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The title of this article sounds like an oxymoron, and it is for virtually every direct selling company.
But exactly what should change, and what should remain the same? How do you know how to tell the difference between the two? Before answering or attempting to provide perspective to either of these questions, we might reflect on what the direct seller does. Even as we use the term “direct seller” as our label, much has changed there as well. Perhaps, one day soon, there will be some other descriptor for the work of an entrepreneur who has no stationary location, who transacts business via a phone as easily as a personal visit, and who presents products and services without the expense of having to engage sophisticated marketing personnel. They will have an app for everything too, from daily reminders to tracking the business itself, and they can compete with any competitor because they are supported with the finest in tools, training, and products and services.
As I wrote the preceding sentence, it occurred to me that maybe the new descriptor for the direct seller should be magician! How is it possible that this entrepreneur without a store or fixed location can take an order for a product or service on Saturday and have it delivered on Monday? Better yet, this new magician can invite others to enroll in the same experience and, when they do, share in the results of what those enrolled might do with their magical opportunity.
Of course, we know that magic is not real. However, what I just described is real. Yes, it is possible to explore opportunities that didn’t exist 10 years ago, yet are proven by over 100 years of experience. A direct selling opportunity has always been focused on the products and services offered and the business training and personal development guidance needed to support a diverse sales organization. The game may have changed but it is still the same.
What has changed is how a direct selling business is built and managed. “Easy” is not a word I like to use when describing anything. However, having been a participant and observer of the direct selling model for many years, I know that it has never been easier for an independent contractor to build a business. This fact activates even greater potential for direct selling companies as long as they maintain an appealing corporate voice, unique products and services, state-of-the-art tools, systems and processes inclusive of personal development. It’s also become important now more than ever to support the acquisition of business builders and real customers, alike.
We know that in a few short years, up to 50 percent of the workforce could be in independent contractor status. The previous stat is driven by the emergence of the new gig economy or shared economy, what we refer to as the YouEconomy. Regardless of the label used to refer to this new surge in micro-entrepreneurship, direct selling companies are well positioned to benefit from this increasing segment of diverse people who now seek a form of control over their work that is quite different from that of a full-time job.
The “Why” Remains a Powerful Magnet
Our industry “why” has always been one of our strongest competitive advantages. Direct selling companies, each in their own special way, offer a value proposition that goes far beyond the characteristics of quality product, quality service and traditional methods of compensation. The ability to contribute to positive change in someone’s life through a business opportunity that has few barriers to entry remains unique. The combination of this unique blend of opportunity, products, services and value, along with excellent guidance and recognition, has provided people with a reason “why” they should embrace something they might never have thought of doing—building a direct selling business.
So what is it that attracts this breed of entrepreneur? Is it simply a unique product/service? Is it the compensation plan? Is it the benefits personally derived/experienced? Is it a belief that this opportunity appears to be different from what they have been accustomed to? Is it more a belief that “I think I can do this”? Is it a belief in and respect for the corporate story, the corporate mission, vision, principles and values? Is it because they think the company cares about their personal and professional development as well as the level of success they may achieve? Is it because the company and the people who have introduced the company do not appear to be concerned about what one has or has not accomplished—only about what they can accomplish? I believe each of these thoughts forms a part of what motivates people to do something they never ever thought about doing.
Everything mentioned in the preceding paragraph represents what I refer to as the voice of the company. The voice of the company is what speaks to people. The company voice is the aggregate of how all messages are prioritized and blended into what people hear. The voice is a reflection of the heart and soul of the company—the heart being sensitive to the fact that people come from all backgrounds and most would never choose to sell something to earn a living. The soul of the company is about the brand. What do people think about when they think of you? Are they happy, excited and satisfied, building their businesses enthusiastically or are they dissatisfied to some degree and not performing to their potential? We do well to remember that they are always one or the other.
As we look at the brilliant talent in charge of all the game-changing tools now available, I ask “Who oversees the voice, the heart and the soul of the company?” Is this, perhaps, a new position within the company? We know and recognize the importance of the Chief Executive Officer, the President, the Chief Sales, Marketing, Legal, Technology and Operations Officers. As we change the game, we might keep a watchful eye on who is the Chief in charge of the Company Voice—the real brand.
New direct selling companies, growth companies and mature companies will continue to be challenged to keep their corporate voice clear and free from the clutter that often arises when so many chiefs have so much to say about the importance of what matters most to them.
Game Changer: Technology
Technology has definitely changed the game for direct sellers. Technology has provided direct sellers with more valuable tools and services than ever before. Sales can be expanded, parties can be held differently, personalized service can be offered more effectively, just to name a few of the advantages technology has brought to the table. The average direct seller can immediately adopt tools that provide branding and perception of a very sophisticated business within 24 hours of startup. No other business opportunity offers anything comparable.
Even the speed of technological change is changing, becoming exponential to what it was less than 10 years ago. Some companies thought the internet would change the game and it did. Social media is thought to have changed the game and it has. Order processing and delivery of products and services within a few days was once thought by direct selling companies to be an impossible standard to achieve. However, today it is the standard whether we like it or not, due to competition that takes your order and delivers within 24 to 48 hours max.
Technology has even enhanced the direct selling value proposition, once thought to be solely focused on attracting business builders. Regulatory scrutiny and evolving public opinion have steered us to now include company guidance and support for how best to acquire customers, and technology has made the task easier and more far-reaching.
Brilliant Talent to Guide the Future
When I reflect on many years of observation, the talent I observe working in direct selling has never been better. I see the best marketers and sales support experts determining how best to use incentives, and merchandisers that keep a focus on products through campaigns and special pricing to fit the season and the needs of the business. Customer service, order processing and operational support often compare with the best in any industry.
We observe innovative technology applications that enable easy use of just about anything you can imagine, from bookkeeping to tracking travel miles. There are even applications that suggest what the direct seller might do on any given day to run his or her business. It is simply amazing how far we have come in the evolution of the business model. Amazon, Zappos and other innovators have changed everyone’s game and direct sellers have a solid presence in the new game!
We do not know what trends in the future may cause us to make additional changes to our game, but we can hold firm the things we know we must keep the same: those attributes that have always attracted and motivated people from all walks of life to participate in our channel. This always has been and always should be our primary competitive advantage and value proposition.
DSN Ambassador John T. Fleming, a retired direct selling executive and former Publisher/Editor in Chief of Direct Selling News, is the Direct Selling Association’s 2016 Hall of Fame Honoree and 2016 Direct Selling News Lifetime Achiever.