Alan Luce

Direct sellers across the globe are facing one of the most rapidly changing selling and recruiting environments in the last hundred years.  We see evidence of it everywhere.  Tried and true recruiting promotions no longer produce the expected results. Compensation plans and money prizes do not seem to drive the business as well as they used to.   Few, if any, have a handle on exactly what is going on.  The changes do not seem to flow from product innovations, new laws or regulations or political upheaval. Rather, the challenges facing the industry seem to flow out of a new set of expectations and preferences among potential customers of direct selling products and prospects for direct selling business opportunities.  I am talking about fundamental societal changes that are impacting the way direct sellers do business.

I am confident that neither I nor anyone else has a complete handle on the full scope and arc of these changes, but we have seen and experienced enough in the last 18 months to understand that direct sellers are not going to persuade Generation X and Y customers and prospects to do things the way we want them to do things. No, we direct sellers are going to have to change our practices to be more in line with their wants and expectations.

The most surprising aspect of these changes may be how quickly the attitudes we are seeing in the 20 to 40 year old customer and recruiting prospects in the US and Western Europe are becoming the norm for large segments of the population in nearly every market across the globe.   We can all agree that this outcome is probably a result of the global transparency fueled by the internet and social media communications.  What has caught most of us flat footed is how quickly these new generational “attitude norms” have spread.

Here is a short list of some of these new “attitude norms” that impact the direct selling business model:

1.         If your company does not have a transparent and positive image on the web and in the social media world of FaceBook,  Twitter and other social media venues, you will not be successful at selling products and recruiting sales people.

The company on-line image, message and reputation must be clearly established, supported and endorsed by customers, existing sales force members and independent third parties if you want to compete for customers and sales people.  Our 20 to 40 year olds check out everything on line before they commit to buy or join.  Top company executives need to check out their company’s on line information and image.  If you find it less than fully transparent, easily located, navigated and understood along with positive endorsements, so will your prospects.   You need to change that quickly.

2.         Today’s recruit prospects want the company to “show me some ways to be successful but don’t try to limit the way I do things.”  Any direct seller today has access to “sales training” and motivational materials readily available from a variety of direct selling industry experts on line.  No longer is the company their sole source of training and “how to” business advice.  This is why we see folks join network marketing companies and begin to hold parties, party planners recruiting wholesale buyers and every type of direct seller regardless of their company’s avowed method of doing business selling on line rather than face to face.

To cope with this “don’t restrict the way I sell” attitude company trainers, training programs, software systems, compensation programs and incentive models must be designed to support, reward and motivate a wide variety of selling methods.  Most existing technology support systems today are not able to provide such flexible support, making companies prisoners of their existing technology.

3.         Completely redesign the way you communicate with the public and your sales force and all of your training programs and materials.  For today’s customers and recruit prospects your company messages and training information needs to be:

- Compellingly visual.

-Succinct and to the point.

- Readily accessible at all times.

- Available in easily accessed archives for future review.

-Delivered via a variety of on-line mediums including proper use of social media forums.

If your communications and training strategy and materials are not aligned with these points your customers and potential recruits will simply not pay attention to you.

4.         Pay attention to how your newest sales folks are doing the business.  It is usually the case that our sale forces find ways to work new technologies and social changes into their businesses before their companies do.  In times of change it is very important that the company be open to input from new sellers as to how they want to do the business.  Companies most often look to the opinions and input from their top leaders when trying to figure out what is going on.  In my experience top sales leaders are among the most conservative folks in your organization and are frequently deeply opposed to needed changes.

It is critically important that the company create ways to access unfiltered input from their newest sales folks.  After all, our top leaders often represent yesterday’s best practices.  It is the new folks that will be your leaders of the future.   If you do not currently have effective ways of learning what your new folks are doing and what they want from the company you will need to create them.

None of these suggested actions will solve basic problems of the business. However,  all of them will help open up the process and enable the management team to begin to see what works and what doesn’t when it comes to meeting the desires and expectations of today’s customer and recruit prospects for whom the internet and social media are not tools but rather a way of life!

By the way; as you learn the answers let the rest of us know because we are searching for them too.