This week’s featured article is from Brett Duncan. Brett is a founding partner with Strategic Choice Partners, and an experienced executive specializing in marketing, communications and digital strategic consulting. He’s been working in direct selling since 2002. Brett also served as the Chairman of the Communications Committee for the Direct Selling Education Foundation from 2011 to 2014. He’s passionate about seeing the direct sales industry flourish.
Guest Post by Brett Duncan
My 11 Resolutions for Direct Selling Companies in 2017
Happy New Year!
Hopefully the first two weeks of 2017 have been productive and profitable. If you’re anything like me, the first half of January is always an invigorating time, as we shake off the rust of the holidays and the prior year, and we reset for new growth and experiences for the year ahead.
In addition, I often find that it takes me a little while to really ramp up into putting my resolutions for the year into practice. It’s one thing to identify our resolutions, but the real win is in implementing them, right?
In that spirit, I wanted to share my resolutions for direct selling companies in 2017. I work with many different companies in our space all of shapes and sizes. As you can imagine, I see, hear and experience many of the same challenges for each company. In the spirit of the new year, I’ve captured most of those challenges in my resolutions for you for 2017. As both our industry and the marketplace shifts, we must be bold and committed to shifting along with it. In fact, it’s important that we identify how our specific companies can lead innovation in some of these areas.
Without further adieu, here are my resolutions for your company in 2017, in no particular order. Keep an eye out for two or three that really resonate with you, and think of how you’ll address them in 2017.
1. Embrace the shift toward segmented customer programs.
More than anything, direct selling companies must learn to be satisfied … no, ecstatic … at getting more and more customers who do nothing more than purchase our products. It seems silly to me that this is even contested, but I completely understand how it got this way. If you think about the fundamental unit of success for any business, it is based, at its core, on getting and keeping customers. Whether it’s a consumable product, a one-time purchase or an ongoing service, businesses are built around attracting and transacting with people who appreciate their value.
Recent regulatory developments are prompting us to fast-track this mentality more than we were before, and I, for one, am appreciative. Any good marketer shouldn’t have to be prompted by regulations to segment your audience in ways that helps them have a better experience with your company. Embrace this new thinking, and prioritize making the necessary updates to how your compensation plans, incentives, membership levels, loyalty programs and overall messaging works to do what every great business does: focus on getting and keeping customers!
2. Give your people what they want (not what you want).
Linked to point #1 is the continuation of your segmentation in how you interact with everyone in your organization. For every level of engagement within your company (customer, host, part-timer, full-timer, leader, etc.), know explicitly what they want from you and your company. Then, crosscheck that against what you want for them. If the two things are aligned, great! If not, proceed with caution.
Here’s what this looks like practically: Don’t send all of your business-centric communications to your customers. Don’t speak the same way to the part-timer who’s shooting for an extra $200 a month as you would a full-timer who’s trying to break six figures. And don’t use the excuse of “Well, if I don’t tell them about the opportunity, they’ll never ask about it.” First, if they’re a loyal customer or host, be happy with that. Second, look for ways to make them aware of opportunities to take the logical next step (host a party, join our loyalty program, etc.) in context of what they already value about you, rather than forcing them to go from A to Z in a single bound (“get life on your terms,” “earn full-time income working part-time hours”). Create the logical lifecycle for each segment of your organization, and find helpful ways to a) identify if they’re interested in moving up in the organization, and b) help them take the next best step in that direction, nothing more.
3. Create smaller Starter Kits for bigger results.
I often review a company’s Starter Kit (or you may call it a Welcome Kit, etc.). I’m still a big believer in investing in an impressive Starter Kit to send your brand-new Consultants, even though so much can be done digitally. To me, validating their recent decision to do something they’ve probably never done before and that they are likely on the fence about is worthy of a hefty investment.
What I’d love to see us change is the size of many of these kits. I see this especially with Party Plan companies. I’ll actually order kits to review them, and what I receive is a giant package at my door that includes tons of samples, products, sales tools and much more. When I ask companies what’s the purpose of the kit, they often tell me “It’s to give the new person what they need to host 4-6 parties right away.” When I ask them how many of their new people host 4-6 parties ever (let alone right away), the answer is typically 25% or less (I’m being generous). On the operational side, it sounds fairly wasteful to me. More importantly, if a win for you company would be to get more new Consultants hosting 1-2 parties in their first 30 days, then give them what they need to do that, sending a message that success looks like a couple parties (which feels doable), instead of 4-6 parties (which feels overwhelming).
4. Stop requiring Social Security Numbers at sign-up.
Every field leader hates taking the question of “Why do you need my social security number (in the U.S.)?” We all know why; it’s quite logical for tax and reporting purposes for your company to have this info of anyone you pay. But here’s the thing: in so many cases, many of our new enrollees aren’t interested in earning income right away. During sign-up, there’s definitely nothing wrong with asking for the number, but make it very clear why you need it (“We want to pay you.”) and make it optional during enrollment. If they don’t fill it out, just make it clear that any payment in the future will be held until you receive that information, and that you will notify them when that happens. This alone can make for a more pleasant enrollment experience, for both your new Consultants and your Sponsors.
5. Forget Big Data; just use the data you already have.
This statement is a little tongue-in-cheek, as data is data, no matter the “size.” I love, LOVE the potential of direct selling companies incorporating practices being associated with “Big Data.” It makes all the sense in the world. So I definitely encourage everyone to reach out to some third-party help in this area.
That said, as you figure out how to incorporate these data practices, don’t ignore the “small” data you already have at your disposal. We have SO much information on our customers and Consultants, but we refuse to do anything with it. It’s often because our plates are so full with urgent matters, and we never get around to investing in mining our data and leveraging it in simple ways to make a real impact. I’m convinced the vast majority of direct sales companies, no matter what size they are, could find at least an additional 10% of revenue just by incorporating some low-hanging fruit as it relates to leveraging their data.
6. Stop being cheesy (especially in our videos).
If you really want to challenge yourself this year, print out this statement and tape it near your desk. I have a high respect for what direct selling stands for, and what our independent salespeople are able to accomplish. It’s mind-blowing and inspiring all at the same time.
So… I don’t want that genuine greatness to be overshadowed by cheesy, old-fashioned, over-the-top clichés and gimmicks. Our distribution method is more relevant than it’s ever been, but we sell it short by clothing it in irrelevant scripting and shtick.
A recent example of this can be seen in John Oliver’s recent rant on multi-level marketing (just Google it). Many of you probably watched this. I must admit, I chuckled more than once while watching it. It also served as a great wake up call on ways we need to rethink how we approach certain aspects of our business. Much of that rant was fed by simply pulling excerpts from videos that company’s have posted on their YouTube channel. So limit the cheesiness across the board, but let’s pay special attention to putting our best foot forward in our videos. In fact, audit what you have posted and see if you should “retire” certain videos.
7. Focus on the first 30 days of a new person’s experience with your company.
Most companies would exceed beyond their wildest dreams if they would update how they equip and inform new people in their organization. What do you want a new Consultant to do and experience in their first 30 days with your company? What about customers? Hosts? Again, don’t be afraid to segment the experiences. Define the outcomes you want, and be realistic. In fact, I typically suggest aiming for the “lowest common denominator;” what are the 2-3 actions and impressions that I want the majority of people to take in their first 30 days that will help them have the best possible experience with our company? Answer these questions, and then simply develop communications to match it.
8. Launch less promotions.
This is a tough one, because direct selling is so promotionally driven. I’m not suggesting we ban promotions, but I am suggesting we don’t allow ourselves to be so dependent on them. First off, for Consultants, your compensation plan should be the ultimate promotion. So talk about it that way. The same goes for the value of your products. Position them in a way that consumers value them for what they provide. Then, leverage specials, contests and bargains strategically to drive incremental growth for you and your field leaders, rather than creating a culture that is dependent on promotions just to do the basics on a regular basis.
9. Start leveraging retargeting campaigns in unique ways .
If you’re not familiar with what “retargeting” or “remarketing” is, Google it. You’ve know doubt experienced it, when an ad for a certain product you were shopping for yesterday appears on a website add or your Facebook feed. It can sometimes seem creepy, but there are some powerful ways to incorporate retargeting that most direct sales companies are overlooking. For example, did you know you can use an existing email list to create an audience in Facebook and then target those people with boosted posts and ads? Think if you could keep onboarding messages in front of your newest Consultants on Facebook, or product-specific info in front of people you knew already purchased the product. The possibilities are exciting and somewhat limitless. Give it a try.
10. Stop opening countries just because you can.
International expansion is a real key for success in direct sales, but doing it haphazardly and too quickly can hurt you far more than it can help you. I’ve seen many companies take the approach of “If you build it, they will come.” They focus on meeting the bare minimum of regulatory requirements for that market, throw up a website, write a press release, and their “open for business.” More times than not, those companies are having meetings on how they could close that same market a year later. Others want to open markets because other companies are opening them. Again, this can’t be the main reason you open a new market.
International expansion requires an investment in time, money and, most importantly, strategy. Expand wisely.
11. Stop being so last-minute in your convention planning.
Let’s call it like it is: our companies are thinking from one convention the next. New products, new tools, announcements, campaigns, contests … they all follow the ebb and flow of our big conventions. Companies who have great conventions, no matter what size they are, simply put more planning power into them. Too often, companies are still establishing their convention agendas a few weeks before the show. Let’s be better than that, since our conventions are such a driver for our business. At a minimum, I challenge you to have at least high-level discussions six months out, and have a line-itemed rough draft of your agenda 3 months out. Doing so gives you time to support the event with great production, creative and planning in a way that can have a profound impact on your business.
What are your thoughts? My hunch is a couple of these points resonate highly with you. I challenge you this year to pick a couple of these “resolutions” and “resolve” to do something about them.