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Put Your Best Image Forward

Seeing your franchise through the eyes of a prospective buyer

When new franchisors first begin selling franchises, they often do so because people who love their concept have asked them, "How do I get one of these franchises?" Those types of serendipitous leads will always find their way to a good concept, but to achieve any type of aggressive growth, you need marketing.

And marketing means more than simply running ads. It means understanding how you are seen through a franchisee's eyes.

Unfortunately, most entrepreneurs have a tendency to fall in love with their business. And when we fall in love, it's all too easy to overlook some flaws. But if we are to succeed as franchisors, we must get past our personal love blinders and learn to view our business in a different perspective.

The Prettiest One at the Dance
You should start with the knowledge that you are being shopped. Some surveys indicate that 60 percent of all franchise prospects will look at six or more franchise companies before deciding on a franchise--and 30 percent will look at 12 or more! With this in mind, you should make a point of knowing everything about your competitors.

This process starts by identifying who, in fact, your franchise competitors are. For some franchise companies, its competitors are obvious. For others, it's less so.

Not a month goes by that I don't hear from a franchisor that, "My franchise is truly unique. I really don't have any competitors." But the fact is, these franchisors, like every other franchise company, is competing for the franchisee's dollar, and to fail to recognize this is the first step toward failure as a franchisor.

If you are selling and installing the newly invented and completely proprietary XYZ Widget to consumers out of a mobile van, chances are you are probably competing with other mobile franchise companies such as Chem-Dry, Lawn Doctor or Snap-On Tools. So be sure to ask your prospects what other franchises they are considering. Not only will that provide you with a better understanding of your competitive set, but it will also help you position your franchise in the sales process.

Another important question to ask a prospect is, "Why are you looking at them?" Again, not only will this question provide you with a better understanding of how to compete for this franchisee, but it will also provide you with a better understanding of how you and your competitors are perceived in the marketplace.

Once you have an understanding of who your closest competitors are, you need to research each competitor thoroughly to understand their strengths, weaknesses and competitive position. Start with a thorough review of their website, their franchise marketing materials and their UFOC. And by all means, talk to their franchisees. They, better than anyone, should be able to communicate why they bought from your competitor and not from you.

Then ask yourself some questions, and answer them as objectively as you can. How professional are their marketing materials--especially compared to yours? What do they tout as advantages to their system? How do they position themselves in the marketplace, and how does that fit with your position? Do they provide an earnings claim, and how do you stack up on the ROI front? What structural advantages does your concept offer based on a review of their UFOC (fees, royalties, territory, training, support, etc.), and what are the weaknesses you will have to overcome?

You may empirically be very attractive, but if you are not the prettiest one in the room, you may not be asked to dance.

First Impressions Count
Another important precept is the understanding that your prospects, at least in the early stages, are often focused on just one thing: narrowing their list of prospective franchisors. The implication here is nothing short of profound when it comes to franchise sales and marketing. Because they are looking at so many franchisors, the prospective franchisee is actively looking for a reason to eliminate you from the competition!

With this in mind, first impressions are absolutely essential. In today's digital age, your first impression will almost certainly be your website. Of course, you want it to be professionally designed and to convey a certain image. At the same time, you do not want it to say so much that the franchisee can make a decision without talking to you first. And remember, "anything you say can and will be used against you . . ."

Your next "first impression" will be the marketing materials sent to your prospects. Brochures, fliers and videos should be professionally produced and designed. Again, they should look better than those of your competitors. Ask yourself objectively if your franchise marketing materials look as if they were created by a company that is well capitalized and capable of providing strong support services.

And remember, your marketing materials should be designed to pass muster not just with your franchisees, but with their spouse, their banker, their attorney, their accountant and their "know-it-all Uncle Charley," who are all going to be motivated to tell your prospects just how crazy your concept really is and why it will fail. So your materials have to visually show your concept in its best light--full stores, strong support and a well-communicated value proposition. Lastly, be sure your marketing materials strongly communicate your unique selling proposition and properly communicate your position in the competitive marketplace.

Can I Call You?
Once you get past the basic introductions, it is incumbent on your franchise sales team to create excitement and to arrange that first "date." As with most dating situations, these calls will probably start with some basic small talk and, if they work out, will progress to a more serious flirtation.

For the prospective franchisee, this time spent on the phone conveys a very meaningful message. Did the franchise development officer call when promised? Were phones answered promptly and professionally? Were qualifying questions asked in a nonintrusive fashion? Was there a real qualification process--or was it just a sales pitch? And, most important, was there some magnetism?

You should answer questions openly and honestly, but still leave prospects with the promise of more to come. Otherwise, what point is there for going out on the date?

Ultimately, the goal is to get your prospects to take the next step, which, in most instances, involves coming to your operation for "Discovery Day."

Proper Dating Etiquette
Nowhere will first impressions have a greater impact on the salability of your franchise offering than the day your prospect first visits you at your headquarters to learn more about the franchise opportunity--known throughout franchising as Discovery Day.

Your prospects' first impression will likely start before they even get to your offices. Did you offer to help arrange transportation and lodging? Did you meet them at the airport? Did you take them to dinner to get to know them, or did you proceed straight to an operating unit? I have heard of at least one franchisor that has its prospects picked up in a chauffeured Rolls Royce--and while that certainly sends a message, some would argue it is the wrong message to send.

In choreographing your Discovery Day, you need to be careful to look at your opportunity through your franchisee's eyes. One franchised restaurant chain we consulted with used to take their prospects to their units at 2 p.m. so they could avoid the lunchtime rush--as an earlier visit would put an incremental burden on staff. The result was that this prospect would go into a restaurant that was completely empty and see before them their own worst nightmare--what if they spent all that money and nobody came? Our advice was simple: Bring the prospects to the unit at its absolute busiest, and let them watch the cash registers ring.

In your offices, the little things count. How are your people dressed? Are they enthusiastic? Knowledgeable? Are the offices clean, and is the staff professional? All these factors communicate a tremendous amount to the prospect above and beyond what is in the UFOC.

Finally, remember what you are selling as a franchisor. Of course, you are selling a brand and a proven system of operations, but what you are really selling is your delivery vehicle: your people.

When your prospect visits, be sure to introduce all your key people, and be sure each of them talks about his or her own individual value propositions. "Hello, I am Mary Smith. I will be sending you your royalty bills" sounds far less compelling than, "Hello, I am Mary Smith, I will be examining your financial statements to see how you can more efficiently run your operation and maintain desired labor costs."

Often, the best way to see the world through the eyes of your franchisee is to act as if you are a franchisee yourself. Mystery shop your franchise sales force. Have materials sent to your home. Wait for the follow-up call. Go through a Discovery Day from start to finish. Call the franchisees listed in your UFOC to check on their validation. Walk through the process step by step. And if you find that someone is stepping on your toes, change the dance step before you ask anyone to the prom.

Mark Siebert is the CEO of the iFranchise Group, a franchise consulting firm that has worked with 98 of the nation's top 200 franchisors. He can be reached at 708-957-2300 or at info@ifranchise.net.
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