If you’ve been involved with direct selling for any length of time at all, you know that today’s direct sales (aka social selling) company looks a lot different from those of years past. It’s created quite a challenge for established companies who seek to be relevant to the next generation of salespeople and consumers. While it used to be that companies could rely on their salespeople to do all the marketing of products to their social circles and training consultants face to face, today the entire concept of “social circle,” along with the way consumers expect to have access to goods, services and information, has shifted dramatically. And this has created a massive shift for our industry.
What has caused this shift? Here are some of the reasons:
- Online Shopping: Online shopping is an amazing thing for today’s busy consumer. Rather than have to rely on store hours and leave the house or place of business, we can go online at anytime, when the need arises, and find exactly what we need. And this ease of access has changed consumer expectations about how they can get our products, too. It used to be that products “only available from a consultant” lent an air of mystery and desirability. Today’s direct sales company can still make products only available through a consultant, but that consultant better have a website with online shopping! And it had better be easy to shop immediately from the corporate website. If you expect a consumer to wait or jump through hoops to shop with your company, you will not survive in this competitive marketplace.
- Amazon Prime: Another thing that has changed consumer expectations dramatically is Amazon Prime. If I can pay $99 bucks annually and get everything I want within 2 days with free shipping, why can’t I do that with you? This is a huge struggle for our industry, because the fact of the matter is that UPS, FedEx and the rest of them are expensive! Add to this that ground shipping across the country can take up to 7 days, and we can feel like dinosaurs when it comes to delivering our products in a timely way. In my opinion, direct selling companies are going to need to band together to achieve the critical mass necessary to qualify for lower shipping rates. Do it yourself warehousing is on the way out. And warehouses MUST be either centrally located in the middle of the US, or multiple warehouses throughout the United States must be put into place to achieve faster shipping times.
- Facebook and other Social Networks: The entire concept of “social” has changed in the last few years. Direct sellers are no longer limited by a geographical area, and those that we think of as friends often expands to people we have never met in person but see everyday online. This is a huge opportunity for our industry, the original social sellers, but we have to enable our salesforce with the technology that will support sales and recruiting to this expanded social circle. This includes “virtual party” technology, autoresponders, online chat, and a host of other technologies that support and extend social selling and training beyond the living room.
- Khan Academy, and other online learning platforms: The way our industry trains is affected too. In-person meetings, once the lifeblood of our industry, have met with dwindling attendees. Part of the reason is that just about everyone has discovered that they can learn just about anything online, even in a group setting, and it costs a whole lot less. Khan Academy, for example, provides a huge amount of outstanding video training, absolutely free! With direct sales trainers offering free and low-cost webinars all the time, it’s up to companies to provide similar learning experiences if they want to ensure that their salespeople get company-approved training that’s relevant and on-message. This means that every direct selling company needs a learning management platform, and content that takes into account the many different learning styles of people today. For example, I recently just completed the development of a new consultant training program that included video, on-screen content that mirrored the video content (for those that prefer to read instead of watch) and downloadable handouts (for those that want to take the content with them.) That combined with this company’s online community on Facebook and weekly webinars created an environment where people could learn without ever leaving their homes. And this is what today’s consultant expects from you too.
The new social selling, whether your company calls itself a party plan or an MLM or Network Marketing company, is necessarily something new. Technology-enabled companies that support salespeople in reaching their social circles wherever they may be, in both group and individual ways, is what the new direct sales company looks like. Companies that are willing to make the shift in a timely way are the ones that will excel in the next 5-10 years in this industry.
Your thoughts? Please share them in the comments!