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How to win at a franchise expo


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Mark Siebert

Chances are, the words “science fair” conjure up a scene of school children vying for the attention of others, showing off all the hard work they’ve put into their prized project. When you think about it, that’s not too far off from what a franchise trade show is like. The franchisors are decades older, of course. And, instead of aiming for a gold star, they are vying for business relationships worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The stakes are higher but the way to win is the same: Outshine your peers.

Like the science fairs of your youth, franchise and trade shows provide franchisors the opportunity to exhibit in a head-to-head educational environment. The good news: The average franchise show has thousands of judges (attendees) and hundreds of winners.  And for most franchisors, you only need to win once or twice to justify the investment.

Do your homework

Finding the right show and planning your strategy—including who is working it, who to invite, seminars, meeting with prospects or gathering leads, cost, messaging, positioning versus competitors, and training staff—is crucial to ensuring you’re adequately prepared.

Once you’ve committed, it’s time to really make it worth your while. Do your homework on both your audience, in particular, those interested in a franchise, and your competitors.

You don’t want to plan a lackluster booth only to walk past your competitor’s booth, with its exploding volcanos and molten lava, filled with the prospects you had hoped to meet.

When aspiring business owners attend a franchise expo or show, they are looking for one thing: a franchise business that fits them. Within that audience, you need to know there are only a handful of people who may be a match.

For example, less than 10 percent of the prospects who attend some shows have more than $1 million to invest, so if you have a high-investment franchise concept, you will certainly want to understand the demographic profile of attendees before signing up for a booth.

Are you a restaurant franchisor looking for experienced restaurateurs? A franchise show may not pair you with many qualified candidates, while a restaurant industry trade show might be a great fit.

Understand the nature of the show itself. Franchise shows (with few exceptions) tend to draw prospects primarily from a local market, with prospects often driving in for the day. While these prospects will likely be home in time for dinner, they might be available for a meeting the day following the show. So if you can stay in town for a day following the event, you just might be able to schedule a local follow-up meeting or two.

By contrast, trade shows that focus on a specific industry often draw a national crowd of industry professionals. These folks are not necessarily looking for a franchise and will likely be on the first plane home, so any post-show meetings will likely be limited to the hours following the show.  

A cookie-cutter approach to lead generation at a trade show is equivalent to the science project both started and finished the night before: Unless you’re Einstein, it’s not going to get you very far.

When it comes to trade shows, don’t reinvent the wheel. Instead, go with what you know will work and create a booth that leaves the right impression. Your exhibit should:

Catch a prospect’s eye; be crafted so that prospects can identify with it, stirring up emotions that say “this is for me”; showcase the depth and breadth of your experience; differentiate you from your competitors; and communicate your value proposition.  

Beyond the exhibit, the franchise team working the show should be active in these on-the-fly sales meetings. The most successful franchise brands at trade shows tend to share with prospects a passion and enthusiasm for the concept. Make the science fun and you’ll engage your prospect at an emotional level.  

Above all, remember: Shows are about collecting leads, not about making sales. The people staffing your booth need to get the contact information of each interested prospect. At a busy show, you may have several people at your booth at once.

If there is a line of people waiting to speak with you, you cannot afford to have a 10-minute conversation. Renting a scanner is one great way to collect information quickly, and, by tagging each lead based on pre-determined qualifiers, it can help prioritize prospects in a systematized manner for later follow-up.  

10,000 failures and a lightbulb

Inventor Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Like Edison, part of your job at a trade show is to determine if a franchise prospect just won’t work—and to do it fast. Be sure you qualify your prospects from a financial and experience standpoint as quickly as possible.  

Nurturing leads generated at a franchise show is arguably more important than generating them in the first place. Someone from your franchise sales team needs to be calling and emailing leads hours after the show.

How do you stay top of mind? You need airtight franchise marketing materials, a strategy for post-show follow-up, and a sales plan for moving prospects steadily down your funnel. Make sure the initial lightbulb that went off when they met you continues to burn bright after the show is over.

Test your hypothesis

Like the days following a science fair, your final step in implementing any show strategy needs to involve analyzing the data you collected. So make sure you measure everything you can. Throw out what doesn’t work and continue evolving your show strategy to determine what works best.

Although trade shows aren’t for everyone, for many a well-executed show can generate a hundred or more leads over only a weekend. And if you manage the process with precision, somewhere within those leads a gleaming gold star or two waits.

Mark Siebert is CEO of consulting firm iFranchise Group. Reach him at 708.957.2300 or info@ifranchisegroup.com. His new book is “Franchise Your Business: The Guide to Employing the Greatest Growth Strategy Ever.”

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