I frequently ask franchise salespeople how many times they follow-up with a lead that requested information about franchising opportunities with their brand. The answer I hear more often than not is “once or twice,” while some of the more diligent salespeople will tell me “three or four times.” If you think this is enough, you’re wrong.

The problem with this approach is that some leads take many months, sometimes years, before being ready to take the next step. Dozens of follow-ups and reminders could (and should!) be made during this time – but, following up on new and cold leads takes time. This is time that salespeople would rather spend closing deals with hot prospects, rather than with so-called “tire-kickers”.

Like it or not – it’s necessary.

A buyer does not make a purchase before kicking a few tires. Every buyer begins as a lead and takes the buyer’s journey from Awareness to Interest to Consideration to Purchase.

Nurturing Curiosity

The average franchise buyer – let’s call him Joe – has been at his corporate desk job for years now and has built up some significant savings. On a Sunday afternoon Joe decides to kill some time by researching investment opportunities. He is curious about franchising within your industry and goes online to see what he can find.

He lands on your franchising website (Awareness win! Give your marketing team a thumbs up for spending their SEO and AdWords budgets wisely!) and submits an inquiry form. He then gains access to your franchise brochure and gets the answers to some of his general questions about your brand’s fees, royalties, and benefits.

You’ve successfully captured Joe’s email address and phone number through his form submission (Interest), so you give him a call on Monday. If you get Joe live, you have a friendly conversation and answer his more specific questions. If you don’t get Joe live, you leave him a voicemail, and then send a follow-up email. And that’s where it ends for many franchise salespeople. Joe gets busy at work, puts his franchising interest on the back burner, and life goes on. He hasn’t even entered the Consideration phase of the buyer’s journey. Technically, a salesperson’s job hasn’t even begun yet for Joe. When the salesperson spoke to him, he might’ve seemed like a tire-kicking waste of time.

The reality is, however, that Joe is still a viable lead; just not right now.

Harnessing Automation Technology

When Joe will transition from the Interest to Consideration phase is anyone’s guess. This is why your leads should be nurtured automatically. Modern marketing automation technology enables automatic communication with leads via email and text message, removing the need for salespeople to spend hours of their day following up with them. With automation, you can effortlessly send limitless follow-up emails on a customized schedule – all personalized, localized, and relevant to each specific lead. What’s more, you can deliver a one-to-one conversation utilizing IF/THEN workflows and monitor engagement such as opens, clicks, and webpage views, which can subsequently trigger additional meaningful communications. And the cherry on top; automation can notify the right salesperson of important activity, telling them when to act. If your sales team does not utilize marketing automation software yet, you’re falling behind. Look into it. Dozens of options exist. One of the best options in the market is Act-On. Aptly named, it allows you do just that, “act on” the leads you’ve generated.

Never Underestimate the Human Touch

While marketing automation tools can do wonders, don’t leave it all to technology. The human element of lead nurturing should not be negated. A well-oiled lead nurturing program is supplemented with direct mail, voicemail, and live calls carried out by a well-staffed sales team. If you don’t have the staff to handle it all, you have a couple options – recruit or outsource. These dollars are well spent. It will keep your sales pipeline full of warm prospects and enable your closers to spend their time on the hot ones. The ROI will be immediately evident.

If you’re ahead of the game and already have marketing automation technology, use it properly and communicate intelligently. Leads should be segmented according to what you know about them and categorized by their purchase-readiness. Use the tried and tested method of categorization: “Cold,” “Warm,” and “Hot.” I recommend further segmenting leads by location, allowing you to customize communication to those in target regions for your brand. Identify areas primed for expansion as well as resale opportunities. Send a territory map or a picture of an actual store location, for example. Personalize messaging based on criteria such as available capital and work experience. Send financing options and existing franchisee profiles with similar histories. But again, this is all communication that should be predetermined and automated.

Encourage Action

Every communication touchpoint should contain a Call to Action (CTA). Effective CTAs include an “Apply Now” link to a franchise application or a “Let’s Chat” link to a call scheduling tool. You should also qualify your leads by guiding them to an “Are You Ready?” link directed to a survey assessing fit and financial-readiness. Make it easy on your leads to take action in every single email. If you captured their address, mail a physical brochure or a coupon encouraging them to visit an existing franchise location. Be creative. Different demographics respond to different types of communication mediums and CTAs.

Be Relentless, But Mindful

Don’t stop. Leads should be nurtured in perpetuity. You never know when the time will be right for someone. Stop only when they buy a franchise or if they tell you to stop! A one-click unsubscribe in your email template makes this easy for both parties. A sound lead nurturing program is compliant with the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) and the US CAN-SPAM Act, while a solid marketing automation platform makes the management of it easy.

Be mindful of over-communicating. As your leads cool down, slow down the frequency of communication over time. You don’t want to risk losing a future prospect because you forced an unsubscribe.

The Bottom Line

As leads heat up, going from cold to warm to hot, close attention needs to be paid to the hot ones. This is where a good CRM comes in handy. If you are still using Excel spreadsheets to manage your prospects,  it’s time to evolve! All good sales teams use a CRM to manage prospects in the pipeline and collaborate together. There are many options out there when it comes to CRMS. Look for a user-friendly CRM with fair licensing costs, easy configuration, robust reporting, and a slick mobile app. Zoho CRM is one of the best options in the market for franchise sales data management.

And finally, integrate your databases. Marketing automation and CRM should speak to each other. Ensure that data flows seamlessly back and forth between these two software tools.

Simply put, potential franchisees often need to be nurtured for a while. A while could mean a week, a month, a quarter, a year, or a few years! The good news is that technology can handle a lot of the heavy lifting. Take advantage of it and allow your sales team to abide by the ABC rule of sales – Always Be Closing. Trust me, they will thank you.

Article originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of The Franchise Voice

Corey Nicholson

Vice President, Business Development
AXIS Integrated

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