Brett Duncan is a “transitionist” who specializes in helping direct selling companies define their best next steps as they transition into the new era of direct selling. He is co-founder and managing partner of Strategic Choice Partners, a consulting firm that offers strategic support and services to direct selling companies.
The Makings of a Modern Marketing Team for a Direct Sales Company
It’s one of the most inconsistently defined words in the English language. But “marketing” for a direct sales company takes that inconsistency and dumps it on its head even more.
What should marketing look like for direct selling today? Is it a sales support role? Is it the driving force? Is it online? Is it just pretty pictures and catchy words? Is it packaging and products?
It’s an interesting question, and it’s an area of direct sales that has seen seismic shifts in recent years. It’s also forced many companies to completely rethink how they set up their marketing teams. It’s also continued to frustrate many other companies who stick to the organizational structures they always known to try to navigate these new waters.
It would be impossible for me to capture everything a marketing team needs for a direct sales company in a single article. Mostly, because the marketing needs of every company are different. I don’t believe that every direct sales company needs the exact same structure because every company defines the responsibilities and role of marketing differently.
What I will attempt to do in this article is offer the foundational pieces of a modern marketing team for today’s direct sales company. I will no doubt miss something that you think is essential. But as I’ve personally worked with well over 30 companies over the last five years, I’ve seen very common trends and gaps within the marketing departments. Companies often reach out to us at SCP asking for guidance in this area. Others reach out asking our Marketing Services team to step in and help with the load. Regardless of the circumstance, I’ve clearly seen very similar needs and oversights among all companies.
So, based on that, let’s take a look at what the modern marketing team should look like at a direct sales company:
In a world where the first step toward success has much to do with “stopping the scroll” as anything else, your design team is a critical component of your company’s success. It’s critical to have designers who not only crank out great work, but can also do it for multiple platforms. Gone are the days where one designer can specialize in print, another in web graphics and even another in packaging. Today’s direct sales company needs designers who can hold their own in every area of design. From flyers to specific sizing for social media networks to web banners, and everything in between, your design team needs to be fluent in them all.
Even more importantly is the volume of design needs that today’s company must crank out. I can remember not so long ago when a flyer and a couple banners could get you through several weeks. Today, the constant need for content across so many channels make fresh graphics output an almost daily need.
Today’s graphic designer must be great, fast and versatile.
Front-End Web Development/User Experience:
A close cousin of your design team is your front-end web developer. I’m not talking about your IT team and the back-end work that they do. Today, with so many companies leveraging platforms like WordPress and Shopify to handle their “front-facing” sites, it’s imperative to have someone on site who knows how to make those platforms work. We’re talking about experience in plugin selection and installation, minor coding needs, browser testing, responsive design experience and much more.
This person often has come out of the design side, not IT (although not always the case). They are a web designer who has had to figure out how to make these things work on their own, and over time have taken a liking to it. They are developers, and they can work in code (to a certain extent), but they have much more of a design and user experience focus, making them much more of a marketing resource instead of an IT resource. Many times this person can also help with web design work.
Many companies I work with, especially smaller ones, have not found this person, or they are at the mercy of “some guy” who helps them on the side. The work of this person impacts almost every area of your marketing efforts. It’s critical to find the right resource and one who can respond quickly.
Content Development and Copywriting:
Copywriting has been a pillar of any marketing team for decades, and that will continue. However, the new twist on “writing” today is that it expands much broader into what I would loosely term “content development.” Your writers cannot just focus on the message; they now must also account for the medium where that message will appear. Subject lines in an email have a dramatic impact on the consumption of that email. Headers and sub-heads (H1, H2, H3, etc.) are critically important on a landing page.
In addition, we all work in a heavily regulated environment, and your content development team must also internalize those boundaries to streamline the review process and obviously reduce risk. This is a steep learning curve for any team. Be it product claims or income claims, it’s quite the learned skill.
Your content development team will also influence, at a minimum, your social media strategy, and may even oversee it in some instances.
Simply put, because the internet runs on content, you now must find content creators who understand what and how the internet wants to receive that content. The beautiful thing about the web is that it gives us instant feedback on what we’re producing (in the form of analytics and open feedback). Your content team has an opportunity to learn with every single item they push out. Are they taking advantage of this?
Video Production and Video Marketing:
Video is certainly a part of content development, but the skills and thinking it requires is at a whole other level. The good news is that video has become so accessible and commoditized for any company, no matter your size. The bad news is that finding high quality video production and know-how on how to leverage those videos gets lost in the clutter a bit too easily.
The biggest change over the last five years in video production is that the volume of videos need has increased dramatically. If the Internet runs on content, then video is its super-fuel. Think about it: as you scroll through Facebook and Instagram, how many videos do you see? It’s a lot.
Yes, we can all capture and create videos from our phones, and there is definitely a place for that in your video strategy. But we must make sure we are also cranking out well-produced, professionally created video work, as well. These videos are often your sales force’s most used sales tool, so we can’t get too lazy on the video front.
Let me first make this point: If you have only one person producing videos, then you’re not producing enough video. Video production and editing takes time, and to meet the needs of today’s marketplace, one single video editor won’t cut it. So start looking for ways to complement your current team to economically crank out more.
On top of it all, you also have to account for video marketing. Put another way, once you’ve made that great video, what do you do to get people to watch. Yes, your Distributors can certainly help with this, but it takes a lot more than that in today’s world.
I won’t go into all the details here, but video marketing needs to account for things like incorporating video into your organic social strategy, your paid social strategy, YouTube optimization, search engine optimization, email marketing, sales funnels and much more. My experience is that the person who produces the video is rarely the person who knows best how to market the video. So how does this work at your company?
Social Media Management:
These days, “social media” has become synonymous with “marketing,” for better or for worse. And yet there are so many aspects to social media that the direct sales company must account for. Depending on the size of your company, it can seem very difficult to find the right people to manage it all.
Step one is finding that person who oversees what is actually posted on your social media channels. They are creating the content calendar and driving whatever necessary work needs to be done to make it happen. You can find all kinds of opinions and case studies on how often you should be posting as a company. For me, if you’re not posting at least once a day on at least Facebook and Instagram, you’re falling short as a direct sales company.
Then there’s community management. Who is engaging with the audience that’s engaging with you? Who is replying to comments? Who is answering questions? Who is escalating customer service issues? Who is monitoring what’s going on? It’s great if the person producing the social media content is also this same person, but as you can see, it’s an entirely different skill set. It’s hard to find someone who handles both of these areas well. Especially for a direct sales company, the person (or people) responsible for community management need to be very well informed about what’s going on with the company (or they at least need to be really good at getting answers quickly). This is because they’ll see questions about products, incentives, contests, the comp plan… and so much more. So they at least need to have some decent familiarity with how everything works in the company, so they at least have the proper context for whatever questions they may receive. On top of it all, they need to do all of this with a tone and approach that represents the company, because so much of what they’ll do will be public.
And even still… we aren’t include paid social strategies here, which I include later in the article.
Oh, and who is training and equipping your field with social media training and resources? Because that’s a very different skill set, too.
Suffice it to say, most companies are transitioning to social media teams, vs. just a social media person.
My opinion is that successful marketing at a direct sales company hinges on communication planning. I also believe that consistently creating impactful communications plans for a direct sales company is one of the hardest things you can do. This is because we must account for so many audiences and messages at once. Is this an email for customers, or Distributors? U.S. or Canada? English or Spanish? And how many emails have they already received this week?
And that’s just email ;-).
Some companies can afford to have a dedicated Communications Director, where their primary purpose is to handle this planning. This is obviously great, and yet I have met many a Communication Director who struggles with figuring out how to properly plan and account for everything happening at the company.
In smaller companies, the communication planning function falls on someone with a different title. It may be a Marketing Manager, or even Marketing VP. It may even be your main writer, or possibly someone on the field development side of the aisle. Regardless this function is absolutely critical to your entire team’s success. Time and time again, I have found that, once a company can get a grip on its communication planning, it starts to see progress in all of its marketing efforts.
Digital Marketing Specialists:
“Digital marketing” covers a lot of ground, so it’s almost unfair to lump this into one category. But for the sake of brevity, I’m going to do just that here.
There are many rabbits you can chase when it comes to digital marketing. On top of that, many of these digital tactics appear to be within reach of anyone on your team, who may have other responsibilities within your department other than digital marketing. These two facts is what can make digital marketing dangerous. If you don’t have a) someone leading the way in terms of what your company will and will not focus on, from a strategic standpoint, and b) true expertise in each specific channel, you can end up wasting a lot of time and money suffering through your learning curve.
So, what’s a direct selling company to do? Here’s a baseline recommendation, that by no means includes everything you could be doing on the digital front, but rather covers the areas that I believe is both within reach of and would have a significant impact on every direct sales company, regardless of size or shape:
Hire a Digital Marketing Leader.
You need someone to provide the digital roadmap that makes sense for your company. I’m not necessarily talking about IT strategy (though it’s closely related), but rather a marketing strategist that knows the digital space well and knows what is realistic for your specific company to pull off, given whatever circumstances and constraints you find yourself in. That last part is really important. I’ve seen many company that hire a digital marketing expert who comes in recommending that the company does “everything” right away, only to find out the infrastructure, platforms, backend software, budgets… whatever can’t pull it off (at least in the recommended timeframe). So all the work that gets done often creates confusion and even more problems that it can solve.
If you can hire a full-time person for this position, I definitely recommend doing that. They can then either hire more team members who specialize in certain areas, if there’s budget for it, or contract work out. If you can’t hire this person full-time, I would consider finding a digital marketing consultant who can become rather involved in your business and play this role.
Optimize and Leverage Your Analytics.
There are all kinds of analytics packages, but most companies use Google Analytics, so I’m going to speak in those terms. Here’s a fact: Most companies do not have their Google Analytics set up correctly. When they do, they typically aren’t leveraging all that Google Analytics can provide. And from that group, rarely does that data make its way to the executives and help inform decisions. We have so many capabilities to track and analyze the work we’re doing, but most of us are completely missing the boat here. Have someone take a look under the hood and get your web presence humming on all cylinders. This begins with optimizing your analytics.
Incorporate a Paid Social Strategy.
Social media is now largely a pay-to-play. You probably already know that. The real question is: How are you using this capability? Most direct sales companies go straight to acquisition: how can we crank out some Facebook ads to get new customers or distributors? While this is possible, I don’t think it’s where I would start with paid social campaigns.
If you’re not incorporating retargeting, custom audiences and a true funnel strategy (top of funnel, middle of funnel, bottom of funnel) into your paid campaigns, you are, again, wasting a lot of money and time, and missing out on what could be some very promising results over time.
You need a resource that knows this space for at least Facebook and Instagram and can commit a decent amount of time to it each week to optimize your results. And … you need to make sure all the necessary tracking components (pixels, etc.) are in place so you can actually tie sales and ad spend (see Analytics above).
Pay More Attention to Your Email Strategy.
One thing all direct sales companies seem to have in common is how much we continue to rely on email. We send out a ton of emails. Half the time, that’s because we don’t adequately plan our communications (see above). But I digress… I’m a big fan of email, so don’t take my criticism as a reason to forget it altogether. However, as long as we’re going to rely so much on it as a marketing and communication channel, let’s invest some time and even money in making it work better.
Do you know your company’s open rate on all emails? For Distributors? Customers? How about clicks? How often are you testing components of your emails, like subject lines, graphics and offers? Do you segment your email campaigns? Every email campaign is an opportunity to learn something and to improve. Are you doing this? And who is leading it?
Automate as Much as You Can.
Marketing automation is here, and it’s a beautiful thing. I think it’s especially important for direct sales companies. As so many distributors introduce new people to your brand via website visits, social media, and so much more, how are you taking the ball and running with it from there Marketing automation can cover so much, so rather than get into those weeds, let me simplify it to this: what is your automation roadmap for 2021? If you don’t know, you’re not doing this at the level you should.
Now, as I mentioned, digital marketing can include so much more. Ecommerce analysis, user experience improvements, apps and third-party tools, Google Adwords… there’s a lot I could make a really strong case for. But at a minimum, make sure you are addressing the areas of digital marketing I’ve mentioned above.
Product Marketing & Management:
With so many different platforms and channels to use for our marketing, it’s easy to lose sight of the most important component of your marketing, and that’s the product you offer. Nothing accelerates a marketing strategy like a great product that meets the needs and desires of a clear and targeted audience. And yet, so many companies tend to look to R&D to just crank out something to go sell, or the founder’s whims drive whatever we’re launching at conference next. Who is laser-focused on your team on the success of any given product that is made available? Who is thinking about that product day and night? Who is dreaming of campaigns?
Don’t let all the fancy bells and whistles of marketing overshadow the most important part of it: your product. Invest in expertise in this area.
SEO and Online Reputation Management:
You may be thinking that SEO and online reputation management isn’t a “must-have” component of today’s marketing world. I couldn’t disagree more. Let’s consider online reputation alone: you can hit the ball out of the park in every other part of your marketing, but if the Google results associated with your company are negative, you’ll find it very difficult for a prospect to get past it. This is tough on any business, but especially a direct sales business. Think about it: Your Distributor is working their tail off, sharing the message of your company with a prospect, only to watch it crash and burn when they inevitably Google your company name. Not only do you lose the prospect, but you will eventually lose the Distributor, too. Why would they work so hard time and time again only to see the same results over and over?
Many factors influence your online reputation, but only the corporate office can really do anything about it. The best time to handle issues like this are before the negative results even appear. It must be a constant focus of any direct selling company.
Whew… there’s a lot to marketing in the direct selling world these days, and that only covered what I see as the “must-have” areas. I know it can be overwhelming. That’s why it makes sense so often to reach out to third-party teams (like the SCP Marketing Services team that I lead) to jump in and fill whatever gaps you may see in your current marketing strategy.
I’d love to hear where you feel like you struggle the most, or maybe areas you think I overlooked. Please drop a comment below.
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