January 13, 2021

Helping WISPs Grow and/or Sell

The following transcript has been edited for time and readability. Listen to the entire discussion here on The Broadband Bunch.

Craig Corbin:

Hello, everyone and welcome to another edition of The Broadband Bunch.  Along with my colleague, Brad Hine, I’m Craig Corbin. Thanks so much for joining us. If you own a wireless internet service provider (WISP) and are looking for help building a successful marketing campaign, our guest today is probably someone you’ll want to talk to. Please welcome the founder of Leverage Social and WispBroker.com, Michael Kellim.

Craig Corbin:

Tell us how Leveraged Social came into being and how you are “making small business social media marketing simple and effective.”

Michael Kellim:

I’ve been building sales teams and marketing systems for ISPs for about seven years now. We started off door-to-door and did that for many years. Then we discovered digital marketing six years ago and found that it was so scalable and effective that you could get new deals installed for prices that were impossible with other mediums of marketing.

WISP CRM

Craig Corbin:

In the world of social media marketing things change and evolve at light speed. That has been a hallmark of what your organization has been able to do – to adapt with the market as it grows.

Michael Kellim:

It’s interesting in the WISP market, each market has its own challenges. But our challenge is really the systems, the sales systems to pair with the marketing. Because people can figure out how to generate leads, but to pair it with excellent sales systems, that’s where things get magical and you end up with the famous $20 to $30 cost per acquisition type stats that we boast about a lot of times. When you pair excellent marketing and excellent sales, that’s where things get exciting.

Brad Hine:

What did you do to differentiate your business from what you were seeing out there and how you’ve continued to do that since Leverage Social has been in business?

Michael Kellim:

Specifically, in the WISP market, because we do some other markets as well,  it’s just been really digging deep and getting specific. We started off with just marketing and we realized these guys need a CRM system. We’ve got a CRM product that’s our own, that we offer. We added that to our repertoire and then it just became great systems within the CRM.

Doubling WISP Sales

Michael Kellim: 

And then we needed salespeople. I’ll give you just an example. A lead comes in through a website, most WISPs will call that lead within hours and maybe days. No joke, they just get a little email notification. Then they call that lead whenever they get around to it. Literally, they rarely get ahold of them in that scenario.

Michael Kellim:

If you don’t call them back within a couple of minutes, then they fall through the cracks. When I say great sales systems, what I mean specifically, is just a handful of items that have been identified that if done together add up. For example, calling a lead back within a minute every single time for the whole sales team, that alone will double a WISP’s sales – just that one process.

Brad Hine:

We know that in any sales scenario, time kills deals. You guys are quick to respond. In turn, are you able then to cut costs for your customers there with these better marketing strategies and techniques?

Michael Kellim:

Yes. Big time.  We deal usually with larger WISPs – 5, 10, 15, 20,000 plus subscribers is kind of our sweet spot – where we’ve really been able to create huge growth. We also have products and services for small WISPs from startup all the way up from there.

Michael Kellim:

I’ll give an example we had a client in the Midwest that we helped grow from just under 10,000 subscribers to quite a bit over 15,000 subscribers. I’m fudging the numbers in a low way. It’s more than that, they’re adding about 8,000 subscribers in a year. We helped them do that within their existing marketing budget, where they were only on a pace to add maybe 1,500 to 2,000 without our help.

Brad Hine:

Describe a little bit of the difference in your customers because I know that the WISP market is different than in other markets for example, the raditional telecom cable or municipal utilities who are building fiber broadband systems for their constituents. How are WISPs different? How are those challenges different that allowed you that niche, to get in there?

Michael Kellim:

They’re different in several ways. The biggest reason the niche is available to the skillset that I bring to the table is that everyone’s focused on the technical side. They have so many challenges on the technical side of the business, and the type of person that usually is involved in that, it’s like the opposite skillset of sales and marketing.

Michael Kellim:

It’s a personality trend where most people are more technically oriented. And then they kind of think sales and marketing maybe is a sleazy thing or something that’s dishonest in some way. The thing I love is that good sales and marketing is not forcing someone to do anything that they don’t want to, it’s not manipulating them. It’s literally just being considerate of the sales process – walking and leading them through the process. The best sales are the most ethical sales.

Michael Kellim:

I think people need to know what can be done so that they know what to expect.  I have clients that they get excited, “Oh, my sales rep sold 15-20 [subscriptions] this month!  I’m like, wow, our teams average 80 to 100 per rep, per month. When people think 20 is normal, they don’t know that 80 to 100 a month as possible.

Broadband Sales Start

Brad Hine:

Clearly the sales volume that you can bring to a WISP is a game changer. Let me step back a little bit to your history. Tell us how you got into a telecommunications mindset in the WISP market? March us back to maybe high school and some of the interests you had and at that time.

Michael Kellim:

I didn’t start out with a specific interest in technology or that space per se. I was 22 years old and I had a little gold and silver shop. My wife had just given birth to twins and I was making about $1,500 a month. I did the math and I realized that’s not quite enough money to do virtually anything. I realized I had to figure something out and a friend of mine convinced me to sell door-to-door with them selling Dish Network and Frontier Internet.

Michael Kellim:

I just had a knack for it. This was eight years ago, but I had a knack for it. I remember the first day and the first door I knocked on, I made a sale and I made $200. I was like, “Wow, that was cool.” Next day I made six sales and I made $1,200 in a day. And I was like, “Dude, this is what I make in a month!”. It wasn’t a space or technology attraction. It was simply just a way of providing a better living for my family, but I poured into it. I wanted to be the absolute best.

Michael Kellim:

I ended up being the top rookie salesperson out of a sales organization with over 700 sales reps! And I ended up making enough money to buy 70 acres of land. We bought a farm and never looked back. It was the financial motivation to get in. Then just when you see a skill set that you have is desperately in need, it makes it fun. It makes the work of your hand enjoyable.

Brad Hine:

It sounds like it was absolutely a trial by fire, and you learned when you had to.

Michael Kellim:

It was definitely nuts. I’ll give the short version here. Back to the day after when I sold the six new subscriptions. Dish Network told me, “Hey, we don’t have technicians in that area, and we can’t do your installs.” I had to convince a buddy of mine to become a tech. I convinced someone from Idaho, three hours away to drive down and train them. Got that done.

Broadband Subscription Sales Success

Michael Kellim:

They promoted me to a manager for Dish and Frontier selling this door-to-door program. It was the worst experience from a work experience ever! If I went through all the details it would be a 20-minute story and I think our whole timeframe for this interview is 20 minutes. We had eight reps recruited and we had plane tickets to fly them out to Springfield, Missouri which is where we are going to knock.

Michael Kellim:

The company last minute, pretty much told us someone else picked our city and we couldn’t go to Springfield. I had to reroute us all to Atlanta. Going out to Atlanta, we couldn’t get on the plane with our newborn baby for some reason. She didn’t have a social security card. She was only a few days old and it was crazy.

Michael Kellim:

Eventually, we got out to Portland where they partnered us with a manager that was supposed to recruit 50 reps.  When we got there, there was one person and neither of he or the manager could sell. It was just crazy. I ended up with four apartments that were supposed to be filled with guys and it was just me.

Michael Kellim:

I was told, “Hey, you have a month to get this together. If you can’t figure this out, we’re sticking you with the bill on these four leases.” I had one month. I recruited from 7:00 AM to 10:00 AM, knocked on doors from 10:00 AM till 8:00, 9:00, 10:00 PM at night. In one month, we recruited eight guys and sold just under 300 accounts. Over the next three months, we averaged 300 to 400 sales that got installed per month.

WispBroker.com Connecting People

Craig Corbin:

Your background and focus on sales has served you well in developing Leverage Social and what you’re able to do for providers.  But when we look at what you bring to the market, it goes beyond that because in addition to founding Leverage Social there’s also an entity called WispBroker.com. Given what’s going on today with the huge demand for broadband in all areas of the nation, WispBroker.com is a very vital business.

Michael Kellim:

We just saw a need. We see a change in the market taking place very rapidly. There’s a roll up taking place with larger service providers that are willing to buy lots of smaller entities to turn into somewhat of a conglomerate because they’re seeing that’s going to be the way to survive in the world to come – the WISP world that’s coming.

Michael Kellim:

The smaller entities are realizing that there’s a lot of things that could kill them right now. For example, with RDOF someone could build right on top of me and be funded with millions of dollars and I’d be toast. Take Starlink, (division of Spacex) if they’re even moderately successful, then someone who’s only netting 20 new subscribers a month only has to lose 20 subscribers a month to Starlink. They are in the negative every month, which makes it very hard to sell. They actually want to sell, but they’ll have to sell for a discount.

Michael Kellim:

There’s just a lot of challenges coming in the industry and we’ve been blessed to be very connected to vendors and to a lot of movers and shakers in the space. We utilize that network to launch this product which is connecting these guys.

Michael Kellim:

The smaller guys that know they need to sell and that they have a choice – they can retire a millionaire or they can risk going out of business in the next couple of years. It’s a real threat. The big guys know that WISP prices right now are a little bit high. A person’s WISP right now is worth more than it was worth eight months ago. The COVID pandemic has caused there to be private money coming into our space and that has driven the price of a WISP up a little bit from where it was.

Michael Kellim:

Very interesting time to sell. If I owned a small 2 or 3 thousand subscriber WISP or smaller, I’d be entertaining that idea for sure.

Connecting WISP Buyers with WISP Sellers

Brad Hine:

WispBroker will buy the business and you are that medium in between connecting the WISP to the actual buyer themselves – doing all that communication about the value of the WISP and on up the chain. Is that correct?

Michael Kellim:

Exactly. We walk someone through the whole process.

Starlink, Spacex & Elon Musk – Impact on WISPs

Brad Hine:

You mentioned Starlink (an Elon Musk business). We’ve seen a lot of interest in it.  Can you talk a little bit about that, and how it is a factor for a WISP broker business?

Michael Kellim:

The Starlink beta program is delivering 100 plus Meg download, 20 to 30 Meg upload speeds with 30 to 100 millisecond ping time. Here’s the thing, if that comes into your market and you’re offering 15 Meg for $100 and Starlink’s offering 100 Meg for $100, you’re going to notice significant churn. I don’t care how much your customers like you. They’ll perceive that they’re getting more for their money and quite a bit of them will switch.

Michael Kellim:

Even with a $500 install fee, middle income to upper income will consider the idea of switching to Starlink. It doesn’t have to be a ton of people. Most WISPs don’t realize how volatile they are. They’re used to this customer base that doesn’t move that much, but you start taking 40, 50, 60 customers away per month and things get interesting.

Upgrading Wireless Network

Brad Hine:

Knowing that the average WISP in the United States is anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 subscribers and trying to grow from there. What kind of fees and economics are they looking at trying to grow without being acquired or without partnering with somebody else?

Michael Kellim:

That’s a good question. I honestly think the WISPs that are willing to upgrade their network, if they’re on Ubiquiti getting into LTU equipment, stuff that can provide 50 to 100 Meg speeds. I think that type of investment really should be considered. I think someone should know what it’s going to cost and the timeframe that it’s going to take to rip out and replace their existing equipment.

Michael Kellim:

If they don’t have the money themselves and they’re not sure how to acquire the line of credit, I think that partnering with other companies is something that might be worth considering.

Brad Hine:

We had the first round of the Connect America Fund (CAF I), then there was CAF II and now the RDOF results are due out in a couple of weeks also. Does all that funding play into this equation? How would you rate that in this whole situation?

Michael Kellim:

Some are going to really be blessed by RDOF and others are going to be potentially squashed by it. You can look at the map and see if someone’s territory is within the area that’s going to be bid on. If you have a WISP that is in a territory that someone’s going to win money in, and you’re not bidding, that’s going to be a scary situation. That’s going to be a real threat to quite a few WISPs.

Brad Hine:

We’ve been interviewing a lot of WISPs recently regarding some of the challenges they are trying to get over with the new CBRS spectrum. Some are having to purchase new hardware and network equipment for CBRS. That factors into this equation, longer term, in terms of expenditures.

Michael Kellim:

What’s interesting too is you have T-Mobile and other large cell phone carriers coming in with a home internet product. Pretty much they’re becoming WISPs as well. That’s going to be an interesting factor. Frankly, I think the WISP industry is going to be totally viable. Our industry is going to be better. We’re going to have a huge upgrade in quality because this type of competition and these types of challenges is going to make the entire industry so much better as a whole.

Brad Hine:

Prior to the pandemic, we knew we had the capability and technology to work and learn remotely from home efficiently. I think some of the issue is that we weren’t using it as much as we should have until the pandemic was upon us. All of a sudden everybody was scurrying around to say, “Hey, we have this technology, we can totally turn this up and make people a lot more efficient remotely.” This is not going away. It’s only growing and growing at lightning speeds it seems.

Michael Kellim:

The booms that the rural residential WISPs have experienced have been pretty exciting for sure over the last six, eight months.

WISP Marketing, Sales and Mixed Martial Arts

Brad Hine:

I want to back up just a little bit and take sort of a left turn. When we initially spoke, and we’ve spoken a couple of times now for many reasons, you mentioned another career that you had in mixed martial arts. Can you tell our audience just a little bit about how a WISP broker and a WISP sales and marketing expert gets into mixed martial arts?

Michael Kellim:

One of my first businesses was a mixed martial arts gym. It was a sport that I had a passion for. I still do and I still train jiu-jitsu to this day. It was something that was super interesting to me. We partnered with a local fight promoter and we got him to store his cage in our gym. We had this big nice cage, 1,000 square foot of mount space and bags and just had an absolute blast! Made no money whatsoever.

Michael Kellim:

When your wife’s pregnant with twins and you’re making no money and you’re like, “But I got a business.” And she’s like, “Honey, we have $10 in the bank account. You probably should go get a job.” Yeah. That was kind of how that went. I was fighting as well but then you also realize when you’re newly married and you have no health insurance and you’re getting in there and getting punched in the face – that it’s not the smartest investment of time.

Craig Corbin:

The consummate entrepreneur.  What has been the most rewarding aspect of seeing Leverage Social and WispBroker.com grow over the last several years?

Michael Kellim:

I would say, getting to work with the clients that I do. I get to work with some of the coolest people in our industry. Some of the movers and shakers, they’re my clients. They pay for my help, but I honestly feel like they mentor and teach me probably a lot more than I teach them. I used to joke, if you hang out with these types of people all day every day – the movers and shakers in the WISP space, that are growing huge successful companies and serve their customers at a high-level, serve their employees at a high-level – it rubs off on you. It’s been the best college degree I could have ever asked for.

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