There are four stages to a company’s participation in a business group (co-op, buying group, franchise, or dealer network): Curiosity, Felicity, Reality, and Maturity.
Stage 1: Curiosity
This is the very beginning. This is where the company/person is investigating. During this period they are very curious, open-minded, and skeptical all at the same time. They are trying to determine whether your organization is a good fit. This is certainly a great opportunity for someone to learn about your organization, because they are actively seeking knowledge. This is a very positive time because ultimately, this person ends up joining your organization and adapts to the nature of selling your product and making your perspective customer feel wanted and needed.
Stage 2: Felicity
This phase takes place right after the company has joined and can be thought of as the honeymoon after marriage. The company is still elated and excited by its decision. Lots of fun and interesting things are happening as they begin the process of getting set up and getting ready to do business as part of your organization. At this stage, the new company is all about learning and absorbing, they know that they have much to learn and they are actively seeking out knowledge. Their level of trust with your organization is extremely high; after all, they just chose you because they thought you would be a great fit. Of course, the honeymoon can be a nightmare of a phase if your company is not good at implementing new customers into its system. Normally, however, this is a very positive time; the new business is extremely excited and very engaged in the process of implementing your program.
Stage 3: Reality
In phase three, the new company is all set up and ready to go. The fun of the honeymoon stage is now over and the reality of using all of your programs and doing real business is taking place. There is a natural tendency for there to be a certain letdown, as excitement of the set up has passed. The real world is now settling in; if things go well, the new company is likely to be very happy and less critical of the small mistakes that may occur within the relationship. On the other hand, if business is bad there is a tendency for the new company to start becoming disgruntled and looking at everything you do with a very negative and critical eye. Of course the personality of the owner plays a big role in whether the company is ultimately going to view their relationship with you positively or negatively.
Stage 4: Maturity
In this phase the company has been with you for a while, the romance of the curiosity and felicity phases are well behind you. Now even if business is good, there is a tendency for the not-so-new company to have a critical eye; they see themselves as being smarter, they know the real world and they have a lot of their own ideas about how things should be run. This is a critical phase, because in this phase the company is either going to be highly engaged and very happy, content and uninspired, or worse yet, actively unhappy and undermining the efforts of your company. How you work with your members/franchisees/customers will greatly impact whether the not-so-new company is going to be highly engaged and very happy. I know from a review of my customer base from my days running groups that the most profitable, the most likely to recommend us to another company, and the most satisfied all come from the group of customers who are highly engaged and very happy.
Your company has a huge impact on whether or not, in phase four, your member/franchisee/customer ends up highly engaged and very happy. Your relationship with them is critical; but is it a true partnership or worse, a very one-sided relationship?
How would you feel if you thought you had some great ideas, but no one would really listen to you? How would you feel if you thought your relationship was always one-sided?
A company has to actually work to create engaged members/franchisees/customers, it doesn’t happen by accident. Let’s take a moment to talk about what this really means. What is engagement and what does it mean to be engaged? To me, engagement and being engaged means the company is actively participating in a positive manner. Their relationship isn’t passive; it is passionate. They embrace the company’s vision and they actively work to achieve it.
What does your company do to make your members/franchisees/customers feel engaged, valued, listened to, and heard?