Field reps: the link to corporate: a good field representative is both a student and a reporter who is always looking for great new ideas that are working in the field.

Author:Bourdow, Joe

"It's about the people. It's always about the people." My late boss and mentor reminded me about that frequently when I first moved to the franchisor side of our business 18 years ago. I never forgot his words.

Even today in a world of intranets, reduced travel budgets and video conferencing it is the face-to-face personal relationships between a franchisor's field representatives and franchisees that often seem to color a franchisee's view of his franchisor and ultimately, the success of the system.

In our franchise system, there seems to be general agreement around several elements that make these important relationships work or, for that matter, not work.

Respect, Caring and Trust

Franchisees take a lot of pride in the fact that they own their own business, as they should. No matter what size or stage their business is in, the fact that somebody licensed the franchisor's operating system does not give a field representative a "license" to talk down to a franchisee or treat them with anything but complete respect.

Few franchisors license get-rich-quick schemes. Most business models require hard work and real commitment on the part of the franchisees to succeed. The fact that franchisees are willing to "take the plunge" deserves respect. Field representatives must always try to put themselves in the position of their clients and, to the greatest extent possible, try to understand and "feel" what their franchisees are feeling.

It is critically important to understand each franchisee's short- and longer-term business and personal goals. This cannot be done overnight on one visit and these goals were likely not really discovered on Discovery Day. Often, personal goals were a big part of a franchisee's decision to join a particular franchisee system. But it is also important to understand that these goals can and do change over time.

Franchisees are human beings too. They have lives outside the business that includes vacations, birthdays and other personal celebrations. Illnesses and family issues can all affect the operations inside a small business, as well as short-term and long-term goals. Often, it is these personal issues that are top-of-mind when a field consultant is making a call and not some new initiative of the franchisor.

Trust is hard to build and easy to lose. Sometimes, franchisees have to vent. They may have real issues with the franchisor. Frustrations in their personal lives sometimes get transferred to their franchisors and...

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