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Franchise Lead Generation Best Practices for 2019

November 15th, 2018

Focus your efforts on buyers. Here’s how to reach them.

By Dan Hieb, VP of Digital Strategy

Millions of people research franchise opportunities each year. Nearly none of them become buyers, so if your franchise lead generation strategy is focused on the top of the funnel, you’re going to waste a lot of money and effort for minimal return.

Of the 1 million to 2 million people a year who become a franchise candidate, only 13,000 to 20,000 will become franchise buyers. To grow an iconic brand, you need to serve these 13,000-20,000 buyers.

A winning approach for franchise recruitment and sales

Note that we use the word “serve.” Not “target.” Not “entice.” Not even “inform.”

To successfully recruit franchise buyers, you need to anticipate their needs. The way you communicate with candidates should flow from a desire to serve people who are looking for ways to improve their lives.

Serve candidates by answering key questions up front

A white jigsaw puzzle sits on a red mat. One piece is missing and in the missing space it says "Solution." A hand is pulling away a puzzle piece that says "Problem."

In order to serve franchise buyers, it’s critical to identify and communicate the aspects of your business that make it valuable for customers and for franchisees.

As people are researching brands, they have some common questions that fall into two categories:

Qualification filters

  • How much does it cost to start?
  • What territories are available?

Brand story

  • What makes this business model unique?
  • What makes demand sustainable?
  • What is the growth potential of the industry and brand?
  • What is the culture of the company and its leadership team?
  • Can I picture myself being meeting my personal goals as a franchisee?
  • What is the ROI?

Your website should, at a minimum, provide comprehensive answers to all of these questions.

The first set of questions helps researchers qualify themselves. If they don’t have enough money, or if you don’t have available territory, then there’s no reason for them to become a lead. It’s a waste of their time and yours.

The second set of questions is designed to help franchise candidates make their first decision: Am I willing to surrender some of my privacy and my time to reach out and learn more about this brand?  

Candidates’ time is a precious resource, and franchisors have to earn it.

Your franchise information site should be the cornerstone of your lead generation efforts. Your site should provide a robust mix of research, strategy and storytelling in order to engage the imagination of potential franchisees. It’s not enough to tell your story. You want to provide enough information for candidates to begin to craft their own story in their mind’s eye.

If the information you provide is vague or unrelatable, most candidates will either move on to researching other opportunities or Google your brand story, relying on sources that may offer a skewed perspective on your brand. Your franchise information site should be the cornerstone of your lead generation efforts because it gives you the best opportunity to control your brand story.

Franchise lead generation tactics that work

Chart shows the franchise information site as the central hub for marketing activities. Orbiting this hub are "search" marketing, social media marketing, retargeting, and public relations.
Your franchise information website is your single most important asset for franchise recruitment. If you tell a compelling and complete brand story, qualified candidates will opt into conversations. Advertising budgets should focus on driving your desired audience to the site.

Most brands have shifted the majority of the franchise recruitment budget toward content marketing and digital marketing. And for good reason — it gets the best results. Brands can make the most efficient use of their franchise recruitment dollars by investing in this order:

  1. Your franchise opportunity website. This is the first place where you should invest time and money. A strong franchise opportunity website will strengthen your recruitment pipeline by bringing in high quality leads. Only referral leads and broker leads (which are very expensive) tend to have higher lead-to-close ratios. A strong franchise information site accomplishes two things: It attracts qualified candidates, and it allows unqualified or unsuitable candidates to disqualify themselves. This frees recruiters to spend their time working with potential buyers. The majority of traffic now comes from smartphones, so the website should use a mobile-first design that’s easy to navigate, with fast page load times (3 seconds or less at 3G speeds) and a clear call-to-action.
  2. SEO/paid search. Your franchise site should employ SEO and paid search best practices. This will make it easy for candidates to discover your brand when they are searching for franchise opportunities. You’ll need to incorporate keywords that candidates are likely to type in when researching opportunities, use phrases that are semantically related to those keywords, create a site architecture that sends clear content signals to search engines, and create strategic landing pages that allow you to target specific search terms. Organic traffic can take time to build. Think of it like building a recurring revenue stream — the results don’t happen all at once, but they tend to accrue. Paid search, on the other hand, can yield results very quickly. You simply bid for the terms that you would like to trigger your ads. The key with paid search is to provide quality content, write strong ad copy that resonates with your target buyer, and employ keyword and audience targeting strategies that maximize your visibility while minimizing wasted clicks. Good paid search can be remarkably efficient. Bad paid search can be nightmarishly expensive. When working with a paid search vendor, be sure they understand the differences between consumer marketing and franchise recruiting. The audience and keyword targets are very different.
  3. Retargeting. Retargeting allows you to serve display ads to people who have previously visited your franchise recruitment site. If you’ve ever been chased around the internet by ads for a product you previously shopped or searched for, then you’ve seen retargeting in action. Retargeting is important for two reasons: Most people spend weeks researching multiple brands, and the franchise recruitment process typically takes 30-90 days. Retargeting allows you to keep your brand top-of-mind throughout the research and evaluation process.
  4. Social media. Platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram allow you to target your recruitment advertisements to targeted groups of users. This is great as long as you understand the persona of your best franchise candidates and use those personas to target your ads and tailor your communication to those personas. Social media platforms also give franchise recruiters an opportunity to interact directly with candidates who are still in the research phase. Have exciting news? Don’t just post it on a blog or news release, share it on social media, too. Have a grand opening? Don’t just push out a news release — post a video. Social media is especially important for smaller, emerging brands that don’t yet have a national profile. Candidates are less likely to search you out, so search traffic will not be as effective as it is for larger brands. Social media gives you an opportunity to introduce yourself.
  5. Public relations. Earning media coverage provides validation to people who are researching your brand. While a strong franchise information site allows you to tell your brand story, smart candidates will do independent research. When candidates search for your brand online, you want them to find news about grand openings, sales growth and interesting stories about relatable franchisees.
  6. Franchise portals. Do everything else first. But, if you are not generating the leads that you need using the strategies above, franchise portals give you a way to reach top-of-the-funnel franchise researchers. The lead-to-close ratio is usually much worse because these researchers rarely have significant engagement with your brand when they fill out a lead form. They tend to be in an early-comparison-shopping/tire-kicking phase. There are buyers here, but recruiters will have to do much more work to separate the unqualified/uninterested from potential buyers. The lead quality from individual portals is also a bit like shifting sand — the landscape continually changes. Recently, FPG clients have had their best experiences with Franchise Direct, Franchise Opportunities, BizBuySell, and Entrepreneur. But it behooves you to take advantage of franchise networking events to talk to peers about the current landscape.

The right story, told to the right people, transforms companies

If you follow these tactics, you will be able to generate a strong pipeline of qualified franchise candidates. If it sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. But the ROI can be company changing. Focusing on buyers will generate more franchise applications and more franchise sales.

There are currently about 4,000 franchise concepts fighting for 13,000-20,000 buyers. That means there are just 4-5 franchisees a year for each franchisor. It generally takes about 100 franchisees for a franchisor to hit royalty self-sufficiency, so it’s critically important for emerging franchisors to appeal to an outsized share of available buyers. For mid-sized franchisors positioning themselves for a sale, effective recruitment can improve EBITDA and significantly enhance valuation.

Want to learn more? FPG Consulting can help you develop a comprehensive franchise lead generation and franchise sales plan. Fill out the form below to get in touch.

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