"How Have You Used Technology To Help Your Franchise System Gain An Edge In This Sluggish Economy?"

Stan Friedman, Co-founder and President
ACI Franchising, franchisor of RetroTax

I stand in awe of how much technology has adapted over the last few years and how much of it I have adopted. Just a few short years ago, franchise portals seemed innovative and the potential silver bullet for finding more qualified leads. That space has now been overrun with new and exciting technologies, known to many as Web 2.0.

I have gained quick respect for some of today's up-and-coming technologies, yet when I mention social media and social networking to many of my colleagues, their eyes seem to glaze over. But I have adapted my everyday processes to include Web 2.0 and now, even blogging (www.retrofacts.blogspot.com).

When potential franchisees search the web, they are served up an extraordinary stream of information. Beyond that though, I can use search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to control the content that comes their way. Most can certainly find my website easily enough through a Google search or various portals, but now potential franchisees can dive deeper into the inner workings of our franchise, when Google alerts "push" information to them, via my blog or other social networking sites like LinkedIn.

SEO is only one new technology I am using in my Web 2.0 world to gain a competitive edge. In reality though, it is just the "bait." The "retrieve" comes when a potential client or prospective franchisee visits my website. There, another amazing bit of technology comes into play, so long as the surfer's computer has its cookies enabled. If so, for the next several weeks, that computer will now serve up my banner ad (not pop-ups mind you) at the top of sites that are frequently visited by the surfer, such as Yahoo! Mail, ESPN, CNN, the DrudgeReport, etc. Suddenly, a company they only just heard of seems to show up everywhere, creating incredible top-of-mind awareness. RetroTax breaks away from all of the clutter of the day. The more impressions created, the better my chance to convert a hit into a prospect, a client, or a franchisee. (This marketing is from Target Marketing Group and is delivering incredible results.)

Technological advances are never ending. Today's communications applications have turned progressive and my efforts have turned proactive. There's more coming down the pike every day and trust me: driving today's technology is a lot different than taking a spin in your dad's old Buick.

James Young, President
Spring-Green Lawn Care

From what I can tell, every franchisor working to meet their 2008 franchise sales objectives has felt the effects of lead volume and lead quality during this economic downturn. While I would like to say that I hope that the election will fix all that, hope has never been a good strategy.

To achieve this year's performance goals our greatest challenge was not in spending more money to generate more leads, but realizing we needed to kiss a lot more toads than we were accustomed to, and that we may not have the resources to follow up on leads as we typically do if we drive in a substantial amount of new leads. Our challenge was to effectively increase lead flow, increase our connection rate, and get the needed number of qualified leads to our recruiter without increasing our fixed overhead.

Spring-Green moves in the direction of giving candidates more information up front using an integrated approach that includes the addition of a "virtual" brochure.

Much of the buzz around the implementation of a virtual brochure has more to do with the idea of having a controlled sales presentation that is consistently delivered by anyone involved in the sales process than it does with front-end conversion. In our case, we felt the virtual brochure would certainly enhance our opportunity and make our process more consistent, but we implemented it with the desire to provide more information to candidates in a mixed media format in advance of actually speaking to them. For us, if the brochure would help improve our overall connection rate and help us prequalify those that genuinely had interest, we would naturally push more deals through our sales funnel and be able to maintain the same fixed overhead. Pure metrics.

Has it worked? Yes. We have seen a 20 percent lift in our connection rate. No, it does not make someone more qualified financially. We are still kissing a lot of toads, but the brochure and questionnaires are streamlining our disqualification process and allowing us to manage a higher volume of leads without adding another salesperson. The brochure allows me to sleep at night knowing the prospect sees more than enough information to feel comfortable taking our call. If they do not, I do not need to wonder if... Of course we will continue to revisit those people later.

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