It was reality and a check for the franchisors who attended FranDev in Tucson in mid-June. The group was small enough so that the executives, which included Shelly Sun of BrightStar, Mark Lyso of Sizzler and Jeffrey Jervik of Fitness Together and Elements, could have both one-on-one coaching from the presenters and compare real-life business experiences with the other boot-campers.

It will surprise no one in franchising to hear that growing a system in today’s economic climate is frustrating at best, halt-screeching at worst. What the presenters at FranDev (as the name implies, it’s a franchise development conference) wanted attendees to take away were new skills and resources on how to attract the right candidates; how to award, not sell, franchises; and how prospects can find the necessary resources to open multiple units.

The event provided the franchisors with ample networking time, which included golf at Dove Mountain; a jeep tour of the desert; hiking the hills around the Ritz Carlton with a guide; and cocktail receptions and dinners on campus. There was even an impromptu yoga class one morning led by Paul Pickett, vice president of franchise development for Wild Birds Unlimited.

But while the desert heated up, the attendees, presenters and sponsors (full disclosure: Franchise Times was a sponsor) hunkered down inside in an air-conditioned room to discuss the sales process, from websites to legal advice.

Actually, “franchise sales” is a misnomer, according to Bob Gappa, CEO of Management 2000. It’s a drum Gappa has been beating since forming his company in 1981. “When you ‘grant’ franchises, you look at yourself as an executive recruiter,” he said. Prospects can smell commission breath a mile away, he added.

Too often franchisors do all the talking when they first meet a prospect. Instead the franchisor needs to listen and determine whether its franchise model can help the prospect accomplish his or her goals of income, lifestyle, wealth, equity and elimination of debt.
The trouble with “hard selling” is that it denotes talking someone into something that may not be the right fit—for either party.

Discovery of the day

Terminology is important. Shelly Sun, who started BrightStar, a home health-care franchise, along with her husband J.D., said she doesn’t use the term “Discovery Day,” instead calling it  “Join the Team Day.”  “‘Discovery’ implies there are still things to discover about each other,” she said. When couples or individuals fly in to meet the team in person, Sun said they’ve already had multiple conversations on goals and culture over the phone.

Sun invites the prospects out to dinner the first night. While observing how prospects act in social situations is not exactly new, how Sun follows up with people who fail the test is worth noting. “If they treat the wait staff poorly, I take them out to the parking lot and offer to pay their way back home,” she said.  There’s no need to continue to day two, she said, because they don’t fit her company’s culture. Her reasoning is that as franchisees they will have to deal with $11-an-hour caregivers. If they are rude, dismissive or don’t make eye-contact with servers, Sun surmises they will not be able to motivate or manage caregivers.

Alcohol can also be a telling factor. Someone, who didn’t want to be named (imagine that), remembered a Discovery Day dinner where a prospect drank so much, he ended up making a pass at the company president. Needless to say, he’s not a franchisee in that system.

Jonathan Barnett, president of Oxi Fresh, a carpet-cleaning franchise based in Colorado, shared his process: “We give ownership to each department, because you can only listen to one person so long.” Sure it means staff has to take time away from their duties, but everyone knows that good, franchisees coming into the system accounts for additional revenue—something everyone needs more of these days.

Technically speaking

Several presenters focused on how technology can make prospecting a bit more complex, but a lot more informative. And information, like content, is king. Especially if that information can be sliced and diced into reports that streamline the tracking process.

Once again participants were told to break out of traditional thought-patterns. Franchisors spend too much time and money chasing unqualified leads, Amit Pamecha, CEO of FranConnect, said. One way to attract more qualified leads is to have a website that is easy to navigate and elicits an emotional connection from the viewer, said Marty Greenbaum of Greenbaum Marketing. “Websites may be the first message people see,” he added. Part of the attendee fee included a current website analysis by Greenbaum.

Franchisees rarely like being called as references for the system, according to Gappa, so presenters recommended posting testimonials, both written and videos, on the website. Inclusion of both good and bad comments is necessary to maintain credibility, he said.

Some suggestions on what to post:

•    Have existing franchisees talk about their fears concerning becoming a franchisee and how they overcame them;

•    Organize testimonials by categories, such as former teachers or executives, over-50, in business for five years…whatever makes sense for your franchise.

•    Take short videos at franchisee conventions to save on expenses.

Information your site should provide in an easy-to-find, easy-to-read, concise manner: why you’re franchising; your mission statement and vision; what franchising means to you; and a description of your culture.

“Have a web committee of stakeholders that review it regularly,” Greenbaum said. Ensure someone other than the techie can go in and make quick, small changes. Look at heavy traffic pages on your consumer website and include a link to how to become a franchisee.

An often obvious, but overlooked, strategy is to simply return a prospect’s phone call—immediately. Jerry Darnell of BeneTrends said he always returned phone calls whether it’s after-hours or weekends. Remember, he cautioned, prospects are usually calling you and your competitors.

Adding a prequalification specialist to their sales staff was another tip in order to speed up the process. Sun said BrightStar added a small commission to the position and “performance dramatically improved.”

Another tip was to go back to “cold prospects” to see if their circumstances had changed and they may be ready to commit now.

Virtual brochures, mini-video productions, are a new way to add some emotion and excitement to the “awarding” process, Pamecha said. But be careful—puffery can hurt you in consumers’ eyes if your product or service doesn’t live up to its claims. “Know who you’re talking to and write copy that’s appropriate, that will connect with them,” Greenbaum said.

Finding financing is always a concern, so Ron Feldman of Siegel Financial Group gave insights into how to form banking relationships and tailor your information so bankers will read it. After all, today finance is king.