The Fourth Annual Franchise UPDATE STAR Awards Highlights Excellence In Franchise Lead Generation And Recruitment Strategies

Franchising is driven by expansion and growth. Creating leads and identifying prospects is an essential part of any corporate franchise operation. Franchise executives understand the importance of effective marketing and recruiting. They spend significant amounts of time, human resources, and financial resources to develop systems that help them optimize their recruiting.

Seven years ago, Franchise UPDATE began evaluating franchise lead generation, recruitment efforts, and best practices in order to recognize outstanding achievements in these areas through its STAR Awards program.

The awards use a standard list of criteria that is evaluated by a mystery shopper who makes contact with franchises by phone and via the Internet. Posing as a prospect, these mystery shoppers phone franchise 800 numbers and document how long it takes to get franchise information and reach a sales representative. The shoppers log onto franchise web sites to analyze online content, accessibility, site readability and ease of navigation, online request forms and applications, and most crucially, the amount of time it takes to make contact with a franchise representative.

Every franchise company that registered for the Sixth Annual Franchise Development & Leadership Conference, held this past September 29-October 1 at the JW Marriott Lenox in Atlanta, was shopped for its franchisee recruiting practices. This year's winners were:

Overall Winners for Best Scores on Internet and Telephone Combined:

1. Express Personnel Services
2. Chem-Dry - tie
2. Molly Maid - tie
3. Floor Coverings International

Top Internet Scores

1. AlphaGraphics
2. PostNet
3. Meineke

Top Telephone Scores

1. Express Personnel Services
2. Signs By Tomorrow
3. U.S. Lawns

Here's a more in-depth look at some of the winners and their practices.

Express Personnel Services-1st Place Overall and First Place in Telephone

"Effective recruiting requires urgency and a personal touch," says Nikki Sells, Express Personnel Services vice president of franchising. The Oklahoma City-based organization must be doing just that as they were recognized with a first-place overall award, and received a perfect score on their telephone efforts.

Sells says that currently, leads come in pretty evenly split between the web site and telephone but she expects the Internet component of lead generation to increase significantly in the coming year. "We have just completely revised our web site to make it even better and more efficient at supplying information and pre-qualifying prospects."

Good contact management systems are essential to effective recruiting. The contact management system used by Express Personnel Services is a web-based system created for the franchise industry.

"Our system is designed around giving personalized responses to prospects as quickly as possible," Sells explains. "But even more, we use the system to determine how truly interested a prospect is and whether or not they can stick with the process from beginning to end." She says it's important to get to the prospects quickly so they don't have to wait, and by pre-qualifying candidates, staff can spend more time with serious prospects.

Like most systems, the Express Personnel Services contact management system uses a series of emails to supply information, establish the prospect's degree of interest and arrange initial interviews. Three dedicated franchise directors conduct phone interviews with prospects, and field developers make additional contact. Further contact includes corporate executives visiting prospects and, finally, Discovery Days.

Sells adds that she sees a continued use of franchise brokers as effective recruiting in the franchising industry. "I see more and more companies using brokers because they work. We currently have an arrangement with four different brokers who bring us good leads," she says.

The recruiting process seems to be working as the company has more than 400 franchises in the United States, Canada, South Africa, and Australia, and did over $1 billion in sales last year.

Chem-Dry-2nd Place Overall (tie)

Talk about being dedicated to making personal contact with new prospects, Logan, Utah-based Chem-Dry requires its staff of lead qualifiers to carry cell phones and keep them on during waking hours. "Every lead needs a human touch and that's one of the ways we make certain it happens," explains Scott Finn, director of franchise sales.

Finn says approximately 95 percent of the company's leads originate via the Internet. "I see every lead that comes in, and those leads then go to our two lead qualifiers, who call and interview the prospects," Finn says. His goal is for the callbacks to take place within two hours of the initial request, and certainly by the end of that day. Prospects that make it through this pre-qualifying round are then sent a basic information package with a video that includes testimonials from current operators. The Chem-Dry web site even allows prospects to watch a testimonial video online. These leads are then turned over to the company's recruiters who do more in-depth phone interviews and follow-up on the information that has been sent along.

What Finn is most proud of is the company's custom contact management program, which he says is better than most off-the-shelf systems because the company has arranged it to process the information the way they want. "Our system ranks leads based on prospect information. We know exactly where the prospect is in the recruiting process, we know his degree of motivation and we can even track the dates of all contact," explains Finn. He says the system shows who made an appointment, who missed an appointment, who called and when, who received UFOCs, who has returned UFOCs, and who requested a VHS video or a DVD of the company's information (incidentally, he says prospects requesting a DVD are more likely to become franchisees than those who request a VHS tape-he knows because the system has tracked it.)

Finn says the system also goes through its data every day and searches for any incomplete information and generates an exception report. "We do this to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. If somebody forgot to enter a prospect's phone number, the system will catch it that day," he says.

Ultimately Finn believes that when it comes to recruiting, franchises should go above and beyond what people expect. "Don't leave anything to chance, and create and use efficient systems to manage it all. The goal should be quick follow-up with every lead."

Molly Maid-2nd Place Overall (tie)

"The key to franchise sales is guiding a prospect through every step of the sales process," says Jim Evers, vice president of business development for Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Molly Maid. And he says that's what the lead generation and recruiting system at Molly Maid does.

Like many franchises, a majority of prospect leads arrive by way of the Internet. The company uses a number of web sites and online directories to drive traffic to its site.

"One thing that's important about recruiting today is you've got to be the first to respond to a prospect. He may be inquiring about several franchises at the same time so you want to be one of the first to make contact," explains Evers. "You certainly want to reach them within 24 hours. Your lead is cold by the time it gets to 72 hours; that's too late."

Evers says that the Molly Maid system uses a seven-stage approach to sales. The company has customized a contact management system that allows prospects to request more information online. It's a "non-intimidating" way to establish contact according to Evers. But, he says, "Information via emails is great, but it's not a crutch and should never replace the personal steps involved in the recruiting and sales process."

Also of note, the Molly Maid sales process is handled by one dedicated sales rep through all seven stages of the sale. Evers says it keeps a comfortable and personal level to the process.

Evers says it's important for the contact management system to identify and categorize the hottest leads coming in. "We want those who have shown the most interest to be at the top of the callback list," he explains. "Our system has the ability to organize our sales reps' days by letting them know where they are and who they need to call." Ultimately, reports can be run, analysis done, and breakdowns in the chain identified and repaired.

Brokers play a role in Molly Maid's recruiting efforts. "What's attractive about brokers is they bring us leads that have already basically been pre-qualified and they're ready to up," adds Evers.

"Knowing exactly where every lead is in the pipeline is crucial for success."

AlphaGraphics-1st Place Internet

AlphaGraphics makes a return appearance to the STAR list this year with a perfect score in the Internet component.

"We have a good sales system that is integrated with the Internet," says Keith Gerson, vice president of sales, marketing and development for the Salt Lake City-based franchise. "We try to deliver the best quality leads we can and maximize the dollars spent in doing so." All the while keeping tabs on what's working best and constantly evaluating the process, he says-the company is ISO-certified and therefore required to maintain high standards.

The majority of AlphaGraphics' prospect leads come from the Internet. Referrals and print remain critical but are distant runners up in terms of lead generation. Online prospects can quickly access information and request more by completing an online inquiry, which can act as a pre-qualifier. "We want to find out as soon as possible who is suspect and who is prospect," adds Gerson. Additionally, he says it's important during this time to find out the prospect's timeline for buying. It helps executives prioritize leads.

Once a prospect is qualified, Gerson says the company employs a "drip feed" sales process. "Once a prospect is enrolled in our system, we have a customized auto-response email that goes out. This includes a series of emails and webmercials over the period of about a month." He continues, "These emails and webmercials feature information such as a franchise overview, franchisee testimonials, and a message from the president."

Simultaneously, these pre-qualified prospects will be personally contacted within 24 hours of being input into the system by one of three development directors-and prospects who phone in will always get to talk to a live person. Gerson says these processes have increased the organization's overall prospect closing rate.

The company's internal system also keeps track of how many calls have been made, who needs to make calls, notes, history files-essentially it tracks where all prospects are in the sales process. Ultimately, Gerson says, it's essential to have instantaneous response and personal contact with prospects.

Gerson sees current trends in franchise recruiting as a continued blending of technology with solid traditional sales processes. But, he adds, "At the end of the day, do you have a better mousetrap than your competitors?" He concludes with an analogy to recruiting, "In the industry, we all use the same equipment, but the ones on top stand out because of their execution."

PostNet-2nd Place Internet

"We spend a majority of our marketing budget directing prospects to our web site," says PostNet executive vice president Brian Spindel. Perhaps that philosophy explains why PostNet has been honored with STAR Award recognition every year. The Henderson, NV- based organization continues to do an effective job of generating leads and recruiting.

PostNet prospects can quickly access basic franchising information and even an online application at the PostNet site. Congruent with best practices, it only takes one click from the homepage to get to the company's online application.

Spindel says the company has made some minor changes to its email follow-up system during the past year. The set-up sends a series of follow-up email messages to prospects who have visited the company's web site and shown interest in the franchise.

"Our site is easy to access and get information from," he explains. "Even the level of investment necessary and the fee structures are listed right there. The site walks prospects through the steps from requesting and gathering information to filling out an online application, to doing homework and having them talk with existing store owners and then ultimately Discovery Days."

A majority of leads come through the web site and others come from brokers. In fact, PostNet has a dedicated staff person for all broker-sourced leads, says Spindel.

Much like Molly Maid, PostNet uses sales representatives to handle all contact with prospects from the pre-qualifying stage through building rapport, and eventually through sign-up.

Prospects can complete an initial application online that records the usual personal info and background, financial status, and references, or they can simply request information that prompts the immediate auto email response, leads to of the company brochure, and hooks them up with the email campaign.

Spindel says it never takes more than 24 hours to give the original application a general examination and let prospects know they are being considered. A due diligence process allows for up to another 10 days and Spindel says they encourage the prospect to also look deeper into PostNet during this time.

"As leads come in, our processes evaluate and ultimately narrow down the field of qualified prospects."

The PostNet philosophy is that every incoming call should be answered by a live person. "If someone calls in after hours, the call is immediately rolled over to an answering service that takes down the prospect's basic information and allows us to return the call the following day."

"I think the key to franchise recruiting is to be disciplined in your practices, to respond as quickly as possible, and always follow up. In this business you win by calling people back," Spindel says.

Kerry Pipes is a Texas-based business writer.

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