Published By: Entrepeneur
When did your CEO last ride a snowmobile on a volcano, shoot an “ice bucket challenge” with construction equipment, or open for the rapper Coolio? If you work for ListenTrust, a leading bilingual contact center, there’s a good chance it happened last week.
Craig Handley, founder and CEO of ListenTrust, is not your typical buttoned-up stuffy suit guy. When not doing million-dollar deals, he “lives life as a full contact sport,” grabbing it by the collar to inspire, motivate, and excel himself and others.
His fun personality has propelled him on dozens of daredevil adventures and to release two studio albums—all while building ListenTrust into a leader of English and Spanish-speaking sales and customer service agents.
Handley is so obsessed with achieving dreams that ListenTrust’s formal policy helps hires reach their own, even if that means encouraging them to quit.
It’s an unconventional approach that gets unconventional results.
In just over a decade, Handley has taken his company from zero to roughly $1 billion in cumulative sales. He sat down with us to share how he and his team attained this remarkable growth, detailing a handful of priceless strategies that cost him years and millions to learn.
1. Target market influencers—and crush it.
Rather than adopting a scattershot business development approach, Handley’s team targeted and prioritized doing any business, no matter how small, with influential core buyers in their market. That way, the big boys would send a lifeline signal to a predominantly referral-based market that “ListenTrust was legit.”
It worked. ListenTrust scored gigs with four top marketing influencers and over delivered with each one. “We got very good and very noticed,” Handley exudes. Clients expanded their relationships and made referrals. “That generated tons of new business and spared tons of time building the company into a sales machine.”
2. Give, don’t take.
Handley credits his success to selflessly sharing knowledge with a zero expectation of return. This approach quickly elevated ListenTrust to the industry’s “go-to” expert knowledge source.
The company was open, transparent, and shared information that competitors wouldn’t. ListenTrust’s massive visibility turned into customers. “People keep us at the top of their mind,” Handley enthuses. “They know we’re honest, transparent, and give 150 percent.”
3. Look at major catastrophes as significant opportunities.
Handley’s sales success partly exploded from tactics and mindset. But the biggest factor was viewing obstacles as opportunities. He witnessed this firsthand.
One day, a frantic client called Handley with an emergency. The client was behind on answering more than 11,000 service emails and had set up a phone number without realizing they were getting thousands of calls a week. ListenTrust was needed to fix the problem immediately. Dollars were leaking, and reputations were on the line. Handley couldn’t push back without losing the client, but he’d need to move mountains to honor the appeal.
Instead of freaking out, Handley saw the opportunity. Sure, he ate the cost of some extra employees and worked insane hours, but the outcome was an invaluable case study for ListenTrust.
“It’s a huge company that has referred many leads,” Handley explains. “That kind of optimism and effort generated tons of new business.”
4. Remember that strategic selling is your best friend.
Handley points to strategic selling as an ace in the hole. Early on, ListenTrust focused on strategic selling within one industry to accelerate sales. And they turned enemies into allies to grow even faster.
“We were competing against other market leaders,” he recalls. “Instead of slugging it out toe-to-toe, we formed a strategic partnership where they upsold us to their clients.”
5. Know your numbers intimately.
With great growth comes great responsibility. While watching sales explode is a fabulous feeling, Handley warns entrepreneurs to keep a hawk-like focus on their numbers.
“Only with a firm grasp of how growth hits key metrics can entrepreneurs scale efficiently. It’s the difference between making half a million—and half a billion,” Handley cautions.
“Sometimes you grow so fast and focus so much on operations that you neglect understanding your KPIs and all the moving parts that impact your net revenue. You can’t reach $1 billion in sales if you run out of cash on the way.”
6. Go beyond just hiring the right people.
Although vital, it’s not just about hiring the greatest people. Understand this: every single rock star can only take you so far.
“Most companies can’t grow more than two or three times with the same directors,” says Handley. “The guy who got you from zero to $3 million usually can’t take you to $30 million; most people don’t have the talent for that. You can’t grow beyond your own personal growth.”