More than a year ago, I received a letter from Susan Stratton, who shared her journey of personal development as she embarked on a career in direct selling.
Let’s meet our hero. Susan is a single mom with two children. She had completed a year of college when she started her family and had to shift focus from school to full-time employment to make ends meet.
A receptionist at an engineering and construction management company, Susan’s paycheck barely covered her monthly bills. Then her daughter joined the soccer league, requiring fees and uniform expenses, and her son had to have orthodontic work. Susan fell behind. For six months she had to borrow money from her parents. Then, they ran into financial difficulty of their own and couldn’t help any longer. Susan’s own financial worries were compounded by the fear of losing her job as her company struggled through the recession.
Most people who come into direct selling are like Susan. They have a need. That is why they are looking for alternatives. If you can learn to welcome, engage, support and help the Susans of the world to succeed, you can build a billion-dollar direct selling business.
Susan’s journey through your business goes something like this: She is invited to a home party by a successful woman in her office who she respects. Susan goes and ends up loving the product she is shown. She knows of several friends who would like it, too, and realizes this could be a way to make some desperately needed extra money.
A few weeks later, Susan hosts a party at her house and the woman from her office does the presentation. A few friends buy some items and Susan makes a little money. And better yet, one friend is interested in hosting a party, as well.
Susan is excited. Really excited. She can’t remember being more excited about anything in a long time. However, as the date of her friend’s party approaches, the woman from Susan’s office decides not to pursue the business any longer.
Susan is left on her own. She has never been in sales. She has never even talked in front of a small room full of people before, and the idea of doing so terrifies her. She starts inventing excuses to get out of the party—almost to the point of making herself physically sick. She wants to give up.
We know the vast majority of people who enter direct selling do so with very little experience or developed skills in sales, communication and presentations. Many have been beaten up by the economy, by their friends and family or by the “little voices” in their heads. They lack confidence. They doubt whether they can do this.
Susan doesn’t want to let her friend down, so she agrees to do the presentation. Her friend has a small gathering of people in her living room. Before Susan can speak, one of the guests launches into a story about someone she knew who got involved in one of these “schemes.” The guest continues on, saying this person upset many friendships trying to sell products, and even got into all sorts of financial debt, which led to the person’s divorce. The evening is dominated by this woman and her stories of tragedy and heartache.
Susan is devastated and embarrassed. Thinking this business really isn’t for her, she quits.
When someone first starts out in this business, their uncertainty and fear are the highest and their skills and belief are the lowest. It doesn’t take much to knock people out of the business. This is one of the biggest factors for the great attrition in this industry. The company hasn’t done anything wrong. It isn’t about the products, the compensation plan or the opportunity. It is simply the emotional obstacles people face during the beginning stages.
A few weeks later the woman in her office walks by Susan’s desk and asks her how her business is going. Susan shares her negative experiences. The woman listens and then pulls out a copy of SUCCESS magazine and suggests Susan listen to the enclosed CD interview with David Bach, who says there will be dark days on the journey toward success, but the good days will more than make up for them. Susan listens to the entire CD on the way home that night and finishes it while sitting in her driveway. That issue of SUCCESS also has interviews with Dr. Mehmet Oz (whom she loves), Zig Ziglar and Napoleon Hill. She ends up listening to the CD four times through that week. She then devours the magazine and finds particular inspiration in the story of homemaker Gert Boyle, who built Columbia Sportswear into a billion-dollar company after the death of her husband.
Newly inspired and encouraged, Susan decides to hold another party of her own. This time it goes reasonably well and a guest of one of her friends joins the business and “takes off like a rocket ship.” Susan is on the highest of all highs, and so glad she didn’t give up. She can now see how this business can become something really terrific for her.
However, 45 days later the “rocket ship” crashes without explanation. The guest stops showing up at meetings and won’t return phone calls. She’s gone. Once again Susan is devastated. She starts to question whether she should continue. The stories the woman told at her first solo home party begin to reverberate in her ears. Maybe that woman was right.
As we all know, there will be many valleys in the rollercoaster journey toward direct-selling success. How many times do your new people hit those valleys? That is when they need a resource of hope, inspiration and support, something for them to fall back on that might re-inspire them to pick themselves up one more time, try one more time or call one more person. That one more effort could be the critical turnaround for them—and your ability to retain them in your organization.
In another issue of SUCCESS, Susan reads a John Maxwell column and realizes she needs to learn leadership skills if she is going to retain people and build an organization. She also learns about the power of masterminds in SUCCESS. Susan starts to hold biweekly mastermind meetings in her home to discuss the latest SUCCESS magazine as well as a selected book of the month.
Susan tells me it’s easier and more comfortable to invite people over to discuss articles and books about success and life than it is to only invite people over to talk about products and compensation plans. The one helped the other.
Susan’s little mastermind gatherings start to grow until she has to hold them at a church facility, then later at a local hotel on Saturday mornings.
The woman with little college education and no skills in sales, communication, leadership or networking, who was once petrified to talk to four to five women in a living room, is now conducting Saturday morning training sessions in rooms filled with 50 to 100 people.
Susan updated me recently that her part-time business has yielded more money in the past four months than her full-time job. And while she is still very dependent on the income from that job right now, she hopes to go into direct selling full time later this year.
What we are talking about here is not just Susan’s success, but the success of thousands of Susans in your organization—those who might not be there for long if they’re not supported properly. You can significantly reduce the emotional fallout in your organization if you can help them get over the emotional hurdles, build their belief and confidence and, ultimately, develop the skills necessary to succeed in direct selling. If you do, the impact this can have on your growth potential is staggering.
Over subsequent issues, I will offer research findings, resources and suggestions that will help you do just that.