Online Parties: Will They Kill Direct Selling?

j0396099The concept of online parties is a bit of a hot-button issue in the direct sales world.  Why?  Well for one thing, with the way they’re conducted now, they are rarely as successful as in-person parties.  Wouldn’t it be better for direct sellers to focus their efforts on sales activities that generate the maximum amount of income?  And for another thing, direct selling is an industry of tradition.  We have built this great model (and industry) on a tradition of face to face selling, which includes the sensory experience of the in-home party.  It’s worked very well for us for a very long time.  Why would we mess with something that works so well?

Yet there is a growing undercurrent within our industry that is watching a coming wave, namely social media.  Tradition will only get us so far, they believe.  After all, the folks that are afraid of social media for direct sales are the same folks who were afraid that replicated websites for consultants would kill the business, and now most direct sales companies wouldn’t even consider starting without them.  Consultants and customers both expect to be able to check out the products online, and it makes those outside orders so much easier.  Is the concept of online parties this generation’s replicated website?

Why should we even focus on online parties if they’re not as successful as in-person parties?  Well the biggest reason, in my opinion, is the fact that as consultants begin to use social media, the new contacts they make are going to be geographically spread out.  This is going to make it a lot harder to do in-person parties with this new audience they’re building.  Now some may say that we can take one-on-one orders with this group, and that’s true, but one of the beauties of our industry is the group sales model.  Wouldn’t it be more profitable to find a way to sell to groups of people online at one time?  Or, the flip side of this is that if we CAN’T find a good online party model, perhaps we want to train the sales force to focus on geographically-based social networking that results in in-person parties.  Local small businesses do this all the time, connecting with folks in their local area.  Is this the direction we should be moving as an industry?

None of these questions can be answered well without further research.  I believe we need to deconstruct the traditional party, and find compelling online group sales events that people want to attend.  Then we need to measure the results of those events, and see how they compare to in-person events.  With online events we obviously lose the benefit of the sensory experience that happens at an in-home party.  But if we increase a consultant’s ability to reach more people, and sell more product, does this even out the disadvantages?

Obviously I have more questions than answers on this right now.  I’m working with a few dedicated folks who are helping me explore these issues.  But I would love to hear what you think.  Have you tried online events?  What were your results?  Do you think they’re a waste of time for direct sellers?  Will they kill direct sales as we know it?  Would love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

9 Responses to Online Parties: Will They Kill Direct Selling?
  1. Sales Leads
    October 28, 2009 | 11:07 am

    Online parties are getting more and more useful. Thanks for blogging about this and I love your blog, it is very resourceful.

  2. gale
    October 13, 2009 | 6:20 pm

    I think it’s all about building the relationship first!

    However, a strategic plan for an additional profit center through online parties with repeat hostesses and customers who know you and like you, and know the product might be a way to increase business.

    Of course, there’s nothing more appealing than feeling and touching, or tasting a product. And the magic of connecting and in-the-moment experiences we have at parties.

    It’s a great question to ponder as we move into the ever-changing world of marketing and selling via the internet.

  3. Karen Clark
    October 13, 2009 | 3:56 pm

    After years of trying them off and on, I just don’t see the potential that you do. I and my team members have wasted valuable time chasing sales at online parties that fizzle, or are a lot of fun but end up with the minimum $100 in sales. Getting people to an in-home party is more about the in-person group experience than the demonstration. When you are online you can’t have side conversations comparing what you are going to get, you cant see your friend try something on and tell her how great she looks, you aren’t seeing what everyone else is ordering and then jumping on the bandwagon with them, and you aren’t be approached eye to eye by the smiling consultant who is asking how many of those you’d like, or wouldn’t it be fun to bring your friends out for a party like this! LOL! I am not ready to close the book either but I certainly have not heard of many success stories.
    Karen

  4. Lorian Rivers
    October 13, 2009 | 2:48 pm

    I have sold thru both online and offline parties. You can have bad attendance at an online party…as well as a home party.

    You can have an in-home party (for those things you must experience…food etc) and then keep it open online.

    I think copamies should offer both, support both, and let their consultants decide which is the best way to promote their business and take care of their customer base.

  5. Margo
    October 13, 2009 | 12:54 pm

    Thanks so much for reading my mind!

    Our company has just started online ordering and there are definitely a few kinks. Namely the absence of face-to-face interaction. This issue can be mitigated, though, if we keep in mind that one of the main reasons customers buy from direct sales is the personalized customer service from the consultant. As long as online business is conducted with that standard in mind, online ordering can be a useful *supplement* to any direct sales business. I do think it is entirely possible to provide an extremely high level of customer service online, I just don’t think we consultants should rely on online shopping portals to do all the work for us-at least not if we want to keep our customers coming back (even the ones we’ve never met face-to-face!)

    That said- the introduction of online shopping in our company has already brought me sales and customers I would never have otherwise had-which is pretty exciting!

  6. Mark Bosworth
    October 13, 2009 | 10:41 am

    A couple of thoughts about on-line parties:
    – They obviously work much better for a visual product. Things like jewelry work much better than fragrances.
    – I think the technology of the demonstration can be massive. If you can get live video feed of a demonstration it can be like a personal infomercial. This will only get better and better as time goes on.
    – I’ve never seen an on-line demo that can replicate the socializing that takes place in person. Again, technology might be able to help but I’ve just never seen women excited about going to an on-line party to connect with their friends. Until we can replicate this, it is missing a vital part of the “party”

    Overall, I think that the web is much better at reorders than first time sales.

    I also think that companies would be wise to start producing materials that are visually appealing to help their Consultants sell on the web.

    • Jennifer
      October 13, 2009 | 11:47 am

      Mark,
      Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts.

      You make an interesting point about the difference between visual products, and those that must be experienced through other senses. Yet I wonder how many folks go out and buy dept store perfumes because of television commercials?

      It will also be interesting to see how technology evolves, and what that does for the success of online group sales events. While there are certainly some very cool things we can do now, it will be interesting to see what comes next.

      And I also have to wonder about your theory related to “socializing”. I have had some very close friends built through text-based message boards, whom I’ve never met in person. I think maybe our traditional party model won’t work so well as we currently conceive it related to online sales, but does that mean that online group sales events wouldn’t work well using another model? The jury’s still out on that one for me.

      I do agree with you that the web can be a great resource for generating reorders. However I’m not ready to close the book on online group sales events just yet.

      Am interested in the kind of materials you’re talking about. What types of materials do you think companies should produce to help their consultants sell on the web?

      Jennifer

  7. Jill Shea
    October 13, 2009 | 10:21 am

    In my opinion, in-home parties are much better than online events! We rarely use online events because the whole point is to get together with your friends to socialize and to see the product line. I have yet to see an online event be more successful than an in-home party presentation. That’s what makes us unique, with direct sales it’s the whole experience.

    On the other hand, I don’t think they are a complete waste of time as they have be useful when the weather gets bad here in Chicago and it’s safer to ask everyone to stay home and do the event online. That’s always a last resort though. Encourage the bookings, have fun and the money will come!

    Love & Success,
    Jill Shea

    • Jennifer
      October 13, 2009 | 11:41 am

      Jill,
      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. I agree with the socialization factor of in-person events. That’s the reason they will never be completely replaced. It will be interesting, however, to see if online events will ever become a viable, significant income-generating option for direct sellers.

      Jennifer

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