TalkingLocal – Interview with Brian Anderson
In the latest edition of TalkingLocal we are joined by Brian Anderson of Media Mash.
Brian started his first internet marketing business back in 1995, and has since since founded many search, social & mobile marketing businesses. As well as running his own agencies, Brian also provides training, and is an active speaker at industry events.
One particular specialty of Brian – which interested us most – is working with multi-location franchise businesses, and in particular, the automotive industry, working with car dealerships. In this interview we wanted to find out how to sell into franchises and how to make your business work when you target those type of customers.
More importantly, we want to delve into the various pros and cons of working with franchises, and learn about the additional challenges that these types of clients can bring.
Finally, we’d like to say a big thankyou to Brian, who took time out from his vacation to answer our questions!
Key Discussion Points
- The advantages of working with franchise clients
- What fresh challenges does a franchise client bring?
- How to build relationships with, and ultimately land a franchise client
- What marketing channels Brian makes use of to reach out to franchise clients?
- How to cope with the increase in capacity that’s required with franchise clients
Note: There are parts of the video which have poor audio quality due to connection issues, which unfortunately can’t be helped. However we’ve done our best to fill in any gaps with the transcription below.
Keep a look out for more in the TalkingLocal series coming soon. We’ve got some key interviews with big personalities from the local search world lined up – so do stay tuned! You can also keep up to date with the latest TalkingLocal videos on our YouTube playlist.
Myles: Hello, everyone, and welcome to this edition of TalkingLocal. If you haven’t caught one of our previous TalkingLocal interviews before, I get together with some very well-known, very respected people from the local search industry. I ask them questions about their experiences, their insights, also their motivations, and what gets them out of bed in the morning.
Today I am joined by Brian Anderson of Media Mash. Brian started his first internet marketing business all the way back in 1995, and since then, he’s founded many search business, social businesses, and also mobile marketing businesses. As well as running his own agencies, he also provides training in search and social, and also does a lot of talking at industry events. So he’s a very busy man!
So we’re very happy that you could be with us today, Brian. Where are you by the way?
Brian Anderson: Hey Myles, I’m doing very well. Thank you very much for having me today. I’m actually, if you notice the background here, down at the Florida Gulf Coast. I have a beach condo for a week and I’m taking a week of sun and fun with the kids. So, I have four kids and we’re down on holiday, if you will, for a week.
Myles: That’s great. That’s very nice. I bet it’s a lot warmer and a lot nicer than it is here.
Brian Anderson: It’s a great week. It’s been beautiful here, for sure.
Myles: Well, that does sound lovely, Brian. So, amongst all of Brian’s vast skills and knowledge, he has one area of expertise that I’m particularly interested in exploring today. Brian specializes in working with multi-location franchise businesses and in particular, he focuses on the automotive industry, working with car dealerships.
Personally, I don’t know much about franchise industries and how they work and how you sell into them, but, they definitely present a lucrative opportunity. So I’m hoping that in today’s interview, Brian will share some of his insights and his tips to us, about how to sell into franchises and how to make your business work when you target that particular type of customer.
So, Brian, you do a ton of things. You run your own agency, you provide training, and you also speak at events. Now how do you divide your time between those different tasks and which do you enjoy doing the most?
Brian Anderson: That’s a great question, Myles, and I often don’t know exactly how I divide my time. Sometimes, I’m at a loss, like you would imagine, but it’s having the right people. So I have a very well qualified team that I’ve had for over five years at Media Mash and with their help, I’m able to kind of spearhead the agency while participating in industry events and kind of doing other things.
Myles: That’s always a nice position to be in. How long did it take you to get to that point with your business?
Brian Anderson: I started in 1994 or ’95 and, like a lot of people, did a lot of different things, looking to make additional money, and then from there it grew into a whole new area. But I would say it took three full years to turn the corner and continually achieve high six-figure income. It was tough at first.
I think the one thing that I might have had an advantage on over others is that I actually started doing local in one way or another in ’96, so I had a long stream of freelance clients before I went full-time and I was able to build on top of that base. So I didn’t just start cold turkey one day. It was an evolutionary process that began before Google a long time ago.
Myles: Okay, that’s great. So, you could have chosen to work with franchises, particularly in the automotive industry. Why did you choose to go off in that particular market? What’s good about working with franchises?
Brian Anderson: You know what? Let me clarify. So, we work with franchises actually across all industries. Our specific target is automotive, but I have three franchises today that are non-automotive and they’re the base of our business.
The reason we realized the opportunity is four years ago we landed an alarm and security company in the United States. It’s a very well-known company and we picked up 10 or 11 locations all owned by one franchisee and the secured an invite for us to speak at the National Convention. We went to this convention in Tucson, Arizona in 2010 and out of that we landed 40, 50 new clients over a three day period. A bunch of them signed right there in the room. I realized immediately that the struggle with acquiring clients could be addressed through building that relationship with a multi-location business.
Now, some of them control all of their business from a corporate level and others let the franchisees make decisions. It’s a little bit of a detective process to figure it out, but to me, the real allure was the opportunity to land a lot of clients and generate reasonable revenue without the typical sales process and the struggle that a lot of us have on the sales side.
Myles: So what you’re saying then is it sounds like there is no “one-size fits all” approach with franchises. Some of them are controlled centrally and some are kind of more devolved to a location level. Which one is better? Which one is easier for you to work with? How can you go about identifying the structure of a particular franchise?
Brian Anderson: Thank you, Myles. There really isn’t a “one-size fits all approach” for franchisees. What often happens is there is a corporate marketing director or a vice president of marketing that wants to centralize and control everything and then there are the franchisees that are brought into the business model of owning their own business. Both of these are very powerful people in the company and they both make decisions. So, somehow, it’s a challenge between pleasing the corporate VP or marketing department as well as placating the local franchisee.
We have both models. We have one franchise where everything is through corporate, which I really love, because there is only one person to please and one decision-maker.
But then the other franchises that we work with are on a model where we work directly with the franchisees in each market. The advantage there is we build relationships with all of these different people and if the franchise at the corporate level wanted to make a change, it wouldn’t necessarily cause us to lose our relationship. So we’re probably in a stronger position when we work with the franchisees, because we’re able to build those relationships directly and we’re not a corporate person. Although, the advantage with corporate is that it’s one check and it’s very, very easy to work with.
So there is no one right answer. I think I prefer corporate. I know that corporate prefers that any marketer will work with corporate, but there are advantages to both sides. So there is really truthfully there is no one right answer to that one.
Myles: Well, that’s very interesting. So how long is a typical sales cycle with a franchise, from when you might start a relationship to when you might land them? Does that change if you’re going through corporate than if you’re going direct with the dealer?
Brian Anderson: It does, Myles. So, the typical sales process does differ. If you go through corporate, you’re going to get the usual rebuff or push back and you almost have to build a relationship and become a trusted adviser of that marketing person. It’s the marketing director, typically. If you go through the franchisee level, what typically happens is if you land one or more locations as a client, you’re going to build a success story. You’re going to generate a win, if you will, and try to turn that franchisee into a raving fan.
So it’s two different approaches, and then what happens when you go with the franchisee level and you deliver results, you get them to help market or evangelize your success story inside the bigger franchise. Typically, that happens at user groups or national meetings. Almost all of our success has come out of participating at these national conferences they have.
So I volunteered to do a series of talks at the conference. So, for instance, at one conference that I was at for a security company, I spoke about the changing role of search in the commercial security business and then we talked about the convergence of social media in search. They’re all the kind of topics that are relevant in our industry today, but applied to their vertical, and then simplified down so that they can have some sort of key points as takeaways.
That is typically where you’re able to tell your story, share the successes you’ve had with a single franchise, and then hopefully land other franchisees that want similar success. The beauty is that when you get a hundred or two hundred businesses in the room, all with the same goals and the same vision of the company that you just worked with, it’s easy to secure them as clients. So it’s a lot of fun.
It’s completely different than the normal sales cycle of any local client or any search client that I work with and the beauty is that it allows you to go after a large number of clients with single sales cycles. So it’s a different sales cycle and sometimes it lasts several months, but the payback is well worth it. The payback can be, depending on where you’re at in your business, you can go and land a franchise that immediately brings you $10,000 to $20,000 a month in revenue, if not more.
We found that it was the only way we were able to really make a difference in our revenue. We were in a rut where we would get clients between $500 and $1,200 a month, typically, and we did a solely local search and then when we started landing these franchisee clients, I realized we weren’t going to get $1,000 a client. Economies of scale pushed the pricing down in most cases to the $300 to $400 level and we would do a lot more work for $300 or $400 than we would ever do for a $1,000.
The reason why is that if you can get 110 locations at $350, you’re frontloading a little bit of the work just like you would do with any other client. However, the advantage is you have this tremendous cash flow.
Myles: Okay, that’s great. So, obviously, franchises do represent a significant opportunity if you manage to tap into the sales cycle and work those relationships. So, what are the issues and the problems working with franchises and where do you find that the biggest headaches or problems come into it?
Brian Anderson: It’s a great question, Myles. The challenges around franchises are many and, first and foremost, they have very high expectations, relative to what they want to pay. I’m sure everybody listening to this may say that’s the same as my client.
Well, most of your clients won’t ask you to do everything for $300. I often find that they feel very entitled and it’s very similar to what most people experience with their clients, except it’s magnified, because they feel like as a part of 100 or even a 200 or 300 location business, they have more sway with you.
That first and foremost has been my challenge. I was a big believer in pushing the price point and the value that we bring up, and so when I started working with franchises, I realized that I had to package it in a way that made sense for them, not just what I wanted. Once I got over my own internal hurdles and objections there, I realized that I didn’t have to get $1,000 a month and that I could build a very sustainable business, even a seven-figure business, with clients at a $300 price point. I learned how to play into that desire that they had which was to get more.
So now the packages that I do with franchisees typically span search and reputation, which are the two areas that, I think, most of them need the most. In many cases, they include some kind of mobile website if it’s needed. By bundling these services together, one, it makes it very hard for them to walk away from me. Then, two, it gives them that feeling of winning and getting a tremendous value for the price that they are paying as part of the large big picture franchise. So that’s probably the biggest issue that I’ve had.
The other issue is there truly is a disconnect between corporate marketing and the franchisee. Corporate marketing sees the typical corporate director or VP that wants to command and control the whole company. The franchisee paid $100,000 or $200,000 to be an owner and in their mind, they own their business – they’re the CEO. So they both have sway and they both have power and they have to find a way to coexist together and move the ball forward, if you will.
In many cases, it gets into a very difficult relationship where the stronger franchisees want to poo-poo anything that corporate management wants to do and corporate marketing wants to run rough-shot over what the franchisee wants. So somehow you, as a digital agency, is going to get caught in the middle and you have to somehow walk that line between pleasing corporate and pleasing the franchisee while you deliver value.
Myles: That is actually very fascinating….
Brian Anderson: Once you figure it out, it makes for job easier…
Myles: Apologies, Brian. I cut you off a little bit there. The audio is jumping around a little bit. So it’s interesting looking at the kind of dynamic relationship between the guy corporate and the guy local both thinking they are ultimately in charge.
Obviously, with franchises come scale. If you are a small or a relatively small consultant or agency, and you’re going to go after franchises or you land one, how quickly do you have to kind of scale up your business to kind of cope with the potential volume you get? Did you have any kind of issues or struggles around the first time that you’ve got a franchise and kind of dealing with the extra capacity that was needed?
Brian Anderson: Myles, it’s a great question and I’m going to answer this one honestly. Yes, we had a lot of issues there. You have to be very intelligent on how you package your services so that you can deliver value to the client in the agreement that you have. So it can’t require tons and tons of man-effort per location.
So our first hurdle was around tracking. Most of the software tools out there didn’t allow for that and most of the software tools didn’t allow for tracking more than one URL. So, for me, we had to devise a model that showcased the effort we were doing for the franchisee.
Typically, that was more than just their website. It was maybe a YouTube video. It may be a press release. And so, when you and I originally talked, the ability that BrightLocal had to monitor and track multiple web properties per franchisee and per location was critical because a large percentage of what we do is sell the success we bring. If we don’t champion the work we’re doing, nobody will. They are the first to say it’s not working.
So you have to showcase that it is working, and you have to be able to track that. So I would say a product obviously like BrightLocal – I’m a customer – is very important. Most products fall down in this area and they don’t allow you to win with franchises at all. You have to be able to showcase multiple URLs.
So when you position your services, for instance, if you’re doing local search, you want to be heavy around citations, because citations are so important to true map results and all of the GEO-based results that these clients need. You want to stay away from heavy content creation, for instance, because that’s so manual intensive that in most cases, you’re not able to provide value.
You want to focus on the things that a small team can do. As an example, I have a team of two that runs 111 locations of a retail franchise. That includes managing the relationship, the day-to-day relationship via email, and occasional phone calls, and so on and so forth. So this team tracks and monitors everything.
Then let’s say that my service offer was heavy content creation. I wouldn’t be able to do that for a hundred locations, so we had to do it in-house and then leverage third-party tools and leverage the occasional outsourcer, I would imagine, when it make sense. But it’s very important that the right services are chosen to sell to the franchisee. I think that’s the most critical point that we can answer that question.
Myles: Okay, that’s great, Brian. Thank you very much. So it seems that it’s a lot about the systems and the processes that you have in place to make it really efficient in running your business.
So I’ve just got one final question for you. How do you market yourself? You also talked about going to these trade events or these franchise events which sounds great. What other channels do you market yourself through and do you pick particular franchises that you want to go after and then focus all of your efforts on those? or do you find that now you’ve got a reputation either in the automotive industry or by working with franchises in general, that a lot of business just comes to you?
Brian Anderson: Myles, that’s a great question. Let me answer from the beginning and talk about the shift and how we address that. Initially, I market directly via cold call and cold email, if you will, into decision makers. So once I realized that I wanted to get into franchises, it was before I realized the automotive opportunity.
I would direct-target a marketing director or marketing VP at that franchise. Then, typically, I would try to build a relationship at the local level. I met some of these people through networking groups at the local level, like at Chamber of Commerce meetings, and then just walking in and saying hello. So that was kind of the initial onset.
As time progressed, we developed a focus on the automotive industry, the reason being that there was a very high price point per location. They have large marketing budgets, significantly 10 to 25 times larger than other businesses. So we wanted to develop a solution around automotive.
So what I did in that case, I hired an ex-automotive general manager. He was a gentleman who ran a Toyota store in the Atlanta market. He had kind of burned out on the whole 100-hour-a-week career working in retail automotive. I hired him to come and help us build a sales channel. So with his experience, we built a direct retail sales focus on automotive.
Now, on the other side of the house, I continued on my level, and with my partner I have a partner who’s job it is to land large franchises, almost in a consultative role where we’ll reach out and we’ll leverage our past success. We have a sales team that’s solely focused on automotive and they have vertical knowledge. They reach in and they know the language and the lingo. We have packages designed for the automotive industry. Typically, franchises are 3 to maybe 10 or 12 stores and the price point is several thousand dollars per location versus several hundred dollars at a normal franchisee.
Now, on the large franchise scale side, we’ve had a lot of success with retail and restaurants, and it’s very easy to find the right person. Their names are published everywhere. The counter is that they get a lot of phone calls. So I’ve learned that the right way to reach those people is not to ask. It’s to come in and offer to help, provide some tooling, show them some things that are going wrong, and, just from a benevolent standpoint, offer to share and teach and correct an issue at no cost so that I can build that rapport.
As we build a rapport, we then eventually turn that into a discussion about how we can play a role. It may be a long time, like three to six months. Usually, within a year, we find a way to speak at their user conference or franchisee convention. That’s typically what happens in our sales cycle to land a client. Once we get to the convention – that equals new clients.
Myles: Brian, that’s great. That’s a fantastic insight, so thank you for sharing that. I don’t have any more questions. It looks like a very sunny day where you are, so I’m sure you’re itching to get back out to the beach!
So, thank you very much for spending some time with us this morning. For everyone who is watching this video, thank you very much for listening to TalkingLocal and please look out for some upcoming interviews we’ve got over the next few weeks. Thank you very much. ‘Bye.
Have a great day wherever you are. Thank you.