Some franchises, especially the more developed fast food restaurants, do not rely on a franchisee’s skills as a salesperson. At McDonald’s, Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts, and many others, success is driven by operational excellence. The massive advertising those chains pump out drives customers to the stores. The franchisee’s job is to give the customers a good experience so they’ll come again.
But in thousands of franchise concepts, there is no such “pull-through” advertising to draw in customers. Indeed, there may be no advertising or promotion at all, except for what the franchisee does.
In those cases, being comfortable with selling is critical to success. That doesn’t mean you have to be a “born salesperson.” But you can’t be the type who runs away from making sales.
Tim Reason, a franchisee of TSS Photography, a 25-year-old franchisor focused on youth sports, school, and event photography, is not a born salesperson. Prior to his franchise, he had a long, well-rounded career in the pharmaceutical industry with involvement in manufacturing, engineering, business development, sales and marketing, and operations. When he was laid off, he started looking at franchises and TSS connected with him because of his interest in photography.
He found there were “skills I need to develop. I need to have more of a sales focus. I have always been interested in photography and taking really cool pictures that someone will want to see. But this is not about cool pictures. This is about going out and getting sales.
“I have to get in front of people, getting sports leagues to sign up, or it will not happen. I’ve always hated cold calls, but it’s an aspect of the business I have to get good at,” Reason said.
Fortunately for Tim, he understands the importance of developing his comfort level with sales. Many other less insightful franchisees bury their heads in the sand hoping customers come find them.
Jeff Lutton, who owns a Dogtopia franchise with his wife Sandy, had a base of sales experience on which to draw when he started his franchise. He had been director of sales for a telecom company and had always wanted to own his own business. After a long and successful sales career, a $400,000 investment to get the business started was a reasonable risk. Since opening the dog daycare and grooming business in September 2007, “everything has gone way past our expectations. We’ve had to throw away the business plan twice,” Jeff says.
When asked why the business was succeeding, Jeff didn’t hesitate to answer: “My sales background. I was really good at my job in telecom, and really good at recruiting top sales talent. I knew every top salesperson at all my competitors. I’ve taken that philosophy over here. I recruited a couple of really good managers and have empowered them to make decisions.”
Not everyone who buys a franchise or starts a business has a background in sales. There are tens of thousands of former engineers, IT professionals, non-profit executives, and other non-sales types now in business. There is not a single franchise or business out there that does not involve selling.
So how can you build your sales muscles if you’ve never used them before? There are a couple of ways.
Early in my career, I was a journalist for business newspapers. The salespeople were on another floor, and when they came snooping around the newsroom, we would all give them the death stare. We hated salespeople. We were pure-as-driven-snow newspaper reporters out to break industry scoops. If we could embarrass an advertiser while doing so, that was a bonus.
It wasn’t until I became a magazine publisher in charge of the sales force and meeting sales targets that I began to appreciate who was buttering my proverbial bread. I am not a natural-born salesperson, so I had to learn how to become one. My employer at the time was very far-sighted in terms of developing people and sent me to every conceivable sales training course. I continue to look for opportunities to take sales courses every few years.
One of the best fundamental selling courses I’ve found is Sandler Training, which is itself a franchise. There is likely a Sandler training consultant in your area and you should look them up. They all train on the same sales premise– get in front of prospects, form relationships, and get a yes or no (not a maybe) to your sales proposition. Most people who lack a sales background spend their lives in “maybe land,” where prospects keep you hanging on the (false) hope that they may someday buy from you. They do this by never giving you a straight, “No, I am not interested.” They say, “Maybe. I’ll think about it,” because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Or they like being taken to lunch. Learn how to solicit no by taking a Sandler course, and you’ll be far ahead in your development as an effective salesperson.
Other courses in sales are offered by groups like American Management Association and by many community colleges. And don’t forget Dale Carnegie. There are also countless books on selling, but I support the idea of taking a course, as it makes you spend some money and focuses your attention on developing this essential skill.
Don’t ignore the books though. One of the best recently is The Contrarian Effect by Michael Port and Elizabeth Marshall. The core of the book is that selling is all about forming and nurturing relationships. It’s not about what you are selling. Most people who are new to sales just want to push as much of their product out the door as soon as possible and can’t wait for the customer to shut up so they can tell their own story. You’ll learn through this book to slow down and let the customer sell himself by showing you can listen and respond to his exact needs at the right time.
To be effective in sales, you have to be a good networker. I attended weekly meetings of a local Business Networking International chapter for about a year. No matter what business you are starting, you need to get out from behind your desk and meet people face-to-face.
BNI is a good introductory platform for networking, although it may drive you a bit crazy in the end because you are talking with many of the same people week after week. However, the underlying principle of BNI is very powerful: it’s called Givers Gain. The idea is that people who give a referral to someone else receive referrals back, and it works.
There is something great about being able to help another person in business, even without considering your own needs or expecting a quid pro quo. When you think of others, others will think of you — it’s that simple.
The BNI folks will tell you that it’s critically important to know exactly what a great referral for your business would be. If your customer can be anyone, you will never get referrals. If you are specific about your target, referrals are going to show up. So check out BNI, LeTip International, or other leads groups.
Mitchell York is a Professional Certified Coach, small business entrepreneur, and author of Franchise: Freedom or Fantasy? How to Know If a Franchise Is Right for You After Your Corporate Career. He can be reached at email@example.com and information about his book is available at www.franchisefreedomorfantasy.com. Mitch also blogs at www.e2ecoaching.com.