Scott sits down with Noah Berk, Co-Founder of obo., a digital transformation agency. Noah delves into the reasoning behind the agency’s creation, its foundational approach to training in this new sphere, and how clients get the best out of digital transformation.
Scott Pruim: All right. Welcome back to the Integris Helpdesk podcast. Today we have Noah Berk with us and we’re happy to have him. He is the co-founder of OBO, started out in 2016, and this is where it starts to get good. Inc. 5000 regional company. Three time Baltimore’s Best Places to Work, which isn’t easy to do and says a lot about you and the company.
Then the good stuff, man, HubSpot Elite Partner, Salesforce Partner, monday.com North American Partner of the Year. That’s some of the impressive stuff, which I love, but feel free to let us know a little bit about you.
Noah Berk: Yeah. Thanks for the intro there, Scott. What you said, I’m a co-founder of OBL, been growing since 2016, there’s about 45 of us now. Really focusing on helping our clients to digitize their sales, marketing, service, and operations. So think of CRM, marketing automation, customer service project management software like Salesforce, HubSpot, monday.com.
Scott Pruim: And are you guys regional, local, national?
Noah Berk: We got team members spread all throughout the country. Before COVID like most, we were all located right around the office. We used to always go in. Since COVID, we’ve switched to more of a really work from home remote environment where it’s optional, you want to go in the office.
It’s really opened up where we have our people located. In fact that people moving all over the country right now, since it doesn’t matter, they’re local or not.
Scott Pruim: And so as leadership, how do you feel about remote, hybrid, that whole mix?
Noah Berk: I mean, I think it’s awesome for several different reasons.
I think line of sight management is a thing of the past, where you have to simply see the person working. Nowadays with all the tools we have available. It’s easy to measure performance and hold people accountable based on the work to get done. You no longer need to see if someone pecking away at a computer like five or six o’clock at night.
That’s not how it works anymore. In addition to that, it really gives people a lot of time back in their lives. So you’ve got all that community, getting up early in the morning and having to commute, juggle things around because of family obligations. Now you’re home. You can do things you can get done.
If you need to do something during the middle of the day, feel free to put in the hours later in the day. So it provides a lot more flexibility for team members, for us. I like it because I also don’t like to go in the office every day. So I live by our values, although I do go in on Tuesdays, so it’s nice just to get in there every once in awhile. And see some of my team members as well.
Scott Pruim: Yeah. I think you need that. And then I think, when done right on both sides, it can’t not be more efficient, more productivity, and give you some work-life balance. Like I said, when done right on both sides, leadership and direct people in the company. So I’m glad you said that.
Scott Pruim: I guess the best way to start is one, how OBO, and then how you came up with that name, but then also the idea for the company.
Noah Berk: It goes hand in hand. Really always wanted to be business partners. My business partner, Rob, is that he’s a genius smart individual.
And I was never, If I were ever to do an entrepreneurial venture journey. It would be with him. We’re perfect compliments for each other. And back when we started OBL, we saw this huge opportunity around sales and marketing alignment. What is that going to be? We knew the technologies are coming down.
They’re getting more advanced, are getting more complicated. Companies are looking for ways to leverage technology to go from good to great, to be more of a force multiplier for their teams, increase revenue, help them deliver a better customer experience.
So we knew this was coming down the pipe, and Rob with his technology background, along with my own technology background. We said, let’s create a company to fill this void. To help companies able to implement these technology solutions. In the beginning we focus mostly around email. So our name was actually Outbound Ops was our initial name.
But as we expanded more into the technology stack, not just email marketing innovation, but into CRM, and to customer service and to project management related tools, we realized the name was very confining. So our nickname internally is, we never used to call ourselves Outbound Opers. We used to call ourselves OBL and as we were rethinking about our brand and who we were, it stuck and we’re like, Hey, let’s go for it. Let’s go OBL. Simple, easy to remember. Can’t forget. And now the domain name is theobogroup.com.
Digital transformation for business
Scott Pruim: Interesting. So picking up on that whole, a fair notice to everyone I’ve known Noah for awhile, but I’m picking up on that outbound marketing and email. Tell me a little bit more about the digital transformation and why that’s important for business today and maybe some trends that you see are some things that are coming up that haven’t been discovered yet.
Noah Berk: Well, I think when it comes to digital transformation for a lot of organizations are asking themselves, okay. Maybe back in a day, you’re able to get by through brute force, just hire a whole bunch of bodies, put them at the task and help them get it done. But we all know we’re in a war for talent these days.
And one way to wait out the war for talent is by helping to make your existing teams more efficient. So less manual work, more automated work. And you’re trying to give the tools to your teams to become better at what they do. So where our focus is digital transformation is really an umbrella.
Some people refer to what we do as revenue operations, whereby we focused more on the backend technology stack that really helps companies move that business forward, helps them, their employees get more done in less time. So for example, a salesperson takes away some of the administrative tasks, eases up some of the burden on the follow-up and communication, helps manage and have quick and easy reports that don’t take days put together but are instantaneous, so they can figure out where to support and best leverage team member’s time.
And what we’ve seen is really happening in the digital transformation space is data used to be very siloed. It was in your marketing system and your sales system and your customer service or operations system. And when you effectively approach digital transformation, especially digitizing the backend technology stack and able to bring all that data together in one place, you’re able to connect that data with different applications and you’re able to have better insights into how your business is doing, where to spend your efforts, where your customers are, how to improve that experience. Also meeting your customers where they are. The customers are digital, via chat, forms, email. It’s not just the phone call or the physical presence it’s via email.
And without that right digital technology stack, and that person’s communicating with at nine o’clock, maybe you don’t have any employee’s present. What are you going to do? Where is this email going? Where’s this – at least when you automate, you’re able to have that communication with that customer, no matter where they are or what time of day it is.
And so it’s probably one of the hottest spaces right now is what we do. Everyone’s trying to figure out how to leverage technology to make themselves better in the marketplace.
Scott Pruim: Yeah. If there’s one thing I think I know about you is that efficiency is at the top of the charts
for, when you see something done a certain way, if it can be done better, you’re going to find a way to do it, or certainly push to get it done that way.
Noah Berk: Nailed it.
Building a successful customer base
Scott Pruim: And with that in mind, what do you do, what is OBO do, besides some of the stuff that you said, to build a pretty successful customer base?
Noah Berk: Yeah. Great question. So, I lead the sales and marketing side, partnerships, marketing, sales, and business development team that works with me, marketing person that works with me.
So my job at OBL is really to focus on obviously new business development, maintaining strong relationships with our partners, whether it’s HubSpot, whether it’s lynda.com, whether it’s Salesforce. Where actually a lot of our business comes directly via those reps who are bringing us on to engagements to help not only themselves, but also act as their solution architect as well as sales engineer. Helping the client understand how they can leverage these tools to their fullest extent.
So I helped that process and work with my team to help funnel in the opportunities. Make sure they’re a good fit for us, shepherd them to our teams. Making sure we have a really good handoff process, where we’re able to set both our clients, as well as our teams, up for success. And as an organization, what we do is we go into companies and the very first thing we do is we help them unpack the requirements, which is part of a three phase approach we have for all of our engagements for the first phase is user stories, unpacking their requirements.
Understanding their process and helping them build process around what they want to do. So sometimes I refer to us as business whispers because we go in and we talk to all these various teams and they’re aligning all of these various stakeholders around all these requirements, getting people excited about what this technology is able to do for them.
And once we go to the initial phase, the second phase, is then solution engineering. Now we go about figuring, how we’re going to solve for all those requirements. Who’s going to do what work? What does that project plan gonna look like? Do we agree upon this project plan rollout? What areas we need to test things to make sure they’re gonna work the way they want to.
And finally we implement it. So our approach is no different than building a home. First thing you do is you bring in an architect. Where do you want those bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen? What do you want the general structure to be? A second thing you do is you bring in the engineer, where does the electrical go, the plumbing going to go? What materials we want to use in the home, or is the beam going to go and finally the GC? So it’s the best way to go ahead and configure and help develop the technology stock on behalf of our clients, taking them through this, try to improve true processes, always worked for our clients.
Becoming an entrepreneur & starting a company
Scott Pruim: So that was going to ask you, and this question, I think we’ll lead into, that about company culture, but I think before that, what’s the driving force behind you wanting to be an entrepreneur, wanting to start your own company or companies?
Noah Berk: Yeah. So I’ll borrow a little bit from my co-founder and business partner, Rob. One, I wanted to be business partners with him in some sense that was that less to do with what we were doing. Just I got to do it with him.
But two, what he generally says, and I agree, when you’re an entrepreneur, you get to pick your team. You have to pick the people you get to work with. You get to work only with the best. Our average positions, tend to have over 150 applicants for one open.
Scott Pruim: Wow.
Noah Berk: You know, we have a really cool program at OBO called a residency program whereby we hire individuals. So they get paid a salary, but it’s essentially three to four months of full-time training. They’re not even working on any client assignments. They’re literally going through classroom training, practicals, certification before they even get put on a team and we get to find the best and brightest who want to be in this industry and help them break into it.
And so I, going back to what I said earlier about we get to pick and choose our talent. I think that’s one of the most fun parts about building a company like us is we get to pick the only people we want to work with.
Scott Pruim: Yeah. That paid residency. I don’t know that I’ve heard that too many other places.
Noah Berk: That’s pretty rare. But in our space, because it’s so new, it’s not like people have these skillsets. It’s not only I can say, Hey, I need a revenue operations consultant who knows Salesforce, HubSpot and monday.com. Coming up to our team. I may be able to find someone who knows about Salesforce, HubSpot, or Monday, and some aspect of those tools, but to know how to do what we do, we have to train people.
We have to give them the skills. And we invest a lot of time and a lot of money to find the best and brightest. You want to make a career here and teach them what they need to do so they can be successful implementing these strategies and solutions on behalf of our clients.
Scott Pruim: So outside of that, bringing on just the best and brightest people.
What motivates you daily? Whether it’s company and, or personal or both, if it’s the same thing.
Noah Berk: I’m a winner I like to win. So I think that’s probably true for most people who are probably watching this. And I think there’s two parts of winning. One, obviously winning from a business sense of growing business, a successful business, awards, whatever the case might be.
But I think it’s the drive because when we get on calls with our client, they say the most wonderful things about us. And seeing that we delivered on what we said, right? Not every company can say that. And it’s motivated. You get on a call. They’re like, oh my God, you guys are awesome. You did all these amazing things.
You figured it all out, or best company we’ve ever worked with. Whatever the case may be. That’s it’s like a dopamine hit for me. When I do that, it keeps me going. I also know that we are so vital for the companies we do work for. Without us, they’re not getting to that next level. And I also know that we’re one of the best in the industry, what we do.
We have the best process, best people, best reviews. We were back for HubSpot’s 2020 Customer First Impact Award winner, highest sales and customer satisfaction retention in their ecosystem. That’s our 3000 companies in North America.
And we never rest on our laurels. We’re always improving. We’re always going back to an engagement and saying, how could we have done this better? Even if the clients that this is amazing, there’s always areas for improvement. There’s always areas that we can get better build the institutional knowledge that helps our organization move forward that can be passed on to other teams and shared with other teams.
Generating new ideas
Scott Pruim: So you may have just answered the next question, which was how you generate new ideas.
Noah Berk: Great question. A lot of times new ideas come out of challenges or setbacks that we come across and there’s several different ways of approaching it. We’re not a VC or private equity or self-funded business. We have a judiciary responsibility for a profitable growing company.
Not just for us, but for employees. And that means we don’t just throw money at problems. And sometimes that can pave over a lot of issues, throw people at a problem, throw money at a problem. Instead, we’re always very conscious. How can we do this the most efficient, best way possible.
And generally this comes about because it could be a client challenge that we came across. It could be an internal challenge we came across. People challenge we came across. And we say, okay, how are we best going to approach and try and solve this with the resources we have now. Now granted, we’re a growing company, there’s 45 of as we continue to grow.
So we have a lot more resources now than we used to. When we were a young company, a sub 10 employees, still trying to figure out our way in this world. But really solving problems means deconstructing the issue. And one way I think of deconstructing issue is like, what’s the most high touch way to solve the problem versus what’s the most low touch way to solve the problem.
And then what are all the different iterations and variations between them in terms of solving it. And then eventually you’ll come across that perfect sweet spot and say, okay, this is maybe the best way that we want to solve for it.
Scott Pruim: Yeah. There’s certainly a thread that I think runs through how you started things and how you do things. It’s working clearly.
Scott Pruim: One last question, as far as the companies that you work with, any specific industries that you work with, or everybody, anybody that just has an issue?
Noah Berk: Yeah. I mean, generally it’s business to business, it could be associations. It could be nonprofits.
We do work with several large B2C brands as well. So you’d probably recognize a lot of the names, I’m not sure if I can talk about or not on this podcast, but a massive organizations will hire us to come in and work with them. Generally the companies who are hiring, they generally have a team in place. We’re generally not working directly with the founder or CEO, we’re generally working with a VP of marketing, VP of sales, head of operations, CLL sometimes maybe working with inside the organization. Sometimes the technology department, each organization handles digital transformation a little differently. Sometimes IT led versus departmental led. And that can change from organizational to organization, who we’d actually be interacting at work with, which also sometimes make it challenging. But we need to reach out to that, the company to start engaging them in opportunities.
Scott Pruim: Yes. The fun part for all of us.
Noah Berk: Yes. In business development, that’s our question. Just 20 people at the company who do I start with first?
Fun questions (weekends & grilling)
Scott Pruim: Well, I think I’ll throw you off a little bit now and you’re lucky cause it’s a Friday. Some of the people when I record these that are early in the week, don’t have the best response because they don’t have anything booked.
What do you got planned for the weekend? What’s something big that’s going on?
Noah Berk: So yeah, my wife and I were seeing friends later this afternoon at a restaurant for celebrating one of my friend’s birthday, so should be fun. And then tomorrow we’re headed down to DC. I go to a few of the museums, checking out that van Gogh exhibit, a nice restaurant, nice dinner.
And then Sunday. Yeah, just usual Sunday chores and getting stuff done, prepping for the week, relaxing, which I think is a really important thing to do in life. Yeah. Yeah, less responsibility on a Sunday.
Scott Pruim: Good. Good to hear.
Noah Berk: What about yourself, Scott? Since you asked me and –
Scott Pruim: There it is, There it is. Thank you. There’s some basketball. My son, since the high school season’s over is on a couple of teams. So there’s some basketball down in Baltimore tomorrow, but it’s always fun to watch. I don’t know why, but for some reason these AAU games are usually better than the high school games. So –
Noah Berk: It’s competitive.
Scott Pruim: Yeah, it’s exciting. So I just like watching them play. He’s a junior now, so there’s another year of it. I’m going to take in as much as I can.
And I think maybe equally as big. There’ll be a grill being bought in the next couple of days.
Noah Berk: That is awesome. And I’ll do one followup question. What’s your favorite thing to grill?
Scott Pruim: Oh, that one’s easy. That actually is not as easy. It’s steak, any kind of steak. Um, I will throw some salmon on there, like a little wood, but yeah, steak. I’m easy, man.
Noah Berk: It’s just so good. It’s so good.
Get that juicy ribeye, right. Throw that on there. Oh my God. Just a couple of weekends ago. And it was nice. Yeah.
Scott Pruim: Yeah. And it’s supposed to be, it’s a little windy right now, but it’s supposed to calm down and be pretty nice tomorrow. Basketball and a grill. I don’t know that I could have a better weekend planned out.
Noah Berk: It sounds perfect.
Scott Pruim: Sweet. Well Noah, thank you for the time. Thank you for telling us a little bit about yourself and about OBO. We really appreciate it. I appreciate it.
We’ll get some information put up when we put out the podcast, as far as websites and whatever else you want to share, but honestly, thank you very much for the time.
Noah Berk: Awesome. Thank you, Scott. Take care and enjoy your weekend.
Scott Pruim: Yup. You too, buddy. Take care.