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Identifying Effective Methods of Lead Generation

Franchising World July 2008

Leads, prospects or inquiries, call them what you want.  All franchisors want them, want more of them and want them all to be qualified and ready to buy. If only it were that easy.

By Jeff Sturgis, CFE

In today’s environment, generating leads is every franchisor’s number one challenge. How does a franchisor go about identifying what are the most effective methods of generating leads? First, look internally. Look at the brand’s franchisees and determine if there are some common threads or backgrounds. Know what the investment criteria are and what the skill sets needed are for a franchisee to be successful. Analyze where previous deals and leads have originated.

Second, keep an open mind.  Watch what others are doing and look for ways to stand out from other competitors and try something different. There are certainly some traditional methods of lead generation that are basic building blocks of an intelligent and successful lead-generation program, but only by thinking outside the box, can a franchised business effectively maximize its lead-generation efforts and returns
 
Third, understand that not everything is going to work; effective programs and initiatives take time to work.  Understand the value of synergistic efforts, not just one-shot efforts done in a vacuum.
 
Finally, track and measure your results. Often, a franchisor will be surprised to learn that what it believes to be the more effective source of leads and deals is wrong. Challenge long-held assumptions and use data to make decisions.

Challenging Assumptions
Let’s look at each of these one at a time.

Look Internally
Sometimes the best lead generation method is already in place and one just doesn’t know it. By analyzing the current lead flow and really understanding what is driving these leads to the Web site or company, the organization can uncover lead generation methods that can be enhanced. What should the company look for? First and foremost, talk to current leads and ask them what prompted them to inquire about a franchise.  Are they customers of the business, do they work in the industry and was there a specific message or impetus that caused them to inquire? At Fantastic Sams, many of our “organic” inquiries were coming from people who already work in the beauty industry. So what did the company do?  It created a marketing campaign targeted to this community letting them know that opportunities exist for them to own their own salon. The leads generated from these efforts would have likely not come to us from traditional lead generation efforts.
 
As a franchisor, look at your industry and see if there is a group of people that could make good franchisees. If there is such a group, determine what are the mediums that can reach these people and create a compelling message tailored to them. The same idea applies to existing franchisees. Determine if there are commonalities among franchisees in terms of background, experience and industries.  Determine what message or medium prompted them to inquire about the franchise organization. In short, if the franchisor is already getting leads from a specific source or category of people, look for ways to enhance and maximize this channel.

Think Non-Traditionally
While the backbone and foundation of an effective lead-generation campaign utilizes traditional methods of lead generation, including franchise Web portals, brokers-referral networks and public relations, to truly maximize lead-generation efforts, a franchisor must look beyond these methods. In many sports, athletes are often taught to move to “open space” to gain an advantage or get a step ahead of their opponents. It is no different in franchising. As a franchisor, look for ways to differentiate the company from the competition and try things that haven’t been done before.
 
Has the company considered its franchisees’ customers? Many businesses capture customer data. See if the franchise can create a program that targets customers of the business to become franchisees. Create a winning situation for franchisees to participate by offering to do some direct mail to their customers with both a franchise sales message and a coupon or offer to once again use the service or product. Try exhibiting at job fairs or networking with outplacement professionals, particularly if a franchisee profile requires some very specific skill sets. Organize a group of other non-competitive franchisors to host a franchise seminar in a key market.
 
Try an infomercial. Use the Internet. Beyond the franchise Web portals, there are numerous way to utilize the Internet to generate leads. Pay-per-click and sponsored searches have become more common methods of reaching a target audience. As print media declines in readership and effectiveness, the Internet has become a more efficient place to present a message. Banner advertisements and sponsored electronic newsletters can be designed to target a specific audience and provide a far more efficient way to track results than print.
 
Networking with associations and organizations is another great way to target local markets. Consider joining a chamber of commerce or a business card exchange club.

Be Patient and Persistent
When trying new methods of lead generation, it is important to give the effort time to work. If something doesn’t appear to work, analyze the program and see if something needs to be changed. Was it the message, the medium, the place or the time? If after several iterations of the same program across different markets or with modifications the results are not there, then shelve the program for now and perhaps dust it off for a future attempt.
 
Another key factor when employing different methods of lead generation is to create a campaign that has the different components running concurrently or overlapping to create an extended time frame of activity. The common phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” applies here. By having a number of different messages across different mediums going at the same time in a market, a franchise company can create the appearance of being everywhere. In today’s crowded market for the consumer’s mindshare, a single message is difficult to stand out from others. People have learned to tune out individual messages. But if a franchise organization is in more than one place, chances are the target audience will see it once and then start noticing it more and more, without realizing the message was there all along.

Measure Lead Generation Efforts
To track results, the infrastructure needs to be in place before the campaign begins. Beyond having a good database or contact management tool, make sure to be prepared to capture the correct information. If the company is driving people to its Web site to fill out a form, make sure there is a question that asks how the person heard about the franchise opportunity and make it easy for them to answer by giving them drop-down options.
 
When a salesperson makes the initial follow-up calls, make sure they are confirming where the lead heard about the opportunity. If the organization is using a form of media (print, Internet, or TV, ask them how they can help to measure the performance. Most electronic media is trackable and thus valuable data and information can be obtained from these sources. The key is to track the results of the company’s efforts, and then one can determine what are the most-effective methods of lead generation for the organization.
 
All franchisors are constantly looking for that “magic bullet” of a lead-generation tool. If one existed, franchisors would all be doing the same thing and everyone would achieve their sales goals. It is important to understand that lead-generation methods come and go and are cyclical in nature. Only by trying different approaches, implementing a multi-faceted lead generation campaign and analyzing the results can a franchise company be successful. 

Jeff Sturgis, CFE, is vice president of sales and franchise development for Fantastic Sams.  He can be reached at 978-232-5611 or jsturgis@fantasticsams.com.