Franchise leads; Meeting People Where They Are
This article was originally written for and published by Franchise Update Media, and can be seen on Franchising.com here
I wrote The Ultimate Guide to Franchise Sales
about a year ago. It covers, at a high level, the entire franchise sales process. Because of its breadth, it couldn’t go deep on any one subject. This is the first of a series of articles that will cover several of the subjects from the guide with a more narrow and deep scope. We’ll start with a dive into franchise leads and the interplay between two related subjects: franchise lead sources
and the ways that the source affects the nurturing process.
Franchise Leads: Where They Come from Determines How You Work Them
One of my personal mantras is, “Meet people where they are.” I do my best to mentally accept where someone is in life; mean or kind, selfish or selfless, engaged or indifferent. I act on who they are rather than who I think they should be, not that I don’t expect people to change. I simply accept that right now
they are right where they are
. This makes my personal relationships easier, and I believe it makes me a much better franchise development professional.
Where They Come From
Franchise leads can be broken into three categories:
Of these, I will spend the most time on organics; leads that are earned rather than paid for. These leads are often misunderstood, undervalued, and improperly nurtured, much to the detriment of franchise sales.
Organic leads are by no means free. They are often the result of extensive SEO work, content generation, and brand development. They are earned by having an authoritative and useful web presence, by being a subject matter expert, and by expanding your footprint.
Not all franchisors believe that content creation is a suitable use of marketing dollars. After all, being a national brand with a “hometown” presence is one of the cores of franchising. The national brand, however, is just as important as the local presence. For example, pet owners often prefer local caregivers for their animals, but a local caregiver coupled with a corporate website that has detailed, fact-based information about pet care portrays authority and knowledge, giving the owner more faith in the local business. For franchise sales, a strong web presence results in stronger organic rankings for franchise searches. For instance, the search results for “best preschool” and “best preschool franchise” are obviously going to be similar. Since customer-centric advertising is typically funded with ad fund dollars, franchise development gets a boost without a budget hit.
Being the Expert
A content-rich website will present you as a subject-matter expert, and researching the content will make you one. As a recognized subject matter expert, you will receive links to your content, guest post requests, interviews, and other brand-awareness opportunities. Consider this article; as a franchising subject matter expert
, I am able to share my knowledge on a national platform which will likely result in increased name recognition for my company, and by researching and contributing to the franchise industry canon I keep my knowledge current and sharp.
Initially expanding your footprint is a result of, rather than a cause of, franchise sales. As your brand grows, you can be intentional about them having a symbiotic relationship. Look at your franchised locations through the lens of franchise lead generation to increase this type of lead flow. Do you produce assets (flyers, posters, etc.) for your franchisees? If so, use a small piece of the real estate to list your franchise phone number. Do your franchisees use approved car-wrap designs? Include “now franchising” under the tag line. Bag stuffers, counterspace, napkins, cups, invoices; any point of interaction with the end user that you have control of can be a source of organic leads.
Where are they?
Organic leads are the most desperate group you will interact with. They may have been looking for franchising when they found you, or your marketing may have planted the seed. Irrespective of how they came across your business, your concept specifically moved them to make an inquiry (I will contrast this later), and they likely already have a basic understanding of what your customer-facing offering is.
How to work them
First, don’t mistake enthusiasm for qualification. An organic lead may have had an “aha” moment when they saw your model or recognized the value of your “secret sauce”, but may have only a minimal understanding of the investment it takes to open a business. If you allow yourself to get caught up in their fervor and skip your standard qualification process, you may find out, after several engagements, that they are planning on getting a grant, expecting to get an SBA loan without the requisite injection capital, or intend to “find investors” once they build a business plan.
Ask qualifying questions quickly. If they are qualified, seek additional information to adjust your standard benefits presentation. How long have they been interacting with your brand? How much research have they done on franchising? What do they believe are your differentiators? For example, if they are a long-time customer of one of your franchisees your consumer-facing offering is likely clear to them, but the actual business structure may not be. If they are a fan of the industry but didn’t know there was a franchise in the space, they may have no clue how the model works.
In my experience, organic leads are the fastest-moving group of leads. If you qualify them correctly, the rest of the process is often significantly easier than with other lead sources because organic leads don’t approach you with a “plan” on how to investigate your brand, and you are often the only brand they are looking at.
Purchased leads include portals, print, franchise shows, and pay-per-click exposure. Purchased leads are often derided. The reason is simple; they take work
, and a lot of it.
Where are they?
I have worked with many portal leads which didn’t have a real interest in my brand, but rather checked the box on 10 or so franchises that caught their eye. These folks are typically shocked at the flood of calls and emails. At franchise shows, 20 or 30 franchisors may scan the same prospect, often with the prospect allowing this just to get the salesperson to shut up. When you first engage expo leads, they often won’t have narrowed their search to an industry, to passive vs active ownership, or even franchising vs going it alone.
How to work them
In one word: relentlessly. You must engage fast, and you must continue to engage for some time with no response. The best franchise teams discuss their follow-up process in hours from inquiry, not days. If you are not one of the first 1-2 people to engage them, you will have an uphill battle to fight just to surmount their franchise fatigue. If you end up being brushed aside or ignored, consistent follow-up can get you the deal down the road. I recommend a 5-6 call engagement over a 4-6-month period before considering a lead dead. (For more on this check out our proprietary franchise sales method)
According to the 2018 Annual Franchise Development Report, broker leads accounted for about 15% of units sold. Based on my experience, brands with between 10 and 100 units will find this number to be significantly higher.
Where are they?
Broker leads are engaged. They follow up, they call you back, they respond to emails. They have narrowed their field of focus through a systematic process. They know what they can afford. They are also considering other concepts, and they have an outside advisor that influences the decision.
How to work them
Understanding how to work with broker networks and individual brokers is at least as important as knowing how to work their leads. Responsiveness is critical. I always tell a coach if I see a potential issue (territory, mismatch on lifestyle goals, financials, etc.) up front, and let them know that I am still more than happy to talk to the prospect if they want me to. I give them an easy way to bump me out, while simultaneously letting them know I am more than happy to be the “also shown” if they feel its beneficial. Get to any deal breakers with the prospects fast. I work diligently to make sure that just because I don’t award a franchise doesn’t mean they don’t get a placement.
When working broker leads, remember that they are speaking with 2-4 other brands, and they are, at least on the surface, a good fit for those brands as well. Above all else be timely, disclose your process, and keep the broker in the loop. Your first call should not be about pre-qualification; that is what brokers do. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask qualifying questions, as most of them are also ice-breakers. You should recognize that this individual is qualified, however, and your questions should be more about how then if.
Meet them where they are
Every franchisor should have a well-documented sales process, no excuses. For next-level lead nurturing success, however, that process must, at its core, allow flexibility. Remember, meet them where they are, not where you wish they were.