In this episode, Jamie Nau, our host and Summit CPA's Director of Accounting sits down with Jody Grunden, Partner at Anders CPAs + Advisors, and Danielle Hendricks, Account Executive at Pixo to talk about what Pixo does, her experience coming from the business development industry moving to the tech industry, why communication, intrapersonal, and networking skills are helpful and transferrable to any industry. She will also share about Pixo's process of selling creative services and successful people practices.
"I never thought I'd be in sales for this long and you know - 16 years later here I still am in a sales role, but I've made it my own because I've made it myself. I've made it genuine. I have made it about relationships, about people, about trust, and about the thing, I'm passionate and believe in." - Danielle Hendricks
The finer details of this episode :
Selling Creative Services with Danielle Hendricks of Pixo
Jamie Nau: Welcome to today's podcast. I’m very excited about today's guest because today's guest works with one of my favorite clients that I was able to work on for a couple years.
So, I’m really excited to see how Pixo is doing and hear from one of their executives. So account executive, Danielle Hendricks, you want to talk a little bit about your role with Pixo and how you got there? And I'm really excited to have you on the show.
Danielle Hendricks: Thanks Jamie. As Jamie mentioned, I am the account executive at Pixo a software consultancy in Urbana, Illinois. And what that means really is, we create custom websites, web apps, mobile apps, and really any software that can help a business do their business better.
I came on about a year ago, and so I've been learning quite a bit about the tech industry, because I actually came from a variety of different roles in the business development world. And so, Pixo snagged me. And I was happy that they did because it's a great company to work for. It's been a learning adventure for the last year and some change.
Jody Grunden: So let me make sure I understand. You are a business developer for a tech company, and you've got no tech background.
Danielle Hendricks: Yes. I know. Very strange. Right?
Jody Grunden: How does that work?
Danielle Hendricks: It's been a learning curve. But I feel like I have about 16 years worth of business development, sales skills years worth in a variety of different industries.
I almost feel like that actually helps me because I've sold a lot of what I feel like are complicated things. Tech is definitely one of those things that are complicated. I've sold event planning, like weddings and conferences, and helped people do the planning around that all the way through museum exhibit design and fabrication, so things that are not typically in everybody's day-to-day jobs.
So I've helped with that and figuring out how to say it in more “normal people” terms when it comes to those complicated things so that people can use those services and feel trust in who they hire to do the work they don't do every day.
Jody Grunden: That's super cool because I think a lot of our clients, and I hear a lot of people indifferent communities, think I have to hire somebody with a tech background. I can't find anybody with a tech background. How, how do I find that person? And I think you're proving that you don't need somebody with atech background.
You need somebody that is good with talking with people. Yeah. Is that fair?
Danielle Hendricks: I would say that. And the problem-solving part because starting Pixo a year ago, I kept saying, I need all the information to connect the dots. And I don't know if everybody's brain works that way, but mine certainly does.
Where you tell a story about one client and how we solved a problem there. Well, that attaches to the next client I talked to, and they have the same problem. And so, we can also help them solve that as well through technology. If we're not the right fit, then I will tell them that, too. I've heard this story before you actually need to talk to this other person.
Because they would be a much better fit for you to solve that problem. So, I think it's problem solving, but being able to have those conversations with people and be naturally curious. I feel like I am a forever learner. I poke at questions I ask and then the real story comes to.
Jody Grunden: So, another question for you is, how did you get up to speed, like day one, not knowing anything about the creative agency business itself. How did you get up to speed?
Danielle Hendricks: Well, I'm still getting up to speed, Jody. I will tell you that for sure. As we all are, which is great, but the team is really what has helped me a lot.
I joined a lot of meetings. I did a lot of listening. But they're the experts. So I will talk to a client that might have a job, I'll say yes, Pixo could be a good fit. And then, I bring in the people that actually know what they're doing when it comes to the tech stuff. And, just listening to all those conversations and hearing how our people talk about the work they do, that in itself has been the biggest help to my learning curve.
But then, also talking to the average business person and just saying, ‘what tech do you have? What do you like about it? What do you hate about it?’
Learning from the other side as well and putting myself in the client’s shoes and seeing really what the problems are.
Jamie Nau: So it sounds like the most important thing for you in the beginning was learning about your team and their skillset.
So talk about how much time you spent with people internally versus just shadowing other people on sales calls and the mix that you had in your first month or so.
Danielle Hendricks: I did spend a lot of time with one of our owners, Jason Berg, who has the most experience with selling this type of work and just joining calls with him and having conversations with him after the call.
So, say we have the call with the client and then I'm like, ‘So can I ask some questions?’
And then I'd pick his brain. But most of my first probably three months worth was shadowing and going to these meetings. About six months in I felt like I could do some of these conversations on my own.
but still to this day, even though I had a conversation by myself, I ask the team, ‘what can we do? How does this work? What did you all get out of this?’
They’re such a helpful team. It's a collaborative effort, the whole way through. I never feel super intimidated to have that first conversation, even though I don't have all the answers.
Jody Grunden: The three months there, about how many calls do you think you took? You said you're shadowing a bunch of calls; was it once a week, 10 times a week?How many calls do you think you actually shadowed before you moved on to doing it yourself?
Danielle Hendricks: That's a great question, Jody.
And I've slept since then. So it's gonna be a complete guess. But I would say probably three calls a week that were sales focused a week. I felt like it was a pretty good rhythm. I never felt super overwhelmed.
It was a lot of terminology and acronyms of things that I had never heard of before. There was also a lot of Googling that happened in between those meetings for sure.
Jamie Nau: I think what's interesting, back to Jody's point. I think a lot of companies are resistant or not really wanting to assign someone outside the industry into this role. The first six months that you went through and the first three months you went through, I think would be similar for someone who does have a lot of experience because you still need to learn the company and what makes them different and what makes them tick.
So, I think that would be the biggest hesitancy. ‘Okay, if I'm gonna hire Danielle who has no experience, I'm gonna have to put a lot of extra work into getting her up to speed.’
It doesn't really sound like you would have to, if you hire someone outside the industry.
Danielle Hendricks: I've had this question in my brain just because I'm new to the industry; do you learn the industry first or do you learn your job first? What's more important. So I knew how to do sales, so I know how to talk to people.
I know all that piece. So, I could just jump right in and dive into learning about the industry and what that's about. And I think that was helpful. So if I had zero sales background and zero tech experience, I think that would be the like, ‘no, we can't start there.’
You have to have some kinda baseline. I really think that's what helped me is that I knew how I could do my job. I just didn't know the industry and being curious helps; I am somebody who likes to learn, so I wasn't afraid to jump into something new.
Jamie Nau: And I think the other part that you hear a lot from this role is, people come into the interview with a portfolio of clients.
Like, ‘Hey, you know if I were to join Pixo, these are the 20 people I could talk to for you. And to me, those people very rarely work out because that book runs thin pretty quickly because of those 20 clients, maybe 10 are even a good fit. And then the 10 that you have those relationships with, five aren't even looking for work right now.
And so, you basically might have one or two clients from those people that come in with that portfolio. I think that's why a lot of people want to go, ‘Okay, I want someone who has industry experience because they're coming in with a little bit more of a portfolio.’
But again, the BD role, to me, is the hardest to hire for because you really have to find the right fit of person. And I think a lot of people who would look just for that type of role end up failing more often than not.
Danielle Hendricks: Yeah, I'd agree. And, if you wanted to hire me based on my book of business in tech, I don't know that it existed obviously. Right?
It didn't, but I do know people who know people. Being in a business development role for years, I am very fortunate that I get to meet people from all types of backgrounds and all types of needs.
From your business owner, to somebody that's maybe the janitor in a place, it doesn't matter where you meet your connections. It all could lead to a job down the road. And that's why I'm grateful for my varied winding road of a background because who knows what will bring something to your business today.
Jamie Nau: For sure.
Jody Grunden: Do you mind telling us how your sales process works? From the initial prospect, either sending an email or calling or however that works, all the way through to where you actually close the deal.
And then, in addition to that, do you hang on afterwards? Are you the person that meets with them every quarter, or whatever, and asking how things are? Do you take on that responsibility?
Danielle Hendricks: I think every business obviously does this slightly different, and I've worked in this account exec role for years. It's certainly varied from job to job I've gone to. I think the way Pixo does it intuitively makes so much sense.
I am the person at the beginning. So if a client either emails, calls, or I connect with them, I take on the initial call, and I learn a little bit more, just enough so that I can know what consultants at Pixo would be the best to bring on to a next meeting.
So then, I bring the team together, and we hear more, and they dig in more about ‘what does this project really mean?’ And then, as a team, we decide if we're gonna move forward after that call.
That might take a couple more calls, but usually once we hear more of the meat of the job, we meet internally and say, ‘is this a good fit for us?’
Not just for our skill set, but also for who we are. If it's something that people aren't comfortable with based on the type of business it is, if we don't wanna work for, you know, mean people, if there's not a connection there, then we'll pass.
But if it is something that we say, ‘yes, we wanna dig in,’ I'm really grateful that the consultants actually put together their estimates for me, because I've also worked in roles where I had to figure out how much it would cost.
Not knowing any of this, how long it would take, I am very glad that our team will sit down and decide how many hours they think this project will take them. The estimate comes from our team. It doesn't come from just me saying, ‘oh, I think it'll be this much money.’
And then the team's mad about it later. Right? Where did you come up with that?
Jody Grunden: The project managers are actually the ones actually putting the quote together?
Danielle Hendricks: They help with it, but the consultants themselves, the engineers, will actually help do all the numbers, all the estimating.
And it's great for me, because then they think about the project through, and they're thinking about things that obviously I never would from a sales perspective. Then, I will communicate that with the client. If we need a full proposal, we have people that help put all that together.
I am around during that process, but I'm not necessarily the person putting the words on the paper. And then, obviously I submit that to the client. I'm responsible for following up to see what they think. Was this something that they were expecting? Was it too high of a budget? Was our scope correct?
I make sure I maintain that relationship through that process. And then, once it's signed, we do a sales to project transition. So, we all meet again, internally, and just talk about what the project is. They signed, and we're ready to move forward. Are there any red flags? Are there any concerns?
There's a lot of collaboration, which I love, within the Pixo sales process. I continue afterwards as well. So I do, like you're saying, Jody, check in with the client and gauging how they feel about it
Jamie Nau: What I like about your process is, in the accounting world, especially when it comes to agencies, we talk a lot about write downs, and I know when I was on Pixo for a while as their CFO, I know that they historically had very low write downs because the engineers were involved from beginning.
So, I think that's really helpful. And I think the other part of it, too, is, you have less friction between the sales department and the account team. I think that's interesting.
What I'm curious about is, from you on the BD side, or on the sales side, how much pushback do you get when an engineer comes in and is like, ‘well, we need to charge this job $300,000.’
And you know there's no way they're gonna sign with that. How much back and forth is there on that final price?
Danielle Hendricks: I think the other really neat thing shifting into the tech world is, we are time and materials. And I came from a world that was fixed bid. I'm very aware about budget. I do talk about budget frequently with a client, and some people are afraid to do that, but I'm just not that person.
We will have the conversations. If our team does decide it's a $300,000 project, and I know the client has half that, I break the news, and I tell the clients, ‘we went through it and this is what we're thinking your project's actually gonna cost.’
This is the reality of it. If they say that they only have half of that budget, then we look at reducing scope. We don't look at just cutting back and saying, ‘oh, we'll just do it for you so we have a project. It doesn't quite work that way.
How can we reduce the scope so that it still gets you something, but it may not be the “end all be all” that you were dreaming of in the beginning of the project.
Jamie Nau: I think that also gives you a leg up on your competitors, too, because I think I've heard those conversations go really well. Where you guys come in and say, ‘Hey, we had our engineers, we had our people that are gonna do this work, come up with this quote. And this is what they came up with. And so anybody that's giving you a quote, significantly lower than this is probably gonna disappoint you.’
I've seen those conversations go really well.
Danielle Hendricks: The other thing I feel like we do well is, we do this amazing spreadsheet, which, if you're in accounting, you love spreadsheets, you love numbers. They all tie to something. It's not just some magic number that I pulled out of the air.
If you want to reduce the scope, we know exactly what we can take out of those lines that wouldn't drastically make something not work. So it'll still function. But there might be some extras that you have wanted, your wants instead of your needs, that we can look at on those line by line.
So the spreadsheet, I think, speaks for itself. If people are ever questioning the cost, we have put it into a very detailed spreadsheet for you to look at.
Jody Grunden: So a question would be, when they come back and you present the quote to them and it's too much, are you the person that actually dials it down and pulls scope out? Or, do you go then go back to the engineers, and they pull it out, and then you represent it? Is that how it works?
Danielle Hendricks: I would go back to them and tell them, ‘Hey, this is where they're at.’
Say the $300,000 was cut in half. I'd say, ‘is there anything that you see this project that would hit their budget, but we could still deliver something?’
I would have them explain to me what that something is; what is the difference? What were the things that you pulled out? Then, we can have that conversation with the client
Jody Grunden: I love that process a ton. It sounds like you're kind of the buffer between the engineers and the client. And so, you're going back and forth and really listening on both sides and trying to connect the two, which I think is super cool.
Danielle Hendricks: I think the fun part of my job is being able to have that conversation; it does connect both worlds. And I think that builds trust. We can't do everything that you ask for, client. I'm so sorry, but here's what we can do.
Jamie Nau: Let's talk about, you mentioned a little bit earlier, you do also kind of act like what we call an account manager, where you do follow up later on.
So how often do you follow up throughout the project? How does that conversation work?
Danielle Hendricks: Well, my favorite answer to just about any sales question in general is, it depends. So we have some clients that have been with us for years. I check in with them, we're usually on an annual basis, and say, ‘how'd everything go this year? We know everything's smooth. Are you wanting to re-up another year with us?’
And other clients are only with us for a few months, so it really depends on where they fall in that timeframe spectrum. And, are we thinking that this phase is going to build on a second phase? I might be actually more involved and in more meetings if we know that this phase we're currently in is gonna be dependent on moving into a second phase with them. So having a better understanding of where we sit on that project and how the relationship's going will help figure out if we're gonna assign a second phase with them or.
Jamie Nau: Do you have some ears on the ground kind of listening? I know, obviously, the current project that's going on is the one you're thinking about, or an extension of there; what about, ‘Hey, while we were in the field or while we were here, we heard them talking about this add-on project they might do. Is that something we could get in on?’
So how does that work?
Danielle Hendricks: There are definitely times when the team that's working on a project says, ‘Oh, I was in that meeting and I heard this… Danielle might wanna check in with our client about this other thing.’
And I was like, ‘oh, that sounds great.’
I love any reason to be able to talk to our clients. So, even if they just said they just got a new puppy, I would also be interested in talking to them.
That definitely happens during projects that, ‘oh yeah, I was thinking about this other thing. Is that something Pixo does?
Since pixel does a variety of different technologies, we have three teams that do a little bit different work. One team might hear something that actually helps another team with a different project, do we have a little bit of diversity within that as well.
Jody Grunden: So what would be the ideal client for Pixo?
Danielle Hendricks: You know, it's funny, when I joined, I asked the team that same question, and they said anything food related so that we could get paid in food.
However, I found that's just something they wanted. Getting paid in Doritos would be great, but, you know.
Our sweet spot for probably almost 20 years has been working in higher education. And working directly with the University of Illinois and the university system here in Illinois for content-heavy websites. There are some massive websites out there.
But, we also work in the ag tech industry. That’s also a bit unusual because we live in central Illinois. And we work with the university that was founded on agriculture. So, those worlds kind of collided and mixed. We see a little bit of both sides. The university work, as well as ag tech work as well, that come through Pixo.
Jody Grunden: Are the sites really big sites? It sounds like they've got a lot going on. So it's a lot of heavy content writing and that sort of thing? Am I understanding that correctly?
Danielle Hendricks: Yeah, there's heavy content for the sites. We do have content strategists, but the clients are the experts. So, the clients would do the writing.
We just help them organize it because there's usually a bunch of different authors within the different websites that need help with getting their information across to the right audience.
Jamie Nau: Great. So you kind of mentioned the food. I always think back to my audit days when I worked on restaurants. Is it true?
There's so much fun because they have test kitchen days where they're trying out new foods. And then, I had a bagel company that had free bagels every Friday, and all the employees would be waiting in line form. So I don't hear much of that with two industries you're in, but maybe you could find a way to make that work a little more often for your team.
Danielle Hendricks: I'm gonna do my best. I promise.
Jamie Nau: Great. So, let's pivot a little bit here. You've talked a lot about joining Pixo and how important the people were. So, I'm curious about how that works with you as a new employee and what specifically about the culture and the people really made it easy for you to jump right in?
Danielle Hendricks: So being from Urbana for quite some time, knowing certain people within Pixo that I already dearly loved was helpful. When I was approached to work there, culture and people were first. I had been saying ever since the pandemic, where is the human in things?
Where is the human gone in the things that we do? And yes, we're doing a lot of things virtually now. That doesn't mean the human factor is gone. And Pixo really puts people first in what they do as a company, but also through the technology that they create.
And I just thought this is just a wonderful company, and I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop for over a year, and I have not yet found it. So, a company that does what they say they're gonna do is rare. And Pixo does it.
Jamie Nau: You're talking about, ‘say what they're gonna do.’ How is that communicated then? Is it through core values? Is it through just the day to day? ‘I'm gonna deliver, I actually deliver.’
What do you mean by that?
Danielle Hendricks: They have a really strong set of core values. I've worked for companies that say honesty and integrity were number one for them, and, down the road, you find, “is it really, though?”
Or ,‘does it align with how I feel honesty and integrity should go?’
And, there's certainly companies that do, but you know, Pixo has not just developed these really great core values, they also celebrate them. And they give awards to the employees on an annual basis on who's doing that. They actually ask for the feedback from the people that work there to do it. It's just a really great culture.
Jamie Nau: Great. So you've mentioned Jason a couple times. Jody and I have gone to conferences with Jason, and I know I used to work with Jason, so don't worry; no one's listening to this podcast.
So, let us know a funny Jason story that we can use as ammunition next time we get to hang out with him.
Danielle Hendricks: Well, I just saw this video. So it exists somewhere, hopefully on the internet, so y'all can find it. But he was testing some kind of lawnmower, and about ran over the client multiple times.
Like the lawnmower just decided to go a different direction, really fast. So, we about killed somebody with a riding lawnmower.
Jamie Nau: Wow. So, he's in the field trying to impress this client and he jumps on the riding mower, and he starts running over all the employees. I think we can work with that, Jody.
What do you think?
Yeah, we can definitely work with that.
Great. So we are close to the end here on time. So let’s take a second to kind of give you some final thoughts for our listeners. I think we've covered a lot of different topics here, and I think this is gonna be really helpful for our listeners because, again, the BD role, like I said, I know from when I was a CFO and I know also with consulting with our with our CFOs, this is a question that comes up all the time.
So, I think this will be a really well-listened to podcast. But, what would you recommend as final thoughts for any of our listeners?
Danielle Hendricks: I never thought I'd be in sales for this long and 16 years later, here I still am in a sales role. I've made it my own. I've made it myself. I've made it genuine.
I have made it about relationships, about people, about trust and about the thing I'm passionate about and believe in. And Pixo is a great company. It's something that I can stand behind. I can talk to people about how I can help. But if I didn't feel like there was a value in it, I wouldn't be able to sell it.
So, just being genuine, being who you are, is a beautiful thing. And being in sales is not a terrible career.
Jamie Nau: Definitely not. I think that what you said is definitely true, and I think it's not only true in the sales role, but I think in any role. I think that's something we try to look for in interviewing; is this person passionate about what we're doing?
And I think a lot of people have stories about the interview. And when that story resonates, that this is something that they're gonna be passionate about, that they want to do, I think that's great advice.
And, for those that are watching on YouTube, you've probably noticed that we've lost Jody. So this is part of us being flexible in the flexible environment we have with our podcast, as well as everything we do here at Summit.
We've lost Jody. I'm not sure if his internet went out or whatnot, but we just kept rolling. So, we won't do a close with Jody, but definitely appreciate everybody for listening to this show.
And I think this will be a really great podcast for a lot of our listeners because I know this is a hot topic all the time. It's not a hot topic right now. It seems to be a hot topic anytime I've ever had client work. So, I really appreciate you joining the show and hopefully our listeners got something out of this.
Danielle Hendricks: Thank you so much. I appreciate the time.