Developing A Flexible, Supportive Tool System
Successful direct selling companies understand that tools don’t close sales. They are the key to a distributor’s exponential growth—magnifying the efforts they wouldn’t be able to do themselves.
Few industries welcome rookie salespeople with open arms like direct selling does.
We love to help people develop their potential as much as we love to help them build businesses, which makes us accessible and appealing to new salespeople regardless of their selling experience.
The upside of this appeal is that most new distributors are blank slates when they come to you, so they likely don’t have habits that won’t align with how you do business. However, first-time distributors don’t have much of a foundation to build from, either. You are their ground floor.
The tools you provide your sales force will be the gateway in which they will help customers experience your brand. And whether your tools are digital, physical—or a little of both—they must help give your new sales force the confidence and understanding to become successful ambassadors of your brand.
“A lack of shareable and relevant content can force an entrepreneur to spend their precious time creating their own tools. We want our tribe to focus their energy into income-producing activities, not graphic design.” —Melisa Thompson, founder and Chief Executive Officer, BELLAME
The Evolution Of Tools
Tools are much more than product or opportunity brochures, videos or posts on social media. Tools help create a platform that allows you to tell your story.
The world has obviously shifted a lot to digital. The DVDs that were once created by the thousands are now YouTube video links that are easily shared. Physical tools, however, still play an effective role from sampling to custom magazines. When combined with technology the effectiveness and reach of these tools expands exponentially. For example, combining a sampling program with an app that has built in messaging, delivery notifications and follow up is far more effective than just handing someone a product to try and leaving to their own devices.
For new companies just starting out take note, the absence of tools will create a vacuum that must be filled quickly or your distributors will create their own, which we all know is extremely dangerous in today’s regulatory environment. The FTC is going to hold you responsible for what your distributors say whether you’re there or not, just ask AdvoCare. For this purpose, tools should be created in conjunction with your field to ensure that they are not only compliant, but you are receiving their buy in to ensure they will use them.
Creating Compliant Social Sharing Assets
The advent of social media has allowed new distributors to leverage their relationships and share what they are passionate about. Companies need to have a prepared strategic approach that can empower their distributors to not just be on social media, but to be successful there.
“I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years,” says Melissa Thompson, founder and chief executive officer of Dublin, California-based BELLAME, a luxury beauty company. “I’ve learned that a lack of shareable and relevant content can force an entrepreneur to spend their precious time creating their own tools. We want our tribe to focus their energy into income-producing activities, not graphic design.”
“Tangible tools are still extremely valuable in providing a tactile experience with high perceived value. With so much digital noise, printed pieces stand out and can be more memorable.” —Shelley Rojas, VP of Creative & Marketing, SUCCESS Partners
Distributor-created materials also can contain unintended, inappropriate interpretations of your products and opportunity and leave you vulnerable to charges of noncompliance, false claims or worse. When you create great tools and content, you have more control over what salespeople say and how they say it. Plus, well-equipped distributors feel supported and more confident about what is likely their first sales job.
Effective direct selling tool systems contain a range of step-by-step information, activities, assets and training that provide structure, style and guidance for distributors through the selling process. Samples, strategic messages, and training are the primary tool categories your system should include.
Free Samples Work
If you can fit a bit of your product into a one-ounce pouch or a two-ounce tube, do it—because research shows that free samples might be the most powerful tool for customer acquisition.
“Seeing is definitely believing,” Thompson says. “We know that the most effective way to share our products is to get them in the hands of prospective customers.”
An often-cited study by Arbitron (now owned by Nielsen) found that 35 percent of customers who try a sample will buy the sampled product in the same shopping trip, and 58 percent of samplers will plan to buy that product again. In 2014, customer experience solutions firm SDL published a study in which 55 percent of millennials surveyed said they have interacted with a brand on social media in exchange for free product.
“When issues do arise, 99 percent of them come from a lack of information or training on how to properly do the business.” —Eric Johnstone, vice president of marketing and field services, Ambit Energy
Experts attribute these conversion and engagement rates largely to the psychological effect samples have on people.
Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University, told the The Atlantic recently that a feeling of indebtedness turns many tryers into buyers. “Reciprocity is a very, very strong instinct,” he says. “If somebody does something for you, you really feel a rather surprisingly strong obligation to do something back for them.”
In direct sales, samples may have even more power than they do in traditional retail because of the highly personalized experiences our customers have. But his doesn’t imply that direct sellers aren’t using technology to strengthen their sampling strategies. The reality is quite the contrary. The execution has been sped up significantly by technology, and the reach has been expanded by companies implementing a robust technology approach via apps and their digital tracking abilities. These apps not only provide a simple, friction-less sampling program for distributors to deploy, but they give companies a peek into the activity side of their business such as how much activity will net a sale.
Targeted physical pieces can reinforce a fast-moving digital pace by not only providing tangible value, but are also very effective in telling your company’s story.
BELLAME prospects get a four-piece tandem strip of the company’s ACQUA LUMIERE skin care regime along with a brand brochure that dives into the company’s clinical-grade ingredients, results and patented technology. And when it comes to sharing the business building opportunity, the distributor becomes the sample, Thompson says. “Our tribe is at the heart of our brand. They are the features of everything we do. … They are a personal walking advertisement for the culture of our tribe, and that is a beautiful thing.”
Companies like Dallas-based Ambit Energy don’t have tangible products to share, so the message and the Consultant do all of the heavy lifting, says Eric Johnstone, vice president of marketing and field services. “One of the best ways we help our Consultants tell our story is through our Success from Home magazine,” he says. “The magazine is full of stories of people from all different backgrounds who have found success with Ambit. Whenever a Consultant approaches a prospect, chances are high that there is a story in the magazine that will resonate with the prospect.”
SUCCESS Partners Vice President of Creative & Marketing Shelley Rojas encourages all companies to consider how traditional print pieces can enhance a modern brand. “Tangible tools are still extremely valuable in providing a tactile experience with high perceived value,” she says. “With so much digital noise and distraction, the right printed pieces stand out and can be more memorable.”
Rojas and other experts say you should choose the medium that makes the most sense for the type of message you want to deliver. Mobile apps and websites are best for information that changes constantly, while print is great for evergreen content, like company history and stories about customers and distributors who are excited about how your products and opportunity have affected their lives.
How developed is your sales training tool system? From onboarding new recruits to keeping seasoned salespeople engaged and aware of industry and sales best practices, ongoing relevant sales training is critical to retaining distributors.
A recent study by the Sales Readiness Group indicated that companies whose sales training programs exceed representatives’ expectations have the lowest annual sales rep turnover, at 11.9 percent, compared with companies whose programs fall short of expectations. Reps at high-performing sales training organizations also achieve their quotas at a higher rate than salespeople at companies with less robust training, the study showed.
Aside from teaching distributors how to use the other tools effectively, sales training in the direct selling industry is fundamental for ensuring that companies maintain brand standards and comply with regulatory requirements.
“We like to think of our compliance department as more of a training department,” Johnstone says. “It’s here to teach our Consultants how to do things the right way. When issues do arise, 99 percent of them come from a lack of information or training on how to properly do the business.”
Also, field leaders are natural mentors for new recruits. According to the Sales Management Association, salespeople and their managers believe that peer coaching is the most effective way for salespeople to learn new skills and best practices.
Tools Help Create A Path
Creating a path to success that’s easy for distributors to navigate is the best thing you can do to grow your business. Strong direct selling companies understand that tools create a reason to have more conversations with a prospect. They also shouldn’t require a distributor to be the product or service expert, only the messenger. Over time, of course, your distributors will become more knowledgeable about what they’re offering but the more you steer and support their conversations, the more powerful that dialogue will be.
WHAT IS A ‘TOOLS CULTURE’?
“Tools Culture” is a term best defined by a companywide, consistent practice of creating sales opportunities, recruiting activity, training and motivation through clear, simplified and branded communication tools.
Of course, being everything to everyone doesn’t mean throwing everything at your sales force and hoping that something sticks. Direct sellers know that distributors and their customers already are wading through a sea of information that grows deeper by the day. The pieces of the puzzle have to fit together. Getting the most out of the available tools requires more than simply encouraging the sales force to use them. Each of those tools has to play a specific role in the bigger picture.
Simplicity is key; keeping your volume of tools to a minimum can help prevent confusion among your distributors. That’s a mission that companies like Neora, for example, have taken to heart. “Put yourself in the position of brand-new consultants,” says a Neora executive. “They already have jobs and families. It’s so easy to assume the business is second-nature to your consultants like it is to you. They’ll quit if the tools aren’t high-quality, streamlined and easy to follow.”
4 Questions to Ask Yourself
If you were a new or ongoing distributor or a customer, would your company’s current tools make you feel comfortable and enthusiastic enough that you could answer “Yes!” to these four questions?
- Can I do this? (“This” means share the product, service or opportunity.)
- Would I share this with my friends and family? (“This” means use these tools to share the product, service or opportunity with people I love.)
- Would I want someone to approach me with this? (“This” means use these tools in a conversation with me about the product, service or opportunity.)
- Is this worth it?