Today’s direct selling world is a rapidly evolving landscape driven, in part, by the ever-accelerating progress of technology. Internal corporate systems as well as external marketing and distributor support technologies are advancing so quickly that it can be hard to keep up. While the bar is being set ever higher, the industry has sometimes lagged behind advanced technological adoption. The tides are beginning to turn however, especially in terms of distributor support, where some direct sellers are climbing to the leading edge.
Customers and distributors have high expectations when it comes to mobile experiences. DSN’s August 2012 cover story described this new breed of consumer at length while shedding light on how technology has impacted the cycle of customer acquisition. This issue’s cover story focuses primarily on mobile strategies as they relate to distributor retention. Retention is where the rubber meets the road. It’s what gives companies staying power, and a lack of retention—otherwise referred to as attrition—could send any organization into a downward trend.
Mobile technology offers many new opportunities to support distributors in the field and help keep them onboard, especially new people who are often in a sensitive time of their involvement. Fear, doubt and lack of confidence can already hinder a new person. Providing mobile tools and advanced customer technology acts as a safety net. Additionally, when a new person abandons the opportunity before making any real progress, it can be a contributing factor to a negative perception of the industry.
Direct selling has always been a mobile industry, with the top leaders in any organization during any decade going out to the people to sell products and build relationships. The mobile technology available now simply makes this effort faster and easier. The merging of the new technologies with the entrepreneurial hunger of current economic times actually presents an unprecedented opportunity for the industry to become an accepted, and even celebrated, part of mainstream business culture.
Direct selling has always been a mobile industry, with the top leaders in any organization during any decade going out to the people to sell products and build relationships.
When distributors first join the company they’ve chosen, they’re often nervous but still very excited. They can see the possibilities: the freedom, the end of debt, their kids’ college fund, retirement for aging parents, or whatever their particular goal becomes. It’s easy, however, to become overwhelmed with all those compensation levels, products, uplines, downlines, guidelines, regulations, rules and so on. The new distributor’s original motivation can dwindle down to general paralysis very quickly. Most people are accustomed to being held accountable at their jobs by their employer, and it can be difficult to switch to self-accountability. Without that everyday motivator, they’ll likely need clarity, simplicity and empowerment to get them out of their comfort zone while talking to prospects. Equipping them with mobile technologies is one way to do just that.
Mobile technologies provide the distributor with more than just fast and ready information. If the distributor in the field lacks information when addressing a prospect, he or she is more likely to fumble the presentation, or shut down all together. Knowing the information is available and easily accessible gives the distributor that one component necessary in all transactions: confidence.
Take for example J. Hilburn and their Style Kit iPad app. It’s more than just a presentation tool—it also acts as a coach, guiding their style consultants through the various parts of a presentation and sale, making it easy to jump from one set of products to complementary ones. J. Hilburn wanted to make it easy for their style consultants to feel empowered throughout the selling process with real-time inventory, as well as create an up-to-date, branded technological experience for both customers and consultants.
J. Hilburn President Veeral Rathod notes that if they can keep their consultants engaged and empowered for the first 90 days, they’ll enjoy a 90 percent retention rate from that point.
The J. Hilburn app supports the new consultant in two crucial ways. First, a new seller doesn’t have to know their entire product line and how those products relate to one another. The accessibility of the inventory, along with complementary suggestions for the buyer, empowers consultants and helps get some early sales under their belts without extensive training. They can learn more details about the product line over time, also by using the app. Secondly, the consultant has a very cool, branded, high-tech tool that by itself can engage a customer to look at the product. J. Hilburn President Veeral Rathod notes that if they can keep their consultants engaged and empowered for the first 90 days, they’ll enjoy a 90 percent retention rate from that point. And it’s working. Style consultants using the app are achieving 67 percent more sales volume than nonusers, prompting them to stick with the business.
USANA is so committed to their mobile app strategy that they gave away 8,000 iPads equipped with their new True Health Assessment app at their 2012 annual convention. Doug Braun, USANA’s Chief Marketing Officer, says he understands what mobile means for the future of the company and the industry: “Mobile is instrumental to the future of not only our industry but every industry. Everyone is connected at that level, and we have to provide them with the tools that allow them to connect the way they want to, not the way we tell them to.
“The USANA True Health Assessment app changes the dynamics of the product presentation. It is designed to help consumers discover their very own personalized path to true health by placing them in the driver’s seat as they answer a variety of health-related questions. Based on those answers, the application generates three personalized reports: the user’s top health risk areas, a lifestyle plan and customized product recommendations.”
Mary Kay Inc. is exploring the app world as well, and judging by the more than 1 million downloads, their Mary Kay Mobile Virtual Makeover app creates a nearly irresistible opportunity for any woman. The consumer can choose from a series of models or upload a picture of herself into the app and create a makeover with a new hairstyle, makeup, lip color and even accessories. Once the customer has her makeover exactly as she wants it, she can download and save the look, or even purchase the products she chose directly from the app. Mary Kay is already seeing results with this mobile strategy. “Consultants are excited, not only because it’s helping their business, but it also gives them a sense of pride and confidence that we are investing in their business,” says Chief Marketing Officer Sheryl Adkins-Green. “It also gives them confidence when approaching the next generation.” The virtual makeover is only one of several apps available. Others include a skincare regimen advisor and an e-catalog that is searchable and even includes access to product videos.
Nerium is also eagerly stepping into the mobile space by equipping its brand partners with an app that provides them easy access to sales and training presentations to improve their engagement with customers—wherever they encounter them. In fact, Nerium is so dedicated to a mobile-forward strategy that an iPad is a current reward for partners who reach certain sales goals. “We count on our brand partners to truly be ambassadors for our brand, so it’s critical that we equip them with the tools they need to be successful,” says Trevor Scofield, Nerium’s Senior Vice President for Global Operations. “This app enables them to ‘wow’ their audiences and deliver presentations on our skincare products in a compelling, professional manner—conveniently and right from the iPads and iPhones they always carry.”
Like Nerium, companies might consider running various promotion campaigns with smartphones and tablets as prizes in order to increase adoption rates of the apps. The key to a successful transition to a mobile business is that people in the field actually use the app. J. Hilburn got 50 percent field adoption of their iPad app in less than three months by offering short, compelling training videos that always ended with a testimonial from a fashion consultant on how the feature trained on has impacted their business.
Managing Time and Making Appointments
Time management continues to be one of the basics of training for many companies, simply because many new distributors have little to no experience working autonomously. Additionally, many people take on direct selling in addition to work or responsibilities they already have, adding more “to-dos” to an already busy schedule.
But these days no one under 40 is going to lug that old-fashioned big planner with them everywhere. A smartphone, however, is usually with them all the time. Managing time and making appointments are arguably two of the most critical activities for driving sales and recruiting. Equipping consultants with a simple, effective mobile tool to get more appointments booked and tasks completed could actually impact the bottom line. The latest tools cannot only help them do what a paper system could, but also makes scheduling in-home parties and sit-downs with people faster and easier. Such tools allow consultants to plan that first party, make appointments with friends and prospects, prioritize and delegate tasks within teams and share important notes and ideas. More appointments equal more sales. Providing tools that equip consultants to make more appointments more easily can greatly decrease attrition rates—why would they leave if the opportunity they signed up for is working?
Branding and Trust
Trust is the name of the game. Companies need to build trust to get recruits onboard in the first place. In many cases, the amount of trust needed to retain a new distributor far exceeds the amount needed to bring that distributor onboard originally. Buying can be done on impulse, and prospects are often the only ones making the decision. In order to make a sale they’ll have to overcome shyness, trepidation and fear of rejection. Companies that do well empower their distributors to overcome this unease by providing enough excitement, trust and belief in the brand that they take ownership of it. Now it’s their brand too.
The real challenge is to build that foundation of trust quickly and to sustain it long enough for them to let the business work for them. J. Hilburn has clearly succeeded at this. Their consultants are out buying iPads in the name of the brand, and they have 50 percent adoption of their Style Kit app. “I found that most people who joined the business stayed just long enough to fail, but not long enough to succeed,” says Hunter Gray, former top-level field leader at J. Hilburn. “Either they must get an early taste of success or feel confident that they have the right tools to get them there eventually. It’s 2012. Companies that lack effective mobile tools might not realize that they are competing with other companies for the next generation of direct sellers. Sellers want to build their new business with the device that is already a part of their daily life.”
Moreover, companies with an older distributor base should not think this strategy is only for the young. According to Mobile Insights, smartphone penetration for ages 35–54 jumped from 19 percent to 47 percent between 2009 and 2011, and for ages 55+, from 10 percent to 25 percent. There is no doubt that 2012 will see those numbers jump yet again. Apple is attracting older demographics in droves with their ads that illustrate how simple and easy it is to use an iPhone. A strong mobile offering can rally the entire field behind a company, no matter the age differences.
Now here’s where it gets exciting. Direct selling has dealt with a significant disadvantage that most other sales-based industries don’t suffer: a lack of effective salesforce measurement on most critical issues. The industry has been flying in the dark with regard to activity in the field, with little to no hard data about their daily activities, except how much product they purchase, how many people they’ve recruited, and often, how much product they’ve sold. But that’s all the end result of the process of direct selling. What about all the activity it takes to get that sale? Wouldn’t knowing how many phone calls or follow-ups they are making be incredibly useful data for a company? What about how many people they invite to events or sit-downs over coffee versus how many are accepted? Even measuring the true effectiveness of a sales tool by knowing how many times a distributor shares it has, until now, been beyond what most companies can accomplish.
New mobile apps offer an unexpected look into salesforce activity that has been, for the most part, closed to the corporate offices. “Before, we would hear feedback and take it as representative of the whole,” says USANA’s Braun. “Now with metrics we have a lot more view—it’s a whole new perspective.”
What if, when people hit the third level in a company’s comp plan, their activity jumps up for an average of about five days, but around day six there’s a trend that sees it dropping off? Maybe it’s time to send them a lead or trigger a notification to an upline leader so they can check in with them and recharge their batteries. Or maybe send them a motivational video. With instant connectivity and a feedback loop that provides intensely specific data, the possibilities are endless.
Since distributors don’t sit in front of a desk all day, creating a compelling mobile experience for them—one that gives them tremendous everyday value as the center of their business—is really the only way to measure their activity in the field. Companies that provide a mobile app that becomes their productivity center for making appointments and phone calls, for example, can also provide measurements of all that activity.
ViSalus attributes their incredible growth over the past few years largely to their mobile tools. Co-Founder and CEO Ryan Blair—Ernst and Young’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year—says that ViSalus owns a mobile development company and a venture fund for technology investments. They are investing millions in mobile with massive payoffs. In fact, they built an experience so compelling for their 40,000 users that they had to deal with the problem of their servers crashing because their representatives were hitting them 15,000 times per second at peak usage. Now that’s an engaged salesforce.
ViSalus attributes their incredible growth over the past few years largely to their mobile tools.
An important aspect in winning in mobile is creating a sustainable, ongoing process of releasing features, listening to feedback and rapidly improving the app’s offering. Not all direct sellers can purchase their own mobile development company or even build a team in-house. But that’s all right—there are plenty of third-party vendors who specialize in mobile development and are ready and willing to help.
This third-party engagement is the approach that GNLD takes. They are building a set of robust Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), which will allow third parties to plug in to their systems seamlessly. Based in Silicon Valley’s backyard, they know there’s a ton of innovation out there and want to take advantage of any tools they and their distributors could use in the future. “Our mission is to both improve personal health and build sustainable businesses, and we succeed when we enable motivated intelligent people, and access to information is a key component of this,” says Kendra Brassfield in GNLD’s International Sales and Marketing.
Great analytics will also help companies prioritize new updates and features. The first rollout of mobile tools should be just the beginning. Smart development teams are focusing on getting a minimum viable product out to market and waiting for analytical feedback, rather than designing and planning a huge project with time and resources invested before getting any validation from users that it’s the right tool for them. “It’s not just a ‘one and done’ with mobile,” says Noah Westerlund, Vice President of Marketing at Agel. Westerlund says it’s critical to evolve mobile tools over time based on user feedback, and to always have an eye on the prize: the delicate balance between high-tech and high-touch. Too much high-tech and a company will be pushing against the entire model of direct selling. Too little and adoption and active user numbers will be lackluster.
Solid analytics act as a flashlight, illuminating a path through the techno-jungle. Seeing the path ahead and working with cutting-edge technology teams will keep providing up-to-date mobile tools and giving the field something new to be excited about. The analytics also assure that companies feel confident in the development costs because they provide tools they actually want and need. Guessing games and anecdotal evidence to gauge a field’s activities are a thing of the past. Well-measured mobile analytics will keep a company ahead of the curve with their finger on the pulse of a motivated, loyal and empowered field.
Nerium’s Scofield says, “From an administrative standpoint, we’re thrilled our app allows us to instantly provide partners with timely, approved content and then measure its usage in the field.”
There is a big mobile future ahead for the industry. Mobile productivity is growing faster than anyone imagined. The opportunities that mobile technology holds for direct sellers can have a direct and significant impact on distributor retention, engaging new people and, ultimately, on the bottom line. Perhaps even more compelling for the industry at large, mobile tools can play a significant role in mainstream culture adopting direct selling as a matter of course in business opportunities.