Brothers team to drive sales at Pivotal Advisors

Mike and Gary Braun aim to help small and midsize companies sell more through sales management consulting firm Pivotal Advisors.

By Todd Nelson Special to the Star Tribune, JANUARY 28, 2014 — 1:48PM

startribpicBrothers Mike and Gary Braun realized their long-held ambition to work together when they launched Pivotal Advisors, their sales management consulting firm in Prior Lake.

Given their connection, it only makes sense that the Brauns use familial terms to describe their pragmatic approach to helping companies sell more. They focus on preparing sales leaders to drive behavioral changes among sales teams while instilling structure, discipline and accountability that will improve results.

"The theory is, if I make really good parents, I'll get really good kids," Mike Braun said. "I can invest a lot of time in my sales force, or I can invest that same dollar with the sales leader. Putting it in the right leader doing the right things will drive a bigger impact for a lower cost than trying to invest in all of the individual people."

The Brauns base that conclusion on their "weird collection" of experience, including business acumen that they said goes well beyond the sales department. Collectively, the brothers have spent decades in senior executive sales leadership and consulting roles, including Mike's time at Pearson Education Co. and Gary's at e-commerce firm Digital River Inc. They also have expertise in technology, human resources, organizational development and behavioral sciences.

The Brauns founded Pivotal Advisors, which offers project-based sales consulting, individual sales leader coaching, a peer advisory group for sales leaders and interim sales management, in late 2008. Despite the poor economy, they found a dozen clients who helped them prove that their approach worked.

Today, the firm has close to 100 clients, six employees and an equal number of contractors. Revenue has grown from $250,000 in 2009 to $1 million last year. Clients typically are small to midsize firms with $20 million to $100 million in sales, in manufacturing, technology and professional services.

The Brauns aim to serve 500 clients by the end of 2016. They plan to add staff to scale up the business, standardize content and develop online delivery and expand outside of Minnesota to reach that goal.

The pragmatism of the Brauns' approach comes in part from experiencing explosive growth with companies that went from $70 million to $1 billion in sales, in one case, and from $1 million to $400 million in another.

'Avoid dumb things'

"We can help you avoid some of the dumb things we did or more intentionally do the smart things that happened," Mike Braun said, who with his brother has identified six "selling success factors" (growth strategy, execution and measurement and so forth) they say organizations need to customize and then optimize through their sales leaders.

The brothers draw on work they did for a behavioral sciences consulting firm and Mike's seven years at a human resources consulting practice.

"There's a science behind rewarding the positive. It's creating the encouraging, positive leader instead of the guy who goes, 'Why are we behind?'" Gary Braun said.

Those behavioral techniques can help win over the "influential resistors," the successful veteran salespeople who don't want to formalize their sales process or try anything new.

'Creating new habits'

"Take a 30-year sales guy and try and get him to do something different," Mike Braun said. "What Gary and I are about is creating new habits for the team, the leader, the business … to accelerate the curve and drive results."

Brent Morris, vice president of business development at Success Computer Solutions in St. Louis Park, is a member of Pivotal Advisors' peer advisory group and has worked with the firm on compensation plans.

"They've moved our organization ahead a lot faster than I could have done on my own," he said.

Curt Tillotson, who has done individual coaching with Pivotal Advisors and is in its peer advisory group, had a finance background and no sales experience when he moved into his role as vice president of sales and marketing for Nahan Printing Inc. in St. Cloud.

"They have an excellent framework for sales management that covers all of the essential bases," Tillotson said. "Our sales are up double digits, and we're in an industry that's flat at best. I think a lot of that's due to what Pivotal has done for us."

The expert says: Margaret Smith, an instructor at St. Catherine University's Center for Sales Innovation, said she has not seen other sales consultants who offer an as "all-encompassing" a model as the Brauns do.

"They've walked their talk," said Smith, who also offers career coaching through her firm, UXL. "They've worked for and been involved in a variety of different-sized companies and have a good base of experience as well as wisdom to pull from.”

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is todd_nelson@mac.com.

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