Don’t be quick to write off portals – they produce 20% of the sales in the franchise industry
We recently collaborated with Franchise Growth Network to talk shop about franchise portals. The conversation with Matt Alden and myself encapsulates my best advice for clients I work with and is an important read for anyone involved in franchise development:
COLLABORATORS: Matt Alden/FGN – firstname.lastname@example.org | @2MattAlden; Thomas Scott/BrandJournalists – TScott@brandjournalists.com | @BrandJournalist
Even the most numbers-driven franchise buyers are emotionally connected to the brands they invest in. Thomas Scott founded BrandJournalists in 2008 to help franchisors capture, package, and broadcast the brand story to attract and engage more qualified prospective franchise buyers. But he also understands that growth-minded franchisors can’t rely on the work of organic marketing/lead-generation alone to achieve expansion goals. He leverages franchise portals not to make quick closes, but instead to build a bigger targeted audience to share franchisors’ stories with, knowing that the right prospects within the larger group will gravitate to the story and engage as qualified candidates.
Here are the questions Matt Alden posed to Thomas Scott that inspired this conversation:
Q: Have you always used portals as part of the recruitment marketing mix for your franchisor clients, or is this a more recent development as you’ve built your business?
A: We’ve always used portals for some portion of our advertising for clients. A successful franchise lead generation strategy should create visibility to your opportunity in as many possible locations as possible. Franchise portals play an important role in brand visibility, helping buyers mid and top-funnel learn more about options within franchising and alternative brands in an individual category or segment.
In addition, franchise portals play a very important role helping buyers comparison shop – they really are the only single place you can do research on who else is offering a similar franchise to the one you are interested in. Comparison-shopping is now a key part of how franchise prospects make buying decisions and I’d rather have my client’s bases covered than cede the ground to a competitor.
Q: Do you find that some franchisors are resistant to the idea of including portals in the mix?
A: Yes, and I understand the reasons why, too.
Franchise salespeople are given a tough job – sift through a large number of inquiries, do the hard work of contacting people from all over the country and trying to build a relationship with as many as they can so they can fill the pipeline with qualified prospects. A typical recruiter will get 100-150 leads a month and some get twice that. Knowing that a work week is only 40 hours, the amount of time it takes to do the sifting AND close deals that are active and in the pipeline is a stretch.
Over time, salespeople react in human ways to leads. They begin to form opinions on the lead sources and without realizing it, make up stories about the ‘leads’ before they ever reach them. This results in portal leads getting a bad reputation with salespeople.
It isn’t that portal leads don’t produce closable leads – in our industry, they produce more closes than all broker networks combined, about 20% of all deals. For emerging brands, they can produce an even higher number of closed deals. There are brands that do nothing but portal advertising and close deals on a daily basis.
The challenge salespeople face is to see each inquiry as a unique human being, each with specific and real goals and aspirations. If you work portal leads and the majority are hard to reach, are unreachable or are simply too far from away doing a deal to work, any person will get jaded quickly. If you bring into your sales efforts your judgment about portal leads, you’ll end up getting what you expect.
They will also miss the real buyers in the mix because they become jaded. If you put yourself in a typical buyer’s shoes, it would be hard to avoid franchise portals. We close deals of all types and all investment levels from portals for almost every brand we work with.
We had an unnamed client last year that had a CRM mapping issue for about 30 days. All leads came in as ‘Other’ rather than marked as the company website or specific portals. During this period, the sales activity skyrocketed. When we fixed the mapping issue, we realized that the salespeople thought they were working website leads when they were really working both portal and website leads. As soon as the mapping was fixed, the sales activity dropped, confirming bias on the part of the salespeople.
It is almost always a mistake to pass on some amount of portal advertising. If you don’t get good results, look to your sales team and try and improve your sales activity – or at least track it so you don’t get into anecdotal excuses. Working portal leads require more work than some other sources but that doesn’t mean it is a less viable. A buyer is a buyer.
We recommend basing decisions to advertise / not advertise on real data. Are your salespeople able to get an industry standard average sales activity level from portals? Do you even know what this is and have a way to measure it? Without it, you’ll have a lot of excuses and rationalized answers from your salespeople. Working portal leads requires more effort than other types and as a result, is simply harder. We think it’s worth the effort if you really want to maximize growth in your system.
Q: You’ve attended and presented at plenty of franchise sales seminars where the prevailing franchisor sentiment is that it’s a race to contact portal leads? Do you take a similar approach or do you use a slightly relaxed approach/cadence that sets the stage for the brand story to be delivered and captivate the right candidates?
A: I don’t think it is an either / or.
Based on my experience, and looking at sales data, teams that follow up quickly and do a thorough job contacting leads close more deals from portals, with no exceptions. We believe the average portal inquiry completes forms for 4-5 concepts at a time and will often have conversations with the first salesperson that calls then quickly gets inundated with calls from all the others.
If those five salespeople get the inquiry, the first one will think the lead is great and the other four will get brushed off because they were simply too slow to work the lead. Think about it: a typical portal lead is higher up in the awareness funnel than someone who is working with a broker or comes in from your company franchise website. They are less educated about your brand but are still interested in a change and are openly curious about franchise ownership.
When they visit portals and request information, they are wholly unprepared for the onslaught of calls they get and after the first one, usually turn sour. This results in unresponsive leads that just screen your calls or worse, get surly and even say they didn’t request your info because they honestly have lost track of who you are and just want the phone to stop ringing.
Let’s be clear: If your salespeople have too much of this feedback from portal leads, they are taking too long to reply. 10 minutes is long. 30 minutes means you are only 50% likely to communicate and anything longer is just throwing those leads away.
However, it isn’t possible for you to always be first or your may not have the time to make the 5-7 calls, texts, emails and voicemails you really need to make to work portal leads effectively. We see good results setting portal leads aside after you make the first round of contact attempts and coming back to them 3 weeks later and making a second round of attempts. By this time, these people have gotten through all the calls, are usually still interested and it is easier to catch them. This requires more work on the salesperson’s behalf but produces results.
Ideally, you would do both. The reality is that working portals leads requires a higher sense of urgency up front, a lot more follow-up than other lead types and perhaps some back end work as well to get people into your sales process. We think it is worth the effort and has now become part of a salesperson’s job in the era we’re in. With over 4,000 franchise systems all trying to market to prospects, the competition for buyers is getting intense and buyers will just gravitate to the brands that respond the most professionally.
Q: Do you have some good examples of franchise sales successes that originated with portal inquiries – any that you’d consider unique or surprising?
A: Here’s the deal with portal leads: the exact same cross section of buyers that come from all other sources also come from franchise portals.
I’ve seen buyers come from portal leads that were very experienced and very high net worth. I’ve seen entry-level buyers; existing franchisees looking to expand and just about every other type of buyer come through a regular portal lead.
The problem is just that not every person who request information from a portal is a buyer and not all buyers are at the same stage, making hard work for the salesperson to sift through and communicate well.
The secret is just to be methodical about the way you work these leads, don’t fall into the trap of cherry-picking or assigning values to portals and work hard not to bring your own judgment into your sales conversations. See each portal inquiry as a specific person and work hard to communicate with each. If a conversation doesn’t work out, just move on to the next lead and don’t make it mean more than it does. Don’t let the contact rate for portal leads become your excuse for goals. If you don’t contact as many as you want, try again and keep trying. After all, 20% of franchise sales, over 4,000 new franchisees a year, come from portals and if they don’t buy from you, they will buy from your competition.
Q: Have you been able to quantify or otherwise correlate franchisor exposure on portals with increased website visitation and/or inquiries from prospects that viewed an opportunity on a portal but did not use the portal to submit an inquiry?
A: Growing a franchise brand today is not easy.
With more than one new franchise system a day starting up and over 4,000 systems to choose from, the options a buyer has are more numerous than at any time in history. Buyers gravitate towards brands that are transparent, are easy to research in detail and have well told, helpful brand stories online.
We think of the research process buyers go through as a journey. It appears most buyers spend 12 months or more thinking about ownership and 3-6 months zeroed in on a single brand, most of this time prior to requesting information or engaging with a brand. Prospects become aware of an opportunity then tune into the brand’s story if they relate. The more visible the brand is in as many places as possible, the more likely they will slow down and pay attention.
Because the research process is a journey, prospects might start out on a portal – even though they don’t fill out a form – then proceed on to Google searches, social media or your website. All of your franchise development is connected and the more cohesive your story is, the easier it is for prospects to take additional steps as they research your brand. With substantially more competitors than before this is even more important.
When I have clients pause or stop portal advertising, we often see a 10-15% drop in organic leads that you could attribute to the loss of visibility, so yes, we think there is a direct connection. If you are an emerging brand with less than 25 units or less than five years in business, portal advertising is much more essential and you might see a larger impact on traffic to your recruitment website.
Q: What are some of the most significant changes you’re seeing with portal leads these days, and do any suggest changes in how best to work them to create the best opportunity for sharing the brand story?
A: If you look at the demographics within franchising, you’ll see a rapid increase in non-white, ethnic or immigrant franchise buyers. In many cases these are fully Americanized buyers who are 2nd generation Americans. Their parents came to the US and bought hotels or Subways. They’ve grown up in franchising and are super-entrepreneurial as a group. This non-white group is predicted to be more than 50% of new buyers in the years ahead and, as a group, they appear to use portals more often than similar, white visitors.
When I look at who is buying from portal leads, I see a lot more diversity and portal advertising is shaping up as a good lead source for more diverse buyers.
In addition, we see portal pages that have more content, not less, producing higher quality. I think the mistake most people made is just to throw up copy and let it sit. Often, the copy you start with isn’t as good as it can be and overhauling / improving your page copy can make a big difference. We try to replace ours annually and add infographics, videos and photos to ours. I prefer much longer pages if I can get away with it. The copy should focus on your core value proposition and the major themes that make your opportunity relevant to buyers. Portal pages are not one-size-fits all. If you can identify a specific class or group of buyers, focus your messaging to that group. Watering it down or shortening it to bullet lists rarely produces a good result. Give buyers something to sink their teeth into and slow them down with a well-told story.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Overall, we believe in portal advertising for some segment of your lead generation budget. It doesn’t replace your company recruitment website, broker strategy or other organic campaigns but it can extend the number of deals you do annually. If you have tried portals alongside other marketing and don’t get good results, try to troubleshoot rather than just jump off. Train your salespeople and manage them so you can track conversion rates. Don’t take feedback from salespeople at face value – really look at the data to make sure you understand what is going on. Update or replace your copy often, too.