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In some respects, there has been an unprecedented amount of attention focused on direct selling by media and the financial community lately. This has also been a unique time for in-depth research undertaken by the Direct Selling Association in an effort to quantify many aspects of the business model. Beginning with the Consumer Attitudes Survey in late 2012 and continuing in 2013 with the annual Growth & Outlook Survey, National Salesforce Survey and Sales Strategy Survey, DSA took a 360-degree look at the sales channel.
The result will be an enhanced ability to address misstatements and misinformation in the marketplace that can so easily cloud the perception of a sales channel that relies primarily on word-of-mouth instead of catchy advertising jingles and expensive retail shelf space.
But at the heart of all of the averages, percentage breakdowns and statistical analysis remain the stories of 16 million Americans—and millions more around the world—who look to direct selling to fulfill a particular need, whether financial or otherwise. While we stock our arsenal with facts and figures, we must not lose sight of the personal, human stories that form the basis of direct selling.
The following are but two examples of real stories that bring DSA’s research to life:
What the numbers say:
Fifty-seven percent of direct sellers report having signed up with their company to get the products at a discount, while 62 percent report continuing as a direct seller for this reason. Forty-eight percent of direct sellers report becoming a direct seller because they were seeking long-term supplemental income, but 62 percent report continuing as a direct seller for that same reason. Further, 23 percent of sellers said they started in direct selling hoping to make it a career, but 41 percent of sellers report continuing with direct selling as a career.
What sellers say:
Anita R., Battle Creek, Mich.: “I joined to get the discount, and what I found was a full-time job!”
What the numbers say:
Seventy-eight percent of direct sellers say direct selling has met or exceeded their expectations, and nearly the same percentage of direct sellers say they are likely to recommend that a friend or family member become a direct seller.
What sellers say:
Suzy F., Hudson, Wis.: “My experience with direct selling/network marketing has been nothing less than positive. I must admit that I was skeptical at first. However, I decided to educate myself about the industry and have determined it is a worthy profession that offers many personal and professional rewards.”
These findings and the complementary “real person” stories are of little surprise to those who have seen and experienced firsthand how direct selling changes lives. Numbers alone may be able to accurately describe some industries, but for a sales channel that is defined by so much more than profits, to omit the personal anecdote is to remove the essence of the direct selling experience.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons direct selling is so often undervalued and criticized by Wall Street, while 16 million people and their customers embrace it on Main Street. To this end, DSA is committed to a proactive campaign of pairing recent research findings with the real-life stories of those whose lives have been changed by direct selling, including highly influential legislators, regulators and business community leaders who support the channel.
Direct selling cannot be described with words or numbers alone. Each provides context for the other. We are all well-served to share these stories, to represent the men and women who rely on their independent direct selling businesses for income and personal achievement. It is our job to understand their needs and to recognize that, for so many, the intangible benefits of a career in direct sales mean so much more than the tangible rewards. And so often those intangible benefits go unreported and unappreciated. We hear so much about earnings statements, stock ratings, and recruitment and retention figures that we lose sight of what makes this industry so special. In 2014, join DSA in its efforts and rededicate yourself and your company to telling the story of direct selling.
Joseph N. Mariano is President of the U.S. Direct Selling Association.