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.
Guest Post by Alan Luce
5 New Rules for Direct Selling Success
It used to be that choosing how you wanted to sell your products using a direct selling method was a fairly simple proposition. Direct sellers employed two basic selling approaches: one-on-one and one-to-many (usually referred to as “party plan”).
High-priced hard good products such as vacuum cleaners, cookware and encyclopedias worked best using a one-on-one referral and appointment system. Low ticket non-consumable products like plastic food storage containers, candles and kitchen tools seemed to sell best in a one-to-many (party) format. Consumable beauty products, skin care items and supplements could go either way. Mary Kay Cosmetics used a party format and Avon used a one-on-one approach. It was a pretty simple, straightforward approach, and it worked.
Then along came the vitamin and supplement companies who drove a new method of selling using a variation of subscription selling called “autoship.” While it seems common now, this approach was quite innovative just a few decades ago. Both sellers and customers were able to sign up for monthly shipments of their favorite products that were automatically shipped and charged against the buyer’s credit card.
To decide which method of selling would work best for your products, you looked at the choices outlined above and selected the one that was working best for direct selling companies offering products in the same category as yours. Pretty simple!
Not so today. Price and whether the product is consumable or non-consumable are still important considerations, but the direct selling marketing options and distribution channels have changed dramatically. Today’s omni-channel, social -selling marketing featuring corporate website sales, preferred customer clubs, online selling and sharing tools leveraging prominent third-party platforms like Facebook Live and other forums makes choosing one preferred selling method counter-productive if not just obsolete.
As I’ve watched this transition occur, maturing from speculation to reality, I’ve been prompted to rethink the “rules” for successful direct selling today. Here are five that stand out the most to me:
1. Be flexible when it comes to selling approaches.
Today’s direct seller wants choices so do not be dogmatic about your sales approach. Some will want to sell one-on-one. Some will want to set up parties. Still others will only want to sell using Facebook Live. Yet another group will vacillate between all of these sales approaches depending on the customer and the time they want to invest in the direct selling business at that moment. Make sure that your back office systems, marketing aids and training programs allow for this flexibility.
2. Today’s direct selling customers also want choices.
Make sure that your website company story and your product stories do not give the impression that your company only offers limited ways and times to buy the product. One of the secrets to online selling success is the ease and convenience of the customer being able to shop at any time. Be sure to let potential customers know that they can shop at any time with your sales force and your company, too. In addition to focusing customers on the benefits of your products, be sure to also prominently draw their attention to:
- Your preferred customer club, which offers direct access to buying from their sales rep at any time day or night and offers discounts and other benefits.
- Your sales reps’ replicated websites, which offer 24/7 access to products and sales.
- Your specials or discounts available when they enter a salesperson’s ID on the public website.
- Your confidence in the customer’s independent rep to serve as their personal shopper for this line of products.
3. Create sales aids that work in all sales channels.
Traditional printed sales materials and catalogs still work effectively in one-on-one and one-to-many sales events, but they are not helpful to the buyer at your corporate website, or on one of your seller’s replicated sites, or for use in any kind of online sales situation.
For those selling situations that cannot be done in person, video catalogs with easy to use search features and short product demos work best, along with training your sales forces on how to produce a live video sales presentation using their smart phone cameras. The rule for the production of sales aids should be: “Can what I am producing be used across multiple sales channels?”
4. Adjust your recognition to promote excellence in various types of sales channels.
As direct selling evolves into more of a multichannel combination of in person and online selling, companies may need to refocus some of their traditional recognition and incentive programs.
For example, if a company wants to increase the number of active preferred customer club memberships, that company may want to consider creating a contest or recognition category that honors the sellers with the higher number of active preferred customers or the seller who has enrolled the most preferred customers in a given period of time.
5. Remember, your volunteer sales force can be “encouraged,” but it cannot be “driven,” to use certain methods or sales tools.
New companies always have a bit of an advantage when it comes to using new methods, technologies and tools. True, they have no sales force initially, but they also have no sales history and sales force habits to overcome.
In some ways it is harder for established companies to change than for new companies to start. Generally speaking, in my experience, successful sales force change comes from the bottom up rather than the top of the sales force. To facilitate the adoption of new ideas and methods, it is always helpful if you can garner the support of top leaders, but more often than not, the most successful early adopters come from relatively new leaders and new sales force members.
Knowing that this is true, it is often wise not to force new methods too quickly. Create the tools, explain the rationale that supports the new idea and then work to find early adopters who have success and promote the success they are having.
Starting a direct selling company today, and all the planning and thinking that goes into it upfront, is not nearly as simple or easy as it used to be. There’s no “formula” that fits certain companies, and that’s a good thing, I think. Every company now how so many ways to stand out and not only offer unique products, but also offer them in a unique way.