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Lots of direct sales companies have Twitter accounts today. The problem is, few companies seem to know what to do with them. Without a clear understanding of WHY the company has the account (besides, everyone else has one so we should too) companies are broadcasting a stream of ads, without anything to show for it.

If your company is trying to figure out the best way to use Twitter, the first thing you have to ask is “Who do we want to talk to?” And in order to answer that question, you need to understand how Twitter fits into your larger marketing plan, of which social media is a part. Are you trying to find new recruits? Increase brand recognition? Increase sales? Each of these marketing goals may have a different audience. So first figure out who you want to talk to, and then you can figure out if that audience is on Twitter.

If your goal is to reach a consumer audience, frequent tweets about the features and benefits of your product line is the wrong way to go. First, no one on Twitter likes a steady stream of ads, and they’ll simply ignore you. But also, a consumer audience is often easier to find on tools such as Facebook.

Does that mean you should abandon Twitter? No. But it does mean you need a different strategy.

Instead of engaging consumers directly on Twitter, you may be better off engaging the folks that INFLUENCE your consumers. This is often popular bloggers. They often do spend time on Twitter. However a steady stream of ads won’t work with them either. Instead, you need to talk to them. Find out what’s important to them. Retweet their content, and share content they’ll find valuable. You have to actually spend time on Twitter talking to people if you want it to work for you. Simply sending out a tweet a day with information about your product or opportunity won’t do a thing for you. It takes community management to be successful.

Twitter, along with other social networks, has particular types of users. Depending on your goals, you have to engage in a certain way. It takes a skilled community manager with the time to invest in building relationships for your brand, if you want your social networking engagement to bring measurable results for your brand.

Does your company use Twitter? How’s it working for you? Who are you trying to reach? Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

This post was originally published on Jennifer Fong’s Direct Sales and Social Media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com.

Last night I signed up for NetFlix.  Now I realize that I am probably the last living American to do so.  But I’ve been a Blockbuster Video loyalist for decades, and wasn’t in any hurry to change that status.  But the Netflix business model finally hooked me, when I discovered we could stream videos on demand to our TV through our Wii, and have 1 DVD at a time, all for a monthly fee that was less than 2 videos a month at Blockbuster.

And it really got me to thinking about business models, and how getting too comfortable with ours can cause us to lose touch with what appeals to even our most loyal customers.  You see, Blockbuster was on top for a really long time.  And holding that percentage of the market share, in my opinion, made them short-sighted.  They didn’t even consider the competition anymore.

Yet the competition was innovating.  It started through a mail order service…where DVDs from a list you create online would be shipped to you to keep as long as you like. Then, when you’re done, you ship it back (postage free) and get another DVD on your list.  For some people this was super convenient.  Yet for people like me, their loyalists, we wanted to choose the movie we were in the mood for the night we wanted to watch it.  The NetFlix model didn’t meet that need, and so we stayed with Blockbuster.

The next thing I was aware of was the on-demand model.  We’re not big TV watchers in my house (heck, I’ve still got a VCR!), so we didn’t upgrade to a cable box until we were forced to by our cable company.  At that point we got a whole collection of on-demand programming that we could access for a fee similar to what we would pay at Blockbuster (as well as a collection of free children’s programming).  Without leaving our house.  You couldn’t keep your movie for a week (my kids like to watch things multiple times), but it was sure convenient to not have to leave the house on rainy nights.  We took advantage of some programming through the cable company. Yet we still remained loyal to Blockbuster too, signing up for the loyalty program, etc.

But then Blockbuster began to betray our trust.  They switched from 7 day rentals to 5 day rentals, and didn’t tell anyone (well I assume it was on our paper receipt, but they failed to mention it.)  We racked up late fees as a result (didn’t Blockbuster a while back do away with late fees?  Yeah, not anymore.  We didn’t know that either.)  The loyalists that they should have been rewarding and courting were experiencing betrayal after betrayal.  We didn’t matter to them!

Then I saw a blog post about how we could have 1 DVD at a time in the mail, plus on demand programming to our TV, for under $10 a month through NetFlix. I fiddled a bit and saw how easy it would be to set up. It was a no-brainer.

By the way, have YOU seen any online social efforts to reach me through Blockbuster, either through sponsored blog posts, Twitter, etc.?  To retain my business?  I certainly haven’t. Other than the regular email I get trying to sell me stuff, I never hear from them at all.

And so Blockbuster has lost another loyal customer.  Because they weren’t listening.  And they weren’t paying attention to my needs.

As direct sellers, we have to be very careful that we don’t make the same mistake.  We are VERY fond of our business model, and very slow to change.  And that’s because it works.  But if we don’t continue to adapt to modern technology, and the way our customers want to shop, we could easily go the way of Blockbuster.  It’s hard to believe, but in this day and age there are still direct selling companies that don’t provide their reps with personal websites for shopping.  There are still companies that aren’t reaching out to customers through the social web.  And yet consumers are telling us, loudly, that they EXPECT to be able to interact with their brands online.

Look at Stella and Dot as an example.  How did this direct sales jewelry company get so big so fast? By taking advantage of the social web, and encouraging its reps to do the same.  They haven’t abandoned direct selling principles.  But they’re smart enough to add online technology to the mix, in order to provide their customers with the shopping experience that fits into their lives.  And as a result, they are on par with the Silpadas and Cookie Lees of the world, who have been around a LOT longer.

Customers aren’t going to bend to your traditions.  At least not very long.  They expect you to adapt to them.  Are you prepared to do so?

Your thoughts?

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

Is your company engaging successfully through social media? Are people responding to your posts on your Facebook Page? Do people comment on your blog posts? When someone mentions your company online, are you aware of it, and respond when necessary?

While a few companies might say “Yes” in our industry, unfortunately the vast majority will probably say “No,” or “I don’t know.”

Why is that? After all, social media has been around for years now. Many best practices have been defined, and consistently applying these techniques has been proven to work.

So what’s the problem?

For many of our companies, resourcing is the issue. We haven’t put someone (or a department) in place to handle online marketing for the company. For others, it’s a desire to tightly control what’s being said about the brand online, which leads us to one-way conversations without any opportunity for people to respond. And yes, there are still companies that just don’t know what to do. They don’t have the expertise internally, and they haven’t brought in a direct sales and social media expert from the industry to educate the executive team and put a comprehensive strategy in place.

The salesforce is going to lose patience with us soon. Because there are direct sales companies that get it. Companies that provide opportunities for the salesforce to develop business online, and who get people excited about the company online through corporate efforts. Those people in the salesforce who understand business will realize where the greatest opportunities lie. It’s a hard truth, but a truth nonetheless.

Let’s make this the year where we do the work that’s needed to develop engaging online presences for direct selling companies. It took a while for us to all get replicated websites, but we eventually understood the need and now it’s SOP. It’s time for the same thing to happen with social media. This is not going away. It’s only going to become more prevalent and necessary.

If your company needs help, contact me. I’ve helped many of the companies in our industry put into place comprehensive social media strategy. But don’t pull the wool over your eyes any longer. It’s going to be damaging to your business to ignore this, or do this poorly, much longer.

Your thoughts?

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

One of the keys to a successful social media marketing effort is good content.  Companies have to put out great content, and so does the salesforce.  The problem is, not everyone is a writer.  And so what you wind up with are a vast range of posts, some of which represent your company well, and some that don’t.

As a company, how do you address this?  Do you outright ban consultants from producing their own content?  Or do you take the other approach, and leave it completely up to the field?  Is there middle ground?

Some vendors have been working on solutions for our industry.  I’ve seen solutions where companies can go so far as to write individual status updates that they can push out to a distributor’s Facebook Page or Twitter account.  The problem with this approach is that everyone in your company has the same status updates, which flies in the face of the “social” aspect of social media.  Nothing personal about a “form letter” update.

I think there are a couple of things that companies can do to tackle the content issue:

  1. Produce sharable content – When your company puts out blog posts, status updates, videos, and other types of content, think about the types of content that would be easy and effective for your salesforce to pass along.  Don’t just send out ads.  Produce value-driven pieces that will be valued by the friends of your salesforce, and then teach your salesforce how to share them through their own social networks.
  2. Provide a content “bank” – While “word for word” canned status updates aren’t terribly effective, it can be helpful to give your salesforce a group of ideas they can choose from when writing status updates and blog posts.  These can be tied to monthly promotions and incentives, new product launches, holidays, and more.  The goal is to provide more than ads, but rather useful tips and advice that will provide value.

Since social media is so content-driven, it’s important for direct sales companies to tackle this issue early on. Then your entire salesforce has the potential to put out content that represents the company as a whole well.

How does your company approach the content issue?  What advice would you give?  Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

This week I wrote a post about a bad experience with Domino’s Pizza, and how I felt that they ignored me on Twitter.  My thought is that if you’re going to have a Twitter account, you need to be prepared to service customers there, even if it’s simply to direct people to the appropriate customer service channel.

And I had someone on Twitter question whether I was being fair to Domino’s.  After all, the national brand is represented by independent franchisees.  Shouldn’t we hold the individual franchise responsible for a customer service failure, instead of the whole brand?

And as nice as that would be in a perfect world, I think it’s unrealistic.  Fair or not, consumers do hold national brands accountable for the service they experience from franchisees.  And that affects our direct sales model too.  If a customer or prospect has a bad experience with an individual consultant, they are most likely going to hold your brand responsible for that experience.  They may tell others how terrible your brand is as a result of that experience.  And more and more, they’re going to do that on social networks.

And as a result, social networks hold both the potential for disaster, as well as the potential to identify issues and resolve them before negative word of mouth takes off.  Every company needs to take a long, hard look at their monitoring and customer service functions as they relate to social media.  This is where our customers and prospects will increasingly congregate.  And our response as brands to issues will have a tremendous impact on the public perception of our brand.

Maybe it wasn’t fair for me to expect the corporate Twitter account for Domino’s Pizza to resolve my issue.  (And incidentally, as a result of my post they did open a customer service ticket to resolve my issue.)  It doesn’t change the fact that I DID expect it, and was disappointed when they didn’t come through.  Maybe it’s not fair for a customer to complain about your brand online because of a negative experience with a consultant who was already on the way out.  It doesn’t change the fact that they will complain.

The only thing you can control as a brand is your response.  Begin planning now.  You NEED a monitoring solution in place, you NEED a support path in place to direct issues appropriately, and your customer service department NEEDS to be trained to support web issues.

We can talk about what’s fair until the cows come home.  It doesn’t change what IS.

Are you ready?

image credit: sdminor81

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

A couple of weeks ago my family ordered pizza from Domino’s.  Since they’ve improved their recipe, we order pretty regularly.  We enjoy things like the ability to order and pay online, track the delivery online, and the fact that the pizza normally arrives in under 30 minutes.

However things were not so happy the last time we ordered.  Wanting to beat the dinner rush, we ordered about a quarter to five.  That meant that our three children would eat at their normal time, and our evening could go on as usual.  We paid online, used the online delivery tracker, same as always, and our pizza was shown as out for delivery in the normal amount of time.

And that’s when things went wrong.

It was nearly an hour and a half, and 3 phone calls later, that our pizza finally arrived.  Cold.  When I called, I got different stories about why my pizza had not yet arrived.  Finally, on the 3rd call, I asked what they were going to do to make this right.  My kids were hungry!  And they offered me free cheesy sticks.  On my NEXT order.  FAIL.

20 minutes after that call when my cold pizza arrived, the driver didn’t even apologize.  Worst. Customer. Service. Ever.

In frustration, I tweeted to Domino’s from my husband’s Twitter account.  I expected at least an apology.

Nothing.

Thinking that maybe they decided that my husband’s account wasn’t “influential” enough for their notice, I tweeted from my account the next day.

Still nothing.

And that leads me to the moral of this story.  I have still not ordered again from Domino’s, and am not sure I will.  I’m also sharing this unfortunate experience with you, which may cross other people’s minds when they make pizza purchasing decisions.  There are certainly other options when it comes to pizza.

But what truly baffles me is WHY Domino’s has a Twitter account if they don’t plan to use it to respond to customer concerns?  If your company has a Twitter account, please understand that customers (especially the unhappy ones) will EXPECT to be able to reach you on it.  Is your customer service department trained in Twitter, and prepared to address issues that are shared?  You do realize this is public, right?  That other people can see when issues go unresolved? And people tend to get louder when you ignore them.

Burying your head in the sand or pretending that unhappy customers don’t exist won’t make them go away.  It will just make them more upset.  And then they may take issues that could have been resolved with a simple “we’re sorry,” and turn them into PR nightmares.

Domino’s has already had its share of PR nightmares.  You would have thought they learned their lesson the first time.  Apparently not.

UPDATE: This PRSA story discusses how Domino’s approached their PR nightmare. It was shared with me on Twitter. You may find it interesting.  I think that it will be interesting to see who is ultimately responsible for customer service in multi-distributor brands like franchises and direct sales companies.

Don’t make the same mistake.  If your company has a Twitter account, you need to be prepared to service customers there.  It’s not all about you talking.  It’s about listening, and resolving issues.  People want to be heard.  Are you listening?

Update 2: Domino’s has seen this article on Twitter, and responded.  They have now opened a customer service ticket and referred it to the independent franchise owner.  In my opinion, this should have happened the first time, and not necessitated a blog post.  This should be standard customer service.  What do you think?

image credit: didbygraham

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

I was having a conversation with a colleague during the DSA Be Connected conference in Las Vegas last week about blogging.  He told me that he still hadn’t seen any reason why his direct sales company should have a blog.  Since I believe that a blog can provide a lot of benefits for a direct sales company, today’s post will give you some of the reasons I think companies should consider one.

By the way, if your company IS considering a blog, I refer you to the wise words shared by Lisa Kuftinec from USANA, during the blogging session at the conference.  Paraphrasing Yoda, she said, “Blog or don’t blog….there is no try.”  It’s good advice.  Either you’re going to commit to blogging, and be prepared to provide fresh content regularly, or it’s not worth the effort of setting it up at all.  And the best way you can ensure that the blog happens is to put someone in charge within your organization.

So that said, what are some of the benefits that a blog can bring to your direct sales company?

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Google loves fresh content.  A blog, housed on the same server as your website, gives your site Google juice.  (By the way, when you allow your consultants to blog, and require them to include a link to your website on their sites, those incoming links are another great shot of Google juice for your site.)
  • Official Corporate Response. When things go wrong (which they will, at some point), you need a place where your side of the story can be presented, and where you can be part of the conversation.  The blog is a great vehicle to do that, and can also be a resource that reporters will use when writing about your company.
  • A Great Source of Sharable Content for the Field. If your salesforce is going to use social media effectively, it needs to provide content that is valuable.  And while some of them may be good at coming up with fresh content regularly, they won’t all be.  When you provide great content that your salesforce can easily share, you provide one more tool to help your salesforce market their businesses effectively.  They can also spend more time on selling and recruiting, and less time trying to think up new content to share.
  • Lead Generation. Sometimes people may have an interest in your company, but are not ready to commit to connecting with a consultant.  Capitalize on that moment of attention by giving them something to sign up for on your blog.  It might be a newsletter.  Or it may just be the RSS feed for your blog.  Either way, they’re hearing from you regularly, which makes it a lot more likely they’ll convert in the future.
  • A Friendly “Face” for the Company. In 2010 we’ve seen companies in many industries benefit greatly by getting more social.  As direct selling companies, we can’t ignore this trend.  People want to connect socially with their favorite brands, and a blog provides a great way for you to share some of the fun of your company.  Plus, you can auto-import all your blog content into your Facebook Page, which means fresh content there, too.  Once people like you because they’ve interacted with you, they’re a lot more likely to consider your products and/or opportunity in the future.  A blog can be a great tool to get that done.

We’ve seen companies in our industry take many successful approaches with their blogs.  Companies like USANA speak directly to their distributors.  Companies like Creative Memories are more consumer-focused.  Regardless of the approach, more and more people are expecting to hear from their companies, and don’t feel that a static website is enough.  You can meet that need through a well-planned blog.  Be sure to have a strategy first!  But once you do, a blog can be a valuable part of your overall marketing strategy.

Your thoughts?

image credit: ShashiBellamkonda

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

I read a post this week about services that allow small businesses to create their own mobile apps.  You can read it here: HOW TO: Build an App for Your Small Business.

This has a number of implications for direct sellers.  On the one hand, I think it’s really exciting that mobile app development is becoming a lot more accessible to even small direct sales companies.  This can help to level the playing field a bit. But on the other hand, does this open up mobile app development to our consultant base?  What would they DO with their own mobile app?  Would it be beneficial for the brand or not?  Do we now need to start considering policy that takes into account the fact that the sales force can pretty much point and click their way to their own mobile app?

I haven’t tested any of the services in this article yet. (If you have, I would love to read about it in the comments!)  But I think it opens up a lot of conversations that we should have next week at the DSA Be Connected conference in Las Vegas.  Will you be there?  If so, please say hello to me and the entire Luce & Associates team.  We’d love to meet you!

And be sure you’re subscribed to this blog.  We’ll be posting updates from the conference.

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

This post originally appeared on Jennifer Fong’s Direct Sales and Social Media blog.

Recently I’ve been doing some research on mobile options for our industry.  Some of the companies in our industry have done some really interesting things.  For example, Close to My Heart has an iPhone application that goes along with its Studio J digital scrapbooking product that allows people that use the software to show off their creations on their phones.  Both Amway (their app here) and Herbalife (their app here) have apps that allow iPhone users to enroll new consultants, shop, view/show videos (product, opportunity, training…), view backend data like volume and contacts, and so much more.  Very cool stuff.  Lia Sophia (their iPhone app…they also have one for Android) and Mary Kay (iPhone and Blackberry) both have mobile catalogs.

Amway's Mobile App

But mobile applications such as these present challenges for direct selling companies, and in particular smaller ones.  First, these applications are expensive to develop.  A custom application can cost tens of thousands of dollars.  And that’s for one platform.  If, after reviewing your site’s analytics, you discover traffic from multiple smartphones (iPhone, Android, RIM – Blackberry) you might need to build more than one.

And then you need to support it!  It’s not like you can build it and walk away.  That takes a budget too.  Is your company up for that challenge, and will it bring enough ROI to make it worth it?

Another option for companies is Mobile Websites.  These are sites that are optimized for mobile web browsers.  If you are reading this post right now on a smartphone through your web browser (not email) you’ll discover that the site looks different.  That’s because I use a plugin on my website that automatically detects when someone visits the site using a mobile browser, and serves up the content in a different way. (The plugin is called WPtouch, for those who are interested.)  Which works for a WordPress-based blog, but doesn’t work with your backend consultant data or your corporate website.

If you’re developing a mobile website, you need to keep in mind that Flash doesn’t work in most mobile browsers.  Here’s a website that lists more things to keep in mind when developing for mobile browsers: How to Design and Build a Mobile Website And here’s a list of tools you can use to test how your website appears on various mobile devices: 10 Excellent Tools for Testing Your Site on Mobile Devices (hat tip to Dave Sabol and Deirdre Reid for this info.)

When deciding which path to take, it’s important to take a look at your site analytics, to determine how many people are currently accessing your site via a mobile device, and which phones are being used.  For example, if you take a look at my mobile site analytics, you’ll see this:

Based on this, I can see that from over 7,000 visitors, only 96 (less than 2%) visited using a smartphone.  (Although this doesn’t give me data for the thousands of people that have subscribed via email…they could also be reading the email version of my posts via a smartphone.) Given that my audience has a large number of corporate readers, I’m not surprised that the number one type of operating system is Blackberry. Interestingly though, people who read the site on mobile devices spend less than half the time that people who visit my regular website do, although iPad readers stick around the longest.  I suspect this is because when you read this site from your computer, you see “related posts” (via another plugin) that might cause you to stay longer.  (I think I need to go buy an iPad now to figure out why this is.  I think my husband will see this as a justifiable expense, don’t you?  It’s RESEARCH!) :)  Based on these numbers, I would probably not pay to develop a mobile site right now.  (The plugin I use is free.)  What do your analytics tell you?  (Google tells you all this, by the way, for free.)

Companies in our industry need to start taking a serious look at how they’re going to tackle the mobile issue.  Before long, consumers are going to expect to be able to order from a consultant website using a mobile-friendly website.  Are you prepared to support them?  Not to mention the fact that our very mobile sales force can derive significant benefits from being able to access training, opportunity videos, and more while on the go.  Here’s a post I wrote a few weeks ago with some ways the field can benefit from mobile opportunities: Field Support Tools On the Go

So are you ready for mobile?  What are you doing to prepare?  What questions do you have?  Would love to read your thoughts on this topic in the comments below!

p.s. One more hat tip to Dino Baskovic and his team over at Amway for providing the iPhone app image that appears in this post, on a weekend no less!

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

I’m in the process of doing my holiday shopping. As someone who loves the direct selling industry, I would like to give a lot of that business to direct sellers. Since I simply don’t have time to attend a party for every company I wish to shop with, I am hitting the websites of these companies, and connecting with local consultants.

Now some companies do a good job here. I get to my consultant’s website immediately, can select the items I want, and place my order efficiently. This is great for me, and helps me get this task done. However other websites are brutal. (Sorry, but it’s true.) All I get is the PDF version of the catalog (which is hard to read) so I can’t shop immediately. Some require me to input a lot of information to get matched with a consultant, rather than just giving me a list so I can pick the one I want to work with right now. This is an outdated way of doing business, and it’s going to come back to bite us.

We have to come to terms with the fact that we are living in the “Amazon.com” generation.  People expect immediacy, and they expect ease in their online interactions.  If you make it too hard for me to shop with you, you can be darn sure I won’t.  And then you’ve lost the chance to offer me the opportunity in the future.

We think that by making it hard (or impossible) to order through our websites, we’re making it easier for our consultants to get parties, but I’m sorry to say that this just isn’t so.  Take a look at new direct selling companies.  Do you think ANY of them are preventing people from ordering online?  Of course not! They understand that this is a requirement in order to compete today.  And the consultants they’re trying to attract understand that as well.  More established brands may be getting by with their barriers, but new companies understand that they have to throw the doors wide open if they hope to have a chance.

If you want your company to be relevant in the next 10 years, the old ways of thinking have to be thrown off.  And that means fixing the website.  Online ordering for today’s consumer is a requirement.  And your site MUST be as easy to navigate as Amazon.com or that customer will be on to the next thing.  Choosing to ignore or avoid this change simply deprives our consultants of that business.

The direct sales industry is changing.  We can’t rely on all the old ways of doing business and hope to survive.  This doesn’t mean we should lose our essence of relationship-driven selling and recruiting.  But we must understand that today’s consumer is different from the one of 20 years ago.  If we don’t cater to the consumer, ultimately, we lose our edge.

Will you adapt, or become irrelevant?  The choice is yours.

Your thoughts?

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic social media consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.