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In direct selling, people make all the difference. That isn’t a corporate or association cliché, it’s the backbone of our business model. To be successful in this channel, direct selling companies are constantly developing the talents of an energetic, knowledgeable, and most importantly, independent, salesforce. For the entrepreneurs involved in our business, taking personal initiative and never wanting to stop learning and innovating is essential.
Determining how to best unleash the power of our people can be a company-specific exercise thanks to different corporate cultures and approaches, but it almost always involves education in some form: motivational speaking, training in business, psychology, marketing and sales, and observing other direct sellers in action. The business of winning over customers—which is being discussed at length by Sally Hogshead at the DSA 2015 Annual Meeting in San Antonio as this issue of Direct Selling News is going to print—is captivating because of the substantial challenge it presents. How do you persuade all kinds of people with all kinds of personalities, likes and dislikes to become customers or to purchase again?
Without a doubt, professional development—and mastering the art of persuasion—can help drive personal success in direct selling. What is sometimes less apparent, and therefore less discussed, is that these same skills, which enrich individuals’ businesses, may also be leveraged to help the entire sales channel succeed and ultimately grow, benefiting our entire community of direct sellers. In other words, the power of our people is evident not only in witnessing millions of individual direct selling businesses succeed nationwide, but also in finding appropriate moments for the entrepreneurs who stand behind them to help direct selling score victories in the court of public opinion.
There is no question that direct selling entrepreneurs must make sales their top priority. However, it is important to recognize that the business value of our salesforce is not limited to revenue generation. The salesforce also has the potential to be a source of political power and influence, which could benefit our channel by helping insulate it from future attacks against individual companies or the channel, stemming from a fundamental misunderstanding of our business model and its value to individuals, communities and the country.
Direct sellers have utilized a pure grassroots strategy successfully in the past; for example, when various states or the United States Congress were on the verge of approving legislation that would jeopardize the independent contractor status of our people or otherwise inhibit their ability to sell. Each year, DSA also hosts a Direct Selling Day on Capitol Hill, which brings together hundreds of consultants from around the country to remind Congress of direct sellers’ political power, explaining the value of the industry to individuals and communities. Similar efforts also occur in the states at important moments.
But what happens when the threat against direct selling isn’t as concrete as the next troublesome piece of legislation? The salesforce can still play an important role. While grassroots advocacy around legislation may be the most straightforward approach to field engagement, it’s far from the only approach. Nestled among the grassroots are the so-called grasstops—the most eloquent, accomplished and people- or political-savvy field members. These leaders could be called upon from time to time to respond to a damaging blog post or news story with a post or letter of their own. Leveraging the power of the best of the salesforce in this manner is almost always much more powerful, and impactful, than offering a corporate or association spokesperson or statement.
The collective political power of independent direct selling consultants may also be channeled to ensure that elected officials at every level of government understand our value and look out for our interests. This means balancing traditional political giving around election cycles with less-traditional, but increasingly common, events featuring members of the salesforce. These consultant leaders then have the opportunity to make the point via the media and direct contact with policymakers that direct sellers will support candidates that stand up for low-cost, low-risk entrepreneurial opportunities that improve lives and expand the economic footprint of individuals and communities.
Nearly 17 million people involved in direct selling are a force to be reckoned with—not only as a generator of opportunity and revenue, but also as a political force.
Paul Skowronek is Senior Vice President, Public Affairs, at the U.S. Direct Selling Association.