Direct sellers rewarded with new insights after adjusting to challenges of pandemic
By: Claire Wilson
We are coming to learn that the
in-person aspect isn’t as important as we thought it was.
—Sean Eggert, CEO, Hanna Shea Executive Search
COVID-19 forced many changes to commerce over the past 12 months. With the rollout of vaccines and a gradual return to normal social interactions, business practices will begin to shift back as well.
Many executives in the channel have come to realize that, in the months spent adapting various segments of operation to the new realities of a locked-down market, unexpected positive outcomes did materialize, and improved strategies for growth and efficiency began to emerge. This leaves direct sellers to determine which pandemic-induced practices will continue once the crisis ends.
Change Brings Wider Audience, Smaller Budget to Events
Stuart MacMillan, president of Florida-based MONAT Global, pivoted to Zoom for its annual convention—just as he was sensing widespread “Zoom fatigue” in the field. Suddenly, the 14,000 tickets sold for the event, scheduled to take place last September in Atlanta, swelled to 50,000 participants from around the world.
MacMillan knew he had to make the event as interactive as possible to keep it compelling. One way to accomplish this, he surmised, was to combine the physical with the virtual.
His team sent gift boxes to each of the thousands of people registered with instructions to open a different package each day of the four-day event. A box might have contained 3-D glasses, for example, or champagne flutes, and everyone was to wear gowns and tuxedos the night of the gala, just as they would have in Atlanta.
“Some people even rented tents,” MacMillan says, and had their own virtual satellite parties.
Going virtual meant the sales team could reach three times the number of people who might have shown up in person, many of them far-flung associates.
MacMillan is now sold on the virtual format and says he will use it more often in coming years—but not exclusively. Next year’s convention, post-COVID-19, will be a hybrid, he says.
“We built this community in a great way,” says MacMillan, whose company’s sales jumped to $808 million last year from $380 million in 2019. “We also saved a boatload of money and put it right back into next year’s budget.”
MONAT is also going virtual to save money on expensive Florida real estate. Post-pandemic, many staffers will continue to work from home, largely because they want to, but also because MONAT’s excessive growth means the new headquarters campus is too small, even before the ribbon is cut. Many call center employees will continue to work from home as they have learned to do over the past year. “We started figuring out ways that technology will enable them to work remotely although the engine of the call center will be on campus,” MacMillan says.
Increased Online Engagement Drives Content and Products
At Young Living Essential Oils, COVID-19 put a stop to all in-person marketing. The company has turned to content creation to keep people engaged in episodic videos, and to amped-up educational videos that distributors can binge on when they tire of Netflix.
According to Kristen Knight, senior vice president, product management and marketing, the company has a healthy DIY customer component, and the videos are created to teach them how to make products such as soap, cleaning products, disinfectant and comfort oil, or “mocktails” with the line’s vitality juice.
Knight says strengthening the home-oriented part of the product lines is the direct result of pandemic-induced changes and customers’ desire to purify their environments under the heading of wellness.
“It’s leaning into the concept of self-care, how to use Young Living as part of a daily routine, how to keep centered,” she says. “A self-care regimen is direct selling gold that dovetails perfectly with our auto-ship program.”
Paul Adams, president of Adams Resource Group, summed up the advantages that direct sellers will enjoy if they maintain flexibility and are open to new technologies.
“More than anything, the pandemic forced companies to embrace technology, learning how it impacts the way business is done and discovering tech deficiencies. Solid technology is no longer an option but a requirement. Companies already on that road did incredibly well. The ones that had to play catch-up are still playing catch-up.”
Product Sampling in Absence of In-Person Marketing
Ryan Anderson, chief sales officer of Lifewave, speaks to the benefits of product sampling when in-person marketing is restricted.
“Nothing sells your product better than your product does,” he says. “Putting a sample in a potential customer’s hands creates an experience that makes the buying decision easier. I personally saw businesses grow by implementing a sampling program during this pandemic. Having a solid program in place to maintain the relationship portion of our business is
Virtual Tools Improve Reach and Quality of Recruitment
The lower cost of doing business virtually is also a huge advantage for executive-hiring in the channel, says Sean Eggert, CEO of Hanna Shea Executive Search, which specializes in the direct selling sector.
Now that people are adept at and open to working remotely, he says, companies can draw on a larger geographical area and recruit in cities where the cost of living is cheaper, sometimes by 30 percent.
“The pool of candidates is of much higher quality, and we are getting good results casting our nets wide and hiring candidates from a bigger talent pool,” Eggert says. “Plus, a lot of candidates are running from large metro areas like New York because of the cost of living and ending up in places like Florida.”
Eggert says companies are also saving money during the recruiting process by completing it almost 100-percent remotely. Where candidates once flew in to meet recruiters and prospective bosses, they now don’t often meet the new employer until after the hiring process. “Some 95 percent interview remotely all the way to the hire. We are coming to learn that the in-person aspect isn’t as important as we once thought it was,” Eggert says.
Eggert predicts that, in the future, work evaluation practices and metrics may also be reinvented in the wake of a more remote-based worker pool. Employees won’t be measured by showing up on time, or showing up at all, but by how well they do their jobs. With no regular hours to enforce and no paid time off to keep track of, future performance reviews will be able to focus more clearly on the bottom line—performance.
“We have a lot of clients who are now offering unlimited PTO, where the focus is on the ability to get the job done, and not worry about time off,” Eggert says. “It gives people a lot more flexibility and a better work-life balance.”
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