Have you experienced being bombarded with cold calls and not knowing what to do with them? Especially when quarantine and social distancing have become the new normal, receiving these calls has probably been a lot more frequent that we just can’t find the time to answer them all. Introducing you to someone who has created a solution to that, John Livesay sits down with the founder of The Influence Board, Jay Allen. He shares with us the platform he has created that helped influential executives deal with cold calls and how he is letting people connect with the right decision-makers and make the world a better place.
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The Influence Board With Jay Allen
Jay Allen is the Founder of the Influence Board. He noticed that a lot of influential executives were being bombarded with cold calls and they didn’t have time to do that. He created a solution for that. He helped build it with their input, which has allowed it to scale. Find out how he’s letting people get into the right decision-makers, while also making the world a better place.
Our guest is Jay Allen. He’s founded and managed six major networks of influential business leaders over the years with over 5,000 executive members from the major companies in the US and Europe. He has years of experience as an entrepreneur, strategic advisor, and executive leader. He is an influencer among private companies and large strategic corporations. He’s overseen strategic business development for a number of emerging technologies. He’s also the Founder of the Influence Board. Jay, welcome to the show.
Thank you. It’s great to be here, John.
Let’s go back to your own story of origin. You can go back to childhood or school. Tell us a little bit about how you got interested in business in general.
It all started with a passion for marketing. I went to college for international marketing and loved it. I grew up in the industry a little bit, but quickly discovered that the salespeople were making a lot more money than me. I transitioned at one point from marketing to sales. It was a tough transition. I’m a relationship person. The impact of rejection of cold calling was tough for me. I had a lot of anxiety about cold calling. I reached a point where I said, “Do I want to do this as a career?” I knew I needed to do something a little different. It was that inflection point in my life where I decided to take a slightly different trajectory. I ended up reaching out to ten executives I had never been able to get a meeting within two years of cold calling. I invited them to lunch to meet each other and I told them, “No vendors. You’re all going to pay for your own lunch.” I was shocked when all ten showed up.
I learned a valuable lesson that day that was a guide to everything I did after that. These influential people have a hard time growing their network of other valuable contacts. The networking events they get invited to aren’t high value because 80% of the people in the room want to sell them something or hand them a resume. The fact that I reached out and said, “These nine other executives want to have lunch with you. We’re going to get to know each other. No vendors. You’re buying your own lunch,” was a completely novel idea to them and something that was of high interest. Over the years, I went from a below-average salesperson that hated cold calling to one of the most connected people in Colorado by becoming a personal networking assistant to the most powerful and influential people in Colorado. That led me to do sales in a different way and continuing sales but not having to cold call the way I used to.
That is valuable for everyone reading. You’re solving a problem, which is what everybody has to put the lens on. The problem is that influential people have trouble growing their network without being inundated with a lot of other people pitching them things or wanting to hire them. They’re talking to their peers and learning from them without feeling like someone is trying to sell them something or get them to hire them. Smart executives realize the value of their network. You need it not when you have a job, but when you don’t have a job. They’re forward-thinking enough to realize, “This is a good use of my time. I might use something I could use in my job. Especially if it’s my peers, we probably have similar challenges.”
You and I were talking about some of the similar challenges that healthcare companies have with COVID. If a pharmaceutical company is talking to a manufacturing company and they’re both realizing, “We’re having trouble getting in the virtual door.” They might have some interesting conversations of sharing some things that are working. You were in that lunch even though they were all buying their lunch, but that’s not when you were pitching. I’m sure that’s the case. I want to reiterate for anyone who’s reading and going, “I’m going to try that.” It’s still not your chance to pitch. You’re just listening.
I coined a phrase, the law of two favors. My philosophy was if I have an ulterior motive or I’m trying to get in the door and close a deal with one of these executives and that’s why I reached out, I can’t tell them that until I’ve done them two meaningful favors. Once I’ve done them those two meaningful favors, I can bring that up and we can have a conversation. Selling to a friend is a much different experience than selling to a stranger. I wanted to establish that relationship of trust and friendship and cross the bridge of them knowing that regardless of the outcome of any transaction, we’re going to be friends. When I do the ask, they can say yes or no and have confidence that it’s going to have zero impact on our personal relationship.
Selling to a friend is different than selling to a stranger, that’s going to be one of our tweets from the episode. The problem I see with many salespeople is they’re short-term focused, “I’ve got my quota this month, this quarter. I don’t have time to make friends.” They’re not seeing the long picture. It’s like, “I’m moving on,” as opposed to maybe a no could be a yes down the road. That is not how you build a successful career, let alone a network. You have to invest. Those relationships are my big takeaway.Selling to a friend is a much different experience than selling to a stranger. Click To Tweet
I’ll even give you an example. One of the executives in that first group of ten was the head of IT for a large technology company in Colorado. I had never been able to get past his admin. He had a brutal admin. He showed up at this lunch. One thing I discovered in the conversation over lunch is that he was engaged to be married. His fiancé was trying to land a job. I asked some more questions about what she was looking for. I made a few phone calls. I ended up landing her an interview. She ended up getting the job. The executive invited me to their wedding reception. We became fast friends.
I had an opportunity to sell into his company. When he changed jobs, I helped make some introductions for him to transition to a new job. I had some opportunities to sell into the organization that he went to at that time. He moved out of the country. When he moved back to the United States, years later, I was the first person he called and we reconnected and had an opportunity to sell to the new company that he moved into. It’s those long-term opportunities that made a difference in my career.
I remember when a client of mine in a healthcare company hired me to speak to their sales team. We had many conversations before and then we met face-to-face. He introduced me to his boss and all of that was the night before the event. He turned to me and he said, “I feel like I’ve made a friend.” I said, “You have.” That’s what you want to have. When you can make somebody look good to their boss or if I was calling on ad agencies and I make them look good to their clients, that’s when people know, “You don’t see me as just another job. You see me as a person.”
That premise of speaking and becoming friends with somebody at one company and they left and went to a competitor and they brought me with them. They’re like, “I want you to do what you did for me at the other company to this company.” Those warm introductions. When someone is hired, they obviously have a little honeymoon period going on. If they say, “I want to bring this speaker or trainer in,” it’s different. They go, “This is your first six months to show yourself and that’s why we brought you.” It’s a great example of all that.
I want to talk about your days at product development at American Express because I’m sure you learned some fascinating life lessons there working for such a big company versus working in other situations. When people get to work for a big brand like that, I know when I was at Condé Nast, you see things. Your resources, for one, are different from smaller situations. What was your big insight from being at American Express?
At American Express, like some of the other companies I was at, I was always part of a small entrepreneurial segment of the organization. Not all companies do that and do it well. American Express was one that did it well. They were interested in branching into a new space, which was the debit card or stored value card space for college campuses. The project I was on was, how do we develop both the platform and the marketing message to go to these college campuses, and provide them a stored value card that the parents could load up and would work at places that accepted American Express around campus? It was a great concept. The team there was entrepreneurial. You don’t often see that within a large company. It went well that that division ended up being acquired by Maritz, a performance improvement company out of St. Louis. I had the option of moving to St. Louis, which I didn’t take. I wanted to stay in the West.
What I find fascinating about you is you have your pulse on the zeitgeist. What I mean by that is like Wayne Gretzky’s quote, he aims his puck for where the puck is going and not where it is. You started the Influence Board years ago. Who could have predicted that the need to help people get appointments with key influencers would be at an all-time high during a pandemic when you can just drop it in office or see somebody between surgeries if you’re calling in the medical things? It’s almost like a relationship. You need to plant those seeds early on. You saw a need for this when you started it. Share with us how you came up with the idea and what it does.
What’s interesting is this concept has been attempted a couple of times in the past that I’ve seen and it has not succeeded. The reason it didn’t succeed is because it was being built from a salesperson’s perspective. I’m a salesperson. I want to access these influential hard to reach executives. I’m going to build a technology platform that allows me to donate to their charities. They build it and then they try and convince executives to come onto the platform. They’ve never been able to get traction. I had a completely different approach. I wanted the executives to build it. I wanted the executives to architect it and to solve the problems that they were having.
The problems they were having is they’re getting 30 calls and emails a day from vendors they’ve never heard, and trying to sell them stuff and get their time. They don’t have that much time. They can’t listen to all these people and figure out if there’s a fit. What they wanted was, “Can I forward all these emails into a system that can inform the vendor on my areas of interest and need? If they’re in the box, they can submit a meeting request. If they’re not, they know and they don’t have to waste their time.” That was part of it.
A lot of these executives are a little older and are at a point in their life where they want to make a difference in the world. They want to give back. They’re sitting on charitable boards. They want to make a difference. They wanted to weave in the ability to support charitable causes and make a difference in the world into the process that we’re building. It took us a long time. We’ve commercially launched just a few months but we have been working on this for years, testing different concepts. We tested an auction concept. We looked at different ways we could implement this and figured out what worked and what didn’t work.
We built it with all the tools the executives needed to meet compliance requirements and everything they wanted as far as the toolsets. When we rolled it out, we got immediate executive adoption because it was everything that they wanted with all the toolsets that they needed. We’ve been onboarding about 100 executives a month. We’re about 900 executives on the platform and that will accelerate. We’re going to see thousands of executives coming on board each month due to the interest level that’s been sparked.
My first big takeaway is when clients build something, they adapt to it quickly. As opposed to, the old way of doing things. An engineering standpoint is the engineers build this, and now marketing has to figure out how to sell it. We haven’t talked to a prospective customer. We don’t have any idea what they want or need or if they’re going to like this, let alone pay for it. You reverse engineered that mindset and that’s why it’s working and growing fast. I’m guessing there were some challenges in terms of the executives still having to answer to a board, even if you’re the CEO. The board is like, “Is this allowed?” It’s the compliance issues. Why is it your charity and not the company’s charity? Something along those lines. Can you get into any of the details of how you navigated that?
At the core of this platform is a means for an executive to offer an hour of their time for an exploratory meeting in return for a meaningful donation to a worthy cause of some kind. The money doesn’t go to the executive. It doesn’t accrue. It didn’t come to them. It’s not taxable to them. The vendor is paying the charity. We came up with a whole list of compliance capabilities and compliance guidance that we would give the executives as they came onto the platform. Things such as you’re not to use this platform for vendors involved in an active RFP. You wouldn’t use this platform for a meeting with a company that you’re already doing business with.
We gave them tools. When they accept the meeting requests, they have the option of checking a box and waiving the donation if they want. If they feel there’s any conflict of interest, they could waive the donation. They can still take the meeting but there’s no donation involved. We recommend they commit 1 or 2 hours a month to this. It’s not a regular process. It’s 1 or 2 hours a month that they’re doing this. If they want, they can take their lunch hour to have the meeting so it’s not on company time.
You got that flexibility. You’ve thought this through.
I’ve been surprised. We got through compliance at Western Union and got greenlighted for their executives, a financial institution with a lot of controls around it. We’ve gotten a greenlight from compliance departments of municipalities, government organizations. We feel we’re on solid ground relative to giving the executives the tools they need to ensure they use the platform properly.
Now that you have some momentum, you’re in my sweet spot, which is turning these case studies into case stories. Also, being able to either post the case stories in written form or maybe even a video where someone’s saying, “I’m glad I took this meeting from the Influence Board. Now I have found a solution to a problem I couldn’t find without having to spend hours and hours of weeding through pitches and things.”
We’ve gotten some good stories from executives and vendors alike. I heard from a vendor that said that they landed a meeting with an executive they had been trying to reach for well over a year unsuccessfully. They were extremely happy. We’re seeing about a 20% to 33% median acceptance rate on the platform. If you submit ten meeting requests, you get 2 or 3 meetings. For this caliber of the executive to make ten cold calls once and get 2 to 3 meetings is unheard of. It’s delivering on the promise.
The other sweet spot for the Successful Pitch theme is on your platform, people have an opportunity to write into the reason for the meeting and upload some information for backup. The ability to pitch yourself and prove to the executive why your bid should be the one they pick, given everything is the same and that everyone’s giving the same amount of money to their charity of choice. To increase your odds, if you’re already getting 10% to 33% yeses, wouldn’t it be great if you knew how to be in that 30% or even make half your requests more irresistible? I thought it would be fascinating for us to brainstorm a little bit for anyone reading because it works for everything, but certainly for people on the Influence Board. What have you seen works and what hasn’t worked?
We standardized the format for submitting a meeting request on our platform. That was intentional. It came from the executives. We asked them, “What do you want the meeting requests to look like?” It came down to three things. Each one of the meeting requests has three parts. You get to make a 300-word bold claim. Tell me exactly how you’re going to solve my problem. Give me the metrics. What percentage improvement can I see? You don’t have to substantiate the numbers. Make the claims. Make a bold claim so that I know where you’re headed as far as solving my problems.Quite frankly, everybody hates cold calling. Click To Tweet
Part two is a video. What they want is a video of you talking to them. They get a sense of who you are as a person. People do business with people they know and like. This is an opportunity to make a human connection. The third part is the boring part, which is you can attach three documents that support the claims you made in your bold claim. Where we’ve seen the creativity is on the video. There was one person who shaved his COVID beard on the video saying, “This meeting is important to me. I’m cleaning up, finally.”
“I’m putting on long pants instead of shorts for this even though you’ll not see it on Zoom.”
There was another guy who knew that the executive played the guitar and was in a little band. He played the guitar on his video and he gave his pitch to music. We’ve seen some interesting creativity. We try and give guidance on best practices. John, you’re the expert at this. If any of your clients are doing it, I’m sure their bold claims are going to be fantastic.
Let’s talk about the two examples. Many of us have seen the Dollar Shave Club commercials. It’s a great use of humor. Humor works when it’s self-deprecating. Not humor at anybody else’s expense. It’s not about telling jokes. Be playful and get people a sense of who you are as a person by willing to be a little self-deprecating. One of my favorite quotes is from Arthur Ashe, the former tennis pro, “The key to success is confidence. The key to confidence is preparation.” The fact that somebody took the time to go find out what that person’s personal interests were and then customize the video through that music language is the extra effort that makes people stand out. Those techniques and then also the basics like have a good lighting and a good mic. Don’t film yourself on a video phone that isn’t professionally done because you still need to come across as professional. That’s the challenge of like, “I don’t need to spend a lot of money on it, but I need to spend some effort on it.” It’s this ability to speak in sound bites. One of my sound bites is when you target people’s heartstrings, they open their purse strings.
One of the things that I would advise everyone who is creating a video for the Influence Board would be, do some research on the charity. Speak to how that charity resonates with you personally in your video, over and above the bold claim you’re making of why you should have the meeting. Those details are what’s going to make somebody trust and like you more and remember you more. Remember, you only have a few minutes. Some of them are probably not going to watch the whole video. You must have a strong opening. I know you and I are brainstorming on creating some basic, three mistakes to avoid. It’ll work for everybody, especially when the stakes are high. Do you ever get the objection from a vendor saying, “We don’t have budgeted money to donate to a client’s charity?” I’m guessing you’re saying, “You probably have a budget for travel and expenses that’s not being used at the moment.”
It’s interesting where people have found the money to do this, from a number of places. Their T and E budget has dropped dramatically. Instead of a $400 plane ticket, you can donate $400 to charity and get that meeting that you need to get. The other thing is a lot of them have stranded event sponsorship dollars because the events didn’t happen. They had budgeted for sponsorship and they see this as better use of funds. They were going to sponsor an event hoping that they would run into the right person at the event, and hoping they would have a conversation and it might turn into a meeting. For the same money, they could guarantee themselves a certain number of meetings on our platform.
At least your target is everything.
On our platform, you pay nothing unless someone says yes to the meeting. You’re only spending the money when you get the outcome that you want.
You’re making a donation to someone’s charity and you’re selling something of fairly high cost, the ROI is huge. Also, I want to take people behind the curtain a little bit of what I did there and what I want to encourage people to do on their videos when they’re creating them for the Influence Board. Anticipate an objection before the person voices it and answer it in your video. I haven’t been in Corporate America like you. We know the objections are we don’t have this budgeted. If you address that in your video, that’s not going to be the objection.
I gave an example of how you get clients. If you think someone has an objection like, “We’re happy with our vendor. You’re more expensive than what we’re spending now.” Address that in the video before you get to the meeting. It’ll make people think, “He’s in my head. He’s already anticipating what my concerns might be.” If you can address those concerns in the video, then they’ll think, “Maybe there is a reason to talk to you.”
That’s a great point.
Any last thoughts or advice you have for people who are struggling to get into the virtual room these days? How can the Influence Board help them?
We try to make it as easy as possible. It’s free to join the Influence Board and takes 30 seconds to create a profile. Once it’s created, you can download our entire database of executives into Excel. You can sort, slice, dice and figure out if there are some good targets for you in there. You could submit your meeting requests. It doesn’t cost anything to submit them. You only donate to charity when you win the meetings you want with the executives that are high priority for you. It’s a seamless process.
It’s fantastic. I’m sure you have wonderful case stories for both the vendors and the executives who are happy that they’re doing it.
We have some superuser executives that love the platform. It’s been fun to see them see this new way to manage the vendor cold calling dilemma. It’s turned into something that they hated. Quite frankly, everybody hates cold calling. The vendor hates making the cold calls. The executive hates getting them. This has turned the whole process into something fun and interesting and has renewed enthusiasm among the executives. When they get a meeting request, “Is the video going to be cool and inspiring?” It creates some intrigue and excitement that hasn’t been there in a while.
People like to be entertained, as well as informed and inspired. When we can encourage people to put their empathy hat on to what it’s like to be that executive, getting constant requests. The more you can put yourself in their shoes and think, “What a win this could be for them.” If I have something that can help make their job easier and better and they’re getting something for the charity, they’re going to be happy they took this meeting. If you can convey that emotion in your video, that’s what’s going to make people intrigued enough to want to hear more.
Thanks so much for joining us, Jay. If people want to find you and the Influence Board, where should they go?
InfluenceBoard.com and my info is there as well.
We’re going to look forward to continuing to watch this soar and scale much like you’re helping your clients who are on the Influence Board.
Thank you, John. It’s great to be here.
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