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Beyond Fundamentals: Technology Is Changing The Way The Game Is Played

Jim Sullivan keeps an eye on business trends and market shifts. His livelihood depends on it. In fact, the very mission of his organization, Sullivision.com, is to design and deliver operations and leadership programs for companies - including many franchises. He's worked with brands like McDonald's, Panera Bread, Regis Corp., Jiffy Lube, Applebee's, Domino's, and Dunkin' Brands.

Sullivan has been particularly keyed in on emerging technologies that are changing the way businesses are operating today. We asked his to share some of his current observations and insight into how these trends could shape the way franchisees do business in 2011 and beyond. Here's what he told us.

From your perspective, what are the key trends that will affect franchise companies in 2011?

JS: I think the biggest trend will be social media's impact on the way zees and zors market, train, recruit, and even sell. Facebook has north of 500 million users and has become a mall as well as a meeting place. Social media is no longer marketing's sexy foreign cousin, it's mainstream, and companies will need an integrated and seamless strategy to access and leverage opportunities across Facebook, LinkedIn, Gowallah, Foursquare, and other sites. It can no longer be relegated to something the 20-something intern in marketing is "in charge of." Beyond that, I think that the iPad or tablet will change how we train and sell. And most importantly, companies will need to get brilliant at the operational basics of business in 2011. It's not enough to be pretty good at everything anymore. You have to be really good at something. Mastering the new fundamentals will be key to attracting talented people and acquiring and maintaining more customers.

What are those "new" fundamentals?

Service, sales-building, marketing, cost-control, team-building, and leadership are the foundations. All of these sound very traditional, but they must be taught and imparted in non-traditional ways. Consider why most companies are only kind of good at those key areas. There's a disconnect between knowing and doing because their training programs are rooted in how trainers like to teach instead of how people actually learn. It's too much like school. Now consider how technology alone could be leveraged to enable, excite, and motivate the iPod Generation team, and even customers, to better engage with the brand.

Like how?

Consider the iPad. In the foodservice industry it will soon make the traditional menu obsolete. Why hand someone a static paper-based menu with a photo or two when you can offer a three-dimensional, interactive multimedia merchandising machine that features tantalizing video of each entrée and featuring detailed preparation steps and ingredients, and upselling? Integrate the right pricing algorithm, and menu prices will adjust based on customer traffic, current inventory, budget goals, or when a customer approaches a preset check average hurdle. Want a coupon tailored to your tastes for a future visit? Click. Want to pay at the table and leave feedback on your visit? Click. Click. The digital menu pad/tablet may even replace the servers with runners instead, simultaneously solving two of the industry's endemic bugaboos: labor and turnover. Compare a 3-ring binder training manual to an iPad version. Nuff said.

Finally, I suggest multi-unit franchisees - and franchisors - put a priority on mapping and managing their customer experience ecosystem in 2011. Detail the chronological experience customers have with your business from initial contact to repeat business. Make a customer journey map. Re-think and refine each customer contact point from the customer's perspective. While the digital ecosystem (via social media) will make the biggest impact in the next 12 months, don't forget to invest in improving the expertise of your customer-facing brand ambassadors; servers, crew, cashiers, assistant managers, greeters, and drive-thru teams. Everything else you invest in depreciates. People are the only investment companies make that appreciates.

Jim Sullivan is the CEO of Sullivision.com, a training company whose clients include Walt Disney Company, Coca-Cola, American Express, Starbucks, Supercuts and Jiffy Lube. You can get his daily leadership insight on Twitter @Sullivision.

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