Guest writer Jennifer Fong is a Managing Principal in the direct sales consulting firm Luce, Murphy, Fong and Associates. A former direct sales company founder, she brings her considerable experience with social media, marketing, and salesforce development to client companies in the direct sales industry in the US and internationally, helping them create sales and marketing strategy that works in today’s rapidly changing technology environment.
Jennifer blogs about ways to use social media effectively in a direct sales business at her website.
Guest Post by Jennifer Fong
Virtual Parties: Taking Advantage of Today’s Technology to Create a New Future for Online Sales
Direct selling as we know it is changing dramatically. Social media communication has expanded the ability of our salesforce to reach beyond geographic borders, opening new markets, and this technology has forced direct selling companies to adapt to a swiftly changing business environment. Add to this the fact the Generation Y (and X, to some extent) has vastly different goals for the business than previous generations, and we find ourselves in a situation that requires more adaptation.
We live in a world that interacts and transacts largely online. Our social lives develop online, we purchase everything from electronics to groceries online, and we get our news online. It seems clear that our future sales as an industry will also happen largely online.
This is the point in the discussion when traditional direct sellers cover their ears and start proclaiming loudly that nothing replaces the party or face to face sales experience. But bear with me for a moment. We have to look at the way the world is evolving, and direct selling along with it.
My partner, Alan Luce, said to me the other day that he believes that in the next 5 years, 80% of sales for direct sales products will occur online. And I must say that I agree with him. Generation Y is less inclined to host and attend parties (in many cases they still live with their parents), they are used to having access to everything they want from their smartphones and tablets, they are more interested in lifestyle than money and traditional incentives, and this is the generation from which our future sales leaders will come from.
Does this mean that we are just going to become an industry of ecommerce websites? Not in the traditional sense, I believe. Instead, I think we are faced with an opportunity to create a technology that embraces what we’ve learned about human behavior on the web, and that enhances the online buying experience with the personal attention that the individual salesperson brings.
One of the mistakes I think we’ve made as an industry when contemplating the online party is trying to recreate the in-person party in a digital format. We invite everyone to show up at the same time, the consultant does a product demonstration in an online meeting (perhaps using video), and then people are invited to go to the consultant’s replicated website to shop. Does this sound like fun to you? Not really.
I believe that this approach neglects a couple of important things we’ve learned about the web in recent years:
- People value the ability to log on when it’s convenient for them, and smartphones allow people to do so. By requiring everyone to show up online at the same time, attendance suffers.
- We rely on email invitations (evites) which often get caught in spam blockers, or Facebook event invitations that have become nothing more than a constant onslaught of irrelevant spam.
- People like to play games with their friends online. Think about where people want to spend their time online: They value social experiences on games like Words with Friends. They like sharing pictures with their friends on Pinterest. Notifications that encourage them to come and play with their friends are becoming a lot more attractive than shopping party invitations.
I believe it’s time to re-imagine the online shopping experience, creating experiences that are fun and engaging, and that ultimately lead to sales. The consultant’s role becomes one that brings people to the experience. She learns how to evaluate her customers’ interactions within the game environment to learn more about their needs and create relationships. Analytics help her with her follow-up. Meanwhile the game environment uses algorithms to determine which products to suggest to the player, leading to individualized product experiences.
The system hasn’t been built yet. But I truly believe that by looking at current Internet user trends, we can re-imagine the online shopping experience in a way that can revitalize the direct sales industry, and keep us relevant to future generations.