A Fundamental Shift

If you looked at direct selling 30 years ago, and direct selling today, chances are you’d notice some differences.  Chief among these, of course, are individual websites for distributors, placing orders through a portal rather than on the phone, and other technological advancements that have enabled us to carry on business more efficiently.  And each time one of these major changes is introduced, the traditionalists within our industry instantly proclaim that adoption will certainly mean the death of the party plan as we know it.

Of course this hasn’t happened.  The party plan model is alive and well.  But we are an industry of tradition, and change is hard.

Is it any wonder, then, why it’s taken us so long to adopt a social media model?  Indeed, some companies STILL refuse to participate, even though it is overwhelmingly evident that social media has created a fundamental shift in the way we communicate.  I often say at conferences, when I speak on the topic, that telling a Gen Y that they can’t use social media to communicate about their business is like telling someone 20 years ago that they can’t use the telephone.  Inconceivable.

As an industry, we need to get better at change, without fearing the death of the model as we know it.  Indeed, newer companies are at an advantage here when they launch with these technologies, as the cumbersome decision-making processes and traditions at larger, more established corporations prevent the nimbleness that social media demands.  It could be said that these younger companies have a competitive advantage when it comes to appealing to Generation Y, which is a demographic that every direct selling company should be focused on, if they want to be around in 20 years.

Social media does, indeed, represent a fundamental shift in the way we communicate about our business.  Not that it detracts from the fundamentals…after all, we are a relationship business at heart…but rather, we need to get better at how we support our distributors in using this technology to develop those relationships that lead to success.  We cannot hide our heads in the sand and imagine that business as usual will continue to carry us forward.  We must keep up with the times in order to be considered a viable business model.

Social media is, once again, a game changer, and I do not imagine that it will be the last.  Are you ready?

9 Responses to A Fundamental Shift
  1. Karen Shillieto
    August 18, 2010 | 7:00 am

    I’ve been in the party plan industry for many years (Andy, that’s where I go into homes to show my products to a group who shops for what I’m showcasing). At first we didn’t have personal websites – we mailed our parties in. Horray, we then could call our orders in and we got personal websites. Now, Facebook has fundamentally changed the way I connect with my business. Because I can connect daily with my hostesses, customers and team mates, we really get to know each other well as people. It is so much easier to make appointments and build the business that I’ve always wanted. If my company were to not allow me to use social media openly, that, for me, would be grounds to search for a new company to represent. I so look forward to the future – – we’ll be able to have an “app” for our smart phones connecting to our personal website in mid September. Another tool that I think will enhance my clients’ experiences. Can’t remember who said it, but “the future is so bright, I gotta wear shades” (or in my case transisition lenses!)

    • Jennifer Fong
      August 18, 2010 | 9:02 am

      I find your comment very interesting about how if a company did not allow you to use social media openly, that would be grounds to search for a new company to represent. That’s a profound statement, and one that is going to become more and more common as time goes on. We need to get on the ball as an industry in order to retain our best and brightest!


  2. Andy Richards
    August 18, 2010 | 12:19 am

    On the flip side, some companies run out and try to get the hot technology at the time before they have any idea how to utilize it to help them. How many company Facebook and Twitter accounts are out there right now gathering proverbial dust.

    Could someone explain what the party plan is? I don’t have much of a sales background

    • Jennifer Fong
      August 18, 2010 | 9:00 am

      You’re absolutely right, Andy. Technology without a strategy and a way to measure ROI is also foolish.

      Party Plan is a direct sales model that involves bringing a group of people together (typically in someone’s home) and making a group sales presentation. In direct selling there are typically 2 ways to do it…the group sales model (party plan) or person to person sales (network marketing.)

  3. Brett Duncan
    August 17, 2010 | 1:42 pm

    I can remember many meetings where someone (to remain nameless) would always bring up how great the voice mail systems were, and that we should be doing more of it. But if podcasts or social media or even the web in general was brought up, he would be against it in a heartbeat. He wanted conference calls and voice mails!

    Funny thing is he was an early adopter of phone-based technology, but a laggard on web-based technology. Putting the technology in perspective is what matters.


    • Jennifer Fong
      August 17, 2010 | 1:59 pm

      Agreed, Brett. We can’t get stuck on one technology, as the field is constantly changing. I also don’t think it makes sense to be the FIRST to adopt, in most cases. But if it’s working for others, it makes a lot of sense to be there too, and adapt the technology for what works best in our own industry.

  4. Pat Zahn
    August 17, 2010 | 12:41 pm

    The ironic thing is that resisting change does not keep the changes from happening. Even if a change were to “cause the death of the party plan as we know it,” if we are involved in the change we will be better able to participate in the metamorphosis.

    • Jennifer Fong
      August 17, 2010 | 1:59 pm

      Very good point Pat!

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