Quick on the Draw: Today's franchise system response must be quick and concise

Linda Shaub is CMO of Interim Healthcare, a network of 332 franchise locations providing and in-home care services in 43 states. Shaub oversees the company's marketing, development, and execution as it relates to customers, franchisees, and prospects. We asked Shaub about changes in today's franchisee prospects, how they receive and process information, and about the importance of staying in tune with existing franchisees. She says there's no question that when it comes to reaching prospects, a quick franchise system response is a necessity. She also says it's important to keep your message simple, to constantly promote and communicate, and to use efficient systems and technology to reach prospects before the competition does.

Describe your role as franchise CMO.
The job of the chief marketing officer (CMO) is to help increase the level of sales for the company, while at the same time enhancing and improving the positioning and image of the brand. I oversee different areas related to the marketing functions of the company, including marketing communications, public relations, website, and social media. I also am involved with new product development and marketing support for franchise development.

In your overall marketing scheme, what role does a quick franchise system response strategy play in reaching prospects and assisting franchisees?
It plays a key role in that everything is at a much more rapid pace. Responding to inquiries quickly, whether from prospects or existing franchisees, is critical. Without systems in place, this becomes much more challenging.

How is speed of connection important for today's franchise buyers?
We are living in an environment of instant gratification. Quite simply, we don't want to wait for anything, especially when it comes to requesting information or a personal response. At the same time, franchising is highly competitive. If you don't respond quickly, it's almost guaranteed that your competitors will.

How are you reaching prospects today? What has changed?
We are now in the 21st century. That means potential franchisees are coming with a much greater knowledge than ever before. They have done their homework--gone to the franchise website, read any reviews about the franchise, and checked out their LinkedIn and Facebook pages. This increases the importance of having good websites and maintaining a strong presence with social media.

How have prospects and their demands changed in the past 5 to 10 years?
Prospects have become more informed and have a better idea of what they are looking for. They have compared franchise concepts and are able to see a much larger picture when it comes to franchise opportunities. It's not only competitive in your own industry, but in others as well.

What marketing strategies are you using to better engage prospects and keep them engaged?
We're using a variety of strategies, and it's important to point that out because marketing has become more complex. We engage prospects through our E-Tour, an online overview of our franchise system and the value of the opportunity we offer. We are just about ready to take this to the next level with a system that will be even more engaging. It's an E-Tour, but it moves a prospect through a process of exchanging information, so it's very interactive. Also, there will be an online portal for direct communication. We think this will be a tremendous step in better qualifying prospects. So the process becomes much more efficient and effective for both the prospect and the franchisor.

What do you use to provide information to prospects after initial contact and throughout the process?
Our E-Tour is how we obtain information from the prospect and provide information to them. Once our online portal is available it will become the main source of communication. Of course we will continue to have telephone conversations as well.

How is technology helping you reach and communicate with prospects more quickly and effectively?
Technology is making a huge impact. We are instantly aware of when prospects visit our site and take our E-Tour. We can reach out to them at any point in the process. It makes our communication much more immediate.

What are the hot marketing-related issues you're facing with your franchisees?
For us, it's primarily two issues. The first is how to differentiate the business in a highly competitive market. We are always looking at how we can differentiate ourselves and provide more value. This includes making sure operations, marketing, and sales are all connected. The second issue is how to prioritize your time. As I said before, marketing is becoming more complex. We have many more channels and only so much time and money. Our offices are small businesses, so they need to be very efficient and make sure they are getting the best return on investment and return on engagement.

What is changing in terms of how, where, and why existing franchisees need your marketing assistance?
Our business is in the care industry, and regulations are continually changing on both the federal and state levels. The franchisees are looking for more strategic guidance. Since they are overloaded with information, they need basic "how to" information that is very clear and concise. They also need information to help guide them in how to engage in new channels such as social media.

How are you meeting the marketing-related demands and needs of your franchisees more efficiently and effectively?
We are using technology to help us communicate and to provide ways for easily accessing tools and applications. And we are using focus groups and committees to gain input and help increase communication.

What technology tools are helping you meet the needs of your franchisees?
We have redesigned our websites using completely new architecture. We have a content management system that not only allows us to more efficiently add or change content, but that also gives our franchisees a much better for managing their local websites. We have a very robust intranet that allows our franchisees access to all of our programs, manuals, marketing, and sales materials. We have applications like Ad Builder, which helps them easily create their own ads. We have a document management center with hundreds of print-on-demand marketing collateral materials. And we have a social marketing technology platform that streamlines the process for updating Facebook and Twitter.

How does social media factor into the marketing needs of your franchisees?
In our business of home care, it's not something that a lot of our franchisees have been too involved with. They are pressed for time and it's hard to quantify time spent on social media. They are just starting to dip their toes in the water. It is something that is definitely on our radar.

What are the three most important keys to providing your franchisees with quick and effective marketing solutions?
I would have to say: (1) keep it simple, (2) continuously promote and communicate, and (3) integrate with operations, training, and sales so everyone knows everything in order to successfully execute.

From a marketing standpoint, what's the most challenging part of the franchise system response?
Probably making sure we continue to look at things from the customer's point of view and keeping our prospects focused and engaged in the exchange of information. At the end of the day we want it to be the best possible fit for both the prospective franchisee and the franchisor.

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