This is the final portion of my interview with John Armatas, principal at The Franchise Sales Solution. We continue our discussion about how his company helps franchisors rise above this difficult situation of finding good franchisees.
David: What services and tools do you provide your clients?
John: If you look at it from a franchise sales support perspective, we take them from the lead strategy to the initial calls, through the discovery, and through a physical discovery day, and (in most cases) we are actually there for the signing of the documents to guide the new franchisor through the signing of the papers. Because we believe so heavily in organic content to drive leads, we also provide social media monitoring and interaction, blog writing, and have developed relationships with individuals like you (David) who are on the cutting-edge of driving strong potential or qualified candidates to a brand. We also have relationships with public relations companies. I come from an operations perspective, so we really strive to provide a very thorough list of services depending on where our clients are in the process. A young franchisor will need us a lot more in these pieces, and a more mature franchisor will need us less. Ultimately, we want to be working with franchisors even if they have their own in-house marketing or PR or other external firms. We want to have a pipeline to that franchisor so we are promoting the right opportunities so we can be found organically and begin to engage people who are in transition. Our list of services is pretty wide depending on what our client’s needs are.
David: So, on the lead gen side, strategically you’re a believer in what I call in-bound marketing whereby you use organic strategies and content marketing to drive interest to the franchise site. Then once you have captured that prospect, you have people who qualify that prospect, and then do you hand that off to the franchisor?
John: We don’t hand it off. What we do at this point in the process is guide that potential candidate through the discovery with this franchisor. On our end, once we believe they are qualified both financially and from a background perspective, we set up a meet and greet call where the franchisor has an opportunity to share their vision for the company, talk about the company’s history, and get to know more about the candidate. It’s a sharing of information. When the franchisor says good-bye at the end of the call, we follow-up with the candidate to see if there’s any synergy. If there is and they feel good about the brand, we’ll schedule a more thorough visit with us. Rather than just send people to a discovery day, we like that initial conversation. Hopefully, using the comprehensive websites we help build with our franchisors, the candidate has done enough research and has talked to franchisees in the system to validate the brand before they even talk to the franchisor.
David: There are several other companies that provide a similar kind of service where you’re straddling the line between marketing, sales support, sales development, and broker (even though you’re not a broker)…So, how do you differentiate yourself?
John: On the front end, our value is in the relationship that we develop with our franchisors. In many, many cases, we are on the phone with our franchisors one to four times a week to discuss a variety of things – not just what kind of leads came into the system today. Because we provide so many services and try to make sure the strategy is one everyone agrees with regardless of what we’re going to try or do next, we are in ongoing contact. It’s not about the dollar. Of course, we want to get paid for the hard work we do, but for us it’s more about building a growing system. If our client is growing and we’ve engaged them with our sales systems and programs and built a solid relationship with them, we hope to keep them as a client for years to come. We don’t want a short-term relationship; that’s typical of other sales companies. There’s no guarantee they’re going to be around in six months, eight months, a year from now. We provide a value that makes our clients want to keep us around. They think of us as a partner, an important part of their team. This doesn’t just happen. It’s based on the kinds of people we have working for us and the culture we’ve created. Regardless of what role we’re serving, all of us at The Franchise Sales Solutions have the same approach toward our clients – that we want to be of assistance and make sure we provide a service that will be of value to them.
David: Sounds like the trust relationship is everything?
John: Yes, I think so.
David: How do you think firms like yours have changed over the last few years?
John: The professional placement firms or those leaning toward the brokering side of the continuum have begun to narrow in. The economy has partially forced this. There are less people financially qualified to get into franchises and own a business. However, there is a bigger group of people who are looking for the next step. We have this dichotomy between people who want to do something on their own but can’t afford it and can’t find financing to a group that has been displaced and needs to find something because they’re used to earning a fairly big dollar and they can afford to invest some money and they want to find the right fit. From a transition perspective, I think it’s a group of people out there who are looking at both verticals. The thing is that I think a lot of firms have begun to focus on is people who are financially more astute and able to make an investment and have (to some degree) forgone the folks who need find an opportunity or a service-based business or something that fits for them. Our goal is to help anyone who is looking for an opportunity. It doesn’t matter if that’s a $50,000 investment in a business and they’re going to be on a truck building a route over four to five years as long as the expectations are correct from day one, we feel good about it. We’re not just looking for the client who is financially able to buy a large territory that generates a large fee for the firm. I completely understand where a lot of these firms have gone; it’s just not where we’re going – not that we don’t want to have someone come in and purchase a large territory, but we often coach the candidate to purchase one, get it open, and be successful. It’s not just about the dollars for us. Let’s make sure they’re good at what they do before we sell them a territory of four or five and they have so many issues coming up that they can’t maintain the momentum the franchisor wants them to maintain or they are frustrated, for whatever reasons, with operations on their first one and you have to take away some of the territory. It becomes an antagonistic relationship if they aren’t suited for this. Until someone is actually in running the business, you never know for sure. I think this willingness to go slowly and to work with clients along all points on the pendulum is what sets us apart from other firms.
David: Where do you think your kind of firm in the franchise vertical will be heading in the next three to five years?
John: There are only so many sources of lead generation. There is no magic bullet. We’re all racing to get to the same qualified people. How we get to them is the differentiator. The top of the funnel and the inbound marketing strategy is something we focus on and believe in. We partner with others who understand it and can help us from a lead generation perspective. We think it’s important to form relationships with others in the industry. We don’t have the only ideas that have value. There are too many smart people out there with good ideas. We want to collaborate with them to get to the end game, putting people into a business they can be happy going into every day.
I’d like to extend a big thanks to John for taking time out of his busy schedule to share his insights with us on the difficult task of finding qualified franchisees. This is a subject I know all franchisors struggle with at some point.