Cold-calling (Done Right) Drives Bottom-line Profitability

carrie simpson

Carrie Simpson, founder at Managed Sales Pros, Everywhere Managed, and THC Results (Las Vegas, Nevada and Winnipeg, Manitoba) put herself into the cold-calling business two decades ago as a stay-at-home mom—by cold-calling companies to sell her services as a cold-caller, winning contracts with major companies, hiring and training other stay-at-home moms to cold call part time, and developing a scalable strategic process for outbound B2B IT sales calls and appointment setting.

Churn is a given in cold-calling. Critical to Carrie’s success is not that she figured out how to eliminate cold-caller turnover, but because she figured out how to minimize the effect of churn. In this interview, she emphasizes several strategic decisions her company made to build traction, optimize cold call effectiveness, and generate demand:

  • Avoiding diversification and maintaining an exclusive marketing strategy: cold-calling for a single product type: managed services
  • Laser-targeting and qualifying her clients’ potential customers
  • Knowing her customers’ products, their clients triggers
  • Utilizing “pay for performance” in order to maintain control of database data that can be leveraged for vertical market development
  • Tracking trends and marketplace changes that create risks and opportunities

Carrie can be reached on her company’s website at managedsalespros.com or by email at: Hello@managedsalespros.com. Mention Carrie’s name, and your message will be routed to her.

 

 

ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I am joined today by Carrie Simpson, founder at Managed Sales Pros, Everywhere Managed, and THC Results. She’s based in Las Vegas, Nevada and Winnipeg, Manitoba. Welcome, Carrie.

 

CARRIE: Thanks. It’s nice to be here.

 

ROB: Fantastic to have you. Why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about these businesses, how they play together, and how that connects into the marketing agency world?

 

CARRIE: Sure, happy to. Back in the day, I want to say about 20 years ago, I had a child and I didn’t want to go back to work. I thought about what I was really good at and what other people really didn’t like to do, and what I came up with was cold-calling.

 

I figured that I was really good at cold calling. I didn’t want to travel much, didn’t want to pop my kid into daycare so early in her life, so I just started calling companies and asking them, “Hey, do you need this service? Would you like this service? Would somebody cold-calling for you help you?”

 

I landed a couple of clients right off the bat, and that led into a pretty successful cold-calling career. I was able to sustain that individually for quite a long time. I had some major contracts with organizations like Bentley, MapInfo, Reynolds & Reynolds, some large enterprise-focused software companies.

 

Eventually, I thought about expanding that business and started an actual outbound cold-calling company. Instead of just doing it myself, I started hiring other cold-callers. We just went one project, one caller, one project, one caller. At the beginning it was just me making cold calls in my house, and then I hired somebody else. Half the time I made cold calls in my house and half the time I did business development.

 

As we were able to, we hired more and more people. We started essentially as a group of stay-at-home moms who had young kids that we were all nursing, and all of these stay-at-home moms were making cold calls 20 hours a week, around their kids’ napping schedules. We were able to sustain that business for a little while.

 

In like 2012 or 2011, I had cold-called an organization called The Eureka Project, which is a technology incubator at the University of Manitoba. They’re now called North Forge. They had an ad up for lead generators, and I called them and said, “Hey, I already have a team of lead generators. I think we could really do a great job for you guys.” They were looking for market validation calls for technology companies.

 

They said, “Why don’t you come in and build us a call center?” So I stopped working for myself for a little while. I went into The Eureka Project and I spent a couple of years building their call center, adding clients to The Eureka Project roster and then doing market validation and acceleration calling for all these really interesting tech startups.

 

I was introduced to all kinds of interesting things there. This was a government-funded organization. They worked specifically with Manitoba-based technology firms that were looking to have a more national or international outreach.

 

A couple years into that, the government changed their funding for that project. They didn’t want to focus on acceleration any longer. They wanted to work with pre-commercial businesses. So my job no longer existed. The Eureka Project said, “Why don’t you just take the couple of clients that you have right now and we’ll incubate your company?”

 

I ended up getting an office and access to legal teams and accounting teams and all kinds of people that I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. I got a great mentor. His name’s Gary Brownstone. All he does is mergers and acquisitions now. But that was a phenomenal way to begin a business.

 

So Managed Sales Pros was formed. We went from being a company where we would take any kind of project that was handed to us—we’d work with marketing firms, we’d work with law firms, accounting firms. Anybody that was looking for new business, as long as it was business-to-business and outbound calling, we would do it.

 

We identified a real opportunity through a referral. We were working with a marketing firm. They referred us to this managed IT firm, and the managed IT firm said, “Hey, can you do this kind of project?” I said, “Of course we can!” Then I googled managed IT services and I was like, yeah, we can do that no problem. So that’s how the company started. [laughs]

 

He referred us to a few more people in his peer group. We landed a few more clients, and then we just aggressively went after these managed IT service providers. They were all the same types of businesses. Most of them were very tech-focused business owners. They didn’t come out of Harvard with an MBA and say, “Hey, I’m going to start this really profitable managed IT service company.”

 

Most of the time they had worked for another IT company and then started their own business, grown it to a certain place, and then realized they didn’t know how to take it any further. Their sales process was stunted. There are 10,000 of these companies in North America; there’s 80,000 of these companies internationally. There’s a huge opportunity, because they’re all basically structured the same way.

 

So now we’re working with probably 35 managed service providers in different markets in North America. From that engagement, we started talking to the vendors that were interested in selling products to those managed IT services companies, and we created this enormous database of managed IT service providers through our own day-to-day outbound reach.

 

The vendors said, “Hey, can you start connecting us with companies that look like this or companies that look like this?” They wanted companies that were a certain size or that were using a certain technology. We had created this very robust database of these companies, so we were able to offer billion-dollar technology companies the opportunity to work with us—and we did that on a pay for performance basis. We did that so that we could maintain ownership of all of the data in our database.

 

When a vendor engages us—and we have companies like billion-dollar technology unicorn Datto. Cisco is probably our best-known client. We’ve been working with both of those companies for over 4 years now—we have access to better and cleaner data than they do because we get to maintain ownership of the data that we produce for every vendor that we engage with.

 

If you want to find an IT company that has more than 10 employees that’s using a particular software solution for remote monitoring and a particular software solution for backup and not using a particular professional services software, we could just push a button and pull that list now.

 

So our calls are very targeted. We don’t have to waste our time calling any of the companies that we already know don’t qualify. We were able to build a very successful business practice around those vendors.

 

From there we wanted to think about, what are we going to do next? The managed services industry is changing rapidly. The mergers and acquisitions in this industry are through the roof right now. There’s four or five companies every day merging or being acquired. So the industry is changing. We wanted to figure out where we were going to go next.

 

Watching the cannabis industry develop right now in Nevada and other legalized states has been fascinating, and we thought that it was built very similarly to the IT services channel. If you look at the way that cannabis is grown/distributed/marketed/sold, you’ve got a distributor at one end and you’ve got a reseller at the other, and in the middle you’ve got all these ancillary companies that are trying to sell to the dispensaries or to the companies that are growing/manufacturing/distributing.

 

That’s where I feel we’re going to be most successful next. So that’s where THC Results came from. We went from cold calls, a company that would work with anybody, to Managed Sales Pros, a very specific managed IT services sales appointment-setting firm, and our next evolution is going to be targeting cannabis—everything non-plant handling.

 

We’ve been really excited, as we just signed our first few clients in that space. One of those clients is a mobile app development company called CannaFo, and they were really eager to get in and try it with us. We came into the space thinking, okay, we’re not going to pretend that we’re experts in cannabis because we aren’t.

 

But we are experts in demand generation. So how can we take that expertise, come into the market, and try exactly what we did in the IT space in the cannabis space? We’re super excited to have a few guinea pigs there. This company’s only been around for about 6 months, but I expect that we’re going to see a lot of traction as more states legalize. Canada just legalized there.

 

ROB: Entirely across Canada?

 

CARRIE: Yes.

 

ROB: I did not know that.

 

CARRIE: Yep, the bill passed on Friday.

 

ROB: Oh, that’s very fresh, then. That’s part of why I did not know that. Was it perhaps your proximity, then, to Las Vegas that helped you be in a position to observe these parallels between IT services and the cannabis industry?

 

CARRIE: It definitely was important to be in a state that supported recreational cannabis use, but there are applications for medical cannabis as well, and medical cannabis is approved in far more states than recreational.

 

Our biggest challenge was trying to think about, if you look at the way that cannabis is being legalized or not legalized in certain areas and the uncertainty around federalized approval, and then take into account the challenges that they’re having with financial services in cannabis, we had a couple of big glaring “what’s going to happen here?” type questions.

 

The way we got around that was just to say we’re not going to work with any companies that are plant handling. Everybody in the middle has other practices. If you look at cResults, for example, cResults focuses on ancillary cannabis firms, but it’s really wound into something much bigger, which is our Everywhere Managed fulfillment center in the U.S.

 

So we don’t just work with cannabis companies; we fulfill on behalf of all kinds of different firms. We didn’t want to put all of our eggs into a basket that might dissolve based on what happens federally in the U.S.

 

ROB: To clarify that a little bit, being one step above the plant side of cannabis perhaps gives you more opportunities in terms of how you handle your banking, payroll, that sort of thing. Is that fair?

 

CARRIE: Correct. I think that while we may not necessarily have any challenges around finances, working with companies that would, would be a huge challenge for us.

 

If you’re going to deal with receivables and then all of a sudden one of your clients has been denied access to financing or had their bank account seized or any of a number of things that could happen as the legalities around cannabis change, obviously that’s going to adversely affect your cash flow. So we wanted to make sure we were working with companies where they were targeting cannabis firms, but that wasn’t their exclusive practice.

 

If you look at law firms, for example, who are trying to develop practices focused on cannabis, they’re not going to be cannabis-only law firms; they’re going to be large law firms with a cannabis practice. There’s going to be marketing firms like CannaFo who also develop marketing apps for other organizations.

 

I think a lot of companies are doing what we’re doing: having a cannabis-focused division to their firm instead of having a 100% cannabis focus.

 

ROB: I can see from the legislative side, there are a lot of reasons why the cannabis industry would be so fragmented.

 

It’s somewhat less clear to me, and I wonder what insight you would have into why it is that IT services is so fragmented with so many players, when you could imagine somebody building an 800-lb. gorilla of an industry that is in every major and less major U.S. city? What’s going on there, and how does that affect how you think about acquiring customers?

 

CARRIE: That is exactly what’s happening in the IT services industry right now. It’s happening on the vendor side and on the managed services side.

 

If you look at the managed IT service providers currently and watch the mergers and acquisitions in that area, the companies that are best-practice focused in the managed services industry right now are selling for 10x IBIDA, which is enormous. Companies right now are acquiring smaller businesses. Instead of growing organically, they’re growing through acquisition. It’s interesting watching the market consolidate like that.

 

It’s happening on the vendor side as well. If you look at Solar Winds, for example, they’ve acquired several other companies and they’re about to go for an IPO. You can look at Datto. Datto and Autotask just merged, so one of the biggest PSA companies merged with one of the biggest backup companies. ConnectWise, which is the largest PSA offered (which is a professional services automation solution), they’ve acquired all kinds of different technology solutions over the course of the last 5 years.

 

So we are turning into an industry that’s going to have like 10 big players that do a little bit of everything, and then obviously the number of managed service providers in the market is going to get smaller and smaller as these acquisitions continue to happen. You’ll have your small boutique players at the bottom.

 

If you look at the market right now, Office Depot has just launched their own managed services company, or company within a company. Office Depot is now offering legal services, accounting services, managed services. They’ve become a one-stop-shop for small businesses.

 

Once larger players like that get into the game, economies of scale come into play. I think that’s going to adversely affect anybody that hasn’t got it figured out by now.

 

So our market is changing rapidly, and diversification is going to be important. As much as I love the managed services space, I’d like to go into nine more verticals over the next 10 years. Cannabis is going to be the first one, and then every year I anticipate adding a new vertical and creating an entire marketing plan around that vertical.

 

I think the niche-specific focus tells a much better story than “we will call for anybody who will pay us.”

 

ROB: Maybe some of these other industries have been a little bit more lagging in terms of demand gen and marketing. I think you already mentioned with Office Depot, accounting, legal—are those potential areas you might look at?

 

CARRIE: Yes. We’re definitely looking at any service-based business where we could augment their internal sales process with outbound demand generation.

 

One of the things that sets us apart from other companies in this industry right now is we are focused 100% on outbound calling. We don’t do email marketing. We don’t offer any kind of AI. We don’t offer social media marketing. The only thing we do is outbound calling.

 

And we’re still doing it—I don’t want to call it “the old-fashioned way,” because we obviously use technology to augment our calling, but we are one-on-one, personalized messaging. We don’t text people, we don’t do automated voicemail drops.

 

We don’t do any of the stuff that all of the larger demand gen companies are offering. We’re still a very small, focused, one person calling, one person creating a connection type business. We don’t see a lot of that from our competitors.

 

We chose to stay in cold-calling exclusively and to become the best cold-calling company on the market instead of being okay at seven different types of marketing.

 

ROB: That I imagine takes some tremendous focus, especially when you’re dealing with these fragmented local companies who are not likely—they don’t have a hundred people on staff. They don’t have a five person marketing team or a 10 person sales team, perhaps, although they might.

 

They’re also in their strength. If you’re talking about an IT services organization, they’re probably heavily geared towards providing solutions for local businesses and operationally managing that infrastructure. How do you handle it when they are coming to you and they also want you to handle these other related functions that are not as much in your own strengths, the ones you’ve chosen to embrace?

 

CARRIE: If a company comes to us wanting an omnichannel approach, which is how I would describe that, we would either offer to do one piece of the puzzle and then introduce them to experts in the other areas, or we would just send them to one of our competitors who offers omnichannel.

 

If what they really want is a 17-point cadence that includes XYZ, we don’t offer that. We offer well-executed outbound programs that lead to qualified sales appointments, and we put those qualified sales appointments right on the calendars of the people who are going to attend the sales meeting.

 

ROB: How do you keep that discipline? How do you keep that conviction to stay in that lane so carefully?

 

CARRIE: Mostly it’s process. One of the things that we discovered early on was that your call center is going to churn. You’re going to have churn any time you’ve got a large group of people doing a job that’s—let’s face it, telemarketing isn’t a glamorous job. Nobody rolled out of bed this morning and said, “Gee, I hope I get a job in telemarketing today.”

 

Part of our challenge is, how do we make telemarketing into a job that isn’t demonized? How do we make this into an interesting and attractive job for people just entering the workplace or people coming back to the workplace? People top out here.

 

So the first thing we wanted to do was try to figure out, how do we create a system so that churn doesn’t hurt us? I think everybody else looked at it from “how do we create an environment that doesn’t churn?” I quite frankly think that in outbound demand generation, that really doesn’t exist.

 

The first thing we did was develop process. Going niche specific really helped us in that area because we only had to teach one thing. We didn’t have to teach people how to cold call to sell accounting or life insurance or long distance or newspaper subscriptions or whatever. We only taught one thing. We sell one thing: managed services.

 

And we sell it exactly the same whether that client is in New York or Florida or Las Vegas. It’s exactly the same process. Anybody in my company could step into anybody else’s seat and do the exact same thing. So long as somebody can follow process, they can work here.

 

Instead of focusing on how many appointments we can get for our clients, we focused on training to the outcome that we wanted—and the outcome is obviously appointments, but we don’t incentivize people to schedule meetings. We incentivize people to show their work.

 

Data integrity has been essential for us to perform on behalf of our clients. Creating that sales pipeline that tells you not just what’s going to happen next quarter, but next year and the year after that.

 

There’s three or four major data points that go into building a sales pipeline, and as long as you’re collecting all of those data points and staying engaged with your prospects and nurturing them on a regular cycle, you will eventually win that business—provided that you’ve got those data points. If you don’t have the data points, everything just walks out the door when your staff churns.

 

ROB: How much of a process person are you naturally, and how much of that was something you realized along the journey was a necessity of growth?

 

CARRIE: Fortunately, my sister is my business partner, and she is very process-focused. Personally, I would prefer to do anything but develop a standard operating procedure. But early on, I brought somebody in who was very focused on creating standard operating procedures.

 

One of the questions you said to prepare for was, “What would you do differently?” What I would’ve done differently was listen to Tracy a couple of years ago when she said, “You know what? We need to implement this thing called traction. Read this book.” I picked up the book and I was like “Ugh, this is so boring.” I put the book down and I’m like, “We are not doing this.”

 

Tracy did the best she could, and she created some fantastic operating procedures using the tools that we had available to us. Honestly, they work really well. But now we’re getting ready to implement traction, and if there was one thing I could go back and do differently, I would’ve spent Year 2 on process instead of growth.

 

Our second year, we grew 621%. It was an all hands on deck, fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants kind of year. Then Year 3 we stabilized a bit, and then Year 4 we flat-lined.

 

For my ego, that was hard to take. There was a conscious decision that things have gone really well, and if we want them to continue to go really well, we need to be more process-driven. As much process as my team was putting into place, what they said was, “You have to get on board with this. We’re going to implement this.”

 

So now we’re bringing in a professional to help us do that. I would’ve done that 3 years ago had I been able to look into my crystal ball and see how much it would help us.

 

ROB: That’s wise to be able to reflect and it’s wise to be able to actually catch yourself and say, “Hey, I really would’ve done this differently.” Also though, you mentioned you have been doing different versions of this business, and growing very quickly recently, for a while. So it would be easy to just keep doing the same thing, but it sounds like it would place a lid on where you can get to.

 

For those who are taking notes, this is the Gino Wickman book Traction—is that right? The Entrepreneurial Operating System?

 

CARRIE: That’s correct. I joined an EO group this year. I joined the Entrepreneurs Organization, and that made a huge impact on my business. So I’ve been a member of EO for a year. I qualified for it a few years back and somebody invited me to join. I was like, “Oh, I don’t know, that’s not really my thing. It’s not my style.”

 

This year, I thought, “Well, you need to do something differently. You can do exactly what you did last year if you want, but you didn’t really like the results of last year. So what are you going to do this year so that you don’t have the same results in 2019?”

 

My big focus this year is I want to make my baseline for the Inc. 5000 for my U.S.-based company. My Canadian company already qualifies, but my U.S. company doesn’t. So my goal this year was to make my baseline for Inc. 5000. We’re on track to do that. I’m excited about it.

 

But the only way I was going to build my business differently was to start doing different things. One of those things was join EO, and the second one is implement traction.

 

ROB: That’s super exciting. Congratulations, by the way, on getting to where you’ve been, but also seeing some of those things you need to perhaps change to hit that next step.

 

CARRIE: Yeah, change is difficult. It’s really hard when you go from high growth mode into “Okay, now hunker down and work on process.” Especially for somebody who isn’t really process-driven. It is a lot more work for me to go sit at my desk and develop step-by-step process than it is for me to get on the phone and start closing business.

 

But at some point, we’ll just implode. We can’t just keep signing business, signing business, signing business, and then hoping everything works out okay.

 

ROB: For sure. You mentioned some directions that the industry has gone that you have not pursued, whether it’s email marketing, whether it’s artificial intelligence—but in what ways is technology changing how you do business, and how do you see technology changing the outbound game coming up?

 

CARRIE: I’m frustrated with the fact that people keep coming up with solutions to problems we weren’t actually having. [laughs]

 

We use a CRM system that 4 years ago, when we bought, was perfect for what we needed. They just keep changing it and adding features that we don’t want or need. They added this artificial intelligence feature that starts telling us when the best time to call people is, for example. It’ll tell us that the best time to call this person is at midnight because they once opened an email at midnight. That’s not really helpful. [laughs]

 

ROB: That’s not really intelligence. It is artificial.

 

CARRIE: Right. And it’ll send me messages like, “hey, your team’s closure rate was 100% lower yesterday than it usually is.” Well, thank you for that, but yesterday was Sunday and we don’t work on Sunday, so that really explains that.

 

They just continually keep adding these features that we can’t turn off and that we can’t ignore. For us, that’s challenging, because we don’t use them. We use people. Our callers create our follow-up cadences using their own judgment. We don’t have a predictive system. I mean, they’re trying to force this one on us, but we’ve found that we get better results just using callers that create their follow-up activities and then execute on their follow-up activities.

 

We’re able to see very clearly whether or not people are doing what they say they’re going to. Our reporting tells us exactly what everyone’s doing every day. We just haven’t seen a lot of need for all this AI-focused or cadence-focused software.

 

I’m looking at companies that we support, for example. We’re side by side performing at the same level as many of our technology vendor companies who are using $600, $700 per person technology stacks to figure out when and how they should make their follow-up calls. We’re using $100 worth of technology and performing exactly the same.

 

ROB: Maybe they get to cheat a little bit on process when they have the fancy tools.

 

CARRIE: Maybe, but the outcome is the same, and it costs us significantly less in manpower, in technology.

 

ROB: For sure. I think there’s a lot to learn there from the value of process, even for those of us who are resistant to it. You said you have plenty of people doing this; you can’t just send them out there and tell them to go.

 

CARRIE: No. Obviously there’s some training required. But most of our training comes in—we’ve got a 2-week training period that all of our new callers complete, but it’s essentially process-driven. As long as you can follow a process, you can be successful in demand generation.

 

ROB: Super cool.

 

CARRIE: We have to overcome some initial call reluctance with some of our callers, like people who have never picked up the phone before. But we can take a caller who’s never made a phone call before and have them scheduling appointments for complex technology solutions in under 2 weeks, unassisted. The process is dialed in.

 

ROB: That seems like a fun reality show to watch in and of itself. [laughs] Watch somebody go through your training and start calling and start setting appointments and maybe even following through to the deals.

 

Carrie, when someone wants to get in touch with you and your businesses and what you’re doing, how should they find you?

 

CARRIE: You can visit our website at managedsalespros.com. There’s all kinds of Contact Us forms there. There’s a phone number right on the website. Hello@managedsalespros.com goes to somebody who’ll vet the inquiries. If you mention my name, they’ll send it over to me.

 

ROB: Good. Carrie, it’s been great to meet you. I think you’ve brought a unique perspective, especially in learning and making changes to grow your business even after you’ve taken it to a level that many people would be happy to keep their business at, and the value of process amidst that, even when we’re resistant to it.

 

Thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure to get to know you a little bit.

 

CARRIE: Thank you for having me.

 

ROB: Awesome. A special thanks today to Terry Hedden from Marketopia for this introduction. We love good introductions, and we get great guests when we take them. Thank you, and we’ll catch you soon, Carrie. Thanks.

 

CARRIE: Thank you. Bye bye.

 

ROB: Bye.

Thank you for listening. The Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast is presented by Converge. Converge helps digital marketing agencies and brands automate their reporting so they can be more profitable, accurate, and responsive. To learn more about how Converge can automate your marketing reporting, email info@convergehq.com, or visit us on the web at convergehq.com.

 

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