Corporate Leader Finds His True Calling in a B2B franchise

Welcome to another episode of Atlanta Franchise Today with host Leslie Kuban, expert franchise consultant and owner of FranNet Atlanta. Atlanta Franchise Today is dedicated to bringing entrepreneurs and business owners the best practices and tips for their franchise goals.

Unfortunately, many businesses struggle with putting a successful sales system in place. Today, we’re going to visit with a local training company that’s part of a global franchise brand helping businesses is to solve their sales pain. In this episode, Leslie sits down with Mark McGraw, a local owner of Sandler Training. Sandler is the worldwide leader in sales training, helping salespeople take control of their sales process and helping leaders identify and train top sales talent.

Transcription:

Leslie Kuban:
Welcome to this show, Mark.

Mark McGraw:
Leslie, good to be here. Good to see you.

Leslie Kuban:
It’s great to see you. We’ve known each other several years now.

Mark McGraw:
Long time, long time.

Leslie Kuban:
Well, I’ve known Sandler for a long time, and I have a story about that that I’ll share later. But for our viewers who don’t know Sandler, tell us a little bit about your business, who your customers are, and how you help them.

Mark McGraw:
Sure. Sandler Training is a business where we focus on helping salespeople and sales managers put good systems and processes in place for selling. You find a lot of businesses, they just kind of wing it. They don’t know what to do, how to go prospect or how to go look for business, how to network, and how to be able to work enterprise deals.

Mark McGraw:
Our clients can be as small as one. We don’t work with businesses smaller than one. That’s tough. But on the other end, we have clients that are 500, 700 salespeople and we’re working with them internationally as well. It’s a great business to be in. I’ve loved being in it.

Leslie Kuban:
You’ve certainly found your calling and I’m going to brag on you a little bit. I mean, your brand has been around for many, many years. There’s a small number of you that are in the Hall of Fame within the Sandler system, and I know you’re are one of them, so congratulations.

Mark McGraw:
Thank you. Thank you. It’s quite an honor. Yeah, David H Sandler award winner back in 2017 and it’s kind of a hall of fame, I guess, within Sandler so quite an honor. Yeah, it’s quite an honor.

Leslie Kuban:
But this wasn’t what you’ve always done. Mark. You had a corporate career and then something led you to a pivot. Would love to hear your story. Just what had you decide to do something different?

Mark McGraw:
Yeah, I worked in corporate America for a Fortune 500 company and came up through the ranks of a Fortune 500 company. Ended up as VP of sales and so I did that, I guess for 16 years. In fact, I saw on my LinkedIn profile, I’ve just transitioned for being with Sandler longer than I was 16 years plus in corporate.

Mark McGraw:
For me, I came through the ranks and ended up running North and South America for this division. I just felt like, for me, having somebody else direct my efforts every day that was overseas, telling me how to run my business from 3000 miles away, and not always telling me things that I thought were good for the business, I got frustrated with that and I decided I want to do my own thing. I started a campaign to figure out what I wanted to go do and engaged help in doing that.

Leslie Kuban:
Something led you to Sandler, but were you looking for a sales training type of business? Do you remember what you were-

Mark McGraw:
I didn’t know what I was looking for really, Leslie. It’s just one of those situations. I knew one thing I didn’t want to do, and that was by a franchise, which is ironic. But I was adamant I wasn’t going to buy a franchise. Nights and weekends, I’m looking for what do I want to go do?

Mark McGraw:
I got introduced to someone that was couched to me as a business broker. I called him up and I’m on the conversation with this guy, Jim. Very quickly realized he’s a franchise broker and I’m not buying a franchise. I said to him, “Look, the conversation’s going to be cut short.” And he very nicely said something to the effect of, “Hey, look. You’re telling me that even though I could show you a business that you could have nice cash flow, you could kind of run your own ship, and do all these great things, just for the fact that it was a franchise, you wouldn’t look at it?” I took a deep breath and I’m like, “Well… ” and here I am. And 16 years later, is the best decision I ever made. It is nice to hear people say that I’ve found my calling and our team’s calling. That’s nice to hear.

Leslie Kuban:
I just have to tell my Sandler story. I’m been so excited to have you come in on the show. I got introduced to Sandler very early in my career, and I was really struggling in my first year in my business. I was young and I had never been in any kind of a sales career before. I was fumbling with how to have good conversations with my customer and with me. I just didn’t have a structure. I didn’t have a way of it being comfortable for all of us. And then I’m so glad that I got introduced to Sandler, one of your colleagues, many years ago. It turned my business around overnight, and so I’m always a raving fan of Sandler and what you can do.

Mark McGraw:
Thank you. Thank you. I can assure you we never get tired of hearing stories like that, and we hear them a lot. I mean, for people that are veterans in sales and people that are just getting started, either way, it’s been really nice to hear stories like that.

Leslie Kuban:
What do you say to that guy, Mark, who says, “I want to be an entrepreneur, but I’m not a sales guy. I’m not a salesperson,” almost like it’s a dirty word. What do you think about that?

Mark McGraw:
I think done right, Leslie, sales is about helping people. In fact, our motto, my motto, personal motto, “Help people make money. Have fun.” I joke with people, my mother was a guidance counselor. My father was a minister, and you end up in sales. It’s only natural, right? Far from it.

Mark McGraw:
I think if you look at sales about helping people and being willing to walk away from people that don’t want your help or don’t need your help, I think sales, to me, it may be a dirty word when you try to sell something that somebody doesn’t want or they don’t need. And there’s a lot of that takes place. But if you look at it in a different light, you say, “I’m here to help people, but only people that want my help. If somebody doesn’t want my help, they’re not qualified to do business with me. Therefore, I need to disqualify them and move on rather than try to force a square peg and a round hole.” You usually find that people far more productive, they feel better about what they do as a profession, and it just works smoother for prospect and seller.

Mark McGraw:
That’s what I would say to somebody like that, “Go out and help people, and don’t be afraid to turn away people that don’t want your help.”

Leslie Kuban:
That’s a great methodology to make it comfortable for customers and for people in the role of the salesperson.

Mark McGraw:
And you’re different than everybody else too. Because if you’re willing to qualify or disqualify somebody, then it separates you from everybody else in sales. Because, a lot of times, the people that are calling on that same person are being force-fed a sales pitch that they don’t really want or need. You become unique in a roundabout way by the way that you sell which, to me, is one of the magics of Sandler.

Leslie Kuban:
Another part of the Sandler offering is cultivating sales leaders and sales teams. Tell us a little bit more about that side of the business, the recruiting or the hiring side.

Mark McGraw:
Sure. We have one model of our business which is, obviously, helping the sales team themselves, the salespeople through coaching, training, group cohorts, programs, and public stuff. Then we also have a management program that’s specifically around sales managers to help them do a better job of hiring. Again, you find a lot of people are winging it in that area. I know I did for most of my 16 years because there just isn’t a lot, lot of good resources, tools, and processes that are available for sales managers.

Mark McGraw:
There’s a billion things, Sandler included, around selling. But if you look at sales management, there’s just not as much structure around hiring, interviewing. When do you let somebody go? How do you terminate somebody if that’s what needs to happen? How do you have accountability? We bundled all of those tools together and made it easy for sales managers just to follow that playbook.

Leslie Kuban:
How is that showing up in the great resignation, the great reshuffling? What are you guys seeing?

Mark McGraw:
It’s a big deal. It’s a big deal. I think a recent number I saw was like 55%, and, of course, you can find statistics all kinds of places. But it’s 55% of the population is looking to change jobs in the next two years. That’s a huge number. You think about a room of 10 people and half of them are thinking about making a change.

Mark McGraw:
Now, that doesn’t mean I think all of them will make a change, but it is forcing managers to think differently about how they serve and support their salespeople and their employees because they’re almost having to treat them like customers more. How do I keep them around? Money is one thing. But a lot of times, we’re seeing right now that really the work environment, how my relationship with my boss is, where I’m working, these are all bigger influences than pay. Although, that’s got a component to it too. It’s a big deal for people and they need to pay attention to it.

Leslie Kuban:
Is that translating into different offerings or different requests for service from Sandler? I’m just curious if it’s showing up that way in your business somehow.

Mark McGraw:
I think where we’ve seen it more than anything, Leslie, is when people come to us, sometimes they’ll say, “Hey, we want to make sure that our people know that we care about them. By investing with you, then we are showing our people that we’re important to them and that we’re giving them tools to be more successful.” I have heard that a lot.

Leslie Kuban:
Let’s go back 16 years when you were just getting started. Getting any business going is hard. I’m just hoping you might remember and share with our viewers just what were challenges for you your first year in business? What was harder than you thought it was going to be?

Mark McGraw:
Well, I think most people underestimate what it takes. But at the same time, I think that you can accomplish a lot if you stick with it. When I look back getting started, obviously, getting new customers and getting new clients is the number one thing. It’s hard to do because I just didn’t know people in the community. I was in an industrial business so I wasn’t tied in with the community. I wasn’t tied in with other businesses like that. It’s a challenge to get things started. Perseverance, sticking with it, all that stuff, it makes a difference over time.

Mark McGraw:
It’s always funny to me. Sometimes I’ll look back, I’ll go back to my old journals, and I’ll look at goals and struggles that I was having 16 years ago. I’ll look at what my goals were for that quarter. I just look at them like, “That’s so cute. It’s such a small, little goal.” At the time, it looked like this Mount Everest of a goal. But we’re doing that in a day sometimes, and that was what my goal was for the month or for the quarter.

Mark McGraw:
I think, to me, if you stick with things and if you have a plan, it’s a benefit of having and being part of a franchise network is that there are resources around to help show you a path so you can get creative off of that path. But at the same time, you’re not having to make the path right from scratch.

Leslie Kuban:
What was your perception of franchising back then that had you so heck bent on, “No way. Not for me”?

Mark McGraw:
I was convinced that franchising, I was going to pay to have to work for somebody. That the rules were going to be so strict, the guidelines and all of that, that I would not have any ability to be creative. But as it turns out, there are business-to-business businesses that I don’t know that everybody thinks about. But there are business-to-businesses out there that are B2B and that do give you the leeway to run your own ship, but within some guardrails as well. And frankly, we need guardrails. Guardrails keep you from going off the reservation and into the desert so they’re good to have.

Leslie Kuban:
Your business is a perfect example of a business services, very professional, work with professional clientele, professional employees. It is a challenge and opportunity for me. Every day when people hear I’m in franchising, they think I’m in the restaurant business, which couldn’t be further from the truth. People are usually pleasantly surprised, it sounds like as you were, that there’s a lot more out there.

Mark McGraw:
Yeah, I was. I was convinced, I mentioned that earlier, I wasn’t going to buy a franchise, and here I am 16 years later. I’ve known other people that went out on their own and they tried to do sales coaching or sales training on their own. They’re trying to create content, built things up on their own, find customers, market websites, and the list goes on. Almost every one of them have failed relative to where we’ve been able to grow our business just because we had a lot of that available to us. I’ve been very grateful for that.

Leslie Kuban:
Back to this great reshuffling. There’s a lot of entrepreneurial interest right now. What advice would you have for that guy or gal thinking about doing something entrepreneurial for the first time like you were, and they’re kind of in that self-reflection phase? Any words of wisdom for them on what they need to be honest with themselves about?

Mark McGraw:
Yeah. I’ll just speak candidly about it. I think in corporate America, there’s a perception that it’s a safe thing that the risks are low. And that if you go entrepreneurial, then the risks are really high. I think there’s a perceived risk that corporate is safe. But the reality is that there’s a lot of people that’s shuffling, and those things happen. People lose jobs, companies get bought out, and all of that so the real risk is higher to me in corporate than people perceive it to be.

Mark McGraw:
I think in business and entrepreneurship, if you’re the right person and you got the right model, I think the perceived risk is higher than the reality. The reality is that it’s not as risky as I think people perceive the businesses to be, especially, I think, on a franchise side where there is structure to it. I’ve always had this perceived risk versus actual risk inside of my head between being an employee for somebody in a corporate situation as opposed to running your own business.

Leslie Kuban:
So it might be not as risky as you think it is?

Mark McGraw:
I 100% agree. When my wife and I talk about investing, I said, “I just want to invest in myself because that’s the number one return that I know that I’m always going to get a good return on,” at least I hope. but certainly there, that’s the best investment that I think that we can make.

Leslie Kuban:
It sounds like you’ve got great support at home too, which is important.

Mark McGraw:
I do. Blessed for her, for sure.

Leslie Kuban:
Well, I always like to wrap up with a success story. I know you have so many of them. I consider myself one of them, but do anybody, in particular, come to mind that you’ll share with our audience of a Sandler win?

Mark McGraw:
There’s so many. One, I guess, just actually right at the end of the year, we got a phone call from a client. He’s a sales professional in a business-to-business environment, business brokerage, in fact, on the commercial insurance side of things. He called us up at the end of the year and he said, “I just want to thank you guys.” He said, “I gave my kids huge checks to get them started in some retirement. I bought a new car. I was able to do these things.” And he said, “I was able to do that because of you guys.”He said, “The feeling that I had in my ability to do that,” having himself just cash the biggest check he’d ever gotten his life as a bonus check at that particular time.

Mark McGraw:
You can just feel the warmth, the energy, and the pride that somebody has. And thankfully, we get to hear stories like that all the time. They never get old, I will say,

Leslie Kuban:
Congratulations. That’s fantastic.

Mark McGraw:
Thanks. Thanks. We’re happy for him.

Leslie Kuban:
How would potential customers get in touch with you?

Mark McGraw:
Sure. Probably the easiest thing to do would be to either reach out to us on our email, SalesEngine@Sandler.com, or at our website, which is SalesEngine.Sandler.com. Always happy to hear from people.

Leslie Kuban:
Well, congratulations, again, on your success.

Mark McGraw:
Thank you.

Leslie Kuban:
Thank you so much for joining today. Mark.

Mark McGraw:
Thank you. Appreciate it so much, Leslie. Thanks for having me.

Leslie Kuban:
And folks, thanks for joining us on another episode of Atlanta Franchise Today. If our interview has inspired some interest in learning more about Sandler for sales coaching or the Sandler franchise opportunity, there’s a QR code coming up on your screen right now. If you open up the camera on your phone, it will open up a website that will allow you to request immediate access to get more information. Thank you.


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