Social Networking is the Future of Direct Sales

Direct selling is the process of networking with people, and then sharing and demonstrating products in a person-to-person or person-to-group setting.  The beauty of the method is the relationship building that happens prior to the sales, which creates a more satisfying customer buying experience.

With the rise of social media, many direct sellers are caught between two worlds.  Since the 1950’s, the traditional party has worked very well for many established direct sales companies, because house parties were a housewife’s only daytime social outlet.  Women could justify going out with their girlfriends when a house party was involved.  This is what the foundation of the party plan business is built on.

Today, however, things have changed.  Women have a lot more freedom, and can go out for girls’ nights and other entertainment without needing the “excuse” of the house party.  Now you absolutely still have people that love the party format, and it can make people’s lives easier, shopping from a living room instead of slogging through the mall, but the traditional house party does not have the allure that it once did for our mothers.

These days, social networking is happening more and more online.  I read somewhere that a full 11% of all web visits are to social networking sites.  That is a TREMENDOUS number, and one that should give any direct sales executive pause.  People are getting together online.  Since our business is about building relationships with people, we need to go where they are.  And where they are is social networking sites.

One of the fears that a lot of established direct selling executives have is the difficulty to control misinformation that can spread quickly on the Internet.  Yet that fear cannot be allowed to paralyze us if we are to adapt with the times.  I believe that new direct sales companies must embrace social media if they wish to create a company with any staying power.

As a direct sales executive, I am on a journey to explore and understand the options available through social media, and then put together a plan that will help the distributors within my company use these tools to their greatest effect.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • It is critical for distributors to establish an online social presence on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.  If we teach our distributors how to do it, we can avoid some of the problems of the company being misrepresented.
  • Set up Google Alerts, so you know what’s being said about your company.
  • It’s also important for the company to have its own presence on social networking applications.  Your company should have its own Facebook site where you post company events and information, and you can also take advantage of other free and paid messaging opportunities provided through these sites.
  • Any distributor that wants to embrace social networking as a business strategy NEEDS to be provided with a customer-facing website by their company through which they can sell to customers.
  • Distributors need to be allowed to advertise online.  Provide them with banner ads/buttons/copy/etc, but don’t prevent them from tapping into an extremely valuable and profitable form of marketing.
  • Learn from your distributors.  Many of them are already in this space, because they know it’s good for business.  Provide an internal, online message board where they can share what they’ve learned.  You can learn too.
  • Do it yourself.  You will not understand social media until you take part in it.  You must devote the time necessary to learn this medium.
  • Provide training for your distributors on how to use social media.  If you don’t know yet how to do it yourself, hire someone who does.  The more of your distributors that use social networking, the more positively it will impact your company’s bottom line.

By embracing social media as a legitimate marketing strategy, we as direct sales executives are poised to enable our distributors to enjoy increased profits and exposure.  By crafting a marketing plan that includes social media, we are staying true to the foundations of direct selling and the social aspects of it, while taking our companies into the future.

My company, Learning is an Art, provides two different consultant “tracks.”  One is the traditional home party consultant, who buys the full business kit containing products and marketing materials for $100.  The other is our Digital Consultant track, that allows a consultant to run their business exclusively online, taking full advantage of social networking.  We teach our consultants how to build a social network, and then use it to sell our products.  This option only costs $25 to start, and we’re finding that’s very appealing to people that want to build a business, but don’t have a lot of capital.  We provide the Digital Consultant training to ALL our distributors, however, because we want all of them to know how to use the tools.

We also have a presence ourselves as executives on these tools, which enable us to model for our consultants how to use them.  I believe we may be one of the first DSA (Direct Selling Association) companies to provide for an exclusively-online consultant option, and I believe it holds real possibilities for the future of the industry.

Would you like to share your ideas, or go on this learning journey with me?  Here’s how to contact me:

  • Email: jennifer (at) learningisanart (dot) com
  • Twitter: liajen
  • Facebook: Jennifer Linnell Fong
5 Responses to Social Networking is the Future of Direct Sales
  1. Sarah Baker Andrus
    January 18, 2009 | 1:43 pm

    Jennifer has really nailed the issues around social networking and direct sales. At Cutco/Vector, about 85% of our sales force is comprised of college students and people in the 18-24 year-old age cohort. This means that our sales force is ALWAYS ahead of the curve of us well-meaning, but clearly aging 🙂 executive team. We are constantly learning from our distributors and doing our best to keep up with them and their needs.

    I’d also like to echo Jennifer’s comments about how critical it is to have a strong web presence as a company. If you are reluctant to do this for fear of unwanted attention – I encourage you to think differently. Only by having a presence on the web can you help ensure that you are part of the conversation and gain the respect of the people who are talking about you.

    Another concern I hear a lot about is channel chafing, or fears that the core business of person-to-person direct selling will somehow be supplanted by internet sales. Marketing research shows just the opposite: A multi-channel approach allows you to reach a broader, more diverse consumer base while building loyalty among current customers by giving them several ways to purchase your product.

    Jennifer, thank you for initiating this important conversation.

  2. Damon Gaylor
    January 15, 2009 | 4:52 pm

    Hi Jennifer,
    Great post and you are correct, Social Networking is the next/current trend and companies need to find a way to embrace it. Your suggestions are all great. I highly recommend companies to start their own page/book/group.

    Another thing to consider is addressing your agreements and policy and procedures to help protect the company and brand.

    Most of the communication that I have seen with distributors has been very positive and information sharing to grow their business.

    This is a huge opportunity for companies to be able to give even more recognition as well.

  3. Mark Bosworth
    January 15, 2009 | 12:52 pm

    Great Comments Jennifer! I absolutely agree with Direct Selling’s need to stay on top of changes in communications patterns and the interet. There are just a handfull of companies that have even thought of using Facebook or Twitter to build relationships. A couple of thoughts:

    – The real problem that most direct sellers have with internet selling and communications is its relative lack of productivity versus in person selling. It takes a whole lot of internet activity to generate the equivalent of one $500 party. In one of my past lives, the average Consultant web site only generated one $50 order per month. Even these sales were generally coming from people who consultants met in person who wanted to order electronically. So “pure” elecronic selling often generates very little in sales. (How much do your electronic consultants sell on average?)

    Another example of this lower productivity is the much lower impact from an electronic catalog versus the impact of a printed catalog. Conversely, the cost of the the electronic catalog and its delivery is a fraction of the paper catalog cost.

    – Internet selling is also perceived as being easier than in person selling. It’s a whole lot easier to post on web sites than it is to pound the phones and talk to everyone at your daughter’s soccer game.

    – So adding the ease/attractiveness of internet direct sales with the low productivity of the consultants and you have the real fear that your sales could totally evaporate if everyone came in as an internet seller and then did nothing.

    So in my opinion, the challenge is to integrate the two in order to get the best of both worlds. A simple example would be a mailed party invitation combined with an email reminder the night before the party.

    One of the real home runs for web based communications should be communications with your sales force and relationship building. We should all be actively building in that area.

    Great comments!

  4. Judi Finneran
    January 13, 2009 | 1:00 pm

    I am in total agreement with how important networking of all types is in growing your direct selling business. When I first entered the field of direct selling in Feb 2005, I did not know how to launch my business. That is when I opened my first chapter of Team Women and by the end of the year I was number one in my company (http://www.gotgreatwine.com) in 1. Wine Tastings Held and 2. Wine Club enrollments. I now an with several companies and have ardently embraced on line social networking. Thanks for sharing such great info and your follow on twitter. Looking forward to reading lots more from you.

    Cheers and Keep Networking!

    Judi
    http://www.judifinneran.com

  5. Nicole Sullivan
    January 13, 2009 | 5:46 pm

    I agree fully. During this time and our economy, it’s hard to find people that can come up with the money for a normal kit. With the digital consultant program, it gives them the opportunity to purchase the regular starter kit for more opportunity for personal and financial growth.

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