Challenge the Pros: Innovation Affecting Sales and Development
"How has innovation affected your sales and development process?"
VP of Franchise Development
Change is hard. Many in sales and development rest on the tried-and-true processes of the past, but the reality is that the world is evolving around them. The adage "If it ain't broke" will inevitably be etched into the career tombstone of those unwilling to embrace the fact that every day is a new day.
Constant innovation and adaptation to buyer behavior is key to success. Technology evolves, consumer trends morph, and the competition is constantly experimenting with innovative strategies to stand out above the white noise potential prospects must endure. This bold new world is forcing new skills onto companies seeking to capture and hold the attention of a concept's future franchisees. It begins with marketing and understanding that the old ponds are not the only places to fish today.
Our development process relies heavily on innovation. Innovations in technology allow us to make data-driven decisions about the behaviors of the target prospects we're trying to attract. We now have technology and analytics that allow us to be better informed and focus our custom messaging as a spear approach (as opposed to a net).
These changes in how we seek potential franchise partners and understand their searching and buying criteria have led to a unique dynamic between communication and relationship-building. Thriving concepts embrace new opportunities to communicate their brand message and culture through a variety of mediums. Active social media presence, interactive website exploration, and development processes that leverage new technologies to lead prospects through experiential mutual investigations all contribute to the overarching goal: fully immersing a prospect in the total brand experience, complemented by opportunities to build rapport with the development team.
Bringing an entirely new industry to franchising, innovation is our normal. We challenge ourselves every day to create new programs and stay open to new possibilities of how to connect. Whether we're working on developing new segments or targets like social equity programs or appealing to multi-unit franchisees as a method of diversification, remaining committed to creativity has been critical in opening new doors to new possible franchisees.
A myopic stance clinging to the "way things have always been" will paint a dim future for concepts unwilling or unable to adapt. Embracing innovation and the new freedom to present your brand in many exciting ways will build a brand culture and attract brand partners who will carry the concept into a bright and promising future.
Innovation is key to staying relevant in the quick-moving fast-casual industry. When we progressed with McAlister's Deli evolution last year, we knew we'd be presenting a few challenges for our sales and development teams. Whenever you change the look and feel of the restaurant, you have to be open to dialogue with your team and be honest about the challenges as you work to construct a new prototype and direction. This was our biggest evolution in 30 years, so we had to answer a few key questions.
- The first question asked is in relation to cost. How do we increase brand relevancy while driving both the top and bottom lines? Fortunately, we were able to develop a new prototype that is equivalent in cost to our older model when it comes to finishes and decor, so we can forecast the return for our franchisees. However, the new footprint is smaller (less seating) because of our off-premises growth, so we had to correctly position that to our current franchisees and prospects.
- Next always is why? Why are we evolving, and why now? These are natural questions and it's on us to properly communicate our reasoning. We worked with our teams to discuss the reasons for evolving and doubled down on our core equities, beverage merchandising, and community connections. We knew that our guests would appreciate the convenience of our off-premise offerings and would want to see our McAlister's Famous Sweet Tea at the forefront of what we do. That's already showing, as tea remains our number-one third-party delivery item (accounting for 10 percent of all sales), and our pick-up windows are showing a good return as well.
- Finally, comes the how (the most important question). Our sales and development teams want to know how we are going to pull this off and the time frame for doing so. They want to know what messaging to use in their sales conversations and how this may affect our relationships with developers. Focus Brands' leadership in this area is key. Our leadership team knows how to make brands more relevant and how to maintain established relationships with some of the best real estate brokers in the industry. Additionally, the analytics model we use to identify the best trading areas and site criteria has helped make the development transition rather smooth.
Innovation is never easy, but it's entirely necessary. It's essential that brands always look to improve, for both their franchisees and their customers.
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