Click here to order the December 2017 issue in which this article appeared.
In This Issue:
The Most Influential Women in Direct Selling
Bringing Gender Parity to Direct Selling
Advocating for the Direct Selling Community
Navigating the Millennial-Driven World
Sticking to a Winning Business Model
Leading with Passion and Commitment
Launching New Products and Segments
Recruiting and Retaining the Field
Direct Selling Icons
Since 2011, participation in direct selling has steadily increased each year, according to the U.S. Direct Selling Association (DSA).
About 5 million Americans became a part of a direct selling company over the past five years, joining more than 15 million others already in the channel. Worldwide, there were more than 107 million independent representatives in 2016, up 10 million since 2013, according to the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations (WFDSA).
The opportunities the channel offers individuals are as varied as those who participate in direct selling. According the DSA’s latest research, for 800,000 Americans, it is the chance to own their own business; for 4.5 million others, it is the avenue to earning supplemental income working on a part-time basis. Millions more simply desire discounts on their favorite products.
And direct selling companies are developing strategies to keep independent representatives active longer, from engaging more deeply in their first few days and weeks, to providing quick wins in recognition and compensation. The executives say they believe such initiatives will appeal to prospective entrepreneurs on several levels—financially, culturally and philanthropically.
Dr. Oi-Lin Chen, President and CEO of health and beauty company Sunrider International, believes key factors to recruiting and retaining representatives include company longevity, products and the compensation plan.
“People are attracted to our opportunity because our company has a 35-year history of success and financial stability,” Dr. Chen says. “They like the fact that we self-manufacture our products; they know we stand behind our products. Prospects are always interested in the products you are selling because they are putting their own reputation behind them. They need to feel that the products are effective and consumable, something that customers will keep purchasing.”
|Dr. Oi-Lin Chen, President and CEO, Sunrider International
Dr. Oi-Lin Chen co-founded Torrance, California-based health and wellness company Sunrider, with her husband, Dr. Tei-Fu Chen, and oversees daily operations in over 50 countries and regions.
Sunrider recently launched a new compensation plan that, according to Chen, rewards the key behaviors of selling, sponsoring, developing and leading. “If they do the right actions, they can decide how much they want to make,” she says. “The plan has baby steps for new independent business owners (IBOs), so they can achieve success right away—because the first 90 days are the most important to an IBO’s retention. We have a step-by-step training program to help them achieve their goals, so they feel that the business is simple—an opportunity that everyone can do.”
When Wendy Lewis and Randy Ray founded anti-aging skincare company Jeunesse in 2009, they had two very specific reasons for creating the company. First, they wanted to help as many people as possible reach their goals and fulfill their dreams; second, they wanted to help children around the world. Lewis, who also serves as Chief Operations Officer, believes this combination of personal achievement and philanthropy resonates with people universally.
“Essentially, I think people want the opportunity to achieve in a supportive and inspiring environment and the chance to make a difference,” Lewis says. “As an industry, our role is to offer pathways to success and support systems to get them there. In addition to the essentials—viable earning opportunities, training programs and outstanding marketing support tools—key drivers should include intangibles such as creating a strong company culture and embracing a higher purpose.”
In 2016, nearly 40 percent of the record 20.5 million Americans who participated in direct selling were minorities, led by Hispanic-American entrepreneurs at 22 percent. Ethnic and minority groups recognize direct selling as an attractive and affordable way to build a business, in a manner of their choosing and conducive to their economic, family and social priorities. Hence, direct selling companies are attracting these first-time entrepreneurs.
“Minority groups sometimes have a hard time finding a good job because of the language barrier and a different environment and culture than they are used to,” Chen says. “We find that they are open to a direct approach about the business opportunity, so we emphasize different aspects of the opportunity, such as financial freedom and connecting to their community locally and globally.”
|Wendy Lewis, Founder and Chief Operations Officer, Jeunesse Global
Wendy Lewis co-founded Lake-Mary, Florida-based anti-aging skincare and wellness company Jeunesse with her husband, Randy Ray, after a successful career building and later selling a medical practice management supplier company.
That global connection is of paramount importance to many ethnic and minority group entrepreneurs, as an established, familiar community emboldens them to share the opportunity. “Many of our minority IBOs have families and friends overseas, so they like the fact that we have a global, seamless compensation plan,” Chen says. “They can extend their business around the world. We have bilingual staff dedicated to supporting these specific markets, so they feel like we are ‘speaking their language.’ Our marketing tools and training are all translated into Spanish, Korean and Chinese in the United States.”
As a global company, Jeunesse has found success by taking the time to understand the culture and business practices of each location and by ensuring respected local leaders are in place to manage the market. “The U.S. market is a melting pot of many cultures, and we approach this market in the same manner, taking the time to understand the needs of the unique groups of entrepreneurs that make up this diverse marketplace,” Lewis says.
For example, the company recently launched a market initiative tailored to the Hispanic-American entrepreneur called VIVE Jeunesse, which takes the successful Jeunesse University concept and tailors it to the Spanish-speaking market, with all trainings and tools in Spanish and by the engagement of top Spanish-speaking leaders. This tailored approach helps attract Hispanic-American distributors and gives them the tools and training needed to not only begin, but to continue their Jeunesse journey.
In addition to this initiative, Jeunesse supports other cultural demographics by offering training and marketing materials in several languages. The North America comprehensive training kit, for example, is available in English, Spanish, simplified Chinese and French, and includes training and marketing support tools. In addition, the exclusive Jmobile business management app is available in 22 languages.
Retaining the Field
The direct selling business model is perfectly structured to appeal to people seeking greater autonomy over their working lives. The flexibility offered is one of the biggest reasons people join. Still, companies find themselves looking for new ways to keep new recruits as well as long-term independent representatives.
Lewis shares three ways that help Jeunesse retain its distributors: offering ample training opportunities through hands-on events held regularly around the world, providing marketing tools, and recognizing and rewarding achievement.
“We strive to create a culture, a sense of belonging and a purpose, that keeps the Jeunesse family of distributors engaged and committed to our mission to create positive impact in the world,” she says. “Not everyone who joins the Jeunesse family ultimately decides to stay. But those who do are so united and committed to our mission and our culture. I believe this sense of unity and purpose, coupled with our sincere desire to help them succeed, helps us retain distributors and grow the Jeunesse family around the world.”
At Sunrider, one focus is on helping new IBOs feel confident they can achieve their goal and fulfill their dream; therefore, the company strategy is to help them quickly succeed. In addition to email communication, every new IBO receives a phone call from the company in their first week welcoming them and helping them to set up their business. They can also immediately access the Sunrider training website to get started.
Open communication is another area in which Sunrider invests a lot of time. The business development staff is in constant communication with leaders, including private social media groups where they can immediately raise concerns as well as weekly webinars where they can ask questions.
“Our IBOs need to know that we care about them and support them,” Chen says. “This goes back to personalizing the business experience for them through one-on-one or small group interactions. This is why the personal phone call during their first week is important. They know they have someone at the corporate level they can reach out to.”
The Future of Training
It’s impossible to know what new tools will come down the pike in the coming years, but if past technology breakthroughs are any indication, then they are certain to help direct selling executives better connect with independent business owners everywhere. Breaking down geographic and language barriers, especially to companies with global footprints, is critical to the future of training in direct selling and, ultimately, recruitment and retention efforts.
“In today’s working environment, technology has been instrumental in improving our ability to connect with people, particularly across geographical distances,” Lewis says.
“In order to be effective in training and retaining distributors, connecting is critical. We have been successful connecting our family of distributors through the multitude of live events that happen across the globe on a weekly basis,” she adds. “For a long time, we’ve used technology such as video, conference calls and webinars to connect with distributors. Now we’re using social media, tools like Facebook Live and our Jmobile app to connect with and train distributors across geographic locations in multiple languages.”
While Sunrider still holds in-person training, the company extensively uses social media platforms such as Facebook Live and WhatsApp to conduct training. Private social media groups that are segmented by age, location and rank offer opportunities to discuss personal experiences and share tips. Weekly training webinars are consistently held, and views of them can increase 10 times when posted to Facebook or other social media channels.
“When we create any training, we’ve learned that it needs to be accessible and ‘bite-sized,’ ” Chen says. “IBOs don’t have the patience or attention span for hourslong training anymore. They are always asking us for shorter versions of our videos, and everything must be mobile-friendly now. For the future, we are investing in our own mobile apps and mobile-friendly websites, so training can be accessed from anywhere, and we are also making sure our training supports various language options.”
“It’s exciting to know that there is technology yet to be employed that will help us connect with distributors,” Lewis says. “I believe technologies that minimize the barriers of geographic location and language will be instrumental to offering new tools to communicate with and train distributors in the future.”