This week’s guest author is Brett Duncan, Co-Founder and Managing Principal of Strategic Choice Partners. Brett has worked in direct selling since 2002, holding titles that include Vice President of Global Marketing and Sr. Director of Online Solutions. He works directly with direct selling companies as a strategic facilitator and corporate consultant, specializing in leading marketing, communications and digital teams and projects.
Guest Post by Brett Duncan
9 Resolutions for Direct Selling Companies in 2019
How has 2018 been for you? As we wrap up the year, it’s only natural to reflect on what we’ve accomplished, where we’ve fallen short of expectations, and what happened that we never saw coming. Every year is filled with its share of blessings and surprises.
At the same time, in many ways one year can look just like another if we aren’t careful. Which gets me thinking about resolutions. How often have you had the same resolution you had the year before? How much progress have you made on the resolutions you set at the beginning of 2018? Do you even remember them? Are they even relevant any longer?
At the beginning of 2017, I shared my resolutions for the direct selling channel in this very website. You can read the entire article here. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), I think I could probably repeat those resolutions for this year and no one would know the difference!
OK, wait a minute… That’s unfair! I actually do think we’ve made progress in a few areas that I listed for 2017. For example, I definitely think we’ve seen a huge shift in companies’ use of segmentation and customer programs (Resolution #1). I’m also seeing Starter Kits start to lose a little weight, even though I think there’s still plenty of work to do there (Resolution #3). And we’ve definitely seen more companies leverage Big Data and artificial intelligence in their strategies (Resolution #5). So that’s actually pretty good movement.
This year, I want to take a slightly different approach to my resolutions for direct selling, only because I’ve personally had a shift in what I think a “resolution” actually is. You see, I’ve been confusing resolutions for goals. I’ve used the words interchangeably. And that’s really not what a resolution is intended for.
Goals are vitally important, and we all need them. But they have to do with what we want to accomplish. They are an end, and not a means. “I want to lose 20 pounds; I want to generate $10 million in revenue; I want to get promoted to Vice President.” These are all great goals.
But they’re not resolutions.
A resolution has more to do with your actions, your methods, your habits. A resolution has less to do with what you will accomplish, or the results, and more to do with the activity you will commit to, regardless of the results.
In addition, resolutions sometimes have just as much to do with challenging yourself for the sake of challenging yourself as they have to do with a big goal or accomplishment. For example, this past year, one resolution I had was to only read books I already owned. Sounds silly, but as I looked at my shelves filled with books bought with lots of hope and promise, but never actually read, I realized that there was some odd behavioral thing underlying all of that I probably needed to address. So, that’s what I did this year. Just for the heck of it.
So, where does this leave us? Glad you asked. This year, I’m going to offer true resolutions for our beloved industry. I want to challenge us to either begin new habits or stop old ones. I want to have a little fun with it, too.
Without further ado, here are my resolutions for the direct selling industry for 2019:
1. Come up with something better than “opportunity” to describe what we offer.
We all use the phrase “business opportunity” so much that we’ve become completely blind to the fact that the rest of the world either thinks that’s way too generic to mean anything worthwhile, or they’re not even sure what that is. Yet we have “Opportunity” sections in our website navigation, “Opportunity” videos, “Opportunity” presentations and “Opportunity” brochures.I want to challenge us to come up with something better. What do you suggest?
2. Stop talking about Amazon!
OK, this one is going to be really, REALLY difficult. Because what Amazon has forced all of us to do is truly game-changing. I’ve talked a lot about it. People I work with talk a lot about it. Every company I work with talks about it. But if I read one more article or hear one more presentation on “The Amazon Effect” or “Amazonification” or anything else Amazonian, I’m going to scream. This probably sounds ridiculous coming from a business consultant like myself, but it’s just how I feel. I’m ready to stop talking about it, pontificating about it, worrying about it, and I’m eager to do something about it, while also recognizing that we aren’t Amazon. And maybe that’s OK; maybe we actually have something they don’t have. Maybe our goal should be that everyone starts talking about the “Direct Selling Effect.” Can we at least give it a try?
3. Take on an entrepreneur’s perspective of our online marketing policies.
I get it: Mixing the Internet with a volunteer army of Independent Distributors can make for quite the wild, wild West when it comes to compliance and brand protection. I understand why most companies have really clamped down on not allowing online advertising, or very limited versions of it. I get that it’s difficult to keep an eye out on every little website and social post that pops up, so it’s easier to just not allow it. But if I’m thinking about launching a business, or even just a side hustle, and I see more rules that get in the way of me using the Internet to grow and promote my business than tools that help me, I’m moving on to the next “opportunity.” Here’s the thing: outside of direct selling, there are plenty of affiliate marketing programs and the like that go overboard to enable their affiliates to do well online. And at the same time, Facebook and other social networks have made it painfully clear that, if you wanna show up, you gotta pay up.The web has made sharing and selling abundantly easier than ever before. We need to make sure we’re actually allowing that to happen with our Distributors. We owe it to them to figure out how to do this and still be good corporate stewards.
4. Discontinue more products than you’re comfortable with.
This one is pretty simple. Especially for companies that are more than 10 years old, it’s way too common to have way too many products. Duplication occurs with simplification. So simplify your product offering. Put a process in place that forces your company to make objective decisions about which products stay and which ones go. Review it quarterly. When it doubt, kill it.
5. Audit your entire website twice a year.
Direct selling companies are notorious for leaving up old and even inaccurate information up on a website for years (especially in the back office). Old promotions, old contests, old products, old executives… You can find it all on the typical company’s website. No one is ever surprised that it gets to this; they all know that no one is actually keeping an eye on it all. So put a process in place that incorporates representatives from different departments to audit specific sections of the website at least twice a year (and quarterly is even better). It’s not hard; it’s just never anyone’s top priority.
6. Take the legislation related to Independent Contractors really seriously.
I’m ashamed to say that I’ve heard plenty of chatter about Independent Contractor status at industry events over the past couple years, but I didn’t really understand it. Seemed like just another legal thing that, if we’re honest with ourselves, many of us don’t pay too much attention to. I attended two sessions centered on the topic at the recent DSA Fall Conference, and I was shocked and scared at the impact state laws in the U.S. could have on our entire industry. It’s a really big deal! I won’t even try to tell you all the reasons why; there are many other experts who can help with that. Just know that, if you haven’t paid it any attention, you need to stay on top of this in 2019.
7. Enroll as a Distributor at your company.
This is something you should do every year. And don’t cheat the process at all. Go online, sign up under another Distributor, use an actual credit card, receive the emails, have the Starter Kit shipped to you… Do it all! Then track it for at least 90 days. How are the automated emails? How is the initial back office experience? Is it clear what you need to do first? This is the single most important transaction and experience at your company. Make sure you know it up and down.
8. Finally get serious about training.
We are an industry known for our training. And yet, I’m shocked how many corporate teams aren’t really clear on what their training system is. Now, admittedly, training is difficult. It seems simple, but it can be so overwhelming. There’s so much that needs to be trained at a direct selling company. And, after all, isn’t that a field leader’s job? I think you know better. Don’t let the burden of getting it all right keep you from doing anything. Your training will constantly change. You’ll constantly think of ways to do it better. The field will constantly point out things you’re doing wrong. Do it anyway. Nothing will have a greater impact on your business.
9. Hire a General Manager before you launch a new country.
It’s sad that I even have to bring this up. But it’s almost an epidemic as to how many direct selling companies make the decision to launch a new country, begin the process, and then 4-6 weeks prior to opening, they bring on a General Manager to run it all.If the General Manager is worth anything, they will have valid and proven input that should have been considered at the very beginning of the launch process. They may disagree with important components of the strategy that was set before they arrived.Once you decide to launch a new market, begin the search for the General Manager immediately. Hire them, and let them be the driver of the entire process.
OK, I think that’s enough for one year. What resolutions resonate the most with you? What would you add? I’d love to hear from you and what you’re most hoping to accomplish in 2019.