where all we focus on is helping companies develop and document what their sales process is and how their clients make purchasing decisions, and then integrating the sales and marketing technology into that process. So that it’s seamless and gives the user and the client a good experience.
It is interesting you talk about the need for sales and the importance of sales, and fascinating the idea of you having to pivot your business a couple of times as you realize the shortcomings of the current model. Many agency owners, most agency owners, they are the salesperson inside their shop. They are the ones who are out networking and selling and leading the sales team, and the sales team is typically some accounts service people and some other key leaders. But the agency owner is often the lead salesperson. But they all covet hiring a salesperson. Right? But most of them do not enjoy sales or they don’t enjoy the perception of sales.
So, talk a little bit about, as you’re coaching clients, should everyone aspire to having commission salespeople on staff? What do you believe is the best model for actually being successful at sales if you’re a small business?
It really depends at the stage of development that you’re in as a business, and how you actually vision your company being, 3, 5, 10 years in the future. So, I have this conversation with CEOs of companies cross the industrial spectrum where they’ll come in and say, “All right, I need to hire sales people.” And they’re not at that point where they can actually pull that off.
The biggest thing I saw when I was working with companies and helping them launch sales teams was that they hadn’t documented any of their processes. They weren’t able to verbalize and show me how they actually sold their product or service, and they weren’t able to tell me who they specifically were selling to and how those people made decisions. I worked at a few small businesses during my sales career and it was always frustrating for me, because I started my sales career with large Fortune 100 companies where you’d come on as a salesperson and you’d have like a month of training. Of, “Hey, here’s how our product works, here’s the values, here’s how to position it to your clients, here’s who our clients are. Now we’re going to teach you this really specific process. All right, you know stuff, now go out and do things.”
Whereas you get hired by a small business or a mom and pop shop and they’re like, “Oh, you are a number one salesperson at this company. Go sell stuff.” And you know nothing. And it was really frustrating because then they’d be like, “Well, why aren’t you selling anything?” “Because I’m trying to make this up as I go, you’ve given me nothing.”
So, it’s really key for business owners, especially at the beginning to go out and sell. And for obvious reason of creating processes and figuring out what works and what doesn’t work, and paying attention to, “Hey, I said this one thing and the client’s eyes lit up and they got it and they understood what we did and how we could help.” That’s a key thing you should be documenting, but it’s also really key because that’s driving revenue and it’s validating that what you’re offering is actually needed in the marketplace.
When I did the pivot from the speaking thing to the consulting, I got all into this. “Oh I’m going to build a real business.” And I started doing CEO things, and I stopped doing the sales thing. I started figuring out, “All right, here’s the culture I’m going to build, I have this really cool culture deck that I still use [inaudible 00:11:25] it’s fun to show people.” I did that right away. I built out like marketing stuff, built a website. I didn’t go sell, I was like, “Oh crap. I don’t have money.”
I actually [crosstalk 00:11:34]
“I don’t have it. Oh shit, I need revenue.” I went from having a nice little cushion from coming off the deployment where if I had started selling right away that I would’ve kept that cushion to, “Oh crap, I need to go make money.” So, you got to sell. That is the number one thing as a CEO, you got to go do it.
So in our world we believe that at least 50% of an agency owner’s time should be spent on biz dev. Whether it’s direct selling or it’s networking or it’s following up with current clients to see if you can upsell them, but that I believe and I teach that that’s really the most critical job. So yes, you still have to do CEO things and things that no one else is going to do if you don’t do them. But the core part of your business is, to your point, I love the idea message of sometimes as a business owner, A, you can have a level of conversation that’s different than everyone else, but B, you tell the stories because you’ve been there from the beginning.
So you can be able to say, “You know what? We had a client that had that exact problem and here’s what we did, and here’s what happened.” And when agencies hire salespeople, agency owners think this is great, I can just send them out into the world and they can sell. And what they don’t understand is that they still, even if they have somebody who can open a door for them, either they have to show up to and tell the stories or they have to teach all the stories to the person which takes time.
Yep. Exactly. And no matter how much that salesperson loves your company, they’re never going to be as passionate about it as the owner, as the founder, the person who took it from an office in their garage to a multimillion dollar company. When they come in, there’s just going to be that sparkle and that energy behind the stories and how they’re talking about what they do that no one’s going to be able to replicate.
Right. Yeah. I agree. One of the excuses that a lot of agency owners give is that they aren’t good at sales because they’re not gregarious, outgoing and extroverts. So, surely you have seen and coached a lot of introverts in terms of sales, how do you combat that argument?
I’m an introvert. On the DISC profile, I can’t be any more of a C, I can do all the other things, but I am totally a C at heart. So I have huge introvert. I get all my energy from being at home alone. I get that thing. And my first sales job was horrible because I tried to be the high D, the I high sales guy-
And it did work for me. I could not do those types of closes and those high pressure things. But I found through trial and error because no one really was teaching, “Hey, here’s how to sell if you’re a C, here’s how to sell if you’re this person.” I discovered that, as introverts, we have a superpower, we like asking questions, and we listen, and we pay attention because we actually want all that information. And our brains are always taking that information, they’re analyzing.
So, the biggest thing I did is I got rid of the pitch tech. I completely threw out the three ring binder they gave me with the horrible handouts and the pitch that’s all about, “All right, our company started here and then we did this and it’s all about us.” I shifted my process, so it was all around the client and the prospect, and getting them to tell me stuff so that I could then take whatever product I was selling at the time and make it fit to what they told me, and really focus on, “Hey …” And it wasn’t so much focusing on what we could do, but what the impact was going to be.
So our sales process or my sales process then became all about the afters. If we’re able to do this and you’re able to increase your revenue by 10% or you’re able to do an extra job a day per guy, what does that mean to your business? And the focus was all on that. I pretty much did 180 degree turn in my sales success from struggling to hit quota on a regular basis to being the number one guy in the company, because I wasn’t focusing on price and the bells and whistles and all the other stuff that people normally sell in technology, I focused on the impact. That’s really the key for the introverts is, we’re going to ask really good questions and we’re going to make that prospect think about things and get them to tell us things.
So, we now get to use their words and we’re not telling them what we think is going to happen or what happens with other people. It’s all going to be what’s happening with you and how we’re going to help you get there and be a partner with you. And that is huge. I sell sales automation. I one-call close 85% of my clients right now. I don’t do proposals. I don’t say, “All right, so here’s how we’re going to do stuff.” It, we literally have a call and go from here, tell me all you’re paying and everything that’s going on in future, and by the end of the meeting, we’re talking about, “All right, so how do we start working?” It’s because of how you do the questions and how you engage that conversation.
Okay. So here’s what I just heard you say, because I want to dig into this. So, what I heard you say was, I have an automation system that brings people deeper into the funnel that then gets them ready to buy by the time I first have a conversation with them. Did I just translate that correctly?
No, I do a ton of business development work. So, events like podcasts, speaking on stage, I do a ton of stuff on social media, not your normal social media, I do like groups, and I get a ton of clients out of different groups and then a ton of referrals. So, I’ll have my first meeting with the client first introduction, and by the end of that meeting, we are already talking about implementation and how we move. I have automation that will fire sometimes depending on if we have additional meetings or not.
Okay. So, talk to me a little bit about the automation, because for a lot of agency owners, they worry that that feels transactional, that it feels smarmy, that they … So, how do you have it set up? Because what you’re selling is, you are in essence selling a service and consultation, just like we do. Right?
What does your automation look like or sound like that feels genuine, not salesy like you, and why does it work?
So, when we come into a client to help them figure out how to integrate sales automation into their sales process, the first thing we always end up working on is understanding how their client makes that purchasing decision, and of a huge part of that is understanding what questions they’re asking at each step. And that’s the issue a lot of small businesses have developed, this sales process that they’ve pulled out of thin air.
All right. So we’re going to do initial meeting and we’re going to do these things, and they’ll always throw in … And then there.s a proposal step, and we’re going to send that out, and then there’s another meeting, and it’s all artificial, because they haven’t done the research to actually go into their clients to talk about, “All right, so …” And get feedback about how they make purchasing decisions, and then figuring out if that is standard across their target or not. So, that’s the first thing we do.
And then we look at, “All right, so what are all the things that are the same, and what are all the tasks that you’re doing as a salesperson that are redundant, that you’re having to do for every client?” And then that’s where we start looking at the automation pieces. And a big one of the automation steps that we do is usually after that first meeting, there’s always that, “Hey, thanks for meeting with me on Friday, it was great learning about your business. Here’s more stuff.” And we’ll automate that.
So when they complete that initial meeting, then that trigger will fire and I’ll send off that email, but that email’s in all really structured around those key questions that we know they’re asking at that time. So for example, I was working with a roofing company and we did this for them, and that first email after they went out and did all the measurements and everything in the house was, “Hey, thanks for meeting with me yesterday. It’s great getting to find out about you and your family and your house and blah, blah, blah. Here’s a guide how to know that you’re not getting scammed by a roofing company.”
And it was all because the biggest fear for [crosstalk 00:19:57]
Of course. They have no idea what I’m buying.
Yeah. And are you actually a reputable company? Because in Minnesota, when we have the big thunderstorms in the summer, we get storm chasers that come through. So all of a sudden there’ll be someone knocking on my door that does not sound like a Minnesotan, because they’re from North Carolina and they’re up here just getting quick jobs.
Again, because there’s hail damage or whatever from … yeah, yeah.
Exactly. They see a big storm, it’s like, “All right, we’re sending crews in Minnesota. Now w