The Mystery Is Solved: Annual Star Awards Survey Reveals The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

The secret is out of the box. The mystery shopping has ended and the results have been revealed.

Each year, for more than a decade now, Franchise UPDATE has conducted a mystery shopping survey of franchisors to assess their lead generation and recruiting efforts. Two methods--telephone and online--are "shopped" and objectively recorded. Each franchise organization registered for this year's annual Franchise Leadership & Development Conference by a specific cutoff date--nearly 150 of this year's attendees--was evaluated, and its data included in the study.

This year, two independent researchers conducted the mystery shopping survey. Marc Kiekenapp, president of Kiekenapp & Associates, handled the phones, while Boris Bugarski, CEO and president of mUrgent, went undercover online.

Each looked at how (and how quickly) they could reach franchise sales representatives, and how rapidly (and if) they got responses. On the Internet side, Bugarski examined franchise content accessibility, site readability, clear navigation, effective use of technology, and overall site presence. Kiekenapp recorded how quickly he reached a live sales rep, what they did, and what kind of information he received. The results were collected, the numbers crunched, and the top scorers rewarded with the Franchise UPDATE STAR Awards.

We asked Bugarski and Kiekenapp to review the process, the results, and how they thought the franchisors did (or didn't) do.

Online Opportunity Knocks

By Boris Bugarski

The Internet is full of e-opportunity, and great marketers around the world know that a few "tweaks" to your website can generate thousands of new visitors, which can mean more leads and sales. However, you may not know that your website has a wonderful chance of bringing your franchise more leads, at a lower cost and with a higher closing percentage.

After doing research on more than 100 franchise websites in the Franchise UPDATE mystery shopping survey, I'm here to break the news that you may be losing thousands of opportunities to your competition or lead portal sites. Simply asked, if you type your company name and the word "franchise" (e.g., Glamour Hair franchise) in any search engine, namely the Big 3 (Google, Yahoo!, and MSN), do you come up before the competition or a portal site? Shockingly, 10 percent of franchise sites reviewed did notcome up within the first three pages of search results in Google alone. And this wasn't surprising as more than 80 percent of these non-ranked sites had non-intuitive URLs; that is, a web address that was easy to find, attractive to readers, and was search-engine-rank friendly (e.g.,;

There were also times when searching "'company name' franchise" in Google that only the home page appeared (e.g., However, the question is why didn't the franchise page(s) come up in the ranking--or even a specialized franchise site for those who have one? The franchise pages of your site should also have a high ranking.

Nearly 27 percent of franchise websites were beaten by lead portals when searching for their own franchise using simply their brand name. In addition, 20 percent of them did not show up on the first page of Google results. Can you imagine people doing a search for your brand name (and the word franchise) with no results? This may mean you are paying the portal sites for lower-quality leads versus a "free" lead from your own website with no competition or distractions from other franchise systems.

If you find your company at the top of the Google search results, check again in Yahoo!, MSN, and other search engines to be sure you are maximizing quality, "natural" traffic to your site. Another small surprise was that of those that showed up on the first page of Google results, based on searching for "company name" and the word "franchise," nearly 16 percent had no first page result on MSN and 13 percent had no results in Yahoo!.

Further, when we switched the search term to include their industry and the word "franchise" (e.g., "hair salon franchise" or "staffing franchise"), hardly any company was at home when e-opportunity came knocking. Seventy-one percent of franchisor websites, whether franchise pages, a special franchise website, or the company's main website, did not show up in the first page of Google results in this search--and only 14 percent showed up on the second or third page.

Overall, 61 percent of franchise companies did not show up at all in the first three pages of the same search results. Of the 39 percent that did show up in the first page of Google results, 59 percent of the results were the franchisor's home page (their main website). Our research also revealed that even if natural traffic was generated, about 36 percent of the home pages had below-average content accessibility to their franchise pages. This translates into low visibility for your franchise information on your home page. That is, even if traffic was generated to your company's home page, the probability of someone finding your franchise information was below par. By the way, almost 10 percent of sites had a poor content accessibility rating, which may make it additionally difficult for searchers to find the right door to knock on.

The point here is that you may be spending thousands of dollars on portal sites for lower-quality leads versus leads that could have been generated by having your own website show up high in the search results to lead natural traffic to your franchise pages or special franchising site.

So what can you do to create a site that is optimal for reeling in this natural traffic, lowering costs for portal site leads, and providing a higher-quality lead source with little or no cost to your company? The answer isn't simple, but here are three great starting points for you to attract more opportunities and turn them into leads:

  1. Navigation and process. Be sure your site has clear navigation with a step-by-step process on getting through the information. Not only will this appease the process-driven decision maker, it will formally build an argument for your franchise. In addition, if you have some analytics in place, this will give you a measuring device on who's reading what and where they are coming and going from.

  2. Be search engine friendly. To make it easier for searchers to find your website, be sure to create appropriate titles and descriptions for each page. Do not allow your web team to cut and paste the same information on each page. Create a keyword strategy that includes all the possible search terms a person would use to find your type of franchise (not products). Focus on two to three terms per page in the title and description. Don't go overboard with key phrases--that is, don't list more than three per page. Focus on two to three and be sure you can find them in the content of your page. The "key" is relevance.

    Be explicit with your key terms because generic terms such as "franchise opportunity" or "business opportunity" are too difficult to get ranked by. Be as specific as you can and map out your key terms per page. Be sure to include your company name and the word franchise (e.g., USA Hair franchise) as a term.

  3. Content accessibility. Remember, you are in the franchise business. Don't forget to tell your web team that having franchising links on your site is good, but having a clear, beautiful button, in addition to two or three links, calling to an exact franchise page is the best. Your site should include at least four links to find your franchise pages or special franchise site on the home page alone.

The next time you're using Google, Yahoo!, or MSN search for your site under the same keywords and phrases you believe potential franchisees might be using to find franchise systems like yours. Take note of competitors, portal sites, and even your own pages to see what comes up naturally and what doesn't open any doors at all. Chances are you'll realize how important your website is for better lead generation--and just how "marketing savvy" it must be for you to answer the door when e-opportunity comes a-knockin'.

When Opportunity Rings, Are You There?

By Marc Kiekenapp

The telephone may be an old-fashioned but it's still an effective source for lead generation and recruitment. As this year's mystery shopper for the STAR Awards, I can say that it was a great experience--and most enlightening.

Altogether, we made contact with 88 franchise companies. Looking across all of the phone calls to participating franchisors, there was no real middle ground. Each franchisor was either on their game, or had no game to speak of.

We attempted calls to all the companies that registered for the Leadership & Development Conference. We posed as someone interested in learning more about the franchise opportunity, and then graded each franchise on several criteria:

  1. How was the phone answered?
  2. Live person or voicemail?
  3. Did they take our contact information?
  4. Did they qualify our interest?
  5. If a message was left, how long until they called back?

Pretty straightforward stuff, right? Franchise Sales 101. Initially, it looked as if it was going to be a mundane project. My team and I were totally shocked by many of the results and responses we received. (In fact, I immediately instituted an ongoing mystery shopping program for all of our clients.)

In all fairness to franchisors, too many of us have likely (and mistakenly) forgotten about call-in leads as Internet inquiries have ruled the roost for years now. We are all so focused on Internet leads and broker networks that we've forgotten about the "hot" prospect that actually had the interest level to pick up the phone and call us for information!

Findings that will keep you up at night

Several instances just shocked us. Our first surprise was the absence of a contact telephone number on the company franchising website. In about 10 percent of the phone attempts, we had to call directory assistance to find the correct phone number because it was wrong on the site, disconnected, or nonexistent.

Less than half our calls were answered by a live person, and half of these calls resulted in being immediately redirected to voicemail. We had to choose from auto-attendant menus and leave messages, and sometimes we ended up at the front desk again in need of a GPS navigation system to find our way back to the appropriate person's voicemail. Some other companies that answered live identified themselves by the corporate name rather than we were inquiring about. Another frequent response was to send our mystery shopper back to the Internet to fill out a four-page form!

Where is the backup? On at least five occasions our "shopper" was told that the salesperson was on or out of the office and we should call back next week or later in the day when they return.

Information collection was all over the map. Several of the franchisors had qualifiers who would ask the shopper a series of prepared questions, while others took our name but failed to ask for an email address or phone number.

Overall, I would say if you have a qualifier, work with them to help them become more natural and welcoming. It was obvious in several calls that they just wanted to get the form filled out and get off the phone. Other qualifiers probed very deeply into our shopper's financial qualifications and requested four full pages of financials be returned before the next phone call. This is understandable with some of the larger investment franchises or well-known brands, but it wasn't limited to those brands. You have only one chance to make that first impression. It's imperative to train your entire staff and never have a candidate feel unwelcome, or that they've created an inconvenience for the employee!

Timing of returned phone calls after leaving a message was generally disappointing, save the several companies on their game that called back within the hour. Only 42 percent of messages left at the franchisor resulted in a return phone call within 48 hours.

In summary, franchisors must have confidence in their franchise development staff to follow up on the leads correctly and capitalize on their franchise recruitment In today's tougher times and with all the talk of low lead flow and poor quality, it's hard to take that talk at face value when nearly 50 percent of the Internet and call-in shopping didn't even result in a return phone call. It becomes increasingly important to train, train, and retrain and to put the right person in a position where they can succeed. Your qualifier, receptionist, sales people, and backup phone assistant must be made aware of the importance of these incoming calls.

Check your phone numbers. Try to navigate your voicemail system. And, yes, mystery shop your sales team. Let them know this will be done several times a year, and use the knowledge you gain to either train them or make a change.

This is not brain surgery. Take care of the candidates and you will award more franchises in 2009.

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