Brendan McAdams on dealing with more than one audience at a time
January 26, 2021
Matthias: [00:00:34] Today’s guest is Brendan McAdams. He’s the co-founder of Expertscape, a start-up in the healthcare domain. He’s also an expert in sales and coaches startups in how to sell well. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s a book author who currently develops a special audience for his second book.
So nice to meet you here, Brendan!
Brendan McAdams: [00:00:57] It’s good to be here Matthias, thank you!
Matthias: [00:00:59] To get started, let’s hear a little bit about yourself and your backstory: What is it that you typically do these days?
Brendan McAdams: [00:01:08] Well, I’m in a couple of different areas. I’ve been in business-to-business sales for the last … well, a long, long time. In Telecom, and then financial services, and then for the last 20 years in, in healthcare.
For the last decade, I’ve been doing consulting work with healthcare technology companies, helping them with sales and marketing, with strategy messaging and with sales execution.
The other kind of path I’ve been going down is with a business. A buddy of mine, we’ve co-founded a company called Expertscape that identifies and then objectively ranks medical experts by specific topic. It uses PubMed as the underlying data for those results.
By doing so, we can identify the top people in over 29,000 different biomedical topics.
Matthias: [00:02:03] This PubMed thing, is it a publication? It sounds like medical publications.
Brendan McAdams: [00:02:07] It is. PubMed is part of the National Institute of Health, it’s their library. Any medical publication of any consequence gets entered into that database and indexed. Then we take that data from PubMed, we massage it and analyze it and then come up with a set of results that are specific to each condition.
Matthias: [00:02:30] What can a user do on your platform?
Brendan McAdams: [00:02:34] For Expertscape there are a number of different people that use it. Hopefully nobody has to use it because, when you go to it, it’s because you’ve got a serious medical condition. You’ve been diagnosed (or you think you’ve been diagnosed) with a certain condition, and you need to have someone, an expert in that condition, to advise you.
Healthcare consumers, patients could use it to find someone. Physicians oftentimes use it as a way to get a referral to an expert. A primary care physician identifies someone as having a serious condition. It’s not in their particular area of expertise, and they want to refer them to somebody else, it’s excellent for that. Then attorneys use it, research fellows use it to find collaborators … There are a lot of potential users!
Matthias: [00:03:25] Patients, attorneys primary… How did you say that?
Brendan McAdams: [00:03:29] primary care physician, the person you see on a regular basis. Yeah.
Matthias: [00:03:35] It’s a kind of heterogeneous audience, right? You have people with different needs and different roles…
Brendan McAdams: [00:03:42] Yes. The two primary are patients and physicians. Those are the two primary, but then there are a bunch of other folks that might use that: Pharma companies use it to find physicians that are what they call “key opinion leaders”. So it has lots of applications.
Matthias: [00:03:59] Amazing
Brendan McAdams: [00:04:00] yeah. There’s nothing else really like it. It’s pretty clever. It’s been up and running for a while. A couple of years ago we started monetizing it, and by doing so, we’re developing an audience there, too.
Matthias: [00:04:10] Hmm. So it’s already running for a couple of years! How come that you had the idea for this platform?
Brendan McAdams: [00:04:17] My partner ran into a situation. He’s a physician and he ran into a situation where one of his relatives was diagnosed with a serious condition. As a Johns Hopkins trained physician, he thought it would be easy to find someone in that field, based on his network of people.
And it turned out to be quite a struggle to find someone who was knowledgeable about a topic who could give a second opinion in it! So happened to be in Chicago and that was the the genesis of the idea. Like: How do we fix this? Is there a way to do this in a way that’s rigorous, comprehensive and objective?
The best data source at the time was a PubMed and still is because every journal, every entry that goes in is peer-reviewed. There’s a reliability to it.
Matthias: [00:05:06] Yeah, it’s a reliable data source with a good reputation, I think.
So the main trigger was, as it seems, that the itch that your co-founder had … this: how do I find someone? He was trying to solve his own problem.
Brendan McAdams: [00:05:19] Yeah. Yeah.
Matthias: [00:05:21] That’s always a good thing. I always advocate to to be part of the thing you’re creating. You have “skin in the game”, so to say.
Brendan McAdams: [00:05:30] Yeah. Well, you certainly understand it. You understand it immediately. So it’s easier for you to kind of identify the obstacles, the issues, the desired outcome, those sorts of things, it’s a good strategy.
Matthias: [00:05:44] Cool. In our conversations previously, before the podcast, you told me that you also a book writer besides that.
Brendan McAdams: [00:05:51] Well, I’ve always wanted to write a book and I just thought it was one of those things you should do. So I wrote a book on sales fundamentals just a little over a year and a half ago called “Sales Craft”.
I’ve been taking notes on sales for years and just writing down little practices and habits and things that I do that I think are kind of fundamental because I think most of what you do is based on kind of fundamental techniques.
So I wrote that book and and there’s some lessons for me in there. One of them was how it helps to have an audience. I didn’t really have an active audience when I launched the book. It has done okay, it’s done fine. It has sold a few hundred copies, but it hasn’t taken off.
I’m now determined to write another book and in fact, I’ve got a book coming out March or April of this year. So my goal now is to spend some more time Investing in the development of an audience. That’s how we got connected.
Matthias: [00:06:49] Ah, that’s how we got together, nice! So how would you call those people who will read your book? What’s their role name? What do they call themselves?
Brendan McAdams: [00:06:59] This next book, it’s kind of a user manual for people that wanted to get into freelance sales, and there’s this notion of the gig economy, or going out on your own, and I’ve been doing that for the last decade as a salesperson, as a sales professional.
What people have done is, they typically hired me for the last 10 years to basically augment their sales efforts or be their salesperson. What I found is that oftentimes it starts out as simply being a representative for them. Then it turns into something much more, helping them with strategy, helping with messaging, helping them with and so forth.
So this next book is about how to help someone who’s thinking about going out on their own and being their self-employed salesperson.
Matthias: [00:07:46] How come that you have these two things, right? You were doing sales for 10 years, and you’re also founding a startup! How does that mix and match?
Brendan McAdams: [00:07:57] There’s the challenge, right? Expertscape has been something that we’ve been working on in the background for several years. It’s entirely bootstrapped, we’ve taken no money yet.
We’ve been generating revenue now without any outside funding and it started to really take off. Things are looking very encouraging, but in parallel, I have to keep doing something else to fund the startup.
And that’s where the consulting comes in.
Matthias: [00:08:29] Hmm. So the sales expertise that you have will also help you in the startup?
Brendan McAdams: [00:08:35] Oh, absolutely! In fact, that’s been one of the big advantages of that. One of the things that’s been kind of fascinating about: My partner is really very talented and very smart in certain areas. It so happens that I’m talented, if you will, in other areas, and that combination works out really well!
I have to be particularly effective at sales and he is not, and I he’s really good at application development, and I am not. So it works out quite well.
All my experience has really been in B2B sales and a lot of it to healthcare. It’s been really helpful in terms of being able to sell into these academic medical centers, which is one of our primary markets. I’ve got experience in that area. I’ve got experience selling into pharmaceutical companies, and those are two key markets for us.
Matthias: [00:09:26] So when you think of your startup how did you find your very first member of your audience? How did you get in contact with the first man or woman who were interested in your startup?
Brendan McAdams: [00:09:42] Oh, that’s kind of fascinating. What I did was, I went after physicians and I would talk to physicians that were highly ranked in in Expertscape.
Matthias: [00:09:53] Ah, you reached out to them!
Brendan McAdams: [00:09:55] I said, “Hey, you happen to be one of the world’s experts in this topic, and we’d love to talk to you”.
I’ve talked to a lot of physicians over the years as a result of that. Then eventually one of those physicians said: “You know what we, we should use you”, which was kind of our suggestion as well. As a result, after some considerable effort, we got our first customer through that academic medical center by having a physician as a champion.
One of the things that I’ve learned about selling to the academic medical centers, at least for us has been, I can go and sell to the marketing people, but they were not … (thinks) … We were new and scary and small, so they would rather stay with their other options what they’re doing today.
They don’t want to do anything new and risky, but the physician comes along and says: “Hey, we want you to do this for our department!” They listen, they think: “Oh, I better make this doctor happy, or his department happy. He or she is generating X number of millions of dollars and X number of cases et cetera, et cetera. I’d better listen to them.”
Then we get in talk to the marketing. People come up with a compelling story and a compelling strategy for them, that’s when the that’s when things start to take off.
Matthias: [00:11:24] Interesting. So the marketing people are kind of risk-averse when I understand that correctly. The medical experts are kind of more focused on what you really do.
Brendan McAdams: [00:11:36] Yeah. That’s especially true. I think that’s true. In companies in general, and B2B companies in general, risk aversion is a fundamental obstacle to overcome. It is especially true in healthcare because so many of the big healthcare companies, their trajectory is well-established they know what they’re going to do.
I mean, they know where their revenue is coming from. They’re established, it’s hard to displace a large insurance company or a large academic medical center there. They’re going to stay around. So anything new is somewhat scary because the chances of it improving things significantly are somewhat slim, but the chances of it turning into a failure are substantial, potentially.
And that’s that’s something that’s fundamentally important to overcome.
Matthias: [00:12:29] When you’re small then people think: “Are these guys reliable enough? Will they be around for a long time? Can I rely on them?” and all these questions, right?
Brendan McAdams: [00:12:39] And it’s also a new idea. It’s something different oftentimes and if it’s different, it’s inherently risky because “we haven’t done it before, you haven’t done it with anybody else, where else have you done this with success?“.
And it really takes a unique customer to say: “Oh, I want to test this out! It’s not that expensive. I can manage the risk, these these people have convinced me that they can do it.”
If you can overcome those things, then you can get some adoption, but new ideas are oftentimes scary and that’s especially true in healthcare.
Matthias: [00:13:14] Interesting! When you think of your first book, how did you find your first reader? The first person who purchased it?
Brendan McAdams: [00:13:22] I spent some time talking about it on LinkedIn and I published some things on LinkedIn. I relied on friends. Friends talked about it, friends promoted it. I guess that’s how it kind of took off.
It didn’t take off, but I mean, that’s how I’d got going.
Matthias: [00:13:39] Okay, so you you published kind of early information about it: What the book was about, what’s in it, and so on, and got people interested like that?
Brendan McAdams: [00:13:48]
Yeah, and there, I did have some kind of early success. One of the tips that I can share that I think were really helpful is with Amazon. I have some opinions about Amazon too (they both laugh), but with Amazon if you can find a niche, a title niche, a category niche, that’s small enough and then promote the book in that niche, you have a chance to become a hot book of the week topic, or you can be a bestseller at some point.
I was able to identify a niche, then that got me to the … it was one of the top books in Amazon for a couple of weeks!
And so that’s an kind of important thing. That really drove for me in the early going sales. Because if you picked, if you picked as a niche “sales”, in Amazon, it is really hard to break through into the top new books category because you’re competing with some brand names that are just, you know …
Matthias: [00:14:55] Yeah. Some real household names, so to say, right?
Brendan McAdams: [00:14:58] but if you can find a niche, you can do, you can do okay, at least for awhile.
Matthias: [00:15:04] That that’s interesting for me. I ask everyone on the podcast, how did you find your first a member of your audience? Because sometimes it seems so hard to me!
When I started out with this product here (GetTheAudience), it’s a SaaS system where you can learn about how to engage, how to find your audience, how to understand them, how to select the first people whom you want to work with. It’s all that on Twitter.
I started out and said: “Hey, how do I find the first people who want to use that?”
I had a certain persona in mind, let’s say a startup founder or a creator like you, for example, like a book author, or like a podcaster or a blog writer or a reporter, et cetera.
And I thought: “How do I reach those people?”
But I think this is already the first step thinking about
- who is it?
- what do they call themselves?
This persona development thing – was it in your case simply intuitive, because you were one member of that audience, or was it explicit, was it deliberate?
Brendan McAdams: [00:16:12] For the first book, you mean?
Matthias: [00:16:15] Yeah.
Brendan McAdams: [00:16:16] Yeah, I guess I imagined, and I don’t know that I went through as rigorous a thought processes as you would have, Matthias, but I guess I thought about it from the standpoint of: “What would I find useful in a book about sales, if I were just starting out?”
One of the things I do is I am a kind of a voracious reader on the topic. I’m curious about it. I’m always looking for new little tips and ideas, so I will pick up a book on a topic, if I find two or three meaningful things that I can take out of it, then I feel like I’ve gotten my value.
So what I wanted to do is kind of put together a compendium of, I think it’s 50 different things that I thought were fundamental tips for a salesperson that’s just starting out or that’s constantly looking to up their game or would appreciate it. It’s a book that you can sit down and read for five minutes and you can read a chapter in three to five minutes and then: “Oh, it’s a thing! I can get my head around that, I can apply it!”
Then I can do another one, and I can pick the book up at any point in time and read it at any point, it’s useful. It’s almost like a reference. I find those sorts of books very helpful. So I thought I’d write one.
Matthias: [00:17:46] Like a collection of tips, if you will, yeah!
Brendan McAdams: [00:17:47] To use a sporting analogy I guess, would be: Good athletes work on fundamental aspects. They’re always working on footwork or positioning on the field where they need to be, those things are a substantial part of your success. Just fundamentals, if you get your footwork right, those things. If you can get those right, then it makes everything else kind of easier to do.
It just increases your odds of success. If you make those kind of second nature and then you practice them consistently, well, that’s a big part of what sales is! I don’t think sales is a gift! I think sales is something that you can learn and there are ways you can get better at it.
And a lot of it is the fundamental components of it, so I wanted to be able to share that with people. Cause I think, people over-complicate sales as a craft! I don’t think it’s as complicated or as difficult as people oftentimes make it out to be.
Matthias: [00:18:57] Yeah. I usually thought it was difficult because I’m kind of an introvert person. I’m an engineer working on problems. I’m a typical problem solver. When I try to make sales, or go out into the market, it feels odd for me because it requires a kind of extraversion, doesn’t it?
Brendan McAdams: [00:19:15] Yeah, it does! I’m doing some coaching with founders now and technical founders in particular. The thing about them is, they have that kind of perspective! I think there are ways to alleviate that because so much of good sales is process, and to use a programming term, it’s routines, right?
You still have to be a human being, but there are certain things you can do that would make the process much more digestible to an introvert, because a lot of it in sales is very logical.
One of the things that I think a huge disservice has been done to sales as a craft is this notion that “I can just force you to buy something”. I fundamentally don’t think that’s true! I take a much more, if you will, a Zen-like approach to it, that is:
If you’re selling to the right people, it’s a very natural process and it’s very logical. I think we oftentimes lose sight of that. If you’ve run into someone who says that so-and-so can sell anything to anybody, steer clear of that person, right?
That’s just bad that you don’t want to be. That’s just fundamentally not(!) how sales should work.
Matthias: [00:20:37] Selling … how do we say in German: “selling refrigerators to Greenland”.
Brendan McAdams: [00:20:41] Yes, ice to eskimos, right! (laughs)
Matthias: [00:20:47] I think sales should be more like, like helping to buy, right? You should, it should help the customer to purchase something!
Brendan McAdams: [00:20:57] Yeah. In in this last book, I have a chapter called “Killing your deal”.
At some point, or at multiple points along the sales cycle, you need to be prepared to ask the sort of questions that could kill your deal. The result of that is if you do that and do it effectively, it’s incredibly disarming to the customer because they’re expecting you to try and “cram this thing down their throat”
Now here you are saying: “We’re in this point in the sales cycle. Here are the things that come up to me where things could go wrong or where we may not be a good fit.”
Then the customer either has to agree with you, or they have to argue against you, right? If they agree with you, then you’re qualifying. If they agree “Yeah, you’re right! I don’t think this could work”, now you know where you stand!
And the other option is they say: “No, no, you don’t get it! We’re here. We can overcome this! Here’s how!”
And then they find that they’re on the same side of the table with you. “Yeah, this is an obstacle, but here’s how we’re going to overcome it!”
Matthias: [00:22:13] Wow! That’s even better because they solve their own problems!
Brendan McAdams: [00:22:17] Absolutely! And that’s completely genuine because you want to find those things out.
And if it’s not a fit, I think you’re wasting your time trying to sell someone something that’s not going to benefit from it. You’re better off going somewhere else.
That’s maybe naive, but I fundamentally believe that’s what good salespeople do.
Matthias: [00:22:40] Amazing point of view, I like that!
Brendan McAdams: [00:22:43] And it’s liberating for a founder because the founder can say: “I think the last place you want to be is all I have to win this deal.”
Matthias: [00:22:51] Oh, that’s awful!
Brendan McAdams: [00:22:52]
Because when you’re there, you’re really at a disadvantage in a lot of ways, you can make a bad decision. You could end up with a customer that you don’t want!
There are definitely situations where people sign up customers that you’re better off having your competitor get.
It’s counterintuitive but it makes such sense because good customers can absolutely accelerate your growth and your success and your adoption in the market.
And, and conversely, a bad customer can slow everything down to a halt!
Matthias: [00:23:27] They consume your energy that you need for something else, yeah.
Question for you: Recently when it comes to audience development, I thought about kind of Repeatable process for developing an audience. I found one interesting thing. Just question to you, whether it resonates:
I found out that it’s good to think of an audience like a party, a party that’s already going on without you and the audience is already out there having their party. What you want is find them and join the conversation, take a glass of wine and join it.
Therefore when founders or creators ask me “where do I find them?”, I advise and say “look where they’re hanging out, who are their idols, for example, which book authors do they follow or which conference do they go to, which blogs do they read, which podcasts do they listen to?”
And then, “follow the the people who follow the idol”, right? These fans have it. Do you think that’s a viable strategy?
Brendan McAdams: [00:24:39]
Oh, yeah! In fact that’s a lovely metaphor for it, too! I mean, I really think that’s a great way to describe it. You’ve got coming up as a guest, you’ve got Arvid, right?
Matthias: [00:24:59] Yeah, right!
Brendan McAdams: [00:25:01] That’s a perfect example for me! I want to reach founders at one level, so there’s a fellow who’s having a very big party!
Matthias: [00:25:13] Oh, yeah!
Brendan McAdams: [00:25:14] He’s the host of a very big party! And he seems like a very tremendous generous host. So I’m frankly really looking forward to listening to your your interview with him.
Matthias: [00:25:28] Yeah, it will take some time. I’m looking forward to that!
Brendan McAdams: [00:25:30] Oh, I’m looking forward, too, I really am! So make sure you listen to that episode!
Matthias: [00:25:39] So … the party analogy … if you think of your next book what would be the party that’s already going on, where you want to join with that book?
Brendan McAdams: [00:25:48] Oh, this is a fascinating question. This is a big potential audience, so how do you reach them? I would welcome your advice on this.
So my audience is for this next book about freelance sales is about (thinks…) I want to find salespeople who are interested in this migration towards the gig economy (it’s kind of a bad phrase but) being a solo entrepreneur.
Matthias: [00:26:21] Being your own boss…
Brendan McAdams: [00:26:22] Yeah. I think, in the past, this notion of freelancing has been big in graphic arts for a long time. Being an outsourced human resources person, or an outsourced attorney is completely normal in the United States!
I don’t know how it is in the rest of the world, but the idea of being an outsourced or freelance sales person for a company is not yet that well established, but it’s going to be!
There’s situations where a company is growing, a startups’ growing, and all of a sudden they need two or three more people. How do you get them right away? And how do you know that they’re talented and they’ve got experience in that niche?
That’s exactly the market I’m going after. So the people that I want to read this book are people that are in sales, have been in sales for a long time, and think:
I’m tired of the frustration of going to work for a company and then having to change and so forth, and then not knowing what the company is going to be like. And the comp plan changes, my territory changes, and I have no control over it.
This notion of companies taking care of you as an employee is really long out of fashion in the United States. The companies, they’re a place to go to work and there are really good ones to work for, and by all means, if you’re at one of those, stay there!
But in a lot of cases, I mean, this notion that you have, “security at a company”, it’s a notion. It’s not born out by the facts. No, not anymore. No, not for a long time.
Matthias: [00:28:14] So the party you’re trying to join are salespeople who are trying to liberate themselves from the corporate environment … what books would they read, right now, without your book existing?
Brendan McAdams: [00:28:27] That’s an excellent question. I’m thinking maybe more in terms of magazines they’re reading:
- Fast company
- Fortune, I guess, yeah.
Matthias: [00:28:44] So one first idea could be to find the Twitter accounts of these five publications that you mentioned.
Brendan McAdams: [00:28:50] yeah,
Matthias: [00:28:51] to look at those followers and their bios, what are they talking about, right? So this will be one one first ideas.
Brendan McAdams: [00:28:58] That’s a great idea! I’m doing also some writing for some various other publications, other blogs and some guest contributor articles…
Matthias: [00:29:12] Also cool! It allows you to get some feedback from there…
Brendan McAdams: [00:29:13] Yeah, but it’s a challenge! So that’s why I was so fascinated by your kind of strategy around driving an audience, because it is so fundamentally important!
Matthias: [00:29:24] Absolutely. It makes everything much easier if you have an audience to talk to, especially if you’re not sure … for example, like a startup founder, they are not sure about their value proposition and they can talk to the audience! They can have feedback and they can learn from them. It’s so amazing what you can learn from an audience.
Brendan McAdams: [00:29:42] Yeah. The advice I would give (I’ve learned this the hard way) is that I should’ve started a long time ago! You should start now if that’s what you want to do, you should start immediately because it does inform you, your audience can teach you so many things, and then you can see what their requirements are, what they’re looking for!
Then potentially you can create the thing that they need and solve a problem for them. Yeah.
Matthias: [00:30:15] When you think of the future, what, what will happen this year for you, on your trajectory?
Brendan McAdams: [00:30:22] On two different fronts…
- there will be a book this March or April will come out. so that that’s next. That’s a launch.
- and then I’m continuing to do more work in sales consulting, with small startups and early stage founders.
Matthias: [00:30:41] Wow, yeah…
Brendan McAdams: [00:30:42] So I’m doing some more of that, and on the Expertscape front where we’re kind of poised to really have a kind of a big year. I mean, the pandemic slowed things down for us for a period of time because academic medical centers basically stopped doing anything marketing wise and focused on COVID.
And that’s starting to come back around and now they’re starting to get back to operating in a normal function, and we’re doing a bunch of new things and a bunch of new innovations that are coming out this year for us. So we’re really excited about that.
This is going to be a big year for me with Expertscape in particular, because I think we’re starting to really generate more traffic and and get more adoption. That’s only going to increase in this next year. So it’s good. I’m looking forward to it!
Matthias: [00:31:26] Cool. This sounds like a, like a good future to come, and I wish you very much success with it!
Brendan McAdams: [00:31:33] Matthias, thank you! It’s been a pleasure! I had hoped I might learn a few things in this conversation and I learned a lot! So that’s really helpful for me. Thank you for having me, and I would urge your listeners to check out all those other episodes cause they’re really quite fantastic! You do an excellent job and I’m looking forward to the interviews you have coming up.
Matthias: [00:31:54] Thank you so much, Brendan. Thanks for being here. Have a good day and have a good future!
Thanks for listening to The Audience Explorer podcast, today.
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