These days, technology has offered so many opportunities for businesses to grow at a much cheaper way. In the midst of this is outsourcing and automation. Steve Glaveski, the CEO of Collective Campus, outlines some tips on how you can employ these new strategies for growth effectively. Working with big organizations like Microsoft and IBM, Steve shares the most effective marketing strategy and approach that will get you high caliber clients. As he lays out his sales process along with the best practice his sales team uses, he also discusses how he finds and builds people who will be key players in the business. Learn more about automation as well as finding opportunities for growth with Steve in this episode.
I’m with Steve Glaveski. Steve, welcome.
Thank you so much for having me.
Steve, you’re the CEO of Collective Campus, one of Australia’s fastest-growing, new consulting and training company. You help large organizations unlock their people’s potential to innovate and thrive. Tell us what does that mean?
Your typical large organization has ways of operating that perhaps lent themselves to success in the twentieth century, but not so much now. What are those ways? Those ways are typically characterized by meetings to prepare for meetings. A lot of outsourcing of accountability and that stuff made sense when the world was changing slowly and you had an existing business model to deliver on, here’s the process, let’s deliver on that. When the pace of change outside your walls is faster than the pace of change inside your walls, inevitably you will be left behind. What we do is we go into large organizations, whether they’re large telecommunications companies, whether they’re large law firms, you name it. We work with them firstly on culture. Understanding what their current processes, systems, values and resources look like and will those resources, systems, values and so on supporting them on their ongoing journey, their growth journey.
We look at capability building. For example, are we talking about product development? If so, how do they go about doing that? We use waterfall, but we’ve been using that for decades. That may have made sense when you are taking tried and true products to market. You’re trying to do new things now that are underpinned by a lot of untested assumptions. We need to be using agile. We could be using link startup to test those assumptions thick and fast and not waste our time and money. The third piece is around collaboration. Oftentimes, changing internally is more of a marathon than a sprint. What we like to do is identify problems and opportunity areas that our clients want to tackle. We’ll run like a global campaign to find startups and scale-ups that are already working in that space, have products in that space that can essentially solve a real problem with a real solution. Help these clients tap into what we call “disruptive innovation” now rather than a few years down the track.
If we go further back with your background, you worked with Dun & Bradstreet, Ernst & Young, Macquarie Group, KPMG. What propelled you to leave the corporate world and start building your own businesses?
Like most things in life, it’s very rarely a linear equation. I spent several years in the corporate world and sometimes that was rewarding. Oftentimes, I did find myself in those meetings to prepare for meetings and I felt like I had a lot more to contribute. At one point, I got a little bit fed up and I observed that there was a lot of vacant office space that had all of my clients’ sites and I came up with this idea for HotDesk, which is essentially a startup I built a few years ago. It was an Airbnb for office space. I managed to successfully raise about $150,000 while I was still working full-time at Macquarie Bank. That was on the back of a $2,000 prototype and a press release that I sent to about 100 journalists, 99 of which ignored me, but one of them published this article. It happened to be one of the biggest publishers in Australia, The Australian newspaper. That got the interest of investors. That check basically bought me a couple of years to go out on my own and explore entrepreneurship.
While I built that business up on the supply side, the demand side wasn’t really there. At the same time, after a couple of years of working in that space, I immersed myself totally in everything entrepreneurship, prototyping, customer acquisition, you name it. At the end of that journey, I realized that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I wanted to do my own thing, but I didn’t want to be what I thought was a glorified real estate agent. What I also learned on that journey was that all these things that I picked up, all these tools, techniques and so on were completely foreign to everything that I knew in the corporate world. I knew that the corporate world, the companies that I worked for needed to start embodying these principles. That’s when I started testing the idea of bringing these back into the corporate world about a few years ago and here we are now.When the pace of change outside your walls is faster than the pace of change inside your walls, inevitably you will be left behind. Click To Tweet
Now your clients include organizations like PMB, National Australia Bank, Microsoft, MetLife, Sportsbet, Australia Post, Deloitte, IBM, a whole bunch of others that people know. I’m sure some of you don’t know. What have you found has been the most effective marketing strategy and approach for you all to go and land those types of high-caliber clients?
I’d love to say it’s a straight line from marketing to hooking that client. Oftentimes, what we find is with many of these deals, it could be a six-month sales cycle and in some cases, up to eighteen months. It’s rarely one touchpoint. It’s usually multiple touchpoints, which is why like yourself, we have a podcast, we publish eBooks, we have blog posts, we have the weekly email marketing that goes out, posts on social media. It’s doing all of that stuff because there might be seventeen touchpoints before they believe in you enough to work with you. What you also want to do in any case is look for signals in the market. That could be that someone has joined a role in an organization, they’re the new CTO and they’re going to want to shake things up.
They’re incentivized to work with new organizations and bring talent into the organization, new ways of working. Reach out to them. It could be that they’ve been mentioned in the media talking about technology adoption and that’s your space. You’re all about digital transformation. Reach out to that person and say, “I saw you in this article.” That’s going to be more effective than cold emailing or calling hundreds of people who maybe don’t have budget, appetite, timing or need for what you’re proposing. Ultimately, I think the third thing would be around turning objections into conditions, essentially reframing that and saying, “This is the objection.” That’s a condition of purchase. How can we provide them with whether that’s pricing, the service, the delivery mechanism, whatever it is? The better you get at making friends with no and asking them what would turn these five out of ten likelihoods of buying into a ten out of ten? Asking those questions can give you so much wealth of knowledge. I might not give you that particular prospect over the line, but we can take that knowledge with you forward with the next prospect. Over time, you’ll come up with a much more rock-solid offering.
Are you the one who is doing the majority of the sales or all of the sales in your organization? Have you built out to have other salespeople? What does that look like for you?
We’ve built that out. I still do a little bit of it. I probably spend about 15% of my time doing that because I believe that as the leader of the organization, I should still have my ear to the ground in terms of that stuff. At the same time, once you’ve developed a reasonably good sales process, you can then turn that into a process and get other people on board to go out and sell for you. As a leader, you should be focused on strategy. You should be focused on facilitating outcomes in your team, removing any roadblocks and ensuring that you’re focusing on growth rather than constantly being in the ways of selling. Because then I’m working on my business and not on my business.
At the same time, it is important to maintain a little bit of a balance so if I’m going out there spending 15% of my time talking to prospects and I keep hearing things like, “We’re working with this new company that’s come onto the scene or we don’t need that stuff anymore. We’re good. What we’re after is this and this is all new.” Suddenly, I need to go back to the drawing board and think about these things. At the same time, you should be encouraging your sales guys to bring that knowledge to you, whether it’s on a weekly or a monthly basis, some way to capture common objections, learnings in the field. That way you don’t need to spend as much time doing that yourself.
How do you do that? Are you documenting or having your salespeople document that in a CRM? Are you sitting down on daily or weekly meetings to go over what objections did you encounter? What’s been the best practice for you all to be able to benefit from all the objections that you’re receiving so you can strengthen and improve going forward?
The CRM, we use Copper. Essentially, like most CRMs, once you drag an opportunity into one lost or abandoned, we capture our reason. We make sure that those reasons are consistently labeled. Maybe there are fifteen of them. If we need to create a new one, we will but then we can export that on a monthly basis, group them and then say, “70% of the time we lost a deal was because the price point was too high for them. Let’s talk about that.” That way it makes it more methodical for you. I’d rather not have meetings every day or every week because that can become routine. Once things become routine, they lose their value but when you do them once a month and you’ve got actual data to support those conversations, you’re going in there with a plan about what you’re going to talk about. It becomes constructive and people enjoy that. Whereas it is easy to fall into the trap of having daily stand-ups because that’s what you do. People roll their eyes when it’s like, “Let’s go stand-up, guys.” That’s not a good place.Oftentimes, changing internally is more of a marathon than a sprint. Click To Tweet
That’s not your culture over there. I get that. That’s cool. I think that it’s important for everyone to recognize where there’s never only one way to do something. It’s nice to be able to see you can find how something is working really well for one organization or one consultant and then see someone who’s doing something completely different but is working exceptionally well for them. Can you walk us through, Steve, from a high level? What does the sales process look like for you and for your company that’s the best? You mentioned that you’d identified these signals, but take people through because you mentioned it could be months, in some cases, over a year to land a client. Is it a start off point? Is it like finding a signal on LinkedIn and then connecting with that person? Is it picking up the phone and calling them? What has been the best practice that your sales team uses?
If we find a signal, we will then reach out to them usually on LinkedIn, but we weren’t just saying, “We saw you in the media. I would love to chat.” We will provide them with some values. Usually, if I find a technology executive from an insurance company was mentioned in the media, I’ll reach out to them and say, “We saw you talking about the digital transformation at MetLife. It happens that we’ve worked with a few firms in that space. Here’s an eBook we wrote on innovation and insurance. Check it out. It’s a free download.” That way we’re not even asking for a meeting, we’re just providing them with value.
Where are you sending that? Are you doing that through LinkedIn or actual through email?
That’s usually through LinkedIn, but sometimes we find that and you probably find these yourself. Employees don’t check LinkedIn as much as entrepreneurs are the thing. If you’re not getting that response, if you don’t see any of the read receipts, then you should follow up with an email maybe five days later. Nowadays, email is easy to find. You’ve got tools like RocketReach and Hunter.io and LeadIQ to help you do that. If that doesn’t work, then get on the phone. Try and get through the switchboard and you’ve got gatekeepers there. It’s worth giving that a shot because these people are busy. Just because they haven’t responded to your LinkedIn message or your email, it doesn’t mean that they’re not interested in what you’ve got to offer.
How important is the phone for you because the phone is one of these things that many people are scared of? They’d rather hop off the side of a building or something than pick up the phone. It freaks them out. In your own experience, how effective has picked up the phone been?
It’s very effective and I totally get people’s innate, biological refrain from picking up the phone because it’s like you’re being judged immediately. It’s this whole going back to being ostracized from the tribe. It’s about human survival in a way. Whereas with email, you don’t get that. The big thing with the phone and I’ve seen this time and time again where I’ll send an email, we might get an inquiry from a prospect somewhere in the world and they’ll say, “We’re interested in this and I’ll send an email. This is what we can do for you and here’s the price point,” and I won’t hear anything for a few days. I’ll pick up the phone and I’ll have a conversation with them and I’ll find out exactly what they need. What are the objections? Why did they need to get back to me? I’ll learn so much about that and I’ll say, “Why didn’t you say so? Here’s a fresh proposal,” and that will get over the line.
Having known that, nowadays I pick up the phone much earlier in the pace. For example, if someone downloads an eBook on our website, in order to do that, they need to leave a phone number and an email address. That hits my email or one of the sales guys’ emails. It automatically gets assigned to someone in the team based on which asset it was on our website. Their job is to then pick up the phone straight straightaway. If they don’t answer on the first call, the second call. More often than not, people pick up the phone on the second call like, “Who is this?” That tends to work.
It’s about asking questions to find out exactly is this something they need now? Is it a qualified laid? Have they got a budget? How much budget? Sometimes just asking how much budget have you got. If you’d let me know what your budget is, I can build something according to that rather than just playing this guessing game where you might over or underestimate how much they’re willing to spend. You overestimate, you don’t get the deal. You underestimate, you could have got maybe 50% more on that piece of work. It’s crucial.Luck is just the intersection of opportunity and preparedness. Click To Tweet
You’ve captured that signal. You then reached out to them, you’ve said, “Grab the eBook.” You make a follow-up phone call potentially or even an email to see if they have any questions about it to move the conversation forward. Where do you go from there? Let’s say that someone has provided their phone number, you reach out to them, they may or may not pick up the phone. What does the next step look like? In terms of your nurture, you have well-defined, you send them other documents, other resources, you’re sending an email every week or two. What does that look like from a high-level?
Depending on what they download on our website, they’ll opt themselves into a drip-feed. For example, if it was that innovation and insurance eBook, it could be a five-email drip feed that they’ll get over three or four weeks, which will include information, case studies, tools and techniques, frameworks. It’s all there to basically build social proof and build us in their mind as some authority figure, like a thought leadership figure. Outside of that, we will then proactively also send them content that may not be in that drip-feed, that may relate to something we know of them, “I saw this list of the top 50 innovators in the insurance space in Asia,” whatever or something random. “You might find that interesting. Check it out.”
That way it’s staying front of mind. It’s important not to be too pushy. At the same time, you want to follow up. I had Ryan Serhant on my show. He’s a billion-dollar real estate agent from New York. He was saying how sometimes he’ll follow up over 100 times and then he’ll get the deal. It shows that prospect that you’re loyal, you’re disciplined, you follow through rather than just looking for that quick win and then forgetting them and moving on to someone else.
How many people are in your company?
It’s a good question because we have cut our team size. We were about ten and now we’re at five in the core team. What we do is we’re very big on an extended network of facilitators, contractors, consultants around the world of which we’ve got about 50. There’s a good article on this called The Nature of the Firm by Ronald Coase back in 1932. He was an economist who wrote this article which found that firms will continue to grow so long as external transaction costs are greater than internal transaction costs. It’s cheaper to get the work done internally, hire employees, do it that way. Nowadays with technology, with outsourcing, with automation workflows that you can build quite cheaply, it’s easier to get quality talents to do the work externally and cheaper. It means that you can keep your cost base low but deliver awesome talent. As a result of that, charge a client less but keep your margins higher than someone who’s got all this big bloated team internally.
We’ve purposely brought our core team size down but increased that extended team around the world, which is why we’ve been able to work with companies across different continents despite the fact that our team size is relatively small. We’ve had to build a lot of workflows for that, Google docs for specific processes that are 30 pages long with lots of our screenshots and speech bubbles, all sorts of stuff. That’s critical. That’s why I think a lot of the times when people try and outsource something, they say, “I tried outsourcing, it didn’t work.” It’s because firstly, who did you try and bring on board? What was the quality of that person? Secondly, what was your onboarding process like? Did you expect them to hit the ground running? If so, that’s a very foolish assumption to make.
The other thing I was going to ask you on that topic around building a team both because you have the internal coaching, but also this external network of a team that you built. What do you look for? Have you learned there’s a specific characteristic? Do you take people through some assessment? How do you know that someone is going to be a good player to add to your team?
It does depend firstly on the role. If I’m bringing on some inside salesperson, I want to know what their relationship with adversity is like. How have they dealt with rejection in the past? It doesn’t need to be in the sales domain. In other domains, what difficulties have they gone through in life? What did they do on a regular basis that gets them out of their comfort zone? Do they prefer to sit in front of the fireplace and watch Netflix every night? Asking questions like that tells you a lot about someone’s character. I think that’s important. Ultimately, it’s also about capping the downside and I think that’s one of the beauties of having these instructions, being able to bring people on relatively quickly and then giving them a shot. Because then you can hedge your bets and maybe bring on five sales for two months.Free yourself up to focus on the critical thinking rather than spend half an hour doing the monotonous, repeatable, algorithmic stuff. Click To Tweet
Based on the metrics and based on your experience with them during that time say, “We’re going to keep Michael and Michelle. The other two, they weren’t performing. I didn’t like their attitude. They weren’t responsive. They talked a big game but didn’t deliver,” and move on. The cost of doing that is not really that high, but that’s probably going to be a better indicator than any interview question I can ask because people can gain that stuff.
I think that’s a good advice. We’ve seen the same thing when we’ve worked with salespeople in the past. It’s like trial three people, let them go through some leads and actually do some work, see how they perform and then base a position for either one or two of them. You’ll know very quickly from seeing how they do that work. Steve, you are a Harvard Business Review contributor. You’ve done some writing for HBR. I think that’s a place that a lot of consultants want to be. HBR is still very prestigious. How did you create that opportunity?
Having a very healthy relationship with adversity. I think it was very much a case of getting rejected several times by HBR over the period of three years. Even with one of my articles that went viral on HBR, it was called The Case for the 6-Hour Workday. That article I pitched to one of the editors and they basically came back and said, “They are not really feeling it.” I went back to LinkedIn and I sought out the chief of staff there, sent them not only that article but about nine other pitches. They said, “I like two or three of these. I’m going to share these with my team and come back to you.” A week later they said, “We would love for you to write an article on this. Send us a draft and we’ll have a look at it.”
A few months later, that draft turned into an article. There’s a reason why it’s prestigious because they still get a lot of eyeballs on the back of the article going live. It was syndicated by the Wall Street Journal, Use.com data here in Australia, New Zealand Herald, various publications around the world. European CEO is another one. That for us generated at a lot of inbound leads, a lot of interest and also propelled us to trade a new service line, which was all-around productivity and performance and how you go about automating, prioritizing, outsourcing, all that jazz in your organization. It is persistence. However, having said that, luck is the intersection of opportunity and preparedness. Up until that point, I had published maybe about 400 blog posts on various platforms including our own. I had developed the ability to write somewhat intelligibly. That obviously helps when you’re writing for Harvard Business Review.
How many times did you reach out to HBR before they accepted?
Probably seven or eight times and it’s not too dissimilar from the book deal I got with Wiley for my book, Employee to Entrepreneur, going into that. I wrote this 10,000-word book proposal. I found email addresses of all the book publishers and agents that I wanted to reach out to. I prioritized that list by the ones that I was least interested in working for and started sending it to them first because then I was getting feedback with all the rejections and I would update my pitch as I went. It was around the 39th pitch, which was to Wiley that I got an email back saying, “We’d love to chat. When are you free to grab a coffee?” or whatever it was. Several conversations later, I had the book deal with them. It’s about not giving up after the fifth, tenth, fifteenth, twentieth rejection.
How big has that book been for your business? Comparing the impact of the book versus the HBR article?
I think going into it from day one, I never expected the book to be very impactful for my business because it is a different target segment. It’s Employee to Entrepreneur. It’s for people who want to make that leap versus corporate executives who are working for a big Fortune 500 company and they need innovation services. For me, it was more of a passion project. However, having said that, it does provide a massive amount of social proof particularly because I’ve got Wiley on the book cover, I’ve got Adam Grant endorsing the book on the book cover. When I actually go out there and speak to prospects, sometimes I’ll take a copy of the book, hope they don’t take it the wrong way. I’m not telling them to quit their jobs.Pay top dollar for strategy, but then bring it back when it comes to the execution. Click To Tweet
If you send it out to all of your ideal clients, we end up finding out that they’re leaving the business.
It does help with the social proof piece and allaying any concerns people might have. One of the big challenges with any boutique, smaller consultancy is you’re often compared to Accenture or Deloitte or something like that. Oftentimes that social proof, they’ve already got that. You’ve got the rubber stamp of Deloitte, you don’t need to worry about, “We’re Deloitte and this is why you should trust us.” As a small consultancy, you need to do everything you can there, so capturing case studies, capturing video testimonials, getting into publications like HBR, getting a book deal with a big publisher all to go a very long way.
You advise startups. You’ve written a book. You host a podcast. You’ve got HBR. Obviously, you lead your company as CEO. What do you do every day to make sure that you’re running at high levels of performance and focus?
On a personal level, the ability to do that is based on automating all rudimentary repeatable process-oriented tasks and the ones that I can’t automate, I’ll outsource or delegate. That way, I free myself up to focus only on the critical thinking piece.
What are the examples? I want to make this very tangible for everyone. What are some of those key ones look like that you’ve automated and then some that you’ve delegated?
One of the key ones that will resonate with all consultants is a proposal automation tool we developed where previously you’re putting together the bones of a proposal. You’ve got proposals on several different computers, a multitude of folders and whatnot. We built this tool where we will simply select a title page, exec summary, the services we need, some case studies, about us, back cover, upload the client logo, upload the client name and it will spit out a skeleton PowerPoint. All that is customizing some of the key things in there, so you’re basically freeing yourself up to focus on the critical thinking rather than spending half-an-hour doing the monotonous, repeatable, algorithmic stuff. That’s an example of an automation tool where I probably put three proposals together a week, maybe four, that saves me about two hours a week.
Another one would be podcast promotion. Another thing we’ve built is a content distribution tool where if I publish a podcast, it will automatically go onto YouTube. It will be turned into an audiogram, transcribed. It will be then published on to different social media platforms. Those Twitter posts, for example, we’ve got a tool we use called Ribbon which will then take snippets from that podcast and turn them into text. Rather than just saying Episode 354, it’s like, “What does discipline have to do with success? Find out in this episode.” That’s literally all automated. If I was to do all that stuff myself, it would take hours. That’s one thing. To take that podcast example further on the outsourcing front, looking for guests, reaching out to guests, putting together show notes, producing the track, uploading the track, all that stuff is outsourced as well.
I used to do that stuff myself when I started the podcast and I’m sure you probably did too. It takes a lot of time and it takes hours and that frees me up. Outside of that, it’s the stuff you do every day. I was in the gym working out, meditating, trying to get my eight hours sleep, doing all that stuff that helps you function at a high level and also helps you regulate your emotions. As a leader, you can’t be going into the office feeling like crap all the time because that’s going to infect your team and you’re going to make bad decisions as a byproduct of that.
It sounds like we’re very aligned in some of those habits and beliefs and also a delegation of podcast and so forth. If you look back over the last several months, what principles or ideas have you learned and implemented into the business that you feel has had the greatest impact? Something new that’s been a game-changer for you.
I think it’s that big pace of coming back from a bigger team to a smaller team. For example, we’re embarking on a big SEO refresh. My philosophy now very much pays top dollar for strategy, but then bring it back when it comes to the execution. We will find an SEO guru. We might be quite comfortable paying them $5,000 for a one-week gig, but they’re going to come back to us with awesome recommendations about what we need to do next. When it comes to implementing those recommendations, I can find someone who’s great at algorithmic tasks that are going to get $5,000 a week. That’s better than hiring an SEO person for $80,000 a year who’s mediocre, going to make average decisions and you’re going to spend a ton more money. My thing nowadays is to pay top dollar for experts but pay a lot less for execution.
Steve, I want to thank you so much for coming on here. It’s been great learning a bit about your story and have you share some of those best practices. I want to make sure that people can learn more about you and your work. What’s the best place to send them to?
Steve, thanks so much for coming on.
Thanks, Michael. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
- Collective Campus
- The Case for the 6-Hour Workday
- Employee to Entrepreneur