Kristie Jones the founder of Sales Acceleration Group. Sales Acceleration Group helps tech start-up companies with sales strategy, process, hiring and coaching and training. Kristie has been a solopreneur since 2016 and grateful each day for the ability to do what she loves and help others at the same time!
2:06 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Adversities could be the mother of opportunities. Grab them.
Kristie talks about she started her company in 2016 when the venture-backed she was working for decided to put sales group under marketing and disbanded her team. Luckily, a prospective client asked her to train/consult with their sales team giving Kristie an opportunity to start on her own.
5:49 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Grow your network in a very disciplined manner to grow your business
Kristie talks about the importance of networking and how she realized after some initial LinkedIn network analysis that she needed more local contacts and consciously grew that network. Her first customer as well as initial set of customers who funded her first year with consulting gigs were a direct result of her network.
8:18 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Pricing can be very challenging but agree on value delivered first before pricing
Kristie talks about the initial challenges especially regarding pricing her services. Her coach Mike Weinberg advised her to stay away from hourly pricing and instead focus on pricing for services and products. She gives us a step by step process of writing SOW, pricing the services at a later point of time and ensuring lining up mutual objectives.
12:41 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Have a razor focus on the customer segments you want to service
Kristie talks about her focus on privately funded companies, venture capital companies, and tech / SAS companies instead of spreading all over. She also talks about her process for handling multiple clients simultaneously. Her secret is being super organized.
14:51 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Keep on prospecting for new set of customers to fill the pipeline
Kristie gives advice on power prospecting to fill the top of her sales funnel by engaging in volunteer activities, speaking engagements, CRM system, email marketing.
20:49 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Always have a mix of services and products to grow your business
Kristie talks about packaging her services into some kind of a product (like training session, book etc.) to max her reach. She is working with a network of other entrepreneurs who have done this successfully. Still, Kristie says she enjoys the one-on-one engagements and the need to balance both.
22:32 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Network, join meetups, rely on mentors
Kristie gives advice to would be entrepreneurs to (1) first focus on building your network (2) join local meetups/entrepreneurial groups (3) find right mentors.
24:57 minute mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Be organized in all aspects of your business like prospecting, operations, and staying in touch with your network
Kristie emphasizes the need to stay engaged socially like volunteering, find good networks (in her case prosper for women), find good tools (like Hubspot CRM in her case, and finding support network.
Ramesh: Hello everyone welcome to the agile entrepreneur podcast. This is your host Ramesh Dontha. This podcast is about starting and building your own business with purpose, passion, perseverance and possibilities. Today I am pleased to introduce our guest Kristie Jones. She runs companies sales acceleration group. Kristie started her company in 2016 and she's been added since then. So sales acceleration group helps tech startup companies with sales strategy, process, hiring and coaching and training. Through my emails with Kristie she seemed to really love her whatever she's doing and then we'll go talk to her more about it. Hi Kristie welcome.
Kristie: Hey good morning how are you?
Ramesh: Thank you, thank you I'm doing very well. So Kristie so with a company name like a sales acceleration group, if I'm an entrepreneur or a small business owner, I would love to sign up with you guys. So what do you guys to do?
Kristie: So hey thanks for that. I really want to help other entrepreneurs accelerate revenue, grow their business. So I specialize in working with small and mid-sized companies, companies that are ready to scale their business, grow their sales team, probably need some additional training, maybe some sales strategy and process help. So I'm kind of a one-stop shop for all things growth for a small and mid-sized business.
Ramesh: Ok so you started your company in 2016. What were you doing prior to this?
Kristie: I was working for vc-backed company called gainsight. They're based out of Silicon Valley and to date have taken about 150 million NBC funding. So I was running their sales development representatives group prior to starting my own company.
Ramesh: So I mean it seems like a pretty nice gig, there is a lot of money. But you decided to leave and then start your own company, why?
Kristie: A good question, being laid off is the mother of invention. So means I had decided to take the sales development team out from underneath the sales umbrella and put it under the marketing umbrella, which was headquartered in Phoenix Arizona. So they disbanded my team and were very generous and helping me, they compensated me to stay on while they rebuilt the team in another state. At that point I started looking for a new job, as I was doing that and reaching out to people that I thought might need a director or VP of Sales, people started saying to me hey well while you're looking for a new job would you mind training my team or helping me with this or helping me with that and so all of a sudden I started to have clients while I was transitioning away from gainsight. I say the universe conspired and I had always wanted to have my own consulting business, but I have a child and my son was still in high school. So it didn't seem like the timing was right. But things started happening on their own without me really pushing in that direction, so I jumped in with both feet and it's been a blessing ever since.
Ramesh: Is this your first company or did you ever do another company before this?
Kristie: Nope this is my very first company .
Ramesh: So that is a huge move. I mean you getting a steady income. But even though you had some clients coming in, so what were the initial steps that you took to you know formally start your company?
Kristie: Great question, I started with a couple of companies. I partnered with a VC firm here in st. Louis cultivation capital and they helped me by putting me in touch with some entrepreneurs that had maybe recently gotten series A funding and I really, I was still looking for a full-time job when I kind of started helping other companies. But I quickly realized that I had all of the skills that these companies needed, a lot of founders have a great idea as I say right so they have a engineering or development background, so they have a great product handle. But they've maybe never been in sales and marketing and so it became apparent to me very quickly that my skill set in having that background in sales and a little bit in marketing was very valuable to them and they really started to rely on me to help set sales strategy, come up with process, put sales tools in place. So you know I found I had some really good support early on, one of my very first clients was a former partner at another company I'd worked at. And he said to me I really want you to do this and as a result I will pay you up to 30 hours a week to work with my team or as little as 10 hours a week. So he basically kind of helped fund me till I got off the ground and got on my feet and again I could never be more grateful for that.
Ramesh: So you didn't have to go for external sources of funding or you didn't have to put up your own money, is that right>
Kristie: That's correct, I didn't ironically enough and I'm happy to
And proud to share this, but I doubled my income in the first year of being a consultant from my previous job at gainsite. So I again like I said my story is probably not as typical as other people who maybe struggled a little, bit but I really felt like I had the right connections and I had done the right thing i've always been somebody that's been willing to help others and I feel like when I stepped forward and needed help people came forward to help me.
Ramesh: You know honestly the more I talk to people, they're entrepreneurs one of the threads that keeps coming through in multiple podcasts is this networking connections. Like so people have been building those connections throughout and then suddenly they you know help out in starting their businesses.
Kristie: Yeah I think it's critical. One of the things that I had really worked hard on, this was, gain site was not the first time I had been laid off. I had been with another company called network solutions that was purchased by web.com and I lost my job as a result of that acquisition as well and when that happened to me the first time and that was several years before the gain site situation, I didn't have a good network in st. Louis. I had been working for companies that had a nationwide or global presence and I really had not done a good job of building my network in my own backyard, I didn't grow up here in st. Louis. So linkedin at the time had a little analysis you could do of your contacts and 65% of my contacts were from outside the state of Missouri. I had made a conscious effort at that point to never let, you know never let that happen again to where I couldn't reach into my own Network in my own backyard. So from that point forward I started building my st. Louis Network and I really don't enjoy in fairness, I don't enjoy networking. I think it's a little stressful. But I started meeting with people one-on-one instead of going to big group events and kind of telling my story and got more and more involved in the tech community here in st. Louis and so when it was time for me to go out on my own, I had the right resources and people to help.
Ramesh: So the tip that you're sharing that I'm getting out of this conversation is that if somebody is not very comfortable with networking because of you know whatever is associated with that word, so don't focus on the big groups, but focus more than one on one kind of settings which you are more comfortable with to network.
Kristie: Yeah it really worked for me. I think you know it's a nice, you're having a one-on-one conversation, there arent a lot of people around you, you don't feel self-conscious and I feel like you can get more focused with that individual and learn a little bit more about them too. I gotten better but I still struggled in a big room with people and trying to figure out who to grow up, go up and introduce myself to. I think that to me is the biggest stressor in looking at the room with you know 75 people and not knowing who to start with.
Ramesh: Honestly I could imagine myself from another side, when I really thrive in a group settings but I could not clearly see myself with the complete set of strangers who do I go and talk to.
Kristie: Right where do I start.
Ramesh: Right but now you're making this starting a business you know too easy for me. So what challenges did you actually face throughout since 2016?
Kristie: Yeah great question. Again I had amazing resources. One of my early mentors is a man named Mike Weinberg who has written a couple of sales book, sales simplified and sales management simplified and I met him because he was consulting at a company that I'd eventually ended up consulting in and so we overlapped for a while. So some of the biggest challenges I had first was, I didn't know how to price anything. So I had never done anything like this. I didn't know how to charge clients or my knowledge, my time and he was a great and so grateful to him for sharing all the time he did with me. But he said you know hey do you want to be a lawyer when you grow up and they said oh no I don't want to be a lawyer when I grow up. He said well don't charge like one then. Do not charge an hourly rate. He goes charge a products, you know a project rate or charge a retainer rate. He said but don't charge your clients by the hour, he goes what are you gonna do when a founder calls you, you know it's 7 o'clock at night on a Wednesday and wants 20 minutes of your time. He goes when you build them for that it will feel very disagreeable to them, but they just you know quickly hold you and you know in an evening and got charged for that. So that was amazing advice. You know he also helped me put my first contracts together. So that was sort of a challenge is how do I write this up. So he walked me through that and told me to start by kind of building a statement of work, an SOW and then you know so what you know my strategy today I'm happy to share with all of your listeners is I send out my, you know once i've met and done a discovery call with a potential client, I go back and I put my statement of work together. But I don't put a price tag on at that point. So I send it back to the prospect and say hey this is what I heard from you, these are all the things I think that you want me to help you with, but I want you to red line this document if that's not the case. So if you've decided after everybody slept on it a couple of days, if you don't want me to help in this area or you'd like additional help in another area, let's go ahead and get the SOW knocked out. Then when they send it back to me and I make the changes to it, then i'll put a price associated with it. I had no issues with this whatsoever. I think it saves a couple of of heartaches. One being people who see the price I can kind of freak out and then say well let's not do this piece and let's not do this piece and let's undo this piece. You know the bottom line is they've had another opportunity to think it through, they know that this is really what they need. You know and then when I put a price attached to it, I get very little price resistance at that time. So you know those are some of the early challenges.
Ramesh: That is a really good strategy. They already bought into the solution. Now just a negotiation over the price .
Kristie: Correct and really I have very little pushback on that. Because I think by then I built the value and again and if they feel like part of the process right, I mean I think too many companies just send out their written agreement without you know everything I do is customize. Which also I think makes a big difference right. So it's a standard project for a standard you know hiring you know hiring help or training session. So I customize to the client and I think it you know I really I have had very little pushback on price and I think it's a result of including them in the process and helping build that value.
Ramesh: So actually that is another thread also comes to having some mentor somebody who really a coach somebody who can, how did you find Mike?
Kristie: Yeah Mike again the universe brought Mike to me. He was consulting at a company that I was interviewing for a full-time position. So as I mentioned I wasn't thinking about going into consulting. I was looking for a VP of Sales job and once when I interviewed with this company and then things started to happen, I kind of went back to the I was a husband-and-wife team and I went back to them and said hey I think I may want to do some consulting instead of doing a full-time VP of Sales job and they're like, well we're working with the consultant, why don't you meet with him and see what you think. I really didn't, I mean I knew Mike. Because I had read his book sales simplified with my sales team at gain site. But I had never met him, I knew he was a local and we had coffee over at Panera and he was a fan. Like he was on my team from the get-go, he felt like we had a lot of the same philosophies about sales and he really advocated for me and he helped me get that job.
Ramesh: Excellent Wow. So that's good. Then you started going through the business. So who are your target customers?
Kristie: Yeah great idea or a great question. I really want to stay in my swim lane as I call it. So I want to stay in the areas that i've been successful when I was doing a full-time VP of sales job. Which is BC back tour PE back. So funded privately owned companies with a SAS or software or services solution. So I try very hard to stay in my swim lane, occasionally I only work with private companies. So I haven't really done work with public companies. I think there's plenty of other good consultants out there that would be a better fit for that. I really do understand the small a nd mid size and private company, i've been in that space for 20 years. So that's really the swimlane i want to stay in.
Ramesh: So are you working one customer at a time or do you have multiple sets of customers?
Kristie: Now great question. I'm working four or five customers at a time. Somebody I met with a BC company yesterday a managing partner and he said how are you managing all that?
Ramesh: Yeah that's my question actually.
Kristie: I'm super organized. I know I have taken on over the last you know three and a half years, at one point I had six customers and that's too many and I know based on the project. So in some cases I'm helping companies hire, in other cases I'm doing evaluations of their current sales strategy and process. Sometimes I'm doing ongoing training with their team or one-on-one coaching with a particular rep and so I do manage four or five customers at a time. I keep a very tight calendar. I'm very organized. One of my first clients you know was again after doing this with me for about eight months said the same thing. He said he goes, you can switch gears really quickly. Like when I asked you about sales you know what my numbers are and you're not confusing them with other people's numbers and I really do think that the skill set there is just as, our boys had a very strong organizational skills and and keeping that all straight and then knowing what you can handle. So when I got to six customers one time, it caused a lot of stress and I was working seven days a week, that really wasn't good for anybody.
Ramesh: So definitely being organized helps with the time management and all. But being an owner of your company, do you feel you're overwhelmed with other things like accounting and things that you have to do?
Kristie: You know, I don't spend a ton of time on the accounting piece. I think things that stress me out are prospecting. So you asked earlier about early challenges, you know in the last year or so the biggest challenge i've had is i've been so busy that I forgot to fill my top of the funnel. I wasn't drinking my own kool-aid and towards the end of the year last year all of a sudden that was down to three customers and I had, literally I say to people like when one door closed, two doors had been opening for me. I was having choices and all of a sudden I'm down to three clients, which again for most people probably sounds fine, but that wasn't what I was used to and so I have been in a power prospecting mode. So I think the thing that I lost sight of that was a big miss for me was that I had not been actively networking and meeting people and since the first of the year i've been trying to meet with at least two people a week to introduce myself and I also do a lot of volunteering. So there are two, there's some tech accelerators or startups here, companies here in town. So I mentor for a group called I10, which helps new entrepreneurs in the st. Louis and Midwest region and then another last pass or another accelerator here in town, I'm just gonna start doing some mentoring with them as well. And I'm sorry not lastpass, multipass, lastpass is my security system. Multipass and so you know even doing those kind of things helps me meet people in a comfortable environment for me. So I love giving back, but it also allows me to get more involved in the tech community and meet people that I might not otherwise meet on my own.
Ramesh: Actually I'm very curious. Because this is one of the challenges for many companies, this power prospecting. So you were down to three customers and then what specific things did you do? I mean you talked about volunteering and then meeting at least two people a week kind of stuff, are those the things that you did to build your pipeline?
Kristie: Yeah I did a few things. Ironically enough as the queen of the CRM systems for other people I didn't have my own CRM system. So again like again I was not drinking my own kool-aid. So I went and got hubspot, which is a free CRM system and one that I recommend for a lot of my clients. So I went and got and download it and got hubspot up and running. I went back, I had again because I'm super organized, I had kept a folder of prospects all these years. So I had a folder in my Gmail that just said prospects and so I went back to that folder and all of the people I had talked to who nothing had come to fruition for one reason or another and so I put them all on hubspot and I started a monthly newsletter. So I thought you know I need to reach out to people one-on-one as I was mentioning, but I also again not being the mass networking friend, I wanted to make sure I was touching people on a regular basis. So I started a monthly newsletter. That forced me to to blog for my own website once a month as well as give tips and tricks. I have a section of my newsletter about upcoming tech startup or tech events in the Midwest area. So you know, when I send a bunch of emails out to people that were on that prospect in that prospect folder and just said hey I wanted to touch base with you, see what's new with you, here's what's new with me, here are some of the things I'm doing now that I wasn't doing three years ago and in other ways that I'm helping. So it's really all about again I think consistent communication and you know the pressure of putting the newsletter out every month is really going to keep me consistent with keeping in touch with prospects that maybe go back three or four years.
Ramesh: So actually that's very good going through the specific things, thank you very much on that one. So during these years what there are times where you had to find some external source of motivation. You thought what am i doing? Why am i doing? Previous life was better and then somebody helped you get out of that or somehow you found the internal drive, were there moments like that?
Kristie: Yeah I mean I think the end of last year was one of those moments and going into early 2019. I mean I did I got panicky and I said to a friend, I may have to go back and get a real job and at that point when I said it out loud, the shame gremlin went away if you will. So like once I said it out loud, all of a sudden there was some relief of not hiding that fear anymore and then that's when I really said this, this is insane. I have a lot of value I can bring the clients. But people just need to know that I'm available. Because i've been so busy people always kind of worried about that and I think some people kind of steered away from me, because they heard I was running four and five clients at a time. So I kind of put that to bed and said, hey listen this is completely under my control and I really didn't want to go find a new full-time job. I really loved what I was doing and so I you know I set out to find new people. I went you know I started spending some time in Kansas City. I have now a client in Indianapolis. So you know the other thing is maybe you know why would I be staying in the st. Louis area, I can help people in other areas. I'd already had a client up in Indianapolis in my first year of business. But I hadn't really cultivated that city and so you know now I'm actively you know spending time in Indianapolis again, because I have, I grew up in Kansas and have relatives in Kansas City and spending time in Kansas City. So I think just acknowledging that that fear was there and that it really was under my control and that I had to you know and again, I had to drink my own kool-aid. I mean you know how hypocritical of me to go into other people's companies and tell them that you know scarcity in your pipeline causes bad decisions, I always say panic cause bad decisions and that's a result of not having a big enough pipeline and it is terrifying. I mean it truly is.
Ramesh: Yeah so is there an opportunity in your business. It looks like it these clients need your time. But is there an opportunity for you to package these services into some kind of a product as opposed to a service?
Kristie: Ramesh you have been listening to my secret talk. I have been giving this some thought. I am thinking about writing a book. I have reached out to a couple of people that I think can help me and i also think maybe some online courses. What I really, i'll be honestly with you there. People in my circle, again I have a lot of, I belong to a consultant group across the United States called women sales pros and again it's an exclusive group of about 50 of us across the country who do what I do and a lot of them have, as you said packaged what they do. Y I think the thing I love most about what I do is that I get to get kind of get my hands dirty and really dig in and I really feel like I am kind of part of the team for the time that I'm there. I fight myself with the do I want to do one too many, where I can touch so many more people with my you know skillset and my thoughts and my strategies. So I think it's a blend for me. But I think the most important thing for me will always be one-on-one contact with the client as opposed to you know packaging it in an e-learning course. Although I think the book is something that I do want to do, that I'm starting to get passionate about. I think it's gonna be a balance for me. But I don't think I want to commercialize it to the extent where you know where I'm not getting one-on-one contact with the client anymore.
Ramesh: Yeah because that drives you, you enjoy that.
Kristie: That is my passion.
Ramesh: Exactly that's good. So I am an entrepreneur, man or a woman sitting at home and I have a job. So what can you tell me that I should do if I want to start my business?
Kristie: Well I am not encouraging you to get laid off. That is a very stressful way of doing this and you know what? I think you need to get your network together. I really do believe that that is a key. So if you were to do like I guess kind of think about it the way it happened with me though, if you were to lose your job tomorrow and you didn't want to find another replacement job and you wanted to go out and live the dream that you have of being an entrepreneur, who would you need to call? Who would be the first people that you would reach out to that could really help you, maybe emotionally, maybe financially, maybe make introductions for you, maybe they're experts in the industry. So I think you really do have to build your network. I think I didn't give that enough credit until it was there. I mean I had been building it, but I didn't know how valuable it really was until I needed it. And then find an entrepreneurial group, a meet-up in your city and start attending those meetings. Because there's no reason to reinvent the wheel, there's no reason to make mistakes that other entrepreneurs have already made. Like I didn't have to build a contract or go to a lawyer to get a contract from scratch. I had a mentor that helped me through that. I didn't have to figure out the pricing all on my own, I had a mentor to help me do that. So you know building your network I think is one of the key things and really understanding what the competitive landscape looks like. I get calls all the time from people who want to meet with me and what I want to hear my story and my story is I think a little unique to other people. But I say to them like it doesn't feel like competition to me and people are like are you worried about giving your secret sauce away? I am like, no because there's so many companies that need help. Like I say to other people like the water is warm, come on in and I think the more companies that use consultants, the more business they'll be for consultants right? So I think surrounding yourself with the right people, you know I also I'm a huge lifelong learner. You know grab books, grab podcasts, I'm well-known of saying you know I believe in that theory you'll be as successful as the five closest people to you. So I believe in surrounding yourself with the right people that can help you achieve the dream that you're looking for.
Ramesh: Excellent I mean I 100% believe in that one Kristie. So you talked about the email and the newsletter that you started letting somewhat later. So things like that, things you wish you could have done sooner to build your business, anythings that you can think of?
Kristie: I mean I think that's a key one. I think getting more involved in the tech community a little bit earlier than I did, I had a very good network, but I wasn't, I had started mentoring for a womens called prosper for women. So women funding other women in their own companies. I wish been a little more volunteering early on, i've definitely gotten full into the volunteering. I've always taught junior achievement. So volunteering has always been important to me and i've always kind of been on the teaching side of volunteerism. I sure wish I got in a hubspot earlier. I was already really organized, but hubspot just took that to another level for me. I really think I wish I had run my business like I was telling other people to run their businesses. I think that was kind of, I felt like things were falling in my lap so quickly I wasn't really building some of the foundational pieces, like a CRM system, like a newsletter. So I think you know like I said taking my own advice earlier might have been wise.
Ramesh: Yeah that's good ,that's good. That's funny the way you say it. So Christie anything else that you want to share with the listeners?
Kristie: No I just encourage anybody. I mean again it isn't an easy road. Please make sure you have support. You know I'm a fairly independent strong-willed person and so I probably don't need, I don't need as much support as maybe others would. But make sure you've got that base of people. I spent a lot of time calling people at odd hours of the day and night early on saying what about this, what about this. Yesterday, as a recent example yesterday I had a prospect say, hey just sent over the contract you know on docusign. I'll get it turned around, well I don't have docusign, I don't have anything like that. So I reached out to two other entrepreneurial friends, I'm like are you guys using docusign and they said no, but this is what we're using. So you know I mean every day I use my network for all kinds of crazy things, including just what I call tactical housekeeping items like yesterday and I found, one of my entrepreneur friends pointed me in another direction with a free application and I got my contracts you know sent over in a you know in an electronic format that was what the prospect needed.
Ramesh: Excellent, that's very good. Kristie fantastic, this in my podcast the sales acceleration is one of, you are the first in that area. It's exciting what's happening in your area and thank you very much for your time.
Kristie: I really appreciate the opportunity, thank you so much for inviting me to join you.
I am an entrepreneur, writer, and blogger. I build businesses and love to share my experiences of my successes and failures. My mottos is: Live with purpose, Be Passionate about that purpose, Persevere through ups and downs and keep exploring Possibilities.