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Growing an Ecommerce Agency with Ben Chafetz (Part 2 of 2)

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Ecommerce is a competitive landscape, and Ben Chafetz has found a way to build a thriving consulting firm focused on Magento development. He’ll share how he’s done it here.

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Growing an Ecommerce Agency with Ben Chafetz (Part 2 of 2):

Full Transcript

Liston Witherill:
Welcome to Modern Sales, a podcast for entrepreneurs, business owners, and salespeople looking to have more and better conversations with your perfect clients. You’ll get a healthy scoop of psychology, behavioral economics, and sales studies to help you create win-win relationships. I’m your host Liston Witherill and I’m pleased to welcome you to Modern Sales.

Liston Witherill:
Today I have Ben back, Ben Chaffetz. That’s the American pronunciation of his name because I can’t say it properly. But Ben is back. This is part two of my interview with Ben. If you didn’t hear part one be sure to go and download the last episode. Listen to that first, but we’re going to jump right back into the conversation. Ben, you ready to do this?

Ben Chaffetz:
Yeah, I’m absolutely ready.

Liston Witherill:
Wonderful. So in the last episode where we left off is you were talking about how, in your prequalification, you determine what your client’s past has been. Often that includes they’ve been burned by a different agency in the past. They come in with some baggage and I’m wondering do you have a process to deal with that, or how do you think about dealing with that in the case that you still do want to work with this person?

Ben Chaffetz:
It comes down to first off, anyone who is involved in consulting, anyone who has been involved with consulting, anyone who’s getting involved with consulting, should know the following. Anyone who has been involved in consulting or has their own company already most likely knows this. But the bottom line is not every single person who wants to hire you is going to be a good fit for you, right? And you’re not necessarily going to be a good fit for them.

Ben Chaffetz:
And so you need to identify some pre-qualifications. Is this an opportunity that I want to get involved with, right? Why? I would imagine if I asked people to raise their hand and say how many prospective sales cycles have they been in where they put in an inordinate amount of work to try to buy the client’s goodwill … and it doesn’t lead anywhere, right? Or how many prospective clients have called up with an emergency need? I need this now. Drop everything. I’ve heard about you and I’m ready to go. And you stop everything and send them a proposal and suddenly you’re waiting back. It’s, I had this emergency, suddenly it’s good enough to wait for a week, two weeks, three weeks, five weeks. Hey, you still have the emergency? You’re sending it seven weeks later. You feel like an idiot.

Ben Chaffetz:
So having a prequalification cycle is huge looking at your past client experiences and really identifying what it is that disqualifies someone from being a great prospect. So when we have those … I mean an examples of that would be too many cooks in the kitchen. If there’s no clear decision maker or a stakeholder, those are huge flags for us. So we’re not going to necessarily take that job? No, but it’s definitely going to factor in.

Ben Chaffetz:
Is there a budget there? That’s a great question. I mean that should be in every company’s first thing in qualifying that budget and there’s different ways to qualify budget. You can Google, how do I qualify a prospect’s budget and you’ll see tons of articles on different ways to approach that and bring that up. But now to go back to the question of what do I do if someone has baggage coming in, how do retrain a client who’s not happy? The first thing is like this, part of any relationship, right, is setting expectations. If you do think about the times, or at least a portion of the times, that you’ve had a rough time in any relationship it’s usually because there a misaligned expectations, whether it’s on a personal level, so I’m expected to do something where there was a certain expectation, or on a professional level with that same type of misaligned expectations, that always creates an issue.

Ben Chaffetz:
So part of our process when we’re speaking to a client is we won’t say something that we’re not comfortable saying just to get a deal. We just won’t. Because if you’re going to have to face that and eat that later, and unless you’re really prepared to do that don’t say it. Don’t say, Oh yeah, this won’t be a problem. We can make this work. Oh, that’s going to be totally simple. Yeah, let’s get it in and we’ll start working on that. Because if you think it’s not going to be simple then just be straight. Either say, I don’t have enough information, I need to get that information. And then if you say that you have to be prepared to say, you have to make that calculation in order to get that information. Do I want to put the time in as part of the sales cycle? Do I want to part-time and have them pay some of the time?

Ben Chaffetz:
When it comes to having a client who has baggage or there’s a poor relationship, one of the first aspects is really understand that there’s different personalities for different people and you have to make sure that that’s not a personality mismatch. I’ll give an example of that. So we do psychological assessments. We send clients … many times we’ll send them a psychological assessment. We have a third party company called PDP. We send the client an assessment and we can get an overview of the client’s personality, how extroverted or introverted he is, what’s his level of logic versus feeling, energy level, conformity versus spontaneousness or non-conformity. Now these are different metrics that we look at.

Ben Chaffetz:
And so I remember once we had a client who was just … every email we sent them he was just tearing us back, like a big email. Why’d you do this? Why do you do that? So we went back to the personality assessment and we realized that this person had a very, very, very high level of conformity and some other factors. And we looked at it and we realized that if we felt that if we really dialed up the amount of communication, and the amount of pre-warning so that nothing was coming as a surprise … so we’d say on Monday, this is what we’re going to be doing this week. And then at the end of Monday here’s what’s going to happen tomorrow, so when it happens there was no like, why did you do this? What’s going on? What’s that? What’s this?

Ben Chaffetz:
It virtually eliminated the problem. I mean it was dead on. The emails, the whole tone changed. That’s one aspect, but then sometimes you have people who really are just … either you can’t make them happy or you can’t get them past other experiences they’ve had with other agencies no matter what you do, and then you got to cut them loose.

Liston Witherill:
I would agree with that. I find that even if a client is profitable from a revenue standpoint there’s an emotional cost to working with any client that I have, and so if that cost starts to increase or you just can’t seem to minimize it, there’s probably a mismatch there and so it’s time to let them go and move on. I totally agree.

Liston Witherill:
Now, one thing you mentioned in the last episode … and you said it very flippantly, Ben, I got to call you out on this because I want to know the secret. You said clients are the easy part, and one thing that it says in the bio that I read for you is that your single-handedly, or at least you’re mostly responsible for filling the pipeline at 121eCommerce. So where do your clients come from? What are you doing in order to get plenty of leads and fill your pipeline?

Ben Chaffetz:
Whether you want to take this as a religious sentiment or not, I will tell you that on an average month I could have 40 conversations with prospective clients, and then the following month I could sign three to four big deals and not one of those deals was a conversation I had with anybody in the last month or the month before. So what I’ve learned is over sales … I’ll put some more exact signs and I’ll explain a little bit more about how we fill or I try to fill our [inaudible 00:06:57] pipeline. But what I have learned is that you can only do what you can do. Right? Sales for me is one of the most relaxing aspects of my job because after I send out a proposal, right, I can’t force a client to sign. I can’t force how the guy internally speaks to the decision making process. I can’t control what other proposals they get in from other agencies.

Ben Chaffetz:
I can’t control any aspects of any predilections or personalities that are involved at the client that may determine that. Right? So all I can do is really focus on understanding the client’s needs, documenting it as best as possible, documenting the solution, putting it together in a clear, easy proposal, sending that proposal over, and setting clear expectations as to what timeline we need to be able to close that. But beyond that there’s nothing I can do. Right? And so once I’m done with that process it’s really almost out of my head. I put a notation in my CRM to check back in and work that sales funnel. But sales, really, the more sales activity that you engage in, the more results you’ll see. And the more you put yourself out there the more you’ll see.

Ben Chaffetz:
If you do nothing, you’ll see nothing from that but don’t for a second think that you’re driving those sales. Because you’ll find that, again, the deals that are coming in are not the deals that you were working on, and the opportunities and the best clients that come into play are usually not the ones that you had a direct hand in at all.

Ben Chaffetz:
To answer your question now that I said that, because I in no way can take credit for filling our sales pipeline because, again, it’s really, after I send the proposal, very little is under my control, we really take two approaches to our sales. The first is we have an outbound sales team, which is really an SDR cold sales team that’ll reach out to the companies that we’ve targeted as fit the profile of a company that we feel we can have success with. Right? Is on this so-and-so platform, does X revenue a year, has X amount of skews in this industry, and any other kind of indicators that we can use based on data tools that we have. We’ll approach that person through a combination of cold emails and using an SDR sales development rep to reach out and set an appointment with an AE. And then we use some form of inbound marketing like HubSpot, well, we use HubSpot to track that interaction and then gauge the potential interest of any prospect that has any kind of further touch points after that initial email. You with me so far?

Liston Witherill:
I’m totally with you.

Ben Chaffetz:
That’s one. The second one is I heard Gary Vaynerchuk several years ago at a conference, and he said one thing that is probably the number one thing that we focused on in this company. He said, if you build a company and you want to make money, and you’re focused on making money, you’re not going to make a cent. You build a company and you focus on bringing value, you will make money. So we bring value. We bring value to partners. So we’ll find partners that are not necessarily in direct competition with us. We will send … even prospects. Many times I’ll speak to a prospective client and they’ll tell me their issue. I’ll say, dude, that really sucks. It doesn’t sound like you could use a good developer but it sounds like you’re really, really hurting for SEO, or for SCM, or for hosting. And I’ll send them to one of the companies we have a relationship with.

Liston Witherill:
Okay. And so that gives you mutual referral partners, like you scratch their back, they scratch yours kind of thing?

Ben Chaffetz:
It gives me mutual referral partners but it also creates a trust. I can’t tell you how many deals … I’ve had deals that come back to me two years later.

Liston Witherill:
Totally.

Ben Chaffetz:
Hey, thanks so much for sending me to this company for my SEO two years ago. We’re ready to redo our site and we just thought of you. So yeah, it does both. It creates a good [inaudible 00:10:18] out there and then you develop relationships with rep sets, certain partner companies. Then they go to another company, they bring that relationships and now you’ve amplified that. But the bottom line is, again, I don’t think I could say it better than Gary Vaynerchuk. If you focus on creating value you’ll do well, and it doesn’t mean do work for free. That comes down to the setting the expectations part. There’s no one who’s time is more valuable than your own time.

Ben Chaffetz:
And when I first came by the way, this was a huge learning curve for me. Keep in mind I came from the client’s side. I didn’t do sales. It’s not like I was a salesman at the other company. I didn’t do any sales. When I came over I’d speak to a client. They’d say, well, you know, and I’d say, look at your e-commerce site: the usability is all crappy. And I’d break it down. He’s like, well, what do you want our site to look like? I remember the first year I’d be like, okay, I’ll design a site for you. I’d be telling someone, let’s show him what the new site would look like. He’s like, great, thanks. I’ll give it to my developers. Thanks. Bye. It’s like, Ah, you asshole. So you have to be smart. You have to also get a feel. I think we have a basic metric that we won’t put more than 12 to 15 hours into our prospect before we tell them, okay, time to pay up.

Liston Witherill:
That makes total sense and I agree with you. One thing I tell all of my clients, and certainly my listeners here are sick of hearing me say, serve, don’t sell. Right? So we’re in the service business as consultants and it’s crucial to be in service to your clients, but that doesn’t mean you’re giving up your valuable time and expertise for absolutely no return. There has to be a line there. And if people want continued service they also have to put some skin in the game and invest in you to move forward, so totally agree with you there. Now let’s talk Cleveland shall we.

Ben Chaffetz:
Yeah, sure.

Liston Witherill:
You’re in Cleveland, Ohio which, hopefully it’s not a stretch for me to say, not known as the hot bed of tech talent and marketing talent in the world. What sort of challenges do you have both working with clients from Cleveland, because it sounds like you do work with clients anywhere, and challenges that you have actually recruiting people to work for you?

Ben Chaffetz:
Very little. Cleveland is not a hot bed of technology although I think it’s a wonderful place to live. I moved here from New York and I worked in LA for 10 years, so I’m very familiar with both and I can tell you that the pace of life, it’s a different lifestyle than being in New York City. Anyone listening to this would probably say, yeah, no duh. You know?

Liston Witherill:
Right.

Ben Chaffetz:
But yeah, in terms of recruiting as a company, depending … we obviously hire for different positions. So I can have client-facing positions and then we have developers and project managers, and developers are really I think probably the hardest because they’re … when we hire for other positions that are not a developer, for us, experience is really irrelevant. We look for attitude, cooperation, aptitude. Those are the primary things. And if they have that kind of mix then we have a good training program, we can get someone up to speed probably in about six weeks and if they have that drive. We’re pretty slow to hire. Were pretty fast to fire. If it’s not a fit it’s not a fit. We just set very clear expectations.

Ben Chaffetz:
On the developer side it’s harder because you can’t just say, I’m going to hire a car mechanic and he’s the best attitude in the world and the hardest worker, the time to turn him into a developer, and whether he’s got the aptitude for development, is very different. That’s not the same. So there we have to test their skill sets and then also they have to work on a team and we’re very, very team focused. We don’t really have anyone who doesn’t understand that he can sometimes accomplish more, and that there’s no shame that this guy can do this job in half the time you can, but you can do this things in half the time he can’t do, and you learn from each other.

Liston Witherill:
Excellent. Now I did promise at the end of the last episode that I would ask you what’s your biggest challenge in your business right now?

Ben Chaffetz:
For us, the big challenge that we still have, it’s still predicting workflow, predicting the flow of work coming in and trying to mesh that with the pipeline. So what that means is like this, let’s say in a given month if I have 2000 hours of development time that I can book out, right, and I’ve got a pipeline that I feel should be 2500 hours. Right? That’s great. That’s wonderful. But then let’s say a client has a baby, gets engaged, there’s a blocker, there’s a third party, and now suddenly my 2500 hours becomes 1600 hours because I’m blocked for that month. It’s still learning to deal with that ebb and flow is always hard, projecting that flow. We have tools and we’re working on getting better and that’s still a hard learning curve for me.

Ben Chaffetz:
And then also just managing I think life and a work-life balance is something I’m very poor. Ask any of my kids. That’s always I think a big challenge. I think everyone else in the company does a good job, thank God, and they didn’t inherit that. I think that’s a carry over from my last job. But time management man, it’s so hard to get everything you want to get done.

Ben Chaffetz:
Okay, so better answer would be the biggest challenge as a company, and one that we’ve been focusing on for 2018, and if you follow up with me in three more months I’ll tell you how we did, but our focus for 2018 was to not be a reactive company. So what that means is that on a given day you say, Oh, tomorrow I’m going to get this and this done, or, I really want to do this and this. But then tomorrow comes and you had this phone call and that phone call, you got this email, you worked on that email, and then what you wanted to do today goes to tomorrow and then you never do those proactive things.

Ben Chaffetz:
You never say, here’s how I’m going to improve my proposal process. Here’s how I’m going to make my developers better. Here’s how I’m going to do better reporting. Here’s how I’m going to do better client communication. Right? And you never actually do those proactive projects that you want to do. After 2017 was really a reactive year we said, damn it, 2018, we don’t care, we’re carving out the time. We made a list of all the projects we wanted to do in 2018 and we’ve added it to the year, and we’ve been focusing on trying to carve out proactive time. That I think is the biggest challenge. And again, you can ask me in a couple of months, after the end of 2018, I’ll let you know how we did. But yeah, I think that’s really it.

Liston Witherill:
Okay. So listeners, I am going to reach out to Ben and I am going to make him tell me what happened with this 2018 focus. So Ben I love what you said. You don’t want to be a reactive company. And one thing whenever I talk to people who say something like that or some version of that … Because I think a lot of us think that there are all these things I know I should be doing to build the company that I want, unfortunately I’m having to react to fires, clients, fill in the blank. Right? There are all these other forces that I’m reacting to. And what I always say is, okay, if you don’t want to be reactive and you want to transform into a proactive company, what are you going to give up? I’m wondering how did you deal with that question.

Ben Chaffetz:
As a development company we’ve drilled into everyone who works here the concept of WIP, work in progress. Right? Which is very simple. If you have eight hours in a day and you ask someone to do work you can’t ask them to do more than eight hours, and if you do say that, no, this has to get done, then what has to come out, right? What is coming out of that? The first step is … I tell people all the time and our managers tell their people all the time. If I ask you to do something and you think that I’m asking you to do too much, come back to me and tell me what’s on your plate and we’ll take one of the other things out. Don’t think that I’m telling you that you have to do this and something else if it’s not realistic because that’s not realistic.

Ben Chaffetz:
I think the first thing is to really understand what you are spending your time on, and then two to really prioritize it. And there are times I’ve had … not necessarily … definitely not when there’s a client emergency, but there are times when I’ve told someone, I don’t care what comes up the next two days, put on your autoresponder. You technically went on vacation. You’re focusing on this for two days. And they do. They’ll ask me if they can do that themselves. I get routinely asked by I guess the top managers in my company, can I take off these two days to work on this? Can I work from home for these two days so I can just focus only on this? So you have to be able to make that sacrifice. You can’t be unrealistic and expect that people can do both. It’s one or the other. There’s X amount of time and there’s only so many things that will fit in the box, and if you want to push something else in there you’ve got to take something else out.

Liston Witherill:
Exactly. I totally agree. All right, so Ben, lightning round here. We’re coming to the end of our time together and I want to know what is one book you recommend?

Ben Chaffetz:
It’s a very hard answer to give. There’s a lot of good books out there. I personally was a big fan of the E-Myth, or, E-Myth Revisited.

Liston Witherill:
Michael Gerber. Yep.

Ben Chaffetz:
That’s really one of my favorite books. I think that was great. We’re a big fan of Seven Habits. The whole company, we had Seven habits come through our offices and do a two day seminar on site this year and that was phenomenal. Big fan of that. I’ve got to tell you, HubSpot puts out a lot of great articles. I read a lot of the articles on HubSpot. It’s one of my favorite places to go read articles.

Ben Chaffetz:
And then I have to stay current on the industry news but there’s not a lot of books that come out. I find a lot of the management books that come out, they have some aspects that are really relevant and some aspects that are not, but I think it depends on your business. I think it depends on your own personality and each person is going to find something that they connect with differently. So it’s a little hard. I think the E-Myth was the most well rounded. I’ve read a lot of the management books out there and none of them really stick in my head and say, Oh my God, that was life changing.

Ben Chaffetz:
Oh, you know which one was really great? I think it was predictive revenue.

Liston Witherill:
Predictable Revenue. Aaron Ross. Yes.

Ben Chaffetz:
Yeah. I read that like three years ago, four years ago.

Liston Witherill:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben Chaffetz:
That was great. That one really just changed my whole mentality on my time. I think I was making cold calls before then, sit there and like, Hey, can I speak to Aaron. I was like, Holy shit, why am I doing that?

Liston Witherill:
And I’m guessing that some version of that is the blueprint for your SDR team?

Ben Chaffetz:
Oh, absolutely.

Liston Witherill:
Yeah.

Ben Chaffetz:
Them and HubSpot and Bryan Kreuzberger, I mean they’re both names that are very prominent out there, that methodology. But it’s changing, it’s evolved, and you constantly have to work with it. That’s why I wrote down the name Sujan Patel because I’m definitely going to be looking at what program he made.

Liston Witherill:
What is one tool that you couldn’t live without in your business? Could be software, could be something that sits on your desk.

Ben Chaffetz:
Initially, if you’re looking for someone from a really proactive standpoint, I would say a timer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used, and I’ve trained many of my people to use, an egg timer.

Liston Witherill:
Uh-huh (affirmative) Pomodoro.

Ben Chaffetz:
Yeah, the Pomodoro method. That’s it.

Liston Witherill:
Yep.

Ben Chaffetz:
If you don’t want to do something force yourself to do it for 10 minutes. If you like doing something and you feel like that’s going to suck up all your time, like email, set a timer. Don’t let yourself do it for more than 30 minutes. The concept of time and your time being valuable, nothing’s going to illustrate it better than a timer. So yeah, a timer is just super important.

Liston Witherill:
Love that, and you’re the first person to say that so thank you Ben. I know that some people listening to this will want to follow up with you, learn more about your company. The domain for Ben’s website is 121, the numbers 121, eCommerce.com. And what should people do if they wanted to connect with you Ben?

Ben Chaffetz:
Yeah, shoot me an email.

Liston Witherill:
And what’s that email address,

Ben Chaffetz:
Ben@121eCommerce.com.

Liston Witherill:
Thanks again to my guest Ben for being here today. You can check him out at 121eCommerce.com, and I wanted to thank you for listening to part two out of two episodes that I had with Ben. I really appreciate that you’re here. If you got something out of today’s episode please tell someone, make sure you hit that subscribe button, and I hope you have a fantastic day. See you next time.

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