I was recently asked by someone why my brother, Mike, and I started Pivotal Advisors. I told the story to that person and they felt it was worth sharing, so here it is.
About 2005 or so, I was a VP of Sales for a large, fast-growing company. We had grown from $1M in annual sales when I started in 1997, to $300M or so in eight years. I had been promoted through the ranks from sales person to sales manager, then Director and finally Vice President of Sales. The speed of this company’s growth had masked many issues that we had in sales until the market slowed and competition started catching up. Suddenly, business was harder to come by and all of our lack of systems, process and structure came to light. This was a stressful time.
About this time, Mike and I were partners in a Thursday night golf league. Each week, I would show up late for golf in a scramble, I would run to the first tee, shank my drive somewhere, and then spend the first three to four holes complaining about work and how crazy my job was. I was constantly on my Blackberry (yes, Blackberry – I am old and that was a while ago) between shots when my brother finally asked me why I was in such chaos all the time. I explained/complained about all of our issues and he started giving me informal coaching. He had also gone through similar hyper-growth with his company ($75M to $1B) and had experienced the same things I had a few years earlier, but had gotten help on how to control it and put in structure and processes to help him scale. He told me that it changed how he managed and the results he was able to achieve. More importantly, it made his life easier and he wasn’t running around with his hair on fire any longer.
So, I started taking some of his advice. I had to try something different or I would go crazy. I started implementing his suggestions and guess what? It worked. I became more intentional about tracking progress against goals which helped me spot trends and coaching opportunities. I got a lot better at “coaching” rather than just telling people what to do. I made a fundamental shift from directing people’s action to focusing on making my team better. Over the next few months, I spent the bulk of my time reinforcing process and proactively developing people rather than just helping them to close deals. The results were obvious, sales grew and my team rocked. When they got better and less reliant on me, my life became easier. Mike’s advice and approach actually worked!
Fast forward to 2008. My team was consistently producing and I got a call from Mike. He was in the process of selling his consulting firm. He said to me, “We always said we wanted to start a business together, and if we were ever going to do it, now is the time.” We contemplated many options. One plan had us writing a software app. Another had us opening a golf shop. Neither of us were too excited about those options. Finally we asked ourselves what had changed our professional lives. We decided that our respective shifts in how we managed sales not only got superior results, but it allowed us to scale the sales growth in our companies. We both became more enthusiastic as we spoke about this and wondered if there was a way to bring this approach to others who may be in the same spot. So, we scribbled a bunch of things on a whiteboard that we thought were critical in managing a successful team and that became the model for Pivotal Advisors. We launched the company later that year – yes, in 2008 right as the market was crashing.
In 2009, our first full year, we worked with 17 different clients and proved that we could help them move the sales needle with our approach. In 2010, we doubled our revenues and further established that these concepts work. Today, we have worked with approximately 150 companies, still based on those some models and approaches that we scribbled on a whiteboard in 2008. We’ve become more efficient with our clients over the years, but the basic concepts are intact.
The things that we are most proud of? Many of those clients from 2008 and 2009 are still ongoing clients. They have experienced growth and continually come back to us whenever they hit their next set of challenges. We thank them and we whole-heartedly thank Thursday night golf league! Little do they know they launched a company. After all these years, I often wonder if Mike’s ulterior motive was to take stress off me so I golfed better.