This article is from Brett Duncan, Co-Founder and Managing Principal of Strategic Choice Partners. Brett has worked in direct selling since 2002, holding titles that include Vice President of Global Marketing and Sr. Director of Online Solutions. He works directly with direct selling companies as a strategic facilitator and corporate consultant, specializing in leading marketing, communications and digital teams and projects.
Guest Post by Brett Duncan
Are You Doing the Math for Your Distributors? (Because They Probably Aren’t Doing It For Themselves)
Today’s direct seller has more access to data and numbers than any generation of direct seller ever had before. Backoffices are packed with beautiful reports, dashboards and dotted with wonderful widgets and notifications and promotions and programs are launched every day to accelerate sales and income.
And yet, my experience tells me that Distributors don’t always appreciate all this stuff like I think they should.
Some of obvious perks of a new promotion often get overlooked. The no-brainer benefits of a new report sparks only blank stares. The idea of using a new contest to motivate your team even more than yourself is completely lost.
When you work at the Home Office, it’s normal to spend a lot of your time with the top Distributors in the company. This handful of Leaders understand the business in ways that others simply don’t. And, due to their experience, they often have no trouble getting the “math” of the business (and normally can show me a thing or two).
But if we base our opinion of the entire sales force on these top Leaders, we are making a grave mistake. There is a wide gap between the typical Distributor interested in making a few hundred bucks a month, working another full-time job and the 15-year veteran earning well into six figures a year, working the business full-time.
Simply put, I’ve been surprised by how many Distributors don’t get the “math” behind their business. It’s led me to identify three misconceptions when it comes to numbers, data and Distributors that I think we all have to remember at the Home Office.
Misconception #1: The Typical Distributor Doesn’t Connect the Dots You Think They Do
I’m always guilty of launching a promotion or new bonus and just assuming the field is going to immediately see why it’s so great.
If you’ve been working in direct selling for any period of time, you know this doesn’t happen. Sure, your top leaders who have made six figures for decades can do it (sometimes), but the normal, excited, hard-working Distributor never seems to connect the dots on the power behind new programs and, more importantly, how to leverage these new programs to help them build their business.
For example, I so often preach that the real power of an incentive trip isn’t so much about YOU going on it but rather using it to get five of your TEAM MEMBERS to go on it. After all, if I can leverage a trip to inspire five Distributors on my team to produce more than they would have otherwise, I can probably buy that trip for myself several times over. Sure, I can do what it takes to go, too, but the real success comes in the motivation of my team to do a little extra.
I’m always shocked how leaders at most companies struggle to think in terms of how to let an incentive be a tool for them to use with their team. It’s certainly not because they don’t want their team to succeed; they naturally just think in terms of “what do I need to do to earn that trip!”
Let’s use another extremely common example: product promotions. If you were to launch a buy-one, get-one special on a great product, it would be tempting to assume that your Distributors would instantly understand that a product special of any kind gives me a great reason to reach out to my entire team, every customer and even lots of prospects. Whether they are interested in the products in this special or not, the fact that there is a special gives me a natural opportunity to spark a conversation. And conversations are the lifeblood of successful social selling!
But, of course, many times Distributors don’t think this way right away. They first think about how great a deal it is for them personally, and then they think about the Customers that probably already buy these products, so they can reach out to them.
It may sound like I’m griping about Distributors and their lack of understanding on some things, but I’m not; it’s quite the opposite. As the saying goes, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me! I know I’ve been fooled way more than twice by a Distributor’s reaction to a program or promotion, so the issue is with me.
Accept the fact that Distributors typically don’t connect the dots like you think they will. Part of your job at the Home Office is to help them do it. Launching a new program, promotion or product must be just as much about training the Distributors about not only the features and benefits, but also about the many different ways they can leverage it to support their overall business.
Walk them through scenarios. Give context for how to approach Distributors, Hostesses, Customers and Prospects with the new information. Spell out how it benefits them directly, and indirectly. Give them verbiage to use and graphics to share.
The typical Distributor is working another full-time job, spending plenty of time at a son’s ballgame or a daughter’s dance class and has never owned a business before. They just love your product and want to make a little extra money sharing it. Most of them won’t connect the dots on their own; you have to do it for them.
Misconception #2: They Don’t Appreciate Data Like You Think They Should
Today’s social selling company provides a wealth of data and insights to their Distributors. The reporting functionality that comes with so many of the back office providers is really impressive. The custom reports that in-house IT departments generate are top-notch. I’ve worked with lots of companies who put a lot of thought into all the different kinds of reports and data to provide for their Distributors.
And still, time after time, I witness an utter lack of appreciation for all this access to data by the field.
For the most part, I notice that Distributors aren’t quite as interested in the in-depth, detailed reports, because most of them are simply selling a little bit of product and may have a team member or two. There’s not a lot for them to track, and they don’t necessarily want a lot to track, so they typically don’t study all the data that’s available to them because they’re only interested in a couple points to begin with.
Of course, there are some Distributors who do have larger teams and are interested in tracking a little bit more. But I’ve found that even this group can be easily overwhelmed with reports and charts, to the point to where they just stick with the couple of reports they know and then move on.
I personally love reports, and data, and KPIs, and indicators, and visibility into teams at a deep level, and all that stuff. So I’ve often had to watch myself when putting together a dashboard layout for a Distributor, or when providing lots of points of data in a single report, or when suggesting that someone just export to Excel and sort and filter from there. I’m experienced enough in this area that it doesn’t scare me or confuse me. Most people who have worked in an office environment for any significant period of time would be the same.
But I’m definitely NOT the norm when it comes to Distributors. First off, the phrase “just export to Excel” is a quick way to get them to ignore anything else you have to say. Also, they typically can’t consume all those numbers at once, on one screen. They like bite-sized chunks. Sure, you could probably make one huge master report that toggles off and on all kinds of great data, but your typical Distributor may prefer four separate reports breaking that info down.
One company I’ve worked with has an amazing collection of reports that any direct selling company would envy. Tons of really good, and very customizable, components for the reports. While I’ve been really impressed with all the data, I didn’t hear a lot about it from others. Recently, they launched a widget that simply showed four points of data on the dashboard. Mind you, it’s information that’s all available in a different report, and has been for a while. But the field is falling in love with this widget. They love how it cuts to the chase and shows them what they need to know right now.
Data is important, no doubt. But prioritize the data you share to the field. Capsulate the information. If you’re not sure most Distributors will understand and use a report, maybe don’t release it, and then see if they come asking for it. Instead of showing 12 numbers on the dashboard, try showing 4. And definitely take time training the field on how to use these reports. A collection of short videos could do wonders.
Misconception #3: When They Do Appreciate Data, They Use It to Monitor, Not to Take Action
As you’ve probably experienced, there are plenty of Distributors who actually do appreciate the data. They can connect the dots. Normally, these Distributors have been a part of your company for several years, and they have much larger teams to track. Essentially, they are your Leaders.
Of course, the needs of your Leaders in terms of reports is vastly different than the typical Distributor. You’ll often get requests from Leaders for reports, and you should definitely accommodate where it makes sense. Just make sure you don’t clutter up the reporting landscape for all Distributors by creating reports that only the top 10% of your company will use. Find ways to limit access on these reports.
These Distributors definitely appreciate the data. That’s a good thing. However, I’ve noticed many of them appreciate the data so they can simply keep an eye on what’s going on. Now, monitoring your team is very important. But the real key to data for a direct selling company is to use it to take action.
There are two ways to looking at making data actionable: one is technically, and two is culturally.
Technically, there have been huge strides made over the past five years in making data actionable. From Big Data to predictive analytics to simple reporting displaying, it’s important to present data to your Distributors in a way that prompts them to do something with it (and not just stare at it). Many companies have incorporate some form of “Do This Next” display of the most important actionable data, and it’s something every company should follow and continually update as needed.
More importantly, there is a cultural component to making data actionable. From a communication and training standpoint, you must constantly show Distributors how to process the data they have access to. While we certainly want a leader to be aware of what her team is doing this month, what we really want is for that leader to identify a few key people in their downline that are showing signs that deserve their attention, and then get to work. This cannot be trained only once; Distributors don’t understand it after just a single example. It must be revisited over and over again (typically at month-end), and engrained into the culture of the company.
CONCLUSION: Training is the Key
The real point here is that training your field on how to take advantage of the reports and data they have is of utmost importance. Most social selling companies have training on these topics; however, most social selling companies don’t have enough training on it, and they don’t have enough basic training on it.
Where can a little extra attention on training around the math of your company make a huge difference?