Essential LinkedIn Strategies for Franchising Executives
Great marketers know that the magic is in the storytelling.
By David Chapman
In late November 2014, New York Times Magazine published an article “Cold, Hard Cash” within which the author, Binyamin Appelbaum, explored the impressive brand equity of Disney movies, such as the most recent blockbuster “Frozen,” which is secure in the minds of their customers at a time when research suggests customers are less loyal to brands than ever before.
Appelbaum suggests, however, that it’s not that branding has faded, it’s simply that companies, marketers and salespeople must adjust their strategy to connect with customers and prospects in ways that fit the new world order. Loyalty isn’t gained by a superior product, lower prices or a recognizable brand name, it’s gained by an ability to communicate and engage.
Consider the following excerpt from the article: “Disney, perhaps more than any other large company, appears to be impervious to the (brands are in decline) trend … The company is not selling products based on the quality of craftsmanship, but based on the quality of its stories.”
Therein lies the blueprint when it comes to franchise development: all franchise brands are being evaluated by the stories they’re sharing with customers and prospects. And when it comes to reaching and influencing franchise prospects online, LinkedIn has proved to be the most effective tool through which franchise brands and their franchise sales teams can connect with prospects.
LinkedIn and Franchise Sales — Success by the Numbers
Today’s franchise prospects are more informed and more deliberate than ever. Most candidates spend hours researching and evaluating a brand online, and therefore have already formed opinions of brands in their considered set well before speaking to anyone from those companies. This means it is imperative that all franchise executives, and the companies they represent, take the time to ensure their LinkedIn presence is world class. The evidence is overwhelming:
- Salespeople spend only 50 percent of their time engaging customers. (National Sales Executive Association)
- Only 25 percent of salespeople follow up more than twice with a prospect, yet 80 percent of deals are signed after five or more contacts. (National Sales Executive Association)
- Salespeople using social media exceed their quota 23 percent more often than non-social media users. (LinkedIn)
- 87 percent of the more than 332 million LinkedIn users worldwide trust LinkedIn as a source of information affecting decision making. (LinkedIn)
- The perception that LinkedIn is primarily being used by recruiters and job seekers is dead wrong – 76.9 percent research people and companies, while only 36.3 percent are job related. (LinkedIn)
- The Internet and referrals were responsible for nearly 3 in 4 (74 percent) of franchise sales in 2013. (2014 Franchise Development Report, Franchise Update Media)
- 40 percent of social-related franchise development leads were secured through LinkedInin 2013. (2014 Franchise Development Report, Franchise Update Media)
Gain a Competitive Advantage by Sharing Your Story on LinkedIn
The numbers don’t lie: Candidates want an informed conversation, not a presentation. Yet the vast majority of salespeople are still pushing prospects down the sales funnel with the same old “churn and burn” mentality versus nurturing and educating prospects. When it comes to LinkedIn, the “I don’t have time to do it” or “Does it really work?” excuses just don’t cut it anymore.
Here are five essential steps for turning your current LinkedIn program into a powerful and sustainable lead generation and lead incubation platform:
1. Put your best face forward. In business and in life, looking good matters. Here are a few basic steps that must be taken before you do anything else on your LinkedIn profile.
- Create a powerful professional headline. Take the time to craft an eye-grabbing tagline filled with keywords that differentiates you from the pack. It’s the first thing prospects see when they search for you and the first thing they’ll see on your LinkedIn profile. For example, instead of the boring and expected “CEO of 919 Marketing,” my headline is “National Marketing, PR and Social Media Expert. Specialize in Accelerating Franchise Brand Growth. CEO of 919 Marketing.”
- Use a high quality headshot. People buy from people. Don’t be afraid to show off your personality and warmth. Make sure the picture is high quality and best communicates the real you.
- Craft your background summary to fit your desired audience. The summary section (and job descriptions that follow) should be full of keywords that your prospects are searching for. Get in the mind of your target audience and tell your story from their perspective.
- Get referrals from people who will impress your prospects. Getting LinkedIn referrals from co-workers is a nice start. However, the real value play is to receive referrals from people your prospects will respect and find relevant such as successful franchisees in the system, industry thought leaders, funding partners, etc.
2. Build your communications platform. What’s the first thing most people do when they walk into a cocktail party? They head toward people they know first. Make sure that you are connected with all of your relevant business contacts, referral partners, franchisees and your database of prospects. But understand that’s just the beginning.
3. Don’t be afraid to tell stories. Talk about your company’s growth, profiles of successful franchisees and why they picked your brand, media coverage, industry trends, awards and recognition, blog posts from your sales team, shows you are attending, articles you have read that relate to your prospects, and more. How do you do it? You simply click the home button and write a short post that everyone connected to you will see. Without posting content on a regular basis you are missing the boat. This is the proverbial megaphone to your universe of connections and the key to getting ahead is getting started.
4. The reality is that you’ve got to pay to play. With LinkedIn, similar to in-person networking events, money talks. When you sponsor a networking event, you receive such perks as special access to prospects and the ability to connect in a more intimate and exclusive way. The same goes for LinkedIn; the resources available through a paid subscription are far more powerful and advanced than those you receive with the basic free package. There are currently three paid packages that give you stepped up access to member information and the ability to identify and reach out to prospects in a powerful one-on-one fashion. Specifically, the advanced search feature allows you to pinpoint specific targets via advanced search and reach/ influence them with LinkedIn Inmails (one chance to reach out and promote yourself to influential or hard-to-reach prospects) before becoming a connection. This greatly increases the odds of your hard work paying off in qualified leads you can work effectively, and ultimately, franchise sales.
5. You’ve got to be in it to win it. Usereal, sustainable and personal conversation to stay connected. I’ve been at several franchise client conferences lately and witnessed corporate leaders chastising franchisees after system-wide mystery shopper programs revealed phones were not being answered, follow-up calls weren’t being made and so on. Don’t commit the same mistakes in your franchise sales efforts. Whether you meet prospects online or in person, use LinkedIn to extend and enhance the conversation. Cultivate a relationship that allows the prospect to develop an emotional connection with you and your brand. Become a trusted source of information; inform, educate and entertain your connections with a steady flow of relevant content. Take advantage of your ability to stay in touch, literally, and top of mind with the hundreds or thousands of leads you’ve worked over the past year or two, and at the same time keep your finger on the pulse of hot prospects.
With 318 movies later and counting, Walt Disney always knew that the magic was in the storytelling; so do great marketers.