It’s not too late to pivot in the right direction.

Pivot – 2020’s defining word and a silver lining in troubling times. As individuals and businesses absorb the culture shock and changes associated with living and working through a pandemic, they face new obstacles that require novel solutions. But from crisis arises great opportunity for the flexible and committed.

We’ve watched pivot’s success as medical personnel—regardless of specialty and sometimes emerging from retirement—wage war on COVID- 19. Educators partner with parents to keep students learning digitally. Shuttered restaurants morph into curbside mini markets. Zoom hosts at-home happy hours. Order online, pay online, contact-free delivery… the stuff of life arrives at the doorstep.

Companies focusing on high-quality products, customer acquisition and retention are outperforming those that are more opportunity focused.
—Stuart Johnson, Founder & CE), SUCCESS Partners

While essential workers remain on the job (Everyone is grateful!), millions modify their expectations of what work looks like carving out semi-quiet corners at home. But tens of millions lost jobs, either temporarily or permanently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and grasp for financial relief through unemployment benefits.

Facing an increasingly digital existence amid rolling stay-at-home orders and staggered re-openings, people and companies are reassessing, asking new questions and looking for innovative life and work solutions. All the while, working from home is legit. This puts direct selling—an industry grounded in the home office—in a unique position to capture this moment. Doing so depends on a company’s ability to pivot to remote customer and distributor acquisition and retention.

An enormous supply of displaced, extroverted, retail salespeople, who need to replace or supplement lost income, exists. Direct selling can be their solution if companies see the disruption caused by the pandemic as an opportunity to pivot to a new 2020 model that embraces the convergence of technology and relationships.

For the past three months SUCCESS Partners has been conducting a monthly survey with 60 leading direct selling companies gauging their month-over-month growth. As of this printing, their results for May 2020 (compared to April 2020) showed the following:

  • At least 10 companies achieved all-time record monthly revenue in May
  • 28 percent remained flat or declined
  • 12 percent showed single-digit growth
  • 60 percent grew by double-digits or more

“Companies focusing on high-quality products, customer acquisition and retention are outperforming those that are more opportunity focused,” says Stuart Johnson, SUCCESS Partners founder and CEO.

And digging a bit deeper tells us why. Six common denominators emerged that helped growing direct selling companies locate a silver lining despite a world in crisis. It’s important to note, these companies had a head start culturally, technologically, etc. but it’s not too late for others to pivot in the right direction.

#1 Common Denominator: Hero Products

What consumers are buying has changed since nonessential retailers shut their doors. In early May, GeekWire reported tax automation startup Avalara found overall U.S. spending relatively flat. But winners and losers emerged. Sports equipment suffered, but home fitness soared 210 percent. School vendors dropped 73 percent, but home learning increased by 209 percent. Online marketing, online pharmacies, home office, health supplements, and cleaning products saw gains.

Consumers are looking for products that work and get their new jobs done in this 2020 world. For Direct Sellers, this translates well for on-brand, hero products that fill marketplace niches and produce tangible benefits.

Hero products with proprietary formulas and high efficacy rates sample well among consumers and sell even in times of crisis. More than discretionary purchases to help a friend with a side hustle, hero products generate repeat transactions. They build loyalty, strengthen brand association, and improve customer experience.

Of the companies that SUCCESS Partners surveyed, the fastest-growing offer weight loss and nutritional products, which jibes with Avalara’s findings. People have time and motivation to boost their immune systems, shed unwanted pounds, and generally improve their health. They look to trusted brands for help.

“Off-the-shelf generic is just off-the-shelf generic, and right now, that heightened awareness makes me more willing to pay for something that looks like it’s got a higher quality or higher efficacy factor,” says Noah Westerlund, senior vice president of business development, SUCCESS Partners.

#2 Common Denominator: Marketing with Purpose

In some locales, scarcity plays a role in consumer purchases. Think household disinfectants, soaps and toilet paper. But something more is at play in consumer spending decisions.

Big Red Rooster, a brand experience company owned by real estate services firm JLL, reports shopping local is top-of-mind for consumers right now. We want our favorite ice cream parlors, olive oil specialty shops and consignment boutiques alive and well at the end of this. We’re even tipping people more than normal, one April survey suggested.

Consumers empathize with their neighbors and want to help their neighborhoods. It’s not a stretch to believe this inclination extends to direct selling’s independent distributors, especially those whose products and brands are marketed with meaning and purpose.

All the hard work to finesse core values, fold them into your branding and effectively communicate your corporate purpose will set companies ahead of the game during crisis. The 2020 pandemic amplifies that effect from both product marketing and corporate brand marketing perspectives.

While weight loss and nutrition sales are accelerating, Westerlund says, “No one is marketing specifically to the COVID situation. But with general awareness at a heightened level and the availability, that’s a match made in heaven for these companies.”

Direct selling companies are tapping into the hearts of their cultures, connecting with existing nonprofits and leaning on their strengths to make a difference. Consumers want to buy from brands that are sensitive to the crisis at hand, as well as people’s health and safety. It makes them feel better about their choices.

Young Living focused on refugee camps and sent $100,000 to the International Rescue Committee. With monetary and product donations totaling half a million dollars worldwide, USANA also teamed with a Utah vineyard to manufacture 28,000 bottles of hand sanitizer and donate them to regional medical and shipping centers, as well as the Navajo Nation. And through monetary, product and distribution support, Mary Kay donated $10 million to help slow the spread of Coronavirus. These gifts impact not only the recipients but the companies and brands who give.

“Companies that lead with the value and causes that define them are finding higher levels of engagement and excitement,” Johnson says.

#3 Common Denominator: Digital Deployment

Retail sales were bleak in March and April, plummeting to 8.3 percent and 16.4 percent, respectively, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, May 15, 2020, advance monthly retail trade report. Coronavirus froze out traditional retailers—a drop of 73 percent for off-line retailers by Avalara’s count.

Consumer spending didn’t disappear. It shifted digital. Companies who grew were poised to fill consumer needs online.

Direct selling’s highest growth companies had digital deployment strategies up and running to clear social distancing hurdles and capitalize on captive audiences, flush with time and ready to pay attention. Efficient online customer acquisition, distributor recruitment and retention platforms accelerated growth.

Young companies created with this convergence of technology and relationships in mind had the advantage over traditional shoulder-to-shoulder efforts. Digital platforms eliminate the need and risk of in-person contact because mobile apps simplify sharing, sampling, prospecting, following up and connecting people in digital conversations. The right functionality and features communicate, connect and convert customers and distributors alike.

SUCCESS Partner’s NOW app is one such e-commerce game-changer. Westerlund says, “It focuses on the connection between distributor and customer. All of our marketing automation and drip campaigns are driven back through the distributor so that personal connection is always first.”

“I don’t see the industry ever going back to the old school way of building. It’s not because people don’t enjoy getting around people. That will always be a part of it. It’s because we found out we can do this in a much more efficient manner and a lot cheaper,” says Andy McWilliams, CEO, RevitalU.

“What’s great about this technology and these programs is they aren’t necessarily difficult to spin up from an operational and technology standpoint,” Westerlund says. “But you’ve got to look at how it plays within the compensation plan. How does it play with our culture as a whole? Are we going to be able to fit this in, or will it be at odds with all that?”

Cultural aspects of this pivot take more time, but the pandemic affords people time.

#4 Common Denominator: Community & Connection

Sing praises to technology! The final three common denominators rely heavily on it. Growing companies excel at creatively bringing people and messages together.

Social distancing, by its definition, is isolating, and for good reason. But loneliness creeps in when we’re deprived of human-to-human contact. Maybe you’ve seen the online meme asking introverts to check on their extroverted friends?

All people need connection, recognition, purpose and community, especially now. McWilliams goes live on Facebook from home daily. “Is there a way we can help and bless them? Something we can do to fill a gap that may or may not have anything to do with making money? No matter what, we do it because it’s the right thing to do,” he says.

I don’t see the industry ever going back to the old‑school way of building…because we found out we can do this in a much more efficient manner and a lot cheaper.
—Andy McWilliams, CEO, RevitalU

MONAT Founder Lu Urdaneta facilitates group virtual hugs via Zoom and powers up live every Wednesday to talk to distributors about routines, daily calls to action for team members, tips for staying sane during quarantine, and practicing gratitude. Noonday Collection hosts light-hearted Zoom and Facebook Live events offering a respite from quarantine boredom, product giveaways, and stories from C-suite execs, artisans and distributors.

Compelling, uplifting stories push aside fear and anxiety to make room for hope, belief and gratitude. Now is not the time to peddle a side hustle. Instead, help your people combat isolation. “That’s a huge part of our industry that can really help the world right now. I don’t think enough people are recognizing that,” McWilliams says.

#5 Common Denominator: Virtual Events to Remember

As Coronavirus challenges conventional corporate events, companies pivot to the virtual world. They’ve embraced aggressive virtual meeting schedules to give people structure, something to look forward to and plug into easily.

Virtual novices need not worry. Forgiveness is yours now as people soak up behind-the-scenes authenticity. It affords newcomers time to learn through challenges and create positive experiences.

Here are tips to get the most from virtual events, according to EventMB, an online events industry trend resource and part of Skift.

  • Offer an introductory tutorial video to participants
  • Provide incentives to engage online
  • Unite behind a common purpose

Total Life Changes turned to Zoom for training and to recap of a Free to Join promotion. USANA hosted Zoom speaker events and shared short pandemic-related videos about combating loneliness, and on meditation, mindset and selling over the phone. Scentsy busted out the fun with imaginative socially-distanced Zoom home parties. One energetic and costumed consultant spoofed Sherlock Holmes during a scavenger hunt party, still others played Zoom Bingo. Both kept orders flowing and added some silly to a stressful time.

As the pandemic drags on, companies likely face replacing large-scale, in-person events with virtual ones. When that happens, EventMB says at cancellation announce the virtual event simultaneously, then get creative and deliver value in a virtual format.

Try using digital live scribing with an illustrator to punch up entertainment value and takeaways from panel discussions. Host live games or competitions with product demos, then draw people to social media pages for the winners. Look at creating immersive environments to replace traditional convention settings. Virtual conferences can host a networking lounge for attendees to chat and interact, and musicians jump at the chance to entertain virtually.

Westerlund says the benefits of pivoting virtual can be immediately tangible, as one direct selling CEO recently found with a quarterly virtual event. The result: 2-3 times the attendance and 3-4 times the buying. Attendee overhead was nil, so they spent on product. While direct selling companies have lamented the ROI of conventions for some time, the pandemic may be a tipping point.

“What happens when it goes back to ‘normal’? Are people still going to be as excited about the virtual event, or are they just excited about them right now because that’s all you can do?” Westerlund asks. “That question lingers. But here’s what I know. They are certainly going to find out.”

#6 Common Denominator: More Content, More Communications

A steady stream of on-message, mission and value-driven content that is easily deployed across multiple platforms and devices is best practice now. Fill a void, simplify a field process, and share product stories and testimonials to strengthen brand ties. In times of crisis, people want and need more communication.

Strategy consultant, Brett A. Blake says, “Update even if there’s no update. Uncertainty fuels anxiety. The more you communicate and share, the less chance there is to develop an information vacuum within your team…Maintaining transparency through a crisis with frequent updates is the ultimate expression of good faith, empathy, and genuine concern for your team.”

Hope is fuel for your field, so communicate that. Focus on your most relevant products or on the benefits of having a second home-based income. Give them some headspace during this high-stress era by simplifying systems and deploying sampling platforms. Break through the 24/7 COVID noise with value offers like free enrollments, deep discounts, purchase promos or free shipping.

As states begin lifting stay-at-home orders and employees return to headquarters, work will look different for the foreseeable future. Maybe capacity limits, health concerns or parenting obligations will increase your numbers of remote workers. Stress will remain high, and so too will the need for communication. Remember, ask employees if they are OK, ensure they have what they need, and act quickly to help them stay productive. Asking in that order makes all the difference. DSN