The ExP Story: Part 1

start up success

ExP have recently celebrated our 2 year anniversary and to mark this special occasion our founder and CEO, John Richardson and I have sat down to discuss ‘The ExP Story’. John talks about everything from the ‘gap in the market’ that drove him to set up a sales recruitment and coaching start-up, to why he thinks assessment centres are a ‘brutality that isn’t necessary to find people that have the resilience to be a great SDR’.

This is a two-part series based on our interview, which you can watch here!

Firstly, why did you decide to leave New Voice Media where you were in the role of the SDR Manager? Following on from that, why did you decide to set up ExP? What was the gap in the market or the need that you’d identified that really made you think, ‘It’s time for me to leave and I want to go into this specifically’?

So, if I start with why it was time to leave New Voice media. I’d been in the role for just over three years and had been through 2 and a half cycles of SDR teams. I felt like I was ready for a new challenge. I was running a team across the UK, mainland Europe and Australia, and so there was a lot of early morning and late-night calls, and I was just ready for that change professionally. 

Recruitment had been an area I had been interested in before my career even started. Through my experience leading the SDR team, my favourite parts of my role were hiring people, bringing people into the business and then coaching and training. So, there was always an interest in that industry. There were also a few experiences I had with other providers, both in the training and coaching industry and the recruitment industry that had led to some frustrations. So, I felt there was an opportunity to go and do it better, and to do it with a bit more humanity.

As you said you had used external recruiters but because of some of the negative experiences you were exposed to, you decided that you could actually do a better job as the SDR manager to go and hire the SDR’s yourself. That kind of says it all doesn’t it? That you had to take the job into your own hands.

Yeah, absolutely. There were times in New Voice Media where we’d hire people through recruiters who were just really frustrated with the experience that they’d had. They were grateful that they’d found the opportunity and got the job, but would complain about how they were treated by that recruiter and just the culture of the environment they were put through. They should’ve been having one of the most exciting moments of their life, getting a new job that would hopefully be the defining role at the start of their career, but they weren’t treated like that at all. So, yeah for me there’s a lot of frustrations around that experience, and that’s why we focus so much on the candidate experience. 

But also, making sure that we understand our customers. I never really felt understood by any of the recruiters I worked with. Never felt that they understood what it was like in our business, in our roles, and although they did find us good candidates from time to time, there were always a lot of frustrations and challenges there.

So, our next question is when did you decide to offer Sales coaching and well as recruitment? As I understood it, ExP started mostly as an agency that would offer recruitment, specifically for SaaS and Tech start-up’s and companies. 

It was always part of the plan that there would be some training and coaching included as part of the offering. When you’re hiring junior people into your business, there is always a need and a challenge around enabling them and giving them the skills and the knowledge, they need. But, as I started the business, and started finding customers, it became more central to some of the challenges our customers were facing. We work with quite closely with Refract, and Kevin Beal, the CEO of Refract, gave us some insight about the challenges Tech companies were facing in providing support to their salespeople in junior sales roles.

Enabling people to have coaching time – allowing them to improve and not just by virtue of experience, but conscious improvement – that’s the kind of thing that was getting missed in small tech companies. And that’s because actual coaching time is something that many business leaders don’t have time to do.

Sales coaching

You’ve sort of touched on it already, but what are the benefits of having a business model that offers those two functions? My insight into that would be you offer two different services for a more comprehensive solution? 

Absolutely, those two services are very much side by side and for us having both is an opportunity for us to provide a more complete service. We do find a lot of our customers start with coaching and then transition into recruitment or the other way around. The advantage for us it’s that we get a bigger slice of the pie, but for our customers, it’s that when we place people, we have a shared interest in them being the right people, because we’re the ones that have to coach them. We have to take on some of that responsibility because once they join, we share some of the accountability for helping them be successful. So, it’s a really nice way for us to understand our clients better, to really know what it’s like to be an SDR at the companies we work with. It enables us to provide so much more value and insight into all of our client’s recruitment processes, their sales process, their onboarding, everything that they’re doing to help them be more successful.

Right, and as a CEO who has absolutely zero time, why go through the faff of having two different companies providing these two different services, when you can have one that looks after everything. 

So, next question. What is what are the ExP values? We have value sessions every Friday and as a company that only has 6 employees, our values are instrumental to the success of our business. What do they mean to you as the CEO and founder of the company?

I guess I’ll go through our six values which are:

  1. Give first
  2. Have and expect integrity
  3. Always lift
  4. Everyone needs a coach
  5. Don’t seek approval, but be yourself
  6. With challenge comes growth

I think the reason values are important to a business is that they define who you are. What we’ve tried to do with our values is ask ourselves ‘What is it about the people in our business that we really value?’, ‘What is that we want to encourage, support and build upon?’. Then we’ve tried to add some aspirational pieces to that. 

What you do is who you are. You can’t just say, here are our values and then never do anything about it. Otherwise, they are just meaningless words on a wall somewhere. 

Company values and what they mean to a startup

I’ll highlight a couple. So, everyone needs a coach, that’s an obvious one. We expect our customers to pay for our coaching, so we believe, core to our tenement, that everyone needs a coach, no matter what role they are in, what they’re trying to achieve. They need that support to help them to be really successful. 

Then if we think about giving first, it’s the first value and probably one of my favourites. In all that we do, we make sure we’re giving to other people, that we are adding value to others. If we think about that in practice, that might look like setting-up that mutually beneficial introduction between someone looking for a job in sales and a client. Or, even if it’s just someone giving us a call, saying this is a job I’m looking for, do you know anything that can help me. For example, someone reached out to me about a month ago. She’d had a negative experience with another recruiter and although the role she was looking for was core to what we do, some of her salary expectations and some of the things she was looking for were not congruent to our portfolio of customers at the moment. So, I spent a bit of time with her, got to understand what she needed and referred her to some sales leaders I know. She called me last night and told me she got a job with one of the people I introduced her to! So, it’s things like that. That’s a job that’s career-defining in terms of where she can now go with her career. That’s also why we spend time with universities, doing training and coaching sessions to help people get into sales. We do it because we want to help people who are in the position, I was in many years ago, looking for a job, not sure what to do and where to go, randomly applying for jobs on the internet hoping it would set me in the right direction.

That’s a great explanation for ‘Give First’. Give first really encompasses everything, specifically our coaching service because essentially all that service is helping people be better at their role. 

When we coach SDR’s and salespeople in our client’s companies there is no agenda. Yes, our first responsibility is to our clients, the people who pay our invoices. But, our actual job is to help people be great at their job and by doing that we directly solve most of the challenges that our clients present us with. Plus by being the face of the company deciding to show support in their staff, we can be that extra little ray of sunshine that will help those SDR’s get as much job satisfaction as they can from their role.

So, you’ve touched on the fact that some of our values came from identifying core characteristics that we appreciate within our employees. What were the common characteristics that you looked out for when hiring the first few employees at ExP?

There’s a couple of things. I think one is just a willingness to work for ExP. We’re a mostly bootstraps company, so we needed people to potentially work for a business that didn’t have the financial backing of some of the other opportunities they could have worked for. Basically, we needed people that were just ‘up for it’ I think is the first one. 

Then the reality is, for me, I wanted to hire people that were just good people. Recruitment as an industry can be so much of a meat-market, it can be so contrived and forced and uncomfortable. So, what we were looking for is people that would genuinely keep the interest of others within their top priorities. I want people who we don’t accept, to walk away with a smile on their face, saying that they’ve had a great experience and to be on an accelerated path toward the career they can have because they feel more prepared. That is our responsibility to the people that come through our doors. So, it’s crucial that our employees have that attitude. That our employees are there to help people first, and second is how can we monetize and make revenue out of those things. That doesn’t mean we don’t have stringent revenue targets. It’s just about the type of person who does what’s right for our customers, as well as what’s right for us.

I mean Ben, who is our talent manager, is the perfect example of that, because I think he maybe is, the nicest person I have ever met. 

Ben, the kindest talent manager you will ever meet!

I also think the way we have our model separated between talent and sales, helps us to allow people to have that attitude. Ben is the talent manager, he wants to find people who are best suited for the roles we have live. However, he is also there to be an advocate and fight for those individuals, help them find the opportunities that are right for them. A lot of the times the feedback will be, I’m not sure this is the right career for you based on what you’ve told me you care about. So, it puts him in a nice position where he can focus on what’s right for that candidate and that’s not putting them forward for an opportunity they won’t be successful in.

Right, and that won’t be right for the company either. It’s not right for either, but sometimes recruiters don’t think long-term. Perhaps because losing a candidate who’s gone in after 6 months won’t negatively impact their established companies in a real way.

Right and for us it’s all about the long term. Obviously, we love it when things move quickly, a lot of our customers need candidates quickly, but you should take your time and interview them properly. It’s about finding people who we’ve identified through a process of testing them,  finding out what their desires are, understanding what they’re like, what they’re goals are, what they care about, what their abilities are, all those things, and aligning those with the visions of the companies we work with.

Stay posted for Part 2 where we discuss: How ExP differentiates ourself from companies offering the same service, John’s favourite ExP milestones from the past two years and where our company is going.

Interview by Jessica Thomas, Featuring John Richardson.

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