Socially Engaged Lead Management, Part 3: Becoming Intimate with Your Prospects Online

"Risk more than others think safe­." -- Howard Schultz, Starbucks

Ever notice how closely the words intimate and intimidate are in their spelling? Probably not, but that's okay. It dawned on me while writing this, the third article in my series on Socially Engaged Lead Management. It is clear that to succeed brands today must become much more intimate with their customers and prospects.

A quick rewind... My first article introduced you to the significant changes in online behavior and its implications on your ability to engage with prospects and leads. The second focused on the organizational and technological impacts these changes are having on your ongoing business operations. Now we can explore how to deal with prospects prowling around the hallways and cubicles of your company (metaphorically) - well before they have agreed to be your customer.

I have been in business now for more than 25 years, mainly in sales, business development, and running my own companies. I can recall the days when we used early contact management that allowed us (sales guys) to enter really personal information, like our prospect's or customer's birthday, spouse's name, kids' names, and heaven forbid (pre-cell phones) their home phone numbers. That, for a sales guy, was the quintessential win if your customer allowed you the privilege to call them at home - which of course you never did because you were saving it for that dire emergency or ultimate favor... but you had it!

Now customers are sharing intimate information about themselves not only to your firm directly, but also indirectly on their favorite social networking sites, blog postings, gaming sites, etc. The question now becomes, What do you do with it all? How do you harness it in an appropriate, natural way that leads your prospects to admire your brand, your people, and decide to choose your franchise concept over the thousands available to them?

The digital handshake

In the recent past I have railed against the lead generation portals heavily relied upon by franchisors to secure a quantity of leads. A prospect picks a brand and fills out a form with their contact info, with the promise that someone with more information or an interest in their future will contact them and respond to their needs.

While arguably efficient, it sure isn't an intimate first encounter and, unfortunately, the prospect, intrepid initially, often is intimidated by their first encounter with the brand. Worse, the lead portal that delivered the lead has no further business nor economic motivation to help smoothly move this prospect naturally to the next level of the lead funnel. So why should they care how the prospects are engaged or treated?

Today's new lead candidates are savvy and willing to invest their time to learn as much as they can before engaging your brand or your staff. Offer them both a method to do this and the necessary content to self-help. Too many franchise brands fear providing a lead with too much information up front. They would much rather provide cursory, teaser content and basically beg the lead candidate to provide their contact information immediately, so the brand can nab them right away for fear of losing them to a competitor. Now who is intimidated?

Beyond your externally facing franchise development personnel, how many other names, or existing franchise owners does your franchisee candidate really get to know in the process? My blanket assessment is, "Not enough." You are probably willing to make the necessary folks available, but your introductory process is clumsy and inefficient so it's easier to just not do it and instead try to get them to Discovery Day, where you can control the entire process.

Further, what type and amount of content are you providing that lead prospect? You need to provide rich, deep, and useful content - but within a structured process to allow your lead to self-help, learn at their own pace, mark milestones in their pursuit of your brand's requirements, and all the while make your franchise development team available to serve them the minute they raise their hand for help. In a perfect world your socially engaged lead management should avail itself of all the necessary resources to achieve this. At FranchiseProcess we call this shadowing: available anytime, but off the side so as to not be a pest.

Here's a classic retailer's example: Home Depot. In the "old days" you could wander the aisles of a Home Depot and never see an associate, which would often frustrate you when searching for certain items. Now on a Saturday I can walk into a Home Depot and half a dozen associates are standing at the ready to guide me to exactly where I need to go. Although 90 percent of the time I know what I want and where it is, I decline and go on my way. But clearly, they have "gotten the memo." In doing so, Home Depot receives a double win. First, I am thrilled to know I have help at the ready; so check the customer service box for them. Second, by me not using or needing their services it generally didn't cost them anything to provide the service and frees the associate to help the next person, thus creating scale.

Since you don't offer a physical "retail" experience for your franchisee candidates, your social CRM should be the mechanism that proffers all the necessary content your prospects desire - unvarnished, transparent, and timely. It should allow the lead candidate to march down the lead management funnel at their own pace while continually alerting you to their progress, with their personal and business information in hand, and reassured that you are there at the ready to help them when they need it.

Your franchise wins when the lead self-serves entirely down the funnel until Discovery Day or signing an agreement - and feeling as though they had the best experience and customer service possible. Worst case, they don't choose your brand but still feel as though they were treated well and become an advocate or loyalist for your brand. Even if they don't become a franchisee, they are likely to be the next customer of the candidate who is awarded that territory.

Add to that, you have both provided intimate details about one another... without feeling intimidated at all.

Tom Hochstatter is co-founder and managing partner of Austin, Tex.-based, a provider of a socially engaged lead management solution. He is a third-generation entrepreneur whose fondest childhood memories are working in his grandparents' and parents' small businesses during summers and after school. He has either started or been part of six start-ups, along with the obligatory stops among the world's best corporations (Boeing, IBM, Microsoft, and Yahoo!). His work has spanned sales, marketing, business development, and product management. Contact him at 866-934-7779,, or follow him on Twitter.

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