Firestarter provide the grip and experience to solve sales challenges for Highwire Press

Born out of Stanford University, HighWire was established during the inception of the internet and was the first organisation of its kind in the scholarly and academic publishing sector – the first to host a journal online back in the 1990’s. Today, the world’s leading scholarly publishers choose HighWire to bring their digital experiences to life through an intelligent publishing software platform that manages every stage in the process from manuscript submission through to post-publication measurement. From peer review to putting content out into the world, and from a niche journal to multiple publications, Highwire gives publishers the strategies to connect the best minds to the most people.

As VP of Global Sales, Miles McNamee is responsible for new sales, account development and renewals, and faced a number of key challenges when he started in this role a year ago.

As the key sales leader at Highwire, Miles’ obvious challenge is generating revenue. Highwire was the ‘top player’ in this space from 1995 to 2008, but has faced competitive challenges over recent years. The second challenge is all about restoring Highwire’s reputation in the market. So, Miles is now in rebuild mode.

 

Miles came to Firestarter from a referral who had previously worked with Firestarter.

When he was asked to take over account development and renewals in addition to new sales, he had no bandwidth to cope with the additional workload. In addition to that, there was a significant lack of data in the business to support growth strategies and direction.

With the Highwire sales team, Miles needed to be involved at a sales transaction level, rather than managing the team, which restricted his bandwidth to address broader issues. Miles has the expertise to manage the team and deliver the required performance, but has always had people and systems in place to analyse data and provide the required information to make the right decisions – without that, he was lost.

Firestarter provided the ‘grip’ that was needed

Highwire had signed up with Salesforce as a CRM system, but didn’t use it properly – right from the beginning, Firestarter helped to really ‘grip’ the system, build the right processes and reports in order to use the tool as it is intended.

With just the second conversation with Firestarter, Miles said ‘I need help’ and we started with one small project. When that was successful, bigger projects were introduced, which have also been successful and we’re now talking about expanding our relationship further.

As Miles says

“From our first meeting at a hotel in Manchester, I just felt like they understood my challenges. All I wanted to do in the beginning was a gap analysis. We knew that we couldn’t deliver it without help.”

For new sales, we needed to track past performance and identify what we could see in terms of current opportunity, then compare against the required numbers and identify the gap. For renewals, if the levels stay at the current rates, what will our gap be, and the same exercise for upgrades. From the time this exercise was originally completed at the beginning of 2019 to now, it has remained completely accurate throughout.

We started with one simple piece of work which was so impressive, I started to give them more and more – the bites kept getting bigger and bigger!

 

With Firestarter, I don’t get “I’ll check into that” or “let me follow up”, I get “I can do that for you this week” and that’s a real benefit to me, especially when they go the extra mile to deliver results at short notice (and with the time difference, often late at night too!).

“They just get it! They’ve lived this life and experienced the pain before, so they know what to do – we hit the ground running straight away.”

 

Fast forward to present day…

A new ‘player coach’ was brought in recently, who has been drawn into so much time being a ‘player’ that he’s not had time to ‘coach’ what is effectively a ‘green’ team of sales people. The team at Firestarter are now managing and reporting on the performance of the sales team on a day to day basis. As Miles continues,

“Firestarter are now my virtual coaches. Their approach and practice to sales management is really just deductive reasoning – ‘what do we need to do to get to the number?’

Through our relationship with Firestarter, we are making great progress towards hitting our numbers – we are doing the macro work, but Firestarter are definitely managing the day to day micro elements.”

Miles recognises that he’s inherited a meaningful challenge and needs to manage up judiciously and cautiously to his board. As he explains,

“My concern was, ‘how much could I trust and expose Firestarter to the organisational issues?’ Over a short period of time, we gradually let the rope out and Firestarter proved themselves at every stage. In the time we’ve spent together, Firestarter has moved up my pyramid of professional relationship to become a strategic partner. They’ve achieved with me what I’d love to achieve with my clients in just 11 months, because of that performance and trust that we’ve developed.”

 

Miles believes that the biggest benefit Firestarter brings to Highwire is data – helping him to get to the fundamental building blocks of sales. For example, an average sales value is ‘x’ on an average sales cycle of ‘y’, with ‘z’ number of opportunities equals this number.

In Miles’ opinion, if Firestarter hadn’t been involved, Highwire would have been flailing – still at the gap analysis stage and guessing at data – now they are able to accurately forecast performance for 2020 and beyond.

Highwire are looking at potential performance uplift that would not have been possible without Firestarter

In terms of the real value that Firestarter bring, it all comes down to revenue – right now, Highwire are looking at a potential uplift in quarterly performance that they would not have identified without Firestarter’s work – the ROI is easy to see.

When asked to reflect on the service received from Firestarter so far, Miles explained,

“In previous roles, I have used external consultants and my experience has always been ‘keep your hand on your wallet’, it takes a while to get to the heart of the challenge and the fees stack up – with Firestarter, we got there within a quarter. Coming out of the original gap analysis work, we had a plan straight away and we were implementing that plan within a week – that just doesn’t happen with other consultancies.

I couldn’t be more impressed with the level of service received from Firestarter so far. No other consultancy has ever achieved strategic partner status – we are shoulder to shoulder right now.

One of the key differences is that Firestarter are ‘no nonsense’ – they tell it as it is. Not all businesses (and leaders) will receive that information quite so well, so it is important to have that element of chemistry to make it work, but it also really helps that they ‘get it’. What it boils down to is, are you prepared to accept your challenges and ask for help to achieve your goals – if you are, then Firestarter will definitely deliver.

The key part for me is trust and responsiveness – I’d been running at a breakneck speed, but when I hit the pause button and was able to focus, Firestarter were there. And now we’re getting the results we need.

“I would absolutely recommend Firestarter – it would be an honour to refer them to other businesses.”