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Whether it’s a presentation during an in-home gathering, an impromptu meeting over coffee after work, a Facebook party or something else, direct selling representatives have more options than ever for sharing their respective products and business opportunities.
What is it that moves a prospect to become a trialist and, ultimately, a customer? Clearly, the seller’s “pitch” is a big part of what influences that decision.
Consumers today have access not only to products but also services in the direct sales channel. Tangible goods, such as cosmetics, nutritional supplements, clothing, jewelry and housewares can be held, sampled and experienced before the sale. Representatives of service-oriented direct selling companies, who are sharing such offerings as legal services, financial services, memberships and identity theft protection, may take a different approach when helping potential customers understand the benefits of doing business with them. The common denominator for all direct selling transactions, regardless of what’s being sold, is the establishment of trust. What leads a prospect to believe not only in the representative, but also to believe that the product or service at hand will make his or her life easier? Is there some magic formula that breeds success?
In a word, no—especially in this day and age, in which the selling situation can happen anytime, anywhere and in any fashion. That fact hasn’t been lost on direct selling companies. Take a look around the current landscape of our channel, and you’ll notice established companies expanding their repertoire of tools and technology, so that representatives have a variety of options at their disposal. And some newer companies are coming right out of the starting gate with social media-based selling models. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach that works best.
Trust Is Key
Within this selling environment, it’s never been more vital that direct sellers listen to their prospective customers and tailor their pitches accordingly. It’s easy to make sweeping generalizations about millennials versus baby boomers and the nuances of each customer demographic, but it’s not as clear cut as that. Direct selling, first and foremost, is about personalized service. Regardless of how much technology may infiltrate our lives, independent representatives always will have the responsibility to seek to understand—to invest the time and effort necessary to develop those relationships customers can’t find elsewhere.
“The vast majority [of consumers] are heavily influenced by personal connection,” says Rick Loy, senior vice president of U.S. sales and training for AdvoCare, a seller of nutritional and weight-management supplements. “My observation is that whether it’s on the phone, face-to-face or through some other mechanism, most people are looking for a sense of assuredness and confidence in the independent representative. They’re looking for a vibe that invokes that trust and feeling of safety to take the next steps. Emotions, body language, tone of voice are all important.”
“Our founder said the field will teach you everything you need to know, so stay close.”
—Rick Loy, Senior Vice President of U.S. Sales and Training, AdvoCare
Trust may represent a particularly crucial dimension when the product is a service and can’t be held or sampled prior to the sale. That’s the case for LegalShield, a provider of legal plans and identity theft solutions. “What we do has to be explained, and it has to be explained by a person you trust,” says LegalShield CEO Jeff Bell. One of the most effective ways to establish that trust, he says, is through an associate’s own experience using LegalShield services. “Once people use the LegalShield membership,” he adds, “they can tell other people about its power with authenticity and truth.”
Indeed, regardless of the company’s product or service, when it comes to developing one’s “pitch,” there’s simply no substitute for being able to speak from direct experience, especially when there’s personal transformation involved. At healthy lifestyle company OPTAVIA, where coaches work with clients to achieve several dimensions of health and wellness, “the primary training for our coaches comes through their experience as clients,” says Dan Chard, CEO of parent company Medifast. “Most of our coaches were clients first, so their training starts when they go through the program themselves. Clients are being coached by someone who has likely been in their shoes and can help steer them to success. People are attracted to people who are sincere. Coaches have to be able to talk about their personal transformations, and by sharing that, they can help others. It’s really just that simple.”
Scott Lewis, chief visionary officer of Jeunesse, an anti-aging skincare and wellness company, agrees. “Being authentic is paramount to everything we do in life, and the distributor–customer relationship is no different,” he says. “It might even be more important, as there is an inherent trust when hard-earned money exchanges hands. The customer needs to know how our products can change their lives, and the distributor provides personal product testimony that helps establish confidence and a long-term relationship. We are more likely to buy products in a ‘social-selling’ environment, which is inherently more friendly and casual, and infinitely more sustainable.”
The Modern Selling Situation
Meeting customers where they are means blending traditional selling methods with innovative ones. Salesforce members are not only using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; you’ll find plenty of distributors using Skype and Zoom, along with messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat, to reach customers where they are. In fact, a report issued by Business Insider Intelligence reveals that active users on messaging apps have surpassed those on social networks.
It’s not difficult to understand why the use of technology in direct sales has exploded: It’s easy, it’s inexpensive, and it can far expand the potential reach of a distributor. First and foremost, however, it can be a powerful vehicle for storytelling. Take Le-Vel, for example, a cloud-based health and wellness company whose growth has largely been organic through the sharing of personal testimonials on its Facebook page. The company’s salesforce paints the picture for customers, and “the stories on social media are just continued validation,” says Le-Vel Co-CEO Paul Gravette. “If you’re a customer, you’ll believe those stories faster than anything else.”
Technology isn’t intended to replace personalized service, but rather enhance it. One top AdvoCare distributor, a personal trainer, uses social media as an introduction vehicle. From there, he responds offline through a personal message and arranges an in-person meeting. The motivation, he says, isn’t to push sales, but rather to establish a relationship and better understand his customers’ needs. Many of his customers, he adds, have been with him since he started his AdvoCare business five years ago.
Darren Jensen, CEO of wellness and personal-care company LifeVantage, says, “The principles of direct selling remain the same, but our tactics are modifying. If you’re looking to build a solid base of retail customers, social media is the way to go.” He points to a salesforce promotion currently underway in which LifeVantage distributors can earn a trip to the Bahamas by earning 3,000 points through rank advancements, sales and other achievements during the promotional period. Those distributors who have embraced social media or who are using some sort of social media hybrid sales strategy, he says, are seeing the best results. “Our highest distributor currently has 30,000 points—she’s totally outstripped everything,” he says. “She’s the poster child for actively driving a business through social media.”
That “poster child,” a top LifeVantage distributor, has her own winning strategy for attracting potential clients, which she calls the “indirect approach.” It’s based on philosophies she first honed offline and on the phone to much success. “I made a million dollars before I ever posted anything on social media,” she says. “The basics of direct sales have always been about creating curiosity, delivering information and following up.” Instead of asking a prospect outright if he’s interested in a product, she asks him if he knows anyone who might be interested. Her non-aggressive tactics are deliberately vague and designed to pique initial interest, after which she’ll share more specifics about the product at hand.
“I tell people that your job is not to lead the horse to water; your job is to make the horse so thirsty, it’s begging for water. What would our products or the business opportunity do for your customer’s life?”
—A Top Distributor at LifeVantage
While the indirect approach helped her build her customer base offline, it was social media that put her business into hyperdrive. “Social media gives you a way to subtly expose your network without being personally rejected,” she says, adding that she’s building her business by an average of 1,000 to 1,500 customers each month and that between 25 to 35 percent of them come from Facebook.
“As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water,” she continues, “but what people are constantly doing is dragging people to the water. I tell people that your job is not to lead the horse to water; your job is to make the horse so thirsty, it’s begging for water. What would our products or the business opportunity do for your customer’s life? Once you show your customers the solution to their problems, they’re in.”
Social media is a crowded place, and anyone who wants to be successful there has to cut through the noise. One top director at MONAT, a naturally based hair-care company, has managed to do just that by establishing her own personal brand, so to speak. Video has been her medium of choice. A comedienne at heart, she took improvisation classes and dabbled in standup comedy before MONAT. Most of her new business, she says, comes from her connections on Facebook and Instagram. “You have to find a way to brand yourself on social media,” she adds. “You’re ultimately the CEO of your business. Your personality needs to come through.
“When I see people like and comment on my videos,” she continues, “I ‘like’ and comment back—I continue the conversation. My videos help people feel like they know me already. With social media, we have a vehicle to get our personalities out there. You have to be true to who you are and own that. When you’re true to yourself, your vibe attracts your tribe.”
Keeping Pace with Technology
From an aspiring entrepreneur’s standpoint, one of the most attractive features of a direct selling business is that no prior sales experience is required. The playing field is level, and anyone, regardless of age, background or circumstances, can join the race. With that in mind, direct selling companies invest considerable time and money to create product education, sales and personal development tools that help even the novice get up to speed, and at the pace of their own choosing.
It takes time for any representative, particularly those who have no prior selling experience, to develop the confidence necessary to develop the right pitch. That’s why companies like AdvoCare offer distributors step-by-step training, so they have a chance to practice behaviors that can help them become successful. At AdvoCare, training focuses in part on monitoring and improving those behaviors; for example, live events that walk distributors through a curriculum covering everything from word choices to role playing.
“For those who avail themselves of the training, I think it reduces fear and grows confidence,” Loy says. “If our distributors are comfortable and confident, they’ll increase their competence through repetition. We can take them to that place of having a sense of ownership of their story. The power of the relationship goes all the way back to speaking from the heart.”
Across the board, direct selling companies are offering representatives a combination of in-person and digital training, realizing that, while technology offers convenience, there’s no replacing the power of in-person delivery. LegalShield holds an average of 400 meetings across the United States each week for associates and prospects. Those meetings are an opportunity not just for potential associates to learn more about LegalShield, but also for current associates to watch and learn from leaders within the organization. The company also presents a series of LegalShield University events weekly in its largest markets. A learning management system offers associates training on demand through videos and online coursework, “but it’s dangerous to move too far away from the in-person side of the business,” says Bell.
Simplicity First, Simplicity Always
Within any direct sales pitch, there’s certainly room for personalization. But companies do want their field members to adhere to a structure.
While some direct selling companies do not use selling scripts, many companies choose to do so, creating scripts their independent representatives can easily follow and duplicate. Executives we spoke to say they do this for several reasons. First, a straightforward script can make the products and the business more approachable, relatable and attractive to potential customers and, ultimately, consultants. Second, when a product and/or business opportunity is easy to explain and share, new consultants gain confidence more quickly, and score quicker wins, which can make all the difference in the outcome of their businesses.
Last and perhaps more important, creating and promoting a sales script for the field, even if it’s nothing more than a set of bullet points, can help organizations maintain regulatory compliance. There’s a fine balance there, too: Overly complicated or overly vague scripts could result in a consultant’s attempt to either translate or fill in gaps. A direct, clear-cut script provides a reference that field members can use again and again. There’s little need to reinvent the wheel. The sales technique that a company recommends its distributors use really comes down to the kind of products those distributors are selling, along with the company’s culture and philosophies.
“We prefer that everyone beat to the same drum,” says Le-Vel Co-CEO Jason Camper. “Our belief is that the company will grow faster and stronger if everyone’s saying the same thing, if the message stays intact and consistent. We understand everyone has their own style. We don’t expect them to be robotic, but the why, when and how of the business—we want it to be a broken record, a copy-and-paste message.”
For Le-Vel’s independent salesforce of Brand Promoters, there’s little need to deviate from a standard presentation because “this business model is really simple,” says a top Brand Promoter. “They’ve set the field up for success and when we can keep it simple, we experience more success. If people start doing tons of training and needing material, you’re going to miss the big picture, which is helping people improve their quality of life.”
“Simplicity will make or break you,” adds Camper. “You’re trying to get a large number of people to a successful level. They’re busy and have a thousand things going on, and now we’re inserting our company into their busy lifestyles. You’re dealing with a broad range of ages and educational backgrounds. Not everybody is a salesman, so you need to keep it simple.”
“We prefer that everyone beat to the same drum. Our belief is that the company will grow faster and stronger if everyone’s saying the same thing, if the message stays intact and consistent.”
—Jason Camper, Co-CEO, Le-Vel
From the customer’s viewpoint, this pared-down introduction to direct selling is often welcome. Consider the average prospect. Odds are good that she just wants to hear the bullet points, the top-line information that conveys why she should care about the product, or why the business opportunity is right for her, right now. She may have questions that the representative can’t answer. In most cases, those answers live somewhere, usually on a company website, so the representative can get back to the prospect within a short time with the information she’s looking for. If a representative comes right out of the starting gate with an in-depth description of the science and testing behind a product, it’s easy to drown a prospect with information overload. In that scenario, “analysis paralysis” isn’t far behind.
For the uninitiated, there’s sometimes a misperception that representatives have to be product experts in order to be successful. While they should certainly use and be familiar with the products they sell, they don’t have to have all the answers. Direct selling companies almost universally provide their sales representatives with enough support so that they don’t have to be subject matter experts. Representatives are the messengers, not the message.
Feedback from Distributors Is Vital
In an effort to understand selling dynamics out in the field, direct selling companies maintain near-constant contact with the field through such measures as surveys, advisory boards and private Facebook groups, all of which invite top distributors to partner with corporate staff and identify challenges and opportunities for improvement.
At MONAT, “Members of the corporate sales team are very active in their regions throughout North America, attending their events and supporting them with coaching calls,” says Jason Russell, MONAT’s new director of Market Partner experience. “In my role, I’ve also convened three different Market Partner focus groups to foster dialogue because we really want to understand things from the Market Partner perspective.”
AdvoCare’s CEO Diamond Council convenes regularly with distributors “about everything we’re doing—our methodologies, what’s working, what’s not, what are they learning that we can learn,” Loy says. “Our executives in the field often solicit feedback. We ask those who are successful what they’re doing, seeing what we can maximize for our distributor base. We never presume to have all of the best ideas. Our founder said the field will teach you everything you need to know, so stay close.”
Our channel’s core principle of delivering exceptional products and service should be the foundation of any independent direct selling business. Whatever pitch a distributor chooses—whether it incorporates personal conversation, technology or some combination—the simple of art of listening may be the most critical element in a sale. Listening, in fact, is not a quick process; it requires time and care. But the potential rewards, as so many top distributors will attest, are great.