Click Here to buy RENEWAL: Leading Direct Selling Turnarounds
Brett Blake has been a very busy man as he’s turned out yet another great book. We recently featured him in October regarding his first book Private Equity Investing in Direct Selling: Identifying Risks and Rewards, which was aimed at the investing community and helping direct investment to our channel. I recently caught up with him to talk about his latest book, Renewal: Leading Direct Selling Turnarounds.
The timing for this book couldn’t be more perfect given that our entire channel is looking for ways to innovate, compete with the gig economy, and most importantly, grow their businesses and get their mojo back. Brett’s new book is also the focus of this month’s cover story.
How did the idea of the book come to you? Why did you want to write it?
This past summer, I had a chance to spend some time with several executives and boards members of companies. I was struck by how many companies are struggling right now with renewal. I was asked by one of the companies to sit down and put together a presentation for the executives about some of the things I’ve learned for better or worse in my career. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to be exposed to several turnarounds starting at USANA when their business took a freefall in Australia. They were kind enough to send my family and me to Australia during the Olympics, and I was able to spend some time and try to turn around that business that fallen in half.
From that point on, I’ve had this opportunity to work on renewal projects and programs for both USANA and some of the International divisions, as well as at Beachbody and others. So, in those conversations with executives, I was forced to sit down and think through what are the variables that I wish I had in front of me that could guide me as I faced the problems and challenges of renewal. This exercise allowed me to synthesize some of that thinking. After the presentation, I received such a positive response I decided to put this book together to help companies navigate the renewal waters.
You say there is a predictable pattern that companies go through in their business—Why do companies fail to sustain growth year after year?
The experience so many companies have is when they hit a vein of growth, it feels like they can do no wrong. They see rapid, rapid growth with lots of people joining the company, and sales are through the roof. The executive’s focus is on how do we keep up with this growth? During this period of time, it’s easy for executives to get into this pattern where they think they’ve figured out something that other companies haven’t and arrogance settles in. I’ve been in that world where I felt like I could do no wrong. I can’t tell you for sure, and every case is different, but I believe it has something to do with the fatigue of some of the top leaders. It could be a hiccup in the operations of the company where they can’t keep up with product, or they continually have challenges in meeting the quality demands of their customers. Sometimes it’s just the fact that their enrollment message has become “You have to join us because we’re growing.” And growth itself is not a growth strategy. It’s not a message that is sustainable. Over time, this message of opportunity—this scarcity mentality that you have to join because of the growth wears itself out in some cases.
So, whether it’s fatigue, it’s the wrong message, it’s operational challenges, it’s predictable that companies in our industry who in the three to seven-year range will likely see a slowing of growth or a retraction of sales.
“Using the lifecycle that direct selling companies go through was a great way to be able to see and articulate what happens with sales, profits and cash.”
What are some of those early warning signs that you give executives in your book?
In many cases, I saw executives were ignoring signs of a downturn. Because oddly enough sales is not a great predictor of the future. Most companies know this, but when they start seeing their net active distributor base change and the number of new recruits and rank advancements start to decrease— these are telltale advance warning signs that they have a problem. It may not be showing up in sales today, but will show up in sales in the future.
I love that these companies have been using the net promoter. For those who aren’t familiar with it’s a simple question administered on a system basis that asks an individual’s interest and willingness on a scale from one to 10 of how likely they are to share your product and or business opportunity with a friend or neighbor. And as you measure that over time, especially when you’re having growth, that also can be a really powerful tool to be able to give you an advance warning that says hey, we’ve got a problem and will give you time before sales start to decline, to begin adjusting and prepare for a slowing or decline in sales.
Tell us why you wanted the audience of your book to be for both direct selling company executives as well as their field leadership.
It’s important for field leaders to be educated on the fact that their company is not alone in their trajectory, and that other great companies have gone through a downturn and been able to come up the other side and have success. The challenge that so many companies have is their distributors have never been through this before. They’ve only seen growth, they start losing confidence in the future, and their lack of hope and their lack of confidence actually accelerates the decline. It makes it much more difficult to be able to find renewal.
One of the companies that I’ve been working with asked me to come out and speak to their top leaders as a way to help their sales leaders understand that yes, we are going through this renewal process. This is what it looks like. Rather than panic and start looking for another home, these are the things you can and should do as field leaders to be able to shore up your team. These will help the company through the next phase of the process of putting the company back on a trajectory of growing again.
What is the main takeaway that an executive or field sales leader will get from your book?
I’ve sent this book to several executives and field leaders and told them to give me their feedback, and the response back was it provided them with all of the variables they need to be aware of when it comes to growth. I think it’s practical and a very quick read and gives real-world examples. That’s what people want. Hopefully, those reading this will appreciate the fact that I’ve been through this myself. I’ve been in the trenches with several companies both on the party plan side, and network marketing side. I’ve helped with turnarounds both in the U.S. and overseas. I also have lots of examples, both from my personal experience and from other executives and other companies who’ve been through the process and found renewal.
And finally, my goal is that it will provide them some hope that, yes, things might be difficult, and It might take them a year or two—in some cases three to five years—to work through this slowing and decline, but renewal is absolutely possible. The variables that are needed to make that happen are outlined in this book.