The way our channel responds to three specific market forces—competition from gigs, smart technology and hypersegmentation— will make the difference between our survival and extinction.
Remember when customers learned about new products mostly from three television networks—or maybe from a magazine or mail-order catalog? Avon came calling, too, with lipstick samples and sometimes a presentation about the benefits of selling Avon.
Basically, we saw one promotion at a time from a few sources.
Now, there are ads in the game we play on a phone that buzzes with a customized text offer from a retailer whose social media link we click for a flash sale that ends in 30 minutes. Also, there’s a mini billboard on our grocery cart. And the judges on our reality singing competition show are drinking clearly branded beverages.
Need a time out? Don’t make it a long one. You have to stay in the game, keeping up with and standing out in the full-court press of messages targeting consumers, or you’ll get stuck on the bench.
The direct selling channel has worked hard to meet changing customer and market expectations without losing sight of what makes it unique. But we have to work harder. This fast-changing, diversifying economy is challenging all companies to keep evolving. The way our channel responds to three specific market forces—competition from gigs, smart technology and hyper-segmentation—will make the difference between our survival and extinction.
Direct selling may have no competitor more formidable than the gig.
We used to be the best option for people who wanted to make their own hours and supplement—or even heavily subsidize—their incomes. Then came Uber, Lyft, AirBnB and Etsy and a score of other companies that let people make money with things they already own—their cars, their homes, their time and their talent. We quickly realized that our entrepreneurial opportunity wasn’t necessarily the thing that set us apart any more.
“Direct selling has traditionally sold bigger dreams —like changing your life and becoming financially independent. Aspiration is important, but we need to focus on shorter-term, more tangible returns, too.”
Now we’re challenged to use that competitive pressure to turn ourselves into an even bigger diamond.
What do many gig companies offer that we should consider offering, too? How about more transparency? People are looking for a guarantee. If I’m an Uber driver and I accept a passenger at a certain fare, I know exactly how much money I’m going to make. Plus, the company is going to feed me passenger leads until I call it quits for my shift. The model provides a high level of predictability and a clear path to the next dollar.
Direct selling has traditionally been shrouded in a bit of mystery because we’ve tended to sell bigger dreams—like changing your life and becoming financially independent. That’s not a goal you can reach by the end of a shift. Aspiration is important, but we need to focus on shorter-term, more tangible returns, too.
Our channel also needs to refine the process of equitably distributing leads to our field teams. That’s how we become an end-to-end solution that’s competitive with gig economy opportunities.
Conversely, no one’s going to make six figures driving people to and from the airport. Plus, direct selling is very team oriented. Anyone looking for a sense of belonging or purpose probably won’t find it in a gig job. When you’re out of the house because a tourist is renting your rooms, you’re probably not at a convention or professional development workshop with other gig landlords.
Direct sales companies can set themselves apart by providing tools, training and support that help salespeople grow professionally and a mission to which they can be emotionally connected. When your teams are driven by broader objectives, they will see their work as more than just a gig.
Typing a Google search or asking Alexa for an answer is so last week. All we really have to do is wonder out loud about something, and it seems to appear in our digital information feed.
Technology has, literally, become a no brainer— which makes it even more critical that we use it thoughtfully and stay mindful of how it empowers customers and influences their habits. Solid marketing and sales principles must drive technology strategy, not the other way around.
The web pages and YouTube videos that replaced printed brochures and CDs made it easier for us to reach prospects, but they didn’t take away the need for us to personally interact with them. Our model is rooted in conversations and storytelling, and while our products and opportunities may be amazing, they don’t actually sell themselves. We are still responsible for creating, shaping, and sustaining trusted relationships. Technology should augment not control how we court and keep customers.
What we can’t really control is the flow and accessibility of information. Technology has become a great equalizer, allowing everyone to peek behind the curtain.
As the online content ocean gets deeper, potential customers and distributors can find information about our products, ingredients and companies with a few clicks, swipes or “Hey, Siris.” This means we have to be even more transparent and confident about what we’re selling. If you are only 98 percent sure about your product claims—whether it’s about what the product does or how it’s different—someone will find information that pokes at your two percent doubt.
This is a good opportunity for our channel to research and innovate, to take your product development to the next level by investing more time and money into your sales force and customers by giving them complete confidence in what you produce.
“Solid marketing and sales principles must drive technology strategy, not the other way around.”
Direct selling companies should be diving just as deeply into the ocean of online data. There’s so much information available to us about who is buying our products and how they use technology to engage with us. There’s no excuse for chasing the wrong audience or using technology in a way that’s not driven by audience demand.
Pay attention to who shares your social media posts and who reads and comments on your blog. Be honest about whether your messages resonate with people because if they don’t, it doesn’t matter how many you send or how instant they are.
The television programs you watched in the 1980s and 90s? Everyone was watching them. The magazines and catalogs you read? Everyone subscribed. Of course, that’s an exaggeration, but when there aren’t many buckets, each one holds a lot of people.
Then cable and the internet began to subdivide consumers and micro-target within demographics. Now audiences are super segmented, defined according to spreadsheets worth of criteria, and people are conditioned to seek content and products that speak to their specific preferences and points of view.
This is a permanent change. We’re not going back to the days of massive media audiences. Yet, there’s a persistent belief among direct selling companies that everyone is their target market. Even if your product is good for everyone in theory, in reality not everyone will want it, and we need to realize that’s okay.
We’re not doing our distributors any favors by perpetuating the notion that anyone they talk to is a future customer for life or a member of their downline. Dig into that online data you’ve been collecting. Be objective about who is buying your product and taking you up on your entrepreneurial opportunities and make sure your marketing and sales tools and messages speak directly to those people.
It’s also critical to keep reminding ourselves that we are targeting two often distinct audiences. There are people who want our products and services and people who want to make money. The two are not necessarily mutually inclusive or exclusive. Too often, companies try to talk to both groups at the same time, and it dilutes the message.
Targeting sweet-spot age ranges—like the coveted Millennial demo—and leaving it at that? Effective marketing is more sophisticated now. Companies need to connect with consumers and prospects on a psychographic level, understanding what kinds of lifestyles people are trying to achieve and being clear about how buying a product or building a business can help them get there. If you appeal to people on that level, they get excited and become brand zealots for you.
Evolution isn’t as slow as it used to be. It took billions of years for the earth and human beings to become what they are. It took 10, maybe 15 years for gig work, smart technology and sophisticated market segmentation to almost completely redefine our economy.
So, cut yourself some slack if you feel like you’ve missed a ball. There will be another one coming.