Guest author Alan Luce is Co-Founder and Managing Principal of Strategic Choice Partners (SCP), a consulting firm that provides strategic support and services to help today’s direct selling companies thrive.
Alan is a US DSA Hall of Famer, and member of the DSEF’s Circle of Honor. He’s served in executive roles at Tupperware, PartyLite, DK Family Learning and other companies, and has been a part of launching more than 30 direct selling companies over his career.
Lessons from the Lockdown
The two most commonly asked questions I get from clients these days are first, “How do we cope with the shelter in place situation?” and second, “How is this social isolation experience going to change direct selling going forward?”
The “lockdown – shelter in place – social distancing” experience, regardless of what you call it, has radically altered nearly every aspect of our work, family, neighborhood, social, community and civic life and brought the economy to its knees in 6 weeks or less. This is completely unknown territory to every living soul on earth. Everyone is searching for answers and speculating as to when things many return to normal, whatever that means, and what “normal” might look like when we get to whatever that is?
But, for direct sellers, there are certain things we should agree on and there are “path-finders” out there who are successfully navigating the road to the future of a healthy direct selling business. As direct sellers I believe that we should agree on the following:
1. The coronavirus pandemic is not the cause of the changes impacting direct selling.
The pandemic has simply but dramatically accelerated the changes that were happening anyway. Changes that were already underway due to the impact of the Gig economy competition for sales people, the best of e-commerce company practices concerning delivery and 7/24/365 access and one-contact solutions for customer service issues along with evolving regulatory guidelines.
2. The company and sales force reputations on social media are now ever present and highly influential participants in our sales force recruiting and retention processes.
What our sales force, former sales force members, customers and former customers are saying about the company, its products and/or services and the income/business opportunity afforded by selling for the company is much more influential than what the company is saying. Companies need to pay much more attention as to how their business, products and opportunities are being reviewed on social media. Use this time to attend to and polish, if necessary, your online reputations. There are experts at social media reputation repair and management who can help with this effort. Cleaning things up now and keeping your reputation positive will pay big dividends as we come out of this pandemic.
3. Direct selling companies must find ways to be more accessible to customers and the sales force members who may have complaints or problems.
The best e-commerce companies have created new levels of expectations among customers: They now expect every company to be accessible on a 7/24/365 basis and, what’s more, they expect that their problem of complaint will be resolved quickly and at the very first contact whether it be by phone or online. This new expectation of all-hours accessibility carries over to our sales force. They too, have come to expect quick all-hours access to their company for help with their problems or their customers’ problems. Direct sellers have a long way to go to match world class practices in these areas, but we have no choice but to find ways to do so.
4. Direct selling companies must focus on retail selling to end-user customers.
The rapid growth of e-commerce and the customer expectations that it has created requires that every form of selling focus more than ever on the customer experience. Is the buying process as easy and convenient as possible? Is delivery on time with a nearly perfect record of getting exactly what the customer ordered to that customer on time and in perfect condition? Is the after-purchase customer care easily accessed with one stop problem solutions? Does the company/sales person keep in touch with the customers in a regular basis? Does the company offer a preferred customer program which mixes the best of high touch direct selling with the best of e-commerce marketing techniques?
Added to the trends and movements these questions engender is the fact that federal regulators increasingly want to look at whether the companies derive a majority of their revenue from retail sales to end user retail customers as an indication of legitimacy. Focusing on providing an outstanding retail customer experience is the future of direct selling and something with which we should all agree.
If these are the things we can agree upon, where do we find the “path-finders” who will show the company the best ways to present and sell your products and/or services to retail customers and promote the business to folks looking for a low investment part-time income gig.
The path-finders more often exist within the current sales force rather than in the corporate headquarters.
It has always been thus: The sales force path-finders innovate in times of change. Generally speaking, creative members of our sales forces are way ahead of their company partners in adopting new technologies, finding better language to enhance their sales presentations, exploring social media platforms for ways to better communicate with their customers and sales team members. This was true of online order processing, adopting to email and the internet, using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, What’s App and Tick Tock to support their businesses.
What smart companies are good at, and all companies should adopt, is the practice of paying attention to what the best of their sales force innovator path-finders are doing. Who is really selling a lot in this time of change? What are they doing that most of their colleagues are not doing and that their company does not train or support? Why is Mary’s team growing and flourishing with good productivity when most of the sales force is struggling? Even in the worst down times every company has sales path-finders who are doing well. Go to school on your path-finders. Learn what they are doing and find ways to develop company training to make what the path-finders are doing duplicatable. Develop the communication, technology, incentive and other types of support programs to help all members of the salesforce adopt these new ways of doing things. Be sure to update your new seller onboarding incentive programs to incorporate the new techniques and methods.
It makes sense when you think about it that our sales forces will find the best new practices to be successful sellers and sponsors in this time of change. They are on the front lines trying to respond to what the market forces and their customers are demanding. It has always been so just as it has also been so that the best and most successful companies understand that their wisest course through change is to follow the lead of their most successful sellers and find ways to support them.
For direct sellers paying attention to and following the lead of their sales force, path-finders is the most important and useful lesson learned from the lockdown.
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