For Many Franchisors, Portals Remain the Most Cost-Effective Method of Lead Generation and Franchise Sales
By Jeff Sturgis, CFE
The use of franchise portals for lead generation has been a significant part of many franchisors’ marketing budgets for more than 10 years. This lead source has been one of the most consistent and highest volume producers of leads and deals. However, over the last couple years, there has been a slow shifting of Internet-based lead generation efforts to more proactive elements including search engine optimization and pay-per-click campaigns, as well as increased awareness by franchisors to improve their own franchise-specific Web sites.
As this shift has been taking place, the portals have been increasingly challenged as to their effectiveness and the quality and quantity of leads scrutinized more than ever. While in many cases the portals have ceded their dominance of lead-generation activity and budgets, it is important to note that there is ample evidence to show that franchise buyers are still visiting the portals in large numbers, but are more frequently using the portals as a jumping-off point to visit and research a franchise’s opportunity pages/Web site directly.
For this reason, there is still significant benefit to investing in this lead-generation source.
With this in mind, there are some key strategies and practices that a franchisor should employ to make the most use of this marketing investment. Following are 13 key tactics to increase your exposure, generate more leads and deals and most importantly produce an acceptable cost per sale from this lead source.
- Review and update listing content regularly.
For many people researching franchises, their first exposure to a brand will be one of the portals. This means their visit to your listing page could be the only opportunity your organization gets to make a positive impression. The content must be relevant and up to date. Relevant means your profile clearly and concisely describes the franchise value proposition and the ideal franchisee profile. Up to date means there are no references to dates, awards or other information that is old or no longer true. A quarterly or semi-annual review of the content is recommended to ensure it continues to deliver the message desired. A couple other tips for good portal listing content are to include a strong headline statement that immediately grabs the attention of the reader and ensure that the content is relevant for SEO of your business.
- Ensure the content is consistent on all of the portals you are included and with the content on the franchise Web site.
For franchise prospects surfing the Web for franchise information, they are likely to visit a few different portals and potentially visit the franchisor’s Web site. For this reason, the content should be the same across each portal on which the company is advertising and consistent with the messaging on the franchise information Web site.
- Provide monthly news content to each portal.
Most of the portals have a franchise news section on their Web sites, often on the home page. As an advertiser on a portal, your brand is allowed to post news stories, articles and press releases on these news feeds. The key is to initiate the posting by contacting your portal representative and sending that contact the file or link. The representative will typically be able to post the item the same day or within a couple days at most. In many cases, a visitor can link to the article from your listing page and link to the franchisor listing page from the article. By providing these postings, more presence is created on the portal for the brand and for it to receive some SEO benefits as well.
- Request to be on featured e-mail blasts to portal subscribers.
All portals maintain a database of people who have registered to receive newsletters, offers and other information from the site. In many cases, the newsletters contain sponsored advertiser links and include links or mentions of hot franchise opportunities. Further, some of the portals send periodic announcements to their database highlighting certain industries and opportunities. Your organization should be asking each portal what e-mail marketing options are available, what is needed to be included and how often they can be included.
- Ask for statistics from portals showing metrics.
The portals have a wealth of data on the traffic and visitors to their site, but much of it goes unused by franchisors. Many of the portals have data such as the number of visitors to the brand listing page, number of forms completed, expected and typical conversion rates and volume of leads for similar concepts, and so on.
In addition, some portals are now offering tracking pixels, which is a tool that identifies portal visitors who do jump from the portal to a franchisor’s Web site. Whatever metrics one can get from the portals will be helpful in determining the company’s ongoing strategy with each portal and its overall portal plan. Some sites are better than others at delivering certain types of prospects. For example, some have better conversion ratios, some industries and segments convert a higher percentage of leads than others so it is important to know as much as possible about your specific statistics and how they compare to other franchisors in your segment and other segments in general.
- Ensure your listing is in the most relevant primary industry category.
Most portals use a similar primary industry category list in their directories shown on the home page, such as food, automotive, health and fitness and so forth. Most portals also have subcategories under the primary categories. In either case, be sure your listing is in the primary/secondary category for your business segment. If the portal does not have your business category as a primary or secondary category, either ask why they do not and strongly consider not advertising on the portal.
- Your portal listing should be included in other relevant primary categories.
Look at any portal home page to discover the many different ways that visitors can begin their search: by geography, home-based, veteran, low-cost franchises, alphabetical, women’s franchises, and so on. It is important that your franchise be listed in as many categories as is relevant to your business.
- Ask to advertise resales on the portal.
As resales have become more common in franchise sales activity, it is worth asking the portals if there are any ways to advertise specific resale opportunities on their sites. Some may charge a fee for this, but it’s worth knowing, particularly if your company has anxious sellers who are looking for ways to market their business quickly.
- Include video or other types of links and features on the listing page.
Many of the portals have recently started adding more multi-media content to their listing pages such as testimonials, video clips, links to articles and more.
These tools are all being used by various portals to enhance the listing profiles of their franchise advertisers. Check each portal to see what they offer and include any additional content possible. Again, the more one can engage the interest of portal visitors, the more likely it is that they will either complete the portal form and or visit your franchise site directly.
- Build a relationship with the portal sales representative.
Knowing and maintaining a good relationship with your portal representative makes all of the other suggestions much easier to implement. People appreciate doing business with people they like and this goes both ways. Consider contacting each portal every month or two to review how things are going, discuss how your company can work together to maximize its investment in the portal and ask for the portal’s help in getting more exposure.
- Shop the portals.
Once a company has started advertising on a portal, it should periodically submit a dummy lead through each portal. The benefit of doing this is to ensure timely delivery of leads and verify receipt of the right information, ensure leads are being imported into your consumer relationship management program properly and it serves as an opportunity to secret shop your sales team to ensure they are following up appropriately.
Another added benefit to secret shopping your portals is that you can determine if the portals are selling your leads to other franchisors and other lead buyers.
- Reporting and verification.
At the end of each month, request a report of all leads delivered in the prior month and then cross-check this against the information in the CRM to ensure that all leads the portal says it is delivering are actually being received. This is especially critical for those portals operating on a pay-per-lead program.
- Report the best and worst leads to the portals.
The best leads are those that actually convert to a sale. By reporting to your portal which leads actually converted to a sale, the portals can use that information to tie back to specific sources, pages on the site, e-mail campaigns and so forth. This feedback loop assists portals in their effort to get your franchise business in front of the right audience. The worst leads are those that are sent to franchisors when the portal visitor never requested information about the particular franchise. This problem has declined over the years, but still occurs on occasion. Evidence that this has occurred is when a salesperson contacts a lead and the person says, “I never requested information on ABC franchise,” or “I don’t know why you are calling” or “I have received calls from lots of other franchisors that I didn’t ask for.” The proper way to handle this is to contact the portal representative and tell them directly what happened. When you have a good relationship as suggested above, this issue gets resolved quickly.
For many franchisors, the portals remain the most cost-effective method of lead generation and franchise sales. Like everything else in life, change happens and you must adapt to keep growing, it is no different with franchise lead generation. Incorporating an effective portal advertising strategy into a well-rounded lead generation plan will produce results and allow you to continue to grow your franchise system.
Jeff Sturgis, CFE, is president of Franchise System Advisors.