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Make Trade Shows an Important Part of 2012

It’s the age-old question: How does your brand get as many leads as possible for the least amount of money?
As your franchise business gets deeper and deeper into the process, the discussion tends to branch off in many different directions. Where can the organization find those quality leads? How can the franchise business find them in the areas it wants to expand? How can the company’s representatives get in front of them, face to face, quickly? How does your brand find the people with the right background to fit your business model?
Both existing and emerging franchise brands spend year after year trying to find the answer to these questions. The difficult part is that it’s a moving target. Mature brands such as SIGNARAMA and EmbroidMe were initially built on franchise shows. In fact, 20 years ago, companies such as SIGNARAMA and EmbroidMe probably did 40-50 shows a year. At the time, it was pretty much the only source to find prospective franchisees, but the landscape quickly changed. After a while, franchisors began spending more and more money on newspaper advertising with fairly good success. Then the Internet came into play and the landscape shifted again with the addition of third-party Web portals. During this time period, many companies reallocated their budgets and reduced significantly the number of trade shows they attended.
For the majority of franchisors, lead generation has evolved from simply participating in franchise shows, to newspaper advertising, magazine advertising, Internet advertising, third-party Web portals, search engine optimization, business brokers, buying key search words, referral programs, YouTube videos, Craig’s List and more. And yet, the landscape is still changing.

Widening the Net
So in this ever-changing landscape, how do franchise companies budget their advertising dollars accordingly?
With so many touch points out there, sometimes a wider net can deliver the best results. If your company is looking at the top-selling franchise brands, most will probably tell you that their lead sources range across 15 different platforms. That’s because the places where prospects are discovering your business are constantly changing.
Smart brands also look very closely at the backgrounds of their best owners because this can help tremendously in their advertising decisions. If a franchise company takes a deep look at its system, it’s probable that most of its successful owners come from a wide range of different backgrounds including those who are former Fortune 500 executives, teachers, small-business owners and even rocket scientists (yes, there are some brands out there whose franchisees came from NASA). This diversity can make it difficult to spend the majority of company ad dollars with one source only and knowing that prospects come from so many different walks of life.

Back to Where it Started
Part of the issue with the Internet today is that it’s tough to target where the leads will come from. As much as franchisors buy localized search words to try and reach people in a certain market, the leads tend to be scattered. Also, because of the varied backgrounds of franchisee candidates today, many brands are spending a lot more face-to-face time with prospects to really get to know them.
This has led a lot of companies, in part, back to where it all started: franchisors are participating in more franchise trade shows again to meet and get to know their prospects up close and personal.
Trade shows, especially some of the smaller regional ones, allow franchise brands to also target the specific markets they are looking to expand because these shows tend to draw candidates from around that trade area. It also helps if your brand has existing stores that are for sale in certain markets to generate leads for that store.
Another facet of trade shows, which has been very successful recently for many franchisors, is international expansion. The three International Franchise Association-sponsored expos—Franchise Expo South, The International Franchise Expo and the West Coast Franchise Expo—that are conducted in the United States, all draw very well from outside of the country and many brands have attributed their international growth to the quality of master license partners they have met at these trade shows. For example, United Franchise Group has added master license partners in Nicaragua, Colombia, Romania and Mexico as a direct result of exhibiting at these shows, which are produced by MFV Expositions.

Maintaining Common Goals
In preparing for your company’s trade shows, it’s important to make sure that everyone has key goals in mind, and that they’re working toward meeting those goals to ensure the business doesn’t come home empty-handed. The cost of exhibiting, providing staffing and traveling to trade shows can be significant, therefore it’s important to establish a clearly defined plan of attack to ensure the investment is worthy of the resources your company is committing.
It’s important to establish lead collection goals for each employee who will be inside your booth and to make sure each person is trained and ready to be as effective as possible. Every person who walks into your booth represents a valuable lead and the goal is not to waste a single one. Work with your employees in advance and make sure they have a clear understanding of the sales message and how to qualify visitors.
It is important to get back in front of any prospects with your message as soon as possible following the trade show.

Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to those who are walking past to strike up a conversation. This is the beginning of the relationship-building process that starts on that trade show floor, continues through the close of the sale and progresses into the partnership with franchisees. That first meeting sets expectations for a relationship that the company may have with the prospect for years to come. For that reason, the trade show staff is responsible for key interactions that will yield a tremendous impact.
When the show is over, the real work begins. Establish a strategic plan for following up with each lead the show generated. Carefully orchestrate a defined method for reaching out to each person. A personal phone call to set up an individual meeting is crucial to break through the clutter of e-mails. The sooner that a meeting can be scheduled while the information is still fresh, the more effective it will be. During the course of a lengthy show, your prospect will not only visit your booth, but also those of many competitors. Therefore, it is important to get back in front of any prospects with your message as soon as possible following the trade show.
Strong proactive relationship-building strategies should carry your efforts through from pre-planning to the show itself and into the follow-up stage. This is your opportunity to not just “sell” a prospect on your brand, but also to educate him on what unique benefits your brand has to offer. Providing personalized attention will ensure that all of the prospect’s questions are answered fully and he or she will walk away with a solid understanding of what your franchise business has to offer.
Most things in life are cyclical and in the lead generation marketing world that seems to hold true as well. With all the technology available today, there are a lot of great ways to stay in touch with people, but nothing will replace quality face-to-face time when it comes to driving franchise leads. It’s critical that trade shows are an important part of your 2012 marketing budgets because they will have a great impact on your brand’s future growth. 
Mark Johnson is president of EmbroidMe, a leading full-service provider of embroidery and promotional products. He can be reached at 561-868-1453 or mjohnson@embroidme.com.

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