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How to Evaluate and Select Lead Generation Websites

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There are literally hundreds of websites that generate sales leads for franchisors.  The sites range in content and quality.   Some are stand-alone portals and others are part of a partner network.  Some offer flat-rate packages and others charge per lead.  Some sites guarantee the number of leads delivered per month and other sites don’t.  With so many variables, how does a franchisor determine where they should invest their franchise development marketing dollars?


Goals.  Franchisors should start by determining the number of franchisees they want to add to the system.  Working backward, a franchisor can determine how many leads they will need to achieve their goal.  For instance, a franchisor that wants to sell 20 franchises this year and 45% of their sales will come from internet leads will need to close 9 internet leads.  The industry averages 100 leads to one sale.  To close 9 deals, the franchisor will need at least 900 internet leads over 12 months – an average of 75 leads per month.  This number may be higher or lower depending on the appeal of franchise concept, the brand awareness and the skill of the franchise sales team, but identifying a goal is the first step to an effective lead generation campaign.

Marketing Mix. Next, a franchisor should consider where they want the franchisees located.  The internet is a medium that will reach franchise prospects all over the world.  A franchisor developing in a limited number of markets will pay the same rate for an internet ad as a franchisor that is developing nationally.  They will both get leads from everywhere, but the franchisor that is developing in specific markets will only use a handful of the leads.  For this reason, the internet might not be a cost-effective option.  Most franchisors use the internet for lead generation, but franchisors that are developing in specific markets may more of their development budget to local initiatives than franchisors developing nationally.

Advertising budget.  The 2007 Franchise Update development survey indicated the average franchise development advertising budget for 2007 is $165,000. The survey also indicated that 45% is allocated to internet advertising – that’s $74,250 annually.  With a median cost per internet lead at $35, a franchisor can expect to spend $6188 per month to generate roughly 177 leads from internet advertising.  The franchisor that needs 900 internet leads over 12 months will expect to spend roughly $2625 per month for online lead generation.

Once a franchisor has identified their goals, determined the development markets and allocated a marketing budget, they are ready to evaluate and select the websites to work with.  Franchisors with a small marketing budget will select 2-3 sites, while franchisors with large budgets are often on 7+ sites.  Franchisors with medium budgets are found on 4-6 sites. The key is to determine the right combination of sites, the right message and the right amount of exposure. 

Over the last ten years, the number of websites offering franchise lead generation programs has increased from just a handful to over 200.  Although there really isn’t a comprehensive list of sites published anywhere, here are some of the best-known sites. 


Selection Process
There are a few ways to help narrow the list of potential sites to a manageable level. 

Find out where your competition advertises.  Some websites do a better job at generating leads for food franchises or automobile franchises.  Others may be better at home-based or business to business franchises.  Find out where your direct competitors advertise by running a search for their company on Google.  All listings will come up.
Ask other Franchisors what is working for them.  Franchisors are a great source for finding out which franchise portals are successful.  Keep in mind that not everyone has the same criteria for success. 

Ask the web portals you already work with.  Since franchisors are vocal about where they are getting their leads, the web portals always know which sites are doing well and which sites are struggling.  Ask for referrals to other sites.
Search the internet.  If YOU can find a website on Google, MSN or Yahoo, then a prospect will also find the website.  The easier the site is to find, the better the chances of getting good exposure and higher conversion rates. 

Compile a target list of franchise portals to interview and collect information from.  Here’s a list of questions to ask:

What is the website’s affiliation to the franchise industry?    Are they a member of the IFA’s Supplier Forum?  Do they regularly attend franchise shows, conferences, events? Determine if the company has demonstrated a commitment to the franchise industry and understands the needs and challenges of a franchisor.

How long has the website been in business?  Websites come and go all the time.  Make sure the website will be in business for the length of the contract.  Don’t pay in full for sites that haven’t established longevity. 

What is the site’s average number of unique visitors per month?  Just like print advertising, an advertiser has the right to know how many people will potentially see their ad.  Do not consider page views.  This is not a fair comparison of traffic counts.

Where does the site traffic come from?  Prior to the interview, a franchisor should know if the site appears in the search results for keywords related to their opportunity.  But, some sites also pay for traffic through partner sites or email marketing.  Franchisors should make sure the site’s demographic profile is consistent with the profile of the franchisee they are seeking.

How will the site drive traffic to my specific listing?  How many clicks will it take to get to my ad?  Is there another way to get to my ad?   Does the site optimize the individual ad for search engine traffic or is all the traffic coming from the homepage?

What is included in each package?  What are the rates?  Take a tour of the web portal, and learn what every package includes.   Collect the rates for each package and compare the exposure level.  Ask which package is most popular. Ask which package offers the best value.  If they charge for on a cost per lead basis, what is the definition of a lead?

Is there any free exposure?  Ask if there are ways to increase exposure with free opportunities.  Do they post press releases?  Can you submit articles?  Do they offer link swapping? 

Do they offer screens or filters?  Can you eliminate leads that do not meet specific criteria (non-USA, financial qualification, etc.)?  Be careful not to screen too heavily or the lead count may be severely impacted.  Also keep in mind that many people may not want to answer personal questions on a generic form. 

What are your terms?  Make sure you are comfortable with the length of the contract and that you can get out if necessary.  Ask what the payment terms are.  Some require first and last month, some require paid in full, and others just ask for a credit card to bill monthly.

How many leads should I expect?  This question is merely to find out what an average listing, similar to yours, with the same amount of exposure should expect to get.  This is not meant to be a guarantee.  It goes back to identifying how many leads per month you will need.  Be wary if a web portal will actually guarantee a specific number of leads.  That may be a sign that the web portal sends leads to more than just the franchisor that was intended.

Do you lead-share or farm leads?  This is a controversial topic that is either a good or bad thing depending on your viewpoint.  Lead-sharing or farming means that one lead may be sent to multiple franchisors, even if the prospect only requested franchise information from just one company.  It’s not illegal, but some may not consider it unethical.  Your company is paying to generate leads that are also sent to your competitor.  Similarly your competitor is paying to generate leads that are also sent to you.  Keep in mind most Americans are not in favor of being contacted by salespeople unless they request it.

Review all the data and determine what information is most important and prioritize.  If industry commitment and longevity are important, then eliminate the sites that don’t match your criteria.  If lead sharing or traffic counts are issues, eliminate those sites.  Then start looking at sites that will provide the best value.  This could be a combination of exposure, demographics and price.  Or, it may be flexible terms, price and expectations. 

In any buying decision, relationship will play a role.  Make sure you feel that the salesperson you are dealing with will be responsive to your issues and is interested in building a long-term relationship.  If they aren’t, you may have a more difficult time adjusting the campaign to maximize your investment down the road. 

Finally, select the sites you want to work with.  If it takes 100 leads to result in a sale and your average sales cycle is 12 weeks, it may take 3 months to generate 100 leads and another 3 months to generate a sale.  Franchisors should invest in a 6-month campaign to give adequate time to evaluate the quality of the leads.

One of the hardest questions is whether a franchisor should spend less per site and advertise on more sites or spend more per site and advertise on fewer sites.  The answer is really dependant on the franchisor.  After running portal campaigns for a while, a franchisor will know which sites are doing the best for their concept and how many sites they need to work with to reach their goals.  Sites that produce the best quality should eventually get a larger share of the advertising budget.  But to start, it makes the most sense to select campaigns that offer roughly the same amount of exposure so the evaluations are comparable.

Always Evaluate!
The final, but most important step in the process, is evaluating the website performance.  After each six-month period, franchisors should re-evaluate each sites performance.  Criteria tracked should include:

Number of leads per site
Number of leads to convert to application per site
Number of leads to convert to discovery day per site
Number of leads to convert to sale per site
Cost per sale

Contract renewal should be earned based on the quality, not quantity, of leads delivered.  If one site delivers 600 leads over 6 months, but none of the leads progress beyond the first step of the sales process, the site is delivering quantity but no quality.  If another site delivers only 300 leads, 20 leads result in qualification reports and 1 converts to a sale, the site is delivering quality instead of quantity.    The more leads a franchisor gets, the more time the salesperson spends following up.  Is it better to receive 300 leads and get one sale or 600 leads and no sale?

Every 6 months replace 1 or 2 sites and start the process over again.  Soon, you’ll find the right combination and you can increase your spending with the sites that are performing.  Communicate what is working and what isn’t working with your salesperson.  The more feedback you provide, the stronger the relationship becomes.  It is in the sites best interest of both parties to see your lead generation campaign succeed. 

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