Written by Daryl Wurzbacher, CEO of ByDesign Technologies. Daryl began his career in the direct selling industry in 1999 as the Director of Information Technology for a direct sales start-up. That company was the first client of ByDesign Technologies, and Daryl was a critical liaison between ByDesign, the field leaders, and his corporate team.
In 2007, Daryl transitioned to the supplier side as the Director of Technology for ByDesign. His strategic contributions led to his appointment as President in 2015 and CEO in 2018.
Addressing the Challenges of Person-to-Person Selling in a Digital Age
Today, technology is transforming representative and customer experiences and expectations. The ongoing balancing act of optimizing the power of digital solutions without sacrificing the personalized experiences that make our industry unique is one of the challenges we’re hearing about most from clients right now. As I shared in my last article, the ability to establish and maintain trust with representatives and customers is the biggest driver of direct-selling success, by far.
How do you find the right balance between technology and relationship-based selling? As we consult with clients, we’re seeing them take on two nearly universal challenges – how to increase their focus on customer centricity and how to leverage technology tools to effectively differentiate their relationship-based brands. I’ve compiled our observations of these challenges, along with real-life solutions to help your sales strategies succeed – and thrive – in our digital age.
Challenge 1: Leveraging data to increase customer centricity
As we all know, digital technology is transforming when, how, and where people shop – and the experiences they expect. As companies look to keep pace with customer expectations, it’s no surprise that increased customer centricity leads the list of priorities for many of our clients. Overall, research shows that companies with customer-centric strategies achieve an estimated 60 percent more in profits.
However, no company is looking for Ecommerce and digital communications to overtake the vital interpersonal connections between reps and their customers. Instead, we are seeing companies leverage smart technology solutions to bring data together and analyze it to create a new type of customer-centric shopping experience that meets and exceeds today’s customer expectations.
Customer data is the key. The challenge lies in capturing the right data and putting it together to produce actionable insights. While technology reduces the barriers to capturing thousands of data points, having comprehensive – often overwhelming – amounts of data doesn’t guarantee usable information. Turning data into insights that drive increased customer centricity takes a four-step approach:
1. Identify the questions you want to answer about your customers. For example, you may want to better understand one-time purchasers vs. repeat customers in order to help reps convert more of the one-timers into regular buyers. The questions your customer data can help you answer include: How many one-time customers do we have? How can they be segmented based on what they purchased, the timing, or purchase drivers, such as promotions or events? What is the average timing between first and second purchases by a customer? How can repeat customers be segmented based on profile attributes, purchase patterns, or responses to rep outreach and promotions?
2. Determine the data points that will help you answer the questions. The more complex the question, the more data points you’ll likely need to bring together. Continuing the example from step 1, you’ll want to ensure you’re capturing detailed customer information tied to each transaction that tells you the who, what, and when, and links it back to past purchase history, when applicable. While this may seem daunting, you’re likely to find your systems are already capturing most of the data points you need.
3. Create regular reports to give you a view of key performance indicators (KPIs). Actionable insights come from monitoring your data over time. In our example of building a better understanding of repeat purchase patterns, you’ll want to track dashboard-level metrics that show your one-time and repeat purchase rates – and how they change. You’ll also want the ability to dig into the data details behind the KPIs to help you craft and test strategies to move the needle.
4. Put your data to work. It’s more possible than ever to make the data you’re collecting actionable. We’re seeing clients integrating marketing automation tools like Klaviyo with their platforms to create highly targeted representative or customer communications based on data points like purchase history or representative ranks.
Challenge 2: Making person-to-person selling a digital differentiator
Today’s customers expect omnichannel shopping experiences that allow them to move seamlessly from online to social media to person-to-person shopping. As Generation Z (born 1997 – 2012) comes of age, this expectation will increase, but with an added emphasis on the person-to-person element.
Research shows while Gen Z-ers are true digital natives, they also place a high value on human connection and personalized recommendations when making purchase decisions. Half of Gen Z says they will abandon a purchase if customer reviews aren’t available. Sixty-six percent want personalized recommendations to be part of their shopping experience – but only 39 percent say retailers are delivering. This gap underscores the opportunity for our industry.
Technology, including social media, online selling events, and mobile selling apps, gives us new ways to connect with customers – and still provide a personal, relationship-based touch. Providing reps with tools, templates, and social selling training enables them to build a customer community based on relationships, even in a digital world. Used effectively, these tools extend a rep’s reach far beyond the traditional constraints of personal networks and geography.
Along with strengthening personal connection through technology, many companies are finding face-to-face sales of on-hand inventory to be a differentiator in an increasingly digital world. Whether one-to-one or at events, selling from personal inventory enables reps to capitalize on interactions with customers and feed the customers’ desire for instant gratification by putting a product in their hands.
However, selling on-hand inventory can also create compliance headaches. In many cases, capturing “retail receipts” to verify retail sales for voluntary regulatory compliance tracking can be virtually impossible, especially when field sales representatives tackle point-of-sale solutions on their own. Over the years, we’ve seen clients take on this challenge in a number of ways, from requiring reps to submit manual receipts to building custom software to facilitate this type of tracking. Today, we’re seeing more companies engage app providers to implement automated tracking solutions that integrate with their back-office software while providing mobile point-of-sale ease for representatives.
In our current environment, we recommend optimizing person-to-person selling based on a three-step foundation:
1. Audit your current processes and identify best practices for virtual relationship-building. Technology and social platforms are evolving rapidly, so having a strategy to keep pace is vital. Identify representatives who are having social selling success and develop training, tips, and mentoring opportunities to share insights and help other reps build their skills.
2. Get ready for Generation Z. The oldest members of Gen Z are turning 25 in 2022. Not only does their desire for shopping experiences that integrate technology and a personal touch align with direct selling, 62 percent have entrepreneurial aspirations. Now is the ideal time to also adapt your recruiting strategies to highlight how becoming a representative is a cost-effective, quick way For Gen Z-ers to build a business, either full-time or as a side gig.
3. Ensure your retail receipts compliance is aligned with person-to-person sales strategies. If your reps are selling on-hand inventory, evaluate your retail receipts tracking processes to identify – and close – compliance gaps.
Ever-evolving technological innovations make it possible to enhance representative and customer experiences without losing the human connection of person-to-person selling. In the years ahead, striking the right balance between tech and relationships will be difference-makers in our industry.
What other challenges are you seeing when blending technology and person-to-person connections? Please share your insights in the comments below.
SHARE THIS ARTICLE: