Today’s franchise candidate knows the importance of consistent brand messaging, third-party coverage and franchisee testimonials—and they’re not letting potential franchisors cut any corners.
When it comes to franchise development, gone are the days of the showy, hard sell—at least if you want to land the sale. In 2019, prospective franchisees are looking for brand transparency, a brand mission and, more than anything else, validation of their choice to buy in.
“Often in franchise development, people think ‘validation’ is just about a conversation that happens between a candidate and a franchisee,” explained Ryan Zink, co-founder and CEO of franchise sales organization Franchise FastLane. “It happens in many other forms, however.”
Founder and CEO of franchising consultancy SMB Franchise Advisors Steve Beagelman agreed with Zink’s emphasis on validation.
“I tell our clients and anyone in the franchise industry that validation is one of the most important things in franchising,” said Beagelman. “Without it, it doesn’t matter how much you spend on lead generation. I get calls all the time where people say they want more leads, and I ask them how their validation is. Without good validation, lead generation is a waste of money.”
What makes for good validation? To start, a strong and consistent digital footprint and third-party coverage.
“Prospective franchisees use Yelp, Glassdoor and other online reviews to find out what the consumer thinks of the brand,” explained Zink. “Franchise candidates look at a brand’s social media presence or watch the brand’s YouTube channel, all to get a better idea of how the brand is perceived by consumers and to see if the brand messaging is consistent across all platforms.”
Said another way: Today’s franchise candidate does their research. While this may run contrary to modern-day truisms about an ever-decreasing attention span, the reality is that today’s franchise candidate is discerning and committed to performing their due diligence.
“Today’s buyer and potential franchisees are much more educated and also much more inquisitive than those of previous generations,” said Beagelman. “In the past, people may have spoken to just one or two franchisees, whereas today, people want to contact as many sources as possible before making their decision. Candidates are yearning for more information.”
Zink underscored that modern franchise candidates also privilege quality over quantity when it comes to gathering information on a franchise opportunity.
“It’s more than just speaking to a few franchisees; it’s a holistic approach of online, reviews, testimonials and trying the product or service themselves,” Zink explained. “Many candidates will go secret shopping or test out a service before they commit to a brand.”
And this means that brands are much more aware of the need for brand alignment and omnichannel brand messaging than they ever were before—for franchisees and consumers alike.
Because consumer reviews are part of a prospect’s validation process, “Today’s franchise business owner realizes how important every online customer and every review is,” said Zink. “As a franchisor, you have to ask yourself: ‘Does the marketing message that I’m sharing with a candidate meet and align with the experience I’m selling?’”
In addition to Zink’s endorsement of strategic marketing, Beagelman added the importance of third-party stories.
“I think third-party stories about franchisees and media coverage are really valuable forms of validation,” Beagelman said. “They confer credibility and spotlight the people, not just the brand.”
And that “like me” identification with existing franchisees is the foundation of impactful franchisee validation. “Candidates get really excited when they read things about franchisees because they can typically relate to their stories,” said Beagelman. “A candidate may think, ‘I, too, was in the corporate world and I was just like that person. I can do this too.’”
For Zink, “The two most important things are that franchisees are available for good old fashioned conversations and that the brand message is consistent across all mediums.” In terms of best practices, according to Zink, this means brands “want to build relationships with and consistently speak to franchisees in the system” and that brands take care to ensure that “all franchisees are in line with the brand’s values and that the message is coming through.”
Another important piece to the validation puzzle, albeit one that is often overlooked?
“Validation also connects people within the business,” explained Zink. “When franchisees meet through the validation process, they often build a network of other franchisees that is supportive and self-sustaining.” That interconnectivity contributes to a strong brand culture, which in turn generates positive brand buzz.
So which brands demonstrate great franchisee validation practices?
“Premier Martial Arts,” said Zink. “Premier is in the process of adding testimonials from existing franchisees to the content they send it out to candidates. The brand has a Facebook invite-only franchisee support page and often they take screenshots of the content and provide it to a candidate.”
As Zink sums it up: “Good franchisors make happy franchisees part of their PR campaign.”
Now that’s validation.