Digital And Virtual Transformation Done Right With Douglas Hall
In today’s world where almost everything is run by technology and done through the internet, undergoing a full digital and virtual transformation is a critical aspect in achieving success. If every entrepreneur knows which buttons to push, providing value and creating connections is possible. Chad Burmeister is joined by Douglas Hall of D. Advocate & Associates to discuss how business leaders can attain a significant change in their processes and strategies by embracing technological innovations but without neglecting human intervention. They also talk about the power of algorithms and how a few lines of code can result in lasting relationships.
Listen to the podcast here:
Digital And Virtual Transformation Done Right With Douglas Hall
I am here with Douglas Hall from D. Advocate & Associates. He started the business in January 2020 after 4.5 years with a virtual experience company. We are going to dig into that. Welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me, Chad. What do I help companies do? For the sake of keeping it clean, I help them figure S out as my tagline. I help companies make calculated changes and have strategic approaches to whether it be a digital transformation, a virtual transformation, or internal, organizational structure changes that allow them to grow and be scalable. A lot of companies hit a wall at some point where their passion no longer pushes them. When passion and purpose no longer can lead the way, that's where structural change and innovation happens. I come in as a mentor. I do not believe in enablement. I believe in empowerment. That’s what I do. I start with the leader and I work through the organization until what they are doing is better than what it was before and is capable of changing lives because I believe true entrepreneurism is about making life better.
It is an interesting time and January 31, 2020 is the date and that was pre-pandemic. Why did the world lineup the cards for you? Right at the time in life when everyone was not thinking of moving to virtual was forced to move to virtual, I do not think you could have timed the date better.
I stepped into it at the right time. It is a tragedy. I was able to find an opportunity but that is where we usually find them. January 31st was the date I walked away from my role and started my organization. I would say after picking up a couple of clients while COVID-19 was still something we were seeing coming or something we were talking about within those first couple of months, it went from an idea to a reality. Because of my background in virtual, my reputation with previous clients in other industries, my phone rang a lot. It rang with what do we do now.
I made a conscious decision not to charge anybody for the summer that was directly affected and was coming to me due to COVID-19 related types of situations. I did have clients that were paying for other stuff. I didn't suddenly say their bill was comped because of COVID-19 but those that were in a position like that, I believe the give-get model was going to be better received and allow me to prove out my concept. It did. Here we are almost towards the end of 2020 and I have more work than I know what to do with but I'm doing good in the world and I feel good about it.
We had a customer that was asked by the government to shift their production line from apparel to masks. It was one of those, “We think you ought to do this.” They called and said, “We need your help. What do we do?” This has been a customer at a couple of hundred dollars a month run rate. A small customer and said, “How can you help?” We pulled a list of 1,200 top heads of procurement across Fortune 1000 and did a voicemail drop to all 1,200 through their cell phones mostly, seller direct. It was, “You’re probably looking for masks.” This was right at the beginning and they sold $10 million in masks because of that voicemail drop.
When passion and purpose can no longer lead the way, structural change and innovation happen.
Another thing that was accelerated by the pandemic was people's willingness to connect on mobile from their home in a much more direct way or what would have been perceived as an invasive measure in 2019. Now it’s almost an appreciated connection of this wasn't buried in my email. You knew I had a need, you hit me with that need. The reality is it worked because you were providing value. Had you been trying to sell them something because the opportunity was right, you would have been a carpetbagger, not a connection. That’s what they needed at the time. You got to them through the path of least resistance.
A few weeks later, everyone sells masks. We worked with another company, called them Company B. Got them 29 meetings and they didn't sell one deal. It was our fault. We spent $10 million with another company.
That’s where you also have to look at metrics. Is the conversion of metric for success when your role is filling their funnel? How do they manage their pipeline? It's always one of those situations where it's the partner's fault for what was brought in even if the sales team couldn't even close the door. That's why I always like to send the benchmarks of my measurements stop here. What you do with it from this point forward is on you. If you can't do that, I'll step in and help you there.
Before we go deep into AI and what's changing in the world, we've talked a little bit about it. I'd love to learn about our audience, how did you get to this point? If you go back to college and then rewind the tape even past there, you seem like an extremely creative individual and a go-getter. Where did that come from?
I was diagnosed at 39 or 40 with extreme ADHD, which is incredible that it came at such a late age but it was only because I was at a point workwise where it required 6 or 8 hours of spreadsheet analysis and creating decks. I can be anywhere in anyone at the same time deal, didn't work anymore. I needed to be one person for a straight run. It was difficult for me to sit still, much less to focus that much. When I got diagnosed, I went through a rigorous thing. I didn't do the whole, “Here are your pills and go.”
In that process, interviewing family members, current state. What was I like when I was a child? When I got through all of that, the woman looked at me and she said, “How have you survived up until now? How are you functional?” That was like, “How have you made it? How have you been functional up until now?” The reality was that for the majority of my life because I couldn't read a book. I could read but three sentences in, my brain would go somewhere else. I'd be seven chapters deep and realize I didn't retain anything. I got the, “You're lazy,” whatever it might be. At an early age, I learned how to hack systems. I learned how that teacher needs me to give this report.
They don't necessarily need me to read the book. How do I get to the report without it looking like I didn't read the book? This is cheating in most cases, for me it was survival. How do I maintain a B-plus, A-minus average that was expected of me when I couldn't even do my homework? Remarkably, I probably read in its entirety, maybe collectively the total of two books through grade school and high school. Stayed honors, stayed in all those things. I was notoriously the kid that was like, “I'll give you ten packs of gum if you give me your homework everyday. I'll do this to get this.” That quickly went into my professional life where even early jobs in nightclub promotions and whatnot. I ran a prominent nightclub, one of the top clubs in the country here in St. Louis.
I remember standing in the front room and looking at the owners and saying, “Why don't we reserve seats in the front room?” They're like, “We can never do it.” I'm like, “Give me 10% of the receipt.” I had the whole front room booked every Saturday for the remaining part of the year because I would figure out a way to hack it, find that profit and find that model whether it was my mom yelling at me when I was seven years old for selling all my books on the corner or creating a club and making kids on the block pay me dues or whatever it might've been. My brain was trained on finding the path of least resistance.
That has evolved to a special skill that I have of looking at a formula, looking at an equation, looking at a business model and going, “Why aren't you doing this? Have you thought of this? If you turn this on, you could skip six steps,” and they're like, “How'd you do that?” It's always been the way I've looked at life at things. That can be daunting. I measure everything to the point of flaws. I've spent hours trying to figure out a six-minute hack and that's where I had to go back and be like, “You've wasted more time trying to save steps from the kitchen to the bathroom than you would have if you went and grabbed the soap from the other room.” I have to reel back but my brain is constantly wired to hack.
I had ADHD. I've never to this day been “diagnosed” and my daughter now has been diagnosed. She's seventeen. Part of me thinks, “Would you have preferred to know at age seventeen or you figured out the hacks in life and you figured it out at 39, 40?”
I’m glad I didn’t. My parents weren't the type to medicate but had there been a point especially earlier in life, where I had been medicated, I don't think I would have ever developed the life skills that I have. Having that as an obstacle, as a point of adversity for me honed my skills and allowed me to use that. The adverse of that or the flip of that is getting diagnosed at an older age where leaders get to a point where they attribute flaws. Getting to a point at 40 where I could start to understand a more medical or clinical way why my brain acted the way it did allow me to evolve as a human being, allowed me to learn the presence was important. It allowed me to learn that you don't have to be on all the time.
Never try to sell something just out of opportunity alone. Instead, aim to provide value.
I'm going to forget his name, the guy that wrote The Untethered Soul, there's a line in there that says, “You're not the voices in your head. You're the one that listens.” For a long time, I attributed those voices to they're all mine. It's not like I'm civil or anything but I attributed those points of view, those angles as all of my own. What they were was me having those outside arguments before I ever encountered the situation. I've learned now to turn them off because I'm better at the moment. The overtraining of my brain in certain areas is something that I've learned to control because of the diagnosis. I'm happy it happened when it did. It had its value but had it happened earlier, I'm not sure I'd be in the spot that I’m in.
I feel the same way. I'm planning to write a book called Frictionless and I haven't figured out the subheader yet. It's how do you get into that superpower strength? How do you know what it is? How do you stay in alignment? Many people don't even know what their superpower is and you've defined it. You understand it. You've studied it. Now you can say, “I'm in my lane as of January 31st helping companies do this on my own without interference.” Sometimes people could look at that hack and go, “That's not how you do it. This is Corporate America.” It’s like, “Your job is to grow revenues. Don't worry about how you grow the revenues. Let's do X, Y and Z.” I'll get pushback from people that graduated from Harvard. They're like, “That's not textbook.” If you want a textbook, you came to the wrong guy.
I suffered from imposter syndrome for quite some time. I suffered from it when it was still a business term and hadn't been adopted by the American Psychiatric Institute or whatever. That came because my background was in nightclubs. I was doing the sales thing and everything. I didn't have the Wharton degree. I'd be in boardrooms and sitting with people. I even had a previous president of the company and I was always transparent with him, suffering from this. One day I had this realization and we were on a call a week or two later. He said, “How are you doing with your imposter syndrome?” I said, “I got over it.” He goes, “What? How did you do that?” I go, “I figured out that everybody's full of shit but I get results.”
It came down to the academics are all textbook. The business side of it, those business actors, the entrepreneurs they're all action and feeling. I'm a blend of both. Ultimately, when it comes down to it, the results are what matters. No matter what, when somebody says, “This is how you do it.” As long as you're not breaking the rules, as long as you're not being malicious or shady, I believe you should be able to do good and do well at the same time. The reality is it's all about results and you can't deny them.
When people ask me in an interview, “What's the favorite deal you ever closed?” Now I ask every salesperson that question because I love that question. Mine was Airborne Express. I sold them U-Haul with 20,000 shipments a month. It was out of the box thinking. Most people would look at it on the surface and say, “We pay the postal service $3 per letter. It gets there in 3 to 5 days and we ship out license plates.” I was like, “Okay, $3.” We were sixth at the time. It’s like, “Why would I pay you to double? That'd be the stupidest thing ever.”
When you start to look at it differently and you say, “Hold on, you're sending out 12,000 of these a month at $3. How many of them get there on time?” They're like, “10% to 20% gets shipped back.” “You're paying $6 for those and then you're shipping it out again. That's $9. What happens if it doesn't get there on time?” “Sometimes, we get a $250 ticket.” “How often does that happen?” “I know exactly how often it happens.” We've got it all in a spreadsheet. When you do the X over the Y and you go, “Wait a minute, you're paying about $4.75 per letter,” by the time you add in all those other things. I said, “What if we could do it for $4.50 for the time being and let's do the 12,000 shipments for a month or two.” Track the results because at the time, Airborne's two-day service got there overnight 98% of the time, two-day service, it would get there all the time anyway. We got this massively huge deal. It projected me to number one in the company. FedEx recruited me because I was the number one seller at Airborne by thinking out of the box and getting results like that.
It's results-focused. It's math. I used to joke with my past VP of operations, “Don't come to me with feelings. Come to me with math.” To the point where and she hated that I did this but we had a great relationship and that we were yin and yang to each other. She would come to my office and be like, “So and so is mad about this and we can't deliver this.” I start playing like Marvel hurts feelings, like all of a sudden, if you can hear my computer feelings. I'm like, “What's the math in this situation?” She's like, “If these two things don't get fixed, we could be seeing this in the result of, we could see attrition here. We could see that the pipelines getting stuck here.” I go, “Now let's look at how we can correct that. Anything we do on the feeling side has to be justified on the lagging math side or else we’re involving our self in an argument we don't need to be involved in.”
There's a blend of both but metrics, leading and lagging are huge because what actions am I going to take? What are the results I'm going to see from that? The feelings are the emotion we put into it and the desire that everybody has to win. The other piece I always get into with that is leaders have to realize that your desire, while everybody on your team may have the same desire to win, the why behind it is different from yours. Looking at those types of things and understanding that the person on the production line or the leader over here, they want us to win but it might be for a completely different reason, the founder of the company. When you get to that point, you share the results but you don't have to share the why.
Thinking of math, it’s important in decision-making and data-driven, etc. Have you dabbled in artificial intelligence yet and started to be able to use things that are way outside of what a normal human brain can comprehend?
This is cobbler's shoes for me in the last few months or so with my tech. In the past, it changes quickly. I feel almost remiss to say yes but I've done the conditional. Back in the day, we used to do anything from the pop-ups before people knew that it wasn't the person on the screen until you type something or how we used to read reports. It depends on how deep you want to get into AI. I have never been in a position where I've wanted to use AI as much as I could. That was usually because of the limitations of the organization I was in. Big data became a thing only a few years ago. It was where I was with the last company as we were finally at a point. Before I left, we were able to get into the analytics to pull ideal client personas and start using what Google was unleashing amazing stuff.
I have not used AI to the extent that I would prefer but when it comes to everyday usage, I've been using intelligent tools since early on. I wouldn't call this necessarily artificial intelligence, when I was working as a consultant promoter, this was back when Myspace was a thing. I used to go to venues and I'd use a $100 bot and I would sell them services where I would run that bot at a mortgage desk when I was doing mortgages during the day hustling. It literally would pull the identifiers, the IDs of competitors, followers or fans or whatever you called it on Myspace friends and then send customized requests to them at a high rate. This was in the early naughts, in the early 2000s and whatnot right around the crash. They're like, “Our competitor has 10,000 Myspace people.” I'm like, “I can have you 8,000 by the end of the month for X.” It was putting code into a bot that costs me $100, $150.
Think out of the box so you can get outstanding results.
I remember there was a company, Social123 that ended up changing their name. They would go in and get Twitter followers. You could say, “This company has 25,000.” You suck it all down, it converts it into an email. You can connect with them on Twitter or send them an email and a phone call.
When you get into conditional stuff, we used to use this before at my last company where we'd start doing our MQL scoring by getting into the point where we'd have a conditional questioning format. We can identify where they were coming in, the industry they are in, exactly MQL. MQLs would be scored at a point where we would know if it was going to be an SQR and SAL before it would even enter the pipeline and those type of conditional conversation pieces nobody would even think of. It seems simple to have a set, let the bot ask these questions and tell us where it's supposed to go.
I always look at technology as there's always a technical and human solution. I think one of the biggest flaws with those that are putting together tech stacks and systems built on AI, as they lose a sense of the importance of the human component in a lot of those workflows and stacks. At some point, you need the Laverne & Shirley bottle capper to step in and make sure what's going through the assembly line is working. Not that they were good at their job by that opening scene. The point is there are human elements in there that we seem to miss sometimes. I do this a lot with clients where they're like, “Could we find a technology that does this and this?” I’m like, “That's where the people have to do their job.”
It seems to put additional stress on that conversation because if the AI takes over 50% to 75% of the cycle getting the person to that conversation, then now the other parts of the value where I used to need a human are less important. I need you to spend your time, energy resources, learning, power, go learn how to be empathetic. A lot of my conversations with women in sales these days, it seems to me that a lot of women have a little bit of an advantage in EQ versus IQ.
I'm going to be completely sexist. Women make the best sales teams. When I was in selling talent, I ran a talent agency. My entire sales team was women. Not that I would not hire men, I wouldn't keep them because women were more intuitive, their EQ was higher. They could process instruction and make it applicable to themselves where male sales architects are always like, “I have my way,” and would have to come back to you three weeks later and be like, “You were right. I screwed up.” I would have female salespeople who would be like, “I tried your stuff and did a little bit of mine. It looks like it's working.” That's the type of stuff that you want. Salespeople are supposed to listen and help. Sometimes guys have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to those two core characteristics. The worst thing that a salesperson can ever do is not listen. If they're going in to close a deal and win rather than help they're a prospect, they've already lost the long-term goal.
The last thing I'll share with you, there's an AI tool that we're using that we've probably deployed to twelve customers. You'll appreciate this with your math background and dabbling in this AI space. Imagine getting a list of 500 of your top prospects with the people, VPS, CEOs, whatever. You run it through your LinkedIn and this algorithm in 8 to 12 minutes runs and looks at your first connections and your seconds. For every 1,000 first, you have one million seconds. You couldn't physically get your arms around one million second connections. The AI will figure out who has the highest propensity to get a meeting with those 500 people. You then take it offline and send an email to that batch of 500. “It looks like you're connected, Douglas.”
What's the criteria set it's using?
It looks at things like how many interactions have gone on between you and that contact.
It's scoring your potential to open that door based on your interactivity with a larger scale. It's not looking at their personas and saying, “This person might do this because they work here or that.” They're basing it off of your interaction with them.
There are about 10 or 20 algorithms that are in there. We're starting to tap into that power. Our customer got 30 to 40 intros. Only 3 to 5 people took the meetings. A lot of people are willing to make the intro but one of them was the CMO of Microsoft. You can't pick up the phone, “CMO, we've got the coolest product ever.”
You're measuring the conversion and who in the quality of lead, the qualitative point of lead. They should be measuring, what they're looking for. “Is this an account-based organization that wants the CMO? Are they selling $5 widgets and rent Joe Blow from around the corner, it's going to buy without talking?” It's the thing, it's measured. You inspect, you expect and you measure the small pieces of it. It's interesting you bring this up and if you've not noticed by now, I go down rabbit holes all the time, I like to be there is that I met my girlfriend on Hinge. I don't know if you're familiar with Hinge. It's interesting. I think they're using a similar algorithm or design concept. When you sign up for this dating app and their tagline is the last app or the app to get you off of apps or whatever is they claim that they're not doing the addictive swiping stuff. They want to match you.
Technology will always be a combination of technical and human solutions.
This is all speculative on my point from being a user. What they do, they tell you when you go in, you put your social accounts in and they specifically tell you because they don't want you to match someone first in your connective pool, an ex-girlfriend, boyfriend, whatever, friends, mom. You don't want to be in a situation where someone's popping up that you already could have communicated with, your neighbor or whatever it is. What I believe they're doing is they're heavily scoring your 2nd and 3rd-degree connections. They're creating a scenario where there's almost impossible to catfish. The first connection I ever made, I'll leave the company out of it. One of my VPs of sales came in and she was bragging to me right before everybody left for vacation.
I was doing this in the office after everybody was gone that she had this meeting set up with this head of diversity at this large corporation. I was super psyched. My first match on Hinge worked in HR at that same corporation. In my CRM, she's going to freak if I'm going on a date with her prospect and it didn't happen. It turned out that they knew each other but it was safe enough for me not to be messing with any of my people's leads. The second one ended up being the sister of a senior vice president of one of my sister companies. When we met, our worlds were in tune even though we had never met each other.
I attribute that to that algorithm because it made sure there was enough connective tissue around that relationship that going in, she already could check out and see if I was a real person. I knew enough background about her and it turned out that over the last many years, we were passing each other in situations. She and I volunteered at the same stray rescue, different shifts. She used to come into that nightclub I ran. She said, “I remember trying to get past you before I was 21.” All of this stuff, many years of history never met one another that we can remember. That algorithm is what brought us together.
AI can sit on top of it and see that you're right there in the path.
It got the likelihood that we would be that connected without being connected. It's insane.
Dad introduced me to a lady that was an MRI breast person. We had nothing in common. He’s like, “I had this one lady that came in.” I'm like, “No common thread, no common connection.” It's interesting where the algorithms will go. I've enjoyed the conversation, Douglas. This was fun. I think we need to have more conversations because you and I seem to have a lot in common.
It's never enough with me because if you have a list of things you want to get to, you never get past one. I’m more than happy to do this again, it was a good conversation.
If you want to get ahold of Douglas, how could people reach it?
If you're looking for leverage and you're looking for hacks, if you want the same old thing then I would say do not call Douglas. If you're looking to make a splash and get into the virtual digital world, I don't know if there's anywhere else to go.
If you're ready for some painful change and you need to figure shit out, give me a call.
Thanks for joining.
About Douglas Hall
An unabashed, unfiltered and brutally honest lover of new ideas, methods and products, Douglas Hall is continually challenging himself and others to push the limits of what is, not only possible but, conceivable. From his early history in nightlife promotions, his time in loan origination and automotive reinsurance sales, to his executive roles in live entertainment and new media start-ups; Doug has found a distinct narrative thread that connects these experiences and delivers a unique perspective from the sales floor to the boardroom. Not willing to hide his special brand of "crazy", Hall makes his idiosyncrasies his attributes while on a constant quest of personal and professional evolution. This quest includes his desire to be an efficient and connected servant who inspires and mentors others to win on their own. All of this with one simple goal in mind, an epitaph that reads: "Left It Better Than He Found It."