Wellingtonians Adam and Millie Blackwell, currently based out of San Francisco, are selling professional and customisable digital sales toolkits to the Americans. STUN is a success story that’s really quite, well… stunning.
Don’t you just love it? A Kiwi couple helping Americans sell – helping the whole world to sell!
The journey that Adam and Millie Blackwell have been on to grow STUN, a creative sales agency that produces customisable digital sales toolkits, has bordered on the audacious.
Since STUN was founded in 2011, growth has been 300 percent year on year. Staff numbers are up to 18, spread across Wellington, Australia, the US and Europe, and clients range from start-ups to large corporates such as Vodafone and BP.
A typical STUN toolkit has everything a salesperson needs to produce professional slides, presentations, demo videos, product sheets, white papers, and a whole lot more on their smartphone, tablet or laptop. The toolkit is unique in that it is 100 percent measurable and can be instantly updated. It enables people to present with complete professionalism in a face-to-face sales meeting.
Adam, who in a previous life worked as a TV actor, before moving into the advertising and creative industry, was inspired to create STUN while running his own Wellington-based advertising agency, and after witnessing a stream of sales reps pitching to him very badly with rather “useless” presentation aids.
“I even had sales reps asking for my WiFi to open documents in their dropbox,” he recalls.
“I thought if they had everything more accessible, at the press of a button, their presentations would be far slicker and they would be a lot more confident in their presentation.”
Adam had met Millie through his agency connections, “fallen for her homemade ginger crunch”, and the two had embarked on a business expansion project in 2008, which culminated in STUN being formed three years later.
The STUN digital toolkit is now driving the business forward at a fast pace, and Adam believes it’s the future of sales because “humans love to sell to humans”.
“I don’t believe sales will ever be replaced by robots – face to face will always be important in the safe process. But what is important is that people feel confident with their support material. So when they are in that meeting they can access anything that gets asked of them.”
What’s important for sales managers is that their teams use the best possible tools to produce the best possible conversion rates, he adds. It comes under the banner of sales enablement.
“With STUN, sales managers can see who in the sales team is presenting at any given time and what content they are presenting. They know exactly what salespeople are up to. Unlike the old days when a sales rep might have said ‘yep, I’m flat out with meetings all day’ but actually be down at the gym or having a coffee.”
Adam says the toolkit also lets sales managers see what is effective; what parts of it are being used or are more popular, and so on.
But most important of all, the toolkit is about helping businesses and exporters be the very best they can be at telling their story; to tell their story in a compelling way and blow the competition out of the water.
“A company may already be good at product design, cost efficiency and exporting – but often the missing component is selling – telling that story in a way that wows the customer,” says Adam.
In May Adam and Millie moved to San Francisco to drive STUN sales in the US and recruit local salespeople. Adam says they chose California because it has one of the biggest economies in the world – 50 times bigger than New Zealand’s.
San Francisco puts them within five hours flying time of any major US city, and they are surrounded by tech and creative companies, meaning they can mingle with people of like mind.
“We have a few contractors and we’ve just secured a San Diego-based investor who is going to help us grow fast in the States,” says Adam, adding that the US energy and convenience retail sectors have been STUN’s fastest growing segments so far.
His advice for other Kiwi entrepreneurs looking to break into the US market is to first extract as much knowledge as you can from NZTE. “Then get local as fast as possible; partner with a good lawyer and accountant – they’ll give you a local perspective and will be your gateway to other local resources you’ll need.”
Just as Adam and Millie did, Kiwis will find the US business culture very different.
“New Zealanders must be mindful of where they are so they don’t inadvertently put their foot in it. I’m not saying we need to be scripted or rehearsed, but there are certain things that separate the way we present ourselves,” says Adam.
“Typically Kiwis are a little modest and laid back about their achievements. We don’t like to be seen as too proud. Yet Americans think modesty is a weakness – and you have to be careful not to underplay your capabilities in this market.
“Be supremely confident. Play to your strengths.”
Adam says people will often hear a US company say how much they’ve enjoyed a meeting and how they’re looking forward to taking things to the next stage. “But that can often be a pass off. It’s easy for Kiwi’s to misinterpret their comments.”
He believes our natural humbleness can be nicely balanced by a professional, ‘polished’ presentation delivery. That’s what makes customers sit up and take notice.”
He knows it works when applying his STUN app – at a Chicago presentation to one of the world’s largest energy companies, he used just 40 minutes of an allotted 60 to clinch the deal.
A natural fit
Meanwhile, Adam and Millie agree that they make great twin CEOs.
“Because we are so closely aligned and working so closely together to the same end goal it just naturally works,” says Adam. “Millie’s strengths are organisation and management – making sure processes happen to get to an end. My strengths are in sales, creative, innovation and ideas.
“So you put those two things together and you end up with a nicely balanced set of skills.”
You also have the perfect team to take on a challenging new export market.
STUN has released ‘Book of STUN’. Available free at www.stunsells.co.nz (link is external) and as an app, the book aims to challenge and stimulate innovation in sales techniques for Kiwi companies. “To point the way towards using clean, clear, crisp storytelling to get audiences to lean in, take notice and get excited”.
This story first appeared in NZBusiness magazine (Nov 2017).