Building a Winning Sales Team: Four Franchise Development Leaders Tell How It's Done

"The world of franchise development has changed during the last year and will never be the same again," says Art Coley, vice president of global development for AlphaGraphics.

"You can't just put up an ad, throw money at the portals, and sit back and wait for the leads to come in anymore." That's exactly why he has spent most of the last three years at AlphaGraphics assembling, inspiring, and leading his new sales development team toward system growth.

Now, more than ever, a well-oiled development team is essential to the growth and development of a franchise brand. There are, of course, many ways to build a successful development team--as long as the methods get results. Here, culled from lengthy discussions with four franchise development leaders, are some fundamentals that should play a role in every franchise organization's franchise development strategy.

Sales team 101

When Coley arrived at AlphaGraphics three years ago, he says, the company was struggling in the development area. "There were great unit economics, but the sales process had not grown and evolved." So he set about retooling and says he has changed every part of the sales process. From discovery days to disclosure documents, from initial franchise fees to legal documents, it's all been redesigned. Perhaps most significant, he's created an entirely new sales team.

"We've taken a little different approach to creating a sales team here," he says. "I'm not interested in veteran franchise development sales people. We want individuals who have been successful running a quick print-type store." He says these individuals understand the business and can identify with prospects' needs and desires. "We can teach the franchise sales process later," he says.

Linda Burzynski, president of FranConnect and of The CEO Network, understands Coley's strategy. She has built and led franchise development teams for more than two decades at brands including Liberty Fitness, CMIT Solutions, and Molly Maid.

"It's true that experienced franchise sales people are familiar with how franchising works," she says. "They understand FDDs and all the related details, but they can sometimes be set in their ways and resistant to learning anything new." And, she adds, if the sales people have any bad habits, those probably come along as well.

At AlphaGraphics, the development team is composed of 10 individuals, 8 of whom are home-based across the country. The U.S. is divided into six regional development areas. Four development directors currently cover the territories. Each is assisted by regional development consultants who handle much of the paperwork, which allows the directors to spend more time in the field talking and listening to prospects. "The days of order taking are gone," says Coley, "Now it's time to recruit franchisees."

At The Dwyer Group, Robert Tunmire and Mike Hawkins, each with more than 30 years in franchising, have worked together over the past decade to craft a strong sales team. Twenty-five sales people and three team leaders divide the development assignments for the company's six brands (Mr. Appliance, Mr. Electric, Mr. Rooter, Aire Serv, Glass Doctor, and Rainbow International). All of the franchise sales team is located in Waco, Texas.

Hawkins, vice president of franchising, subscribes to a sales team recruiting strategy similar to Coley's. "We used to look for experienced franchise sales people, but that wasn't working for us," he says. "We've discovered that the best sales people out there were never in franchising, but in things like life past business owners, and corporate sales executives."

In addition to dividing up assignments by brands and territories, the company employs two resale specialists, one broker sales person, one lead development manager (who manages a lead development team), one military lead specialist, and one dedicated marketing person.

For Hawkins, one of the secrets to successful franchise development is adhering to the basics. "You must have the proper development budget, a solid sales system and procedures, enough leads, the right management team, and the right sales people," he says.

Organizing a winning sales team, says Hawkins, requires bringing in talented sales people who fit your culture, them properly and continually, managing them well, holding them accountable, paying them well, and giving them a great system they can believe in. "You have to do your homework, but it will pay off," he says.

Burzynski agrees, adding that she also has looked for sales talent within the organizations she has led. "Often, there are quality people already inside the company who are enthusiastic and passionate, and with a little training can become excellent sales team members," she says.

At ServiceMaster Clean, Dave Messenger, vice president of market expansion, says he considers himself blessed by his talented sales team, which he "inherited" nine years ago when he came on board. "They're all different but they follow the same sales process and that's key." (He also heads development efforts for the company's Furniture Medic and AmeriSpec brands).

Messenger says his team has developed skills that enable them to relate quickly to prospects and do a lot of listening, rather than too much talking. Unique to ServiceMaster's selling process is the lack of a discovery day. "We think it's more important to be out there in the field meeting with people on their turf, meeting their families, and so that is an important component to our sales process," he says.

The ServiceMaster Clean sales team consists of three sales people (market development managers), plus another five inside team members who handle back-end paperwork, tracking, and report generation.

Messenger says empowerment is another essential in creating a winning sales team. "Our team is out there on the front line every day, in constant contact with prospects," he says. "They make the initial call on qualifying the prospects; they decide who gets through the gate."

Hawkins agrees and says, "We hire people who are professionals and disciplined. We expect a minimum number of calls and time on the phone every day, but they get it done because they are empowered and we hold them accountable."

Coley says his development directors have the flexibility to "run their own businesses in their own territories." He says the support team enables the development directors to spend their time and talking with candidates and not doing paperwork.

Burzynski says sales team development is consistently a hot topic. As she sees it, a strong development team begins with the organization's leadership. It's imperative, she says, to be fired up about the mission, values, and vision you have for your entire organization. "When you consistently articulate those elements in a passionate way, you remind your team that you are all building something great together."

She says franchise leadership should be committed to doing whatever it takes to provide the right platform for success. She recommends not only being involved and interested in what is going on, but also in what can be done to improve results. For example, kick off each day by meeting with the franchise development team; do a quick review of the daily priorities, top candidates, and how you can assist the team in the process.

Goals, objectives, and execution

Setting development goals, objectives, and implementing systems of accountability are critical components in creating an effective sales development team. Without challenging--yet attainable--targets, a sales team can flounder and its potential not be fully realized. Achieving success, however, can be complex.

"It's important to set a variety of goals strategically," says The Dwyer Group's Hawkins. "For example, we have unit and budget goals and we also set territory goals based on areas where we need to expand." Each team member has their own territory to develop and their own, individual sales goals.

The average franchise fee in The Dwyer Group system is about $45,000, he says, and in 2009 his team produced 70 resales and 250 new sales. "Our leads-to-sales ratio is below industry averages," says Hawkins. "Of course actual sales and hard numbers are important," he says, "but so is building relationships and staying in touch with both prospects and existing franchisees." The latter can provide great referrals.

Every franchise system should have realistic sales and development goals based on factors that include the amount of growth sought, time frames, new sales versus conversions, cost of the franchise, and any number of other variables that affect the development equation.

"Look at where you are, where you want to be, and how you can get there," says Coley. "This goal-setting can also help you decide how many members your team should have and how many support players you will need." From here you should calculate the kind of lead flow you want your team members working through and how many closed deals you expect every year.

And hire right. Cautions Messenger, "Too many sales people can reduce the amount of income potential for all team members."

Burzynski, like Coley, believes it's important for sales people to have a great support team backing them up. "The team approach is really important throughout the process," she says. "The sales team won't be as effective at meeting sales goals if they are spending too much time on paperwork and administrative tasks. You want them on the phone and developing those relationships."

It's also important to give sales team members a sense of autonomy, freedom, and trust. "Since our team members have all been in the document and marketing services industry, they know what to look for, they have a radar for finding great franchisees," says Coley. "Our development people know exactly what characteristics are necessary to be successful in this business."

That's important with a high-dollar and complex system such as AlphaGraphics, where the cost of entry can top $500,000. "It's a big investment," says Coley. "Quality is definitely more important than quantity."

In the first 6 months of AlphaGraphics' fiscal year, the sales team had contacted 6,000 qualified leads, invited 39 of them into the company's Salt Lake City headquarters, and signed 21 agreements. That's ahead of the system's pace over the last two years.

At ServiceMaster, says Messenger, "We know our sales team does a good job identifying candidates, but we also rely on our field support team as a kind of checks-and-balance system."

Lead sourcing is another important that helps the sales team achieve goals. ServiceMaster relies on brokers such as FranNet and BAI. Messenger says the closing rate on broker-generated leads is very good for them. "Do as much as you can to feed leads to the sales team," he says.

Coley says AlphGraphics relies on The Entrepreneur's Source for 40 to 50 percent of the brand's traditional signings.

Training and technology

Chances are that without proper and ongoing training, a sales team is never going to operate at maximum efficiency.

"Training should never stop," says Burzynski. "Whether it's internal training through policies, manuals, scripts, and role-playing, or external sources such as attending conventions like the IFA and Franchise Update conferences, there should always be training opportunities available."

She says one of the best ways to get new team members up to speed is to have them shadow one of the top sales reps. "So much can be learned just by observing," she says.

At The Dwyer Group, says Hawkins, the goal is to take every sales team member through the system's training manual three times every year. "Training is imperative. We do it every Tuesday and Thursday," he says. "I listen in to sales calls and then meet with the team members to discuss any improvements they could make."

Team leaders review sales statistics with each of their team members and assist them in prospects through the pipeline. Team leaders also assist in training and goal setting with each team member. "I believe our team leaders have been instrumental in the success of our franchising department," says Hawkins.

The franchisor also relies on outside trainers, who have covered such areas as profile selling, goal setting, behavioral selling, and time organization. "Robert Tunmire and I believe that if a sales person is not getting results, then they are violating the basics of sales," says Hawkins.

Coley points out that training is essential for his sales team from day one because most don't yet know the franchise basics, such as FDDs. "Workbooks, manuals, training, we do it all thoroughly," he says. "In fact, it takes us probably 12 months to get a team member fully trained and up to speed."

Since the sales team is situated remotely, AlphaGraphics brings them together several times a year for "I think we all were together five times last year, evaluating situations, talking, problem-solving," says Coley. He says that face-to-face time provides a great opportunity for role-playing, scripting, and building a team dynamic. His team also has the advantage of a "development coach" who is kept on retainer.

Messenger pushes his team members to actively read and stay on top of industry data and research and to seek self-development on their own. "But we have regular conference call meetings and we discuss various sales situations so our team members can learn from each other."

Providing your sales team with state-of-the-art technology is critical to sales success, says Burzynski. "A fully functioning CRM program is essential for the staff to stay on top of and manage leads through the process," she says. "And every technology tool that is supplied needs to also be fully utilized. They don't do any good unless they're being used."

At ServiceMaster, says Messenger, technology provides the sales team with the latest demographic information and laptops and BlackBerrys give the team access to a state-of-the-art contact management system.

At AlphaGraphics, "We use web-based mapping software to determine good territories and, of course, we rely on a strong web-based contact management system," says Coley.

Compensation and motivation

Properly compensated sales people are generally happier and more productive (see related story on sales compensation, page TK). The general consensus among the executives interviewed here is a combination of a healthy base salary plus commission. As Coley explains, putting someone strictly on commission encourages a "You only eat what you kill" mentality and lowers the standards for acceptable prospects.

"We want our sales team playing full-on, 100 percent every day, working hard and getting results," says Hawkins. "We realize part of the formula for that involves compensation. We like to say that we pay our sales team so well that they can't be recruited away." That means a healthy base, commissions that can amply exceed that base, plus a tiered bonus structure for hitting certain sales goals. He says many on the sales team have been around for at least 5 to 10 years, and that he likes to think it's because of the working environment and compensation.

Messenger says his team's base salary and commission structure encourages performance through incentives. "There's no cap on commission, and a tiered system allows them to earn more for graduating levels of sales." He says this helps keep the team selling, even after they have hit goals. ServiceMaster also provides a company car for all sales people.

At AlphaGraphics, "We put it all in three buckets. The first is a healthy base; people have to be able to cover their basic expenses. Next is an incentive-based commission structure, and finally, dollars we put into their local markets through and marketing," says Coley. "Your sales team is not an expense, but rather just the opposite. It's an investment, it's an asset."

Money is not the only motivator in sales team performance. As a leader, says Burzynski, don't be afraid to get your hands dirty. She recalls a time when she was CEO of CMIT Solutions. "For many reasons, we had just experienced a dry spell in franchise awards, and our pipeline was completely dry. My franchise development team was discouraged and not motivated, and it was clear that a shot of energy was needed if I expected to get them back on track and see results." So she rolled up her sleeves and jumped into the trenches with the team.

"I took leads myself, got involved in the entire process, made changes that needed to be made, and quickly the momentum kicked into gear," she says. That experience also gave her access to the team's conversations and allowed her to assist them by making suggestions for improvement. She learned a lot from the team as well. This move changed the game and the atmosphere and led to a top sales year for the company. Leadership truly does start at the top.

Says Coley, "I definitely have a role as a cheerleader for my team." Hawkins agrees, adding, "Hire right, train right, manage right, hold them accountable, and give them a product to believe in. That's the secret to building a strong sales team."

Team-Building Tips

Linda Burzynski has spent more than two decades leading franchise companies and building successful franchise development teams. She's done it at Liberty Fitness, CMIT Solutions, and Molly Maid. Today as president of FranConnect and of The CEO Network, she works with franchisors and franchise executives through coaching, development, and training. She lays out six key elements essential to building a successful franchise development team.

  1. Complete buy-in - Every member of the franchise organization should believe strongly in the company. You're looking for passion, enthusiasm, and integrity, with everyone working together to support each other and grow the brand.
  2. Technology - Provide state-of-the-art tools that enable the sales team to work effectively and efficiently.
  3. Training - Never stop learning, never stop training, says Burzynski. Whether it's basics and fundamentals taught in-house or from external sources such as conferences, coaches, and conventions, have the team continually take advantage of opportunities to improve.
  4. Recognition - Offer a healthy salary and commission package, but don't stop there. Recognize a job well done... and offer encouragement following any disappointments.
  5. Lead from the top - As team leader, stay engaged with your sales people, keep the lines communication open and two-way. And don't be afraid to hop in the trenches and help if necessary.
  6. One big team - The sales team should be considered a fully equal part of the entire franchise operation--not a stepchild. Everyone, from the receptionists to the CEO, should be pulling together to assist the sales team.

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