By Lora Kellogg, CFE, president and CEO of Curious Jane
If you paused your franchise development marketing last year, it’s time to get back to work. 2021 is going to be a big year.
The International Franchise Association (IFA)’s recently released Economic Outlook Report predicts franchising will grow by 7% this year and return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year. The IFA anticipates 26,000 new franchise locations will open in 2021.
That’s encouraging news for franchise development teams. Although many franchisors took at least a short break from franchise development in 2020, only 7% reported their programs were still on hold in February, according to a FranConnect Pulse of the Franchise Industry Survey. That’s down from 16% still on hold last August.
The FranConnect report said 2021 has the potential for record-breaking franchise sales, especially in the second half of the year.
If you cut your franchise development marketing budget last year, it’s time to pump it back up to pre-pandemic levels. In our experience, we are seeing a higher cost per lead and a much longer sales cycle. In addition to ensuring our clients have creative that speaks to the more cautious mindset that franchise candidates seem to have right now, we recommend they invest in lead nurturing to nudge top prospects across the finish line.
What Is Lead Nurturing?
Lead nurturing is the process of building a relationship with franchise prospects so you can close the deal when they are ready. In the post-COVID environment, we are seeing leads who were already in the pipeline hesitating to pull the trigger. Perhaps they are worried about financing if their circumstances have changed; or maybe they wanted to see how a franchise performed during or after COVID-19, especially in those industries that were hit the hardest.
How long the sales cycle is depends on your brand. Sales move quicker with service brands because many can be launched out of a home office and startup costs are lower. Retail and restaurant brands not only were hit hard by pandemic closures but also require more buildout time and higher startup costs, so their sales cycles run longer.
Whatever the reason, leads are taking longer to convert. So, it is crucial that you stay in touch with them to keep them engaged and to ensure your franchise remains top of mind whenever they are ready.
Frankly, it would be crazy to not nurture the leads already in your customer relationship management system (CRM). Remember that higher cost per lead? Leads in your CRM have already been paid for. You’ve done the hard work of getting them to convert. Now instead of just waiting around and trusting that they’ll come back to you, it’s up to you to gently nudge them down the sales funnel. But how?
What Is the Best Way to Nurture Leads?
In working with our franchise development clients, we mostly employ five proven tactics to help them nurture leads. Those tactics are:
- An ongoing email campaign, the most common nurturing technique
- Direct mail sent to your leads’ addresses
- Webinars, which introduce the brand and educate leads about the opportunity
- Text messages
- Phone calls
You most likely send emails already, whether you have an automated drip campaign that’s triggered by someone filling out a form or you mail links to new blogs or media placements. Either way, you should be sending those emails through your CRM so you can track who’s opening them, score the leads and gauge their interest and readiness level – which helps you personalize your nurturing campaign.
If you know that a lead opens every email about financing, for instance, you might want to send him or her a booklet on your in-house financing program or call about opportunities for Small Business Association loans. Printed pieces like that are perfect for a direct mail campaign. With the prevalence of email, print products are a little surprising. Getting old-fashioned mail seems new again, somehow.
Your CRM also enables you to segment lists by geography. Now that franchise shows are opening back up around the country, consider inviting leads in various regions to meet with you at a franchise show in their area. This enables prospects who have already shown interest in your brand to meet people from your franchise and ask questions in person.
For those you can’t meet in person, consider a webinar. In our experience, leads who are moderately engaged respond well to webinars. Webinars allow someone to learn about your brand without feeling like they’re being put on the spot. They can remain off camera and watch a webinar or even ask questions. A webinar is inexpensive to produce, and it allows your franchise development team to share their passion for the brand more easily than they could in an email. Also, until in-person conferences resume, a webinar may be your best opportunity to get in front of a group of people who have expressed interest in your brand. Your sales team can follow up with the strongest candidates by sending a personal note afterward.
Texts and calls are great tools, but they can be tricky. Texts are less disruptive than a phone call, and they’re harder to ignore than email. But if you text someone and they don’t text back, they may not be comfortable communicating that way, so you will want to back off.
Calls feel very personal, which is helpful in building a relationship or closing a deal. But you might scare someone off if you call too soon or too often. Remember that your leads most likely still have other jobs and responsibilities, and you don’t want to interrupt them while they are at work. If they call you first, or if they seem like an extremely warm lead, however, a call may be the most appropriate way to connect with them.
Whatever nurturing methods you choose to use, customize the touchpoints as much as possible. If you are writing a blog about targeting development in Texas, you’ll want to share it with your Texas leads list, of course, but you may want to consider leaving the Northeast leads out of that communication.
Now is the perfect time to double down on your franchise development, and that means investing in lead nurturing tools that can help you make up for lost time. Lead generation is important, and you don’t want to stop looking for new leads. But you also don’t want to miss an opportunity to close deals with the leads you have already paid for. Just remember that it might take a little longer right now.
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