In the second episode of Stories That Inspire, we have James Converse, the CEO and Chief Solutions Architect of ZBrains. Dive deep down ahead to find out how he quit from being a ‘million dollar consultant’ to start ZBrains- a professional services firm in California. We also pick his brains about the essentials of consulting and his firm’s focus on Zoho products. Scroll down on to what promises to be an inspiring read.
Ani: Let’s start at the very beginning, James. How did this all start?
James: It all began in 2012. I was then working with a fast-growing company which was doing ERP implementation.You would have heard of the term “million dollar consultant.”That was me at my previous workplace. So when one of my friends who was doing G Suite implementation during the time asked me to look into this company called Zoho, that was the moment.
Ani: Could you tell us a little more about what consulting was before SaaS?
James: The work at the consulting firm was being eroded by cloud products. When they did finally bring in cloud-enabled products, I was not able to work on them because they believed that ERP was still a cash cow, and as their primary consultant I should continue with the legacy platforms.
Ani: And this was when you wanted to do something on your own?
James: Yeah, for a while I was generating my own work, but then eventually it got spun off into a consultancy. Thinking of it now, it was really a scary thing to do. We had just had our first child, I had brought out a new house, and then I decided to quit my consulting job!
Ani: It must have been very scary, but did you have your business plan for Z Brains chalked out at the start?
James: We did not have it all at first. It evolved. I looked at my experience in sales coaching and got help from a sales coach who had been doing business consulting and strategy for a long time. The resultant framework was a combination of products and services. Initially, I had started the firm with some friends, and we tinkered around a bit till we found a partner,and it was around this time we rebranded our firm to be called ZBrains focusing only on Zoho.
Ani: How did you get your first client?
James: We did not know a lot about Zoho then as we do now (laughs), so we got our first client by cross-selling Zoho products to our existing ERP clients. In 2012, nobody was really ready to think about the cloud as being an alternative. It continued to remain that way till even five years back, and most of the initial clients came through cross-selling.
Ani: What were the clients looking for that could be fulfilled by SaaS products?
James: Actually, contrary to current knowledge, the concerns were not about security. The clients were thinking about efficiency in a big way. They wanted their salespersons to have more access to information and get from lead-to-cash quickly.
Ani: How do you get the word out about ZBrains?
James: Most of our customers know us through our website.
We also did outreach through a sponsored event for Zoho Creator which had a record number turnout of over 1000+ registrations. As far as social media goes, I feel that LinkedIn is a great place to attract prospects, referral partners and thought leadership.We have a pretty strong lead qualifying funnel as well, and we get about 300 such warm leads every month.
Ani: Tell us about how you have grown over the years.
James: Last year alone we grew by 100 percent and this year, by our will, we limited the growth to 25 percent.With new extensions and new product implementations we are looking at growing 1.5 times next year.
Ani: 100 percent! That’s incredible growth, could you say a little more about limiting the growth to 25 percent?
James: We have limited our growth to 25 percent on our accord. We have a pretty rigorous lead scoring process, one which continues to evolve. I would also like to add that ZBrains is not one of the cheaper players in the market and finding the best customer fit is crucial for us.
Ani: Tell us a bit about your approach towards a customer problem statement.
James: As I had mentioned before we do have our framework which first involves understanding how the customer business runs by asking all the right questions then performing a gap analysis and then proceed to finding a solution. It also has to do a lot with Zoho, with the expanse of products there are infinite possibilities of creating solutions, and with each implementation, there is a chance to refine our solutioning every time.
Ani: What do you think are the three qualities that are important for a consultant?
James: The number one rule in a consultant’s rule book and which most consultants forget is “look out for your client.” The second most important quality that I feel is required is energy because coming up with solutions can become quite brain damaging. The final trait that I think is important is being consistent.
I would also like to add that what really differentiates ZBrains from other partners are two things: we have an unwavering focus on Zoho and Zoho products that contribute uniquely to our engineering expertise and the majority of our revenue comes from engineering and not from implementation.
Check out ZBrains at : https://zbrains.net/
Know more about Partners @ Zoho here.