Re-energizing Growth, By Re-thinking Crises
Something not altogether good was brewing in direct selling in late 2019. The Direct Selling Association reported flat-line global sales performance of $35.2 billion, down slightly from 2018. China’s 100-day reviews of nutritional products halted companies from selling in China, surprising everyone. Continued compliance pressures in China clearly stressed sales in the channel. The domestic regulatory environment brought new challenges as well. And for many companies, sales just weren’t where they needed to be for continued market expansion. Pressure everywhere was building, but no one could foresee what was around the corner.
C-suite strategic planning, course corrections, realignment of corporate spending, new compensation structures, and the like were underway throughout the industry when pandemic struck in early 2020. COVID-19 could have compounded lingering 2019 circumstances, but that is not what happened for these seven direct selling companies.
With the benefit of time and distance, 2020 sales numbers and some hindsight, these industry leaders take a short, retrospective look inside their companies during a year like no other. In so doing, they help the direct selling industry re-think crises while telling the stories of how their teams met disruptive challenges and leveraged 2020’s new business reality to create a renewal that re-energized their field organizations and helped solidify their growth trajectories for 2021 and beyond.
COVID-19 could have compounded lingering 2019 circumstances, but that is not what happened for these seven direct selling companies.
This industry leader takes a short, retrospective look inside Nature’s Sunshine during a year like no other.
Founded / 1972
Top Executive / Terrence Moorehead, CEO
Products / Personal Care, Wellness, Cosmetics
With a worldwide listening tour, think-tank sessions and executive committee analysis behind them, Nature’s Sunshine embarked on a fast-track relaunch in 2019. By spring, CEO Terrence Moorehead says a new five-point global strategy was taking shape, and they spent the closing quarters that year filling in details.
Doubling distributors’ businesses—that was the premise underlying Nature’s Sunshine’s relaunch. They knew it would take brand work, work on the overall distributor and consumer experience, as well as building out digital capabilities and extending an already extensive lead in manufacturing and quality.
They didn’t want to choke on everything they were trying to accomplish, Moorehead remembers. But they implemented what they could early on, laying the building blocks for the rest of the strategy. They got the economics of the business right, made sure the P and L and balance sheets were moving in the right direction and slotted the right people in the right jobs at the right time doing the right things with the right motivations.
By their own design, Nature’s Sunshine was poised for renewal in 2020, but Moorehead says, “What we didn’t know about, of course, was COVID-19. That threw a wrench in a lot of different markets. It made us hesitate as to whether or not to pull the trigger on something like a new business model.”
Whatever their apprehensions, the major tenets of Nature’s Sunshine’s new strategy were both urgent and important. So, they muscled through, despite shattered plans for face-to-face experiences and an underlying wish they’d begun a decade sooner.
“Everyone believed in the strategy. Everyone knew what we had to do, and there was really no need to stop or put the brakes on. As a matter of fact, you could make an argument that we needed to try to accelerate things,” Moorehead says.
“We’d spent so much time on that, when the pandemic hit, and everyone had to start working remotely, instead of people being lost, everybody knew what their role was,” Moorehead said.
Forethought in management operations processes, as well as the previous year’s investment in a global, virtual communications platform, kept Nature’s Sunshine on track and allowed them to even move call centers to remote work.
“We felt confident. When you have the best team in the world and you have the best practitioners, we put out there what we believed they could handle,” Moorehead says.
Their effective communications strategies re-ignited awareness and long-dormant relationships. Knowing newness and change is absorbed at different rates, they recalibrated how best to bring everyone along, in some instances shifting to accommodate but not to compromise. Those efforts “elevated the level of activation across the board,” Moorehead says.
Their only path forward, thanks to the pandemic, was a virtual one. They used every tool available—Zoom calls, Zoom webinars, texts, emails, one-on-one phone calls, pre-recorded training modules, even animated training modules—to come at people frequently and in multiple dimensions.
Moorehead thinks in some ways, the circumstances of 2020 opened up people’s minds in the field and rise to the relaunch challenges. But the management team “would’ve walked through fire to make sure that our distributors were taken care of and that the company would be relaunched effectively,” he says.
“We certainly didn’t imagine that the results would be as positive as quickly,” Moorehead says.
After 20 years of declining sales, the company bested their record when Q4 2020 net sales increased 11 percent to a total of $101.7million, up from $91.7 million in 2019.
“It put us on this new trend line and new trajectory, where people really are taking a new interest in the brand and a new interest in their businesses, unlike we’ve ever seen before,” Moorehead says.
Relaunch is never a straight line to success, a message Nature’s Sunshine broadcasts widely to its sales field. Large-scale business changes create winners and losers, as well as emotional responses, while a company learns and fine-tunes the functionality of its creations.
“The brilliance of the North American management team was managing the change day-to-day. That required a lead-up, sometimes daily meetings, weekly field meetings, partnering with distributors and consultants on idea generation, what’s working and what’s not working. But then the same level of intensity had to occur after the launch as well,” Moorehead says.
Change management and touch management augments what they believe is a groundbreaking business model and an industry-leading go-to-market approach. They have shifted messaging from relaunch training to aspirational business growth education, and along the way, picked up a lot of new people who are excited about what Nature’s Sunshine is all about in this new era.
Nearly 50 years encapsulating herbs in America, Nature’s Sunshine differentiates itself through its commitment to science, manufacturing, quality, testing and third-party accreditations that surpass industry leaders and norms, as well as its unique, omnichannel distribution network of herbalists, dieticians, homeopathic healers, and herbal retailers.
Moorehead says the company always maintains a growth posture and a certain level of optimism. It’s a growing market and more people are engaged in taking care of their health than ever before.
“We want to make sure that we are there to be a lead option for those consumers who are really serious about their health and want a product they can believe in, trust and know it’s going to deliver results for them,” Moorehead says.
Excerpt from the Direct Selling News May 2021 Cover Story: “Renewal, Re-energizing Growth, By Re-thinking Crises.”