We talk about scaling and creating a repeatable and predictable sales methodology, building technology expertise overseas, and LinkedIn selling.
Intro: [00:00:00] Welcome to the LA Business Podcast, a form for business owners and senior executives to share the experiences about the elements that drive their success. Your host is Robert Brill, CEO of brillmedia.co, an Inc 500 company delivering the power of hyper-local advertising. Robert writes for Forbes Inc and Ad trade publications.
Our goal is to bring you the stories about successes and failures of people who are making big things happen in marketing, entrepreneurship and management.
Robert Brill: [00:00:43] Welcome everyone to another episode of the LA Business Podcast. Today, our guest is Andrew Cohen, CEO of Evoke New York. Andrew, thank you for being here, can you tell us a little bit about evoke what you are, what you do, and why clients work with you?
Andrew Cohen: [00:01:03] Sure, thanks Robert for having us, Evoke is a digital transformation company. We’ve been in business since 1997. We actually rebranded as Evoke in 2005 and we focus heavily on mid to large sized corporations/enterprise companies. We’re working with best in class technology to help companies really streamline processes and increase productivity across their corporate structure.
Evoke works with pretty much every line of business within the organization, and our projects kind of range from custom application development, utilization of platforms, low code or no code solutions, as well as mobile app development and responsive sites. Really the main thing why companies like to work with us is we can take the technology and are always are focused on the end user, because we have a strong discipline in our history from design and user experience.
So Evoke can pretty much handle that full suite of services from creation, consultative work, from design and development to output, as well as the support for any kind of client’s needs.
Robert Brill: [00:02:13] So I’m really interested, I’ve heard the term thrown around digital transformation. I have some opinions about what it might be or what it could be, but tell us what digital transformation is from your perspective.
Andrew Cohen: [00:02:28] Well, for example a lot of the projects we work with in the past are the traditional platforms like Microsoft SharePoint, and just really making a better utilization of that platform for corporations. So that’s how we utilize from end user perspective. However, with digital transformation we look into layered in modern technologies such as machine learning and AI. So we can actually allow the systems to help automate maybe common tasks to help companies increase things as simple as onboarding a new employee from something that might’ve taken a. Weeks to get done. It can be done in a matter of minutes, maybe a day.
So by utilizing these tools that are out there, which are what we call the low code, and sometimes no code tools, you can kind of really create a transformation for a company on how they do their normal business to elevate it, to, taking advantage of the modern way of doing business.
Robert Brill: [00:03:23] So you started, so you started the business in 1997, correct?
Andrew Cohen: [00:03:26] Yes, correct.
Robert Brill: [00:03:27] What got you to the point where you said you need to start this business and what was your original thesis for the business?
Andrew Cohen: [00:03:35] That’s a very good question. Actually, I first moved to Manhattan from North Carolina in 1994 and I was pretty much freelancing with some of the big four agencies like Ogilvy and Mather, JWT just doing design and digital work and creative departments. And after a while of turning down several jobs, I decided to just to start it up in my own apartment. We initially started out the company heavily focused on, you know, 2D design and 3d design.
Back then there was really no internet. So our focus was really on broadcast graphics, traditional graphic design and very heavily on the user UI, kind of a design background. Then as we started moving into more of the web taking place and taking hold, we did another slight pivot to that and shifted to incorporating web development into our portfolio, and that’s when the whole rich media website development kind of boom started happening.
I always had an need to keep looking at what the horizon was for what we were doing. So current state versus future state was always something that’s paramount to the company to always be ready to help move and add service offerings. So as we were doing web development and rich media, we started doing technology, we start doing our custom application development,
From then we just kind of kept slowly evolving over the course of the history of the company. You know, it’s 20 years now, and it’s just something that allowed us to see what’s out there, see what kind of technologies are not going to be there for the future. Thinking and understanding what might be the things that we want to incorporate.
Then hiring really well to make sure that we could bring in the right people to help us bring those things to market, bring those types of technologies and services. So background, we’ve always been a service company with a technology focus lately, you know, that started more with the 2005 rebranding as a Evoke and we’ve just been building on top of that since then.
Robert Brill: [00:05:34] So we’re really interested, and I personally am very interested in how companies scale their business. I hate to call it magic cause it’s never magic. It’s usually a combination of preparedness, opportunity, it’s foresight, it’s the creation of something that is interesting. Are there any inflection points around your business where looking back I didn’t realize it at the time but I actually ended up creating this really incredibly valuable service or offering or I was the right place at the right time. What are some of those inflection points and tell us about that.
Andrew Cohen: [00:06:17] Well, the way we were structured originally, probably even in the early 2000’s was a heavy dependency on local talent. We still have a good size, a bit of a local talent in terms of doing the work, but then we started incorporating, you know, offshoring in terms of the ability to do the development work that we needed.
We were always at the, I guess, mercy of vendor relationships. So we were working with a third party, companies that were incorporated in our brand, but they were their own separate entities. So accountability wasn’t as tight as we like. And also the quality of service was never at the level that we were expecting.
So that was always an issue. So we talk about an inflection point. Well, the big change that we did as early as 2014. We opened up our own technology center in Belarus in Minsk, and it’s called Evoke Systems. That allowed us to build our own tech center. That Evoke New York company is a primary vendor in essence, that we did that.
That was the reason why we did it. So we’d have our accountability, we could scale a team as we needed to, and then just, you know, build around that and build the expertise and the level of excellence that we want to achieve – the things that we’ve talked about in previous year. Now we can kind of sense 2014 deliver on that promise 100%. Versus not knowing sometimes what you get when you work with a vendor partner, not that they were bad, it’s just consistency. Yeah. Think consistency. So we’ve gotten rid of all that now.
Robert Brill: [00:07:48] Is process a big part of that level of quality that you’re delivering.
Andrew Cohen: [00:07:56] Yes that was something that took a little time, even from 2014 until the last couple of years to sort it out. But the process, the culture, they’re incorporating that standards that we want to have here and that our clients expect from us. Since we work with some of the best companies in the world, they have a real high, a standard. And so we want to always meet and exceed that.
So we’ve built that culture overseas, and how we hire there is very structured in terms of not only the hiring process is very detailed and very difficult to get a job with Evoke systems and part of Evoke, but also just the process of how we do work. From the way they record information, the way they capture requirements, all the kinds of things, the steps along the way of delivery, always with a delivery, with the end goal in mind to keep things on time and on the client budget.
So yeah, the process is something that was really important to maintain. Like I said, it’s something we’ve been preaching for so long, but now the execution against that is better than we’ve ever done in the history of this company.
Robert Brill: [00:08:53] So how do you manage? I mean, you’re in New York, how do you manage people on the other side of the world?
Andrew Cohen: [00:09:03] You know, technology kind of limits the distance in a way. You know, obviously there’s a time difference we have anywhere from six to seven hours ahead of us which is an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage is we’re pretty much a 24 seven shop.
The disadvantage is after 12 or 1 o’clock here, those teams over there are pretty much offline, so what we do every day is, my VP of technology is also a partner of the company. He’s here headquartered in New York with me. His name is Evo Utev, and Evo has been with me since about 2006 2007.
He’s from Bulgaria, but he understands Russian language, however, one of the requirements for hiring is they have to speak English, and then we also do English lessons over there for the team in Belarus. So Evo does daily stand ups with the team from every morning for about 30 minutes goes through every kind of project we’re working on, any concerns they have, and if there’s additional needs that need his expertise from a architectural or technology perspective.
They can do those calls offline or communication through the tools we use. For collaboration and, tools, we use things like Microsoft teams and then in terms of what they do for their process, they use everything from cloud based solutions so we can see where a project sits or has issues or concerns throughout the whole life cycle.
Robert Brill: [00:10:26] Now I want to turn to scaling and building business, right? Like one of the key missions for our listeners is I want to drive ideas of how companies scale their business. I’m sure that has changed throughout the years, in our business, everything changes every three to six months, including some of our roles and some of the partners in the space. What have you been noticing recently? How did you identify, and do you have a repeatable sales methodology to begin with?
Andrew Cohen: [00:11:07] Okay. Let’s go with that first. I think we talked earlier in the week and I mentioned that we didn’t really have a sales staff here locally. I was really much doing all the business development from the company perspective for the, pretty much for the life of the company. But this year we hired a team of six, salespeople, sales professionals from different areas of the US and they’re out there actively working, not just the pipeline that they have from their existing history of what they did business, but also the types of leads that were generated to multiple different marketing partners that we work with.
So the goal is to basically keep them fed with the leads that we have, let them work their existing pipeline or opportunities there and keep scaling as individuals so they can basically, you know, really run strong with what their opportunities are. We’re very aggressive in terms of how we pay our salespeople with the commission structure that we have. So the more they earn, the more they make, there’s no cap in terms of our commission structure. So that allowed them to be very excited about the opportunity here.
Now, since it’s new, the sales cycle is a little bit longer maybe than some of them are used to. You know, we assume it’s about a 90 day sales cycle. It’s really probably closer to about five to six months for new clients. So that’s something that we’ve rolled out and they’re going from different types of opportunities. So what we used to really focus maybe on three or four core industries, we’ve opened that up now based on who these people are, where their backgrounds are, and they’ve incorporated that into our service offering here.
For example, we’ve just really rolled out our own cybersecurity division just because one of our sales people has a strong background in cybersecurity, and now we’ve actually acquired three new accounts all focused on an area that Evoke wasn’t into probably two years ago. But now we’ve been slowly dabbling into, and now we’re really launching that division separately. So it’s, it’s kind of unique. I’m taking advantage of where their backgrounds are incorporated into our culture.
Robert Brill: [00:13:13] So that’s really interesting. Before you hired your salespeople and you were the primary stakeholder for business development, what did that look like? And was it like basically leveraging your own relationships? How did you do that?
Andrew Cohen: [00:13:33] Well, you know, we were fortunate that most of the business development was not from cold calling nature, that wasn’t really my style. Obviously it was more just networks and referrals and things of that is how we got brought into the different Client relationships we have. Sometimes we were brought in by another agency to be their development partner and then when that agency would roll out, we would stick. So one of the strengths of our company is we get a client, they pretty much say a client for life. We’ve never had an issue where we’ve been removed from an account.
Once we’re in, we’re in for a long time. However, that’s a negative too, because that doesn’t mean we have enough client activity. So with all the new activity we’re going through with the new people, where we’ve really opened up, and just my core, I mean, I have a lot of great relationships, all the history of doing business, and I’ve worked at some great companies, but it’s limiting because I’m just one person and my natural background wasn’t being a sales professional. I was a former college athlete, I was a fine art major. So, you know, a guy gets on the phone, it’s just not my take. I’m really good in a room doing the presentations, but you know, that’s the limiting factor for us for doing business development.
So it was a mix, you know, now we’re bringing in all this new activity which we didn’t have before and it just opens up a lot more opportunities for the company and helps us for our future growth, where we are, where we want to be in the next two to three years.
Robert Brill: [00:14:57] So that’s interesting. Your path is similar to mine in that the primary sort of way that we generate business is by forming partnerships with people in my network and we’re also now going out aggressively into the world as a larger sales organization. Why did you pick the beginning of 2019 to make this transition? What had changed?
Andrew Cohen: [00:15:25] Well, I was actually starting to look at where we were, I saw that as a company’s growth there wasn’t really stagnation, but I saw that there was just not enough upper mobility in terms of what I wanted it to be for as long as we’ve been in business. So I knew some change had to happen. Just saying you’re a change agent, but then actually not doing anything about it was just something that didn’t resonate with me.
So I looked at where I could get support that can help us get to where we wanted to be. So I did a real hard look at the company and saw what we were doing. I saw the year in, year out, you know, it’s a nice set of business, but we’re past the infant stage of a company. We should be a little bit more mature than we are in terms of where we should be.
So that made some hard decisions. I had to like, you know, take a look at, I can’t do it all. You know, from the sales point of view, understand there’s people who do this a lot better than I do. I believe it wasn’t like pride of ownership. I didn’t want to just be the only guy doing sales here.
I just didn’t really know how to go find the right sales people. So I did bring in a consultant that helped shape some of the sales ad message. When we started looking to the right salespeople, we really wanted top producers and that’s how we shaped our kind of marketing to find the sales people we were really actively looking for.
Robert Brill: [00:16:45] So what kind of consultant is that? Like, what is it like an ad agency? Who does. I didn’t even know that there are sales consultants, people who craft messages like that. That’s interesting.
Andrew Cohen: [00:16:58] Yeah. He’s basically, he’s an individual, you know, actually, well, it’s a coaching consultancy company and you know, for me to ever admit that I needed some help, that was a big leap. I never really had someone I could say was a mentor, and I’m not saying this consultant was a mentor to me, but he did change and help shape and shift the focus of what I was thinking and where I wanted to be. So yeah, definitely it’s something I could probably share with you offline, but in terms of what he did for the company, we worked first probably in 2018 and then I looked at bringing him in at a little higher level and I brought him as my interim VP of sales for a six month term.
That’s where we can work together really tightly to kind of reshape some of the overall message of what a Evoke promises in terms of our value proposition and where we serve and how we would differentiate ourselves from the sort of the large companies that we work against. One of the targets was, can I get a sales organization underneath me and that’s where his expertise helped basically craft the ad, help work with me to help train the team, and then he’s rolled out a couple months ago and we’ve been running with the team as it is now. Currently, I’m still acting as a sales manager or VP of sales in terms of our team but I’ll be promoting within or hiring another person to take over the team probably within the next six months, just so I can focus on what I do and then I can bring someone’s thinking better at me at the sales manager role.
Robert Brill: [00:18:23] So is the idea that this sales consultant comes in, gets really deeply embedded within the organization, understands from the inside what needs to happen, and then there’s a transition plan so that he or she moves away from being like, you don’t want them to be an ongoing salesperson, you just want to craft the overall strategy.
Andrew Cohen: [00:18:45] Correct. Correct. They were not doing sales for the company. They were really helping hire the team, shape the team. They didn’t make hire and fire decisions, they were just really there to help guide. Once the team was on board, helped train them up from different methodologies and processes that are in place. The people we hired are very seasoned salespeople, so some of it might’ve been redundant to them, but it was always good to have that kind of reinforcement that every day was a sales activity from an internal thing and we’ve kept that as part of the company culture.
So every Monday is our sales meeting. Every Wednesday we do a hot seat call. Every Friday is a best practice call with the team and the whole team has to contribute to these things. Then I also have my calendar open every day from nine to 10 for got-a-minute meetings with the team. So I’m really structured by day. my day is pretty much broken down. I mean, I have availability throughout the day, but I have it structured very incrementally. So when I’m available, the team can grab me, but I don’t want you to them to call me out of the blue because that can interrupt other things that we’re trying to do. So that’s why the team has access to my calendar and here’s where they block it out and it helps to keep them aligned. Yeah.
Robert Brill: [00:19:58] At what point in the life cycle of your business did you move away from doing the work that you’re selling to being the business development person like how and when did you make that transition?
Andrew Cohen: [00:20:20] You know that’s a really good question because you hit it on the Mark. I used to actually do the work. I used to do Photoshop work, you know, after effects, all the kind of cool stuff that people do a lot better than I do now. I guess it was the late nineties after we already incorporated. I started hiring, once I started hiring people, I knew they could just do it better than I could. I saw the capability of walking away from the computer and actually start focusing on the business and not be so worried about working on a file.
So that was you know, that transition happened fairly quickly for me to bring in people, hire better people that made it work, and then focus on where my core strengths were. That was an early stage thing for me to at least move away from it.
Robert Brill: [00:21:03] How do you ensure that the DNA of the business still has your fingerprints on it, right? Like that’s something that I’ve been thinking about like, my company is called Brill Media. Like. But I want to hire and I have hired people who are smarter than me to run the day to day campaigns. How do you ensure that your fingerprint is on the is on everything that happens?
Andrew Cohen: [00:21:35] I think I realized that releasing some of that, you know, spreading it out, it’s not a big problem. Obviously from the point of view of the brand of the company, the figurehead of the company, the person who is out front, it’s always my face. I’m the main person they meet. You know, the company’s not named after me, but you know, I think from a branding point of view, when you talk to Evoke you know they have access to the CEO, and that’s, you know, myself.
In terms of how we’ve hired, we’re looking for people and not looking for so much likeminded. I mean, we want to hire the best of what they do but once they come part of the company, we try to incorporate them into the existing culture and elicit information from where they came from to see if there’s things that we want to basically bring into our culture. The brand is evolving, you know, in terms of the business doesn’t just say it’s just about me and I have this kind of tight structure and control over it. I like the idea of the open structure. Obviously there is a hierarchy and there is leadership and all those kinds of different levels we’re trying to incorporate in the business, but we still have a more fluid process. The company’s going to keep evolving and changing as long as we’re in business. I feel like that’s something that’s important. It allows us to also look for new opportunities and new technologies or new people without feeling like we’re don’t have to be the way we were two years ago or last year.
Robert Brill: [00:23:01] Absolutely. So it sounds like, just as a recap, it sounds like process is very important. Getting a mentor or a coach or someone who has a different point of knowledge than you might have is very liable for you in setting the sales strategy that you’ve deployed, and relying on your relationships to build the business. I think those three are very important points of knowledge that entrepreneurs and business owners should be paying attention to.
If we switch briefly to one other point, you live in New York. Just as a closing point, I’m a foodie. I love really great food. What’s the favorite food that comes to mind when I ask? What do you love in New York?
Andrew Cohen: [00:23:55] Oh, you know, I’ve just always loved Italian food and part of my senior year of college, I lived in Florence, Italy for part of it during the summer to start painting over there. So every day was waking up in Florence and having the best Italian food in the world.
So I’m still a big Italian Foodie, and just unfortunately where I live now there’s not too many great options. I’m outside of Manhattan. The city’s close enough that I can get there and find some great food when I need it.
Robert Brill: [00:24:25] Very good. What are some best practices for account based marketing on LinkedIn.
Andrew Cohen: [00:24:32] We’ve worked with a couple of different companies and one from the LinkedIn perspective, it’s just really kind of establishing those connections first. You know, there’s about six or seven touch points that the company was working on my behalf. It might’ve been me, might not have officially been me, but it was actually through my profile. Then obviously the connection happens and they kind of invite them to a group that I maintain.
After that we try to set up a call. There’s multiple points, and once a call gets established, that’s when I kind of step in.Then we do this thing we do every call – it’s called an innovation session. So within the 15 to 30 minute initial call, we’re going to pretty much find an opportunity and see if there’s an opportunity to work together.
Within a period of that call, we know we can move it on down to the sales cycle. If there’s alignment, we’ll move forward. If not nice to meet we’ll keep in contact with them and stay friends going forward. Another relationship in terms of the email marketing we’re doing is really kind of focused heavily on sea levels, we’re really going after a lot of corporations that have very tight, what we call Avatar in terms of the types of company size, the personality type, the target audience we’re going after from a company of a 1000 to 5,000 employees, whether it’s an EVP and up. Those messages go directly to them and it’s a long form email or it gives some great information.
We try to give some service before we even get engaged of what we’ve done, how we do it, and what that might mean to them. So a lot’s in the messaging and then the response rates been really high. We’re booking about 10 to 12 booked meetings a month by utilizing these assistant services and these are more than just like, you know, a cold lead. They’re pretty warm by the time they get on the call.
Robert Brill: [00:26:27] So let me ask, can I ask you some follow ups on those? If I’m to understand correctly, the first sort of strategy that you’re deploying is, you’re constantly connecting with people on LinkedIn, through your profile you direct people to a group. Is that group on LinkedIn?
Andrew Cohen: [00:26:46] Yes, we renamed it to the Northeast Executive Network and it’s, called streamlining processes and maximizing productivity. So within that, we find articles we post, we’re going to eventually make that more than just a LinkedIn group and do offline kind of sessions and you know, meetings as well.
So the first part was just kind of building enough of a critical mass on LinkedIn in that group, and then we’re going to take that to another level and start these off-site kind of workshops and things of that nature.
Robert Brill: [00:27:14] So you invite people to this group. Then how does it jump from the group to a call?
Andrew Cohen: [00:27:22] Once they connect with me and then we invite them to the group and they accept there’s a period of time, I believe it’s like a week or so, then it kicks in again and starts requesting an opportunity that “here’s an article that I saw in my group that you might be interested in” then we point out a couple of things in that article based on their profile.
So from that kind of business intelligence, we’re actually doing a little research before we even communicate, and then we started asking for a potential to do a call. You know, I’m interested and we’re not limping in. We’re trying to really say, look, we’re wanting to do business together in a way, and we say that in a proper way so they know the call is not some kind of research cause that’s not fair because once we give them a call, they know it’s not a research call, it’s a sales call. So we do kind of structure the LinkedIn kind of messaging in that way.
Robert Brill: [00:28:08] Amazing. And then finally you have your target audience of companies with 1000 to 5,000 employees and, are you running paid media there, you said you sent them like some long form messaging.
Andrew Cohen: [00:28:23] Well, yeah, that’s mostly through email and we work for companies much larger than that too. It’s just a thought for these campaigns to be successful, the larger the organization, probably the harder to penetrate in terms of getting there as a new vendor. So a company of that size of 1000-5000 are close to a billion in revenue.
We have more of a closer opportunity to talk to this C level suite. We’re not going to probably get that obviously at some of our big clients or with our fortune 500 companies, I mean, we know who they are, but they’re not going to speak to us with that type of message. So we’re getting a lot of success from the going to the CEOs, CIOs, CTOs, all those levels, and they’re doing calls, we’re doing direct calls with them.
Once you get on the phone with them, they start that email marketing that’s going out to them. Now, the email, once again, it’s in my voice. It’s me reaching out to them.
Robert Brill: [00:29:10] So how do you get the email, that’s what I’m trying to get to.
Andrew Cohen: [00:29:13] Okay. Well, there’s lots of ways. There’s lists out there for everybody but personally, my company uses a product called discover work, that’s another product out there where you can buy data datasets and different levels, they can be as isolated as you want, different departments you want to be talking to, different sizes. These companies I work with, they also have their own access to lists and things like discover org as well.
Robert Brill: [00:29:42] Wow. That is really cool, so you found the repeatable process on LinkedIn and it’s working.
Andrew Cohen: [00:29:49] It is working. It is. A lot of the team members, the sales team, some of them use it a lot better than others and the ones that use it more heavily they have more success, you know you got to email, you do phone calls, you do LinkedIn. If you have a phone, you can text them. I mean, there’s different ways you can communicate. So if you’re just doing one method, I think you’re going to have a real failing in terms of trying to get multiple touch points you need to actually get the potential to actually doing a call with you and meeting. That’s what the guys use and you know, we reinforce it, we support it. it is something we put a lot of money into last 12 months.
Robert Brill: [00:30:34] I think out of everything we’ve talked about, Andrew, that LinkedIn nugget is probably going to be the most actionable for everyone who’s listening. Thank you for that. That’s super cool. Once again, everyone, Andrew Cohen, CEO of Evoke New York. Thank you Andrew. Have a good rest of the day and thanks for joining the podcast.
Andrew Cohen: [00:31:11] No problem. Thanks Robert.