Marc Apple, Founder, Forward Push & Al Simon, President, Sandler Training
IT Help Atlanta presented by TeamLogic
The following is a transcript of Episode 2 of the IT Help Atlanta presented by TeamLogic IT podcast. The episode first appeared on Business Radio X.
Announcer: Broadcasting from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, it’s time for IT Help Atlanta, brought to you by TeamLogic IT, your technology advisor. Now, here’s your host, Rick Higgins.
Rick: Hey, good morning, everybody. And welcome to the IT Help Atlanta radio show, the show that profiles small, and medium-sized market businesses and highlights how those companies use technology to succeed. IT Help Atlanta is brought to you by TeamLogic IT, your managed services technology provider. Specializing in cybersecurity, cloud, and business continuity solutions, TeamLogic IT leverages cutting-edge technology to solve all types of business problems. Go to ithelpatlanta.com for audio archives of this show and to learn more about our sponsor, TeamLogic IT. I’m your host Rick Higgins. And today’s special guest is Marc Apple with Forward Push. Good morning, Marc.
Marc: Morning, Rick. How are you today?
Rick: Oh, man, I’m doing great. Thanks. I’m really glad to have you on the show. Marc, tell us who you are, and what do you do?
Marc: Sure. Thank you for having me. My name is Marc Apple, and I am the founder of Forward Push. We are a marketing agency that specializes in helping small businesses and startups to get back to doing what they love to do, which is typically their job, and they don’t have time for marketing. That’s where we fill in. We are their marketing agency.
Rick: And Marc, you guys are so much more than that. I know that a big part of what you do is website work. Could you drill into that or lean into that and talk to us about what you do with website and how that works with your marketing?
Marc: Sure. There’s a good percentage of our clients that come to us because they have a need, just like you said for a website. We all know nowadays that it’s one of the first things that people do. So, they search, they needed something, they have a problem, they go to the Internet, and you lead them to your website. And that’s where our engagement starts with our clients. But you’re right, it is so much more. After that website is built, what are you gonna put on that website so it keeps engaging people? And that’s really where our work comes in.
So, for the small business owners and the startups. We’re writing their monthly blogs for them. We are doing infographics, design work. We’re doing videos. We’re creating their email newsletters. We’re running their Google ads, their Facebook campaigns. So, it’s a full-service agency. And the idea is that the small business owner is super busy. They don’t have time to do all of these things or maybe just some of these things. So, they’re able to work with us because we love working with them. So, it’s a smaller scale operation on how we work with them, but it’s a long-term thinking and it gives them the ability to compete with the bigger players in the market.
Rick: So, that actually leads me into my next question. And you say you work primarily or maybe even exclusively with small businesses. But can a small or local business compete with large competitors?
Marc: A hundred percent. A hundred percent. We find that day in and day out. It’s certainly a long-term strategy because if you’re going up against a billion-dollar company in your industry, they’re spending money like water, but that doesn’t mean that you have to spend money like water as a small business owner. So, what we tend to do is take a really hyper-local focus. Most small businesses, for the most part, are working in their neighborhoods or in a metro city location. And while those bigger companies certainly are working in those metro locations, they tend to be focused on, for an example here, the whole country. And we know that people like doing business with people. So, when you take that local attitude and that strategy, combining that with the know, like, and trust of working with someone local that you can see, that you can talk to, you can go into their store, they can come to your location, it makes it almost very easy to compete because we have a very tight focus on where we’re attracting clients to our clients.
Rick: Well, you talk about not spending money like water, and I know for all the small business people out there, myself included, they really appreciate that. How as a small business owner should I determine what my marketing budget should be? Is there like an ideal metric for that?
Marc: There is. And typically, we’re looking probably in the 10 to 15% of annual gross as a marketing budget. And so that 10 to 15%, it can be a wide range. Certainly, when we’re working with a small business owner, I like to say that we’re not looking for a big check right away. That’s not even in our plan. Our idea is to start, not conservative so that you’re not doing anything, but start so that you can get some movement, start gaining traction on the low-hanging fruit, and then you can move up that scale to spend more because you’re actually making more.
Rick: Right. So, that 10 to 15%, you’re talking about gross of a startup company or does that carry forward into a mature small business?
Marc: Mature business as well. So, that’s for this annual sales…
Marc: …is a good number to start at. Yeah.
Rick: Okay. Well, thanks for that. Thanks for diving deep on that. Hey, Marc, give us a success story. And it doesn’t have to be anything recent. I mean, something that you’re really proud of. Talk to us about how you help someone or solved a particular problem with someone.
Marc: I think what I’ll do is I’ll touch on a story of something that’s happened recently since we’re kind of going through this pandemic. And it’s sort of hoarding small business owners, you know, and businesses across the country, not only here in Atlanta. But we work with a healthcare provider that does elective surgery. And basically, as soon as the pandemic started, they had to shut down. They weren’t allowed to see prospective patients or even patients or even provide the surgery at their location. So, it was almost an immediate shutdown for them, which is devastating to them. We were able to offer telemedicine to them, but in a unique way. So, if you go to their website now, one of the first things you see is that you can text message the doctor. And this actually goes through a HIPAA-compliant system that we have for them. So, you’re not actually text-messaging the doctor’s actual cell phone. It’s through, again, a HIPAA server.
And the doctor is able to converse with the prospect or a patient as if it’s a text message conversation. But to even make it better and where we’re seeing the success is that he can do consultations. You actually can click a button on your phone and you’re able to open your camera and you can have an actual conversation with the doctor. You can show the doctor the part of your body that you’re talking about. You can upload images to them. So, the doctor is now able to do consultations when he actually can’t be physically in front of anyone. The best part of it is that his schedule is completely booked out for next month on the condition that we’re gonna be able to see patients next month. So, it’s finding those ways when there is something that’s facing us that’s a real stumbling block, it’s a roadblock, and saying, “Okay. Well, how can we sort of maintain business as usual in these times where it’s not so unusual?
Rick: My key takeaway on that particular answer was that you put the system on a HIPAA-compliant server. Could you talk more about that and why that’s important?
Marc: Sure. So, it’s important because it has to do with the regulations of the healthcare industry. And when you start to fill out a form, in this case, on a website that has to do with a medical practice, your information is either secure or it’s not secure. So, a HIPAA-compliant server where that information that the person puts into the form, and that can be anything from your name to your date of birth to even saying, “I have a pre-existing condition,” or, “I have this condition,” is sensitive information. So, when you hit submit, if that’s not secure, that information can be hacked. And it basically can be out there for anyone to see. So, a HIPAA-compliant server allows the information to be secure. And when it reaches the doctor, the endpoint, they also have it secured on their side as well when they’re replying. So, it has to do with security, it has to do with the patients, their confidence, and making sure that their information stays secure.
Rick: That’s great. And Marc, I appreciate that deeper dive on that aspect because, you know, obviously, the show is about you and your company. But, you know, as you got from the intro is we definitely want to talk about how companies like yourself are using technology and, in this case, it seems like special technology to serve your client base. So, thank you for that.
Marc: You’re welcome.
Rick: So, you know, as a marketing company, what… I know that you talk the talk, but do you walk the walk with what you do? I mean, how do you find your clients?
Marc: Yeah. We certainly do walk the walk and the talk 100%. One of my rules for Forward Push is that we won’t recommend anything to a client without doing it ourselves first. So, if a new technology comes along, we’re the guinea pig. I’ll invest the money in that platform, in that software, in that marketing tactic first to figure it out, to see how it works. What are the opportunities? So, we’re doing everything from blogging consistently. We have an email newsletter that goes out a couple of different times a month. I also have my own podcast that turns into a video podcast that we put out. We also do our own social media. So, all of the things that we offer to our clients we’re doing ourselves. And when we see a change in what we’re doing or, again, maybe there’s a new platform coming out, we’re shifting just as we would tell one of our clients to do, following best practices.
Rick: Do you wanna give a plug and promote your video podcast right here?
Marc: Sure. Thank you very much. It’s called “Your Marketing Minute.” And that can be found on YouTube and if you listen to audio on any of the podcast channels.
Rick: That’s great. I’m definitely gonna check that out.
Marc: Thank you.
Rick: Here’s an interesting question for you, Marc. It’s one that I always like to ask and what’s an aspect about your business that people don’t generally think about, but that you wish people would ask you about?
Marc: That’s good. I love that question, Rick. Thank you for asking that. I think one of the things is that we all have this perception that the internet is instant, and in some cases, it is. You’re gonna record this podcast today. It literally can be upon your website this afternoon, right? In real-time, this could be a live stream. You could write a blog post this afternoon, hit submit, and it’s live on your website. So, things are instant, right? You can go on Amazon. You practically can have your groceries in a couple of hours if you wanted to. So, it is instant. The flip side of it when you talk about for a small business and marketing is things aren’t that instant. Certainly, you can do the same thing. Write that blog post and hit submit for that small business website. It doesn’t mean that Google is gonna all of a sudden start driving traffic to it.
And that’s one of the biggest misconceptions that I usually end up speaking to our clients about is that these things do just take time. So, it’s not only the blogging example, but you could start a pay-per-click campaign today on Google or you could start a Facebook advertising campaign. It takes these powerful algorithms and these powerful companies to figure out how to serve your ad best. Even in Facebook, if you were to run advertising, for the first couple of weeks or so, and that’s sort of a general until it’s starting to get enough data, it actually says in the ad portal learning, meaning that it’s still trying to figure out who best to serve your ad to. All the while it’s charging you for this learning experience.
Rick: Yeah. So, this is the algorithm that’s saying that it’s learned? Is that what’s going on?
Marc: Yes. Yes. So, that’s what’s going on. And so that also happens on Google with pay-per-click. So, it’s the instant of, I’m running ads, but the actual conversions or starting to see sales can take some time because there’s a lot of things that go into play, so a lot of moving parts. And that’s one of the questions that I think, for me, that I have to kind of make sure small business owners understand. So, it’s not one I get asked often, but it’s one that I’m giving the answer often.
Rick: Got it. I’m gonna lean into that a little bit more. Full disclosure to the audience here, Marc and I are friends. We’ve been friends and business associates for some time now. And, Marc, I’ve heard you talk before about how important the local aspect of internet and website marketing is as compared to national stuff. And you mentioned I think the statistic was that 40% of website clicks are for localized searches. Could you talk about that?
Marc: Yeah. I think you’re talking about a stat that you and I were conversing about that last year of all the Google searches, so all the searches, 48% had some local intent.
Rick: There you go.
Marc: Yeah. What that means by local intent, somebody put in a city name. So, they put in Atlanta or they put in the zip code 30341 with whatever they were looking for. So, it might have been a Chinese restaurant, Chamblee, Georgia. It’s a local intent versus putting Chinese restaurant. The same thing looking for a managed service IT provider. If you’re not putting in that city or zip, the results that you’re going to see are gonna be kind of scattered for the most part. There are some instances where you will sort of get the best local results, but just even think about your own habits, Rick. Probably when you’re searching whether it is that Chinese restaurant or a new place to go out to or whatever it is, you’re probably including some type of localization characters to get the best results for you.
Rick: You’re right. I do. I don’t even think about it. I just type it in. I might even type in just my zip code.
Marc: Yeah. And we see that a lot. The other thing that people are starting to do is even take it one step further and Google sort of has been encouraging this is that you start to type in, you know, Chinese restaurant and it starts to tell you, “Near me, nearby,” and that’s because we’re all searching on our phones nowadays. And as you know best, this phone is connected to a GPS system that knows exactly where I’m standing. So, when you do that search, and you do the near me, nearby, it knows exactly where you are. And it will tell you how many feet away you are from that restaurant or how many miles away, right?
Rick: A little bit scary.
Marc: A little bit scary, but also quite useful for a small business owner to realize that this is how, you know, the most powerful search engine in the world, Google, is steering how people find you. And if you don’t have a website that’s built on local intent, you can start missing out. And that’s the scary thing as well. I would say that’s almost scarier than, you know, a giant GPS system knowing where you’re standing.
Rick: Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. Marc, what do you like best about being a small business owner?
Marc: I like the independence of it. I come from a Fortune 500 background. I worked for some pretty big, well-known companies. And the reason I left it was, like, I kind of got fed up. I saw a lot of small business owners spending money with these big companies and not having success because they were sort of just another client. It’s different with me and how I act and how my team acts. So, for us, you know, every client we have, we know who their kids are, we know when their birthdays are, and we know a lot about their business. It kind of goes back to how we started this conversation, Rick. It’s like how we positioned Forward Push and the work we do is we are the marketing team for that small business. And that means that my team has to know sort of as much about the business as the owner does. And we’re working with a bunch of clients. So, for me, I just love knowing and working with a bunch of different business owners that all sort of have the same mentality. They all want success. That’s what every small business owner wants because they’re the ones writing the checks. When you start to work with the corporate clients, it’s just a person coming in there that’s got a spend budget that quarter, and they’re not really attached to the check. That’s the difference and that’s what makes me get up in the morning.
Rick: That’s great, Marc. That’s a great answer. Marc, tell the audience how to get in touch with you.
Marc: Yeah. The best place to find me is forwardpush.com. That’s our website. And if you’re on social media, all of our channels are under Forward Push.
Rick: That’s great. Marc, thank you so much for being a guest today on IT Help Atlanta. We really appreciate you. And folks, go to ithelpatlanta.com for audio archives of this show and learn more about our sponsor, TeamLogic IT. Go to forwardpush.com to learn more about Marc Apple and his wonderful company, Forward Push.
Welcome, everyone, to IT Help Atlanta radio show, the show that profiles small and medium and mid-market businesses and highlights how those companies use technology to succeed. IT Help Atlanta is brought to you by TeamLogic IT, your managed services technology advisor, specializing in cybersecurity, cloud, and business continuity solutions. TeamLogic IT leverages cutting-edge technology to solve all types of business problems. Go to ithelpatlanta.com for our audio archives of this radio show and to learn more about our sponsor, TeamLogic IT. I’m your host, Rick Higgins. And today’s guest is Al Simon with Sandler Training. Good morning, Al.
Al: Good morning. How are you doing, Rick?
Rick: Oh, man, living the dream.
Al: We’re all dreaming these days, aren’t we?
Rick: Welcome to the show. Thank you so much for doing this.
Al: I appreciate you having me on. I’m looking forward to it.
Rick: I’m really glad you’re here. Tell us who you are and what do you do, Al?
Al: Okay. So, I’m an old guy and I’m an old sales guy. I’m a 24-year career of sales, corporate sales guy, and sales manager. And then my second career for the past almost 19 years I’ve owned this company, Sandler Training. We do sales training and coaching for businesses and individuals, mostly metro Atlanta-based, privately held companies, smaller sales teams. We’re helping them with stuff like maybe their pipeline is thin. They’re worried about where the revenue is gonna come from, so helping them with the prospecting side of things or maybe they have a decent pipeline, but they’re not closing enough opportunities. So we help them to run the sales cycle, teach them how to build the skill sets in their teams to do that kind of things, close deals or if maybe they’ve got really aggressive competitors, low price competitors and they find themselves having to cut prices to win, and so their profit margins are taking a beating, we help them with how to win without discounting. We help them build their sales teams, so, hiring, recruiting, onboarding. We help them to coach them, all that kinds of stuff.
Rick: Is it all direct sales or do you work on channel selling as well?
Al: Yeah. Several of our clients have the channel, you know, the indirect… What do you call it? Channel selling or indirect selling. Several of our clients have that going on. It’s more difficult because typically they don’t have control of that deal. Whoever their channel is has the individual relationship with the end-user probably. So, there’s not a lot we can do there other than in terms of structure or strategy. But we can’t necessarily work as well on the straight sales skills as we do with… And most of our clients have direct or a combination of direct and indirect.
Rick: So, you’re not only training direct and indirect reps, but you’re training management as well, right?
Al: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Oftentimes, Rick, that’s where the problem is.
Rick: That’s right.
Al: Is with the owners/presidents/ [inaudible 00:22:39]
Rick: You’re a mind reader.
Al: Yeah. I don’t know about that. It would help if I could.
Rick: Well, you read my mind, is what I’m getting at.
Rick: So, do you have… If you could profile an ideal client, what would that be in terms of size, maybe vertical or something along those lines?
Al: Yeah. Probably we work really well in the B2B scenario. Like I said, privately held metro Atlanta-based companies typically. Yeah, we have IT companies. We have financial services companies. We have manufacturing, distribution, industrial, all kinds of different companies like that where their management and their sales teams we work with. Most of them are pretty small. Our largest client has 20 salespeople. And we have a bunch of clients that are under five or even several where the owner/president is also the sales team.
Rick: Yeah. You’ve got the solopreneurs, I guess, I call them coming in, right?
Al: Yes. Yes, we do.
Rick: Yeah. So, what makes Sandler Training unique? How do you work with them that’s different than traditional sales training?
Al: Well, most sales training… And what I had in my 24-year corporate career, most of my sales training during that time was seminar-based. You go to a one, two, three-day seminar.
Rick: You sleep through half of it.
Al: Pardon me?
Rick: You sleep through half of it.
Al: Well, not me. Maybe you did. But actually most of the time I sat in the back with my arms crossed, like, looking at my watch I was like, “Oh, how long is this guy gonna do this? Has he see my numbers? I should be teaching this. You know, that was my attitude. But, you know, you go for one or two or three days, whatever it was, you know. We used to call it the sales training flavor of the year. And then, you know, you get a three-ring binder and then, you know, two, three, you know, four months later and nothing’s changed. You’re still winging it. You’re not really using that selling system. The three-ring binder’s collecting dust on your, you know, bookshelf and it’s just the wrong way to do it. Psychologists tell us that adults learn differently. Adults learn by experiencing small bits of learning or knowledge really is a better way to put it, small bits of knowledge done in iterations over long periods of time.
And so what we do, our training is typically 90 minutes to 2-hour sessions max, but they’re like once a week or once every two weeks or once a month over longer periods of time. It’s common for us to have a client for 8, 9, 10 years, some longer even. And then we do individual one-on-one coaching with everybody in between the training sessions to help them apply the concepts to themselves in their world and their market and their business model and their own personality and communication style. There’s so much that has to be assimilated by each individual person, and each one would do it differently than the next person on the team.
Rick: And what do you think the biggest challenges are to a company that sells direct? Is it the people? Is it the culture? Is it the process that was in place and may not be working? What do you find is the biggest thing that you’ve got to break down and rebuild with the Sandler method?
Al: Do I have to choose among that list because it’s…
Rick: All of the above.
Rick: What’s the biggest? Just say what’s the biggest problem? Is it culture?
Al: You know what? It’s interesting about culture because you can take a sales professional who is thriving in one scenario and maybe a recruiter gets a hold of them and gets their attention. And they switch to a competitor and they bring their book of business with them or certainly their Rolodex. Today it’s not Rolodex. Today, it’s their contact database. And then the new hiring manager expects great things, but maybe they don’t thrive in the new environment because the culture is different. People thrive in different cultures with the same skillsets and even though it’s the same industry. Culture is hugely important. But skillsets are too and sales process. You mentioned sales process and the tools. Well, you’re an IT firm. So, different companies have different tools whether they’re electronic technical tools or whether they’re just simply manual processes or whatever kinds of processes they have. And different people thrive in different environments. You could be in the home office type person and thrive and then go remotely with a different company and not thrive, or even with the same company, you know, and go remote and not thrive. I’ve seen people start in the home office of a company and do well, and then they send them out to another city to start a branch out there and they fall apart, and vice versa, by the way. So, there’s all kinds of variables. I don’t know if I could pick a biggest one, Rick. I’m sorry.
Rick: No, that’s okay. I mean, you leaned into the answer there and that’s what I was looking for. So, here we are, it’s April 22nd, and we’re in the middle of the COVID crisis worldwide.
Al: We’re all having fun.
Rick: Yeah, we’re all having fun and we’re hoping to just get back, right? We’re looking for that boom. But how has your business changed with what’s going on and us having to shelter in place and so forth?
Al: Yeah. It’s been a little bit different in some ways and a lot different in others. As far as our engagement with our clients goes, the training itself is not much different. We’ve always had the option of virtual training. In fact, most of our classes, we have people in the room live and then other people come in remotely through a tool like Zoom or GoToMeeting. And so we have what is called a blended environment. And so, we always had that. Now, of course, all of our training is virtual for the time being. So, it’s not much different for us. And we do a lot of interactive training and small group sessions, you know, what we call practice to role-playing. And what Zoom allows us to take a large group, say 35 people, like what we had yesterday morning and break them up into smaller, you know, “virtual table groups” of three to four people each so they can do small group practicing, which is very, very important in learning and then bring them all back into the larger group afterwards and do a debrief with the entire group. So, we do a lot of that today. The past six weeks or so we’ve been doing everything totally virtually that way.
On the training side, coaching has been no different. We’ve always coached mostly by phone or by video conference and, in some, face-to-face. So, we don’t coach face-to-face right now. Everything is, you know, Zoom or by phone, or maybe they send me via an email string they’ve had with a client or a prospect and they ask for my help with it. So, we do a lot of it that way as well. Where I’m spending a lot of my extra focus these days is helping my clients thrive because some of our clients are in marketplaces that are doing really well like food distribution. Other of our clients are really, really struggling. There’s just not anything they can hardly do to get revenue like an entertainment company. That’s a client of ours. And then everybody is somewhere in between. So, we’ve been doing a lot of stuff.
And there’s been two watchwords that we’ve been really focusing on. One is empathy. Start every conversation with empathy. The second watchword, Rick, is generosity. Find ways to help your clients without charging them anything or much to help them. If they’re struggling from a cash flow standpoint, from a revenue expectation standpoint, you know, they’re not gonna wanna spend more money, but they’re gonna want to stay with a partner that’s helped them through a bad time. And so be generous with your clients in any way you can. So, we’ve been doing a lot of webinars, group sessions, one-on-one sessions for people who aren’t even paying us or not paying us much. We’ve been doing extra stuff. And it’s appreciated. And we enjoy it too. And I’m not worried about the payback. The payback will come. I’d really them rather pay it forward, actually and everybody start to be more generous. And I think that just helps everybody.
Rick: So, you mentioned a training session that you had just yesterday with 35 people and that was virtual. Have you seen a drop off in… I don’t know if the right word is attendance, but business for you. And then what is your pipeline look like? How’s that fairing out for you?
Al: Okay. So, that’s two very different questions right there for us personally.
Al: We have actually seen an increase in participation…
Rick: Oh, good for you.
Al: …in the training and coaching because people have time. People, you know, they’re not driving. They’re not flying. And so we’ve actually seen an uptick of 10 to 20% in participation in the classes.
Rick: Good for you, Al.
Al: Yeah. What was your… Your second question was about what again?
Rick: Pipeline, I guess. It was, what are you seeing in your… Is it softening up or is it… Are you seeing the so-called boom yet? Are we in the boom yet?
Al: A pipeline is a huge issue because think about it. If a company is… What we hear a lot from our clients and from other people in the marketplace is, “M prospects aren’t spending money right now. They’ve hit the pause button on extra expenditures.” Well, there’s a couple of things wrong with that statement. But one is, you know, if your prospects think that working with you is an expenditure and not an investment, then that is your problem. You have not created a value in the minds of your prospect. And then secondly, you know, hitting the pause button. If they need you right now, if the pain, which is a word we use a lot there, which is their need plus the emotion that goes with it, we call it pain. If their pain is still there, you got to be creative in finding a way to help them even if it means deferring payments or having an easier buy-in with more investment later and when things get back to “normal.” But you gotta find some way to help them. So, if your pipeline is disintegrating before your eyes right now, that is your fault. That is not your market. That is not your prospect. That is your fault.
Al: And we’ve got that same issue because, you know, we sell too. I sell. I’m not some kind of professor in a laboratory who used to sell but not anymore. I sell every day and…
Rick: You have to.
Al: Yeah, have to. And so I’m very much aware of my pipeline strength, the quality and quantity of the names on that pipeline, and making sure that coming out of this pandemic, we come out of it accelerating like a racecar driver accelerating out of a curve. That’s what… We’ve all gotta be there. Otherwise, the pandemic, slow down, maybe let’s say it lasts a quarter and then coming out of it, your pipeline is thin. Well, that’s another quarter at least where you’re not gonna have good revenues. That’s half a year total. How many businesses can survive that?
Al: You can’t do it. You have to be selling today. You have to be prospecting. You have to do it. And you do it differently. You can’t do face-to-face meetings. You can’t do networking events in public right now. But there’s all kinds of virtual networking, and there’s all kinds of ways to digitally prospect using LinkedIn and cold emails, other social media. And the real pros are doing that. They’re spending a full day doing what they normally do, just doing it differently.
Rick: Al, I want the audience to hear about… Full disclosure, again, Al and I have been friends for some time now. I’ve been to Al’s office and seen his classroom, his facilities. Ten out of 10, Al, that your space is really, really nice.
Al: Thank you. I appreciate that.
Rick: Tell the audience about the different technology that you use, the low voltage systems that you’ve deployed to facilitate your on-site staff because we are gonna be coming back into the classroom at some point.
Al: Yes. So, it’s all about that blended learning environment I mentioned before where we have some people live in the room, others coming in virtually. So, we invested in a state-of-the-art system. We have speakers embedded in the ceiling. We have a noise-canceling microphone in the middle of the room. We have a remote control… I’m sorry. We have a noise-canceling microphone in the middle of the room and a remote control camera in the back of the room that we can move around because, in the room itself, we have table groups because we’re really into that small group learning, so we got a combination of small group type mini-sessions and then large group sessions to facilitate learning. And so we’re able to bring in the people that have come in remotely currently through Zoom. We used to use GoToMeeting, but Zoom has a better way of handling that small group breakout, virtual breakout sessions that we’re making a big use of now. And then when we’re back to normal and have people in the room, we’ll still have people virtual because we have folks that live in different states, different countries even that are part of the sales teams that we work with. And so there’ll always be virtual. And so we can break them up. Let’s say we have 10, 12 people virtual. We can break them up into, say, four groups of three. And then we have, you know, four or five table groups in the room that are also working together in tthe small group sessions and then we can bring everybody back together. And so it’s all about that. And we had…
Rick: GoToMeeting has a little bit of catching up to do with Zoom, doesn’t it?
Al: Essentially, because GoToMeeting promised they could do the breakout sessions and that was coming but they’ve been promising that for a while. GoToMe… I don’t wanna slam GoToMeeting. They do… They have some real good technology for other reasons, but we just find for what we’re doing Zoom is a better option right now.
Rick: Yes sir.
Al: And so we have made the switch over. Plus we have, you know, the big smart board in the front of the room, a huge 70-inch touchscreen intelligent device that we make great use of for the audiovisual learning that we’re doing.
Rick: Thanks for that. And for you folks out there listening, if anybody gets a chance to come by and see Al’s operation in person, it’s a real treat.
Al: Thank you.
Rick: And he gives you the nickel tour and it’s really nice. Al, what’s an aspect about your business that people don’t generally think about but that you wish people would ask you?
Al: Most people when they first start talking to me, let’s say it’s a business owner that has a sales team of, let’s say, seven people, and four of those people are the old guard, you know, guys that have been selling for, you know, 20 years and they have all kinds of experience in their industry. It’s interesting that that business owner will often just assume that I’m only gonna work with the new people, not with, you know, the old guard. And that mindset that people who have been around a long time doing stuff for a long time aren’t going to be open to learning new things, don’t need to learn new things, it’s interesting but also frustrating for me. And I really wish they’d asked me, “What can you do for my veterans?”
Al: And then if I were to get asked that question, I would say, “What makes you ask that question?” And if I find out that they don’t think that these people are coachable, and by the way, they may not be, but some of them are. And the best professionals in sales or in any vocation, but in sales for sure, the best professionals are those that understand they’re always needing to improve, always needing to improve. And they’re open to it. You look at anybody at the top of their profession, let’s say, you know, Tiger Woods is an excellent example. You know, Tiger Woods has a coach. Well, Tiger Woods has won 14 majors in some 70-plus tournaments all around the world. He’s probably, if not the best of all time, and maybe you could say Jack Nicklaus is, but he’s certainly one of the best of all time and certainly the top two or three, and yet he still has a coach. Why is that? And so I wish more people would be open to the idea that everybody on my team can learn new stuff and be better and more productive and make more money if they’re on variable compensation, which most of our clients are.
Rick: Yeah. Well, it’s the senior guys and gals that are, I guess, to use a cliché, stuck in a rut and they don’t even know it, right? They’ve developed a bad habit over the years and yet they’ve succeeded despite that and that they’ve left all that money on the table because of that bad habit.
Al: Well, you know, Rick, I’m Exhibit A. If you looked at my bio and if people go to my website and look, and they’ll see my bio there, as I mentioned, I was 24 years as a corporate sales guy. For the first 22 of those years, I was a mediocre salesperson. I was an order taker, but I had numbers because I had a great territory and the phone was ringing. So, I was under the impression that I was awesome. And it wasn’t till 1999, I’m 40- what? Forty-four years old and I finally get Sandler Training. And I’m sitting there and I’m going, “Oh, no. I’m a fraud. I am not really a professional salesperson.” I finally realized it. And so I had to decide right there, “Okay. Am I coachable or am I going to say, ‘Hey, look, have you seen my numbers? I should be teaching this class,’ and looking at my watch with my arms crossed from the back of the room?” I had to make a decision right there. And most people who are in that kind of a scenario need to make the same decision, and most never come to that decision. Most just coast along hoping the phone is gonna continue to ring and thinking they’re awesome.
Rick: And so, it was ’99 that you started Sandler or that’s when you first went to…?
Al: That’s when I first came across it. It was 2001 when I bought the company.
Rick: 2001. 2001.
Al: Yeah. The day before another crisis. The day before 9/11 is when we opened our door.
Rick: That’s right. That’s right. You told me that before.
Al: If only I had known.
Rick: Well, 19 years, congratulations. What do you like best about being a small business owner?
Al: Oh, wow. In the course of my 24 years as a corporate sales guy I never really gave much thought to being an entrepreneur. I always had the salary plus commission. I always had the benefits package. But it wasn’t until I started thinking, “Okay. Maybe Sandler Training is something I should do for a living,” that I started thinking about it and… But it was scary leaving the corporate blanket, you know, the benefits and the salary. And then 9/11 happens. But you know what? I finally had passion. I finally had my own thing that meant something to me and to our clients that really was important. And so to me, it was just really carrying the passion that came with that and actually truly enjoying the journey again.
Rick: Al, thank you so much. I mean, we’re a little short on time, but I want to make some room here for you to tell our audience how to get in touch with you.
Al: Yeah. So, the easiest way is our website, simoninc.sandler.com, simoninc.sandler.com.
Rick: Got it. Simoninc.sandler.com.
Rick: Well, folks…
Al: The phone number is there. My email is there. All that stuff is there. Yeah.
Rick: Wonderful. Well, folks, that’s a wrap for the show today. Go to ithelpatlanta.com for an audio archive of this show and to learn more about our sponsor, TeamLogic IT. I’m your host, Rick Higgins, and my guest today was Al Simon with Sandler Training. Go to simoninc.sandler.com to learn more about Al and his wonderful company, Sandler Training. Al, thank you so much.
Al: I appreciate it, Rick. I enjoyed it very much.
Rick: Me too.
Rick spent his career in technology before starting TeamLogic IT in 2015. He and the team live out our philosophy to stand up, be bold, and live the truth, even when it’s not the easy choice.
As a part of TeamLogic IT and a small business owner himself, Rick focuses on bringing solutions to businesses ranging in size from solopreneurs to 1,000 employees.
He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two sons and enjoys staying active and volunteering at his sons’ schools.