In the first article of our series “Battle-Tested Strategies”, we are going to take a look at franchisee involvement for franchisee engagement. We are focusing in on “battle-tested” since we want to make sure that we are discussing what really matters. Instead of talking theory or ideas, we want to highlight what happens in the field, when you roll up your sleeves and do the work.
There is strong evidence in favor of involving many different stakeholders in decisions but sometimes it is tough to put into practice.
Franchisee Involvement: The Evidence
According to the Center for Human Resources Effectiveness in Berkeley, California, there are several reasons why including others in decision makers work which extend naturally to the franchise model. I am putting a list of the most relevant ones below:
- Participation may result in better decisions. Workers often have information that higher management lacks. Furthermore, participation permits a variety of different views to be aired.
- People are more likely to implement decisions they have made themselves.(2) They know better what is expected of them, and helping make a decision commits one to it.(3) Participation may lower the disutility of effort, by providing intrinsic motivation.
- Participation enhances people’s sense of power and dignity, thus reducing the need to show power through fighting management and restricting production.
Although most of the research is conducted in corporate environments, this can easily be extended to franchising.
Franchisee Engagement: The Challenge
In the mid-2000s, Shred-it, a document destruction franchise system with over 150 units and 1,000 trucks in North America, the UK and Europe, was at a crossroads. They had a Flash-based website which was getting few leads. The site, though attractive, had issues with both SEO and usability and was a source of frustration for the franchisees. As one American franchisee said:
“This website deserves to be in a history museum for websites it is so old!”
It is one of those statements that is hard to forget… these many years later. As a result, we knew that we had to make changes. But, instead of fighting or refuting the franchisees, we decided to bring them into the fold.
Another challenge, was one of those unspoken ones, yet very real. I was a younger Marketing professional at the time in my 20s where the franchisees were mostly 50+. While there wasn’t really ageism going on perse, I was aware that I was the same age as many of their children, and I had to use the power of persuasion to get them to listen. I had to “lead from behind” to quote Nelson Mandela. According to Harvard Business Review:
Leaders can encourage breakthrough ideas not by cultivating followers who can execute but building communities that can innovate.
All of this set the right conditions to innovate together.
Meeting with Franchisees
A series of structured meetings was required to get the project going:
- We involved a group of vocal franchisees to be part of a special committee. We selected franchisees who were both vocal and constructive so we could focus in on the shared goal of having a great site, rather than the meetings devolving into “gripe sessions”. All meetings had a goal, an agenda and notes were set out afterwards.
- The first meeting was about brainstorming what sections of the main website, and the franchisee microsites they wanted to see. This was a “free for all” – and I let them know it was time to be creative. After the meeting was over, I sent the group a sample website navigation diagram, along with a microsite diagram. I gave them an extra week to provide more feedback, but none of them did.
- At the second meeting, we got sample SEO keyword from the volunteer group. We asked how other franchisees would like to provide these to us, and they said that it was through a survey.
- At the third meeting, we did a design review of the microsites. We took quite a bit of feedback here on what should be modifiable by the franchisees, and what should be modifiable by the home office team.
Overall, the tone of the meetings was creative and professional. It was all about completing the thing that the franchisees wanted us to complete as a Marketing team. I knew that the more I did that, the more they would be satisfied with the co-creation project.
Working with the Experts
While the meetings were going on, I also connected with experts. After all, they invested in the adfund for marketing expertise. As a result, I had the following experts in place:
- PPC (this was the same gentleman as above in this case, but they could be separate)
Working with all of these moving parts was a project unto itself! However, I want to be clear that I was not taking direction from the franchisees on expert areas. I was taking direction in terms of business and local marketing needs, and looked to the experts for the marketing expertise. The franchisees in this system were very professional, and were quite understanding. For example, you will note that they had a feedback opportunity on the microsite, but not the homepage or the other main sections of the site, where direction came from the Founder and President Greg Brophy.
As a result of this project, a number of incredibly exciting things happened:
- Traffic on the site increased 10x, from 500 visits/day to 5,000 visits/day.
- We got over 150 leads/week forwarded to franchisees, up from next to none.
- The website won an award from the industry association, the National Association for Information Destruction (NAID).
- Relationships between the Marketing team and the franchisees warmed up in part because of the website.
- We had a huge party at the home office with a screenshot of the website on top of the cake.
- As a result of the success of the site, I got to work on the #1 marketing tool for the company – the truck! I was very unprepared for this task, but it was a lot of fun eventually.
This project had many lessons for m, here are just a few:
- Think deeply about where the franchisees can add value, and where the experts can add value. If you have clear boundaries, they will not step on each other.
- Find great partners who understand the dynamics and give-and-take required in franchising. The design firm for example, understood that we needed to be down-to-earth and flexible, and they were recruited to the project partly because of this open-minded attitude.
- The best way to overcome people’s doubt in your leadership is to help them achieve their goals.
- Being organized (such as having agendas for meetings and a core project plan) is key. This helps you not get “caught off guard” if things go to the side.
- If there is someone who is very concerned, a 1:1 conversation is best. If you sense that there is going to be a “gripe session”, it is a good idea to talk to the people that you are concerned about 1:1 before-hand, so you can get aligned and on the same team.
- If you are a manager, believe in your young people! My Marketing VP, Bonnie Shettler, at the time believed in me, and without her support, this project would have never happened.
Do you have a Battle-Tested Strategy?
This is just the first of our series on Battle-Tested Strategies. If you have one, please contact us.