On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly and Dan Morris of Mindracer Consulting talk about the "sales opener" mindset for business development at creative, media and technology agencies. They go in-depth on why and how to pair a strong opener with an established closer to seal more ideal deals.
EP 33: Sales Openers vs. Closers for Agencies, with Dan Morris
Kelly: So, today we're talking about sales openers versus closers for agencies. And, I'm really excited to have Dan Morris from Mindracer Consulting on the show. How are you doing today, Dan? It’s great to have you.
Dan: Good morning, Kelly! I'm doing great. Thank you. And you?
Kelly: I'm doing fantastic because I'm talking to you, my new friend. So Dan's actually got this great mission of helping a thousand businesses to achieve a million dollars in top-line revenue over the next couple of years. And so, we've just met a couple months ago. I think our values and our approaches are so aligned, so I'm really looking forward to this discussion.
Dan: Yeah. Me too. I've been looking forward to this. It's a really good opportunity to have a chat about something that just seemed to click when we first met, and really excited to share this. Yeah. It’s been really interesting to discuss so far.
Kelly: Yeah. So what we're talking about today is really this idea that most agencies whether they’re creative, media, technology agencies, they think about, well first of all, they think about sales as a as a four-letter word. We don't like to use the S word in the agency world, right? So, we call it business development. And one of the things that we typically focus on in the agency world is how do I get a good closer? And what you've sort of enlightened me about was the fact that we're not having enough conversations about finding great openers.
Kelly: So I guess we'll start off talking a little bit about that, where you kind of, I won't say discovered this, but where you kind of came from with this idea and why it's especially important for agency leaders to really to grasp on this concept.
Dan: Yeah. Cool. So it comes from personal experience way back in the day when I was first cutting my teeth in an agency. I was a salesperson, but I was actually hired to book appointments for the sales director. Sales director is an awesome closer, somebody who is really strategic and could really get under the hood with a client and was able to bring in big accounts all the time and do it with a big smile on his face. And they hired me to fill his calendar with appointments. Short story on that is I only ended up doing that for about three weeks before transitioning into sales broker. But actually the door opening mindset was with how I was brought into that agency.
And so, I would do a bit of research, then call people up, and I'd get them on the phone, and we'd give them a good reason why we'd want to come and meet them. And I kept doing that, and even when I was promoted to a salesperson, that's what I kept doing. But I wasn't closing that many deals, and I couldn’t work out why, coz I was going in with my preparation, and lots of good reasons, and a great chat. And I went with a sales trainer, and he actually observed what I was doing. And we went for lunch after I've been to this big meeting. He said, how did I go down, how was it? And I’m like, “Yeah, it was awesome. I think they really like the agency. I think they liked what we were doing. They really liked what we were trying to paint the picture of the future for them. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.” He said, “What did you forget to do?" "I don't know, tell me. I'm not sure.” And he goes, “Did you ask for the business?” “No.”
And in that split second it changed my entire mindset on, "Oh yeah, actually we've got to be doing business for them to experience value." They want to do all these things with us. I didn't make that natural close. And so, what I've observed ever since is I can show people how to be better researchers. I can show people how to find better reasons to get in the door, but as I've been working with more and more early-stage businesses over the last few years in consulting and working with startups, I found that founders, especially, want to hire a closer because there's a lot of time and effort involved in selling and they want to take the closing roll off of themselves.
But what they don't take into account is that founders are normally great openers because they're so passionate about their business, and they just naturally talk with great passion, and they know all the details about their business whenever they meet somebody. So they’re openers anyway. They hire a closer to go close more deals but maybe they've actually just hired into somebody who's got a blind spot, maybe that person has been great in a larger agency before them. They've been supported by amazing marketing or maybe they've been supported by somebody who is introducing them as a business development. It’s is often referrals and networks, right?
Dan: So if you just hire somebody who's good at closing deals, when they're brought to you, and your agency needs somebody who can go and open doors, because you don't yet have an upper hand or a huge marketing machine, then you're leaving yourself with a blind spot and setting that person up to fail. So the clarification is that if you feel like you're not getting enough cold leads, anyway, then you need an opener. If you feel like you're getting loads of leads and you actually need somebody just to work through that process and close them, then you might need a closer, but be clear about which one it is because you set people up to fail if they're not the right person.
Kelly: And this was why it was such an interesting discussion when we started chatting about it over lunch that day, because I don’t think that agencies understand the differences. They just think a business person should do it all and what you're saying is that there are actually characteristics and there are things that people are great at on the one end, the opening end and versus the closing end.
So let's talk a little bit about the characteristics of a great opener. Like if an agency leader is listening to this, and they're thinking, "Yes, we have some referrals and some word-of-mouth, and we have a couple of leads coming in, but we'd love to have more of the conversations with- from an account-based marketing perspective, we want to target these top 50 agency that we want to go after, and maybe it is an opener, what kind of personality or what kind of partners should they be looking for when they’re thinking about hiring the right opening candidate.
Dan: Yeah, so it’s somebody who really enjoys researching the depths of the account, right? So they're gonna have a history of getting into account somehow, right? They might have been doing business development themselves before but not closing deals. And the world of software’s has got this down to a pretty good tee right now. There's a role out there called the sales development rep, and they're actually tasked with researching verticals and go in an opening conversations doing a discovery call, but not closing the deal.
And so, you might find somebody who's already been doing a role like that within a software company, within a vertical, that you want to talk to. That could work pretty well because they're naturally they’ve known this, not just booking meetings. And somebody might want to come away from that world and into potentially- it’s a creative agency or something similar, and there’s a discussion to be had there, because they can have a bigger impact on a smaller business, or if you want to build a team of these people. They're all aspirational and want to get into sales roles eventually.
If you're working with the kind of brands they want to work with, then fundamentally you can get that opener into the door, teach them how to do close when you've got a warm lead, and you can develop them into the business, right? It's unusual, but it does exist, the SDRs or openers would actually stay as openers for a long period of time. There's a management role for them there as well, for the people who like doing that all the time, who want to teach other people how to do it, but your hardcore always be closing sales manager is quite different than the person who's like let's get these people passionate about talking to us.
Kelly: Right, right. I used to be a big fan of the always-be-closing mindset, and I think you having turned that around for me; it's always-be-having-conversations.
Dan: Yeah, so the people that really fly in this role sort of the natural sharers of information, they've always got a fact, they've always got a bit of info there, that they're really interesting to talk to but they're not really asking for anything like they're sort of a natural educator. “Hey, let’s have a conversation about,” because they’re really passionate about it. That's a great person to get a phone call from. You get a phone call from somebody who's like, "You must buy feature right now," that's not the type of sales that necessarily works for building any relationship with somebody that you want to really work with in the long term. If you've got a product that's 99 cents you have to do that, but if you're building an agency relationship with a client, it's different, right?
Kelly: Totally different, yeah. One of the things that we’ve talked also was this idea of the opener needs the closer, or the closer needs the opener, and then how that actually transcends into making the entire, I don't want to say sales process, but we'll just call it that for now, making that entire sales process one that gets you to the point, or gets your agency to the point, where the contract and even the pricing is much less of a negotiation and much less of part of the conversation. So I just kind of wanted to pivot a little bit in that direction.
Dan: Yeah, cool. So I’ll rewind a little bit. The other night, couple of nights ago, I was hosting a dinner with some friends, and we did sort of a Jeffersonian style, we were talking about all the problems that you have when you hire sales first of all, right? And a lot of so many people have had the experience of having a bad salesperson. But actually was the experience that the onboarding for that salesperson was unsuccessful because they just wanted to have a closer or they really wanted somebody who wasn’t a fit for the role that they needed. And it is really about painting a picture of what that future looks like when you're working together.
If you’ve got an idea of a shared future that works better than what they've got at the moment, then the contract's just something that happens along the way like the contract, like the work starts, and the deliverables begin when that contract signed, and a lot of closers will focus only on getting that contract through the door. But especially in agency businesses, often that person’s managing a relationship with that client on an ongoing basis as well so the first contract is only the time when they really start spending even more time together.
If you get somebody who's hardcore about getting that first deal in the door, it might be a bit too rough, whereas actually if you're having a conversation about his clients they’ve worked with for 5 years in this industry, "I thought you might like to have a discussion about where the industry's going." Or, "We’re doing an educational seminar about XYZ. Would you like a seat? Would you like to come? How can we help?" You want to just help people, then more naturally, people will come to you. And sales is very different than it was even a couple of years ago.
Kelly: Yeah, I agree.
Dan: The content you put in outbound in any of your social channels people are going to have a look at that, they’re going to qualify a lot of people out, and if you're being too aggressive and not having a helpful conversation about what you're really good at, it’s not going to be a fit in the long term anyway. A contract for me these days is really I think I was asked, as just being at an event on the timeline. It's just something that is along the way.
Kelly: Yeah, it's interesting the way that you think about that and because of your past experiences, you have like a completely different mindset about that because I think most people in the agency world think about the contract as this holy grail, the thing that we have to like push and it’s this push thing and if we can get them to sign the contract, then we’ve got them. And I think it’s just the wrong mindset. What you're talking about from what I’m hearing is a lot more having those conversations, asking a lot more than talking, listening a lot more than you’re talking, adding value where you can, and parting your expertise within reason.
Obviously, you want to hold some of that expertise because that’s what you’re playing for. But at the end of the day, I mean that contract, giving the pricing and all of that, really is just sort of like a blip because they understand through this whole conversational process that you are the right fit, that you actually care, that you have the expertise, that you have the clients, the history of that success and you can solve their pain points and their problems like you’ve done for other people. So it becomes like oh necessary or just natural, essential like you're saying.
Dan: Yeah. I mean, if they open a cool and calm conversation with a prospect and they’re having a discussion around the change in the industry that's happening that the agency can help with, or a recent experience that they've researched, then they can see the client as had. A recent event that the agency's being able to help out with or something like that and they can agree that that’s a challenge for the company. Then the next part of that is "Look, if you could paint a perfect future, what would be your criteria for being very satisfied six or twelve months down the line?" And if you get that out there really early, then they will begin to work with you. "Yeah I’m on it. We both need to make some changes in order for the success of the timelines really work."
"If I was to look back twelve months from now, what would make you feel really satisfied with the future relationship with your agency?" That gives you a very different answer than, "What do you want today?" And then if you’re confident, you can align with those criteria then the negotiation piece, it just becomes much less about deliverables and much more about the relationship and how you're really gonna build a team around them. And then once that first contract is done and we’re all focused on how we get into that twelve month point, or beyond, I've seen that reduced friction a lot.
And even when you do get a legal negotiation, you can- even if an external legal gets involved, which happens sometimes, you can then still go, "Hang on a minute, we’ve been working together on this all the way through. We agreed that in order for you to be satisfied, XYZ needed to be present. Here they are. So we don't need to negotiate those pieces anymore." And having your friend, who you've been negotiating with all the way through, in the room helping you work through their own legal process has been a really powerful way of doing that. Establish criteria satisfaction, relate those to the contract, relate those to the future, and you'll find the contract is much less of a pain point and much more of a facilitation to move you into the relationship.
Kelly: Yeah. And just to start wrapping up a little bit diving into that- what does success look like for the client 12 months out? I love that because that tells me exactly what I need to reiterate to them throughout the process, reminding them of the words that literally came out of their mouth. Remember when you said this is what the vision looks like, we’re aligned on that and just reminding them that that’s where they said they wanted to go and let them know you will help them. I think that’s great because…and that’s where I was coming from before. We’re doing a lot more of the asking and the listening than the talking necessarily because I think that people give you a tremendous amount of information then you ask the right questions, and then you sit back and you just let them kind of tell you what they want out of you when you meet them. Like you said, if you feel like you’ve fulfilled those requests and be up on there, then it’s smooth sailing.
Dan: I think the North Star on this is to go from vendor to partner.
Kelly: Oh I hate the V-word. I hate the V-word.
Dan: Right? But that’s…
Kelly: The worst.
Dan: It’s a mindset that people definitely have, and I've even seen it very recently in a particular pitch where I walked into with a client and they were having this amazing onboarding day for a whole lot of new team members. I said, “Hey, you do this with partners?” And there were, “No.” And I was like, "Okay, that’s an interesting one. Wouldn't it be great if we could get to that point where, look, we’re doing this twelve month thing together, let's get together and talk about that and be available and having that discussion."
And if that’s about communication, communication is one of that criteria satisfaction, you can come back to them all the time and say, hey, look, kind of one of the things we've really established as something you want from your partner, we’re here to tell you there's a change happening and we need to do something about that or here’s an idea that can really move the needle for you. Let's work on it together. And I've seen that sort of thing, especially when we agreed on it all the way through if that’s what they wanted. It lets the agency be much more forthright in what they’re suggesting.
Which means that creates upsell opportunities as well. Let’s be really clear. Those sorts of relationships and that sort of candor, there’s no kidding when you’ve got that sort candor, you can bring ideas much more easily than you can if you have to go, "We would like to add another item to the contract," you’re like, "Wouldn't you like to work on this idea together?" And with that sort of motivation and energy that I've seen it move much easier towards getting additional budget as well. So yeah it really does align commercially but also it’s an easier client to service if you're working in that partner mindset.
Kelly: At the end of this though, you’re really about ideal clients because even- it’s really working with a client that is less risk-averse, that is into the innovation, that is wanting to be that partner, and wanting to come up with ideas together, collaborate and then see those things through. You can’t do this with every single client. There are going to be a lot of clients that will push that.
Dan: Absolutely agree. And the focal point for any sort of outreach from an opener has got to be not necessarily just the ideal type of company but the ideal personas that you can identify who’ve got particular character, particular challenges, particular experience that you guys really resonate with, and you can research and find those people by facts and features in LinkedIn and so on. But then you'll know when you're talking to the right type of person who’s really great fit for the agency, and that’s an ideal portrait for how you’re gonna get that kind of collaboration and communication.
And the more research you can do to identify that persona based on the existing clients you’ve got, the more likely your opener will be to succeed and have those great opportunities, and the easier it will be for whoever in the business closes those leads. And then everyone in the business has an easier way of working with the people that you do bring in. That’s definitely the idea. I know you’re big on positioning. Who you help and how you will help them, I totally align with that as well. We live in a beautiful big country with lots of opportunities and lots of people to talk to.
What's the best refining you can do to give your opener the best chance of success and give the business the best chance of growth in the short medium and long term. And that’s top of the project, then finding people to cover your blind spots is the next, and then enabling them by making sure if they’re not a natural opener, you get an opener on the team as soon as you can, and if they’re not a natural closer, then you get some training to help out that person get a closer, or you bring in a closer to support them. Those two bases need to be covered.
Kelly: Yeah, for sure. Well Dan, thank you so much. This is a great conversation. I know everyone who’s listening or watching is going to get a lot out of it. So I appreciate it and maybe come back on the show maybe in 2019, and maybe we can talk a little bit about personas, and go a little more in depth with that.
Dan: Yeah, for sure. That’s one of my favorite conversations too.
Dan: Thank you Kelly. Have a great day!
Kelly: Bye-bye. Cheers!