Find Your Franchise Development Unicorn
Find Your Franchise Development Unicorn

For many years, franchise development executives have been hunting for the Unicorn – the secret to franchise development.

These devo experts attend conferences and ask, “What’s new in franchising?” They pray to discover a fountain of magic. Their ears instantly perk up whenever they hear a whispe.....

For many years, franchise development executives have been hunting for the Unicorn – the secret to franchise development.

These devo experts attend conferences and ask, "What's new in franchising?" They pray to discover a fountain of magic. Their ears instantly perk up whenever they hear a whisper of something that is working the mystery of development.

So, what is that magic place – the place where you can invest all of your limited funds to drive crazy franchise leads, which will turn into candidates, and then franchisees?

"I'm curious to see who answers this one honestly!" said Eric Little, Executive Vice President of Franchising for Right at Home, a senior care franchise.

The reality is, no one is willing to disclose the secret unicorn of development. Why, you may ask? Because (shocker) it doesn't exist. Franchise development experts note that it is a true combination of the small things that make the big things happen.

"In our experience, the layered approach of various lead generation campaigns helps our clients achieve their lead generation and sale goals," said Christine Mudd, CEO of Frandeavor, a franchise lead-generation consultancy.

Jennifer Durham, Vice President of Development at Checkers Restaurants, tends to agree with the layered approach: "A blend of outlets is critical – PR, traditional media, SEO and tradeshows all must work in unison to surround prospects with why your franchise is worthy of their attention," she said.

But wait, perhaps the unicorn exists earlier in the process. Perhaps your dollars and efforts are producing leads, but you are failing to act on them, said Keith Gerson, President of FranConnect – the be-all technology solution in franchising.

"It does you no good to squander money on generating more leads when the ones that you've paid for aren't being properly handled," Gerson said. "Investing in training, supervision and technology is the answer to the question of where to invest."

Development executives head directly for the generator rather than the process, when the process could be the solution to all problems.

"The easiest way to prevent searching for the 'secret' to franchise development is to know your numbers and stay diversified in your lead generation," Little advised. "Those who track their key metrics rarely go in search of a silver bullet. They simply review performance data and make adjustments in the appropriate area as needs arise, experience is gained, or best practices are learned.

"The other thing to keep in mind is the relatively low closing ratio and long sales cycle in franchise sales. Any change you make in lead gen or process will take time to yield any kind of results – positive or negative. By the time you make a tweak or two, wait for feedback and a relevant sample size, and then make changes again – a year can go by very quickly," Little said.

Wait, so magic doesn't happen immediately? Process could take a year?

"Think long term and understand the value of each franchise agreement signed (hint, it's not the franchise fee)," Little continued. "Then, remember that there are three basic drivers of success for franchise development: (1) a business model that works; (2) happy, profitable franchisees; and (3) a committed and dedicated sales team that has the support of senior management in terms of confidence and lead generation resources. Remember that lead generation and sales go hand in hand. To attract high-quality sales talent, you'll need to commit to a budget that brings in enough leads to get them excited."

The development unicorn has a few moving pieces. You have your brand; your messaging; your budget; your existing franchisees; and your process. If the solution is a clear combination of efforts, why does the hunt continue?

"The 'why' behind everyone trying to find the elusive silver bullet is a matter of human nature," Gerson said. "One of the truest quotes is that 'we must do what others are unwilling to do today so that tomorrow we can do what others can't.'

"It requires a realization that there is no silver bullet – it's like football where everyone plays the same game, on the same size field, with the same ball and rules and yet some teams continuously outscore the competition. It's most often those that pay relentless attention to blocking & tackling, the fundamentals of the game and conditioning that will consistently outscore and win over those that don't. Of course, this all starts with a good look in the mirror and the need to acknowledge that we may be part of the problem," he said.

Coincidently, Scott Sutton, Vice President of Development at Safeguard, a printing and promotions franchise, uses the football analogy, too, to eliminate the unicorn from the puzzle and focus on unicorn(s).

"I look at development in a similar way as I might game plan to win a football game. A new offensive strategy might look good on the drawing board, but it's really the fundamentals that will drive ultimate success: How you block, tackle, protect the football and play a clean, penalty-free game, for example," he said. "Still, it's in our nature to try a new wrinkle, to innovate. And this is a good thing. Necessity is the key to invention and each year, our development goals reset and our production starts at zero.

"This annual (or even quarterly) process forces each of us to examine what worked, what failed and what changes may need to be made to push the bar higher. I believe many leaders forget that we're likely never to see any strategy that is completely transferable from one concept or industry to another. That's the trap into which it's easy to fall. An approach that worked well for another brand or in another industry may not work as well in your brand or market space," he said.

Brett Larrabee, a veteran franchise professional that consults for about 10 brands on best sales practices, stopped hunting a long time ago.

"Doing it right takes work and experience! You need to understand why all the little details work together to create a successful recipe. It's not simple but doing it right is extremely profitable," he said.

Clay Neff, Director of Franchise at Wireless Zone, a Verizon Wireless premium retailer, noted that not everyone in hunting for the unicorn, rather simply trying to network to find new ideas or change agents.

"I believe those of us who have been around and understand the dynamics of development aren't hunting for that magic pill," he said. "What we are constantly looking for is who is building the better 'mousetrap’ with advances in things like technology and being able to implement that into the whole diversified program."

Timing and alignment is the true secret. A prospect would have to see, hear, smell, taste or feel your brand at the exact time they are interested in buying a franchise. That alignment hitting is unpredictable, said Sean Fitzgerald, Executive Vice President of Bright Star, a senior care franchise.

"Everyone thinks there is a simple solution to a complex problem," he said. "There are several factors to franchise development, it's not just lead generation. It's messaging, how you differentiate, it's your process and your culture. If you focus on just one, other areas can cause challenges for you. A lot of people associate a lack of sales to lead generation, but that's not the case. As Franchise Performance Group CEO Joe Matthews says, 'It only takes one lead to sell a franchise.' It’s much more about doing the little things well and hitting the timing perfectly."

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