Robert Knop is the founder and CEO of Assist You Today which focuses on helping firms gain and retain clients in the digital age. He’s led marketing, sales and social media for B2B and B2C companies from both the corporate and agency side. With 20-plus years of experience he’s had the privilege of working with clients ranging from Fortune 100s to fledgling startups. Today he’s helping change the way the world sells by using digital, mobile and social innovation.


In This Episode

Robert Knop’s quick start into entrepreneurship was not without his fair share of failure. After realizing the sales cycle is a long process and that leads wouldn’t just “rain from the sky,” Knop created a process to build relationships and scale businesses that has helped companies of all sizes use social media to build their brand. In this episode, Knop explores the best way to get started in your business and how to avoid common mistakes like jumping in too fast or creating a desperate, salesman persona.

Topic Timeline:

1:09 Changing the way the world sells

Cold calling and blasting emails is on the out — Knop says social media is the best way to get in front of key decision makers.

2:50 “I thought leads and clients would rain from the sky”

Think about budgets, roadmaps, and the length of your sales cycle before jumping right in — a little more legwork can go a long way.

4:15 Hitting the ground running

Moonlighting, doing your research and taking it slow often leads to a smoother, less stressful start to your entrepreneurial journey.

5:39 Avoid the desperate salesman persona

Being yourself, being authentic, and solving the problems that you can actually solve is the best way to avoid that desperate, salesy state that drives away customers.

7:01 A process that works

Robert teaches people how to use social networks to build a strong personal brand.

7:54 Walking the talk

Assist You Today gets 100% of clients from social media and conferences following the same process they teach their clients to successfully engage and convert leads.

9:10 The pace of change is only increasing

The past 20 years have brought a lot of change, from searching encyclopedias to asking your smartphone. In the following 20 years, change will only come faster, and keeping up is essential for your business.

10:48 Helping the people this company was founded for

Knop missed the opportunities to help his community and work with nonprofits while working for larger corporations. Now with Assist You Today, he’s focusing on leaving a legacy by helping others.

11:38 Crushing it every day

The everyday balance of helping your clients, solving their needs and giving back to your community is the perfect recipe for a modern entrepreneur.

12:02 It’s about them; it’s not about you

Solve problems and add value on a regular basis — that’s what it’s all about.

Frankly, nobody cares about your products and services. They care about their needs and their problems — and if you can solve those, that’s what it’s all about.

– Robert Knop

Show Transcript:

LR: Welcome to Modern Ontrapreneur. I’m Landon Ray, and today we have Robert Knop. He is the founder and CEO of Assist You Today, which focuses on helping firms gain and retain clients in the new digital age. He’s led marketing sales and social media for B2B and B2C companies from both the corporate and agency side. In 20 plus years of experience he’s had the privilege of working with clients ranging from fortune 100s to fledgling startups. Today he’s helping change the way the world sells by using digital, mobile, and social innovation and, most importantly, adding value to end clients. Thank you so much for being here.

RK: Thanks, appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

LR: So, we were just saying before we started rolling that you’re now primarily an agency working with B2B companies and helping them connect with their prospects in new ways. Tell me briefly about that.

RK: Yeah absolutely. As we were talking about before, you know really cold calling, blast emailing, every year they become less and less effective. So, we help teach people how to get in front of those key decision makers, actually get meetings in the new digital world where everyone’s just staring at a screen 24/7.

LR: Yeah, and how do you do that?

RK: Well, it’s a lot through social media, you know, channels like Linkedin for example, things like Twitter. People spend over two hours a day on social media, the average American for example. So, we have to go where they are. I mean, I don’t know anyone under the age of 40 that ever picks up the phone anymore when you call them. So, if you want to get in front of these folks, whether in their business life, or in their social life, and in their personal time, social media’s the way to do it.

LR: So you create full on programs around Linkedin?

RK: Yeah, absolutely. We work with marketing teams, with sales teams. You know, the three big things that we do are strategy, sales enablement, and content. So, strategy: Where are you now? Where do you want to go? An actionable plan to get there. Then sales enablement, what we were just talking about, what they call “social selling” nowadays. This is using social networks to build your business and boost your sales, for example. Then finally content, to really feed the beast, because, as you know, content is king nowadays.

LR: Now, taking a step like higher level, you know we’re talking about what you do, how you help businesses, but think about your business itself and, your own career as you’ve gone from kind of whatever you did at the beginning to now, running your agency: If you could think back, you’ve been at this for a while it sounds like, despite the fact that you don’t look like you could have been, if you could think back and give your younger self a piece of advice that would have made the road smoother or faster, what would that be?

RK: Well, fast forward back to two and a half years ago, when I first started my agency. You know, before that I was the head of digital marketing for a fortune 500. I was speaking all over the country on this exact topic. I had standing room only. People were so excited about it, coming up to me afterwards like, “You should start your own consultancy, you should do this, you should do that.”

So, eventually I did, and I just thought leads and clients would just rain from the sky. I forgot that in that role, people don’t always have budget. People don’t always have things on their roadmap — it’s booked out for a year or two in advance. The sales cycle takes a while. So if I could go back in time I’d tell myself, let me do a little bit more legwork before you jump right in with both feet.

LR: It’s always a shock, because a lot of us, when we get started, we have this idea, we get all excited about it, and the first thing we do is we kind of like bounce it off our buddies, and our buddies go like, “Yeah, that’s an awesome idea.” In your case potential clients, they’re like, “Yeah, you should totally do this. I’d hire you.” Then you do it, and you knock on the door and they’re like, “Well, I didn’t … I …”

RK: Or it’s like, “Oh, I’ve got budget next year.” I was like, “Wait a minute, next year?”

LR: I’ve got rent right now buddy. So, as you think about making that transition, would you have, I mean, you wouldn’t have obviously not made the transition, right? You’re happy with what you’ve done. So, would you have maybe moonlighted a little bit? Like, taken some jobs on the side, kind of eased into it, or how would you have made that transition smoother for yourself?

RK: Yeah, I think moonlighting probably would have been a good idea for myself, or really looking at those people I thought really could benefit from it, maybe having some side conversations about, “Hey, you know …”

LR: If I did…

RK: Exactly, “If I were to do this, and this would perhaps be the time frame.” So, you know hindsight’s always 20/20.

LR: Yeah. I wonder how you would coach somebody to overcome that, because that’s a shocker. It sounds like you’ve experienced exactly that. I certainly have experienced that. You know, I’m getting a lot of yeses and then, all of a sudden, when I go do all the work and launch the thing, it’s crickets. How would you avoid that going forward, or like, if you had to tell your son how to avoid that, how would you do that?

RK: Yeah, I think it would be to have those conversations ahead of time really, to lay the groundwork so that when you do hit the ground, you hit the ground running. So, you’ve already got one or two clients set up. I’ve talked to friends who have done that, for example, that they didn’t make the leap until they already had secured actual contracts.

LR: Yeah, okay. So, moonlighting is the right way to go. I think that’s a good call, because you know, you probably experienced this, once you find out that it’s a cold world out there, it gets pretty scary, and you’re like, “Oh crap, this is going to be harder than I thought, and I do have rent,” or, “I have a new baby in my case,” or whatever it was, and I’ve found that it gets really hard to sell when you’re afraid.

RK: Yeah, you might come across as desperate. You know I’m fortunate enough that I didn’t have to worry about that. My wife’s an executive at a software company so had a bit of a safety net, which is always fun. But you can tell folks that really need to make that sale, because it comes across loud and clear.

LR: In subtle ways, yeah.

RK: Yeah, absolutely. So, the best thing to do is just to be relaxed, just be yourself, be authentic. Solve the problems that your potential client has. And sometimes it’s going to be a fit, sometimes not going to be a fit, but as long as you’re always talking about their needs, their problems, and how you can solve them in a way that doesn’t come across as selling, I think that’s the key.

Especially in social media. You never want to pitch; you never want to talk about your products and services. You always want to add value. You want to talk to folks about problems that they have or anticipate problems that they have, put yourself in their shoes, and the type of content that you post, the way you write your profile, everything that you do should be solving that without saying, “I’m going to solve this for you.”

LR: Tell me about your unique skill set.

RK: I mean for us, what we do, our unique process, you know it really works. It’s worked with multiple fortune 500 companies, as well as small startups. So, it’s a process. It’s really agnostic towards size of the company. It also works for B2C, although most of our clients are B2B. What we really do is we teach people how to use social networks to build a strong personal brand, how to engage with others, how to reach out in the right way, and then how to build win win relationships.

LR: Right, awesome. But, what about you personally? Like, you’re now the CEO, I presume, of this organization. How did you succeed at that job?

RK: Well, for myself personally, we have a unique model where everyone that works for us is a contractor. So, I’m really the only full-time employee. Everyone else that we work with is on a need basis so we can ramp up, ramp down as need be.

LR: You, obviously, like the rest of us, have to go out and get customers and, you know, it sounds like you don’t have a sales team to go do that. You’re kind of making that happen. What is working for you today to get business? Like, where did your last five significant deals come from?

RK: We get 100% of our clients from social media and from conferences.

LR: So, you’re actually walking the talk?

RK: That’s right. That’s why …

LR: Conferences also? So, networking?

RK: Yeah, absolutely, but conferences, usually it’s not the event itself, it’s the promotion of the event, because here at this event, we’ll probably get what, 500, 1,000 people, but the posts, for example, that I do on Linkedin and Twitter before, during, and after the conference, the people that I reach out to before these things happen, those will get us in front of 50, 60, 100,000 people. So, the event itself is fantastic.

LR: It’s content though for you?

RK: Yeah, but the content marketing around it is really that lead generation engine that turns these types of events into immediate sales.

LR: Then, do you end up reaching out, or are people reaching out to you?

RK: It’s a combination of both. We’ve had people reach out to us in the past that, based on the content that we post, they just reach out and I’ll say, “Oh, well, I’ll put together a proposal,” and they’ll say, “No, we’re good. Just tell us the number, because we’re already bought in. You don’t have to pitch us.” Obviously, that doesn’t happen incredibly often, but it’s happened enough where you know that it’s working.

LR: Yeah so, tell me this. You know you’re building a small agency at this point, you’re just a couple years in or so. What do you feel like you’re learning edge is? What is the next most important thing for you to be working on personally in business?

RK: Absolutely. I think it’s all about innovation. I mean, the world is changing so fast today, and the pace of change is only increasing. You know, about 25 years ago, or 30 years ago, when I was a kid, when I would ask my parents a question most of the time they’d say, “I don’t know, look it up in the encyclopedias.” We had this set of 50 encyclopedias in the back of our family room. It wasn’t Encyclopedia Britannica, we couldn’t afford that, it was like Encyclopedia International or something like that. Some generic one.

LR: The cheap one, yeah.

RK: Exactly, and so, they’d ask me to look that up, and it’s like, what’s the tallest building in the world? You’d think, Maybe it’s the Empire State Building. Let me look under E. Maybe it’s the CN Tower; I’ll look under C.” And, it was just completely pointless, right? Well, nowadays, you know my kids, I have twin eight year old boys, and they’ve grown up in a world where everything they ever wanted to know is on my phone. So, take it even a step further now, you just ask Alexa, you just ask Siri, so in 25, 30 years to go from all of these encyclopedias to just ask some random app the question and it’ll tell you the answer, that’s a monumental shift. And, that’s in 20, 30 years.

Just imagine where we’re going to be 20, 30 years from now. So, staying on top of that, and I want to see the next, biggest, brightest thing, because you don’t ever just want to follow the crowd, but thinking strategically about what will help you, what will help your clients in what you do. I think that’s what really energizes me, and I think it’s what we all need to be doing.

LR: Yeah, awesome. So, when you think about where you’re going to be in 20, 30 years, and you know, closer to the end of your career than the beginning of it, what do you hope that your legacy will be?

RK: Helping people. That’s why I started this company. When I was working for, you know, a bunch of fortune 500s in my career, I never really got the feeling that we talked about the end consumer enough, that we talked about the people we’re actually helping with our products and services enough, and I would love to have that be my legacy, because that’s why I started this organization, to help people, and that’s why I called it Assist You Today. Help You Today didn’t really roll off the tongue so, Assist You Today is what we went with. But really helping those individuals, helping companies. We work with a lot of nonprofits, which is really energizing to me, to really make a difference in your community. I never had that opportunity at a lot of the bigger companies that I worked with. So, I’d love for that to be my legacy.

LR: Beautiful. Now, what do you think it means to be a modern entrepreneur? We’ve named this, this whole podcast. This is now, season three, and our magazine and, shoot, our company, what do you think it means to be a modern entrepreneur today?

RK: Yeah, I think it’s just going out, helping your clients, doing what you need to do to solve their needs, staying on top of what you need to do, just going out and crushing it everyday and at the same time helping people.

LR: I think that’s right. It’s being less focused on yourself, on your products, on, you know, kind of like what’s happening on this side, and really shifting the focus to being clear that you understand what your customers or prospects are going through.

RK: Yeah, it’s 100% about them, it’s not about you. It’s not about your products and services. Frankly, nobody cares about your products and services. They care about their needs, their problems and, if you can solve those, if you can add value on a regular basis, that’s what it’s all about.

LR: Yeah. Awesome. Well hey, thank you so much for being here.

RK: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.

LR: We really appreciate your time, that was great.

RK: Absolutely.

LR: Would you be willing to sign our wall?

RK: Yeah.

LR: Awesome, thanks.

RK: Of course.

Want more Modern Ontrapreneur Podcast?

Check out the previous episode featuring founder of Ghost Flower, Susie Peebler.

About Aslan Williams
Aslan Williams grew up in a small, southern town, tailgating at football games and watching sunsets over the Mississippi Delta. Since leaving her southern roots four years ago, she has lived in five countries, practicing yoga, teaching English and honing her marketing skills at various International internships. Now, as a recent graduate from UCSB, Aslan is applying her degrees in Communication and English in her role as Content Engagement Coordinator at Ontraport.