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For this episode of E-Coffee with Experts, Ranmay Rath interviewed Bradley Hajart, Executive Vice President at Next Level Catapult located in New York. Explore the intricacies of entrepreneurial success with Bradley in this insightful interview. From crafting a solid exit strategy to the pivotal role of team building and client-centric engagement, Hajart shares indispensable wisdom for sustainable business growth. Dive into the nuances of B2B marketing, uncovering the secrets of effective communication and personalization.
Watch the episode now for more insights!
Client-centric engagement is critically important. It’s what keeps clients sticky, it’s what keeps them coming back, investing, and spending more.
Hey, hi, everyone. Welcome to your show, E-Coffee with Experts. This is Ranmay here, your host for today’s episode. Today, we have Bradley, who is the Executive Vice President at Next Level Catapult with us. Welcome, Bradley.
Thanks for having me.
Great. Since we have been speaking for quite some time now, and I know that you have had a hell of a journey managing multiple ventures across domains, so just wanted to understand, as a senior entrepreneur, that you have founded, grown, and sold companies successfully across different niches. We would like to understand what are some of the key considerations for entrepreneurs or business leaders when it comes to scaling ventures, and how do you approach challenges to ensure that the growth is sustainable?
Yeah, it’s a great question. I think I’ve had several opportunities to find, grow and sell companies. And what I’ve learned is that first and foremost, when you start a new venture, if you intend to exit that company at some point in the future, start with the plan. You have to have a long-term vision in mind of what the company will grow to. Put a number down on paper. If you want it to be $20 million of yearly revenue, put it on paper. Make sure that in your plan you have a vision for how big and how unique that company will be so that long-term vision, I think, is important, and then create a comprehensive business plan that will get you there. To have a vision in mind for five or 10 years in the future is one thing. You need to put a plan on paper and have something written down so that now you’re going to navigate to get there. Now, granted, that plan will change millions of times before you’re done. But having a plan on paper will ensure that you have a path forward, that you have a plan in mind, and that you’re moving towards the right goal that you’ve already committed to.
So that’s why the plan is really important. And then you’ve got to make sure you’re building a team around you that’s going to help you bring that plan to life. I always felt the team surrounding yourself with the right people, especially the first few hires, is just critically important, because once you have a plan and once you have those first few founding team members in place, you can start moving towards your goal. Having a team that understands your vision, and that will work as hard, if not harder than you will get there is important in getting to your goal in the time that you have allotted for it. If you spend the first year or two years trying to get this team, you’ve wasted that time. Those first few hired are critically important, I think, for getting a business started on the right foot.
Yeah, absolutely. Very well said. The process is so important. If you mention them on paper, your plan is going to change. But if you have something in mind, you stick to it, you experiment, you fail, you succeed. But having that process and your frame, and the proper scheme of things is so important. And the team as well, like you mentioned. But if it sounds too much for you guys, you can contact Bradley for that. He is your guy. Bradley, having been part of the acquisition process multiple times yourself, what advice would you give to agency owners who are considering selling their businesses and how can they navigate negotiations effectively and transition on both clients and the internal side as well?
So the first agency that I ever sold, I was not ready. I did not start the business with the expectation to sell it, and we were not running the business in the first few years as if we were going to sell in the future. A track record of revenue and profitability is very important when it comes to excelling in a business because that’s how they’re going to value the business. It’s how they’re going to determine how much you’re going to make off of that sale. And a lot of founders will say, you can always pro-forma what your revenue or profitability would have been to add certain things to have certain decisions that you made that did not happen. While many quieters will take into consideration those decisions and those pro-forma numbers, having real profit on paper legitimately for year over year, many years leading up to a sale is really important. I always tell everyone that we coach that we help have an exit in mind and plan from day one from a financial standpoint to get to what your goal is. Run it like a business that you plan on selling. Even if you plan on never selling it, I encourage everyone to run a business you’re going to sell it.
It’s going to make you run it in the right way. You’re going to run it leaner. You’re not going to waste money on discretionary spending that isn’t adding value. You’re going to invest in people because people are a huge part of evaluation at the end of the business’s life cycle. Having a good team in place is going to increase your valuation. So you’re going to spend money in areas that’s going to help the business grow and it’s going to help the transaction value. And thinking about running it from a fiscal standpoint with the end in mind, I think is important. And then I would go back to the earlier question team, having the right team in place is important. When most founders exit, they leave the company within the first three years, if not immediately. It depends on what transaction that you’re doing. But in many cases, there’s either a desire for the founder to leave immediately, especially in the case of a lot of private equity, they want to install their leadership team and the founder typically may be out the door immediately, maybe within the first year. Certain companies, especially if you’re being acquired by a strategy, are going to want to keep you on for some time through an earnout.
You may have a one or two or a three-year earnout where the founder is staying on. But at the end of the day, founders leave and executive leadership leaves. Your top leaders will leave if they don’t see the opportunity to continue to grow, they don’t see the opportunity to have a significant financial windfall. And those things are sometimes challenges after a sale. It’s really important to make sure that you have a team in place and that there is a plan for when you leave for the next person to step up and take over more responsibility. Quite honestly, that creates a waterfall for everyone. A founder leaves, and everyone gets to move up a step. It keeps them engaged in the business. In many cases, we’ll have allowed them to earn more as they move into more senior roles. So having a team that’s in place that’s going to take over and make it seamless is going to add value during the transaction. Any company doing their diligence is going to want to look at, whether there is a succession plan in place that’s going to make sure that my investment isn’t disrupted as a founder decides to exit.
And then I think being customer-centric, and every business is different. The importance of customer engagement probably varies a little bit by category. I know in my space, especially in the agency and firm models, client-centric engagement is critically important. It’s what keeps clients sticky, it’s what keeps them coming back, investing, and spending more, and it’s what keeps them there during the transition. Companies that don’t have strong client relationships, go through tremendous churn during a transaction because it creates disruption. There are always bumps along the way during the sale of a business. And no matter how strong the leadership team is, you’re taking your eye off running the business from a day-to-day standpoint to keep an eye on the transaction. And that takes a ton of time. If you don’t have great customer engagement if you don’t have strong client relationships, then you will likely lose more clients than you expect during a transaction, and that creates challenges. It creates challenges for leaders who have an earnout. It creates challenges for the acquirers. They are going to look into your customer relationships as part of any final diligence. When they talk to those customers, they want to hear great things.
They want to hear loyalty keywords. And if they’re not hearing that, it’s going to affect your valuation for sure.
Lovely. You and yourself value the transition from consumer brands to B2B marketing, which is a significant shift in itself. What were the key lessons that you learned during the transition, during this process? And then how did you adjust your approach? Because B2B marketing is so much of result-driven, the nature is such. So how was the transition for you?
While it’s different, it’s not as different as I thought going into that transition. Most of the agency career was spent working on consumer brands and working on large consumer brands, doing traditional digital marketing and traditional advertising. We always focused on the consumer and the consumer segments and customizing content for those consumer segments. When I moved into roles where I had to oversee B2B marketing solutions in the last few years, what I’ve learned is that a lot of the principles that you find in consumer marketing are very similar, if not identical to those found in B2B marketing. The terminology changes a little bit. The reliance on data increases as you get into the B2B side. But in general, the way campaigns work, and the way you develop strategy and measure the results are relatively similar, especially as performance marketing has become so important on the consumer marketing side. You’re seeing more B2B and consumer work looks more similar. But obviously, some things are different. I think the first thing that I learned is that when you’re thinking about developing those campaigns for the first time you’ve got to understand the difference between an audience and a consumer segment.
Their decision-making for the B2B space is much more thoughtful. They have more specific pain points on the B2B side than you would see on the consumer side, and they want to see those very specific pain points addressed. It’s critical that you’re identifying those pain points and that you’re trying to figure out how to communicate those on a consistent and effective basis. As a result of that, as a result of so many different and specific pain points in the B2B space, thinking about how to educate consumers or B2B customers is important. How do you get the right information to them? And then how do you personalize that message? On the consumer side, we talk a lot about customization of marketing, whereas in B2B, it’s really about personalization. How do I know what you as an individual may need or want? And how do I make sure I communicate that to you as effectively and efficiently as possible? And so figuring out how you can get to that personalization is much more important than on the consumer side. Now, granted, your target is different. In a consumer marketing campaign, you’re reaching hundreds of thousands, if not millions, or tens of millions of consumers.
We’re on the B2B side, you may be targeting hundreds of consumers, maybe our customers, maybe thousands at best. Personalization is much more reasonable on the B2B side than on the consumer side. This always gets overlooked, I think, by first-time marketers who move into the B2B business, which is sales alignment. You have to make sure that your strategy is aligned with what sales is doing. When you think about consumer marketing, sales, and marketing work very independently from other sales. Goes and figures out, where is my item going to be sold. They work with the retailers to make sure that product is available in the places that they think is important. Then marketing decides, okay, how am I going to drive people to those locations? How am I going to make sure that they know where to buy it and that they want to buy it? But it’s much more about the story that you’re telling and getting them to the right location. And so sales don’t define the who. They have defined the where when it comes to consumers. On the B2B side, sales define the who, and you as a marketer, define the where.
You’ve got to figure out where and how to engage them, but sales have decided who they are. I think that’s one of the biggest differences because if you’re not aligned with the sales organization, you’re probably marketing to the wrong people and you’re becoming very inefficient because they’re targeting, from an outbound standpoint, probably they’re targeting one group and you may be targeting a completely different group and you’re not gaining that and see the effectiveness that you would want to see in a campaign. Then you’ve got your whole health of more talents in the B2B marketing side. Roi’s focus is really important. Everything is measured when you get to B2B. It is about did that investment led to tangible dollars. Whereas consumer marketing measures a lot more of the warm and fuzzy, I like to call them, How did you change the hearts and minds of a consumer? That’s still very important on the consumer side. When they’re trying to build a brand, they’re trying to generate recall, they’re trying to do a lot of things that are building a potential pool of people to buy, and they care less about tying that into the actual sales.
It’s not that they don’t care. It’s that it’s hard to measure, so it isn’t measured as effectively or as often as you would see on the B2B side. Any B2B marketer that’s been doing this for a while, is going to want to see every single dollar track back to the revenue generated.
Absolutely. Absolutely, lovely. Before I let you go, Bradley, I would love to understand your take on AI. Any conversation these days cannot get over without talking about AI. What is your take? The industry has been taken up by storm last November, December, around this time of the year 2022. So many changes, and shifts, but yeah, exciting times ahead for sure. How have you adopted it? What is your take? Where are we headed as per Bradley?
Let’s assume for a second that AI doesn’t take over the world and that we’re not answering to robots in the next couple of years, which I hope isn’t the case. But I think just in the last year, the integration of AI, especially generative AI, into the day-to-day business world has been just transformational. I’ve never seen anything adopted this quickly. I see it in the way that we run our business, but also in the way all of our clients are running their businesses, especially on the sales and marketing side. What is almost universally happening, in virtually any company right now, is the adoption of GPT tools to create more efficiency and a little bit more effectiveness within their existing labor pool. So marketing teams tapping into OpenAI, ChatGPT, or maybe FreedomGPT. A lot of people talk about FreedomGPT lately. Bard is now really starting to become more popular. But tap into these tools and use them to create content, whether that’s content that’s consumer or customer-facing for their website, site for email marketing purposes whatever, or just for their internal communications. The number of people that are now using ChatGPT or one of their competitors to formulate internal emails to advocate for whatever their point of view is more effectively internally has been where the biggest adoption has been from what we’ve seen.
The same thing goes for the sales side. Sales teams usually are notorious for being way too long-winded in their communication. They want to sell everything. It’s one of the things that we see so often is you’re just cramming every feature into an email or into a sell sheet that you’re going to send to a customer. I’ve seen a clarity of communication happen within organizations that have embraced one of these GPT platforms because it allows you to simplify very easily. Even people who are not great writers can use GPT to be more succinct, more clear about what they’re communicating, and more customized or personalized. You mentioned earlier the importance of personalization in B2B marketing and sales, it’s even more important to be personalized. If you put a salesperson who’s not a great writer and you ask them now, personalize the message, you’re going to get something way too long-winded and not fun to read. Now put a GPT product on top of that. Let’s take what you know about them, the personalization that you want to communicate, the features that you think are important, and let’s synthesize those into something more powerful and impactful.
And that’s what you’re seeing pretty significantly in today’s organizations. We have clients that we work with where we’ve looked at the communication coming from two individuals: one who is younger and has embraced GPT earlier and one who hadn’t. The clarity of thought from the one using GPT was so much stronger and seemed to understand the product so much better in a short period. Taking that feedback back to the organization helps demonstrate the importance and value of embracing AI tools within the business because most people don’t want to use them because they’re worried they’re going to lose them. The big fear is that I’m going to be out of a job. Ai is going to replace us all. The fact is, there is no AI out there today that’s going to replace humans. It will augment them. It’ll make them more effective, and more efficient. Could it replace future hires because of increased efficiency? Sure, absolutely. Teams may be able to run leaner as more of the organization embraces some of these AI, ML, and automation tools more broadly, but it’s just not there yet. I have yet to see an organization that has done away with roles because of the integration of AI, at least within sales and marketing.
Now there are certain roles that AI and automation will impact more, but right now marketing and sales, for the most part, I think they’ve only benefited from it. You haven’t seen any negative drawbacks in terms of the labor pool shrinking.
Absolutely. It is not a finished product as yet. You still need to humanize it at the end of the output, whatever you get from the AI platforms. Great. Brilliant, Bradley. It has been a lovely conversation, and I’m sure our audiences would have benefited from what they heard in terms of the insights, and your journey so far. Thank you so much for doing this with us, man. Appreciate it.
Thanks for having me. It’s great to meet.
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