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Direct selling companies that excel at customer acquisition know how to fully execute on best practices that focus on creating quality products, communicating value, developing brand loyalty and tracking metrics. Product-first firms that make customers a priority set themselves up for success when it comes to another driver for the channel: recruiting and onboarding new salespeople.
When customers are treated well and see value in the products they buy through the direct selling channel, the transition to pursuing a business opportunity becomes a natural progression for those who are so inclined. Think of it not as a pipeline of independent distributors but as a funnel. Within a large group of satisfied customers is a subset of people who may make excellent candidates to join the salesforce. These individuals are open to entrepreneurial endeavors, particularly flexible, part-time opportunities that can supplement their income and other business activities.
The market is ripe for the direct selling channel as part-time work becomes more of the norm. As people look to maximize their work-life balance they are leveraging current assets by earning income in new ways, such as driving for Uber or Lyft and renting out residences and vacation homes through Airbnb. Direct selling opportunities dovetail nicely into this YouEconomy.
Gone is the hard sell on recruitment. Instead, people with a desire to sell a product they love are primed and ready to do so after positive experiences with a company and its representatives. Once a new recruit signs up, companies that excel at onboarding can maximize the success of new independent business owners and help them surpass their goals.
Research conducted by the DSN team reveals specific techniques used by leading companies in the space that make direct selling effective when compared to other channels of distribution. We reviewed the websites and key marketing materials for the direct selling companies experiencing the fastest growth in the U.S. market. We conducted in-depth interviews with company executives, researchers and other thought leaders to learn how they execute on the main drivers of the direct selling channel: customer acquisition, recruiting and onboarding new distributors, and retaining those individuals as active members of an independent salesforce. The strategies common to these top firms can promote sustainable growth and a broader understanding of the unique value proposition direct selling offers in the marketplace.
The key to conversion is recognizing when a customer is ready to make the leap to become a distributor. When customers say yes to the opportunity, companies with extensive and powerful onboarding strategies see these new independent business owners achieve success more quickly and retain them as salespeople well into the future. The top direct selling firms shower new recruits with support, training and digital materials designed to walk them step by step through the first hours, days and weeks of owning their own business—all while encouraging person-to-person mentoring between the new recruit and his or her sponsor. The goal is to help each new independent business owner achieve the success of reaching new milestones in their journey, such as establishing his or her online presence, sharing the product for the first time and recording that first sale. As a new person walks through these early wins, he or she will gain confidence and, in turn, robust product education, social media and call center assistance provided by the company will serve to bolster customer acquisition and continue the conversion cycle.
RECRUITING & ONBOARDING STRATEGY No. 1: Converting Fans into Ambassadors
While research shows there is no one best stage at which to recruit, what is clear is that raving fans of a company’s products tend to be the people most likely to take the next step into selling. Guidance provided by many of the channel’s top-growing companies is that the best time to recruit depends on the customer. Distributors who listen and pay attention to their customers and their buying habits will uncover the best candidates for conversion. By noting how clients use the product, how they talk about their general life goals and the questions they ask, direct sellers can uncover their next recruit. “We encourage people to meet people where they are,” says Travis Ogden, President and Chief Operations Officer at Isagenix. “Our approach is about finding out what people’s needs are and then finding out if we have a solution that can help them meet that need.”
Knowing that happy customers often turn into strong salespeople, recruiting is intertwined with product experiences. Direct sellers use a myriad of ways to let customers touch and experience the goods or services for sale. Nerium International, for example, teaches its Brand Ambassadors to continue to add product exposures to potential candidates, such as giving them magazines or videos. “We want to continue to drip on them with different tools,” says Chief Marketing Officer Amber Olson Rourke. “Everyone says yes at a different time.”
When the conversion happens, it’s often because customers reach a point where they intimately know the products, believe in them and truly want to share their experience with others. A just-launched Preferred Customer Program at AdvoCare is a simple way for an Independent Distributor to confidently start a conversation with a customer about AdvoCare and its products.
The new approach for the maker of health and wellness products better distinguishes Independent Distributors and loyal customers who solely want to buy products at a discount.
An AdvoCare Preferred Customer pays $19.95, signs an agreement and receives a promotional product kit, an online account and a 20 percent product discount. Over time, Preferred Customers can increase their discount to 30 percent. By contrast, an Independent Distributor pays $59.95, signs an agreement and receives a larger promotional product kit, a product catalog, IMPACT magazine and online support. Distributors can earn up to a 40 percent discount.
Better identification of those interacting with AdvoCare allows the company to target its messaging to the appropriate audience and better understand the wants and goals of customers and distributors. “This gives Distributors a clear opportunity to talk to people about what they are interested in,” says Allison Levy, Executive Vice President and Chief Learning Officer. “It’s about what is the right way to join for the person you are speaking to.”
The Plano, Texas, company saw net sales jump 45.5 percent from $494 million in 2014 to $719 million in 2015, ranking No. 31 on the DSN Global 100 list.
At Take Shape For Life, sponsorship doesn’t begin until a Health Coach candidate has experienced the Take Shape For Life health journey, says President Mona Ameli. “Once they go through that and see that it is real and proven and we are reliable and credible, then we approach them with the opportunity,” Ameli says. The company, which during the second quarter of 2016 marked its highest level of year-over-year revenue growth in three years, is in the process of evolving into a new brand identity, Optavia. The rebranding speaks to a trilogy of health: healthy body, healthy mind and healthy finances. Health Coaches and clients will continue to pay the same for products; there are no discounts.
Companies that continue to grow in the direct selling space are those like Rodan + Fields, which do a good job of educating distributors about their product lines, says Michael Solomon, a marketing professor at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and a consumer behavior consultant who also serves on the board of the Direct Selling Education Foundation. Oran Arazi-Gamliel, Chief Global Officer at Rodan + Fields, says the company trains its consultants “to focus on the value proposition of what our products offer. That makes sponsoring easy.”
RECRUITING & ONBOARDING STRATEGY No. 2: The Welcome Message
When loyal customers take that first step to become independent business owners they need to immediately feel that there is an entire company ready to support them. Most leading direct selling companies send welcome emails that include access to an online portal. The new distributors will be taken through an online process of setting up their own online store, learning about product specifics and understanding the key initial steps they should take to achieve early sales success.
The top direct selling companies still believe in sending out hard copy materials, too. At Isagenix, a welcome kit sent through the mail includes different resources about the products, what’s available and literature on the steps to begin sharing the products, Ogden says. The Arizona-based company saw its net sales increase 23 percent from $725 million in 2014 to $890 million in 2015, ranking it No. 22 on the 2016 Global 100. “We think that is a better customer experience than sending something out digitally, and I don’t see us moving away from that,” Ogden says.
AdvoCare also sends an email from corporate, followed by starter kits that come in the mail within a week. New members get immediate access to online tools and trainings and their own microsite.
There’s something more personal about having materials one can hold, says Nerium’s Rourke. “We still have more physical material than most companies,” Rourke says. “We want to marry high touch with high tech and we walk the new Brand Partners through what success looks like.” The strategy works for the Texas-based company, which saw net sales increase 28 percent from $403 million in 2014 to $516 million in 2015, ranking it No. 38 on the 2016 Global 100.
New Nerium Brand Partners receive a copy of The Slight Edge, a personal development book written by founder Jeff Olson, by mail in the company’s starter kit within three to five days after signing up. They get close support from the Brand Partner who sponsors them, and those first 48 hours are spent “talking about their why, their goals and their first initial steps.”
New Take Shape For Life Health Coaches receive a personal phone call, followed by an email that’s loaded with links to the back office setup and online trainings and videos. New coaches are invited to the weekly Monday night conference call and can sign up for Boot Camp trainings. “We want to guide them through their first few days,” Ameli says. “They can do it with their sponsor or on their own with support from us. We want them to have access to everything they need to be successful right away.” A starter kit follows in the mail a few days later.
Team National also mails out a kit, but “we tell them not to wait for the kit. They get access to everything electronically right away,” says Andres Forero, Vice President of Membership Services. “We use technology to our greatest advantage here.”
New Team National members receive a welcome email within the first 24 hours that includes links to videos and online trainings to help get their business started. New recruits also can join training leadership conference calls and access the company Game Plan Training Book in an e-book version. The hard copy welcome kit arrives within seven to 10 days and can be used as marketing materials as the new distributor begins to sign up others as Team National members. This approach is working for the Florida firm, which saw its net sales increase 38 percent from $399 million in 2014 to $549 million in 2015, ranking No. 36 on the 2016 Global 100 list.
“We want our people to be a product of our product and to use their membership right away,” Forero says. “We encourage them to go through the savings guide because the sooner they have their own savings story, the greater their chance of success.”
RECRUITING & ONBOARDING STRATEGY No. 3: Physical & Digital Tools
Companies leverage a variety of tools to support recruiting and to support new direct sellers. Rodan + Fields employs a technology-based business model that provides a platform for customers and consultants to share results and the business opportunity through social media, says Arazi-Gamliel. “We provide a robust e-commerce platform. All business, from the selling to the purchasing of products, is conducted online,” he says. The San Francisco firm saw net sales jump 89 percent from $330 million in 2014 to $624 million in 2015, ranking No. 33 on the Global 100 list.
Consultants have personalized “storefronts” through replicated web portals, which let them work from smartphones or computers wherever and whenever they choose. Rodan + Fields customers receive guidance and information about the best products from their consultant and from the company website. The company even offers sales and customer service support through its on-site Rodan + Fields team of trained employees, product specialists and nurses. It also drop-ships orders to the consultant’s customers. “This obviates the burden many companies place on their distributors to buy and store inventory,” Arazi-Gamliel says.
Isagenix offers an app that helps customers and distributors find the information they need. The app links to videos, PDFs and podcasts about different products and wellness challenges. It also allows customers and distributors to share results and get immediate feedback from others. “Tools that highlight our solutions through videos and other mediums is how we are successful,” Ogden says.
Top companies still use the more traditional tools such as business opportunity meetings and conference calls, but in different ways.
“We don’t think the opportunity meeting is dead, we think it has evolved,” Ogden says. “It’s more about experiencing the company and what we are about.” The Experience Isagenix meeting is a presentation about Isagenix products and product solutions. The company uses Facebook to pique the interest of potential customers by posting before-and-after photos. Blasting the results stories can lead someone to make an inquiry. Then a distributor will follow up with direct messages and in-person meetings.
AdvoCare sees opportunity meetings as a way to introduce the company and its products to people in a fun, on-time, transparent way that emphasizes face-to-face engagement.
Take Shape For Life utilizes Happy Healthy Hours to share the opportunity through testimonials. Gatherings take place in a sponsor’s home or other location, and prospects get a chance to learn about others’ health transformations, sample nutritious snacks and see some of the Take Shape For Life recipes. “We don’t do hard-core stuff,” Ameli says. “It is more a conversation and exposure to the community. People share stories about how they’ve regained their health through lifestyle changes.”
This story sharing bleeds over into social media, too. Take Shape For Life doesn’t use Facebook for recruiting, but as a tool to share success stories. Some leaders use Facebook to create private groups where clients can find support, share experiences and seek ideas. Leaders might also use Facebook’s three-way messaging for training and other contact with their field instead of traditional conference calls. Most Take Shape For Life field leaders and corporate staff use Zoom calls, which allow for video calls. The tool also is helpful when a sponsor wants to introduce a prospective Health Coach to his or her leader.
Nerium uses a mix of physical and digital tools when it comes to recruiting. The company produces two magazines as well as product brochures. It supplements those tangible assets with lots of digital tools, including social sharing of videos and graphics, plus email messaging and a smartphone app.
Like Isagenix, Nerium and AdvoCare use social media as a lead generator.
“We’re not going to have someone who knows nothing about Nerium see it and sign up, but it does get their interest and gets them to reach out to people and ask about the product and the results,” Rourke says. “Social media is hugely successful in starting the conversation.”
Levy sees social media as a communication tool that fits with the way people interact today. Facebook enables AdvoCare teams to share “the normal life of a distributor” with others.
While Rourke sees a place for the opportunity meeting, she believes that exposure options have expanded. Brand Ambassadors can lead in-home parties that allow potential customers to feel the product, online digital real results parties that highlight before-and-after photos, and market parties, where team members from an entire city can come together to do recruiting.
Today’s conference calls are more about education and training than recruiting. Many Isagenix teams now use Google Hangouts and Facebook Live to share ideas and product information. Nerium uses calls and webinars to share product overviews and business tips, while AdvoCare employs regular conference calls as a way to share essential information with the field.
RECRUITING & ONBOARDING STRATEGY No. 4: Training to Sell
Product-forward companies know that direct sellers need clear product messaging and continuous training to keep that message fresh and alive.
Most leading firms provide online universities where distributors can access classes and move forward at their own pace. These digital modules are supported by weekly webinars and monthly in-person trainings. Companywide meetings that usually occur twice a year envelop distributors with the company message and additional trainings and support.
AdvoCare’s new suite of training provides Independent Distributors with a wealth of online information in the “Getting Started” module, designed to support them in their first 90 days. That’s followed by additional digital and in-person trainings geared toward helping people sustain early successes and continue to build their business. AdvoCare also will launch customer trainings to more fully educate customers about AdvoCare products.
Another new AdvoCare tool called Product Navigator will support these trainings and give customers and Distributors a new online way to discover, learn about and recommend products for specific customer needs. After answering a few questions about personal goals and what one is looking for from a product standpoint, the Product Navigator recommends different product solution starting points.
“As Distributors begin to share AdvoCare with friends and family, Product Navigator can help them help others find the right products for them,” Levy says.
What works well is an approach that is duplicable, says Nerium’s Rourke. “Many people don’t see themselves as salespeople. Relationship marketing is about mass duplication.”
Isagenix follows a similar approach. Odgen says that once people are long-term customers and decide they want to sell the products, sponsors and the company help them develop their own story. The key is to equip people who already are fans of a product with the confidence to share their experiences with others. “Once they have a story, then it is easier to share with others later. We teach people how to connect with others and then share their Isagenix story,” Ogden says. “Then we plug them into company events.”
Take Shape For Life just retooled its training with a big assist from field leaders. Prior to 2015 the company did not have a unified training approach. A new model, built with collaboration between the field and corporate, delivers a unified and consistent training module to every Health Coach, at a variety of levels.
Ameli says the company is focused on “just in time” training that provides education coaches need at different stages in their development.
“We’ve made it as inviting as possible,” Ameli says. “After that first 48 to 72 hours is a new coach’s first three months, and if they don’t get what we promised, then they leave us or are inactive, so we need to have all the tools and programs and training so they can get what they need to be successful.”
As new distributors learn the ropes and achieve early successes, the opportunities to retain them and train them into sales leaders are plentiful. The November issue of Direct Selling News will take a closer look at the ways in which the channel’s top companies achieve their success, the training tools they use and the ways in which they collaborate with their field to continuously educate, support and develop their sales teams.