Confessions of a Technoholic … But what is it worth? – Guest Post by Mark Bosworth

From Jennifer: I’m on vacation this week.  I’ve promised my kids that I won’t touch a computer (as you read this I’m probably already getting twitchy! 🙂  Fortunately for you, I’ve got some amazing peeps who agreed to guest post this week, so you’d have plenty of fresh content to read.

Today’s post comes from my pal Mark Bosworth, Sr. VP of Sales and Marketing at SwissJust.  Mark has the honor of being the first person to ever comment (and probably to read) this blog.  Mark has had an interest in technology and how it impacts the direct sales industry for a long time.  He was one of the first to design a corporate-driven consultant newsletter.  I’m honored to have Mark share his thoughts with us today.  Enjoy!

Confessions of a Technoholic … But what is it worth?
by Mark Bosworth

I have to admit that I love technology and new things that pop up on the Internet. Ever since the Internet started, I’ve followed web developments with intense interest. I feel like I am witnessing some of the most interesting and important changes to take place in the history of civilization. (I’m serious here). Just in my lifetime, the practice of going to a library to perform research has virtually ended. Interpersonal communications have changed from real letters and phone calls to emails, texts, tweets, Facebook and Skype.

This fascination with technological change has found an interesting intersection with Direct Selling, in my professional career. In a business founded on interpersonal connections, technology and the Internet are having fundamental changes on the ways that Direct Selling businesses conduct themselves. I personally believe that many of the issues being experienced by “traditional” Direct Sellers comes from trying to do business with new consumers using outdated practices. For example, in traditional Direct Selling, telephone calls were a staple of following up and generating new business. In today’s world, if you’re like me, you won’t even answer your cell phone if you don’t recognize the number.

I remember when we developed a customer level e-newsletter for a major party-plan Direct Seller and it was truly cutting edge strategy. There was significant discussion about whether it was going to drive people away from the party and actually cause sales to fall.

“Ditto” for Consultant web sites that actually allowed customers to purchase without going to a party. It was going to decimate the party plan business. Of course, it never did and has become a standard part of Direct Selling today.

So given my fascination with technology and the generally positive results our industry has seen, I’m a little embarrassed to admit my concerns about Social Media. My concern is fairly easy to state:

How much time and effort is it appropriate to invest in Social Media and expect a positive ROI on the investment?

My concern is that Social Media is somewhat like the rabbit hole that Alice fell down. You can go in but you might never come back out. There is so much that you can become involved in with the Internet and Social Media that it has the very real possibility of consuming massive amounts of resources. You could spend all your days blogging, posting on Facebook and being involved on the Internet. But at the end of the day, how much business does it really generate?

I’m certain that we all know Consultants who seem to be on the Internet 24/7. They never seem to be our top sellers. They do seem to find a lot of things on Farmville. The same is true for companies. There are companies with massive Social Media presences……. And falling sales.

I’ve also given up on really trying to quantitatively measure the impact of the technical things that we do. Of course, we measure our “click throughs” and the leads that come into our company as well as the number of on-line orders that we get. However, the overall impact of the technology is so diffuse that I don’t think anyone can really get a great measure on the impact of their efforts. How do you measure the impact of a blog that thousands of people read?

Additionally, Social Media is all about relationships. Our Consultants are constantly using it to innovate and find new ways to build relationships. They are masters at the technology. Should they really be the primary mover of the technology, since it is easier to build relationships between individuals than it is between a company and an individual?

So how do we manage this conundrum? In a number of ways:

  • You can’t just ignore Social Media and the Internet or you will be left in the dust. If only to be perceived as “with it”, you need to have a presence. So we have an active Facebook page, Consultant web sites and a customer email program. (We might spend a couple of hours a week on these activities, in addition to the personal time we invest)
  • As a small company, we actively limit the amount of resources we invest in these pursuits. We have a schedule for posting and sending emails and we try not to spend significant amounts of time above and beyond our staff budget on these pursuits. We also limit our investments in technology until we can prove an ROI for the investment.
  • We spend time keeping tabs on what other people are doing. We sign up for other company’s emails and spend time reading what is happening online (Thanks Jen Fong!). We also go to Direct Selling Association meetings and keep up with our friends in the industry.
  • We engage in small and low cost tests. If we have an idea we give it a shot with the smallest investment possible. If it works then we can always invest in making it even better at a later date.

I’m 100% certain that the new methods of socially interacting on the web are going to revolutionize Direct Selling. The people who figure out how to do this most effectively will generate massive value for our industry and their consultants. I’m also 100% certain that massive amounts of time and money will go into the huge black hole that is Social Media with very little payback. IMHO, the trick to this game is to manage the monster with finesse. Invest your time and resources sparingly. The beauty of this brave new world is that we can all learn from each other.

How do you manage your personal and company investment in Social Media and the Internet?  Would love to read your thoughts in the comments!

Mark Bosworth is a 20+ year Direct Selling executive. His background includes an undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from The University of Chicago.  He has worked as an engineer for General Electric and a Consultant for The Boston Consulting Group.  He has managed sales, marketing, and strategic initiatives for some of the most prestigious companies in the industry.  He has worked for Tupperware, PartyLite, The Body Shop, and currently runs Sales and Marketing for SwissJust in Miami.  Mark was the originator of PartyLite’s Candle Connection, one of the first company-sponsored customer email programs.  He was also instrumental in PartyLite’s first Consultant online ordering system.  He has  been involved in the earliest online direct selling communications/message boards and continues to be an observer and participant in the evolving area of technology and Direct Selling.

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