Occasionally, I take a look at some of my posts from a few years back just to compare my thoughts and perspective from then to now. I always ask myself if I’m consistent so as not to confuse anyone. But more importantly, am I focused for the long-term or for just the here-and-now. Well, below is a post from June 2009. I’m sure you’ll agree that I have been consistent and have not jumped on any flavor-of-the-day bandwagon… It really is about fundamentals and best-practices!
Franchise Sales During the Recession
Recently, in one of the franchise groups on LinkedIn, there was some discussion about the Wall Street Journal article, “Franchise Sales Pull Back During the Recession.” Several franchise professionals posted their comments and, of course, I added my “two cents” as well. Okay, I was definitely long-winded compared to the others, but as most of you who read my articles are well aware, I have a passion for franchising and franchise success and tend to go on and on to share the same with all who will “listen.”
“I too, believe there are many well-qualified candidates exploring franchising. Some as a career alternative, and also, in the case of already being a small business owner, as a business expansion strategy and/or an income diversification plan.
No doubt, the number of overall franchise leads has diminished quite a bit. But I believe many of the “tire kickers” have gone by the wayside while the more qualified candidates continue to search, inquire and ultimately decide franchising is right for them to achieve their goals and objectives. However, in order to fully realize this trend, one must realize that the candidates’ approach has evolved.
Today’s qualified franchise candidate is more sophisticated, educated and technologically advanced than we have ever seen before. Add to the mix, a sense of extreme caution, and their process in exploring franchising and specific franchise opportunities has become more of a detailed, well-thought out strategy.
Always understanding that there is risk in any entrepreneurial endeavor, today’s candidates explore franchising because it may provide even the slightest edge against failure. Their mantra has become, “failure is not an option” and they now live it by doing everything humanly possible to dot every “i” and cross every “t” and then rechecking only to do it over and over again until they have full, complete confidence in their decision.
To that end, the overall process from initial inquiry to franchise award is much longer than in years’ past and that is something franchisors must be prepared to effectively handle. It’s a primary reason I believe social media works so well in the new era of franchise sales as it creates an environment for today’s candidates to research organizations, share information, communicate with individuals at all levels of the franchise organization from franchisees to corporate executives, view photos, audio and video, etc. And, they can do so at their own pace and to their full understanding. That is the key.
Understanding and adapting to today’s qualified franchise candidate will help franchisors ride out this current economic downturn. Putting their heads in the sand and just complaining about the poor economy and the franchise candidate pool drying up will only incorrectly prove true that their negative thoughts are correct.
All that being said, certainly there are challenges in securing financing and other variables that must be contended with and addressed accordingly. But as the franchise candidate pool diminishes and many of the tire kickers aren’t around to waste our time, we should now have more time to explore all options, use our creativity and innovation, network beyond our comfort zones and seek out alternative solutions. I believe those solutions are out there and many are capitalizing on them as we speak. They will not only survive, they will thrive as others have done in other recessionary periods.”
In light of recent discussions within the LinkedIn franchise groups about “new” ways of generating franchise candidate leads, and as I continue to field an influx of questions from start up and emerging franchisors trying to find a “silver bullet” to jump-start franchise sales, I am reposting the following article.
Social Networking and Lead Generation
I’m often asked if social networking can be utilized effectively for franchise lead generation purposes. Well, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
When working on a lead generation project, establishing objectives is paramount to the success of the overall strategy. Assuming the strategy has been developed, complete with establishing an ideal candidate profile and identifying specific geographic areas for expansion, I typically proceed as follows:
First, I focus on networking groups that include individuals that best fit my client’s ideal candidate profile. From there I drill down to individuals in the geographic area we’re targeting per our plan. Let’s say teachers fit my candidate profile. I would search out networking groups specific to teachers, education, etc. Then, I would participate in discussion groups to get a feel for the group and to be noticed and subsequently accepted within the group. There’s always a spin one could use to achieve this objective.
Next, I seek out members from the specific geographic areas I’m targeting and begin communicating what I’m ultimately trying to accomplish… to generate interest in a specific franchise opportunity. Sometimes there’s interest right there in the group. Often, it’s a referral that I get that makes the effort within that group worthwhile.
I also focus on groups that can provide me with referrals such as insurance agents, realtors, financial planners and attorneys. Again, if you’re proactive within networking groups it’s relatively easy to enlist support and gather information. Again, there has been some interest from members of these groups but it’s amazing how many times I’ve been referred to an interested party who lives in another part of the country that is willing to jump at an opportunity in my target area. You see, the fact that it stems from a referral is key!
Lead generation through social networking takes time and effort no doubt. However, once you’re proactive within networking groups, you almost end up with a snowball effect as the leads come in bunches. Some leads start out by simply posting a thought provoking discussion with some back and forth interaction with a responder and the responder saying,”what is it that you do?” Next thing you know, you’re discussing an opportunity and the door is wide open.
Most times however, it takes considerably more effort, but I’ve found people are networking online and participating in discussion groups for specific reasons. They’re all looking to expand their business, improve their position, seek out various types of opportunities, and make money. Attracting these individuals online sure beats running an ad in the local paper and waiting for the phone to ring!
Learm more at the upcoming Franchise Social Media Summit on September 21, 2011.
It’s been two years since we first published the comprehensive four-part series that addressed utilizing social networking to improve franchise development efforts. The series was well-received by the franchise community and became the basis for the report we published approximately six months later, Franchise Development via Social Media.
As we were recently working on integrated franchise marketing strategies for our franchise clients, we looked in our own rear view mirror to determine how we’ve progressed in utilizing social media and how essential it was to integrated franchise marketing. We found we still follow the lion’s share of the strategy we originally outlined but also found that we’ve revised certain parts. As we continue to perfect the integration of social media, with traditional strategies, and incorporate new social technology to the mix, we’re confident our strategies will continue to evolve. Below is an excerpt from part three of the original series, and of the Whitepaper itself, with slight revisions to reflect our evolving strategy.
Integrating Social Media with Traditional Franchise Marketing
Not convinced that a social media strategy will help you achieve your franchise development objectives? That’s understandable as social technology continues to evolve, and as such, is difficult to measure for complete efficiency and effectiveness. Basically, there is still little to measure it against. So, if it doesn’t work, for whatever reason, you need to be prepared and have a back up plan. Is that your thinking? If it is, you’re partially correct in thinking this way. I say, partially, because you should transition into any new marketing approach, and the best way to do so, is to integrate the old with new, the traditional with the innovative.
I also say, partially, because a back up plan, running simultaneously, is a double expenditure and as such may cause you to shortcut the new strategy, justifying your decision as you being more comfortable with the old strategy anyway. But keep in mind, the old has been losing its effectiveness over the past few years and today’s franchise candidates continue to trend away from old, tired methods of exploring franchise opportunities, so change is necessary. Fortunately, you can still move into social media at your own pace and slowly transition away from traditional strategies while maintaining the total marketing efforts necessary to achieve your objectives.
Now, let’s look at some of the traditional marketing you might have used in past franchise development efforts and see how you can integrate the same with social technology. Over time, you may transition completely out of the traditional methods or may opt to keep some in place, at reduced levels than in the past, and as dictated by the franchise development results achieved by the total efforts.
Integrating Traditional and Social Media Strategies
Traditional strategy: Tapping your current franchise network for customers that may be interested in your franchise concept. Various costly marketing tools include newsletters, post cards, in-store signage and printed materials. Approaching customers should be effective as they’re basically the low-hanging fruit that should be easily picked. Customers know the concept and are generally satisfied with the product or services. They’ve seen how busy the franchise unit is and have experienced the growth of the brand in the market.
Social media strategy: Invite franchise customers to the company’s social networking site and encourage them to participate. On the site, they should see videos and photos as we’ve described in parts one and two of this series. The effectiveness of this interaction is far stronger than introducing customers to the possibility of owning their own franchise through cumbersome print materials that get left in the back of the car or get discarded. Certainly the interactivity of the social network site blows away the message being told in print.
Traditional strategy: Advertising in local and national media for individuals interested in small business ownership, franchising and hopefully, your franchise concept. This is an expensive proposition as print advertising is very specific to a local market and multiple markets may be necessary to grow effectively. Or, the national publication costs are cost prohibitive for the size of your concept.
Social media strategy: Blogs are today’s media. Blog writers are today’s journalists. Through tags and various Web 2.0 tools (widgets), content is spread across the internet to multitudes of bloggers that ultimately wind up discussing and promoting your concept. As discussed in previous parts to this series, social network groups can be targeted to attract franchise candidates according to the ideal franchise profile you’ve created. This makes your actual sales efforts more concentrated to actual qualified candidates as opposed to dealing with the swarm of tire-kickers from print media.
Traditional strategy: Portal websites became very popular as the internet gained steam in both popularity and daily usage. Unfortunately, now there are so many portals that regurgitate leads across the internet that many portal leads have been contacted by 10-20-30 different “franchise experts.” This has created a “used car salesman” effect that has actually turned people that may have been interested in franchising, totally against the industry.
Social media strategy: Similar to the strategy identified above as the alternative to advertising in local and national media. And, instead of an interested party being directed to specific information, the social media effort gradually presents the facts and information about the franchise while encouraging interaction with the entire franchise family. This goes a long way towards building trust, an essential component to the franchise sale.
Traditional strategy: Personally, I believe franchise expos and tradeshows are quickly becoming a thing of the past. First, it’s just too expensive to send a team of representatives to man a trade booth in some city outside the city where the corporate headquarters is located. Further, people are intimidated by salespeople and prefer instead to search for opportunities online in a non-intimidating environment, and at their own pace.
Social media strategy: With the wealth and breadth of information available online, an individual’s computer is in essence, a virtual tradeshow or franchise expo. Why should an individual interetsed in franchising go anywhere else? However, it’s not good enough to just have a website. A website is static and two-dimensional. Instead, a blog and social network page, again as we’ve previously described, is essential to stand out from the crowd and create an interactive forum where the franchise candidate can learn and share information towards making an informed decision. Again, at his or her own pace and without feeling intimidated.
Integrating Non-traditional and Social Media Strategies
Non-traditional strategies: There’s a multitude of improved strategies that have been utilized in franchise development efforts. One, email marketing, is effective to an extent. Email blasts have become very common and have had a relative level of success. Greater success is achieved when integrating social media and relevant content links within the email message. Ultimately, the reader will spend significantly more time in and around the meail message as opposed to just discarding the same.
Social media strategies: Welcome to video email marketing. Or, as is commonly referred to as vidmail marketing. Actually, let’s call it email on steroids! Videos, an essential social technology tool, can be transfered to blogs and social networks to enhance the experience and more importantly, convey a consistent message in a dynamic form. People remember 10% of what they read. 20% of what they hear. And 30% of what they see. But, remember 50% of what they see AND hear together. So, which is it, email or vidmail?
Fluid Integration of Social Media
A blog post on The Buzz Bin, defined some basic “musts” for fluid integration of social media. They include:
•Ensuring overarching value proposition and related communications are available in social web when dialogue naturally permits
•Cross-promotion of URLS and calls-to-action through web, mobile and print media for giving, tell-a-friend, webinars, etc.
•Spotlight third party coverage from blogs in the press room
•Advertising: Word of mouth is buoyed by advertising, so social media efforts should be tied to ad campaigns for print, online and keyword marketing. “Connect on Facebook” and other similar calls-to-action should start becoming common aspects of your ad campaigns.
•Public relations: Integrating willing online influencers as part of your outreach is essential.
•Emails: Any email sent from an organizational property should also include a call-to-action for the social web. Think about this: People reading email are already online.
•Website: Prominent first screenview promotion of social media properties needs to be developed for the 1.0 site. We recommend a clean badge or clearly delineated text.
•Cross promotion of social web activities. Badges should link to a portal site that unites all of your social media properties (once you develop them). Then use the portal as the home page and calls-to-action site for all online activity
Certainly, this list is far more technical than the explanations provided in this series but they correspond very well and should be used as a guide when executing your plan to integrate social media with traditional strategies.
*This post was previously published on this site April 2011
Working with many franchisor clients in developing lead generation strategies, I’ve run into a situation time after time that really has me perplexed. The situation has to do with a particular franchise organization using a franchise brand name, not their own, to direct franchise candidates to their site.
Often, the appearance of the site appears legitimate, complete with Google Ads and a great deal of reference to franchising. In fact, there’s often a quote from the unsuspecting franchise brand’s site included on the directing site. So, what appears to be a legitimate person as author to the site leads candidates to believe the author is also the author of the unsuspecting brand’s quote.
Confusing, right? Wait, it gets better…
The reply forms on the page give the perception the candidate is providing information to the brand they searched, and as listed across the top of the page, only to have the completed form directed to the franchisor that developed the directing site.
Take a close look at the actual link provided below to see for yourself. Then, check for a similar page online that includes your brand name because I have found hundreds of similar situations with the same franchisor behind this practice.
As many franchise professionals continue to explore new methods of recruiting franchise candidates, there’s been a great deal of discussion on how to incorporate social media into the mix. Sure, social media could be used to generate franchise leads. And, quite effectively. That, I have no doubt. But, it’s what comes after generating the leads that concerns me more. So, let’s take a look ahead, before jumping in with both feet on the front end.
Just like integrating traditional marketing strategies with social media strategies, it’s necessary to integrate personal interaction as well. However, instead of an aggressive, focused sales approach, the interaction should be subtle and guiding. Social media tools should be used to make points while making the experience enjoyable and interesting. Candidates will most likely marvel at the use of technology and feel comfortable learning about the franchise concept. And yes, they’ll be more comfortable and be fully at ease working through disclosure and the finer points of the concept itself.
The rest comes down to guiding candidates towards making a decision as it will now fully be an informed decision that has been validated by the social media experience AND the franchisees the candidates have come in contact with. Your franchisees will actually feel more a part of the franchise sales process than ever before. Go ahead and smile as this makes the process easier than in the past. Yes, it’ll be very nice to achieve franchise development goals once again.
Fantasy or Reality? Achievable or Not? Easy or Hard? That’s up to you and your team. It comes down to personal accountability, diligent execution of strategy and plan, professional handling of franchise candidates at all times and above all, NO SHORTCUTS!
Personal accountability is necessary in managing and monitoring social media activity, updating blog content and keeping things fresh. Nobody will stay at a dull party, right? Putting off things for tomorrow that should be done today is just not acceptable. It becomes a reflection of how even the simplest things are handled. A lack of urgency and poor attention to detail will translate into how the franchise sales process is handled, and then withered away.
Diligent execution of strategy and plan is essential. Certainly, adjustments will need to be made along the way. But the plan is your road map. Follow it as closely as possible. Allow extra time and resources as necessary for roadblocks and detours, but stay on course. Monitor your progress. How fast did you get from point A to point B? How fast did a candidate get from point A to Point B? Is the process slowing down or speeding up? Why? Do you need to do some system maintenance to the social media vehicle? Maybe your videos aren’t playing correctly? Maybe the photos aren’t loading fast enough? Maybe it’s time to bring in a “technician” so you can get back on the road as quickly as possible?
Professional handling of candidates means working with each candidate as you would want to be treated if you were the one on the verge of making a substantial investment, maybe putting your life savings on the line! It means conveying a sense of urgency when asked for information. It means paying attention to detail in something as simple as pronouncing their name correctly all the way to something complex such as full disclosure of the franchise concept. And, it means having the right attitude and conveying the same at every moment of working with the candidate at every point of “contact” including by email, on the phone, in-person, and yes, in the virtual world. Keep in mind, at all points of contact, your attitude will shine through so make sure it shines bright and your franchise future will shine bright as well!
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