Direct sellers invest in technology, training and new ideas with COVID-19’s endemic phase on the horizon
By: Jenna Lang Warford
What worked in 2020… no longer really works.
— Suzie Read, National Sales Director, Jordan Essentials
We have to bring the digital experience to a whole other level… So the question is, how do we elevate the experience?
— Garrett McGrath, CEO, The Happy Co.
Responding rather than initiating has been a common strategy for operating a business during the past two years, as many direct selling companies have chosen to “wait it out” and “play it safe” in a time with no relevant precedent. While innovations were often distributor-led, and hugely successful, it’s clear that 2022 requires different growth strategies as the pandemic shifts to the endemic.
Events: Options & Elevation
Garrett McGrath, CEO of The Happy Co., says, “I believe growth for 2022 will be a progressive integration of the online world with the physical world. So it’s delivering not only digital events, but also offering the opportunity to have in-person events: hybrid events. People want more choice.”
This duality comes with challenges, of course. “We have to bring the digital experience to a whole new level; it requires more than just a Zoom,” he says. “So the question is, how do we elevate the experience?”
That could mean setting up breakout rooms and delivering handouts at a well-timed moment to those attendees. Finding ways to keep the digital experience connected in real time only enhances it for those participating virtually.
“And with the in-person experience, we focus on giving them things that they would not have gotten if they weren’t there physically,” McGrath says. “People love to be recognized and walk across the stage. They love the togetherness of breaking bread; so we can organize having meals together.”
The executive team at Bella Grace Global, led by CEO Meredith Bilbro, recognized that a hybrid event would serve their field well. “As an influencer-based company, we realize the power of social media and recognize that online events are critical to our growth strategy. We believe one of the best possible options is to hold a combination livestream and live event, with in-person attendance limited to top leaders. This also gives us the freedom to choose a location that will be an optimally exciting and inspiring experience,” says Bilbro.
Christina Smith, president and founder of Closet Candy, has a three-part growth strategy—the first of which is connecting with the field by investing in smaller regional events managed by a corporate field development employee. The company, which launched on the cusp of the pandemic in Q4 2019, doesn’t yet have a rich history of in-person events. “These regional meet-ups will be a full day of education and celebration. We’ll include teaching on how to do better videos and take better photos, which is important when you’re selling apparel by connecting with your customers,” Smith says.
Investing in Training
Closet Candy had 1 million followers before transitioning the company into a direct sales business. Now, with 10,000 distributors, Smith says she feels that they’ve barely tapped their potential distributor market. The second part of their growth strategy is optimizing social media for recruiting and providing the necessary training for that. “TikTok and Reels (videos) about the opportunity are huge for us right now. We’re training heavily on how to do them, how to make them fun, how to keep them true to their individual brands.”
The third aspect of their growth strategy is also training-related: refining their onboarding system, which is app-based and reward-oriented.
Strategies for Endemic vs. Pandemic
Some companies are planning growth strategies around tweaking once-flourishing business practices that are no longer garnering results. Suzie Read, national sales director of Jordan Essentials, says, “What worked in 2020 with the online party no longer really works. When online parties took off then, they would go for five days, or even seven days, because everyone was home. Nobody has that attention span anymore, and nobody wants to sit by their phone on the weekends. So focusing on how to shorten an online party so that people get the experience more quickly—maybe in a 30-minute increment—is crucial.”
Introduce New Ways of Doing Business
While previous growth strategies in direct selling usually avoided offering direct-to-consumer options, such as storefront locations or selling through home shopping channels, this new era’s focus on customer acquisition creates fresh opportunities.
This means looking for new ways to acquire customers, traditionally the distributor’s job. Clint McKinlay, CEO of Ruby Ribbon, says, “We are open-minded when it comes to partnering with other channels to create new lead sources for our field leadership.
“Our alignment with field leadership enables us to build our brand in new ways, attract new customers we wouldn’t otherwise reach and support our Stylists’ businesses at the same time. One recent example is when our jean leggings were featured on ABC’s The View, during the ‘View Your Deal’ segment. This type of cross-channel demand creation generates new customers and follow-up opportunities for qualified Stylists. We are excited to keep exploring and redefining our business model in ways that create maximum customer value and Stylist success.”
Both the Avon Company and Beautycounter continue the growth strategy they launched in 2021: Live Shopping events. This strategy will likely become more popular as the technology is readily available.
Ryan Kell, co-founder and chief technology officer at BlooKanoo, says using Live Shopping as a growth strategy begins with selecting the platform and processes that are right for your demographics. “Distributors can range from 18-year-olds that don’t realize that you weren’t born with a cell phone all the way to those who only started using Zoom because they wanted to talk to their grandkids. So it’s important to determine how easy it is for them to engage and how deeply it integrates into your current sales processes.
“This new phase of integrating a checkout experience directly into the video platform simplifies the process for customers and helps the distributors to close the sale, and the options can range from an app that is directly integrated with your platform to a personalized url that links to an experience where they can buy the products,” he explains. “It’s possible to embed the live stream directly onto the distributor’s replicated site.”
Live shopping is currently being utilized by traditional retailers such as apparel company Chico’s as well as social media platforms including Instagram and TikTok.
It’s Still a People Business
Strengthening relationships between the field and corporate is done through consistent personal contact, just as it is done in the field. To that end, some direct selling companies are adding or expanding field development teams as growth strategies for 2022.
The Happy Co.’s McGrath says, “We’ve brought on Taylor Worre as vice president of field development. We already have a Field Advisory Board we work closely with; I meet with all of the field leaders on a Wednesday night; I meet with the top leadership levels throughout the week to keep conversation and collaboration going. Now, Taylor will be asking field leaders, ‘How can I best serve you and help facilitate growth for your group?’ And some leaders may want him to fly in to an area where their team is concentrated. Others may ask for a digital event.”
Growing via Customer Acquisition
According to McGrath, The Happy Co. has additional growth strategies key to 2022; both customer-related. Not surprisingly in this era of hyper scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), The Happy Co. focuses on having a sizable, and growing, customer community. “Having a very meaningful, simple customer rewards program makes it easier for the Brand Partner to speak about their product; having a referral program helps create organic growth.
“We created ‘The Power of Three,’ a customer transformation community,” he says. The program offers a free online community and includes three lifestyle adjustments along with three products each customer can choose to integrate. “We give them incredible value, and we show them different ways that they can make adjustments in their lifestyle that potentially could transform their health. There, they may also begin to see there are some other products they may be interested in as well as a rewards program. This is a community that offers them significant value, so they’re happy to refer others to it.”
Growth via Social Media Influencers
Direct selling startup Bella Grace Global’s customer acquisition strategy includes utilizing established social media influencers as well as distributors without thousands of followers. A study by emarketer.com says 72.5 percent of U.S. marketers plan to use influencer marketing in 2022 as part of their growth strategy.
This far-reaching strategy can encompass customers from baby boomers to Gen X, millennials and Gen Z—each generation with their preferred platform. According to a 2021 survey by Slick Text, a majority of Gen Z respondents (31.69 percent) said Instagram has the most genuine influencers, followed by TikTok (28.67 percent). A majority of boomers (31 percent) preferred Facebook.
Regardless of platform, what will cause potential customers to buy? The survey revealed one out of three respondents said they would prefer to see content several times per day from an influencer they follow, and nearly 40 percent of survey respondents said that feeling that they “need” the product being promoted by an influencer is the most likely way to convince them to purchase.
What would make them stop buying? One in three respondents said too many sponsored posts are the top reason they lose trust in influencers.
The Endemic Shift
While growth in 2020 and the first part of 2021 was largely led by the field utilizing technology to satisfy customers who were limited to online purchases for all but staples, 2022 presents an opportunity to creatively strategize. Looking at opportunities previously considered taboo and utilizing technology that is adapting to the pandemic/endemic world will keep direct sellers on the upward growth trajectory.
Hiring as a Growth Strategy During the Great Resignation
Adding corporate team members designated to establish and develop relationships with the field is an effective growth strategy because it helps ensure that the field—including new distributors, those who are beginning to achieve success, and mid-level leaders eager to grow—can get the connections, coaching, and resources necessary for growth. Although the field system would seem to supply its own training, connection and resources, this isn’t always the case. In fact, it’s an exceptional leader who is able to supply all the team needs, whether it’s communication style, skills still in the developmental stage, or even the facets of the relationships that are the impediment.
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics January report, in November 2021 a record-setting 4.5 million people voluntarily left their jobs. From April through December one-fifth of the total U.S. workforce left their positions; 33 million in all. The BLS also reports that mid-level white-collar workers 30–45 years old show a 20 percent increase in resignation rates between 2020 and 2021.
Corporate employees of direct selling companies aren’t immune to the Great Resignation and are in the odd position of touting benefits to the field of not working a “9-to-5,” while simultaneously doing just that.
But finding and keeping talented employees isn’t impossible.
During 2020, approximately 70 percent of full-time employees worked remotely. An August 2021 survey by Bankrate says that 56 percent of working Americans would prefer remote work and flex time. Mark Hamrick, Bankrate’s senior economic analyst and Washington bureau chief, says, “Pandemic-inspired changes, including the ability to work remotely and/or from home, have transformed mindsets and expectations for many workers.”
Sunrider International’s human resources manager, Sarah Chupinghong, reports similar findings, noting that candidates seem to favor remote work options. “I think more companies are beginning to realize that remote work is very doable and effective, and that employees are happier when given the option to work from home.”
Hiring Top Talent
Sean Eggert of Hanna Shea Executive Search says that by taking a remote work option off the table, a significant number of candidates will opt out of the interview process. “If there were initially 100 candidates, that mandate will reduce the number to 20.”
Afue Boateng, a veteran field leader, former direct selling manager and director, and now co-owner of international recruiting firm Dolmen Recrutement, says that agility, or the ability to make an offer in a timely manner, is of primary importance. “Hiring needs to happen faster. If your hiring process takes three or four months because the best candidates need to meet every single person in the hierarchy of the company from bottom to top, for them all to have their input with discussions that happen in between, you will lose that candidate.”
While flexibility and agility are important, compensation remains a factor. Inflation aside, “We’re seeing a little bit better salaries being paid out and seeing bigger bonus packages based on the performance of the company,” Eggert says.
Link to share this article: https://socialsellingnews.com/link/growth-strategies-for-2022-3892/