John Addison spent 35 years in the corporate offices of one of the world’s largest direct selling companies, Primerica Inc., most recently serving as Co-CEO. Since his retirement, he wrote the best-selling book Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose, and he now serves as Leadership Editor for SUCCESS magazine and president and CEO of Addison Leadership Group.
He regularly offers his leadership insights to Direct Selling News readers and has answered some of your questions below. If you have a question you’d like John to answer in a future issue, email email@example.com.
I, along with many of our executives and field leaders, see our ability to build and maintain relationships with customers and distributors to be central to our success. How can we best use new technological aids to strengthen those all-important relationships rather than inadvertently keep vital groups at arm’s length?
If you’re running a direct sales company, you have a big distribution force who is counting on you to deliver. It is critical that you see the nurturing and development of your salesforce as the centerpiece of your business. By developing them, you develop clients and customers.
You have to have everybody in the organization understand that if somebody doesn’t make a sale, if somebody doesn’t get a recruit, if somebody is scared to death because they have never sold anything before, if they’re not having success, then you’re not going to grow the business.
I believe that technology can’t be a crutch. Some companies use technology as an “instead of” tool. It has to be an “in addition to” tool. You need to make sure you’re using it to communicate constantly with people—that you’re reaching out to them and not just blasting e-mails with information at them. A lot of people mistake just sending an email a day as communicating with people. You have to make sure that you use it to get their questions answered, to reach out to them, to allow them to communicate with you.
If you’re going to succeed, you have to understand that your business is a personal development business. I’ve always said the No. 1 job of a leader in this business is to transfer confidence to unconfident people, because those are the people who join your company. Use technology to give them confidence.
You also need to make sure you’re using technology to recognize people who are doing well. You have to make sure that you’re communicating, educating, training, inspiring and developing them. You are educating them on the product and on what you do so that customers and clients can get better information. Then you need to use technology to develop world-class service. You improve the experience of your clients and customers while you build up the company.
The New Year always kicks off with so much enthusiasm, optimism and good will. What can company executives do to keep that positive outlook front and center all year long both with the field and with employees?
Everybody gets energized at the beginning of the year, but that burst of motivation on its own rarely lasts through Feb. 1.
In many ways, the business of direct selling is essentially the pursuit of personal development attached to a compensation plan. Direct selling is about empowering and developing people. People want to get better; your job as a leader of the company is to tap into that desire and support them on their journey to success. First and foremost, when they join your business, do they feel like they are improving as a human being?
At the top of the list of what a leader needs to coach people properly is energy and enthusiasm. That requires constant communication. There is no substitute for meetings and other face-to-face personal interaction. And you have to constantly follow up, follow up, follow up, follow up.
What do you think are some specific untapped or under-developed opportunities that direct selling entrepreneurs should be seriously considering in 2018?
It’s important to focus on customer growth. That is, after all, the heart of direct sales. But it’s also critical that we not lose sight of the business opportunity we offer to the direct sellers out serving those customers. Instead of hunting for the next big thing, maybe we should all keep our eyes on the ball and get back to basics.
When people are earning an extra $1,000 or $2,000 a month, that changes their lives. To the average American, a thousand bucks a month pays the mortgage. It’s the complete difference in the quality of life they have with their family and kids. Focus on true part-time income success stories. Somebody can be a school teacher making $49,000 or $50,000 a year, but because of your business is making an extra $12,000 a year. That funds their kid’s college-education fund, that funds retirement, that pays the mortgage.
To me, those are the stories that are so realistic, and so compelling, that when the average person you’re trying to recruit hears them that person says, “I can do that.” Focusing on the fundamentals, the basics of why people join your business, why they stay there and telling their stories in truthful, honest, realistic ways is, to my mind, what’s missing right now. Do that and you’ll really be tapping into what may be the biggest under-developed opportunity that I see out there.
Our company had a rough 2017. What are some of the best ways our leadership can foster momentum in 2018?
The first thing you need to do when things aren’t going well is to get in a room with people you trust in the business, including people from your distribution force. You need to step back and look at every aspect of your business. Be honest with yourself. Try to determine what all the real issues are from a variety of perspectives. Then you can move forward.
There may be product improvements you have to make, which are always difficult. It may be a compensation plan that you have to change, which is always super, super difficult. Or it may be consistency and focus that you need to add, or adjust, to instill a sense of excitement, belief and enthusiasm in the business. When things get stale, people tend to sit, soak and get sour.
You’re a leader. Your responsibility is to make things better. Managers are thermometers. Leaders are thermostats. Leaders change the temperature. You need to create a sense of urgency—not emergency—and a sense of excitement and enthusiasm.
I’ve always found that when a company loses momentum, the biggest thing they’ve lost is belief. You need to step back and honestly look at where you’re at, not where you wish you were. It’s like a golf game: You have to play the ball where it lies. The great Bobby Jones used to say that.
Once you’ve taken a really hard look at the business, then ask yourself and those around you, “How are we going to increase belief? How are we going to increase excitement and energy?”
How much focus should a company—especially a direct selling company—put on the personal development of its full-time employees and field?
Constant. Massive. Huge.
There is nothing more important than this. It is the difference between being where you’re at and being where you want to be. People are either green and growing or they’re ripe and rotten. And that starts with you.
You need to look at everybody on your team as if they are a “human becoming” not a “human being.” Because we are either getting better or we are getting worse. But we are not staying the same.
How connected are company culture and success in the marketplace? Can culture fuel a company’s success and if so, how? Or does culture simply distract from day-to-day business concerns?
Culture is critical. Culture is everything. Peter Drucker, the father of all management gurus, used to say, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
You need to have a culture of belief. A culture of energy. A culture of excitement. A culture of hard work. A culture that inspires people to realize winning and succeeding is hard.
The only place where “success” comes before “work” is in the dictionary. You need to create an atmosphere of competition—healthy competition, not unhealthy competition—where people compete to put results on the scoreboard. When you’ve got an effective culture of belief and enthusiasm, your team members will hang together when times get tough. And that’s how you’ll get through those tough times.
A great team of people, who are personally developing and getting better, that also has an amazing culture will stand the test of time.
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