Editor’s Note: The following is an exerpt from The Core Principles of Successful and Sustainable Direct Selling Companies.
You don’t have to be an off-the-scale extrovert to be successful in this industry—but it helps if interacting with others raises your energy level. Direct selling is a social business. You can master the technical, logistical elements of marketing, sales and operations, but if you don’t love people, love to find out what motivates them and love to build relationships with them, this is not the business for you.
Now, even your most people-loving people will have days when they struggle with their fellow humans. But you’re looking for an underlying orientation, a pattern of needing to connect with others and help them become the best versions of themselves. If you recruit people with this core motivation and, as business management expert Jim Collins said, put them in the right seats on your bus, you can’t lose. You can coach people to perform tasks. You can’t teach them to get deep satisfaction from being with and helping people. Recruit for attitude. Train for skill.
Finding Good People Requires A Sustained Investment
From filling your C-suite offices with leaders capable of strategically running the organization—and taking higherlevel spots as CEOs retire—to ensuring your field team funnels are full, finding the people who will sustain and build your organization should be your top priority. According to the 2018 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, “organizations are no longer assessed based only on traditional metrics such as financial performance, or even the quality of their products or services. Rather, organizations today are increasingly judged on the basis of their relationships with their workers, their customers, and their communities.” This “social capital” trend challenges companies to pay even closer attention to the human element of their operations.
Even though direct selling has an advantage when it comes to understanding and working with the human element, we shouldn’t put ourselves on auto-pilot. We need to be constantly innovating and reflecting on how we attract, manage and inspire our people. “Too many companies are stuck in reactive mode when a member of their leadership team retires or moves to greener pastures,” Direct Selling News wrote in a story about leadership development. “The approach is ‘She left, so we need to find someone to replace her.’ By then, unfortunately, you’re well behind the eight ball. The process of identifying, grooming and training talent who ultimately will fill leadership positions requires sustained investment. It’s a never-ending cycle that always should be in motion, filling and backfilling with strong candidates who are likely to be found at the middle-management level.”
Embrace technology. Develop innovative products. Create bold new strategies. Do everything you can to make your business competitive. But none of it should supersede the commitment your organization makes to its people.
Success Multiplier: Strategy
One key to finding the best talent—for executive positions, in particular—is to ease up on an unwritten rule our industry has about hiring from within. Direct selling companies have a tendency to steer away from outsiders (those with no prior industry experience), a preference that shrinks the pool of available candidates. True, we are a specialized industry and, let’s be honest, we’ve faced skepticism and worse from the general market over the years. Some criticism we’ve earned; some comes from misunderstanding, so it’s easy to stick with people who already know and trust us. But it’s also limiting. We have much to learn from traditional retail and service companies, and we are competing with them more than ever.
Outsiders Bring Fresh Ideas
Whether you push for an insider or not depends somewhat on your goals, says a representative from Pearson Partners International, a global executive search and leadership consulting firm. “If you’re trying to do something you’ve never done before, an outsider can bring fresh ideas. Maybe he or she has experience in developing overseas markets or rolling out a customer relationship management system, for example.” On the other hand, “If you want to build something organic over time, a direct selling veteran might be a better choice.”
An Amway human resources executive points to three situations in which someone with little or no direct selling experience is your best choice:
- You have a major change in strategic direction, or you’re planning a major change in strategic direction. It’s time to look for candidates who have had direct experience with the challenges you’re about to encounter.
- You’re going through a period of fast growth. Sometimes your internal pipeline isn’t robust enough.
- You’re initiating an organizational redesign. For example, when Amway established four global regions, due to the sheer size of each and the expertise they would demand, the company hired two outsiders and promoted two employees from within.
“A lot of folks started in this industry and don’t know anything else” says a top executive at Neora. “They don’t have the functional skills, like IT, finance or product marketing…. You need a balance of insiders and outsiders.”
Once you have solid corporate and field teams in place, keeping them takes vigilance. Remember that our industry depends on volunteers, who can leave at any time. “There has to be a synergy between the efforts of the corporation and the efforts of the field to work together as partners,” says Neil Offen, former President and CEO of the Direct Selling Association. “You have to always respect the field and care about them and love them to be truly successful.”
- Organizations that attract talented, people-loving people do the following:
- Create products and develop services that deliver what the brand promises. People are drawn to and want to represent companies that have integrity.
- Identify people’s passions and abilities and place them in roles where they can succeed.
- Look out for people in the wrong seats on the bus and move them to different seats—or off the bus—quickly.
- Make it easy for distributors to achieve wins early, while always challenging them to raise their level of activity and performance.
- Ask for and listen to feedback from internal and external teams. When people feel heard, they feel honored and connected—and they’re more likely to stay.
Success Multiplier: Technology
It’s like they made social media just for us. They didn’t, of course, but it’s such a perfect complement to how direct selling works. It thrives on our need to connect with each other about things that matter in our lives. Used well, it’s the distributor’s number one technology tool.
On a practical level, social media lowers the barrier to entry for new distributors—one post or Tweet can put them in front of hundreds of potential customers at once, saving valuable time and expensive printed material for more qualified prospects. Social media also makes it easy to generate and measure interest in products and business opportunities. Threads of conversations among passionate people take on a life of their own, which is a good thing as long as the conversation is positive and productive. Distributors and customers can get off track and off message sometimes—so, as always, not only should you monitor social media chatter, you should provide templated copy and posts for distributors and coach them to respond to all inquiries and comments appropriately.
Providing analytics on these posts and interactions to your distributors will help them directly connect the cause and effect relationship between online efforts and business building. It will also allow them to refine their approach and become more focused and effective.
Your Team’s People Rating
What’s your passion? What motivates you? What are your guiding values? Remember: We put our time and money where our priorities are. Look at your calendar and your department’s or company’s spending trends. What patterns do you see—what are the themes? Do they revolve around people, developing them, getting to know them, creating opportunities for them, recognizing them? Do you model the people-loving behavior you expect from those you work with and those who work for and around you?
What’s your perception of how other top performers in your organization spend their time and resources?