Top field leaders share ‘no agenda’ insights for corporate executives
By: Jenna Lang Warford
“Some companies have great products, but they’re not customer focused. Some companies have a great rewards plan, but not great products. It’s like baking a cake; leave out one ingredient, like integrity, then the cake’s going to fall apart.” – Maranda H., Representative, Bella Grace Global
According to the Direct Selling Association, direct selling’s U.S. sales in 2021 beat the record high of 2020 by 6.4% growth. American consumers are more open than ever to purchasing from direct sellers, with 67% liking the personalized service provided. Combine that with the fact that 79% of people looking for entrepreneurial opportunities are favorable toward direct sales (in comparison, “gig work” was only 2 points higher), and it’s possible that the channel could see continued growth.
Economic conditions have 77% of Americans interested in flexible income opportunities, and the demographics many have chased, 88% of Millennials and 91% of Gen Z, are showing high interest.
Optimizing This Opportunity
Nickie G., a $200,000 Promoter and a high-ranking field leader at Le-Vel, believes that companies can impact sales and attract new distributors by focusing on what they want—and actually believe they can achieve. “The reason people start with the business is because they can’t purchase groceries or school supplies without worrying about the expense.” Nickie, who has been with Le-Vel for over eight years, recognizes that top field leaders are often attracted to large scale reward plans, but says, “While those are great, most people just don’t relate to that. They want to be able to make it through the week. When you focus on that, that attracts more people.”
One of Neora’s Platinum National Marketing Directors, Samantha W., saw a continuing positive effect from the pandemic. “I think direct sales, in general, is a lot more attractive to people now than it was eight years ago. People got a little spoiled during the pandemic; they like being able to work from home or work from wifi; it’s attractive to them, and now they see they have a choice.”
Maranda H., a field leader for seven years and now the top-ranking leader with her husband, Josh, at Bella Grace Global, believes attracting new distributors is a balancing act akin to executing a recipe. “Some companies have great products, but they’re not customer focused. Some companies have a great rewards plan, but not great products. It’s like baking a cake; leave out one ingredient, like integrity, then the cake’s going to fall apart. And it’s the same thing with companies. You need to have the balance of great products that work, are unique, are attractive to the marketplace and are trending. You need a good rewards plan, of course, but you also need to have integrity—the solid foundation of a corporate team that can be trusted.”
Retention: Culture & Products
Maranda sums up her view of corporate actions to retain distributors as simply, “It’s just like retaining a customer. You know you have to have great customer service to succeed. You also need great service for your field; treat your field like you’re partnering with them. Treat them with integrity and respect, listen to them, and continue to bring value to them just like you would for a customer. Continue to bring value and introduce bigger, better, best products with things that will enhance their business. Then you are reliable, and you’ll build loyalty in those field leaders, just like you would a customer.”
Having a culture that supports retention and keeps new distributors engaged and working their business is just as important to top field leaders as it is to the corporate team. Nickie, who began as a corporate employee and moved to the field, watched a large portion of her team leave over an announced culture shift at a previous company.
“We were all sitting in convention, when a new vice president of sales was announced. That officer then revealed changes to the comp plan as well as the core aspects of the company culture, which was focused on helping customers—supported by referral programs and opportunities to earn free product. Team members literally stood up and walked out of the conference. I felt lied to and betrayed, and that everything we had built on as a team—all the work we’d put in—was gone. I almost gave up the industry over it.
“Of course, a company needs a good, balanced comp plan and support for customers,” she says. “But the moment you shift away from what attracts average people and allows them to create success, you lose. I think a lot of network marketing companies build comp plans and training for the 10-percenters, those who are good at sales and recruiting. But if you focus on the 90% of people and you help them find success in their first 30 days, whatever that looks like for your program, they fall in love with a brand even more.”
Nickie goes back to the day at the conference when the culture shift was intentionally announced. “That day, I had just hit the car level with that company. And half of my team got up from the convention, walked out the doors, and quit on the spot. Because they felt, ‘This is not what I signed up for.’ So a culture where ‘average’ people thrive is really important.” she says.
While Samantha’s experience isn’t as dramatic, this top field leader at Neora agrees with what almost every direct selling executive has said: You must prioritize a positive culture to help retain distributors. To her, and her fellow leaders, recognition is key to retention. “When people are able to create a sense of community and then actually be recognized when they do something big or small, that’s a big retention point.
“Compared with traditional employers, direct sales companies do recognition very well. Ensuring a focus on flexibility and a sense of community are also what I’m seeing as big retention points,” says Samantha.
Sustainability: Small Wins and an Engaged Executive Team
While Nickie does believe that simple systems and a consumable product are crucial to a company’s sustainability, she also says that sustainability will come from the top. “I’ve seen a lot of companies where the CEO came from the field and said, ‘When I start a business, I’m going to do it this way, because I know how it is in the field.’ Yet, when they get there, they realize it’s a little more complicated than they thought. But if they can stay true to themselves and remember what they want and why they wanted it, the company will be sustainable. Le-Vel is 10 years old, and I just had the owner of the company fly in for an event that I’m hosting. He’s still in the grind. He’s still making phone calls.”
Samantha, who had no direct selling experience prior to her eight years with Neora, believes that sustainability is supported well by a compensation plan that allows for small wins, regardless of rank. “Coming out of the pandemic, recognition became even more of an important component, always allowing for something anybody can achieve ‘next.’ It helps build that sense of culture and community with a strong dynamic.”
Feeling Valued: Practices and Programs
Retention and sustainability are also upheld by the practices and programs that make distributors feel valued. These aren’t necessarily luxury items or even upscale trips. (Although no one has ever complained about the massage package for being a top recruiter!)
For Maranda, the personal connection is invaluable; the relationship factor isn’t just upline to downline or distributor to customer. “I have felt valued the most when I received personal calls from executives to congratulate and thank me; and thank you notes are overlooked and undervalued,” she says. “On trips, one of the best parts is having the corporate team there to cheer you on and celebrate with you. It makes you feel really valued and truly rewarded.”
Samantha says that the way the corporate team thinks about the distributor helps her feel valued and also as if she is connected to a culture that aligns with her values. “On an incentive trip, which anyone can earn, regardless of rank, we’ll come back to our rooms and there will be a family photo the company has left on the nightstand. It’s then that you realize they’re not just looking at you as a source of producing sales, but that you’re a person who matters to them.”
Le-Vel Promoter Nickie agrees that it’s the little things, too; though they’re possibly time-consuming, they have a wow factor. “When someone really digs into the reports and doesn’t just celebrate the individuals who are killing it, but also finds the sweet spots (what people are good at) and celebrates those wins, too. For example, maybe someone is really good at building relationships, or her customer retention is through the roof, and they call that out,” she says.
The importance of these can’t be underestimated, according to Nickie. “Not everyone will believe they can make a million dollars. They think they can’t do that. But they do believe they can build relationships and keep customers. So that recognition is priceless for making them feel valued.”
“To me, empowerment is like a coal burning in the firepit; it just keeps me going. Maybe I’m just the oddball here,” Nickie says, “but I feel empowered when I sit in front of my laptop and I see all the testimonials that corporate has collected. It empowers me to continue to share because it makes me think of the reason I started in the first place.
“It really can’t be just me, because the stat is that customer retention is increased by over 30 percent just by exposing them to testimonials.”
For Samantha, the cross-line connection is compounded by belief in those who are running the company. “Our field leaders are all intertwined and do a good job of working together. And the belief factor in the corporate team is huge because of how they interact and stay connected to the different levels of leadership. Those connections, those conversations, make me feel for sure that I’m in the right place at the right time.”
Responsiveness is the key to making the field feel empowered, Maranda says she believes. “When you go to the corporate team and tell them you need a video for something specific, and they listen then quickly deliver that tool to share prospects, it makes life simple and, most of all, it empowers us to duplicate ourselves.
“Information is also key,” the Bella Grace Ambassador says. “When the corporate team shares information, you feel empowered and confident in what you’re doing.”
The Relationship Business
Top field leaders have borne out the maxim that direct selling really is “a relationship business.” But the adage isn’t just for the field. Direct selling executives who invest in relationships with distributors discover that attraction, retention, sustainability and profitability are all impacted.
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