A fun and multi-faceted discussion with Seth Keshel as we discussed the value of building relationships and the impact on the sales cycle COVID has had on business. We discussed how to deal with NO. We also spent some time talking about an unconventional method for finding a job.
A book he mentioned during the discussion:
48 Days to the Work You Love (https://amzn.to/3tjp2gj)
Shout out to episode sponsor R.D. Adair PLLC (https://adair.law).
Good morning, DFW. You’re listening, you’re watching the Dallas-Fort Worth Business Podcast. I’m Aaron Spatz. Thank you so much for joining me this morning. I hope that you had a fantastic weekend as we get started in the very first week of February 2021. You made it. You’re here. Congratulations. So I want to jump right into the show today. I’m so grateful that you’re here, but we’re going to welcome Seth Keshel to the program. Seth comes to us from a variety of background in industry, but most recently as Business Development Manager for Trafficware. Seth, I just want to welcome you to the show, man. Thanks so much for being here.
Hey, Aaron. Great to see you again. I appreciate you having me on. Looking forward to doing this segment.
Absolutely. Yeah. So give everyone a little bit of a little bit of references as to who you are. I always love to open it up with, you know, where are you originally from. If you’re not from Fort Worth, which most people – it seems like there’s not a lot of people from the Dallas or Fort Worth area. So where are you originally from? And how’d you get here?
Well, it sounds like the interview question they prep you for when you’re coming out of the military. You know, tell me about yourself and you’ve got this two-minute space to just kind of float and be afraid of what you need to say and not say. So where am I from? I was born into a military family. So I fooled a lot of people born in Puerto Rico. But I’m about as Puerto Rican as BMW. I grew up in Mississippi. So Jackson, Mississippi, where I went to high school and then I went to college at Ole Miss. And from Ole Miss is where I took my leap into the army.
Okay. So Ole Miss, man. So are you a diehard Ole Miss fan? Do you follow them in football rankings?
Yeah. And you know, a few years after college, I really got emotionally invested back into the scene. We had a really miserable football team when I was there. Aside from the first year, we had this guy named Eli Manning. He was okay. But they had some good teams. My first couple of years out of college, but sort of I’m not as interested as I used to be. Just being so busy growing my professional career, having kids. So it’s not like it used to be, but I definitely still keep up with the baseball program. I was a statistician for baseball program and I parlayed that into having some consulting work with some major league players down the road. So I still keep up with baseball program pretty, pretty seriously.
Well, how the heck did you get into baseball consulting? Like, I mean, that’s not that you just stumble into every day.
Yeah, sort of an accidental path. I was about six four in the ninth grade and everybody thought I was supposed to be like, you know, the next Dale Murphy or something like that. And I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other without falling over. So I couldn’t make our nationally ranked baseball team, but I had the mind for processing all the statistics, love the history of the game. And I was able to be the statistician for the team. We had a lot of guys go on to play Division I baseball. So I knew the coaches at that level we got in Ole Miss. And it was like, hey, come on in, we’ve got a role for you. So I worked with a lot of the coaches developing new models, which we could evaluate players, working with statistical summaries, pitching information, really kind of early Sabermetrics stuff like you see in the game now. We can do a whole other segment on baseball stats sometime if you want.
And then a lot of our guys in Ole Miss went under the big leagues and I was able to sort of transfer some of what I knew about military intelligence analysis over to baseball analysis. Because just like in the military, the weather is not the same. The terrain’s not the same. The enemy is not the same. But in baseball, not every pitcher is the same height, same release point, same pitches, against the same types hitters. So I found a niche for, hey, this is your pitch arsenal. Here’s what the hitters on the other team do with those pitches. And here’s how if you’d locate here, what’s going to happen. It was actually a very good idea. Just a very tough market to break into.
Yeah. I mean, it’s a tough market to break into, no doubt. And, you know, we’ll move on to other topics in your second. It’s just fascinating because, you know, the movie Moneyball obviously was what? That was the main movie – if I remember right – that really put Sabermetrics on, you know, on the map in terms of pop culture.
Yeah. It’s a perfect piece for business. This is a small market team. Even in their own geographic space, they’re in the shadow of the San Francisco Giants. Talking about the Oakland A’s now. So if they’re going to succeed, they have to find a way underneath the radar to see differently. You know, doing the same thing over and over again is called what?
Insanity. So these guys found a way to compete and they had some of the best players and they knew that every six years they were going to have to get rid of some of their best players because they were going to be able to afford them. And of course, they’re going to go off and play for the Yankees or someone like that. But it was really fascinating to see what they did, and in a way, this approach that – I mean, it didn’t really last that long. It’s a very tough market to stay involved in. A lot of the teams will see that players are getting outside information and try to squash that because they’ve got their own scouting bureaus, but it was truly – I mean, you could go all over the internet, all over the pages of the internet, find that people are working on their own Sabermetric data in which is very useful and the broad scouting network may not have access to that information because they haven’t taken the time to compile it.
And also, it’s a little bit of a trust factor too. I mean, who’s this guy that peaked out as an eighth grade third baseman that’s trying to tell me how to get Miguel Cabrera out on a 2-2 count. So that’s the kind of the interesting stuff, but when you watch it actually unfold on the screen in front of you, this guy’s about to furthest pitch because I called it. It’s kind of a fun thing
It’s gotta be surreal, for sure. It’s gotta be insane, man.
Well, especially when the players would execute the game plan as well and watching the results, it was really good. And of course, sometimes you get knocked all around the park and it makes you feel like not so good.
Sure. Man, well, that’s nuts. So if I’m tracking correctly, your post-military journey started in the Greater Houston area before you made it up here to the DFW region. So give us a sense of your career progression over the last several years.
Made the call to get out of the army in 2013. So funny enough, I should have an article coming out, maybe in The Western Journal this week about my experiences in the modern military and the things that leads a lot of officers and NCO soldiers to get out early when they thought they might have done a career. Cause I know you and I are in the same boat. Junior captains that got out, moved into the business world. But when I made the call to get out, I went through the basic placement agencies and I wound up being placed by Orion International, who is absolutely a fantastic organization. They really work hard with the veterans. Bob Berkholz’s really good guy. And I wound up in the Houston hiring conferences. And oil and gas, of course, being a big thing in Southeast Texas, we’re really throughout all of Texas, taking in these project managers.
So that was my first role out of the military – working with TH Hill as a project manager. Now, honestly, looking back, I don’t think that’s project management. I went on to get my PMP, which I also went on to let it go because it didn’t really do me any good, but it was operations management, but it was really a useful job. You know, you got to work a lot like you did in the military with officer types, enlisted types, NCO types. So being able to juggle all these different accounts with their different needs was very useful. It took about six months to really get rolling and feel comfortable in the job. And then once you developed your own style, that led to greater things, but of course the industry tanked in the middle of 2015. So a lot of us had to go find new jobs.
I bounced around a little bit. Had some jobs I didn’t really care for so much. I wound up in a healthcare job as a business analyst. So the mind is there, the brainpower is there, but the personality didn’t match very well. So that was a job that once I left that, I went into – well, I bounced around a little bit more and I found this job here in Trafficware, which is a perfect use of my energy. So, you know, there’s a book that you guys ought to read if you haven’t read, it’s called 48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller. He’s an associate at Dave Ramsey’s and he says, the work you love involves three things. It’s your skills and abilities, your personality tendencies, and your values, passions and desires. And if you can line up at least two of those, you’ve got a really good job. If all three, then you’ve got like a calling.
You know, so you may actually be operating on all three given that you’ve moved your experience in the military and business into a show like this. But yeah, if you’re only operating on one of those or less, zero, it’s time to find another job. My current job really uses the skill sets you develop as a military officer. Being able to know if you’re briefing somebody who’s of a higher rank at a strategic level or somebody who’s in a lower level, somebody that’s somewhere in between, somebody that cares about maintenance, somebody that cares about a ten-year plan. So you have to really put the switch on and off in your mind about who you’re working with at any given time. And you’ve got to have a lot of physical energy to go because my territory covers from Hawaii all the way up to Newfoundland.
Holy cow, man.
Right. And really, all the way, I guess you could make the case out to Barbados too, maybe Greenland. So I cover all of the North American continent. I would have already crisscrossed it like Lewis and Clark had it not been for the shutdowns of the past year. But once things open up, it’s going to be a lot of miles. In fact, I’ve got a mileage challenge with one of my coworkers to see who can get the most this year.
That’s insane. Man, that’s nuts. Well, all right. So before we dive into that, I actually want to take a step back jumping to another topic that you tease me with, man. It’s not good to do that, but it piques my interest, which has to do with professional licenses, certifications, you know, the higher education track. I suspect you have some pretty strong feelings about this. So I’m curious. One, you know, what utility do you see different certifications – and I’m not talking just for you and your industry specifically, even though I know that’s what you are going to know best, but I’m talking like in a broader sense. Certain industries such as IT, right? They are very certification driven, very focused on what have you done, but also what paperwork do you have the backup your claims. And then there’s other industries that may, maybe it’s a little more generalized, like the PMP, right? So what have you found in terms of that and what’s been your experience with that? And I’m a little bit more curious as to why you decided to just let it lapse too.
Well, I’ve added some initials after my name since I got out of the army. One of them, I still have and I can’t lose it. It’s an MBA, which I think you’re working on the same thing, right? We talked about the Liberty University. So we can get into that one later. But the PMP. TH Hill’s project management wing. Well, there were not – I don’t think there were any PMPs until we got one guy in who unfortunately was really going to be good, but he got hit in the first round of layoffs. He didn’t have any experience in the company. So that piqued my interest. I was like, “Hey, Bevan, what’s this PMP?” And he explained to me about the project management professional.
And then when I was let go from the oil and gas job, when it all tanked, you know, I went for a run out in the neighborhood. Of course, this is August in Texas. It’s not really a pleasant place to be, but I was limping my way back to the house and a buddy of mine from church stopped and, you know, looked at me like I needed you to pick me up and put an IV in me or something. And I told them that I was trying to find another job, which was late summer 2015 in Houston with so many people in the oil and gas industry looking for a job. I was miserable. Absolutely horrible. The employers had all the power. They could pretty much pick anyone they want. He was like, “Hey, you ever heard of the project manager for professional?” I was like, “Yeah, I think I’ve heard of it briefly, PMP.” And he’s like, “You get one of those. You’ll never fail to have a job doing project management.”
So you know, I went back. I’ve delayed on that, procrastinated on that for a little bit. And then December 2015, I was like, okay, I’ve got a few weeks to just do whatever. I was in the final offering phase of the job where I eventually went into the healthcare field, but I got that project management certificate about three weeks, I’d finished. I crammed for it. I studied, I got all the literature and I got all the testing equipment. I just crammed that thing for about two or three weeks. And I went in there and it’s not really the easiest thing to pass. I think it’s about 60% first time pass rate. And I passed it. So I got my PMP in the beginning of 2016, went into a job that didn’t need it. And then after that job, I went into another one that didn’t need it.
And the whole time when I was looking around for other work, nobody cared. You know, it was like, you got this PMP. Well, that’s great. Well, how many, you know, do you have specific experience in bathroom stall cleaning management? If you don’t, then you’re not going to be a good fit for this organization. And here’s your automated rejection letter six months after the fact. So I also learned how to really job search. It’s called an unconventional job search. You completely get away from the black hole of HR hiring. I’ve never done that since I figured out unconventional job search.
And, you know, the PMP to me, I didn’t think was very useful. Nobody cared that I had it. In fact, most people didn’t even know what this clutter at the end of my name was. So I kind of began to believe that the PMP was like a lot of other things where it’s like, hey, here’s an apparatus in which you can spend money and pay us to give you a certificate that people may or may not care about. Although it may be a discriminator for hiring pay. You know, Seth has a PMP and Aaron doesn’t, well, we have to fix stuff, but that wasn’t my experience in actually having the certificate at all. I’m sort of the same way with the MBA. Nobody really cares if I went to Harvard or if I went to Liberty or if I had a 3.8 or a 2.8. So I’m a little cynic, I’m a self-cynical about certifications and degrees.
Well, it’s fascinating. I’m sure there’s just as many people that agree with you as there are that disagree with that position. It’s your position though. It’s your held belief. So I think it’s fascinating. I personally think that certifications can certainly open up more opportunities, right? And it’s like the same thing with the advanced degrees. They open up more opportunities. Maybe they fill in some knowledge gaps and process gaps and so on. But I think I really do still believe that at the end of the day, what you said is going to hold true, where employers – generally speaking and I’m making broad generalizations here – are more concerned about your experiences than they are all the certifications. And so there’s the experience, there is the cultural fit, and then there’s all the other nice to have qualifications and certifications. So, no, it’s a fascinating study. Fascinating study, for sure. So, take us through the process to get up here to the Fort Worth area. So as I see it, you actually were – you got hired by Trafficware down to Houston, but then you’re able to transfer up here. Is that right?
Yeah. Once I took the job at Trafficware – Trafficware is based in Sugarland, Texas, and for the longest time, it was pretty much a family-owned brand. And it’s been around for 40 years now. And so it started small and it had a very loyal customer base, mostly along the Gulf Coast states of Florida, South Carolina, even. And there were some other small products out of the company that made its way really worldwide. So if I ever go somewhere now where we’ve never been in such a direct vendor of hardware, most people know it as a vendor of software. So I can kind of make a bridge like that. But based out of the Sugarland area, and as I grew into the role, we sort of revamped the way we handle my product. So I sell our detection system, which is called a Pod, Trafficware Pod Detection System. And it competes against other main line systems like radar systems, video systems made by various vendors.
Okay. So just hold on a second. So what does it do? Just so we’re all not here wondering what the heck this does. What does it do?
Okay. Well, so if you look around the DFW metroplex, you’ve got a number of different agency types. You know, you’ve got the Texas Department of Transportation, which administers all traffic signals on highways and interstates and also in these small towns. We run it to the town like Boyd. Texas Department of Transportation Fort Worth district runs the signals in Boyd. But then the cities of 50,000 or more population, they may take control over their own signals. So if you run over to Frisco, well, Frisco operates all its own traffic signals and they can decide what equipment, whose cabinets (the cabinets are the big metal boxes on the side of the road that hold all the computer equipment), whose electronics and whose detection systems they run/
Ours is a hockey puck type device which cores into the roadway. And they look like buttons on a shirt when they’re put in a lane and it replicates an old-fashioned loop. And have you ever heard people say, you pull up in this lane, you’ve got to get your car just right at it’ll pick you up? They’re talking about a loop in the road. The loops gave way to things like cameras and radar detection systems because the roads became difficult to maintain as they would wear. And the infrastructure would wear so you couldn’t use loops anymore. Our system is like a virtual loop. It allows you to cord into the roadway and it communicates wirelessly to the rest of the infrastructure the presence of a vehicle.
And as you go up the chain of management, you find engineers who are also interested in collecting – they call it data vehicle accounts. Figuring out the volume of traffic through a certain corridor at certain times of day, that transmits into planning and funding cycles down the road. So it’s a data system and a detection system, and it has a certain maintenance requirement in which we staff that with our technical force as well.
So I’m sort of a dual hat. I’m certainly a salesman. That’s my first duty is I’m in charge of the sale and spread of this product. And I’m also, you know, because of that, the more customers we grow, I have to manage the technical support to these customers. Because over time with enough quantity, that happens. So it grew from you’re going to be in this small area, you’re going to have parts of Texas and you’re going to have the state of Arkansas. My forte became going into states or areas where had absolutely no business whatsoever and coming back with business.
So it’s a strategy for sure. You know, you can’t go in there and try to hit a grand slam on your first approach. You take small bites and get in the door. And then when people put your solution in, hey, how do we like it? How are we managing this? And then where does it go next? So it’s a several-year process to get major growth into a brand new account, but that’s what I turned out to do well. So we sort of revamped the position to where I would have more territory. And I would be the tip of the spear into a lot of places where we had no business because everybody can use my product. Every agency can use my product, but not all the other stuff that we sell. So I would go in, I’d go into Minnesota. I’d be like, “Hey, we are going to see the city of St. Cloud cause they’re putting in one of my systems.” And then we can get the big manager behind me that has everything else to see what the needs are and that’s how the accounts would grow.
So kind of back in baseball, we started throwing curve balls on first pitch, getting that first strike in there, and then we’d go after the hitter in a different way. So they’ve pretty much realigned everything to where now I can cover the continent and I would have purview over the project management of everything that we do plus the sales. And that’s how it was like, okay, this guy can move at DFW and there’s no issue with that. My office, it’s either right behind me or if I’m not in the door with somebody local that I drove to, then I’m flying somewhere. So like tomorrow, tomorrow I’m flying up to the Northwest to go enjoy, you know, 10-degree weather up in Minnesota, Wisconsin for a couple of days. But it’s very hard. It’s very hard to get meetings right now. There’s a lot of places shut down and a lot of places you’d be very surprised that are shut down too.
Okay. Wow. Well, you know, let’s peel back the onion a little bit more on your sales methodology. And so I think this is probably a segment that people will find fascinating. So you, for whatever reason, you’re able to jump into an untapped market and develop some – and that’s a very valuable skill set. So share with me a little bit about what does that process like for you? So, you know, you’ve got a state, a county, a city, whatever the case may be, that is new to you, that you’ve never done any kind of business with, but yet you’re able to develop and cultivate business. So what does that process look like for you? Like what are you doing?
The first thing I do is, you know, as Abraham Lincoln said, if you give me three hours to cut down the tree, I’m going to spend the first two hours sharpening my ax. Well, it’s kind of what I do. I’m a nerd on all the doctrine. So in the intelligence world, you have what’s called IPB (intelligence preparation of the battlefield). So I go into a new market, let’s say, “Hey, Seth, congratulations. You’re going to pick up Arizona,” which happened in the late 2019. So I started breaking down Arizona, which I was already familiar with, having lived there a couple of a couple of times. But you know, you’ve got the Phoenix area, breakdown what kind of suburbs are around Phoenix, what kind of projects you’re going in, and you can find all that online. And that’s called open source intelligence (OSINT).
And in case you want to fuse the military back to the business world, you guys ought to know, OSINT is how the enemy knows 70% of what they know about us. 70% of what the enemy knows about coalition or friendly forces in places like Afghanistan is because they found it on Facebook or they found it on the Army Times. And they got ideas of how our troops move in and out of country or where the chow hall is where they can drop borders on it.
So I go in there and I find out OSINT about what agencies have what budget, what kind of projects they’re looking for, or if they just spent like $5 million on an entirely new systems. And that’s probably an agency that I’m not going to have a lot of success getting to know a new product. So I go in there and I book in my trips. I’m going to come in on Tuesday. I’m going to leave on Thursday. And I slot exactly how many meetings I can have going back towards the middle. And I get in front of as many customers as possible. And really what I do is I go in with an idea of what sort of agency they are, what type of funding they’re going to have. I can look around with my own eyes and see out at the intersections, what sort of products are being used. And I can go in there with an intelligent discussion where I don’t waste people’s time.
And then just be yourself. You know, people don’t want to buy from fake people. They can smell it from a mile away. So if you just go in there, you know, you’re a straight shooter. You tell it like it is. You have some healthy vulnerability about your own products because people are going to want to know, “Hey, what is the deal with your stuff? Like what can go wrong with it?” You know, and then you need to be honest about the best way to manage and maintain systems. And all of a sudden, they’re going to find you to be a very reputable person that has integrity to actually speak about issues you’ve had, not just the great things you’ve had.
So typically, I rarely go into a meeting and have one of these where it’s like, “Hey, great. You know, talk to you later.” There’s almost always some sort of follow-on action or, “Hey, can you design one of these?” And if it’s a no, you know, it’s usually not like people are sitting on their phone the whole time. So you want to go in there, kind of have some intelligent discussion about what’s going on in the area. I’ve traveled a lot in my own life. So I’ve been able to see lots of the world, lots of the countries. So I can go pretty much anywhere and talk about my own personal experiences being in this part of the country. And all of a sudden you’ve made a connection that’s more than just here’s your 30-minute PowerPoint show. Do you want a quote? People hate that. They hate that.
Well, I thought that’s exactly how it’s done, right?
No. You’ve sat through a few death by PowerPoint sessions and you know exactly how it feels to have a vendor come in there and go, here’s my computer. Take a look at this PowerPoint.
Yeah. No, I know exactly what you’re saying. The value, the importance of the human element, the human relationship, what you are doing in a very rapid way, which is, you know, establishing rapport, finding common ground, being relatable, adapting your approach to their needs and to what they have going on. And so, no, it’s a fascinating and really helpful approach. And what I want to do is when we come back from the break, I love to understand and hear from you. And I think this would be great insight or advice for other sales professionals. But how do you deal with no, right? So how do you deal with a client, or how do you deal with swinging the bat and you’re striking out time and time and time and time and time again? And so, what is helping to keep you going? So we’ll cover that here in just one second.
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So Seth, getting back to our discussion here. So, you know, you’ve got this great approach to an untapped market, something that’s new to you. And so you’re combining that with a tremendous amount of research, of understanding exactly what’s going on. And then you go in there and you’re armed with a lot of information. You’re not going to just walk in there and just, you know, have all guns blazing, but you at least have an understanding of different knowledge points, different touch points of what they’re doing. So it allows you to have a more intelligent discussion, which I think is terrific. How are you dealing with the rejection? Because I feel like that’s a tough thing for a lot of sales professionals have to overcome is understanding and dealing with rejection. What’s your take on that?
It’s never what you want to hear your job is to go out and make business and get orders and come back with success. But, you know, even in baseball, which I love baseball, I think the metaphors and, you know, the history of that game is really applicable so much of life. In fact, when I was deployed, the last letter I got from my dad, who died when I was on that deployment, talked about all the lessons that we learned watching baseball games, especially one of them, the game is never over until the last man is out. Basically keep moving, keep going, keep driving. So even the best hitters, they fail seven out of ten times. You know, you hit 300. That means you fail seven out of ten times.
Now, if you get into the Sabermetrics, approach of things, where you only fail six out of ten times, if you’ve got a 400 on base percentage. But let’s just go with the old number. You fail seven out of ten. Even with me, I’ve got 41 new customers in 12 different states, over two and a half years. So that’s what I do well is I go into new places to make business, but I probably get, I might get two out of every ten meetings that I have, like a new customer comes on board. And then maybe the number of tick up over time because sometimes it will take a year plus to get somebody on board, especially given the budget challenges that we’ve had in the last year. But taking no for an answer, you know, sometimes no is the answer. You know, if I’ve gone into an agency that just spent $5 million on upgrading all their detection systems, then it’s a very unlikely thing that I’m going to squeeze out any sort of an order.
So sometimes that’s known and a lot of times I’ll know that going in. You know, there could be personality differences there, you know, where the maintenance crews want to try something, but the engineer squashes it, or the engineer wants to try something and the maintenance crews squash it. So it’s not personal. You know, as long as you go in there and act like a professional, but also act like a real human being, they’re going to know you for that. You know, like there’s people that I’ve failed to sell a solution to that I’ll run into at a trade show or somewhere down the line, you know, they’ll remember me and we’ll have a brief conversation, especially along the lines of, you know, veterans are all over this industry too. You know, you go into any city, you know, you’re going to likely find people that are veterans that are going to want to talk about their experiences. And that is a huge community in this country where you can go anywhere you want and find people that have shared life experiences in fighting two wars for two decades. So that’s something that’s is fulfilling to me, even if there aren’t is not sales to be had.
As far as no goes, you have to categorize what that mechanism of no is. You know, if it’s a legitimate, we can’t sell this account because they just filled their whole city out then that’s one thing. If there’s been a no after you’ve already gotten in the door with an account, like they’re an existing customer, then that goes back on other things like, you know, customer support. Is this on our own attention to this account? Have we let something slip? Did we fail to implement something technically? You know, you’ve got the sales side, you’ve got the technical side and you have to have an honest assessment of that because you have to change.
I mean, Good to Great was probably the best book that I read coming out of the military. And these are companies that just took the slow approach and they built up their systems and they got the right people on the bus and then they drove it. So I have a very long-term approach towards success. And in a lot of times that clashes with the stakeholder driven approach towards like we’ve got to get it down this quarter. So there’s a balance to be found between progressing towards longstanding goals and getting short-term goals done too. And it’s a very difficult one.
Yeah. That’s it very, very difficult to split and the way that you just articulated, that was great because, you know, there’s people’s different time horizons as it relates to success or what the deliverables are, the deadlines, the quotas, and so forth are going to look differently. But yeah, and as you mentioned a minute ago, like some sales cycles, like for what you’re doing, I mean, a lot of it is you’re doing public sector type work. I mean, I’m even thinking like defense contractors or people that are selling into like, you know, major healthcare organizations. Those sales cycles can take well over a year in order to get from start to finish and in some cases longer. And then some folks are focused more in on a tighter decision-making process loop there. So how do you balance that? And there may not even be a good answer for it. I’m just kind of throwing it out there for you, but how do you balance, you know, cultivating a lot of sales activity and a lot of progress against ensuring that you’re making headway towards you corporate related goals?
So the new customers are absolutely essential for long-term growth and those are my favorite ones to sell, even though the orders are a lot smaller than the big ones that have been baked in for the last five years. Once the customer buys one or two systems of our equipment and they like it, and it’s working and doing the job they want, then a lot of times you’ll see that drawn into actual engineering plans and those engineering plans can take a while to mature and actually be let out for a bid. And, you know, I’ve got some opportunities in my funnel where they’re pushed out to 2023 because they’re very large projects that bring a lot of revenue in.
So I’m having a balance whether I’m going on a Lewis and Clark expedition up to Minnesota and Wisconsin to try to find a couple of new customers. And once we do that, we can hire a business development manager that lives up there and they see these guys, they bring up donuts coffee and they developed a relationship more for the rest of our product line. And then I have to decide whether I need to focus during this week on dragging you across or progressing some of these larger opportunities.
So we’ve got little orders, got big orders, and there’s a balance between the two. And if you do the job on the little orders and you implement well and you keep your finger on the pulse there, you’re going to develop into the bigger order side. So the company’s goals rests on these big orders, but the long-term development and growth and opportunities rest on these small loaders. So that’s the balance where I am trying to strike it to where I’m doing enough of getting new people on board without neglecting, you know, we can’t let the big eggs drop out of the basket.
Right, Well, and you said this a number of times, I keep meaning to come back to it, which is, you know, keeping your finger on the pulse. And so understanding where’s the customer. You know, because there’s always this handoff from sales to operations or implementation, there’s usually some type of handoff. And so I’m not ragging on operations folks. Normally, you know, operations folks are blaming the sales guys for everything. And the sales guys sold the moon and then the sales guys are blaming the operations folks because they can implement the crap, right? So there’s always this little bit of a tug of war going on. But at the end of the day, what you’re getting at is you’re talking about the quality of the relationship with the client. You know, are they satisfied? Are they having a great experience with the product? Are we fulfilling our obligations? But then maybe beyond that, maybe there’s an untapped need that they haven’t fully expressed. And so it gives you an opportunity to go back and clarify.
So I’m saying all this to say, just in my view of kind of what you’re talking about is maintaining a great customer relationship for better or worse, whether the relationship, whether the communication may be slightly critical in nature or positive is really – that is the way to getting a successful business or a successful relationship there built. Because that foundation of trust and communication is there. I mean, it sounds like that’s kind of been one of the primary means of which you’ve been doing all this. So it’s just simple observation.
That’s a hundred percent. You know, without a good relationship. I mean, you could potentially get an order from somebody that thinks you’re a robot where there’s no real relationship there because the need is so bad, where you have to fix a sucking chest wound of an intersection, and there’s no other thing’s going to do it with this one product. But as far as having a successful business relationship, everybody that I’ve got great business relationships with, we sat there and talked about guns. You know, we’ve sat there and talked about faith. We’ve talked about, you know, gut problems, family problems, personal problems, something I went through when I was in the army. Those are the people that keep on coming back, the people that you’re willing to – and it’s almost a complete reversal of how they say you’re supposed to be in life. You know, don’t talk about this, don’t talk about that.
And there’s of course, you know, how on LinkedIn is you don’t talk about certain things. And I kind of resent that. I think that should be talking about government and politics on LinkedIn professionally because what they do impactful business does. So in the same way that people, that I’ve actually had the best business relationships with are the ones where the conversation has gone into potential areas where this is something you’re normally not trained to talk about in business.
Right, right. No, but it makes you more human, right? You’re not just the face of a corporation. You’re now an actual human, right? Like you’ve got a real family, you’ve had a real career, you’ve got real challenges. You become relatable to the customer. The customer is expecting the shine. They’re expecting the positive. They’re expecting, you know, this is going to solve all of your problems and more. They’re expecting to hear all that stuff. What they’re maybe not expecting as much is the vulnerability, the openness, and you gotta be tapped. You gotta be a little bit mindful of how you do that, certainly, but it does create an opportunity for better relationships to be had.
And so I just think it’s terrific. I wanted to ask you then because you mentioned it earlier was the impact that COVID has had on the business. I know it’s impacted industries to different extents. Some has been almost no impact. Others, this has been the great, the best couple of years that companies have ever had. And then for other companies, they’ve really been struggling. What it’s been like for you doing business during this unique time?
It’s miserable. And I mean that in the most sincere, non-negative sense. I mean, it’s not positive. But what I’m saying is the agencies that buy our stuff, you know, they have maintenance budget set aside. You know, 12 months we’ve got a maintenance budget of X. Well, those budgets are fueled by revenues. So you can go out to a place that’s entertainment, you know, travel. Las Vegas, Nevada, for example. Everything’s been shut down. I mean, even at the blackjack table, say there’s only three people playing cards. So hotels are out. You know, if the city draws a lot of its maintenance budget off of hotel revenues, you know, then you’re going to have less of a budget. So it’s very hard to make the case for here’s a new $10,000 solution, which is not an expensive solution. And as you know, the money’s not there.
A lot of these agencies where you’ve can plant seeds and develop are very difficult. I’ve brought across probably four or five new customers since the summertime. And it was all seeds that I planted before we should stop traveling in mid-March. I remember being up in Wisconsin in mid-March when it was really like, I could tell this was about to be it. They canceled baseball, cancelled basketball. And I was like, this is going to be rough.
Now there’s stuff that’s come across, you know, deals that have been completed that are, you know, they’ve been in the works for a couple of years that are engineering plans that are already fully funded. Those have come across. But the new business growth has been difficult for not only financial reasons, but because it’s hard to get in the door. I don’t come across as well on Zoom. I don’t make as good of a personal connection on a virtual meeting as I do in person. It’s just how I am. So it’s not been as easy. And also, the customers, the appetite for virtual meetings and virtual sales calls has really waned. Everybody had a good attitude for about two or three months on this and that. Since then, it’s been, what are we going to do to survive? We’ll do that. And then we’ll pick up the pieces when we come back.
So that’s my professional take on business during coronavirus. I’ve also got a lot of personal views on it, but this may or may not be the place.
No. Well, I mean, I was going to ask you because you raise a good point. So I’ve heard this from other folks. So again, I’m curious about your experience here because there’s been a lot of people that have told me the same thing that, you know, that they are guy in the door type sales. Like it’s not the kind of sale that you just can click add to cart, checkout. Like it’s not necessarily that straightforward. So it’s probably a very obvious question, but I’m just like, what have you done though? Or how has your sales methodology changed? Because now, like you stated, you can’t just get on a plane and walk into someone’s office now, like you’re previously able to. Now you’re requesting permission to establish a Zoom meeting with them and you got Zoom fatigue and everything else. But how did that process for you change, I guess, is the question I’m trying to ask.
We started this, you know, we thought this was going to be a 45-day blip. Probably going to last us into May or so. So let’s just bridge the gap. And it was almost like being a student of history. It sort of reminded me of World War I where everybody said we’re going to be home by Christmas. It reminded me of the Civil War when the North thought they were going to steamroll the South, so much so that people literally bought, you know, Kate got ringside ceased to watch the first battle bull run, which didn’t go so well. And it’s like, we thought this was going to be a 45-day thing. It’ll be gone. We’ll flatten the curve and we go back to work.
So we spent all our ammo in this first 45 days. We’re going to have this session. We’re going to train here. We’re going to get all the training done. We’re going to have Seth come present this. We’re going to have Jeff present this. And then we got to May, and it was like, okay, now Texas is going to shut down because it spread down here. And, you know, and then it went over to Arizona, then it went all over and it was like, finally, we’re just like, we’re canceling life in general. It’s just all over. But it’s depressing. And I mean that as a businessman and I also mean that as somebody who values my personal liberties. I’m very frustrated, very frustrated.
So, you know, I think I’ve kind of gotten off target. But how did it work operations wise? My world has gotten bigger. I can cover the whole North American continent, so I can call up to the Northwest territories and try to set a Zoom meeting. But the appetite on the other end is not really the same for having all these meetings, whether we’re going to be back in the office in six weeks and we’ll just do it then or we have no maintenance budget now, or, you know, half my staff just left. I got more meetings being able to just travel by airplane and get a market and drive 600 miles. I’ll land somewhere and I’ll drive 800 miles to another airport. Almost like somebody that tunnels underground and I’ll fly back home. And my boss will get my expense report. Like, what the heck did you just do? Like South Dakota, Missouri. But I don’t know if that ridiculous level of personal energy or what, but it’s kind of, I feel constrained by this to where my energy is about to explode.
Well, it definitely helps to have a lot of energy doing what you do. I mean, let’s say from just you describing it, there’s a lot of activity. There’s a lot of stuff that you’re doing. So you kind of got to have a lot of energy and you’re pretty ambitious guy. You do good work. So you’re trying to get out there and get in front of many people as you possibly can. It’s just fascinating because it’s like, well, I get the sense as you’re talking, in some cases, there’s just literally nothing you could do. Like when they have a budget that is zero, they’ve got staff that’s left and they are effectively shut down and it’s just a bare bone skeleton crew, there’s really nothing you can do about it. So it’s like one of those things where you just, I mean, you plant the seed, but then you just move on. You just keep going until you find opportunities that are maybe a little bit more lively.
A lot of it’s been, you know, putting the blue collar on and the project management hat because post-sale is very important thing, too, if you want to have another sale after that – to make sure the stuff gets installed right, especially if you’re dealing with a huge contract install. It’s similar to what we dealt with an oil and gas. If you remember, the goal of the inspection agency is to get in there and get that inspection done as fast as possible and get as many pieces inspected as possible. And sometimes if you’re dealing with somebody who’s in a rush or having a human day, it’s click, click, click, everything’s good. Until you send that mud motor down the hole and it rips right in half, then you got – well, so the same thing. Here, you know, you’ve got installers around the country, contractors that want install equipment. And the goal is to do it with this little manpower as possible and as fast as possible.
So if you don’t get in front of that and make sure that you manage the technical support, then you’re going to be dealing with products that’s hastily and poorly installed. And then you’re going to have a sales related problem with the customer. So there’s been some of that to where I spent a number of months taking care of every bit of my field work that needed to be done. And even then, the lockdowns and the slowdown in society has outpaced even that. I mean, this is now ten months into 15 days to stop the spread.
Right. That’s right. That’s right. So 300 days into a 15-day to stop the spread now. So, all right. So I think I’ve beaten the wardrobe to death. And I don’t want to get towards the tail end of what we’re doing here on a negative note. So I want to refocus our attention. What’s been a major victory of yours over the last year? Whether it’s personally, professionally, whatever the case is, what’s been a glimmer of great news for Seth?
Well, we’ve got a new salesman on board, who’s a longtime friend of mine. After he’s done training, he’s going to relocate to the Great Lakes region and we’re going to tag team our way really across the country/continent to provide sales oversight, product management oversight, project management oversight over the entire product line. So we’re kind of bringing it all in to standardize it. Because you can go to different parts of the countries product that’s been out for about eight years, where you’ve got users with different experiences, to where you’ve grown a very large portfolio of our products and enjoyed direct – we’ve got a guy sitting right on top of your account experience. And then you’ve got stuff that maybe a distributor that we no longer work with sold seven or eight years ago. And because there’s not been direct sales support up there, then, you know, customers may have a different opinion. So we’re going to standardize the operation here really in the next couple of months. And we’ve already begun that.
That’s been a victory. That’s a structural victory, which in the good to great mindset, you know, putting the right people on the bus in my opinion was a very good move. And so we’ve got a lot more oversight directly now than we ever had to make things really work. And this whole process has been streamlined with – we know there’s a few technical changes depending on what products we’re using that need to happen and those are in the works and they’re going to be represented with basically direct support over one product. So that’s been a victory for me, and I hadn’t even had to do with Seth selling something. Seth selling an idea.
Right. Right. Well, I mean, but you know, when you’ve got more talent on board that can help advance the goals of the business, I mean, that’s a huge win. It sounds like you’ve got great support from the head office in terms of executing a growth plan.
Yeah. We’ve got our managers are really good people. You know, they all understand. They understand what’s going on right now. You know, where you’ve got this army of people that’s wanting to get up, go out and like, we’re kind of stuck. And then we’re at the mercy of whatever local municipalities are going to allow people in the door. So we’ve got a variety of managers, people that have been experienced in the industry for a long time, a very long time, people that are military veterans, people that are outsiders. My favorite kind of people are outsiders because I’m an outsider. You know, I think that you can look at transferable skills and find people that are going to knock the door. Most importantly, bring in a new way of thinking about how to solve problems. Unconventional problem solving, unconditional job searching, like I mentioned earlier, has been something that you distinguish yourself by doing something differently. And it’s good. You know, the military has done the same thing. You know, for a hundred years, this is how we’re going to do it, regardless of whether it works or not like counterinsurgency, which doesn’t work.
Right. Well, let’s talk about the unconventional job search. You know, you mentioned that a couple of times. For those watching, listening, you know, obviously a major change of topic here, but for those that are – there may be several people listening to this right now that are out of work because COVID has displaced them or for whatever reason. So, you know, share with us a little bit of your methodology when it comes to, you know, the unconventional job search as opposed to the traditional, you know, spray and pray approach to jobs.
Well, there’s a guy that I met and I’m going to give him a huge shut up. And when he gets this, he’s going to be glad I did, because he said, you better give me a shout out whenever you get a chance. His name is Don Burrows. And I’m sure you can find them on LinkedIn. We have very little personally in common. He thinks I’m a cuckoo, a nut job, but he is the most – he’s the sharpest guy when it comes to job searching. He’s got his own literature and he used to be an HR manager. And basically, he says, if you’re going online and you’re applying on a company’s website online, you might as well just give up because you’re not outsmarting the system. You’re letting the system outsmart you.
So his whole methodology is called don’t send job search junk mail. So here’s what happens in Houston in 2015 when you’re out of work because of oil and gas tank. You go to www.aaronspatzindustries.com, and you find that project management job that you’re just a perfect fit for. And you apply. Well, your resume goes in to a black hole that eventually finds its way to the recruiters and the hiring manager. Well, not the hiring managers, the recruiters who may give it to the hiring manager. And what happens is only about one third of the people that apply to the job actually meet the bare bones qualifications, even beginning to have the qualifications. There’s two-thirds of them, they’re just flinging a hope and a prayer downrange.
So, do the math. Right now, you’ve got a…hat means that you’ve got about 160 some odd people that might be qualified for that job. Not even. So the HR folks on the other side get these 400 resumes and they have to go through every one of them if the software hasn’t already found them out. And the stats will tell you that each resume gets looked at for six seconds, which is a major injustice to me. Like you can’t look at somebody’s resume for six seconds. So that means the people that gain the keywords are the ones that usually get the second look and they may get passed into the hiring manager.
So instead of doing that, the unconditional job search, if you look at Don and connect with Don, I mean, he’s great. It’s literally go back in time 30 years and go over something called the book of lists. And every major Metro has a book list. So DFW’s got one. And you’ll find it in Dallas-Fort Worth, what industry this is, energy, transportation, public sector. And it’s going to list all the biggest names there. So if you go into retail management or something like that, you’re going to find the big names for who runs all these buildings. You go into oil and gas. You’re going to find the CEO of every company.
And what you do is you create a customized cover letter and a customized resume that is focused not on duties and bullets, but on accomplishment. What are your actual accomplishments? And this is going to present you as an outsider. What you do is you go to Office Depot and you get a big Manila envelope and you stuff that stuff in there, and you address it to the CEO of the company. And people are going to be like, you’re crazy. You’re going to send a letter to the CEO of the company.
Well, when a massive Manila envelope, the size of your torso, comes into somebody’s office and lands on their desk, they’re probably going to open it. And then they’re going to open it. They’re going to see her Aaron Spatz on there. And this is what you’re looking for. A cover letter addressed to this guy personally. Here’s what my skill sets are. One or two things that’s going to happen. He’s either going to say, “Okay. This guy’s crazy. I don’t have anything for him,” which is where you are right now. You don’t have the job. Or he’s going to say, “This is the most initiative I think I’ve ever seen in my life. And I’m extremely impressed by this, that this guy would think outside the box, knowing that my HR system is going to block him from getting the job he’s qualified for,” and he’s going to push it down. And as soon as he pushes it down to the HR section, which he’s over, then these guys are going to say, “Okay. Well, you know, the CEO wants us to find this guy job” and they will. And it sounds like a hope and a prayer, but it’s really not. It’s much more likely that you’re going to find some pay dirt on that than you are going through the traditional hiring system.
I sat on a plane between Denver and Sioux Falls, South Dakota one time with an Air Force veteran. I explained this thing to him perfectly. And about six months later, I got an email out of the blue and was like, “You won’t believe it. But I went through your job search mechanism in Sioux Falls and I found a dream job.” And this was, you know, the system would have said, well, you don’t have four years of experience in this type of project management. No, for me, it was always like frustrating. It’s like I don’t have two years of experience in, you know, managing this track of a project. I was a captain in the army. Like I have experienced in not sleeping, you know, in managing a space the size of Georgia with two soldiers. Like you trying to tell me I don’t have two years of experience handling this?
You get it to the right person. A CEO got where he was because they’re outside of the box thinkers and they’re able to anticipate change. If you don’t anticipate change, you’re always going to get caught on the wrong end. So unconventional job searching, look up Don Burrows. He’s got some literature. That’s not very expensive literature. But take that stuff to heart. Like you will a hundred percent get in the door when you out-think the 600 to 800 other people that are going to want the same job you want. Your odds are not good fighting them head on.
No, I mean, that’s solid advice on it. Yeah. I mean, again, there’s so many folks out there that have been displaced or they’re frustrated. And I even think it applies to people that want to maybe move into it into a different industry altogether. I mean, they may just be done with whatever it is that they’re doing. And they’re like, man, I’ve always wanted to crack into this industry, but like you said, I don’t have the requisite experience. And it’s like, well, you know, dammit, like, what do I do? And so that’s one method of doing it. I mean, you do that. If you’re doing that, combine it with networking and all these other activities that you can do that are circumventing the applicant tracking systems and the black hole that that becomes. I think, I mean, you’ve got a solid chance. You’ve got a better chance. And the way that you said that a minute ago, too, is so true. This is what I tell so many folks is the answer was already no. So you don’t have anything to lose by reaching out and doing something a little bit outside the box because the worst that can happen is there’s no change into what the current status is. So swing the bat.
Yeah. A hundred percent. You know, people just don’t, you know, sometimes they don’t have the confidence in themselves to pull off a move like that. But, you know, CEOs are people too. I’ve been surprised at the number of full bird colonels that I’ve met, you know, outside of the military or even general officers. So where they’re so intimidating when you’re in, you know, you don’t just go to the general and say something, but when they’re out, we’re like, “My name’s Mike.” And they’re normal human beings. So these CEOs have been there before. You know, they get a letter from somebody. They don’t get letters from job applicants. So when they do get your letter, it’s like, okay, this is not, you know, I’m not trying to get that one project management job. I’m trying to have you see my skill set and you’ll find something for me. And those are the best kinds of things.
And I guarantee you, if you put your mind into an unconventional job search like that, and another key part of it is humble pie. Sometimes, you know, you’re making 120K doing something and you need to find a new way of life, or you’ve lost your job, you aren’t going to necessarily walk right into another 120K job right away. You know, you may have to get some sort of an apprenticeship type job where you’re making half of that. But there is a, you know, if you truly believe in your skill set and you’re willing to outthink everybody else – because that’s what sales is, it’s outthinking, out planning, and then outperforming everyone else. In the same way, looking for a job is, you know, you have to remember, there’s a lot of people, you know, 800 people, if you just flip the coin, you know, or flip 800 coins, is it going to be you that comes up in the applicant tracking system? I would think not. Especially when there are a lot of times there’s an applicant tracking system entry and somebody with a referral is going to get that job anyway, but they hadn’t listed. So if your job hope is to sit there and apply online until you find a job, you’re going to be miserable.
Yeah. Wow. Well, I mean, that’s solid, solid advice. Appreciate it. And so I’ll ask the obvious question. Was that method partially responsible for how you landed at Trafficware?
No, actually not. It’s how I got my job in the hospital, St. Luke’s hospital. I was a business analyst. Now looking back, I was poorly cast in that job because my strength is people, getting in front of people, got a lot of physical energy. That was kind of a cubicle job. But you know, it was the job for that season. But that was how I landed that job. This job, it was another military placement firm, but I was also in the middle of unconventional job searching my way across Texas at that time. I had a number of leads, you know, getting interviews out of it. So it wasn’t not productive. So it’s definitely gotten me to the precipice of either getting me the job or nearly getting me jobs many times. And use your network, use your people, use your strengths. And anybody that wants to reach me, I’m more than happy to talk to them about unconventional job searching, but it’s the best way to go by far, especially when you’ve got people moving into DFW like it’s crazy. So you’re not going to just find a situation where there’s nobody applying for your jobs.
Right. No, no, it’s solid. So, I mean, it’s simply another tool, right? It’s another tool to use. So, you know, as we’re wrapping up, Seth, what’s the best way for people to get in touch with you? How can they connect with you?
Best way to find me is on LinkedIn. Or if you want to email me, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. So I like meeting new people. I like making new business contacts. And yep, there you go. And I’m also on LinkedIn. So jury’s out for me on LinkedIn and how much I liked it that I have one because I’m supposed to. I know you’re a big LinkedIn guy.
I love LinkedIn. We’d probably go off on another hourlong tangent and it would probably involve me speaking for probably 52 minutes of that hourlong tangent. Because that’s how passionate I am about properly leveraging, leveraging social media and there’s plenty, plenty of opportunity to be gleaned. You just had to get a little creative. But anyway, Seth, I just want to thank you, man. it’s been a blast. I’ve really enjoyed getting to kind of pick your brain, understand a little bit more about you and what makes you tick, a lot of your background. I just appreciate you opening up and sharing a little bit about your journey. It’s been a lot of fun.
Yeah. I definitely enjoyed being on the show too. I mean, everybody that’s out there, just go one step at a time. That’s the only way you’re going to unwind your career and be where you’re at. So, you know, your show’s great. It reaches a lot of people. So thank you for having me on. And if there’s anything else we can talk about in the future, if you want to talk about, you know, who can hit a cutter and a sinker, you know, we can talk about that too.
Sure. That sounds great, man. I appreciate it. Thank you.
You bet, Aaron.