Meet Sandler Training CEO Shaun Thomson on why first impressions are so important

Shaun Thomson, CEO, Sandler Training (UK), isn't one for hyperbole. But when he went out to America to see how Sandler Training was being run, he was so impressed by what he saw; he eventually bought the UK Master Franchise.

Meet Sandler Training CEO Shaun Thomson on why first impressions are so important

Shaun Thomson, CEO, Sandler Training (UK), isn’t one for hyperbole. But when he went out to America to see how Sandler Training was being run, he was so impressed by what he saw; he eventually bought the UK Master Franchise.

A Chartered Civil Engineer by training, (undergraduate, Birmingham; post-graduate, Strathclyde) Thomson wasted little time moving into the corporate world of IT and telecoms, working for a number of ‘big beasts’, including Apple, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, EDS and IBM.

Yet it was his last corporate engagement with Avaya – spun-off from Fortune 500 member Lucent Technologies – that was to prove formative, Thomson taking his sales division from start-up to $35 million in turnover.

It was during this time however that Thomson had, by his own admission now, become “incredibly frustrated by the feedback I used to get about ‘great conversations’ my team were having with prospects – it felt like I had a team of conversationalists, rather than closers,” he says.

“I wanted to professionalise the sales division and establish processes, but I struggled to find external sales training companies that could support me in my goal.” 

Which is where Sandler Training comes in.

“I had heard about Sandler Training – it looked like an excellent fit for my needs, but it didn’t have a UK division. I flew to the US to go on one of its foundation courses and I was incredibly impressed,” he says.

“I put my whole team through Sandler training in the US and we doubled our business within a year.  It perfectly aligned with my belief structure on sales – marrying systems with the ‘doing’ to help businesses achieve long term growth.

And he adds: “It felt like my career had led me to this perfect point where, having been a client of Sandler for two years, I agreed to buy the UK Master franchise and fill a gap in the market.”

Indeed, Thomson’s first hand experience as a client showed him how Sandler’s systems work and how they enable businesses to experience structured growth.

“The approach and materials are logical – they make sense – but they’re also rooted in psychology and aligning goals with the personal motivations of the individual. I did and do believe in it, which makes the business so much more authentic.

Thomson adds that the model is also well aligned for franchising and equal business stature; enabling clients “to get the global expertise, delivered at a local level.” 

For Thomson, key core values at Sandler Training include: Having the best material system in the world for sales training and Being the gold standard in support.

Also, delivering excellence through practical, replicable systems.

And last, but not least: Growing clients lasts forever.

“I measure my performance against these values and reward franchisees that go the extra mile to deliver them – via giving them a ‘franchisee of the year’ accolade and recognising them more regularly in company newsletters and at company events,” he says.

From a franchising model standpoint Thomson sees Sandler as being different to other training providers because of the focus on the individual – its approach is to make it all about the employee’s goals and not the company’s, using psychological insight via DISC profiling.

DISC is a behaviour assessment tool based on the DISC theory of psychologist William Moulton Marston. Focusing on four different personality traits (Dominance (D), Influence (I), Steadiness (S), and Conscientiousness (C)) it’s designed to understand a person’s behavioural style and to evaluate their fitness for certain job roles, as well as their preferences for communicating with others.

“For us, it’s always about the personality. We operate on a quality-first franchise model to protect our brand and ensure customers can be assured of a certain level of expertise, whichever trainer they opt for.

“On average I discount 39 candidates to find the best person that fits my criteria.”

Thomson adds that the best fit is invariably with people who have good sales and business experience and then want to use those skills to build their own business.

Hence, by understanding employees’ personal goals and aspirations, and then using this insight to become aligned to the company’s goals, they see real commitment and personal growth, according to Thomson.

For Thomson Sandler treats training “as a process not an event, which means we work with our clients over a long period of time, generally measured in years.”

He further notes: “The Sandler method uses non-traditional, disruptive methods to deliver long term performance right across the business.  It offers development training around the four pillars of the business: skills, structure, strategy and staff.”

Businesses of all sizes are trained; the common theme being clients have a vision and are focused on growth.

To satisfy these objectives courses include: Sales Training, Strategic Leadership & Management Training, Customer Care Training, Communication Skills, and Personal Development.

Meanwhile, Sandler Training UK’s  Sales Mastery Club, an ongoing programme – including an 8-week foundation course laying out Sandler concepts – helps  entrepreneurs/ business leaders hone their sales methods, improve their performance and build their confidence.

Not only does The Sales Mastery Club provide an environment of coaching, according to Thomson, it also – through weekly training – addresses the three key areas necessary for long-term success in sales: Attitude, Behaviour, and Technique. 

As Thomson readily points out, Sandler Training has a huge market to play with, being more than twice the size of its nearest rival in the sales training space.

Moreover, a recent report from Technavio noted the US sales training market alone is estimated to be worth $42 billion, while the global product- based market is forecast to post close to 13% CAGR over the 2018-22 period.

At present Sandler Training has 350 centres in 29 countries, delivering training in 15 languages.

“Our 50 years of expertise gives us a great grounding in what is a very fragmented market,” says Thomson.

The UK, meanwhile, is now a multimillion turnover business with 30 franchisees across the country. A far cry from when Thomson opened his first centre in Oxford back in 2003.

For would be franchises, Thomson’s advice is to keep it simple, especially in the beginning. And don’t try to be creative when you’re learning a new system. “It’s important to know and understand the basics before making any personal adjustments.”

The ultimate corporate goal for new franchisees is for them to be invoicing clients within 90 days of completing initial training in the US – an objective that so far, has been 100% met, according to Thomson.

“This is important not only from a cash-flow perspective, but also from a psychological standpoint as the new franchisees can see they are building a business. Once this grounding is place, the franchise is poised for success,” he notes.

Thomson’s other piece of advice concerns how to achieve growth. “We believe in being authentic – do what we do.   Another Sandler rule we live by is to manage the behaviours, not the figures (money),” he says.

In other words, don’t necessarily become fixated on metrics such as cash flow and profit, but be sure to track ‘sales behaviours,’ including how many businesses have signed up to attend seminars and how much sales collateral that has been downloaded from Sandler’s website. “This provides a very good indication of future business, which can be added sales pipeline,” says Thomson.

Ultimately for Thomson, though, it’s about leadership, providing support, being authentic and providing franchisees the tools and systems needed to move ahead.

“All our new franchisees start with an intensive training session at Baltimore and then I personally visit their training centre and spend a day working on their future business plan, he says.

He adds: “The new franchisee can also join the weekly one-hour “all network” call, which is led by franchisee veterans and is an opportunity to ask questions and engage with the entire UK network.

They can also join the both of the global one-hour call sessions, which are held each week by the US for global participation – one is for new franchisees and one for more experienced.”

And if that isn’t enough support for franchisees, Sandler Training UK runs three conferences a year, where experts in their field come in from around the world to help the franchisees add extra income streams and products to their offering. A free flow of ideas is actively encouraged.

Martin Morris
Martin Morris