Mark Fleming Jr, the Founder and President of Signature Closers, grew his company’s revenue from $3.8m in 2014 to $6.3m in 2017, an 80% increase, and is on track to hit $6m this year.
Signature Closers provides signing support for title companies and lenders via their network of notary signing agents and attorneys
In this interview with Eversprint‘s Malcolm Lui, Mark shares how he and his team accelerated their high value sales from 2014 to 2017, and how they are adjusting to the rising interest rate environment by:
- Providing new services to clients through strategic partnerships.
- Focusing on the 1% that can wrong before it becomes an issue.
- Opportunistically taking advantage of the disruption to come from electronic closing and notarization.
: Malcolm Lui here. Welcome to Eversprint.com. Today we're speaking with Mark Fleming Jr., the Founder and President of Signature Closers a fast growing company that provides signing support for title companies and lenders via their network of notary signing agents and attorneys. We'll be discussing how he grew his company's revenue from $3.8 million in 2014 to $6.3 million in 2017, an 80 percent increase, and how they are on track to hit $6 million again this year as well. Welcome to the call Mark.
: Thank you for having me Malcolm. I'm glad to be here.
: So Mark how did you do it? How did you grow your company sales so fast from 2014 to 2017?
: Well it was a little bit of a combination of things. Obviously we're in and that we're in a business where interest rates and the environment of the economy in general drive a lot of what we do. And we were fortunate to be in a climate where interest rates were incredibly low so that you know obviously historically low and that really drove our refinance business. So we did quite a few refinance closings during that period which obviously drove revenue. We also have partnered since 2012 with a company called adaptive. And they have a platform called Redds where that we've really deeply integrated our technology with and that's created opportunities for us where maybe other companies from a technological standpoint aren't in a position to take advantage of some of the things that we're doing. We've been able to do that and we've also been fortunate in that a lot of the larger national companies that use razzed where have partnered with us and so we've been in a good place as far as the partnerships we've had and we've tried to stay innovative and creative in regards to our technology. And then beyond that we we've hired quite a few people between 2014 and 2016 and even today and we've been I think fortunate and have done a good job at the company of finding good people because our mantra people process and technology in that order. And so we feel that providing the technology to support you know really efficient processes and good people the best way to do it. And we've been lucky to be able to do that the last few years
: And tactic would you say your sales growth was driven primarily from acquiring new customers or are you getting a very large chunk of your sales increase from repeat business.
: You know what. That's a good question. It's a combination of both. We've been in a position to acquire and grow our business as far as our customer base. Pretty substantial. I would say over the last few years but we've also seen that some of the relationships that we've started with we maybe had a pilot opportunity so one of our biggest clients today we had an opportunity to begin a sort of a secondary vendor and we partner with them and we were receiving maybe a smaller volume of work. They liked our partnership they liked the things that we were doing and at some point we were kind of transitioned into that primary vendor or set of the secondary vendor and group business that way as well. So it's a little bit of a combination. And obviously I think a big part of our growth kind of tied back to client retention as well. And I'm proud to say we have over 95 percent retention rate year over year. We very rarely lose clients. We're certainly not perfect but we try to do things the right way and I think that contributes a lot in maintaining some stable revenue to build on
: Right. So if you get the estimate estimate how much of your revenue growth came from new customers new clients as opposed to the repeat business.
: I would say I think good question and I would say over the course of the last three years it's probably been about 50 50 would be the best description or best guess I could give. So I'll say 50 50 maybe about 50 percent new business 50 percent for maintaining and growing relationships that we have today.
: Great. Can you share how you go about acquiring new clients.
: Absolutely. So our process is a little bit unique in the sense that from a sales perspective my worth in a few different industries and I've been in sales have been an account management and prior to this business I was working within the Employee Benefit world. We worked with a lot of employers to help manage medical dental vision wellness plans. So I was involved in that space and in that world you know there was definitely a much bigger market kind of pull from as far as opportunity. I mean any company really that offered any type of benefit plans the state of Ohio was potentially a target or a prospect for us and that that's what's unique about Signature Closers specifically is that there are definitely a large number of title companies which would be our primary clients across the country. But what we're finding is that in order to really make you know make opportunities for us that are worth investing in from the sales process you know we need to find people that generally have high volume were very low margin company. You know we're not in a position where we're paid you know thousands of dollars on a clothing transaction and so our opportunities really come from some of those companies that provide high volume. And so one of the challenges I think from a sales perspective for us is not necessarily finding those companies but there aren't a ton of them across the country.
: And so I think our sales process in this business is a little bit more hands on in the sense that you know generally speaking I think we know the companies that we really want to partner with. And so sometimes there's a little bit of a longer cycle to get the opportunity. And that's also why it's so important that you have a process in place to keep those companies and so you know we definitely do some cold calling we do some e-mail marketing as well but oftentimes a lot of it is really relationship driven. You know we participate in a couple of different conference conferences throughout the year and trade shows and so that face to face time is really valuable and and really it's just building that relationship and building trust and what we do because you know what we offer is such an integral part of the transaction. I mean oftentimes the notary that we signed or the signing agent that we send to the closing is the only person that the signer may ever see. And so you know they need to have trust in the people that doing business with them so that drives our sales process. And you know it really drives our business. Ultimately
: Right. If he could only choose one way of beginning a relationship of initiating the contact that leads to the opportunity to build the relationship what would be that method. What would be that channel
: Without a doubt a referral from another existing client. And I think that's easy to say but I think there's definitely a process for kind of growing that relationship it's one thing to have a warm leader all one of our largest clients today was a referral from one of our other large clients. And so you know that's obviously great opportunity for foot in the door but at the same time we still have to build that relationship and earn trust. But you know having a referral I think again comes back to delivering a plus customer service that if you can do that and someone is willing to put their name behind it and say yes get closer's as an outstanding job for us you should try them. You know obviously that's about opportunity for us and you know outside of that I would say you know partnerships are big for us so I mentioned earlier adaptive and Redds where they're you know far and away you know one of our best partnerships we've ever had. Thrilled to work with those guys and we're actually participating in their conference here in about two weeks in Denver so we're excited about that. We partner with proviso and they are one of the leading clothing technology providers. So opportunities that come from that relationship are obviously very valuable to us and also unique I think in this environment. So you know any type of partnership obviously drives a good opportunity for us referrals. You know would definitely be the best from existing client but those are probably the two ideal ways that we would go
: Right. Both referrals and the partnerships in a way that give me warm warmer or warm introductions for a cold rich outreach. But have you found has worked best
: Yeah that's that's a really good question. You know I used to make probably a lot more cold calls in the previous job. Like I mentioned kind of a bigger market maybe and more of an opportunity where you know there's just so many companies and you just pick up the phone and dial about anybody maybe a prospect with signature. You know we do make phone calls and I think you know the opportunity there I try to make it a little bit warmer a warmer version of a cold call what I mean by that is I don't just pick up the phone and try to pitch my value proposition down somebody's throat. You know I'm obviously a business owner as well and so I'm on the receiving end of some of those calls and I tried to take some of that information and those experiences and understand you know what approached it I like what would I respond to to what would I not respond to. And I think one of the big keys is maybe better understanding the target audience. So I try to research the company a little bit. I mean reach out to one of our partners and say hey are you doing business with these guys. What do you know about them. What are their where their pain points what are things that you know they may be looking for that we can solve for. And you know I try to approach it from that perspective so I try to make it a warm or cold call by understanding their business before I just pick up
: Right. And I suppose that works well because there aren't a huge number of high volume clients that you wish to do business with or that you want to do business with and you have a good idea who they are to begin with.
: It does it does. And you know I can say if you're somebody that's in a business that maybe you have a bigger volume or target market to work from you know my experience there told me that you know part of it's a numbers game and I think people will tell you that. But there's an understanding as well. I think that there's a really good book I read and I don't remember the author but it's called gopher No. And my old boss is named. It's really a great book. So my previous employer you know my boss's name was Tom Wagner he's don't you know mentor a very good friend of mine. And actually I'm probably the best salesman I've ever been across. And so working with him you know he passes all these books. And what I took away from it and what I really valued is that the whole premise of the book was that we needed to understand that we're going to get a lot of different sales. You know you really want a yes or no you don't want a baby. Oftentimes we get mateys and that's challenging because it involves your time you're following up. It's just a lot of effort. And oftentimes maybe you don't come to fruition. So the book I think said something about the fact that maybe it was nine no's before you get here. Yes. You know you needed to figure out how many knows how many calls you had to make or you got to that yes. Somebody that will give you time or an appointment. And so I would have called in my previous job where I may call it maybe the sixth person I talked to that gave me a no. And I might say something like You know I read this really good book called go for no.
: And it told me that I need to get nine notes before I'm going to get the person who is going to say yes I'll meet with you. You're the sixth person that told me no. You know three more people that tell me no. So I can get somebody that wants to meet with me. And I've I've actually had people say you know I will meet with you you know as a result of that. And I think it's just it's being personable you know you have to understand that even though you're in sales you obviously you know you believe hopefully you believe if you're in sales that you can deliver value to your customer through whatever you're offering product service whatever. But it's also I think being relatable to that person and you know you're there to solve a problem for them and if you can't figure out what that problem is you know they're not going to have an interest in meeting with you. So you need to be personable you need ask a lot of questions. So that was typically my approach. You know personable ask a lot of questions if possible respectful of someone's time and persistence. I mean there were times that some of our biggest clients whether it's this job currently with signature of the previous company I was with where you know I would I would call people over the course of three four or five years were onboarding acquiring right now signature closures that the sales cycle so to speak has been for years. And that's just persistence and I think that's a huge key when it comes to sales. You know you can't you can't give up. You have to make those calls follow ups you know in an appropriate timeframe.
: Right. Going back to the second Dr. reset before you know half your business 50 50 new clients the other 50 percent and just returning business. How are you keeping your clients happy and continuing to do business with you and also to follow up on that. In both cases how are you getting your clients to do more business with you.
: Yes that's a really good question. So you know in order to keep them happy in our line of work I think really it involves a consistent process. People want consistency and we take the approach that you know our business we're managing aspect or excuse me exceptions not not the normal closing that everything goes smoothly the 99 percent of the time when things will go fine. We're actually managing that 1 percent where something either is going wrong. It's about to go wrong and we need to fall for that. And you know we're not always going to catch it necessarily prior to the actual closing of and maybe after the close that may have been you know our notary allowed the seiner to miss this one signature and we need to get it fixed. But having a consistent process for that you know very responsive follow up. I mean one of our core values as a company is to offer service with a certain level of responsiveness that we want to be responsive we want to be service oriented we want to be accountable. And I think if you do all these things and you're genuine when you do it your customers recognize that and they appreciate that while we're not perfect and the notary's that we work with certainly are not perfect either. We're willing to stand accountable and get things corrected. So I think that the key driver in terms of consistency managing those exceptions you know according to that process and making sure that people feel comfortable with the people they're doing business with and as it relates to just kind of how we keep those companies or how we keep our sales process the same question was it about sales process I'm sorry
: Problem I mean just ask them one at a time. The second question is for your clients both your new and returning. How do you encouraged him to to buy as much as the buy as much of your services as possible. Of course your services are helping them but how do you get them to buy a B and C and D.
: Yeah absolutely. So interestingly enough with our business you know that the service that we offer at this point is is pretty singular in the sense that you know we offer the notary or attorney signings. We're getting into some new opportunities where we're offering our technology and getting into the clothing space. And so I anticipate that you know a lot of that'll be awareness and making our client aware of what we're offering. But as far as actually growing the service or services that we do offer today a big part of that is just continuing to think contact whether it's the monthly or quarterly you know we have scorecard meetings with companies where we're looking at performance. We're also asking a question. I mean it's kind of it's kind of both back to the same sales cycle or sales process. Understanding their business asking questions opening opportunities where they may not have thought of you as like oh you know you can actually do that I didn't think you know you guys offer that service and so it's helping them understand everything that we do offer whether it's you know different types of closings that we might be able to perform or you know now we have an opportunity where we're partnering on attorney type retainer signings you know and that's unique from a businessperson. So it's sort of asking the right questions and getting in front of the right decision makers. But It's just you know following up and making sure that you're working with your clients on a regular basis I think they understand their needs is really the biggest driver
: Right. OK. Switching gears a little bit before when I introduce your company I mentioned how you grew your sales 80 percent from three point eight million in 2014 to six point three million in 2017. Right that's a 80 percent increase over three years. And this year is looking like a flat year right about the same in 2018 as that's 2017 around 6 million. What's going on behind that. What's happening there.
: Sure not the great question. You know I had mentioned earlier I think that interest rates really drove a big portion of that refinance business that boom that that we saw with historically low interest rates and you know in this market interest rates are still by historical standards pretty low. And I want to say maybe four and a half five percent depending on the type of loan and what you're looking for. But you know we were talking about an interest rate under 4 percent. And so what you're starting to see a lot of the projections that we follow there is the mortgage bankers association there's Freddie Mac there sport and in our industry that are projecting 20 25 30 percent reduction. Whether that's total volume of loans or maybe specifically refinances and so what we're finding is you know historically companies in our space and our position which you know we're we're very niche business but whether our competitors we would trend towards that reduction and we would see maybe a 25 30 percent reduction in our revenue based on those factors that are somewhat outside of our control obviously with the economy. However you know what I think we've been able to do and that's kind of where we talk about adding new client but new opportunity being very important for our business to be able to be somewhat stable or somewhat close to our revenue from last year to me is actually a big win for our organization. You know not a lot of people would say Wow you went down a little bit revenue or maybe stayed the same. Was that a good year for us based on historical standards and looking at the rest of our industry. You see I think just recently Wells Fargo laid off 600 people from their mortgage department and as a company we are not thankfully right now going through any of those transitions or looking to downsize or anything like that because we've been able to grow our revenue to offset that loss. So even though it's stable in a weird way it's sort of a positive profit I got this business that we're at
: Right. So are you expecting that you're going to see some revenue contraction in line with what the Freddie Mac and the other industry associations are forecasting.
: Well you know I'm actually I'm not because we I think I kind of just I mention this foreshadowed a little bit earlier but we are expanding our offerings in the sense that we have a platform called sync which is short for select your notary close or secure an order closer. And basically it is a platform or an opportunity where there are companies that are title companies that could be prospective clients for us across the country that rather than using what we refer to which is like a signing service or a notary signing service they elected to manage their transactions what we call it now. So for lack of a better term they don't need us. They manage their own closings but we're offering them a technology that allows them to be more efficient is the only solution in the industry that is integrated completely with adapters as well. So if you're a company that's using Redds where today and you're managing your own clothes and you may have another platform you're using to help manage or you may have your own platform you build. Our solution will allow you to stay within Red Square which is your core technology which now all of your people are trained on the various sides of a very efficient technology and so you want your people to stay in it.
: We're giving you the opportunity to do that. So we're expecting and seeing growth in that particular space so to speak. We have a few companies right now that are piloting the platform that we anticipate in the next three to six months we'll be onboarding that really could significantly grow our revenue. And the other thing that we're really doing I think that makes us and put us in a unique position is we're really focused on closing. And so we're partnered with proviso we have a partnership with notarize which is another big player in the clothing space in our industry and so simple filed another we have so we have relationships where we're positioning ourselves to be a valuable partner to these companies to provide closings as they come online in different states. So I think that will also grow revenue and grow opportunities. So I'm maybe cautiously optimistic that we'll continue to grow revenue and potentially substantially grow from where we are today know with the right partnerships and the right client coming onboard.
: Right. Great. So how big do you foresee your sync platform in your e closing platform being as a part of your business say five years from now. What percentage of revenue do you see those two platforms becoming
: You know that's that's a really good question as well have a lot of your questions today. Malcolm I appreciate it. I would say you know from a revenue perspective where I think we're going to be so all back into this number. My goal as a company I really would like to see us get over 10 million in revenue over the next five years certainly. And I believe we'll be there. And I would say you know if I had to guess as far as the revenue split again I'm going to kind of come back to maybe 60 40 50 50 in the sense that you know if we can stabilize and maybe continue to grow Signature Closers core business revenue keep it in line with that you know 5 6 7 million dollars. I think it's very realistic that we could see the think platform alone contribute 3 million 5 million 7 million in revenue. And then obviously the clothing piece will add onto that. So you know again our target I think you know I'd love to see us in the end the 15 million revenue range and I think beyond that I think would be astronomical but I think you know it is great and I certainly think it's within reach but you know that's I think our goal you know between kind of 15 million at Ravenel's where we hope to be probably 60 40 50 50 split
: Right. Okay we talked earlier about the impact of rising interest rates on your business and on your industry as a whole. What other things are are disruptive in your industry. What other things are disrupting your industry.
: Absolutely. Well there's a there's a lot of disruption going on. There's probably a few google or online there's articles every day about you know the antiquated real estate market title insurance is antiquated. And it's ripe for disruption. And so there's so many companies out there that are disrupting the industry in their own way. You know for us in particular I think potential disruptions and disruption for us presents opportunity I don't consider it necessarily a challenge. You know we sort of see that opportunity. But you know clothings in general are definitely a disruption. You know typically your traditional signing if you were buying a home or refinancing a house you may have a notary signing agent that would come to your home come to an office meet with you with a stack of 150 pages fine everything by hand you know you go through the documents and the closing process not the way it's been for a number of years. So with closing I think we're headed into a different space obviously where there's there's sort of a few different ways that it's changing. One would be obviously the electronic signing itself. You know once the document certain states come online and say yes we'll accept electronic signatures have been around for a long time but it's really the electronic notarization. So can the notary notarized document electronically once that allowed them once you know there's a lot of tech platform that can do that. The one that's really allowed in that state not the transition. So potentially the entire transaction could go online. So it is definitely headed that direction. You know that's changing things. The second piece is many many states are allowing remote notarization. And that is probably the bigger disrupter. And so there's models out there and companies out there that their goal would be to staff you know sort of an office environment they have 100 people that are notary signing agents that they've trained that are sitting at computers and for instance you know this isn't quite legal yet in Ohio there's a bill that is kind of pushing its way through eventually to make this legal soon.
: But I could be sitting at my desk in Columbus Ohio. And you can be in Los Angeles California or wherever. And it's as if you were in front of me. If we do an audio video basically a face time closing. So all the documents are online. There's a number of stipulations around that and every stage a little bit different they're trying to consolidate Bander. But you know you have to record it. You have to have it on file for seven years. So there's a bunch of things around it. But ultimately you could slap an office of 100 people in Ohio or Texas or right now Virginia I think is the first state to come online and you can close one anywhere. So that would change obviously you know our market today is we have notaries around the entire country that can show up to someone's home or office. And in that model you know you would have an office environment. So that was that's probably for our our business itself. The biggest disruptor but there are companies out there like the Nevada Partnership I mentioned they have their own remote notary technology where we would be providing those services with our database or our notary's across the country rather than an office environment. We would coordinate with those notaries to have whether it's the home office or maybe the renting space at an office or Regis professional environment to be able to close it electronically remotely as well.
: Right. I have one other question for you that I should have asked earlier in our conversation. Let me ask you here we talked a bit about your customer acquisition. We didn't talk too much about the delivery of your product and service namely the the the notary's the attorneys and now also you're closing in your sync product lines. What do you find to be the biggest problems right now in regards to acquiring new customers. And in regards to providing your service
: Well you know one of the biggest variables for us is the fact that all of the notary's signing agents across the country are 10 99 independent contractors so we have a core core team of signature closers that are W2 employees and they're generally guys I guess tasked with managing the business side so they're helping schedule they're dealing with you know the notary get their documents. Did it close successfully or are there faxes missing something that messed up a closing that we need to correct for lack of a better term. Yes we have a core team that manages that the notary's themselves are all independent contractors there 10 99 you know miscellaneous contractors and so there is some element of control. But understanding that you know they're their own boss basically so we can provide guidelines and we provide guidance based on whether it's a lender title company that is providing the assignment will pull in those instructions we'll kind of reiterate those. But you know we can't be active clothing and so I think that presents its own challenge in the sense that you know there's a little bit of a lack of control on our end. We do as much as we possibly can but it's sort of out of our hands. Want to get the closing that we have to trust that you know our vetting process and our verification of the notary and everything that they stand for we get we did a good job hopefully we did a good job upfront and thankfully you know I think our client retention speaks to that we are more selective than other companies in terms of people that we send out to represent you know our company or our client.
: But you know that is definitely a challenge and from a sales perspective you know I think one of the challenges really in this could probably be set across any industry is I think people are resistant to change. And so having that momentum to say you know your current vendor you know I mean not necessarily us knowing that current vendor knowing how things are going. Getting someone to feel comfortable enough with us to say yeah well try you out. And that's always a challenge I think especially if someone whether that current experience is great average you know unless it's terrible they're probably going to be a little bit resistant to change. And so you know building that inertia for them to say yeah let's give this a shot let pilot guide that's probably the biggest challenge. I mean typically once we get someone to say we'll give you a shot you know they end up being a client for five years and you know so that's the challenge I think in getting them past that tipping point where they say you know things are bad enough and I'm ready to make a change or you know what. I think things could be good enough with you guys and there's enough opportunity and enhancements with what you guys are offering that will make that change at will give you the opportunity
: Right. And the reason why they make the change is because you just make it easier for them to take care of these things. It's a one less headache or a dozen less headaches for them to deal with is out the selling proposition.
: It is. I mean so there's kind of two sales. One would be the company that's doing it in-house typically is a better prospect for our sync platform because they probably have reasons to do it in-house whether that's cost savings for them you know a little bit more control the process. You know I'm not sure exactly of all the reasons I'm a company but you know they would be a better fit. But I think the scenario where we have a competitor maybe that's intrench doing what we do at a company. The opposition there it really can vary I mean cost I think is generally pretty consistent across most companies so it's usually not a whole lot driven by cost that would say but it's more by some of the efficiencies and some of the value that we can offer in terms of whether it's an integration. So companies that aren't integrated they may say okay well if you want to enter orders you need to go to our Web site upload your order upload your documents and if we can offer some integration there where it just flows from their current operating system. You know there's a value add if we can build out certain processes to allow a company to feel like their process their closing is being better managed. You know we can do that as well. So it's I think the value add that we bring versus this thing company and that's done through technology that's another process that people really are understanding their need.
: You know we ask those questions like hey in this state you know in in Connecticut for instance we have a client where there's a legal representation form that has to go in every package and their existing vendor they were like that getting missed a bunch. And technically it was actually client responsibility like their team was supposed to put it in the package you know it's not really their vendors fault but we were able to come in and say listen Wolf scan your package once you send it over to us and if we identify that the documents are in there then we'll send you guys a notification before the closing so you can end up having to pay you know 60 or 70 dollar fee every time it got missed to send someone else out to get it signed. So you know almost overnight we were able to save them you know I don't know 500 a thousand dollars a month based on that one document where we did you know just went above and beyond to make sure that it was in the package. So it's kind of offering value add like that that separate us from maybe our competitors.
: Ok fantastic. One last question free mark for the listeners of this interview who are interested in doing business with Signature Closers. What's the best way for them to contact your team.
: Absolutely. I would tell them to reach out to me personally. I am very involved in our sales process and with a lot of our clients and they can reach me via e-mail. It's Mark MKR K Dot Fleming F.L. E M I N G at Signature Closers dot com some Mark Fleming Signature Closers dot com if you struggle spelling my name you can also reach out to scheduling at Signature Closers dot com that's our general e-mail box where our team is managing clothings on a daily basis and they'll certainly get you to the right spot.
: All right fantastic. Thanks so much Mark for joining us today and sharing how you grew your company so fast. I really appreciate it.
: Likewise thank you for your time. Ockham appreciate it as well.
: We've been speaking with Mark Fleming Jr., the Founder and President of Signature Closers, about his company's rapid growth. For interviews with other fast growing companies or to learn how we can increase your firm's high ticket sales through automation, visit Eversprint.com.