After evaluating 200 franchisor development Websites, there was one certainty from the 12 experts in technology and franchise consulting: There is no certainty. Whatever was considered a franchise development best practice yesterday is no longer a successful tool today. Sure, some things have remained consistent -- driving ghost traffic to fill out the inquiry form, providing basic information on cost of build out and ROI, giving a glimpse of great press -- but many have changed.
While predicting the future of franchise development website is nearly impossible, the team of judges took their turns predicting what most logical practice could be next:
Michelle Rowan, President and COO of Franchise Business Review: Visitors will expect easy access to financial information (investment, average franchisee revenue, etc.) about the brand without having to provide their email address first.
Steve Beagelman, CEO of SMB Franchise Advisors: Websites will continue to be cutting edge, utilizing the latest in technology to intrigue, educate and engage viewers in the culture of the brand.
Todd Bingham, President of Pinnacle Franchise Development: I believe that in the very near future candidates will be able to research and buy a franchise right from the site without ever speaking to someone. I really believe that is coming and I don’t think it is too far off.
Stan Friedman, President of FRM Solutions: My prediction is that as important as websites are to franchise development today, they will one day soon be replaced with mobile apps. Brands that get in front of this will have a significant leg up on those who don’t. The impact of mobile to small to mid-sized businesses is already astonishing, even in these early stages.
Craig Slavin, President of Franchise Central: The use of behavioral sciences. Ogilvy just opened the Ogilvy Center for Behavioral Sciences because it impacts everything that is done in marketing. The problem is most franchise companies are "entrepreneurial - Stage 1 companies" and they know everything!
Jack Monson, Director of Digital Strategy at Qiigo: Websites will have to use communication means that the next generation of franchisees want to use such as text or messenger. Don’t rely only on emails or form fills.
Jamshaid Hashmi, CEO & President of ClickTecs: We will see more utilization of videos on franchise development sites as users will gravitate to better user experience. There are only a thousand words in a picture, but you can convey more with a well-done video.
Kay Ainsley, Managing Director of MSA Worldwide: Websites will continue to be important in generating leads but it will still require a personal relationship to determine if the prospect is someone the franchisor wants in their network and to close the sale.
Keith Gerson, President of FranConnect: Given that it's all about the content, devices such as Amazon Echo, Google Home, Siri, etc. will be voice-searched by individuals who will receive "Wiki" like details and detailed answers including information from disclosure documents. Also, the majority of franchisors will introduce a live chat feature. Due to its ease and efficiency, 43 percent of consumers prefer live chat to other communication channels. This critical tool allows brands to engage, connect and guide prospects throughout every stage of their online search for a franchise across desktop and mobile.
Sean Fitzgerald, Chief Development Strategist 1851: Less is more. With mobile traffic reaching 60 percent or higher, you will see websites that are designed for mobile, not just mobile-friendly like responsive sites. Sites will be designed for the mobile user providing information at your fingertips. Mobile users do not like clicking around for information; they want to scroll, plus they don’t want to have to click through several pages since it is more difficult to navigate on a device and may take longer to load. Also, we’ll see continued use of video since that is also a better way to communicate with mobile users.
Rick Batchelor, CEO of Qiigo: The consumer side is now playing a much bigger role in franchise development. Brand perception is crucial. The industry is experiencing a massive shift in consumer buying behavior. If you don't have a great reputation with both your franchisees and your customers, this is going to hurt your lead flow. The days of franchise development working alone are over. Smart brands combine efforts because that is what consumers are requiring. Brands are finding that the volume and quality of their consumer business has a direct effect on the volume of their lead flow.
Additionally many sites lack social validation. While testimonials of current franchisees is necessary, as a buyer I wonder if they got compensated somehow. Give me some other form of social validation: Social media (not a separate franchise development social media account) where I can read what other people think about your brand. Reviews/testimonials of customers (not franchisees) are a great tool to use for this.