Sean Manning and Payroll Vault team at ribbon cutting

How Payroll Vault Measures Success Using Franchisee Satisfaction

Awards validate their commitment to helping franchisees achieve success

In our continuing series spotlighting our 2021 Best-in-Category Franchisee Satisfaction Award Winners, Payroll Vault president & CEO Sean Manning talks with Nicole Dudley, Director of Client Relations at Franchise Business Review, about the “hypertransformation” in business over the past year, as well as how they use their survey data to drive goal-setting and measure success.

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Nicole Dudley: Sean Manning is here with us from Payroll Vault, and we’re going to talk a little bit about the brand as well as your time with us as an FBR client.

I know that you’ve been franchising since 2012, and you started working with us in 2014. What does it mean to you to be an FBR Award winner?

Sean Manning: When we got into franchising, I didn’t know there were a lot of awards. One of the first things we did was try to validate our own vision, our own goals, what the perception is from the franchisees. Even talking with fellow franchise industry leaders, whether it’s suppliers or other franchisors, I needed some validation into what we were doing, how we were doing.

Initially, when we started to engage with FBR, it was mostly to verify that what we’re doing is right. We didn’t necessarily think there was going to be awards around it, although it was exciting to see.

Now, looking back, when we invite people into the office and they see the recognition, or when we’re at our conferences and we bring the information and even the plaques and everything, it’s a good validator. It lets people know that number one, we’re serious about what we’re doing in helping our franchisees be successful.

Now, looking back, when we invite people into the office and they see the recognition, or when we’re at our conferences and we bring the information and even the plaques and everything, it’s a good validator. It lets people know that number one, we’re serious about what we’re doing in helping our franchisees be successful.

It also gives us good validation that we’re communicating well with the franchisees and on track for what we’re trying to do to be successful that particular year.

Nicole: I was looking back, and it’s been seven years of being a top franchise and part of our Top 200 list, which we release each year, and then obviously, featured on additional special lists that we do throughout the year, like Top Franchises for Women and Top Low-Cost Franchises, and even our newest one for brand culture.

It was pretty exciting to see you guys part of that as well, especially during 2020, which was an interesting year. Through your experience with the different services and products that we offer, like our validation program and lead generation, tell me about how it is for you to expand past the data part of the survey.

Sean: It’s always good to have resources behind that. How do you get the message out about our brand? How do people engage once they become interested in who we are and what we do? Having those additional resources blended right in – lead generation, validation, videos like this where they can see us talk about our brand and learn more – are important.

It’s not just one piece. There’s a cohesive piece to FBR that brings it all together for us and allows us to focus on our business model and everything we’re trying to accomplish, knowing those other things are being taken care of already automatically. We don’t have to think too hard about all the resources we use with FBR.

Nicole: Heading back to the data side of it, how do you and your team use the survey data – the feedback from your franchisees – to drive your strategic plans? How do you share it internally?

Sean: I’ve been a business owner now for about 25 years, and one of the most difficult things for me is getting validation into how my effort is helping the organization. Initially, FBR was a good motivator for me to stay on track personally and be accountable to what we’re trying to do on a day-to-day basis.

Alongside of that, we run a program called Framework for Success. Our framework is basically our goals for the year. They stretch out a little bit to three years and five years, but we focus primarily on the one-year goal. We put those together internally, and then we compare it to the FBR results.

We’ve tried to almost guess as to what the franchisees are needing from us, if there’s anything that we need to work on. The good thing for us is those have been pretty consistent. When we identify an area that we think we need to work on, we compare it to the FBR results, and then we hone in on, is there any new information there?

Do we need to tweak our goals? Do we need to communicate out to the franchisees and ask for more explanation? We do what’s called an Owners Exchange. At Owners Exchange, usually early in the year in March or April, May, we roll out all of our goals and ask them to critique what we’re trying to do.

Then, at the end of the year, we use that same information from FBR and our framework to measure how successful we are, and so our annual conference is at the end of the year. We meet again with all of our franchisees in attendance and critique how we performed. I like to say we’re in partnership with our franchisees.

Our goal is to make them happier and more successful. That survey is critical to us. I’ll spend at least 8 to 16 hours reviewing it and measuring it against our goals for the year and putting our projects in place that need to coincide with that.

Our goal is to make them happier and more successful. That survey is critical to us. I’ll spend at least 8 to 16 hours reviewing it and measuring it against our goals for the year and putting our projects in place that need to coincide with that.

Nicole: Talking about the franchisees, with the annual meetings or times that you talk to each other through the Owners Exchange, what other opportunity do you give them to connect with each other so that they can share best practices and see what everybody’s doing to be successful? Do you help assist in that way?

Sean: It’s part of the ongoing process for sure, not only at our annual conferences. The FBR review is almost foundational. That leads us into our monthly owner calls where we’re communicating every single month with our owners.

One thing we did last year, and we kicked it off in March – both Trisha, my partner and our COO, were almost ready to go on vacation in March when things got really, really crazy fast – we immediately went to a weekly meeting.

For almost two months, we were communicating weekly with our franchisees about, “Here’s what you need to know. Here’s how to manage your business. Here’s what you need to be thinking about with your team. Here’s where our industry is in payroll.” Obviously, we are here to help business owners. How can we do that to help them get through this?

We work really, really hard on communication on a regular basis with our franchisees. The other thing we have is our FranConnect system as a way for them to communicate together. When you get to the level where we’re at with about 50, 60 units, that employee collaboration is important where they start to teach and support each other.

Making sure the right resources are available for them to do that is important. We’ve seen a dramatic increase, but I think it’s been fostered and learned through our communication with the franchisees that now they can communicate together. It makes it all that much more cohesive for everybody to stay in one direction on what we need to do together.

We continue that conversation far beyond the information we get with the review and our internal planning. We teach our franchisees how to do their own planning. We ask them for what those goals might be so we know how to help them during the year be successful.

Nicole: It leads into the next question that I want to ask because of 2020 and the changes you had to make, not only to how you communicate and stay in touch with your franchisees, but in general, how did the pandemic impact your business?

Did you make additional changes to the marketing and recruitment strategies you had in place as well?

Sean: We did. First of all, being so organized with, obviously, the information we were getting from FBR, and working that into our framework, we knew specifically what our goals were going to be last year. We didn’t hesitate by continuing that process, even though we had what I call “hypertransformation” in business. Business completely changed.

Even though we were doing many of the things that we’re doing now previously, 99 percent of all of our training is done through virtual meetings. It’s been that way for five years, so we didn’t have to shift much. What we had to do is open communication and bring in that higher level leadership that we can get through this together.

We were supposed to have our Owners Exchange in May, and that immediately got canceled. What we did is, we took speakers and we had speakers in April and May. Our conference was going to be in August. Obviously, we couldn’t do our conference, so we shortened it and had speakers in June, July, and August to bring that motivational impact throughout the year to help everybody along.

Last year was obviously a challenging year, because of the transformation component. For us, it was very manageable, because we were already using many of the resources that we’re using today, or businesses are using more effectively today, essentially. It was just about managing through the year.

It seemed like every week, we were thrown another curveball. It was managing those curveballs, and then being prepared for the next week to see what’s happened. Over time, it worked out. It’s probably the best way to describe it. It wasn’t a super, super year. It wasn’t a really, really difficult year.

It worked out, which is how this year’s shaping up to be a little bit. Hopefully, the latter half of the year will be a lot easier to manage from a business and personal standpoint.

Nicole: Hopefully. We all have fingers crossed for that. A quarter at a time, or maybe right now, a month at a time is how we can look at it.

Any specific success story that came out of last year?

Sean: We had our owners’ meeting earlier this month. It’s the first week of the month every year. We had about 10 new franchisees in 2019, and we had about 8 or 9 at the end of 2020. What was extremely motivating for me and almost inspirational was their dedication.

In 2019, you just start business and you have no idea this is going to happen. They managed very well. They worked hard, harder than you would normally the first year owning a franchise. I let them know, thank you, and how inspirational they were.

Then, we got to our 2020 franchisees that came on late in the year. They came out at a time that there’s not only uncertainty, but obviously, opportunity with business far into the future. I let them know that they were pretty inspirational also.

My response to them is because of that inspiration and their dedication, I’m going to be right there with them. As hard as they’re going to work, our team’s going to be working right beside them just as hard until we can get to a place where we can be more relaxed.

You never want to slow down with business when things are going well, but be a little bit more relaxed and focused on the day-to-day in the long term. It was an interesting year, but I also think there’s a feel-good effect coming out of the year, with the inspiration of our franchisees.

Nicole: You talked about some of the new owners that came on board in 2020 and 2019. What do you think the biggest reason is that candidates come to you?

Sean: Number one, there is some great recognition out there from a lot of different places, so it’s easy to find us, it’s easy to validate us. If you want to research before you have a conversation with us, you can pretty much get a good feel of who we are as an organization. Behind that, you have to perform.

If you want to research before you have a conversation with us, you can pretty much get a good feel of who we are as an organization. Behind that, you have to perform.

When you talk to Marilyn [Manning] on our development side, and when we schedule a CEO call with me, and when you meet the team at your discovery day, there has to be a consistent pattern there: “This is fun. This is going to be exciting. I want to be with these people.”

I wish we could have them all back in Denver for our conferences. It’s like we tell them, “You’re coming home to be with us.” We love that, seeing them, and we’ll be again soon. We try to treat everybody like a family and support them, and be upfront, and supportive, and living behind our core values.

We have a document called our Brand Identity. It’s about six pages long. We don’t reference it on a daily basis, but it’s there to remind us all that we’re here to work together, and collaborate, and be successful under some core values. Kind of that culture component that everybody talks about.

Nicole: That might be one of the reasons why we saw you on our culture list last year. Hopefully, we’ll see you again later this year, too. 

To wrap things up, I wanted to know, from your years of working with us and being a part of everything that we offer to franchise brands – from their data to bringing the right candidates to you – how have we changed the way that you do business, if at all?

Sean: I had a friend tell me once, “In business, you have your business, and your employees, and your team. You have your vendor partners and you have your customers and clients. Those are all unique components of every business.”

It was interesting, it was about 15 years ago when I was sitting at the table with him. He goes, “You know what? I can manage my business and my team, I can go get clients, and I always just trust my vendor partners are here to support me.” He brought it up because he had a couple vendor partners that were difficult to work with.

It’s a little bit shocking that you want to pay people money and work with somebody and it becomes difficult. I have to say, working with FBR, it’s the complete opposite. You almost feel like, you surprise us. You bring the right resources.

We have an opportunity to have great conversations like this so that we can work together at a higher level that maybe goes over our expectations. We talk a little bit about that in our business. That company essence, the voluntary things you do to help others be successful. Or, just, “Please, thank you, you’re welcome.” The little things you do to appreciate others.

I’ll have to say thank you to everybody at the FBR team. I love working with you, because I feel like you surprise me quite often, and that’s good to have.

Nicole: Good. I’ll try to remember that and keep that going for this year, too! 


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About the Author: Ali Forman

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As the Marketing Director, Ali’s role is to educate franchise companies about and inspire them to participate in FBR’s research in order to grow and improve their brands. Ali lives in Maine with her husband and two sons.
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