But really, even on a serious note, just getting with the times and figuring out we always had aspirations to be multinational and that's not going to happen if we're spending all this time running around in the States, we're not going to figure out how to get on the other side of the pond without some help from the digital world. It's not going to happen. And I think that was a big part of it and it made sense, especially demographically to be more targeted in our live events. We're trying to do live events and again, we're wide net. If we're in Atlanta, we don't have very targeted social media, we don't have very targeted ads for people that live in Atlanta. That's not something we were doing at that time. And so that was one of the huge shifts for us and it just made sense. An internal model of ours is we will never be Blockbuster. So that all folds in together as it were.
Jen Spencer (08:15):
Yeah. Never be Blockbuster. And I assume you mean you don't want to be the one who didn't innovate, who didn't change, who died on the vine, right?
Brandon Voss (08:25): Exactly. Exactly.
Jen Spencer (08:26): Yeah.
Brandon Voss (08:27): That's right.
Jen Spencer (08:28):
Yeah, yes. And there's a few brands like that in different industries that are cautionary tales, for sure. So that's actually a really good segue for me. You're in your role today, you're the president of the organization. You're essentially overseeing all the business operations of the organization. As you recognize, there are different shifts and changes that are happening in your industry. How do you prepare your team for that? How much are you in the moment? How much are you looking ahead, and what have you learned? Especially we've all been through quite a bit over the last couple years. We talked about the pandemic, we're in the middle of some challenges with the economy today, as we're recording this, right? How much brain space do those external factors take up for you and how do you communicate that with your team?
Brandon Voss (09:34):
Yeah, that's great. There's definitely a lot there. And if I begin to ramble, please feel free to cut me off. But no, there's a lot there. And I think culturally, that's where I think it starts for us. We've always been a place where we're looking to adapt, we're looking for the next best thing. We understand that the landscape is going to change. And so that's really good about the organization, that's where we come from. But then as we've learned personally, as a leader, one of the things that I found out is, especially if you got someone new, someone hopeful, someone that's ready to attack the world, especially on behalf of your organization.
Warning them of potential problems that they might see as they go on that attack might not necessarily be the best approach. And I think a lot of leaders fall into this of you want to warn your people, you want to take care of them, you want to help them to think out in front four or five steps and usually comes into form of, "Let me lay out for you what this is going to look like. I'll explain the landscape to you." And making a shift to helping them see the problems themselves. What are the potential pitfalls that we might run into instead of, "Let me just explain it to you, let's walk you through it." And specifically on the marketing side, what has really shifted for us is getting a really good feel for our users' journey from the outside in, how they experience our brand.
And I think we've always been very introspective in, this is what we want to look like and this is how we want to display our message, but I haven't spent enough time focusing on how people experience us from the outside. And interestingly enough, those are often two very different things. How you feel like you might look versus what the public actually sees or what they feel like they have a need for could be very different. And that's one of the things for us as we begin to change and learn and grow, really starting to understand that dynamic versus internal and external.
Jen Spencer (11:43):
How much of measuring, if you think about how do you measure your client's perceptions of you and their sentiment, how they feel about you. Has it been more qualitative? Have you gotten into quantitative metrics? And if so, what are the things that you're looking at?
Brandon Voss (12:12):
Yeah no, that's great. And so a lot of the classics, open rates, click through rates. What are they paying attention to? How much time are they spending with our content? How much time are they spending working through different parts of what we offer in digital world as it were. Those are big ones. And I would say consistency, the consistent interaction, continued interaction with us and people's willingness to work their way through various levels of learning. And so one of the things Jen and I were catching up on and through SmartBug's help, develop a learning system as opposed to here's a bunch of stuff you can take. Get after it and get smarter. Now, here's the learning system. Here's level one, here's level two, and people's willingness to work their way through all the levels. Do they get to halfway through level one and quit or are people getting all the way up through level three and then they're hungry for more?
And just being able to keep track of those things, keep track of those metrics of how people are experiencing the content and how long they're staying engaged over whether it's a month or a year, six months, how long it takes them to digest certain things that we're putting out there. All those elements coming into play.
Jen Spencer (13:30):
Thinking about revenue, how important are repeat customers for you? Is that a big part of your business or do people typically come in, interact with you once, twice, maybe a handful of times and then move on. How long do people usually stay within your ecosystem and are you nurturing them and delighting them?
Brandon Voss (13:55):
Yeah, that's a great question. So I think we all know at this point, the subscription model, the continued interaction over time. That's how we continue to make money. So we're on the same boat. And I will say before we were working closer with SmartBug, we were much more of a one off and that's something we're still trying to figure out how to be better at. If people are engaging with us for about a year, 18 months, how do we turn that into 3, 5, 10 lifetimes? How do we start to even change that narrative? And so I'd say about the two year mark now, something like that before people feel like, "Okay, I'm ready to fully take this on my own."
And what people find out specifically with our content is they do need to come back and do a refresh. And so there is that element that people are discovering by themselves, but how do we expand that timeframe as it were? But the shift from the one offs, we show up to an American Express and we do one training for one day and that's it versus how are we spreading out the learning over the course of a year. And that's been a huge shift for us. The ladder's obviously much more advantageous. And so that's really where we want to focus and continue to, I like to say Dan Sullivan, strategic coach founder, the thinking about our thinking. That's one of the things we ponder around our sounding board, our white table, how we approach it in the future.
Jen Spencer (15:27):
It's such a relevant business that you're in that as the world evolves, as things change in the world, then different negotiation skills, different tactics, those are going to evolve as well. So there's going to be some that are most likely going to be mainstays, that are going to be consistent that just have to do with human behavior. But then there are other, especially in sales. There are certain sales tactics that may work really well in one kind of again, socioeconomic climate that wouldn't work in another. And I know something that you're particularly passionate about is on trust building. And I think this is really interesting also because Brandon, I know you have a strong entrepreneurial spirit and this is not your first rodeo, right? You've been successful from a very early age.
Brandon Voss (16:35):
I've been lucky, I've been lucky.
Jen Spencer (16:42):
Yes, there's a little bit of being in the right place at the right time and having support, but there's also knowing when to engage and putting in that hard work too. But I'm just wondering, what have you seen? If you put yourself in your customer's shoes, where have you seen they're gravitating where they're looking for more from you and from the black Swan Group. What are the skills that they're looking at beefing up right now?
Brandon Voss (17:15):
Yeah, that's a great question and there's a lot there. And so just starting with this notion of trust. That's huge and that's a consistent component of how humans interact with one another. The more trust we have, the more that we'll probably get done as a team. The less trust we have, the more likely we're going to separate. And so that's the two plus two equals four thing. However, what we all feel and know is hard to put words to is not only is it different in building trust per individual, but then it's also to the point you were making earlier, building trust in an ever-changing environment, what people are expecting from others. What they might accept is a year ago, that is no longer okay, because we're on virtual so much now and just people, their feel for one another is just different. And so that's what changes. Trust is always going to be the center of that, how we get the trust quickly, that's what changes. And it is a sequential process. However, that sequence changes depending on what the circumstances are. And that's what also makes it confusing. (18:26):
And so what we talk about a lot of times is don't sound like the last person they didn't make a deal with. If there are common things that everybody's using and this differentiation between best practices and common practices. Best practices often become common practices and then they become overused and almost dead practices at some point in their lifespan. And I think salespeople are plagued by that the most. Common ground is one of those common sales techniques. The problem with common ground is every sleazy person on the planet wants to build common ground with you right before they cut your throat. And so how do we avoid not sounding like that? And it's weird. Well, we can't engage in common ground in the same way that a cutthroat would. And what does the process for that look like? That starts to make sense. But then what does the process look like?
And a lot of it is just whatever value you bring to the table's got to come second. Whoever's at the table, they came to the table for a reason. And it's actually most important that you figure out what that reason is first, before you start laying out how you can solve problems for them. And then another big one, and this is a little bit more specific to skills. We actually limit our questions substantially. When people get questioned too much, they tend to feel interrogated. And so how do you gather robust amounts of information without asking questions? That's a huge part of our communication. And I think something that could serve a lot of sales people. Let go of the common ground thing because they're going to start sniffing cutthroat as soon as you go into common ground. And then how do I engage with you where you don't feel interrogated and you're willing to offer information you might not tell anybody else? Those are two big ones.
Jen Spencer (20:22):
Gosh, that's such an interesting nuance because as a former sales leader myself, I grew up in this world of doing this thorough discovery call. You have all this information you have to gather so that you can build this recommendation. And even looking at call recording, looking at my call recording software and looking at the balance of my sales... I'm sorry, my prospect should be speaking most the majority of the time and my sales person should be speaking for the least amount of time and almost looking for a 20:80 ratio of that. And what I'm hearing from you is not necessarily true, not necessarily the case. To your point of it's we as sales and marketing professionals, we ruin stuff. Every time there's a new social media platform and everyone is enjoying it in a organic way and a very natural way. What do we, as marketers do we and salespeople? We ruin it by looking at how do we extract more value from this. So I think that's really interesting. Yeah.
Brandon Voss (21:42):
Yeah. There's a lot there I would agree with. There's a whole lot there I would agree with. And there is the notion around the counterpart, the person who's going to do the buying, who's going to make the purchase doing more talking than the salesperson. I would definitely say that's true, but again, circumstance drive your strategy. And if you got a very analytical person, that's looking to be informed in a certain way and they're very stoic and they feel like talking is going to reveal their position and they're scared to do it. Again, we got a trust issue going on here. If they're scared to reveal, there is a trust thing. So there might be some things you need to say or verbalize to get over that hump. And so then what does the verbalization become?
Jen Spencer (22:26):
Yeah. Well, let's actually switch gears for a little bit.
Brandon Voss (22:33):
Jen Spencer (22:33):
Although I feel like I could just pick your brain and just extract so many great tips and things. Although folks should go check out Black Swan Group and learn for themselves as well. But knowing what you know now, thinking about your business and what you had to face going into the pandemic and making decisions to invest in inbound and marketing and digital. Let's say you're starting a new company, brand new company. What would you do differently? Or what are some things that you're like, "All right, if I did this again, this is what I would do." Especially when it comes to sales. Would you gravitate more towards inbound? Would you gravitate more towards outbound as you're getting that new company off the ground? Just love to just get some reflection from you. That's separate from what you do at Black Swan, just what you've learned over the years.
Brandon Voss (23:42):
Yeah, no great. Again, just some great questions today. And it's interesting based on my age. Going outbound first, I see a lot of merit there. Going inbound first, I see a lot of merit there. There was a period in my career when I was knocking on doors to make sales for Verizon. And I've been that just outbound and attack and go get them. And so there's a certain amount of pride and there's probably a certain amount of ego that's tied to that for me personally. But especially now, if I'm starting a brand new company today coming out of the pandemic, the way everything is, there's so much that has shifted online and people that were never online are now, they just have to be. That's become part of their life. I don't see any way around trying to attack getting inbound.
Get content out there. If you're looking to start a business, you probably got a good idea. You wouldn't be wanting to start a business if you didn't. And so the more mechanisms that you can build for people to experience your idea with you in the digital world, that's going to start your inbound stream and they're going to want to spend money in short order. And I think one of the things, and I don't know if it came from you guys specifically, it might have. I know you helped us put it out there, but this idea of don't be afraid to put out your best stuff, because your best stuff is what's going to bring people back again and again and again. And that little taste that we all feel in sales, give them a little taste and then they'll come back and they'll want a lot more. That whole idea, that's how you accomplish that.
And so building out content where people can experience you online at will and give them reason to come seek out more. That's the best way to do it, I would say today. I would have to go with the inbound for sure.
Jen Spencer (25:36):
Well, I love that and I'm not anti-outbound by the way, but I do believe in an inbound approach to outbound, right?
Brandon Voss (25:45):
Jen Spencer (25:49):
You hit on it. It's leading with value. In your case, there's a book that you know is a best seller. And do you make people purchase that book to then learn about you? Or do you say, "Well, can we take parts of this book that we know really resonate with people and give those pieces away for free and make deposits before we start making withdrawals?" I would take that mindset and you put that mindset on this idea of outbound. It actually can work really well. It's almost like you're orchestrating an inbound activity. Because let's be honest, inbound can take a lot of time. It can take a lot of time to build that up and it takes some of that patience.
Brandon Voss (26:36):
That momentum is a tough build, yes.
Jen Spencer (26:39):
Right, right. Any words of wisdom around that? Because it can be really frustrating when you're first getting started.
Brandon Voss (26:48):
Yeah. Yeah no, really good question. The first thing is just being able to stick through it. If you go in understanding that you're not going to hit a home run out the gate, I think that's the thing. I got a great idea and if I build a better mouse trap, the world will beat a path to my door. That is not necessarily true. Entrepreneurs will line up and tell you why it's not. And so I think we get caught up on and some of it's human nature, we want this short term satisfaction. But sticking with it because the other thing about, especially for us developing the content, we figured out how to make the content better, figured out how to make it more digestible. And that came with time. We weren't ready to be exposed to the world on an international level. In our first month. We had to get our messaging down properly. And then also speaking to issues that matter to people.
And so I mentioned leverage and relationships earlier. Those are two big ones in negotiation, but depending on the landscape. Before COVID, let's build the relationship. During COVID, it's like, "Well, I would like to have more leverage." If we're titling things based on what people are looking to consume, that helps a lot. Then the message internally can shift. There's a lot of, here's how to have more leverage, focus on your good relationships. And that became how we started to develop some of that content and people are eating it up, but that's a big part of it for sure. Putting that best foot forward, stick–to–itiveness, knowing that you got to hone it a little bit. It's going to take some time. And then when you can really start to specify with your SEO strategy, then you're going to be in good shape.
Jen Spencer (28:33):
And by the way I to say, I appreciate that kind of caution of patience and sticking with something. And if something sounds like a get rich quick scheme, it probably is just that, right? It's a scam, it's a hack.
Brandon Voss (28:48):
Jen Spencer (28:49):
So we can all fall victim to everyone's always looking for a better, faster way, but sometimes you just have to live through it. But are there certain data points that you look at or recommend that folks look at? Anything that keeps you sane as you're trusting in the process of one day to the next, any metrics that seem to matter more to you?
Brandon Voss (29:21):
Yeah, there's a couple and specifically in regards to our subscriber list. It's easy to get caught up in how many subscribers you have on your list and the more better. What matters is the engaged subscribers and purging your list. We had almost a purge party here at Black Swan every once in a while, where we would knock off a certain number of people that didn't have a certain level of engagement with our content, on our subscriber list. And what we found is the people that we boot because their level of engagement is not high enough, they come back. If those people want more, they will come back. And it's really interesting to have experienced that being, we want quality in our list. We don't just want to have the numbers and then even people that we get rid of. And I think that's the fear. You don't to boot people because now I've lost a 1,000 subscribers because I've purged them all. Well, the 200 that really want to spend money with you, they'll come back. They'll come find you, especially if you've done a good job with SmartBug and setting up your funnel.
Jen Spencer (30:31):
Well, we as human beings, I think there's a little bit of that hoarder mentality. Or you look at, "Oh my gosh, how much it costs, how much work I had to do to get to this point to build this list." But you're saying be real, how much of that list are actually engaged? What are you holding onto? But I think a lot of people struggle with that. Even when you know better, I just think it's this human nature to want to hold onto them.
Brandon Voss (31:04):
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And especially you talk about the digital world. Eventually, you're going to want to create a community at some point and that community's going to stem from your list. And if you create a community where half the community, they love you, they're engaged and the other half that you threw in the room with them or people that don't really care, it's going to ruin everybody's experience. And so that's the other thing, you want to put high quality people with more high quality people and have them all experiencing your services and products together. That's how you do that and you're going to have to cut some people out of your life in order to make it happen.
Jen Spencer (31:40):
This is a total aside and I might lose people. If you were a musical theater dork like I am, I'll gain credibility. But there's a Broadway musical, it's called Title of Show and there's a song, Nine People's Favorite Things. And the whole theme is I'd rather be nine people's favorite thing than a 100 people's 9th favorite thing. And so as you were just sharing that with me, I can just hear it playing in my head.
Brandon Voss (32:10):
Yes. That's a great way to put that. No, I haven't seen the musical. I've been to a few, my wife's into the musicals. I'll tell Maya and you guys can go together.
Jen Spencer (32:19):
Awesome, awesome. Okay. I want to ask you a question, I want you to dream a little bit. Pretend time and money are not an issue. I know that's a big pretend like, "Hey, you just have carte blanche."
Brandon Voss (32:34):
Pretend all your problems have gone away. Right?
Jen Spencer (32:36):
Exactly, exactly. Exactly. Where would you ask your marketing team to invest their next dollars in? What's something that you're like, "That would be so cool to do."
Brandon Voss (32:51):
Oh, that is such a good question and I'm glad you warned me on this and I apologize, I still got a few things rattling around in my head because it's just like all the possibilities.
Jen Spencer (33:01): I Know, I know.
Brandon Voss (33:01):
So what I'll go with is I would love to expand specifically for the Black Swan Group. I would love to expand how we're interacting with our corporate clients. We do a lot of negotiation training, high level skills, work with whale hunters and various other things. But if we could start to affect our corporate clients at a cultural level, I would love to do that. And so we toyed with the idea of change management. I hate that term. Plus, it's also one of those common terms that gives people the heebie-jeebies sometimes. But if we could help with genuine cultural shifts that make people stronger from the ground up, that's what's going to help them from a negotiation standpoint. When everybody internally has an abundance mindset, the abundance mindset that helps you purge your list so you got a stronger community. That same abundance mindset that has trickled all the way throughout an organization and we help facilitate that. That'd be huge. And so I'd love to put a lot of resources towards that and really help people from that level of building teams stronger communication wise, productivity wise. That'd be a wonderful thing.
Jen Spencer (34:13):
I absolutely love that. And I'm a firm believer in the importance of internal marketing and internal sales and also the planning and preparation that you do as a team. While it might seem like you want to go faster externally, the work that you do internally, if you can slow down, can really help you accelerate the impact you can make externally as well. So gosh, I'd love to see you do that too. I think it's great.
Brandon Voss (34:49): Would be fun.
Jen Spencer (34:51):
Well, I have one more question for you, Brandon.
Brandon Voss (34:53): Cool.
Jen Spencer (34:54):
And just being that your past history with sales and sales leadership and with a lot of the clients that you have for the revenue leaders, sales leaders, specifically that are listening or watching right now, what do you think's most important for them today?
Brandon Voss (35:14):
What's most important for them? Well, I'll make a book recommendation and then I'll throw in a skill.
How about that?
Jen Spencer (35:14): Great, perfect.
Brandon Voss (35:20):
Book recommendation selfishly, Ego, Authority, Failure written by Derek Gaunt. He's also an instructor here at Black Swan. He has taken everything that we talk about with tactical empathy and communication and applied it to the leadership role specifically in Ego, Authority, Failure. It's all about leadership and how you communicate better and influence people at another level. And so that's my first book recommendation. And then from a skill side, it's easy for us to get caught up in, I am the leader and it's my job to tell people what to do. And not only that, people who are my direct reports, it's their job to listen to me and they're looking for me to lead them. That's probably one of the most common misconceptions about being a leader. And if anything, your job is to help people grow, help them go beyond themselves and accomplish things that they didn't even know they could. And only way to do that is to help them see.
And while as a leader, it very much feels like you're beating around the bush when it's like, "Okay, Mr. and Mrs. Employee, listen to me and then just do what I say," versus, "Let me help you see." It feels like you're beating around a bush. In the long run, you're going to create people that are loyal to you. People don't leave jobs, they leave managers. And so the more you help people see and cultivate their ability to express themselves and learn and grow, the more likely that they're going to be loyal to you and to you alone.
Jen Spencer (36:49):
I love it. I love it. Well, Brandon, thank you so much for joining me today. I think there's so many little golden nuggets, so many recommendations that you've provided and food for thought. And also I want to mention, I know you're getting back into live events, which is great. And I want to let everyone listening know there is a workshop coming up at the end of October that the Black Swan Group is hosting in New York on influencing negotiation with tactical empathy. And I want to say, I personally think that tactical empathy, this is so critical in our socioeconomic climate today and highly recommend the coursework that's produced by the Black Swan Group. Brandon, what's the best way for folks to learn more about all of these resources, everything that's available through your organization, where should they go?
Brandon Voss (37:45):
That's great. Thank you, Jen. So the website's the best place, blackswanltd.com like limited. You can find out more about the event that Jen just mentioned. It's also the easiest way to sign up for our weekly free newsletter called The Edge, the negotiation edge. And it's usually based on a topic that we've gotten directly from our contact list. Our people, our fans are dealing with negotiation issues every day and they throw ideas of this and then we just write blog topics about it. And so that's where those come from. Easily digestible, easy to add something to the repertoire on a daily basis. And so a great way to find that is on the website.
Jen Spencer (38:25):
Perfect. And it is a very value first newsletter. So I highly recommend it. Well, thank you everyone for listening. Please join me next week for another episode of the Intelligent Inbound podcast, you'll meet another industry expert who like Brandon, leans into the inbound methodology. And if you learned something today, please pay it forward by rating and reviewing us on your podcast listening platform of choice. Make it a great day, everyone.