Create an up-front verbal contract with the prospect. When you set expectations from the beginning, it provides a structure for the entire process. We’ve had prospects who get to the finish line and then ask for more time to make the decision. At this point in the process, they should have received all knowledge needed to make an educated decision, and we would have already mutually agreed on the closing date when the verbal contract was created. At the end of the process, there really is nothing more to talk about. It’s not to be salesy, we’ve just simply gone through our process.
As a part of my series about how to be great at closing sales without seeming pushy, obnoxious, or salesy, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Todd.
Jeff Todd is the Vice President of franchise development at Driven Brands Holdings, Inc., with a focus on Meineke Car Care Centers (Meineke) and Maaco America’s Body Shop (Maaco). He leads a team that is responsible for awarding each brand’s franchise opportunity to potential investors and franchisees– working closely with individuals and operator groups who are either interested in diversifying their portfolios or seek to transition into entrepreneurship in the attractive automotive aftermarket segment.
Jeff and his department guide franchisee candidates by helping them invest in and open new locations, as well as supporting the seller and buyer sides of existing Meineke and Maaco units. Utilizing a consultative approach, Jeff’s team focuses on educating prospective franchisees on how Meineke and Maaco operate as businesses and the appropriate steps to joining the brands.
Thank you for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path?
I wouldn’t say that I followed a traditional path into franchise development. I initially started my career working in leveraged finance, then mergers and acquisitions. I loved the finance space, but, as it turns out, I wasn’t a perfect fit for the investment banking industry. There were several aspects that I enjoyed in investment banking that parallel what I do today, such as working on transactions, doing due diligence on competitor brands and our franchisee prospects and deal-making.
Fortuitously, at the time in my career when I was looking to transition out of investment banking, Meineke was looking to build out its resale program for existing repair locations. In 2015, I was drawn to the job because there were many overlaps with my career in finance. Specifically, my initial role was focused on helping investors buy and sell franchise units by educating them on the opportunity and motivating parties to take action. I have since expanded my responsibilities, and now focus on structuring area development agreements that allow investors to consolidate markets by creating portfolios of our concepts through greenfield territory expansion, resales of existing units and acquisitions of independently-owned businesses that are then rebranded as Meineke or Maaco.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
It is tough to pick just one; there are a lot of good stories. But, there is one in particular that is pretty embarrassing for me. I’m a big stickler for having thorough plans for business trips and making sure to get every ounce of ROI from the time and money invested by the company. I always stress that you need to know everything — when each event starts, where the event will be, ensure that you arrive 15 minutes early and that materials are printed error free.
A few years ago, I learned a trick. If you search Meineke and a location center number in Google it will pull up the exact location’s details. During one of my trips to Houston, I put Meineke and the center number of a location into Google Maps and started driving. As it turns out, there is actually a Meineke Street in Houston. I realized my mistake upon arrival on Meineke Street, and we were 40 minutes to an hour away from the correct destination. If it was anybody else, they would have been in a world of trouble. But, it was a good ego check and made me loosen up a little. It was also a nice reminder to always double, even triple check the details.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Over the last few years, Meineke has focused on using data and technology to change how we do everything. We’ve modernized how we coach our employees with digital dashboards, how we access KPIs, find any breakdowns, fix those breakdowns and find opportunities for improvement. And, we’re completely changing the experience with our customers by offering digital inspections with contactless services. All these different initiatives have allowed us to fully roll out a more effective multi-unit operator playbook. Our current opening process for new locations can’t keep up with stakeholder demand in each project. The biggest thing I’m looking forward to is upgrading our new unit opening processes as we transition to a cloud-based platform that allows for all parties to work together in a centralized staging ground.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve been exceptionally lucky to have had several mentors at Driven Brands — many people have been willing to stick their necks out for me. They’ve given me a lot of hands-on coaching through situations that others might not have found themselves in. Danny Rivera, who is now the Group President of the Maintenance segment at Driven Brands, gave me a shot many years ago when he was still the Meineke brand president. At the time, I was a promising 26-year-old low level employee and was given the opportunity to lead one of the biggest initiatives within the organization. This initiative included helping owners nearing retirement exit their Meineke investments while positioning these locations for consolidation with multi-unit operators.
I was so energized to be part of the resale strategy at Driven Brands, a powerhouse in the automotive industry with many leading franchise brands under its umbrella. It is a proven blueprint that is becoming increasingly common as the baby boomer generation is hitting retirement age. I was given the opportunity to create a department around giving our franchisees a chance to sell their existing locations to talented operators. Whether I was ready or not, I dove in and learned to swim quickly. This opportunity forced me to mature in my career quickly, and I received a tremendous amount of coaching and guidance from the leadership team.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit why you are an authority on the topic of sales?
To start, I don’t think there’s such a thing as an authority on sales. What I’d say, anyone who thinks they’re a salesperson isn’t approaching their sales career correctly. I don’t consider myself a salesman; rather, I consider myself an educator. I genuinely care about being extremely knowledgeable on the industry and teaching investors who we are as a company to determine together if they are a fit. We map out our franchise opportunity clearly to anyone that’s interested. If we educate them on our business, and they’re interested, great! If the opportunity doesn’t fit their needs or if my team and I determine the candidate isn’t qualified, then no worries. I believe we offer a great franchise investment. My goal is to explain the benefits of the industry, our brand and the specific opportunities. Afterwards, it’s time to ink the deal or move on. To me, it’s an educational process with the purpose of motivating individuals to take action and make decisions.
Let’s shift a bit to what is happening today in the broader world. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the COVID-19 pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty and loneliness. From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our families and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
This is a more challenging question to answer. You mentioned that many feel uncertain and isolated, but I think they are also feeling forgotten. It’s extremely difficult being trapped inside and not able to go out. Intense and consistent seclusion is not easy on anyone. I’d like to tackle this question from two angles: our business efforts and my personal efforts.
At Meineke, we have shifted our business model to adapt to the times. As an essential business, our locations largely remained open across the United States. We want to make customers feel comfortable and safe. Currently, our brand is focused on providing a completely contactless experience for our customers. We have and will continue to provide digital inspections, online consultation with our technicians and strict sanitization standards used prior to and after servicing a vehicle. All of these measures have been put in place to allow our customers the opportunity to make an educated decision on what services they need, while also staying safe. We want our customers to feel comfortable coming to Meineke and getting what they need without the added bells and whistles.
On a more personal note, I’ve made an effort to reach out more often to those in my life who I care about. Sometimes it’s the things that take less energy that make the most impact. It might seem silly, but I have a personal CRM (Customer Relationship Management) that I use to stay organized. In the CRM, I have a note to follow up with certain people in my life every 1–3 months, but I have increased that frequency since the pandemic. Sometimes it’s a simple text and sometimes it’s setting up a call; my goal is to let people know they are not forgotten. From my efforts, my family has set up several virtual happy hours with cousins and other virtual meet-ups with family and friends. Honestly, we’ve never had happy hours with my group of cousins before quarantine, but it’s something I hope we will keep up with even after we’ve moved past the pandemic.
Ok. Thanks for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. As you know, nearly any business a person will enter, will involve some form of sales. At the same time, most people have never received any formal education about how to be effective at selling. Why do you think our education system teaches nearly every other arcane subject, but sales, one of the most useful and versatile topics, is totally ignored?
For me, I think sales is viewed as this cheesy, unscrupulous and nefarious business. There’s a lot of preconceived notions about sales, and sales has had a negative connotation for a long time. People think it’s a hard, high-stress, and high-level business. However, I think the general public might not understand that everything in the world is actually sales. Plain and simple, there is a misunderstanding of the foundation of sales.
Every career and every job have some measure of sales built into it. Sales professionals are not in the zero-sum business. What I mean by that is, sales isn’t solely focused on convincing someone to buy something. The goal in sales is to motivate someone to take action, and that’s a goal that everyone has across every industry. Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for the idea; I learned that from a book, To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink. I recommend that every salesperson — and every person, really — read it!
This discussion, entitled, “How to Be Great at Sales Without Seeming Salesy”, is making an assumption that seeming salesy or pushy is something to be avoided. Do you agree with this assumption? Whether yes, or no, can you articulate why you feel the way you do?
Yes, you never want to come off as “salesy.” Customers’ alarm bells go off when they think you’re trying to sell something to them. As I have mentioned, sales is really just educating and motivating someone to take action. At Meineke, we have a 10-step process for educating potential franchise owners. We tell them who we are, educate them on the industry, our competitors and make sure to stick to our well-defined schedule.
At the start of the program, we highlight that it’s a 10-week process. In the end, if you’re interested in us, great! But if you’re not, that’s fine too. We want franchise partners who are excited about our brand and genuinely want to join. We care more about the quality of our franchise prospects than the quantity. Only the franchise prospects who believe in our concept can help us grow and provide the quality of service that Meineke and Maaco are known for with their customers. We provide franchisee candidates the good, the bad and the ugly. From there, they can make an educated decision on what’s best for their franchise portfolio.
The seven stages of a sales cycle are usually broken down to versions of Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, handling objections, Closing, and Follow-up. Which stage do you feel that you are best at? What is your unique approach, your “secret sauce”, to that particular skill? Can you explain or give a story?
We do have our own “secret sauce” when it comes to our sales process, but I’m not sure that it’s a groundbreaking initiative. Though, I would say that we are best at following our process. While we don’t break our process down into the stages you’ve listed, there’s likely some overlap.
The first step is to start reviewing our leads. We have a monthly marketing analysis and weekly pipeline evaluation, so at any time, we know where all of our leads are coming from and where they stand in the pipeline. When someone reaches out to express interest in joining the Driven Brands family, they will be contacted within 24 hours. It’s part of our rigorous 10-step process that must be followed to the T. The process is our “secret sauce.” We empower our sales team to follow our process, and they are rewarded when it leads to deals getting done. Development managers have specific emails, presentations and forms to utilize during each step. It is scalable and repeatable.
Lead generation, or prospecting, is one of the basic steps of the sales cycle. Obviously, every industry will be different, but can you share some of the fundamental strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
Our team utilizes many efforts to generate good, quality leads, but there are two main strategies. The first is networking within our industry. Networking plays a large part in the lead generation process, and it’s important to understand who knows who, and who is connected to individuals looking to buy a franchise. The power of relationships is something I used to underestimate. But, through experience, I’ve learned how important these relationships are. We are constantly updating, maintaining and building our Rolodex in the industry. Once franchise partners come on board and join the team, we ask them who else they know that would be interested in developing a Meineke or Maaco portfolio. If we’re doing things right, they’re happy to share the opportunity and help us expand our audience.
Sales professionals also have to harness and pay attention to the power of the internet. Whether it is through social media channels like LinkedIn or other online platforms, when you are looking to motivate someone to take action, you have to take into account their preferred vehicle for receiving information. Sites like LinkedIn might not be the best fit for every industry; therefore, you have to be intentional with how you utilize the internet’s power. Regardless, for anyone who wants to motivate someone to complete an action, education and forming relationships with prospects is key.
In my experience, I think the final stages of Handling Objections, Closing, and Follow-up, are the most difficult parts for many people. Why do you think ‘Handling Objections’ is so hard for people? What would you recommend for one to do, to be better at ‘Handling Objections’?
Look at the source of the objections and pay attention to when they pop up. A lot of objections will arise at the end of the process. However, that typically occurs when you haven’t set a clear expectation that the process will inevitably end. Prospects aren’t prepared for the process to end and aren’t ready to sign on the dotted line.
How nervous were you when you bought your first house? I can assume very anxious, concerned and fearful of what could happen next. You don’t normally walk into a house and buy it on the spot. It’s a big purchase. It takes time.
If the person you are moving to a specific action is coming up with a lot of questions at the end, there has more than likely been a lack of education. What I suggest is to make sure that during the process, you are thorough and address questions even before they can be asked. When you know your product really well, you will be able to answer all questions honestly and definitively. It’s important to be a true expert on your services, the company and its objectives. That way, you can handle any questions or objections and lower a prospect’s anxiety of the process ending.
It comes down to knowledge and confidence at the end of the day. Are you selling something that you believe in? If you don’t believe in it, you shouldn’t be selling it.
‘Closing’ is of course the proverbial Holy Grail. Can you suggest 5 things one can do to successfully close a sale without being perceived as pushy? If you can, please share a story or example, ideally from your experience, for each.
- Create an up-front verbal contract with the prospect. When you set expectations from the beginning, it provides a structure for the entire process. We’ve had prospects who get to the finish line and then ask for more time to make the decision. At this point in the process, they should have received all knowledge needed to make an educated decision, and we would have already mutually agreed on the closing date when the verbal contract was created. At the end of the process, there really is nothing more to talk about. It’s not to be salesy, we’ve just simply gone through our process.
- Our focus is on having high-quality materials that are consistent across the board. While good materials don’t close deals, messy ones do ruin them. Our entire team is extremely disciplined in how we operate and stick to the process. A great example that I’ll call out is the newest member of our franchise sales team, Eric McLauchlin. He joined the team in 2020 with no background in the franchise industry and solid a record number of licenses in his first twelve months. His output is a credit to not only his hard work, but also to our system that creates the opportunity for one to achieve results that are better than many seasoned franchise professionals.
- Show the prospect your organization. Every fourth Wednesday of the month, we have a Discovery Day. Everyone on our team is committed to taking part in each of the Discovery Days because it provides a franchise prospect a chance to really visualize what they’re buying into. During Discovery Days, prospects are able to see us engaged and working together. This helps show them who we really are as individuals and as a team, and helps us to start building up those relationships. Our franchise prospects are not just buying into a name or a business model; they are buying into our whole organization, and that includes our dedicated team.
- Utilize your existing customers and let them speak for you. Yes, our leadership team believes in our product, but, what do our existing franchise partners say? Our franchise partners will validate that we are what we say we are. I encourage any franchise prospect to call the franchise operator who has implemented our suggested operating enhancements, and I also encourage them to call the franchise operator who hasn’t implemented any of our suggested changes. We want our prospects to see the difference between the engaged partners and the unengaged partners. I would encourage anyone to let a prospect draw their own conclusions. More often than not, prospects speaking to an existing franchise owner will allow them to see that we are invested in doing what we say we will.
- Sometimes, you have to put some skin in the game. We are willing to make the tough choice to give up on upfront ROI and be in it for the long run. We are focused on the long-term benefits of our partnership with franchise prospects and structure our deals as such. At times, we offer concessions that allow for an investor’s payback period to be reduced. The goal is then for them to be ready to grow and open their next location sooner.
Finally, what are your thoughts about ‘Follow up’? Many businesses get leads who might be interested but things never seem to close. What are some good tips for a business leader to successfully follow up and bring things to a conclusion, without appearing overly pushy or overeager?
Our team maintains our strict follow-up process. We attempt contact three times, so we only have three touch points in 72 hours. If they aren’t interested, we move them to a different communication section. Once we place them into a category labeled “no response or interest,” they begin to receive a monthly email. They are able to unsubscribe from this at any time or respond directly to the sales team and re-enter our process. It’s important to keep people around that want to be engaged, but for those that don’t, it’s okay to stop communicating.
As you know there are so many modes of communication today. For example, In-person, phone calls, video calls, emails, and text messages. In your opinion, which of these communication methods should be avoided when attempting to close a sale or follow up? Which are the best ones? Can you explain or give a story?
It’s challenging to pick just one, but especially in the last year as the world has changed a fair bit. In many ways, we may never fully go back to “normal.” A lot of communication will get screened before it ever gets to the intended recipients, but for right now any effort to make contact is worth it.
Typically, our first mode of communication is a text message. From there, we switch to webinars and video conferences. Another great touchpoint is our virtual Discovery Days. As I mentioned earlier, all employees are on camera for these meetings on the fourth Wednesday of the month.
Pre-COVID, I would say that nothing beats in-person experiences. But, until we get back to normal, the method of communication will have to be what the franchise prospect is most comfortable with. So, I guess the answer is whatever people want, we’ll match them.
Ok, we are nearly done. Here is our final “meaty” question. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Take ownership. It is so easy for us to blame others or external factors for outcomes or situations we don’t like. When a transaction goes sideways, I always tell my team that they need to own it, take responsibility, and reflect on actions that they could have taken to alter the outcome.
In reality, we can only control what we do. I believe the more we realize that, the more we impact our results and outcome in life. It is a concept that I have followed for my whole life, but it is also articulated in a book incredibly well. I would encourage everyone to read Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink.
I truly believe when you start to take responsibility for where you are in life today, that is when you can determine your destiny.
How can our readers follow you online?
My team and I can be reached through our websites listed below. I also post on the industry from time to time on LinkedIn.
Thank you for the interview. We wish you only continued success!