Understanding the Digital Candidate Journey for Franchise Sales
Understanding the Digital Candidate Journey for Franchise Sales

Sean Fitzgerald, Chief Development Strategist provides valuable insight into how today’s prospective franchise candidates are researching brands online.

Franchising experts will agree: Prospective franchisees are more educated than ever, and they will often do a ton of online research on a brand before they make any kind of contact.

This can make life rather challenging for franchise development professionals who are eager to engage with eligible candidates.

Sean Fitzgerald, Chief Development Strategist for 1851 Franchise, spoke about the different steps and phases so-called “digital candidates” or "ghost leads" go through as they learn about franchising opportunities.

“Everyone knows that franchise development is challenging,” he said. “The question really becomes [about] lead nurturing and understanding the candidate journey, and understanding how people are going through the process when they’re selecting a franchise.”

Discovery phase

The first step is the Discovery Phase, in which the prospective franchisee engages in “light research,” which is often strictly online.

“In the Discovery Phase, people are beginning to do light research,” he said. “And what I mean about light research is they hear about a brand. They go to a website. They go to the consumer site. They don’t necessarily fill out information. They may not inquire. They’re just trying to learn more about the brand.”

Trigger moment

Prospective candidates then experience what Fitzgerald refers to as a Trigger Moment. The prospective franchisee has information on a franchise opportunity, and then the Trigger Moment occurs. This can happen when someone has a change of jobs or a personal capital infusion. Or, it can just be a case of good timing.

“The Trigger Moment basically takes somebody who’s done light research and now they’re ready to take this seriously,” he said. “They’re really going to look for a franchise, and they’re going to spend the time doing their due diligence and begin to explore this opportunity.”

Engagement period

After the Trigger Moment comes the Engagement Period. This is when people start to do their “serious” discovery of information. This is when a candidate goes even deeper into their research.

“They may download your franchise brochure PDF,” Fitzgerald said. “They’re gathering as much information as they possibly can. They still may remain anonymous.”

Often, this will bring about higher website traffic due to someone visiting the website multiple times.

“They’re looking for second-level information,” Fitzgerald said, adding that during the Discovery Phase, candidates were likely just looking for very light information on the brand, what the brand does and why the brand is different.  

The Engagement Period, Fitzgerald said, becomes about the investment, how much money the prospective candidate can make, the success rates and franchise validation.

“That’s where videos and content can be very powerful,” Fitzgerald said.

Selection process

Finally, the last stage is the Selection Process. Now that the candidate has gone through their engagement and due diligence period, they’re selecting specific franchises.

“They’ll typically look at three different types of brands,” Fitzgerald said. “It could be the same industry, it could be a different industry, but they’re really filtering down to a very specific brand. This is where you’ll see the final, serious candidates come into play.”

Getting serious

At this point, the serious candidates attend discovery days and go through the FDD phase. This is where the candidate journey process takes place.

Fitzgerald went through a chart that highlighted the different candidate phases, noting that while several prospective franchisees may express interest in owning a franchise, they may lack the needed capital.

Within that group of prospective franchisees, a certain amount of people may decide they’re ready to own a franchise and they move to the Engagement Period. This group of people may be very small, but they are serious.

Time to woo

The Engagement Period, Fitzgerald noted, is historically where companies spend their money trying to attract qualified and capitalized franchisee candidates. This is also where brands get competitive: “Everybody’s competing and trying to intersect these people and saying ‘No, don’t buy the brand that you found interesting. Buy my brand.’”

For brands that are consistently growing and doing well, they focus on providing information, marketing and content to this “big-budget group of people,” Fitzgerald said.

“This is where content marketing and email campaigns will be the most effective,” Fitzgerald said. “Social media will have the most impact. And the goal here is to educate the people and try to move and create those special trigger moments so that they’re engaged to step forward.”

A quick recap

When prospective candidates step into the Engagement Period and do their serious due diligence, brands want to be in the small group of three or four franchises in serious consideration and win those candidates over as franchisees.  

“I’ve been in franchising for 25 years, and this is based on a lot of data that I’ve collected, personal experiences, talking to candidates and trying to understand the entire process of selecting and buying a franchise,” Fitzgerald said. “The thing to remember is this overall strategy and process stays the same. How people get information has changed.”

Today, retargeting campaigns on a company’s website can be really effective in attracting candidates, as can customizing content for users and providing information for those who are in the Discovery Phase, versus waiting until those candidates are in the Selection Process or in the Engagement Period.

“Catering your message to that audience is going to drive better results,” Fitzgerald said.

For more information on engaging prospective franchisees, visit https://1851franchise.com/.

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