VOGSY is fortunate to interact with leaders and influencers involved in a range of professional services organizations (PSO). The PSO Knowledge Expert Series brings you their thoughts on the topics that matter most.
For this edition, we spoke with Joe Rinaldi, founder of That Was Clutch, a company that helps client services organizations level up their business development. Equal parts consultant and coach, he enables agencies, internal teams, sole practitioners and enterprises to grow their network size, deepen network affinity and connect with the people who hire in impactful ways.
Joe is also an adjunct professor at Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and was VP of biz dev and later president of Happy Cog, a pioneering digital communications agency. Naturally, during our chat he was able to provide specific insight into how agencies can raise their biz dev game.
MVL: Tell us about your company.
JR: I enable organizations to improve and optimize their business development, and take sales and their companies to the next level. The organizations I work with are client services teams, ranging from website design shops to public relations (PR) and marketing agencies to architectural firms. This includes many PSOs. It’s more alchemy than science and my goal is to develop skills and strategy that’ll help them acquire, build and maximize value with prospects and customers.
MVL: Alchemy? Can you explain?
JR: Well, this is a soft science, especially in agency client services. Every agency is different. There’s no “silver bullet” solution that makes sense for all because working with clients is highly idiosyncratic; each agency has its own strengths, vulnerabilities and way of operating. Further, the industry itself and the technology it uses is ever-changing, so the landscape shifts. Biz dev requires a customized, flexible approach to adapt and drive new opportunities.
MVL: Is adopting this approach a challenge?
JR: Most people who lead agencies and client services hail from a non-business background. They’re designers, creatives, communicators – they love the work but tend not be fluent in sales or running a company. As a result, they often have a natural instinct to want to “take this stressful thing off my plate” instead of working on biz dev consistently.
Ideally, they’d like to perfect a system, hammer it into place and ride into the sunset. The problem is, if they don’t evolve and continually make incremental adjustments end up in big trouble in a couple of years – they fall behind and find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.
MVL: What is the biggest pain point your clients most often come to you with?
JR: The impetus is typically a desire to increase lead generation, but we often find there are deeper issues to address. It’s understandable that they want that hot lead coming in: there’s interest in them already, a greater chance of closing and the sales cycle will likely be shorter. Most clients say to me, just get me in the room and I’ll win the business – they think all they need is more conversations.
Most often, we find there’s a lot of other biz dev bases they’re not covering that are just as important, sometimes more so. We typically end up working on a few areas to increase that network size and create value that will get the attention of decision-makers. It’s less about sheer numbers and more about strengthening positioning and outreach – an approach that’s more successful and sustainable.
MVL: You mentioned technology is ever-changing. How is this affecting client services companies?
JR: Technology can be powerful, but it also can be distracting. In the past decade there’s been a lot of noise around tech developments and tools for teams and it’s resulted in an arms race among small businesses. This is particularly true at agencies when it comes to digital tools that handle areas from customer relationship management (CRM) to pipeline management.
Make no mistake, there’s an amazing amount of tech that can do things much more efficiently than the old way of spreadsheets and bootstrapped solutions. However, many of my clients are native to the digital space and can be susceptible to the siren song of the newer, shinier product. It’s hard for them to determine what they should invest in. Additionally, their scarcest resource is time, and there’s no way to manufacture more of that. So they have to be really smart about how they experiment.
MVL: Do you have any advice in that regard?
JR: Don’t be a serial experimenter and indulge your curiosity about every new tool that comes along. Shiny isn’t better. There’s a lot of value in personal referrals – tools endorsed by people you trust, proven in your industry – as opposed to playing the fringe and hoping to acquire an advantage others have yet to discover.
MVL: What are your thoughts on professional services automation (PSA) platforms?
JR: These platforms make sense, particularly for agencies. For starters, anything that can automate routine tasks and free staff up to focus on more profitable or billable areas – particularly agency leaders – is as close to having the ability to manufacture time as you can get.
Still, the greatest value they offer is in providing a holistic view. I’ve run an agency, so I’ve seen all those gory moving parts, particularly on the administration and operational side.
The most challenging thing is reconciling cash flow and resource planning. Scheduling and forecasting can keep an agency alive or bury it. Various spreadsheets across an agency creates information silos, and the data isn’t often shared or current. You need real time insight to size teams accordingly and ensure people are properly billable.
When different teams are able to see the status of what others are working on, they can better anticipate needs too. And with transparency, people gain context as to what makes for a good quote and profitable job. Staff begins to understand that if you can figure out a way to do more work that’s more profitable, everyone makes more money – it gets everyone on the same page.
Still, as I mentioned earlier, you need a PSA that’s proven. I give VOGSY a great deal of credit for “walking the walk” in the agency community through your work with the Bureau of Digital and support of related events. You’ve done your homework and take the time to get to know your audience – it makes sense that VOGSY aligns so well with user needs.
MVL: A final question – perhaps the one people want the answer to most. You mention on your homepage and Twitter you “came here to chew gum and make friends.” Is this an effective bonding activity in business, too?
JR: Ha, why not? Remember when you were a kid, you’d bring out a pack of gum and immediately your friends – old and new – would gather around? It works with business development, too. The fact is, I have three kids, and with their sports, it’s constant. I’ll gladly buy the gum so long as I don’t have to pick up sunflower seeds.
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