Episode 29: A Tactical HubSpot Conversation with Dylan Gallagher of Bridge Capital

Maia Wells:
I'm Maia Wells, and we have a special episode for you today, as we bring in ClearPivot founder, Chris Strom, to guest host.

Chris Strom:
Hi there, everyone.

Maia Wells:
Chris is a systems and operations expert at the helm of SaaS marketing agency, ClearPivot, and he's joining the Marketing Hero podcast today to interview Dylan Gallagher, founder of Bridge Capital. I'm going to go take a seat in the audience, and hey, Chris, take it from here.

Chris Strom:
Thanks, Maia. Dylan Gallagher knows that the failure rate for business is high, but he doesn't believe that it has to be. He ran several businesses that help entrepreneurs find out what they don't know and make the right moves to succeed. We'll talk a little bit about Dylan's playbook for entrepreneurial success, but we're also going to take a little bit of a different track today as we talk shop about custom HubSpot integrations. So for those of you who listen to the Marketing Hero podcast and actually use HubSpot in your day-to-day work, this episode is for you. Dylan Gallagher, welcome to the show.

Dylan Gallagher:
Thanks for having me. Marketing Hero is just a great term. I love it. I'm smiling ear to ear.

Chris Strom:
We're excited to have you on the show, Dylan. Now, we do start out every episode by asking what is your favorite part of your career and how did you figure that out? So, how would you answer that, Dylan?

Dylan Gallagher:
I would say today, my favorite part of my career is having a playbook for working with businesses. My least favorite part of where I am now was figuring out how to build that playbook. So through lots of experience, lots of mistakes, lots of left-hand turns, I was finally able to arrive in the last couple of years at a place where I could go into a small business and we could turn it around. I generally have worked over the past decade with businesses that are in trouble. So they have creditors, they have issues with the government, most likely issues with their bank. I've gone in and have been able to work from sort of the back of the house, the finance end, all the way through to the front of the house, sales and marketing, and then touching on operations in between that.

So, my favorite part today is a lot of this stuff, it comes repeatable. When you see certain strategies and tactics work, you just keep looking to do them again and again and again. So that's the best part right now, that what we do works and it's a lot of fun to see it work.

Chris Strom:
And tell me about how it's working now. Are you still working with businesses who are facing trouble with the government or other kinds of dire straits, or are you focusing now more on new businesses and entrepreneurs who want to do it right from the beginning?

Dylan Gallagher:
So we have a portfolio right now of traditional businesses, a construction business, a business that's in the transportation space. I spent some time last year with business that was in the manufacturing space. We made the decision in this last fiscal year to really just focus on new projects that can augment the opportunities that we have inside of our existing portfolio. And so, I don't generally work right now with turnaround businesses. I put a lot of content out. There's a lot of tools and resources that people could dig into if they were interested in some of the strategies that come from my playbook, but right now, we're focused on in-house projects on our office.

Chris Strom:
So for some of the people who listen to our podcast, who are trying to start up apps or software, a lot of people that are here are running SaaS businesses or thinking about getting a SaaS business started, does your playbook apply to them? And if so, which part of it do you think would be the most important to into?

Dylan Gallagher:
So the playbook is really built around turning a business around, so an existing business where maybe an entrepreneur has gotten from nowhere to somewhere, but then can't figure out how to get from somewhere to somewhere great. So that's my specific background and that's my particular set of expertise. On the SaaS side, this past summer, summer of 2021, we launched our own SaaS product. It's an instant business valuation platform that entrepreneurs can use to figure out what their business is worth, but most importantly, how does it compare to an industry benchmark. And so, I don't have a playbook for a startup yet. I'm building it as I go and borrowing lessons from the tactics and strategies that I've used to turn businesses around.

Chris Strom:
For those of you who might be curious, are you talking about mlenow for that startup SaaS that you have?

Dylan Gallagher:
So, mlenow stands for Making Life Easier Now, and it's a platform that is really a reflection of a lot of the things that I've learned turning a business around. When I got into the engagements that led to our portfolio, I always needed a way to get my bearings and create context for the business. What I had found was that there's a lot of different analysis and analytics you can use to figure out how you're doing, but for me, I just needed something even simpler than that. For me, it was starting with, well, what is the market doing? If there is 10 other businesses like ours in the marketplace, how are they doing and how do we measure up against them? Because we can't beat them if we don't even know where their bar is. So we need to get to that bar and then we need to exceed it.

So, mlenow really became a byproduct of that exercise because I just kept running the same map over and over and over again and I thought, "You know what, I bet you there's other entrepreneurs out there that would love to figure out how to get their business from where it is to somewhere great," and we felt that this online platform would be the best mechanism to do that.

Chris Strom:
Can you tell us a little bit more about what type of HubSpot configuration you've set up for your business? I know there's a lot of different modules in it and different add-ons and all of that. It sounds like you're using the HubSpot marketing hub and the HubSpot sales hub, but can you fill us in a little more detail on the specific HubSpot configuration you're running?

Dylan Gallagher:
I use it every day, every week, every quarter. Our portfolio, we've created a baseline for all of our businesses and we use mlenow to see what our progress is looking like and where we're coming up short and where we're exceeding our own expectations. We use HubSpot right across the board for all of our portfolio companies. Once our team learns how to use it in one instance, it's very easy to transpose those skills over into another business. And so, HubSpot is our platform of choice for all of our sales and marketing efforts.

Chris Strom:
So that sounds like a pretty unique way of using HubSpot, right?

Dylan Gallagher:
So, we view HubSpot more as a database. I know that a lot of people use it as a full-functioning CRM that houses everything that they do. We discovered that we could... Because of the API that exists with HubSpot, we don't have the marketing seats, we have the sales seats so that's the version that we use. And then what we do is through the API, we use it to interact with the operation system that we might have in any given business and the accounting system, which is generally QuickBooks online. And so, HubSpot is more of a database that we dump information into, we pull information out of. We use it for our tasks and our activities. But really, when it comes the analytics and the scoring and some of the functional tactics that we end up going to the market with, HubSpot is really more of a database for us, as opposed to like a full-fledged software suite that we're taking advantage of in every nook and cranny that it offers.

Chris Strom:
So, you were talking about looking at content interactions, basically behavioral data on your website, as well as freeing up your people to spend more time communicating. It sounds like not all of those activities are being necessarily done through HubSpot, like your website isn't on the HubSpot CMS necessarily. It sounds like you're using some different systems for marketing emails and those types of communications. So, tell me a little bit about that piece and how some things are handled inside HubSpot and some things are handled outside of HubSpot. It sounds like you're probably using some different API calls to make all of those things happen, right?

Dylan Gallagher:
Sure. So in our transportation business, we work with tractor trailers and trailers. The software that existed or that exists in the marketplace is really built for enterprise-level businesses. So if you're running, say, a nationwide chain of transportation businesses, then getting an enterprise level of software is really important, but for a shop like ours, it just didn't make any sense. And so, what we ended up doing is building our own work order management system. So customer needs work done on a piece of equipment, we're able to spin up a work order. It's interacts with HubSpot. So we use the deal mechanism as the appointment. Our staff only works through our work order system, but all of the information is going back and forth to HubSpot. When the work order turns into an invoice, it gets pushed automatically from our work order system into QuickBooks.

And then at the exact same moment, we're dropping a feedback task into HubSpot for our customer service team to contact the customer now that their job is done into a follow-up call. So, we baked the HubSpot onto one side our work order system through the API to manage our feedback, to create our deals, which are ultimately called appointments on our internal system. And then that gives us an unbelievable amount of power when we now go to extract all of the information out of HubSpot to see how many tasks are being done, who's clicking on our content, how much time are people on visiting our site, how many webpages are they looking at when they do end up going to our site. It's a container. We put a lot of data into that container at key points in our operational process. And then we have a reporting mechanism, where we're constantly using it as a feedback loop for ourselves.

By integrating it with HubSpot, all of that time that was spent updating HubSpot and then updating a work order and then updating the accounting system, we've basically turned those three data entry points into an API call. And so, all of a sudden, for the exact same human resource capital that we had available, we can now use that capital to actually talk to our customers, to interact with them, not to spend time just moving information from one system to the other, copy, paste, import, export. We just freed up an enormous amount of time and it literally dropped more than 10%, 15% directly to our bottom line, simply because we could increase revenue. So our cost structure stayed the same, but because our cost structure already included people that were doing work, when we reduced the amount of data movement they were doing, we could then free them up to do customer success stories, feedback loops, have them book their next appointment and we ultimately could drive revenue. And that increase in revenue pretty much went directly to the bottom line.

So the API call mechanism is really once a customer has engaged with us and they're interacting with our service. HubSpot sits on both bookends of that happening. We do use the marketing email system, so we do send out emails to them, both on a marketing basis, which we define as one to many, and on a sales basis, which is one to one. Once they've engaged with our service and the service is then completed and there's automatic follow-up tasks that are put into the system to get their Google review, to get some feedback from them, but most importantly, to set up their next appointment with us, we watch them open those emails, whether they view those emails. We make sure we always have a hyperlink inside of every email. And then every Monday morning, we have an administrator that will go into HubSpot, pull out a bunch of key columns for us in an export. We drop it into a predefined Excel sheet and it scores every single one of our customers for us.

In this particular business, we have almost 700 customers. And so, every week when this data pull is done, we drop it into Excel, we score our leads, and then that becomes our marching orders for the week. "Here are the 46 people that we must call this week because they don't have a next activity scheduled, or we don't have another deal in the system for them that is future dated." We have an entire spectrum of how we score our leads, but that's how we functionally use HubSpot when it comes to the marketing and the engagement and the behavioral part of it.

Chris Strom:
Wow. That's a pretty robust setup you're running there. It is pretty cool to hear. So, I wanted to know another example on your HubSpot configuration because you had told me that you have several examples of several different businesses in which you're doing this. Do you have another example of how you've integrated some different systems using HubSpot in a different business?

Dylan Gallagher:
So, in our construction business, we use the deal mechanism for our proposals, our construction proposals. And because our construction proposals go to multiple parties, what we end up doing is using the API to pull back some of that behavior information and we can figure out of the one job that we were bidding on, but we sent it out to five... Because we're a sub-trade, so we sent it out to five general trades, we can see from the engagement, again, through our scoring system that we do end up pulling from the API in that business, we see, "Okay. We should probably get in touch with this particular GC because they're the ones that are most likely going to win this job."

We can see how many times they've interacted with us, and it gives us an opportunity before they make a decision to get on the phone with them and make some assumptions that if we sent out five proposals, we can see that one of the proposals is getting a lot of activity, but the other four are not. There's a high likelihood that the one with high activity is going to be one that wins and we need to get on the phone and make sure there's nothing we missed in our proposal before they award the job in case we have to fine tune our price or maybe fine tune some of the details.

So, in our construction business, we use it very specifically for the proposal and job bidding end of our business, which, again, integrates with our operation system. And then once a job is done, because we work with institutional and commercial clients, we don't really have that personal relationship because it's an institution or a company that we're working with, but we do use it in the same way that we use in our transportation business, which is to make sure that we have set an activity for the person that we need to speak to at that business in the future. And then that gives our customer service team someone to contact. They can talk about upcoming jobs. We book those in using the deal mechanism. And then, again, every Monday, we drop out a bunch of data from HubSpot. We score it all and it gives us our marching orders for any given week.

Chris Strom:
How has that reflected in your results in terms of getting new jobs for that business, as well as continued work with the GCs where the work has gone well? Has it helped your sales team to focus in on the best opportunities and leave the other ones alone?

Dylan Gallagher:
So, unlike our transportation business, which we literally just drove revenue because we had a very clear line of sight to who we needed to talk to, when we needed to talk to them, and now, instead of hiring more people, we just repurposed the people we had, thanks to all the data stuff. On the construction side, most of the work that win is public tender work. And so, there isn't really an opportunity other than to be competitive to win the work, but what the system that we've built allows us to do is opportunities, time and chance, right? You just show up, make sure you're always showing up, and there's a higher chance that you'll get an opportunity versus not showing up. And so, this particular system that we have in place lets us pick up non-public tender work.

So, a general contractor might say to us, "Ah, geez, I only need this particular scope of work done, but I don't want to go through the entire process of putting out to public tender. So, it's interesting that you guys got a hold of us today because I tell you what, why don't you give us a number for?" And then they'll give us the scope of work. So that's what it's allowed us to do is pick up non-bid work that otherwise would've gone to the marketplace and we would've had to have competed for it.

Chris Strom:
Hmm, so it sounds like it's really helping you to be at the right place at the right time, and that's really the key to getting more of these opportunities.

Dylan Gallagher:
That, as well as we're small businesses. So we don't have an unlimited amount of money. We don't have an unlimited amount of resources. So we're relying so heavily on technology to perform, but we've customized the technology to very specifically fit our workflow, and that's a pretty big departure, I think, from how people were using software maybe even three years ago because APIs didn't really exist. So you had to use like Infusionsoft as a software package. I remember from a few years back, that was quite popular. You're just stuck with how they thought your business worked. And so, they would have to take a hundred businesses and come up with the best format that all businesses could use.

You fast forward a few years, with the advent of APIs, really these software systems are just containers to hold data. I don't want to rebuild a task management system and I don't want to rebuild a deal funnel, but if that system is there and I can just pull in and out of it, the just amazing things that we can do to gain efficiency, not have to hire people and ultimately repurpose the people we have, which means our margins are stronger because of that.

Chris Strom:
What you said is really important because a lot of people implementing a system like HubSpot don't stop and think about the processes that are going to go into it, and that's the most important part. What are my current processes? What should they be? What do I want them to be? So that's a really important point. So, Dylan, next I want to ask you about MLEnow because that is also a software platform and I want to know how you're using HubSpot for that venture.

Dylan Gallagher:
Yeah. Again, I would say even lighter than we're using it with our other operating businesses because we have... Again, technology has become so easy to use, no code options in particular, like Figma and Webflow. You don't even need to be an HTML expert anymore to design a really sharp-looking UI. But because of my technical background, you've heard a little bit about how we have formed HubSpot into our business processes. With our business valuation software, right now we're using it primarily for the customer support side. So the integration that goes between our platform and HubSpot, we have a partner program.

So we work with accountants, we work with business coaches in particular to help them provide more value to their clients by getting a business valuation and we put to partner through a checklist of steps to onboard them. And so, we have a 10-day challenge that we onboard every new partner through. And so, what we end up doing is pushing data in and out of HubSpot to help us just manage the recording of how we're helping a partner get through those tasks. So, we keep the checklist on our systems, but we push the recording of what we're doing into HubSpot through tasks, set the follow-up tasks, and then push the data back out again.

Chris Strom:
So it seems like you have a really great way of thinking about the mechanisms inside HubSpot and then using them for ways that may not be part of the standard ways that people might think about it initially. It's like this way of thinking, "How do I morph that into fitting my business and what do I need to do with it?"

Dylan Gallagher:
We did the same thing by moving into QuickBooks online because from an account system perspective, QuickBooks online has a pretty robust API. It's not awesome, but of all the accounting systems in the marketplace, it's for sure the most developed API, but all of a sudden these APIs really make the software and all of the functionality that comes with that software almost unnecessary. You really just need it to... QuickBooks is basically just a fancy Excel spreadsheet. It's all accounting systems are and they got really sophisticated. Now, they're getting much, much simpler. And then you dumb it right down to an API and all of a sudden an entrepreneur, somebody like me says, "You know what, let's just map out our process, and then let's figure out where we push and pull the data from the systems we need as opposed to taking the system and assuming that's the only way to do it."

You create a company, create a contact, then you create a deal, then you create an activity. And so, somehow we have to bend our business around that. The approach that I've taken, because it's so affordable to do it, is to go the other one and say, "No, no. In a perfect world, this is how we provide..." much like a Brian Chesky from Airbnb says, "Here's how we provide a 10-star experience. Now, let's figure out what systems do we push in and out of as we walk people through that system."

Chris Strom:
I'm sensing a theme here and you are a business expert, clearly. You're an expert in turning around failing businesses and helping new businesses and creating your own businesses and improving those as well. Along the way, what I'm hearing from you is that process is one of the most important keys to that. How did you figure that out? Did you have a lot of mistakes with processes or lack of processes? Did you learn from a mentor? Can you tell us a little bit more about this journey of understanding process as that key factor in success?

Dylan Gallagher:
I think part of it is I'm wired for it. So I think all of us, our minds work a certain way. I couldn't design a website to save my life, but I certainly could build you a very efficient process for how a business should run. So I think there's just some natural... just how I'm wired naturally. But where it really hit the ground was at the beginning of my career, I was involved in real estate syndication, fundraising, foreclosures, receiverships on the commercial development end of the market. We had to pay investors. If we had a hundred investors in a deal, I was the guy that had to figure out how do we pay them all. This was, believe it or not, back in the days of preparing checks on a typewriter.

And so, I just learned databases. Again, because my mind works that way, it all just made sense to me. And then, unfortunately, I got addicted to Michael Dell and everything that Dell computers was doing because at my agent stage, they were the company that had figured out how to do the same thing over and over and over again, and I just found it very interesting. I would read seven habits of highly effective people and you start to find, or for me anyway, I started just to see a theme emerging. And then as I got into turning around businesses and selling businesses, you really start to understand that the value of the business is two things. It's the people that run the business and then it's the systems they use to produce the result.

As an entrepreneur, oftentimes we try to do all of that stuff, which makes our businesses less valuable, obviously, because if we're not replaceable, then who's going to step in and do our job if the business was sold? But I had just discovered and learned through investors that had sold businesses and tried to understand why some businesses sold for more, and it always just came down to letting people do what they're really good at, but on top of a system that runs without someone like me having to show up every day and make sure that the buttons are being pressed and that the work is getting done. When you've been doing this for a couple decades, it's a whole bunch of things that gets to it that has gotten me to this point.

Chris Strom:
Would you say that in the businesses that you've helped turn around that process was the main issue?

Dylan Gallagher:
I would say that process was the reason some businesses did not turn around because the entrepreneurs simply couldn't get their head around letting systems do what systems should do. So in the example of our transportation business, when we close a work order, there's an entry made in our accounting system when that button is clicked. At the exact same second that button is clicked, we're queuing up three activities in HubSpot. Well, some entrepreneurs will hear me say that and immediately begin to panic because they'll say, "Well, how do I know that the information is correct? How do I know that someone's going to follow up on it?" They don't trust the process, and that's most likely because they just simply don't understand what's happening.

What I can say is businesses that don't turn around, generally don't turn around because of they have the wrong people. They don't turn around because those people don't have good systems to use to do the best job possible. You just heard me say, we were able to drop 15 points to our bottom line by just repurposing how people were spending their day because we offloaded some of the, what I call, lame, useless work to an API and allow people to come in and enjoy their job and look forward to it instead of copy-paste, copy-paste, save as. They could just get on the phone, start talking to customers and enjoying what they were particularly good at.

Chris Strom:
As far as the people results of doing some of these things, sometimes we hear that changes and systems and processes can create some bad feelings with people that are used to doing things a certain way, the way they always have in the past. It sounds like at least in that transportation business, there was actually a positive for most of the people. Can you talk a little bit more about the people angle on implementing processes or changing processes and how you get people on board with that?

Dylan Gallagher:
It's a great question because it isn't easy to do. It's actually very, very hard. In both of our traditional businesses, I would say we don't have anyone probably younger than a Gen X working for us. So, that was part of the magic of figuring out as a leader, how to do this really, really well so that when we pushed something... I mean, we did it very, very slowly, but we did it in a way that it wasn't disruptive because what happens is if you do something wrong and it's like, "Oh, sorry, hang on. We'll fix that and tomorrow we'll do it differently," eventually just wear people out. So, my job is as the leader is to make sure that never happens, that by the time we have put something in place, instead of trying to eat the entire elephant, we just eat the elephant one bite at a time and make sure that as we're doing it, that people are getting to see the value of it.

There's nothing greater than watching someone who's been doing a job for 15 years all of a sudden see that they can just click a button and part of that job is just done. Now, they say, "Well, what can I do with the time you just save me?" And then you get to say, "Well, you get to do more of what you actually enjoy doing," which in this particular example would be talking to customers. So it's tricky. There's a fine line there, because you can nerd out and you can put a whole bunch of cool stuff in place that just nobody cares about, or you can be very thoughtful about it and communicate, and not over communicate because you don't want everything to feel like it's a big change that's coming. You really want to set the course and say that, "The whole reason we're doing this is so that everybody can spend less time doing the stuff they don't enjoy and more time doing the stuff they do enjoy. And if for any minute during implementation, you don't feel that way, then let us know, but that's why we're doing this."

Chris Strom:
So, it sounds like sharing the purpose, sharing and showing some results for the individual person, and then taking it step by step are a good place to start with that.

Dylan Gallagher:
You have to show the results. The results are what sell it. Again, the minute somebody who spends eight hours a day working, they get in the car and they go to the office, they do their job, and of those eight hours, three of those hours are spent just doing mindless copying and pasting and printing a report and exporting something and saving as, and you give them back two and a half of those three hours in the form of them being able to interact with the rest of the team on more important jobs, being able to troubleshoot something, being able to work with customers, being able to work with vendors, I mean, it just changes the entire feeling of their job and their level of excitement when they want to come in and now be part of their team and be recognized for how valuable they actually are.

Chris Strom:
What kind of impacts does that have overall on the company culture either for this particular business you're describing or overall in some of these other examples you've shared?

Dylan Gallagher:
Oh, for sure, it's pretty binary. Some people are, "I'm out. I'm gone. I can't do it. This just doesn't work." Other people absolutely just lean in very hard because they can see what it's going to produce. So there's no point trying to convince the people that in their own mind have written it off, and unfortunately that those people just don't stay on the team. But the people that do lean into it, you end up finding, or certainly for me, I've found that once you've put it in place, people start to move with it on their own and they start carrying the ball and the, "Can it do this, or can we do that? Or I just found a way that if we could do this, we could save a little bit more time." And then they start to adopt it as their own.

They own it, and then they run the rest of the way with it. But the people that aren't believers, you're never going to make them believers, so I think there's just... A human nature doesn't like change and certainly doesn't like change if it's not self-serving. Some people just would rather keep things as they are, and that's fine, just wouldn't be a spot for you on our team.

Chris Strom:
You seem like somebody who's very comfortable with change. You seem like someone who's very comfortable with technology and understanding where things are going for the future. As far as processes and systems, is that going to remain the most important thing in the discipline of marketing this year? What's your particular outlook for this coming year with all of these things we've been discussing in mind?

Dylan Gallagher:
The theme I would offer is having to do more with less. If you take something as simple as the work-from-home movement, even though the two business I discussed here today, we don't have the option of working from home, but what we have learned is people don't want to work the five-day eight hours anymore. In our transportation business, we have created three different shifts that you can be a part of to get the hours that you want, to make your financial life work, but still give you the freedom of the rest of your week. So I think every business is going to have to figure out how to do more with less. And then the only way that you can do that is part B, which is relying heavily, heavily, heavily on technology to pick up the difference.

You've heard me talk in these past few minutes about how we're using APIs and HubSpot to be that gap flow for us. So people are looking to reduce their workload or ease up on their workload, or they're not going to be as available as they used to be, then software has to be able to pick up the difference. For small businesses like ours, where we don't have unlimited amounts of money and resources, you do have to learn how to be really, really efficient. And the nice thing is software is really easier and easier to use these days and it's easier and easier to implement. And so, as an entrepreneur, as a leader, as a business owner, you just have to figure out what's going to be our angle. If we can't spend more money, how do we do a better job spending the money that we have?

Chris Strom:
Well, Dylan, thank you so much for joining us on the Marketing Hero podcast today. We really look forward to seeing what your business will do in the future here.

Dylan Gallagher:
Thanks. Appreciate it.

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