Agency Unfiltered - Jani Aaltonen from Sales Communications

Offering Education as a Service

Jani Aaltonen, Founder of Sales Communications, hosts a rolling calendar of small group workshops that have added a ton of force to his agency’s flywheel. Jani joins us to talk about the structure of his classroom training offering, the value in trust, the impact on revenue, and how others can get started.

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Episode Transcript

Hi folks, my name is Kevin Dunn and welcome to Agency Unfiltered, a biweekly web series and podcast that interviews agency owners around agency operations, growth and scale. Nobody knows how to scale agencies better than those that are already doing it and they're happy to share an unfiltered look into what has worked and what hasn't. As the founder of the Finland based agency Sales Communications, Jani made a significant investment in offering education, workshops and classroom-style training as a service. These trainings, which run year round have done wonders for his agency's flywheel. Jani tells us about the structure of his classroom training, offering the value and trust, the impact on revenue, and how others can get started. This is Agency Unfiltered.

KD: Well, welcome to Agency Unfiltered, we're excited to have you on today. I think what we're going to talk about is something that's top of mine for a number of agencies, and that is offering like classroom-style training, workshop-style training, and I think you guys are doing something really unique. So, maybe the best place to start, is to explain at a high level your system and how you've been rolling out workshops for clients and prospects.

JA: We have been doing workshops, like, the whole six years that we have been doing HubSpot and being HubSpot partners as a training tool and I think about a year ago we started to realize that it doesn't scale if we have one workshop that we try to sell and try to get people in because you have to do it many times a year, the marketing thing and you get the top funnel, middle funnel, and bottom of funnel try to get. And then you get the people, and it's really hard. So what we did was we started a subscription based training service mixed with the free webinars. And a premium training model. So basically what we'll do, we have this rolling calendar about HubSpot related training issues, the flywheel, the service help, the customer, the CRM, the marketing, and all the tools. We rolled that in a quarterly basis. And then people can come as many, you know, as they want, to trainings and its like a hop-off/hop-on basis type of thing. You pick and choose what you want and we sell as a twelve month retainer, a twelve month training package on the top of the HubSpot license.

KD: So if I’m visualizing this, you said there's a free webinar that they can attend. But then there is the opportunity to buy that one time classroom, they can just sit in, purchase a training seat there. But then there's also the subscription model where, however, is it just unlimited, however many times they want to sit in, they can? And that's good for an entire twelve months.

JA: Yeah, exactly. How we came up with this whole concept of giving training as a service, like HubSpot training as a service, classroom training—right about a year ago, we took all the customers that we have and put them on an Excel sheet. And tried to understand what are they buying, how much are they buying, how profitable they are, and then this kind of a “ABC” category for customers. And we realized that 50% of our customers were producing 10% of the revenue. And that was like an a-ha moment, a lot of customers and not so much money. What are we actually selling? It was like small time can I do this, how do I do that, its like how do I do that basically questions were answered like a couple of hundred euros, or one thousand or workshops, or trainings--

KD:Just small stakes, small stakes type stuff.

JA: Small, yeah. And then we just thought that, okay, how much time we spend with these customers, we understand that this customer base is taking a lot of time and it doesn't produce that much revenue. Certainly, some of them are really good profitability. The profitability is in place, but mostly it’s not. So we thought okay how do we fix this thing, how do we make that better and then we thought okay all the how-tos all the how-to questions will start to produce knowledge based articles and try to get this flywheel going that, you know, people are asking questions, the HubSpot users in Finland, they ask Finnish language questions. How do I login to HubSpot, how to see everything works, everything that they possibly can. So we write content to that.

KD: So the questions you get from your customers influence your own knowledge base for the content you create.

JA: Exactly, so thus we can get this kind of a scalable material, we get more questions, and it builds like this. Organic is very good on that. And then we thought this is not enough, to just answer the questions on the internet, so we started to invite them like we understand that these are the big questions that they ask, let's have a training that. We started on webinars, like come to the webinar and we'll answer this. And then we started to do the classroom trainings because we understood the people need time with the trainer. They don't have that time inside the organization.

KD: Right, personalize. One-to-one.

JA: Personal. One-to-one. So that they can ask their questions.

KD: And that's something that a webinar just doesn't necessarily It just doesn't solve for.

JA: No. It doesn't. You can have two hundred people there or a hundred people there and there's a couple of people who are asking all of the questions. And we love the questions. Get the guests’ questions, and put them on a knowledge base to get this flywheel going. And then when we started that we realized there's no point of selling one-on-one, one training at a time. Let's sell a subscription because the customers are on a subscription based model with HubSpot, we'll offer an extend to the training service and so, we try to keep the trainings like 8-12 people, small groups and do it a lot. It's really good for, they have the question, they come, they get the answer, they go on a workflow, they get the NPS how did we do on answering your questions that the NPS is part of 100.

KD: I’d say that's a pretty good score.

JA: That was really good. So what actually happened with that 50 percent of the customers? Their average purchasing price started to go up. Then we started to think about, okay what is happening here? And we understand one thing, once we get them into the classroom training, we start to build trust. We start to understand their business, we can serve them better, and it’s a very good trust building moment too. So when they have a website project, who're they going to call?

KD: Right, the people they trust.

JA: People they trust. And who actually can help them and knows their business and what they need to accomplish. And so, it’s a bit of a good scalable flywheel, tiny little, going on Finland on this training material.

KD: That's great. So you said 8 to 12 people, so obviously intentionally small, and I'm assuming to your point about one to one coaching, it just gives everyone a chance to have the instructor customize what they're teaching. For the subscription service, do you have any, how many times do you see someone who purchases subscription, like how many sessions or how many workshops do they actually attend?

JA: Those in the early stage attend everything. They try to get as much value in a short period of time. And then, it comes, this kind of a dip. That they don't come, we started to realize, we have to watch the turn. With all subscription based business, the turn is killing the business if the customers are happy. But what actually is happening, they get so much information, they have to digest that.

KD: Sure, let me go put it in practice. Like, I just have to synthesize it.

JA: Exactly, and then they go on a one to one consulting with our HubSpot consultants and talk about their businesses, how do we get the flywheel going, how do we do this and this and this, and can you do it on ebook or webinar series or whatever they need, so they attend, I would say round about 4 to 6 to 8 in 2-3 months.

KD: Got it, yeah that's a lot of training.

JA: It’s a lot of training, then they get really stuffed with the information, so then we have to wait, and we're working on that process now, how do we get them involved more.

KD: Anticipating the dip and how we can triage.

JA: Exactly, but it tends to move to one to one consulting. They understand HubSpot is a very good company, producing new features all the time, all the time new features, so that keeps us going.

KD: You have to learn all the new stuff that comes out.

JA: Exactly and so what we do is that there's a promise that we give to the customers, we'll never raise your price.

KD: So you grandfather always.

JA: Always, if you buy it now, that's the price. And we tend to raise that price two times a year. So, and add more value in the high ticket, and the best. We have a single license, so you can buy as a single user. We have a team license, up to three persons, and then we have a corporate license which is up to five and so on. And we give so much value, there is, on the corporate level they pretty much can have five people attending 24 workshops in a year. Then, because we realized that some of the companies are not very happy to talk about their personal issues in a room with other customers, so they want to have a private training. And they say that we need our CEO to come here, we need our CTO to come here, and we need to work this flywheel thing together, and work, so what we did, we gave them 8 days for free on the corporate license for just their team. So my idea is to train everybody in Finland, in Finish, with hands-on, they get so much training that they can pick and choose what they want. And we actually do it so that before the trainings, we'll get all the necessary data out of their HubSpot and all the tools that we start to work with. For us, we help them to do better business and at the same time we help us to sell better to them.

KD: More contextualized to what their needs are.

JA: Exactly, integrations, you know all that, app development, websites, and so on.

KD: Well having them open up the hood like that just gives you so many insights as to like, what do they really need help with and you can kind of cater a package to that.

JA: Exactly and with that model, we can come up on a really cool pricing thing. So if we, on a single package, we charge 250 euros, that's like 220 dollars or something a month for a single person. 24 workshops, which you can choose. So that's a good deal. And we do it so that we have the big decks ready and made so it scales really well.

KD: So you're not building decks from scratch for every workshop. That actually kind of leads to my next question. On your side, how do you operationalize? I would assume that it scales really well, but there had to have been a ton of time investment to get all these decks, the workshops, the talk track for facilitating the workshops. What sort of time and resource investment does that look like?

JA: On the 50 percent of the customers who are producing that 10 percent of the revenue back in the days when we started, those were the questions that they were asking that we are actually putting on the program. So we've already answered to them. We've already done that for work at some point. And now, we took like, all our internal content production, just report that. And we tried to get the flywheel going, we need the questions, the more questions we have, the more answers that we can give, the more answers that we can give, the more traffic that it builds, the more trust that it builds, the more google number one positions there will be and, Finland is an island of 5 million people talking one single language and its a really good position to be. Because we can actually beat HubSpot, on articles like, “what is HubSpot”.

KD: So it’s really cool to say like, “oh go google ‘what is HubSpot’, we're number one, we're number two, HubSpot is number three.”

JA: So that's kind of but and we link. We link everything.

KD: Well if you're going to create that much content, internal linking is necessary.

JA: Exactly and with the HubSpot Academy, we tell our customers what kind of courses they need to do from the Academy side in order for them to hit their numbers and be better at theirs. And we kind of not mix our content with the academy content—it’s like an extension. Both works nicely together.

KD: They fit like puzzle pieces, they're not talking about the exact same content.

JA: Before the classroom training, there's a workflow like a week before the training. The attendees have links that they should read.

KD: Like prerequisites?

JA: Exactly, these are the ones you should know before you come to the classroom. Because these are the ones that we are not going to go into the workshop. We're going to go full hands on, for example flywheel workshop is that, we're not talking about the flywheel that much on the course, we'll talk what does this mean in your business for the people who are interested.

KD: But if they go take the funnel to flywheel course in Academy, you're trying to then build off that versus teach the same thing.

JA: Exactly and the real thing is, how do we make this into practice by using HubSpot now in this room? And I think that the big value comes out of that, they have time in a safe environment, ask those questions which is really important to them. And there is somebody who can actually give an answer face to face now. And that's the biggest value, because normally, our clients and HubSpot clients, they have their job to do. They have their normal Monday to Friday, and normal kind of things to do, and whatever they do in their office. And the training part is not that big weekly.

KD: Sure it just, it can get lost in the shuffle, right? So now you have an entire day dedicated so it forces you to be reflective.

JA: Exactly, and with those customers who fall in to the dip after, you know, spending huge amounts of time in the early stage, they come back.

KD: So after the dip they do come back in?

JA: They do come back in, but they are not doing the same course. So what we need to do is deliver new courses all the time and be more specific. For example, this is the strategy tool, how to use that, a content strategy, how to build a pillar page.

KD: So get more deeper on smaller tools and topics.

JA: How to use the reporting tool, how to use the ads tool, and the trainings are going from one day to one hour or two hours courses and so on.

KD: Let me ask you this, what does staffing look like for this? So is this somebody's part time job amongst other things, do you have a full time workshop facilitator, how does the staffing and resource allocation look?

JA: We have trainers who do this, but not like their full job. We use this tool, or in training, our own internal staff also. And when we have a new consultant in, they have to do certain certifications out of the HubSpot Academy and then they attend our hands on training.

KD: So they attend just like anybody else?

JA: Exactly and then when they know the Marketing Hub, for example, like everything that it has to offer, we put them on stage.

KD: So it’s also part of their onboarding.

JA: That's part of onboarding, teach these other people who don’t know as much as you do, and it creates this kind of interesting flywheel going there also. They have to learn.

KD: Yeah, the best way to learn is to teach.

JA: Exactly, they have to learn in order that they can be super professional in front of the crowd and it creates a good environment in the organization.

KD: So you have instructors, but it also sounds like there's an element of the shared responsibility where it is just part of onboarding.

JA: One person is accountable for one training. There's a person who understands Service Hub. There's a person who understands—

KD: So it is associated by topic.

JA: Topic yes, for example our sales team is doing the sales tools. Because they need to know it, they need to use it. I'm a big believer of try it and have your errors and try it and get the experience and adapt and learn what these things are meaning for you before you go and tell it to other people. Because too much theory, kills the feeling in the classroom. So you have to have use cases. I think that everything starts with technology.

KD: Yeah we want to see real world examples.

JA: Exactly, they need to answer the questions for example, this is a tool, this is the bot, where you can use, for example, we use it, they use it, and these kind of purposes, is this good for you? Then they're like, yes but we would like to have that.

KD: Yeah right, this tweak to it.

JA: Yes, exactly, and then we're in training like “okay, this is how it’s done, this is how that’s done.”

KD: And then they can do it in real time. Final question for you, ask this every episode. What is the weirdest part of agency life?

KD The whole agency life? What is the weirdest? That's a very good question. Depends how weird you are.

KD: Weird is subjective I guess, right.

JA: I know, I know. I think one of the weirdest things is that how much you have to learn before you start to teach somebody else and understand that everybody starts from scratch. And they take the time to understand that they are not that advanced as you are. And you know, go down into, or up whatever, or side, to the same place that the customers actually are. And I think that's something that develops overtime. When we started to come to INBOUND, 2014 the CRM came, and we had Marketing Hub customers, we went to them and said, HubSpot just released a CRM, you should start to use it. And they're like, no, why? Year went, two years and now we're in a situation where everybody wants to have a HubSpot CRM. It’s a cool thing, now they get it. And it was really frustrating in the early stage, so what we learned is that every time that new feature comes, we started to use it by ourselves, tried to adapt and understand, not talk about that with the customers at all.

KD: Sure, we have to really synthesize it ourselves. So how much you have to learn yourself before you can then speak to it with customers.

JA: Exactly, and then try to understand the use cases, and go from the use cases to the customer and then present it to them, so I think one of the weirdest things is that and, one other thing, is that when you're hiring a salesperson. You only know whether they are good or bad or producing any results after they've worked with you around six months. If you ask like, are you a good one, are you a good sales guy, they will say yes I am. But you will know is it the truth or false after six months. So hiring can be very strange at times.

KD: Well, it’s been a pleasure, thanks so much for coming on but that's it for us, that was agency unfiltered, thank you.

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