In this episode of The Go For Growth Show, Ken Fowler, Managing Director of the B Series of Recruitment Consultancies, discusses his sales philosophy, the thinking behind growing 5 recruitment consultancies at the same time, and how he turned them all into million dollar businesses. Ken has had a really interesting journey and has some great tips to share on the importance of focusing on your core business and how to get your sales team picking up the phone.
Mark Engelmann: Alright, hello everyone, welcome to this episode of The Go For Growth show. My name's Mark Engelmann and I'll be your host today. I'm very excited to have with us Ken Fowler, the managing director of the B Series Group of Recruitment companies.
Ken, welcome to the show.
Ken Fowler: Thank you, Mark. How are you?
Mark Engelmann: Very good, thank you, very good. Ken, from what you've told me, you've had a pretty fast and furious journey over the past 10 or so years. In that time you've grown $5-million businesses. Can you tell me about where you started and your journey to building those five businesses?
Ken Fowler: I fundamentally started at the bottom. The businesses are executive recruitment firms. My introduction to that was going to a job interview with an executive recruitment firm. Turns out it was quite a funny story. This was in 1999 and they said there's this new concept that's just come out, where people are going to build lots of garages on industrial blocks of land and people are going to use them for storage, and we're looking for a business development for the manager for that. I thought to myself, "Well, that will never fly. I don't want to do that."
They turned around at the end of the interview and they said, "Have you ever thought of being a recruitment consultant?" And I hadn't because I thought it was human resource based and I'm a salesman and business developer but when I spoke to some of my mentors, they said, "No. It's very sales orientated. It's very much about negotiation." So, I started as a complete newbie in my very early 30's doing that.
Mark Engelmann: Great, did you start employed as a recruitment consultant?
Ken Fowler: Yes, yes, I started working for a company called Bond Recruitment and after two years was promoted from a recruitment consultant to a team leader, it was still recruiting. Then after another two years the owner of the business turned around and said, "I would like to open a new business and what I'm proposing is that we do it on a 50/50 basis. I'll provide the working capital and you can provide all of the sweat equity." is I suppose is today's term.
Within two years of opening that business, the new business, Barclay Recruitment, was the same size as Bond Recruitment.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah, wow.
Ken Fowler: I was given a book as a Christmas present from a friend called “The E Myth” by Michael Gerber which I read and was absolutely enthralled about how entrepreneurs work and think and the thing that really struck me from that was the Pareto principle, the 80/20 rule which you're going to get 80% of your business from 20% of your clients.
I thought this is simple, we just have to open up five firms and we'll have 100% of the market which was a novel idea at the time and actually we did put it in place, but we never got 100% of the market. That's another story we did do very well.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah, fantastic and so from Barclay Recruitment you grew the other four businesses. Is there a thinking behind the five brands?
Ken Fowler: Well, people ask me why do they all start with the letter B? I'm not a creative, I'm a mechanic so to speak so I make systems and get them to run as fast as they can. We went to an advertising agency who said, "If you're gonna start a company you should start it with the first three letters of the alphabet and make sure that it's a recognisable name, so people can immediately give you some credibility." So, Barclays is a bank, Valentine Recruitment came from a scotch, Buckingham Recruitment came from a palace, Brazen Recruitment came from a character trait, I suppose and B Series Contracting is just it, it's B Series Contracting.
As we went down the path the reason behind having the different businesses was firstly I promoted employees into the position of equity general managers so that we had an executive team there. Secondly, the business model runs best with between 12 to 15 staff so it's the size of a football team basically Mark. You know, you've got your forwards and your backs, someone's doing sales recruitment, someone's doing engineering recruitment, they can work off each other and that's completely different to running a firm with 90 recruitment consultants in it, it's a whole different kettle of fish.
Running football teams, not hard at all.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah, right, interesting, interesting. You've said just before that you're a salesman, that's your strength, do you have a particular philosophy when it comes to sales?
Ken Fowler: Well, there's a lot of them but my philosophy is based on the quality of your questions, but you'll understand where the pain points lay. This is the difference between tellers and sellers. A lot of sales people go in there and they don't ask questions, they just tell them about their products or services and at the end of it present them with a quote and hope that they buy. The path to a sale is just that, it's about you shutting your mouth and listening to where your client's come from.
I spent the majority of my sales training teaching my staff and external sales training that I do how to ask really powerful questions.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah, cool. How did you develop that philosophy?
Ken Fowler: There's invention, there's imitation and there's emulation. It's really hard to invent stuff, Mark, it takes a lot of either brain power or a lot of luck. I didn't want to be someone who just imitates someone else, so the emulation piece came around turning my car into a, I suppose, a training room. I used to have to drive to far north Queensland and back every month and subscribe to sales books on tape. I would listen to them over and over again. I already was a massive consumer of self-help books and stuff like that to my friends great humour, that was really funny.
It was a combination of putting together everything from Brian Tracey to Zig Ziglar to listening to people that I worked with that had done it in the marketplace but the philosophy that really came home with the growth of the recruitment businesses was you've got to ask questions; every client's need is different. You're employed as recruitment consultants, sales people, you've actually got to sell something, you're not order takers, you're not administrators, you actually got to ask the question, put yourself in harm’s way and by that, I mean rejection and sell something.
That's my philosophy, get in front of the client, ask a lot of questions.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah, yeah, cool. At what point in your career as a sales person did you work out that you kind of nailed it, I guess, the sales side of it.
Ken Fowler: I haven't nailed it.
Mark Engelmann: I don't think anyone ever does but you know what I mean? You said that you teach people and you train people in sales these days and at what point did you feel that you had the confidence and the knowledge in that area?
Ken Fowler: Well, fundamentally what I did was I was able to articulate a process, this was the 40 steps in a recruitment process. Once I actually got that down pat used it myself so led by example and then started training other people in it where the other people had that “aha” moment. The constant phrase that I used was to turn around and say, "Well bugger me, look the system actually works. Follow the system, it works."
That was interesting because 10 years later I went and did some Jack Daily training and Jack turned around and said well, he's got 2,600 staff, he said there's not 2,600 different ways to sell, there's one and if you do it this way you'll be successful. That reinforced the, I wish I'd met Jack 10 years before, it would have saved me a lot of time and a hell of a lot of money.
Mark Engelmann: Yes, yes. Sales, I guess, is often something that some people are scared of, they don't like getting out there and pitching their ideas and sometimes it's skill that I guess is a bit underdeveloped in entrepreneurs and business owners, probably especially people that are just starting out, what advice would you have for someone looking to improve their sales skills?
Ken Fowler: It's very interesting. The selling skills that I promote are fundamentally as I said before it's the questioning skills but you got to get through that psychological barrier first and the psychological barrier is in a lot of cases do worst things first, 10 before 10, make those 10 prospecting calls before 10AM. You don't want to do them? Just get them out of the way, just get them done. It's a doing the worst things first philosophy.
The second thing is you've got to take into account there's very little competition out there of people who are actually getting on the phone at a senior level or a mid-level that want to find out about a client's problem, they're expecting it all to be online ordering or whatever the case may be. One of the key things to to B Series recruitment consultancies, we specialise in markets. Every single one of those markets was started by me getting on the phone and saying, "Right, we need to have a market within the mechanical engineering sales arena, I'm going to go find 10 companies that do mechanical engineering sales and create a demand then hand it off to another consultant and then have three or four consultants in different firms doing the same thing."
If your role, sorry, stop myself, if my role, 50 to 60% of it was business development, it was about finding new customers, finding new clients, seeing if there was a big paying point and then creating a demand from that pain.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah, interesting, cool. If sales is your strength, what's your weakness Ken?
Ken Fowler: I am an impatient person and I am known for, I suppose, being distracted by shiny things and also just putting too much on my plate which means I ... My ex CEO taught me, fantastic guy, he basically said, "Listen, you've got to remember done is better than perfect so put it into priority, figure out what's the ones that you really need to get done and get it done. Doesn't have to be perfect, nothing wrong with perfectionist but when there's so much on your plate do the 20% first."
That was my weakness, it's now a great strength but it's always the impatience, I want it done now, I want it to happen. In recruitment that's a real frustration because our sales cycle is between three weeks and eight weeks for someone to say I need to find a person to yes, I'll employ them and now they start.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah, okay, cool. You hear from entrepreneurs all the time, I think a lot of the entrepreneurs I talk to they say that the one thing that they wish they weren't is impatient and they always want everything done when, when the idea pops into their mind they're like, I want it done now kind of thing so that's interesting that you say that.
At one point with the five different brands, they are five separate companies and you were managing all of those, tell me about that and that experience.
Ken Fowler: That was probably one of the most educational times that I had in that at that stage I wasn't in EO, the Entrepreneurs Organisation, I was in tech, the executive connection. The executive connection you can be a member without being the owner managing director of the business so you could be an employee, state manager, manager, stuff like that. I got a lot of advice rather than experiences and I ended setting up an advisory board. We had the general managers of the businesses on the advisory board and our accountant from, our external accountant, we had a professional business coach and occasionally we bought in other experts in regards to human resources or marketing or IT or stuff like that.
I nearly died of indigestion and it wasn't until my CEO turned around and said listen, you've spent a lot of time with this advisory board in the last year and I think you've forgotten what we're here for, we're here for the customer. The advisory board basically looked at everything and said let's look at internal systems, lets' look at HR policies, let's look at IP, let's look at premises, let's look at structure, let's look at finance, let's look at this and while, yeah, you have to consider them my biggest learning there was let's look at the customer and I ended up disbanding the advisory board and that was an expensive experience as well.
Now, some people have great advisory boards but mine ended up being exactly what I said, I nearly died of indigestion Mark, it was a terrible experience.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah, right. What did that teach you about business strategy, that experience?
Ken Fowler: A lot of businesses that I recruit for or that I've been introduced to with other EOers, they're simple beasts, they provide a product or a service and you need to, and once again this is plagiarism, you need to make the complex simple and then you need to make the simple compelling. In professional services firm which is what I do and it doesn't matter whether it's recruitment consultants, lawyers, accountants, public relations, you've got to break it down into bite size pieces so the staff can consume it and then also then that they're can sell it to the customers.
Look, yeah, business can be very tricky and very complex but it shouldn't be. If you take the 80% of everything you need to do, 100% of everything you need to do and you only did 20% of the important stuff your business would probably still do pretty well so that was my takeaway from that experience, only do a few things well, only do a few things and do them really well.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah, cool. We're almost at the end of the interview Ken. What is your number one tip for business owners out there looking to grow their business?
Ken Fowler: Nothing happens until somebody sells something and if you own the business then you should be the number one fan, ra ra man, cardboard man or woman customer facing person. Once you get your sales process right and you understand what your sales drivers are, I'll give you a simple example. Within the 40 steps of the recruitment process there are two major drivers. Number one is sending a candidate to a client so they can read a resume, okay. Number two is then organising a meeting between the client and the candidate. We can do hundreds of outgoing phone calls, we can do dozens of interviews, we can go and visit clients, have coffees, build in our database, do candidate calling, all that kind of stuff but at the end of each week if my consultants have sent out the required number of candidates and then they've organised the required number of interviews between the client and the candidate, I end up with the bottom line that I expect so those are my two sales drivers.
In my experience as an EO accelerator coach and also with other EOers, if you understand what your two or three sales drivers are, and you focus on doing those consistently into a very high level of quality and delivery the system basically runs itself. Not a lot of people really think round and say, what drives sales? Sending out an invoice, no, that's an outcome, that's not driving sales, that's an outcome of it, how did you get to send out the invoice?
I'm a sales person though, you might be in a completely different industry or service sector or product sector where there's massive demand for whatever you do, you don't need to sell because people will buy from you, wouldn't that be great?
Mark Engelmann: That would be awesome. Reminds me of the old saying if you can't measure it, you can't manage it, right?
Ken Fowler: Very true, very true.
Mark Engelmann: Ken, have you lately used any technology apps or services that have really assisted you in saving time or growing and scaling your businesses?
Ken Fowler: Look, I have to say no, I try to keep my technology consumption and the introduction of new technology to the business as simple as possible because we're in a people business. I have a saying in the business, don't get killed by a techno cow. There are sacred cows in the business and one of ours is pick up the phone and talk to someone, that's the way you engage a candidate or a client. Techno cows are ... It's becoming an online recruiter or being email tough and stuff like that so I try to keep it, to minimise the technology in the business because we're a people business.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah, yeah, what a refreshing insight, Ken. There's not many people that I talk to that say no, I'm not interested in the technology thing.
Ken Fowler: Well, it's really funny, you know when you can sit there going online, doing all your stuff, working your apps, getting your plug ins, stuff like that but to sit down and be present with a client and ask them how their business, oh my God, it's a release. I'll say it again as I said Mark, there's not many people that get out there and do that. I recently launched a new website, just a small one and the amount of emails I've had saying would you like to consider my SEO services, have you considered doing the branding, how are you going to do the marketing, blah blah. Do you know how many phone calls I had about that? None, no-one's picked up the phone, I'm just getting all these emails and it’s hilarious. Holy Moly man, if someone actually rang up and engaged me they might make the sale.
Mark Engelmann: Yeah, totally, totally. Alright Ken, well that's all I've got for you today, thanks for your time. It was a great conversation.
Ken Fowler: You're welcome.
Mark Engelmann: I'll talk to you soon.