I sat down with Brahim Samhoud, CEO and founder of BNZSA, to understand his motivations, why BNZSA and how it is changing the industry.
Firstly, maybe a silly question. What does BNZSA stand for?
It stands for my family initials. My name, Brahim, my son Noa, my daughter Zoe and SA for our surname. It’s not the best name in the world, and I didn’t consult an expensive branding agency. But it is personal to me and I hope it means a lot for many of our team. You could say that BNZSA is another one of my children, whose eighth birthday we celebrate this month!
Calling the company BNZSA reminds me every day why we’re doing it. It’s personal to me. It drives me every day because I want my kids to be proud of what their father has achieved, to have a legacy, and maybe for them to join and lead us one day.
Why did you step away from a progressively senior career path to set-up a one-man shop in your garage?
I wanted to create a company with a story, to be a success on my own terms, but also to build something with meaning. I didn’t build it with an exit strategy in mind. If it was all about money, then I could have gone anywhere to make a lot of cash. No, it was all about building something worthwhile, a company that stands for something more.
I want BNZSA to be the best at what it does. I want it to be a good company with values where people are treated fairly and with respect.
So, I grabbed all the things I’d learned from past experiences; I did a really strong analysis of what I would like this company to stand for. I came up with four core values which still stand today and inform everything we do: people, highest quality, extra mile, and change the industry.
Eight years later, we’re nearly 280 people with offices in four countries and delivering $1.5 billion to clients’ pipelines.
Let’s start with people. Can you tell me more about your thinking here?
The first thing that came to my mind was people. Business. Society. It’s all about people. It’s not just about the people in the company, but also the people we deal with as a company – our clients and their prospects.
A big motivation for me is that when I was younger it took me about 10 years to go from a junior position into management. I wanted to build an environment where anyone can learn, develop and thrive – and quickly. Another thing about people is that when you work in bigger environments, it becomes all about politics. It’s more about how many shoulders you stand on rather than how many people you can bring to the next level.
I also wanted to create something with respect for our various cultures. I don’t care about your background, if you’re highly motivated and you want to be successful, then this is the place for you. I don’t care if you’ve been to Harvard or whatever you’ve done in the past – your gender, religion, ethnic background, sexuality or age. It doesn’t matter to me.
I want to give our people the opportunity to be rock stars. There are so many people in the world who have ability but are never given the opportunity to shine.
Then it becomes about the highest quality and the extra mile. These tie together because people will only produce the highest quality and go the extra mile when they are motivated to do so.
The extra mile is a mindset where you are forcing yourself to go further. To get out of your comfort zone. It’s not all about doing more, it’s around training yourself to think outside of your box. It’s about training your brain to see things differently, because you know that you’re not limited by anything.
Obviously, the extra mile creates great results, but it’s about the mindset that comes out of people who are motivated, driven to succeed and to think differently. That creates a process that goes the extra mile.
So, when you take these three things together – people, highest quality and extra mile – you can pretty much change anything you want. I’m not going to try and change the world, but I am committed to changing the industry we’re working in.
If you put all those things together, it’s all about helping our clients – to sell more, better and faster.
So that that was your objective and purpose from day one?
No. when I started, it was all about crunching data better than others. We evolved because a client at the time said we love what you do with the data, but can you have someone calling on the data? So, I hired an agent to make some calls. After about three weeks the client called to say that the calls really weren’t any good. I asked for recording and I was appalled at what I heard. I realised there and then that if I wanted much higher quality, I had to do it myself. Basically, I had to review my mission statement.
I took it on myself. I was buying data and selling data all over the world. I started the day in Japan and ended it in the USA. Every single cent I made was reinvested into the company.
As we grew, I needed an office, I needed desks, computers and phones. We started with two to three people on the phones. That’s how BNZSA started growing and evolving into a call centre based on the highest quality data.
I also began to build up a team of ex-colleagues who started working from their couches and in time relocated to Madrid. They are still with me and are trusted leaders – Cristina Biet, Chief Production Officer, her husband Alex who heads our IT and Gina Goanta who heads data. That was nearly eight years-ago and we’ve been together ever since. We have hired nearly 280 people since then – many are young and enthusiastic, and willing to learn and develop. We also have some ‘grey hairs’ with many years of industry experience. It’s a great mix.
How did you get from the garage in France to Madrid?
Madrid has a good mix of international people with many languages and cultures. It’s an open and welcoming place, and I knew that it’s a place where foreigners would want to come to live as we grew. People are happy to come to Madrid for a job, it’s a place to work, not so much to party – but it still has great arts and culture.
Also, my best friend lives in Madrid – so that helped as well. Let’s be clear, it’s not all about the weather either. It’s a nice by-product, but it’s less important, and actually, it gets quite cold here in the winter.
Does Madrid give you a good pool of international talent?
Madrid is excellent for growing a business like BNZSA. There are a lot of ex-pats – which gives us our local language capabilities, and I believe it’s comparable with other major European locations.
Right now, if I pooled the salaries that we offer to our people, we are comparable to London or Paris – we’re on par. And because I’m paying people at the level I am, I can attract great talent and compete internationally. For example, when the minimum wage for call centres was increased by about 33 percent a few years ago, we didn’t have to readjust our pay ranges at all.
It‘s about being able to afford to pay people the right amount of money for them to be motivated and focused, happy where they live – so they can easily live the four core values.
You’re a career sales guy. How come you’re leading a marketing agency?
Our biggest strength as a company is that we are not dictated to by the market. We’re not looking at what others are doing. We’re looking at the overall process, and then saying with the eyes of a salesperson – what would I like to change? We’re an agency providing marketing services, but with a very commercially minded approach.
The critical lens is ‘does what we’re doing going to help me sell more, better and faster?’ If the answer is yes, then we should do it. The obsession about sales processes is coming from a sales point of view, not a marketing point of view. I’m a sales guy who has access to a marketing engine. It means that as a company we can easily bridge the gap between marketing and sales. This works well for us as a company, but it also helps our clients.
My focus is foremost about asking what does my client need, and then aligning our skills and offering to meet those needs.
Another important thing about this approach is that we can easily sit down with both the marketing and the sales director. In fact, where we normally begin client relationships with marketing, I always say let’s get everyone around the table so I can fully understand what everyone’s needs are and deliver a solution for the enterprise, not just one function.
BNZSA seems to have carved itself a niche in the agency world. Can you elaborate?
Most agencies are run by the creative guys, the marketing guys or the financial guys. BNZSA is run by a sales guy, so we really do have a deeper and wider perspective on client needs.
Also, it’s important to understand that we are a direct marketing agency. We don’t go up against the creative agencies. We accept that we work in the not-so-glamourous part of marketing. Everybody hates data. Everybody hates cold calling. But that’s the job we’re doing and we’re taking it to a whole new level as we are so specialised in it. And personally, I love data!
Our clients are always telling us ‘we’re getting leads, but the leads aren’t converting’. That’s where we come it. We have weekly calls with our clients’ sales reps where our agents present them with their pipeline. You don’t get more insight than that.
BNZSA is now adding digital to the core telemarketing and data engine. Is BNZSA now going against the digital agencies?
No. The reason to add digital to bring another dimension to our client prospects’ experience with us. To be end-to-end, we need to engage with them digitally as well as on the phone. Plus, our data is so rich, we can ensure that the digital programmes are really relevant and enhance the overall experience with us. We look at the funnel as a whole and need to have everything in-house.
It’s the same when we see how bad other companies are with data or telemarketing. We’re bringing the same approach to the highest quality to the whole experience. We don’t force irrelevant content on prospects. We only provide material that’s relevant and useful to them. What we’re doing is powered by real people for real people.
How does BNZSA tie-up the client and prospect’s experience?
That’s the icing on the cake, and really is the BNZSA difference – we call it the ‘warm handover’.
Our data team is constantly cleaning the CRM so the insight we have is both the highest compliance, but very rich. We’re engaging digitally and also having many calls with prospects to develop the relationships – understanding and trust. We’re informing our clients’ reps on a weekly basis of how their pipelines are developing and then when the time is right, we have what we call a warm handover.
The warm handover is a value-add like no other and ensures that client sales reps and their prospects are a long way down the path to a deal before they ever meet one another.
In researching and engaging with prospects, our agents make many calls into client companies over time. Our teams map buying committees, develop personal relationships, understanding and trust with budget holders, decision makers and influencers. We only host three-way meetings between clients and prospects when we have a complete picture of the sales opportunity – which delivers conversion rates unprecedented in the industry.
You talked about real people working for real people. Can you tell me more about training and development?
The great thing about generating a lot of cash is that we can reinvest it into the business. Training is very important to us because it’s our agents that deliver success for BNZSA and our clients.
For instance, five or six years ago it might take three months for a new agent to be up-to-speed, confident and effective. Now with our investment into on-boarding, that timeframe is more like two weeks. This means that a brand-new agent is contributing almost immediately and is a productive part of the team rather than being a cost to the organisation.
It comes back to always trying to find ways to do things better, faster and more efficiently. It’s back to the core values – take care of the people, they will go the extra mile to deliver the highest quality, and in doing so, we’re changing the industry.
What is it that really motivates you personally?
My personal philosophy is very simple – you can only eat with one spoon at a time. I don’t want four sports cars or seven villas or yachts – or to travel on a private jet. Actually, I would quite like the jet from time to time, but I don’t have to and it’s not good for my carbon footprint!
I’m excited when something contributes to taking us toward my vision for the organisation and how I want the organisation to be. I take a lot of pride when I see people join the company and become incredible at what they do and move up in the business. I’m really proud of the people and the teams that surround me and how they are stepping-up and supporting one another. But I also want everyone who works for BNZSA to be well treated and proud to say they work here. I want them to feel proud of their achievements at BNZSA.
Finally, what vision do you have for BNZSA in say, three to five years?
Simple really. To keep doing what we’re doing. To grow. To live our core values and help our clients to sell more, better and faster.