A myriad of factors can add to your success in selling franchises: the strength of the concept, the structure of the franchise offering, the estimated startup costs, whether a financial performance representation is used (and if so, what it shows), where the franchise is marketed, the marketing message and collateral materials, and the sales process.

Perhaps no factor is as important, however, as the validation that a candidate receives when speaking to your franchisees.

Virtually every book on the subject of buying a franchise advises candidates to interview franchisees. Franchise brokers use these phone calls as a critical part of the sales process. And the Internet gives dissatisfied franchisees a powerful way to air grievances.

You might have a spot-on marketing plan, beautiful collateral materials, a well-crafted message and a seasoned sales team, but if your franchisees tell prospects of severe dissatisfaction with their franchise experience, your chances of making a sale become slender.

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So how does a savvy franchisor make sure franchisees will give rave reviews?

1. Set up franchisees for success. Making sure that franchisees triumph requires selecting qualified franchisees and equipping them with proper training, site selection and other pre-opening support.

2. Listen. Understand what your franchisees are saying about you. Survey your franchisees regularly and make sure you know their likes and dislikes about the system.

3. Educate. While you never want to urge your franchisees to say anything untrue, be sure they understand the benefits of giving good reviews and system growth. Here are a few: Adding new franchisees can increase the brand's national advertising budget, spread brand recognition, and improve purchasing power. More franchisees generally mean more royalties, and as the franchisor's revenue rises, so can the ability to provide support across a broad range of areas. That can translate into better field support, improved training, technology upgrades, superior conventions and active research and development.

4. Coach. As a franchisor, prepare a candidate to do his or her research. Since the candidate is likely to get a variety of responses from the franchisees interviewed, the ones selected play a role. While you do not want to "steer" a prospect to specific franchisees, you may provide the names of specific franchisees who will reflect positively on their experience. These might be franchisees that share a similar background with the prospect, will operate in a similar type of location or geography, or newer franchisees who can reflect on their more recent experience with the franchisor. Of course, you should always encourage your prospects to speak to as many franchisees as they would like. And speak to your attorney about how to provide these names without "steering" a candidate.

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5. Prepare. Since the way a question is asked influences the answer, provide your candidates with sample questions. Though candidates should be encouraged to inquire freely, such questions could help guide the candidate to a better understanding of the life of a franchisee and factors influencing success.

6. Share. If previously you have found a few franchisees are consistently poor reviewers, discuss this with your prospect (without naming them, of course) and provide the company's perspective on the problems they have encountered to help ensure that a random chat with one does not kill the sale. This transparency will allow you to prepare the candidate for an otherwise "game changing" interview with a dissatisfied franchisee while sharing your perspective. After all, you are offering a system, not a guarantee of success.

Nothing sells franchises as well as happy and thriving franchisees. And nothing can destroy a franchisor's sales efforts faster than poor references.

Good reviews stem from sound business operations and aren't choreographed. But if a franchisor has a strong concept, communicates well and is genuinely prioritizing franchisees, the above techniques can improve the sales process while enlisting franchisees as the best salespeople.

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