LNG Studios - Role Reflection

LNG Studios - Role Reflection


🧠 Overview

This reflection is a review and analysis of my time at LNG Studios (referred to as the business or the company interchangeably) that includes recommendations for future roles. The function herein is Business Development and the definition of said function shall be "growing the business with net-new client acquisition."

🎯 Methodology:

This reflection will analyze facets of the role and the activities carried out within that role based on the following context:

Company Fit:

Why and how the company's standing has an impact on my role and the activities/behaviours as I carried them out. Standing shall refer to directives from senior leadership and/or the company's financial position.

Culture Fit:

Many aspects of the Business Development function must reflect the culture of the business; how the people in the business can buy-in, react, and work with Business Development activities. This is the team's response and resulting impact on effectiveness.

Industry (Business Development) Best-Practices:

Best-practices across Business Development are staples for the function. This reflection will consider how and when best-practices need be followed (or not) within the context above and the nature of the activities carried out at each given time.

🤕 Summary:

Business Development at LNG Studios during my tenure was fast-paced and effective (in the short-term), but cutthroat and selfish. I was driven by ego to make the deals happen at the expense of the businesses long-term success; furthermore, the disconnect between orgs in the business (project management, finance, accounting, and leadership) compounded this vicious cycle. Characterized, we enjoyed a fruitless "success."

Individual lack of organization, lack of access to assets, and focus on "sales" as the revenue channel we pursued inhibited our momentum. Phone and email were undeniably lucrative. Partnerships were a non-starter aside from unofficial, undocumented referral relationships that were somewhat effective. Inbound marketing was a nice idea we never invested in.

To be more successful, I would (and should), have asserted myself more often. The need for connections between orgs, applied the actual best-practices/tools that cost money, honoured our set long-term plans, and; either, moved myself to a leadership position, or left sooner. My mistake was due to a lack of confidence, patience, and essentially cracking under pressure. Conversely, I must note I learned very much in a short amount of time, and this role shaped my career for the better.

For my next role:

Better understand and connect with the team. Continue prioritizing professional development. Focus on skills. Always prospect for sales, partnerships, and recruiting. Build and leverage a "personal brand" for deals across channels.

🌈 Subjects: Activities and Projects:

The following sections will describe "Subjects" defined as the activities and projects carried out by me during my tenure. Each subject will be reviewed within the context above and include anecdotes as needed and/or warranted.

🤯 Project - CRM Implementation - Overview:

This was one of our first projects and it went miserably. We switched CRM systems 4 times and none were used to the full extent of their capabilities. This is compounded by a lack of personal organization among sales team members, myself included, and the company.

Company Fit:

Specific criteria focused on a low-cost solution that eliminated the need for data-entry (or removed as much data-entry as possible).

Culture Fit:

CRM users were the sales team (2) only, and so the Culture Fit was not as relevant. Furthermore, the key component of culture was for the rest of the team to understand our pipeline (an everlasting controversy addressed later in this reflection).

Industry Best Practices:

Best practices in sales focus on SalesForce or Hubspot, neither of which were used largely due to budget and how hard they are to use (properly). As such, our priorities instead addressed speed to use the tool, and ease-of-use, so our two-person team could prioritize client communications.

CRM List (Chronological Order of Purchase):

CRM NameSummary:
We had the most success during this time. The team had issue so we cut it.
Purchased option without reporting and leadership pressure created change
Confused UI that made working with it difficult. No integrations either.
We used the free version which was just a visual pipeline. Ineffective.

CRM Implementation - Analysis:

Our inability to work with a single CRM tool on a long-term basis held us back. Not having a set review schedule also led us to look for alternatives at any given moment instead of when we should have (such as near the holidays when it's quiet anyway).

The Company Fit described above is the issue. There is no "low-cost" CRM solution and implementation that's worth it.

Where I should have asserted myself was in the beginning when the leadership team needed to understanding what a massive undertaking a CRM implementation really is. We underestimated the value of the tool and the investment required to make the most of it to our detriment.

CRM Implementation - Lessons Learned:

If I know the best plan forward I need to assert that I know it and make sure the company listens to me. This was my fault. Don't cut corners. Spend the money and the time on a long-term solution. Invest in making sure its properly implemented. CRM is the life of the sales org–reps look at it and use it daily–make sure it's properly taken care of.

In consideration of the above list: we should have stayed with Copper until switching to SalesForce or Hubspot (properly). The meetings with vendors, time to implement, time messing with spreadsheets, and hassle of having to explain what we were doing with senior leadership would have been avoided. Furthermore, Copper was working. I made the mistake of letting my Director decide to switch.

🚀 Project - Growth Genius - Overview:

Growth Genius is an automated outreach solution that helps you develop an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), write cold-email copy that would appeal to them (sequence), finds ideal accounts and personas in said ICP, and delivers cold-emails on your behalf following best-practices in deliverability to protect your domain. They were the best investment ($ and Professional Development) I made on behalf of the company. Their ROI was 4X (120k revenue vs 30k spent with ~20k margin).

Company Fit:

I introduced this solution with no prior directive from the company. As such, we found the company fit together; however, there were many challenges along the way. Their solution was expensive, it took a while to clearly identify our ICP, and the cold-emails were a subject of contention. I recommended this solution for its outputs, but also for the education they provided our sales team which was part of the selection process (and proved invaluable).

Culture Fit:

There was buy-in from leadership because of the proposed outcomes (3x sales across the country and continent). The challenge for us was making use of the cold-email replies we received from clients identified as a bad fit but still interested. Our team had trouble working with the solution at first.

Industry Best Practices:

Their solution and ongoing education was; in-fact, best practice in modern Sales Development. Admittedly, these were based on Business Development practices common among SaaS companies, not a niche service-based business like ours. Using a service like theirs was also new to the industry, and so time will tell if it proves a best-practice in itself as a solution.

Growth Genius - Analysis:

Getting to ROI took too long and that hurt my ability to convince leadership to continue using their solution. I was not the primary user, and my Director has significant issue with the leads they produced.

Example: I was given 4 positive replies from cold-emails by my Director, the primary user of the solution, and told, as an ultimatum for cutting or continuing their services: "close any of these and I'll buy you dinner". I did close one and it was the biggest USD deal in company history. The analysis is that the solution worked; however, our team was not in a position to really make the most of it.

Growth Genius - Lessons Learned:

If I'm proposing a solution for which I'm accountable, I need to be the one actually using it and reporting on it. I can't remember why we decided that my Director would be the one sending those cold-emails. It was silly on my part to let someone else dictate my accountability. This was my fault; however, the education provided by this company was undeniably valuable for our long-term professional development.

They were a new company and we took a chance on them. Their hunger to perform was a big part of why we were able to make the most of their solution and why they helped us along the way. In the future when selecting service-providers: the track-record of the team behind the company is more important (or at least just as important), as the track record of the company itself. It's okay to take a risk on a new provider when the team has a history of success, is hungry for more success, and really needs you to also be successful.

😱😨😰 Project - Sales Materials - Overview:

This project was the systematic creation and ongoing use of sales materials (used interchangeably with sales assets) for our sales team. These materials include sales decks, portfolios, examples, copy, and anything/everything else we used to sell. This was hell.

Company Fit:

The company was never clear on how they wanted to present themselves and I made two mistakes: believing they did, and not asserting that they should once I found out they didn't. We changed everything within days of being "done" due to a poor company fit/understanding of what we wanted.

Culture Fit:

No one else was bought into the creation of these assets. The documents that represent the company (to the extent that the team needs to know they exist and understand them) is required and we didn't have that. In fact, it was not including the team that held up our progress when people chimed in after we were "done" and compelled us to change the assets (for sound reasons in many cases that should have been addressed sooner in the design process. Don't let yourself believe the team doesn't want to succeed. Believe it's your job to make sure they understand why your success is there success and how they can help you/themselves.

Industry (Business Development) Best-Practices:

Every company does this differently so it's not necessarily about Best-practices, but more so about most effective practices. What is best-practice is tracking the effectiveness of our materials. By that definition, we should not have changed anything because everything was working. We should have added new materials instead of unilaterally changing the old ones and tested which was most effective. Furthermore, rather than long-read documents with many images, our materials should have been limited to one page at a time based on our ICP (exception full portfolio).

Sales Materials - Analysis:

We started something before defining success and without clarifying what we actually wanted these assets to look like. A strategic session to uncover the purpose and intention behind each asset would have gone a long way. While the design and development of these assets was never an issue, the underlying content was; in fact, we wasted our time on several occasions for nothing.

A simple deck became an endeavour involving several team members chiming in, with no clear outcome. The final result was a mish-mash of everyone's opinion that did not accomplish our goals. We just missed the mark and never did it right.

Sales Materials - Lessons Learned:

Start after you (very clearly) define success (SMART goals even). If it represents the company everyone in the company needs to at least see and understand it. In our case, the issue was not a lack of ability, it was a lack of focus, discipline, and controlling our process to make these assets. Improve and set these and there will be success. If the team is not qualified or competent enough to produce or envision the tools then get outside help.

We prioritized getting the deal over doing things properly and our assets suffered. Further, we re-did our sales deck and portfolio over 10 times, but none of those assets listed the name of the project, it's address, nor included the logo of the company that did it (not even their name). The whole thing was absent vision and became a nightmare once the 11th version looked too much like the 2nd. Furthermore, presenting our assets was the low-point of our meetings and presentations. I think another lesson is that the materials you use can't do your job for you; instead, they can further illustrate what you've already said.

🤖 Activity - Cold Outreach - Cold-Email Overview:

Cold Outreach was my first experience with sales automation that enabled personalization at-scale. Email was the golden goose that continuously produced deals for me; nonetheless, it was also the activity which fostered further professional development. The process was finding leads that fit our ICP (good leads), and reaching out to them with an email.

The activity was great for revenue, and even better for understanding prospect feedback on our sales materials and website (when stated directly or implied based on the actions they took). Cold-email was meant to produce a handful of net-new clients around the world, but it was more successful than anticipated, which made things difficult.

We became a hyper-aggressive sales org because we became accustomed to the speed of email which was very off-brand. The team's aggression was a direct result of my self-assured hubris, brought on by this success, and it impacted deals across other channels.

Company Fit:

Cold-email started as a great fit for the company because it was relatively inexpensive (when Growth Genius was active and I found my own leads using free tools). However, the gaps this technique exposed, through client-responses, made it obvious that we were over-extending our messaging with types of work we couldn't do. More on this later. It eventually became a bad fit for the company based on changing directives from leadership, who wanted inbound leads.

Culture Fit:

The company did not like the idea of cold-email as a channel. It was seen as too "salesy," aggressive, and people didn't consider it necessary. Not an issue at first because no one knew the technique existed nor how we used it. This changed over time as the company wanted its image to be that of a top tier firm that didn't have to "chase deals" and had deals come to them.

Industry (Business Development) Best-Practices:

The way we performed cold-email campaigns/sequences was based on industry best-practices and we were wildly above industry averages. Normal is (for example) a 3% reply rate. The best sales development orgs can get between 6% - 9%. Mine were between 30% - 40% at any given time.

However, cold-email was new in a service-based business that is so niche. It's been done, often, and is now considered standard-practice (caveat: when the services are outsourced).

Cold-Email - Analysis:

Everything I did with the cold-email channel was effective; however, we also went very heavy into this channel when we had other options. Our emails were effective because of the email copy, and our segmentation of the leads we procured or purchased. As a channel it was proven to work, and I was proven to be great.

Cold-Email - Lessons Learned:

Keep doing what you're doing. Be mindful of deliverability and how that can effect your success rates. Use best-practices always but remember the backbone (good copy) is always the best-bet with cold email (and most marketing/sales). The bigger lesson is don’t let success (even if it's great success) in one channel full-stop you from at least trying other channels.

Be mindful that the limitation of cold-email is the number of leads you have (that you can legitimately reach out to). If this channel will remain in future roles, make sure to have a steady stream of leads you can reach out to, either with the budget to purchase them or as system to procure them (linkedin, scraping, buying lists, etc).

🙃 Activity - Cold Outreach - Cold Calling Overview:

Cold calling was effective when the accounts we called into were prequalified. Otherwise very difficult. My experience with cold calling is that it’s done best when part of a larger strategy that includes cold email and LinkedIn. Cold calling is difficult in most industries and considered “dead” by most. While I argue it’s not, I would agree that it’s not a good fit for a service-based company (especially in Vancouver).

Company Fit:

Cold calling is an inexpensive approach so the company was for it; however this changed very quickly as soon as it stopped being effective because of the "image" that it gave the company. My thoughts remain mixed on the company fit because cold calling became less effective as budgets across other channels were also cut.

Culture Fit:

The tea neither liked nor appreciated the cold calling channel. While most did not understand its merit, the reality is that the more they saw us making cold calls the more they felt like we were sleazy; a running theme that cost us a culture fit with the other orgs (especially project management).

Industry (Business Development) Best-Practices:

We followed best practices in cold calling while it was part of a multi-channel approach. Aside from this, we did not follow best practices at all. We did not use a dialer, our phones were constantly defective, and caller ID often didn't work (we came up as an unknown number).

Cold Calling - Analysis:

I would not do it again unless part of a larger approach; furthermore, it only works well if the accounts we call into are in the same city. When we can meet and engage directly, the calls make sense; otherwise, there's no merit in the approach. Our team did not have the number of leads and volume we would have expected because we had issue finding the phone numbers of our direct contacts (LInkedIn rarely included them), so we often hit the gatekeeper. In sum, cold-calling was rarely effective and went unappreciated by the company.

Cold Calling - Lessons Learned:

Don't do it unless the company is onboard with what the approach means for the "brand" and don't do it if not part of a larger strategy. The script writing is useful because it can be applied to other channels. Even if you're amazing, the alienation caused by the tactic hurts the overall ability to get buy-in for other avenues. More importantly, it puts you at odds when negotiating (because they know you want their business).

😞 Activity - LinkedIn Outreach:

To my surprise, LinkedIn was not effective. The nature of our clientele (old), made it difficult because such clients don't actually use LInkedIn, some don't even have it, and the ones who do never use it. Sales Nav is useful when working with inbound leads. It didn't perform the way we expected when going outbound because nobody cares. LinkedIn works when people think you're cool upon seeing your name, title, and face.

Company Fit:

The company didn't even know we were doing LinkedIn outreach so it didn't effect us much. They knew we were posting because our colleagues would read my posts but not engage with them (a bad sign). Overall, the money we spent for Sales Nav is the only time it came up.

Culture Fit:

The company didn't understand the value of LinkedIn and didn't care that we were using it. Culture wasn't impacted at all, and nobody was keen to engage with our post to see if their network of potential clients might see it through them.

Industry (Business Development) Best-Practices:

We followed best practices to the best of our ability, but given the issue with our clientele not really using the tool, it was ore of an avenue for partnerships. I got two deals from LInkedIn, and while the clients were decent and the projects were sound, it was not worth the time we put into it.

LinkedIn Outreach - Analysis:

My analysis is that the tool was not effective and we were better off not using it. What it was useful for was finding the companies and accounts that we should cold-email or cold call. Aside from this, responses through LinkedIn outreach were few and far between. If we had an omni-channel approach, a company LinkedIn that was active, and colleagues that were actively posting as well (or at least using LInkedIn to engage), we would have likely seen significantly improved results.

LinkedIn Outreach - Lessons Learned:

LinkedIn is a tool for personal branding and in three years time it might as well be a cross between a resume and Instagram. My tone aside, the only real way to make the most of LInkedIn is to have it as part of a larger strategy that involves personally branding the sales reps of the company, and additional traction channels operating in parallel.

🤪Activity - RFP Responses Overview:

I personally responded to over 14 RFP and won half. The process is straightforward but time consuming when not organized at the outset of the bid/proposal. I've found that most of the time being invited is the only real opportunity you have to win the bid; otherwise, the fact they didn't invite you to apply implies that they won't select you.

Company Fit:

The company loved the idea of submitting to RFPs because it didn't (directly) cost them money to apply. What the company often didn't understand was the time and research required for a successful bid. This impacted our ability to do a good job because monthly quotas were high while an RFP (given the size of the requests), would take days to complete when working on them full time.

Culture Fit:

My colleagues loved the idea of winning such bids because it added to the "prestige" of the company (usually). Everyone loved the idea of these and so it was less work to get them to help with the bidding process (which is why we applied to so many).

Industry (Business Development) Best-Practices:

It's hard to say if we followed best practices in RFP submissions because we never researched what the best companies did when they submitted. However, our win-rate would suggest that we were certainly on the right track at least.

RFP Responses - Analysis:

When we did submit to RFPs it was often a very loose process. We approached them differently most times and did not track the activities we performed to win a bid compared to when we lost. For this reason, the best analysis I have of the RFP process I carried out is that it was effective but unorganized, and because it was unorganized, I was not in a position to improve.

RFP Responses - Lessons Learned:

RFP Responses are about the process behind the responses and the data you have to work with from before you start. Start with the right questions. Did they invite us to apply? Do they work with firms like ours already? Are we actually a good fit to win this? Who else might apply and what are their strengths? There is no set template for responding to RFP, and we should have made one.

😭 Activity - Pitches & Presentations Overview:

Pitching and presenting were the weak links in my ability to sell where developing deals, follow-up, and closing were my stronger links. Presentations were not bad, but ironically, the moment I would present our slides would also be when things went downhill. Listing off services (which is what our deck was), was very ineffective. This goes back to the Sales Materials section above.

Company Fit:

The company loved and encouraged me to present Part of the issue was that my colleagues would also note that our slides were not good but did not help address the root issue. Presentations were difficult because the ongoing dialog of the meeting included comments and implications my colleagues did not understand, and so we would lose rapport or disappoint our clients.

Culture Fit:

Colleagues did not like pitching they preferred reviewing and this made it difficult to work with them to get deals. Presentations are a natural part of the process so a "culture fit" is a given; however, the team took our ability to present well for granted and did not help improve the presentations. While it's my own fault for not getting them on the same page, our effectiveness was limited nonetheless.

Industry (Business Development) Best-Practices:

Best-practices across Business Development are staples for the function. This reflection will consider how and when best-practices need be followed (or not) within the context above and the nature of the activities carried out at each given time.

Pitches & Presentations - Analysis:

It's worth reviewing the process to analyze it effectively. The time spent talking on my part should be minimal; however, it often becomes a "show and tell" in front of our clients. The irony is that the development process (booking the meeting), is the most effective way to keep the meeting on track and have the client do most of the talking.

We did not do this well because we spent more time talking than we should have.

Pitches & Presentations - Lessons Learned:

Speak less, take great notes, discern what your client is looking for, and do not feel like you have to put slides on screen just because you have them. You can figure out what your client wants based on their answer to the question "so what brings you here?" (for inbound leads) - advanced details later. If it's an outbound sales development process then you should already know what they want (which is why they booked the meeting), so your job is even easier.

Remember: the point of the meeting is to gather the intelligence and create the ammunition you need for a winning "proposal". If you spend all the time talking at your client you can't make a winning proposal. When done right, all you'll need to send is an email with bullet points and an invoice and you'll get the deal done. The presentation is an opportunity for the client to tell you how to win the deal and verbally agree once you propose it after they're done talking.

😘 Activity - Writing Up Deals Overview:

Writing up deals was fun for me because it was very easy. When the sale is developed properly, the client talks most during the meeting (with the right leading questions), and the notes are properly documented, writing the deal takes 10 min. Getting to this level of understanding took time (a lot of time); moreover, it was well worth all the effort. Aside from one deal (with the most prestigious law firm NA, Skadden Arps), my deals were minimally red-lined.

Company Fit:

The company had me write all of our teams deals. It was obviously a good fit, but it did take quite a bit of my personal time. I would have been better off if I had taught the team how to write their own deals so I could focus on my own sales.

Culture Fit:

There was no cultural impact that came from deal writing.

Industry (Business Development) Best-Practices:

Best practices in deal-writing depend on the priorities of the company. Ours was IP, and we found terms that were a good fit for our clients. Pricing and payment terms came up with some smaller clients, and most of the time we conceded within reason for the sake of speed (if we give this now can we call the deal done?). Admittedly, I don't know many best-practices for deal writing across other companies because I didn't bother to search for them.

Writing Up Deals - Analysis:

Writing up deals well was a big part of my success because it made closing deals much easier (closed 60% of all deals that reached this stage). However, it also cost me a lot of time to figure things out. I believe deal writing is the second most important part of the sales process after developing the initial sales, and so I'm glad this became one of my strengths.

Writing Up Deals - Lessons Learned:

Formal proposals are over-rated as long as the actual terms are already understood. The biggest clients I signed, billion dollar brands, were all fine with the deal being written up in an email and sent over. Granted, a formal invoice with the same terms in legal language were required, but those were boiler plate anyway.

I should have taught the team more about the deal process, including negotiating and getting buy-in on the terms in advance of the writing being sent over. Naturally, verbal agreement on the deal is best before sending the deal because clients will (usually) sign right away. Secondly, having a template where we fill in the blanks further speeds up the deal writing process. We struggled understanding the impact of the deal on the business (actual profit, actual costs, etc), and that made it harder to draw lines when negotiating. Over time, as my ego grew, I gave more concessions for the sake of closing deals - and that probably cost us in the long run.

😕 Project: UDI Event Sponsorship:

We sponsored an event as an opportunity to get exposure and sponsor deals. The overall budge exceeded 5k, but I'm not convinced it was worth it. Our resources to carry this out were limited, but the saving grace was that it forced the company to re-do its material designs (which were long overdue and a difficult process). The approach was to have team on the floor around newly printed assets (large sign-style renderings, a new brochure, and a one-pager).

Company Fit:

The company was keen on this approach but concerned about the necessary budget. Naturally, the ability to double-dip and use the opportunity to re-do our assets was a big part of getting it approved. Overall, the team was keen to make sure we represented ourselves well.

Culture Fit:

The team was supportive in making sure we did a good job at this event. Team members helped out, and ensured we had what we needed to succeed.

Industry (Business Development) Best-Practices:

We followed best practices at the event, but where we fell short was the planning and the marketing of ourselves as a sponsor. Events like this are a good opportunity to show-face, but we did not do a good enough job of vetting the attendees before we signed up, or engaging with an omni-channel plan.

UDI Event Sponsorship - Analysis:

We did not recovered the money spent through immediate deals, and the overall engagement was rather low. Overall this would have been money better spent if we didn't sponsor and did geo-tags and applied paid social media ads to the space (provided the goal was focused only on awareness). The challenge with events and sponsorships like this is that if you don't do them regularly, or if there's no specific, strategic component, you won't get anything out of them. We didn't.

UDI Event Sponsorship - Lessons Learned:

Event sponsorship needs to be considered an going channel for a business. One-offs as I saw are ineffective (especially with such a niche business). There are opportunities to use them at marquee events that draw the connections you want; however, the budget has to make sense for the awareness received in exchange. Where we went wrong was in the overall plan for the event. We did no marketing in advance, nor after, and while we gave away prizes, we received only a couple of leads that didn't convert into sales. For future roles, events need to be a channel; one offs don't work.

😆 Project - Affiliate Network:

This project never took off because we wouldn't find affiliates. We had the idea but it never materialized because very few people can actually sell the products of our company; moreover, it was impossible for any affiliate to connect with our team. The high-touch nature of a handover meant that every affiliate would have to sort through that mess, which wasn't possible. We set up the comp plans, possible approaches to recruiting, and the dashboards they'd have access to.

Company Fit:

The company was not interested in the approach which is ultimately what killed the project. The concern was that the affiliates would sell too quickly, and the operation would not scale. In hindsight, they were right. The directive we received (our quotas), were so high that this approach made sense; however, the company had us find another way to make up the difference.

Culture Fit:

Most of my colleagues didn't understand what we were trying to do so they weren't interested in the approach; furthermore, they didn't care for it at all. Affiliates were not a good fit for the culture of the business because the idea of selling more and more terrified the team.

Industry (Business Development) Best-Practices:


Affiliate Network - Analysis:

For an affiliate network to be successful, there can be no real handover process. The moment a salesperson closes a deal in a high-touch service based business, and they're not on staff, it becomes a nightmare for a project team to deal with. The opportunity alone doesn't necessarily make the overall deal worth it because of the handover; moreover, it removes predictability in the workload unless the affiliates have their deals tracked like a full-time salesperson. Even if tracked, it doesn't mean they'll keep clean records (because they don't have to) until they close the deal.

❤️ In the End:

I feel strongly that my time at LNG Studios was well worth it in the end. Considering the stage in my career when joining the company, it was one of the best professional experiences I could have asked for. The pace was fast, the team worked hard, and (despite the challenges in this report), I'm glad I left on good terms with almost everyone. It wasn't a fun, nor smooth transition, but enlightening as an overall experience.