Modern direct sellers are driving value to the field leveraging usage data
By: Connor Hester
The benefit of segmentation is that it provides clarity to the product team on what data sources they should use to collect feedback and information.
The direct selling industry is undergoing a period of rapid transformation as companies seek innovative ways to support their distributors.
The back office has historically been used as the primary tool for distributors to manage their business, but as many direct sellers can attest, it has not always kept pace with the rate of technological change.
In the past, the goal of the back office was to serve as a central hub for everything a consultant needs to run their business.
This has shifted substantially in recent years, with the purpose of the modern, high-performance back office evolving beyond its original purpose of simply providing information.
Now, companies need to present this information in an intuitive, user-feedback-driven manner that will make the back office easier to utilize across all levels of the marketing plan as well as increase revenue-driving activity in the field.
This allows the back office to transition from a cost center into a business-driving tool for the company. To construct a high-performing back office, a company needs to focus equally on both the product management and the technical development of the back office. This article will concentrate specifically on the product-management side of this formula.
Traditional Back-office Product Management
To understand these product management changes, let’s examine a typical back-office lifecycle.
Most back offices are built around the idea that they should contain “all the features and information a consultant needs to run their business.”
During the design of the back office through the initial go-live, the product team will be given a minimum set of requirements needed to make it functional for a consultant to operate a business. This can lead to an incomplete back office on launch day.
Depending on the complexity of the project, the following weeks to months will be utilized by adding features and information. Eventually, the back office will reach a stabilization point where it has met all a consultant’s basic needs.
From this point onward, the product manager’s attention will be set to defining a new roadmap for the back office.
With this iteration now stable and providing the basic features needed, the product manager can ask, “What else would be helpful for a consultant to run their business?” To help answer this question, the product team can turn to sales, marketing and top field leaders for new features.
Pursuing this goal and using the feedback from these different stakeholders, the product team can over time build out a robust back office that might include features such as a report builder, a graphics editor, chat systems, prospecting systems and additional reporting.
If, after 12 to 24 months, metrics such as monthly visits, daily or weekly usage rates, and engagement rates sit in the low double-digits, the problem may be that the product team assumed that engagement would always correlate with an increase in features and information added to the platform.
To drive engagement, one needs to look past available functionality and look at how the back office is presented and how users are encouraged to engage with the system.
Rethinking Product Management
A company should start by redefining the goal of the back office. Some of the most effective goals of a high-performing back office can be:
- Provide complete information needed to run one’s business.
- Present that information in an intuitive manner, making the back office easier to learn and utilize across all levels of the marketing plan.
- Most importantly, increase revenue-driving activity in the field, turning the back office from a cost center into a business-driving tool for the company. For the field, this means providing consultants with reporting that they can use to engage with and drive
To accomplish this, a company should become more data-centric when it comes to collecting and analyzing user data. With tools such as Google Analytics and tracking capabilities that can be built in the back office, it is relatively easy for the product team to track usage not only through user visits but also through functionality of the system and how individuals use it.
Of course, this level of tracking can create data noise. To create actionable data for the product team, it can be helpful to segment all back office functionalities into four segments:
Administrative: This includes administrative, non-routine tasks such as setting up payments, editing personal information and editing contact preferences.
Informational: This is the bulk of most back offices and includes most of the information a consultant normally needs to operate their business. Common examples include customer details, downline tree, volumes, shareables, etc.
Actionable: These are the reports and workflows that help a consultant perform business-driving activity. For example, a report that tells a consultant which consultants in their downline are close to rank advancement allows a consultant to identify and quickly engage with these high-value consultants. From a business standpoint, the company knows that more people interacting with these reports at the correct moments will result in more revenue for the company.
Custom: These are functionalities that return power to the consultant, giving them the ability to run their business how they see fit. In many back offices, this includes functionalities such as report builders, email campaign systems and graphic builders. They are critical to allowing leaders to drive their business but are rarely used outside of leaders and power users.
Using these segments, the product team can grasp not only the purpose of a functionality, but also the prioritization and how and when to measure the functionality both quantitatively and qualitatively.
For example, a marketing plan may contain a Fast-Start Bonus. Typically, this bonus is awarded to new consultants who complete a certain set of requirements in a fixed period.
In this case, the back office would then need to contain a module that shows new consultants the requirements of this bonus and their status to accomplish the bonus. Under the segmentation, this type of module would be classified as informational.
To guarantee this module provides a consultant with the necessary information they need to track this bonus, and that it is presented clearly, the product team would need a series of data sources.
First, the product team would want to monitor customer service tickets looking for people asking questions or having issues with this specific bonus.
Second, the product team would want to conduct routine meetings with the customer service team to ask them about common questions and complaints they are getting from the back office.
Third, the product team would want to conduct regular conversations with the sales/field training team to inquire about questions and feedback on the back office. Using data from these three sources, the product team can then make educated improvements to the Fast-Start module.
In contrast, for a custom functionality such as a report generator, the company would want to rely on different data sources. In this case, customer service would likely not hear any complaints on missing information or confusion on this custom functionality as it would not be heavily utilized by most consultants.
Instead, a report generator would be a feature that only power users and select leaders would engage with on a frequent basis. Therefore, customer service tickets and feedback meetings would be of little use. Rather, the product team should rely on their calls with the sales/field training team and conduct a focus group with a small group of power users from the field.
The benefit of segmentation is that it provides clarity to the product team on what data sources they should use to collect feedback and information. This allows them to take a more educated approach to solve goals No. 1 and No. 2.
The second major differentiator provided with segmentation is that the actionable segment allows the company to track and drive goal No. 3.
Under this methodology, a company does not need to track the monthly engagement rates with informational, administrative or custom functionality; instead, they only need to track engagement rates for the actionable functionality.
The reason for this is that the actionable functionalities are the elements of the back office that drive business-building activities. Therefore, increasing user engagement with these actionable functionalities is the best way to utilize the back office to drive the business itself.
For example, if a company is looking to provide the field tools to support the Fast-Start Bonus, they would likely create in the back office a “Downline Fast-Starts” report. This report would provide the consultant with all of the people in their downline who are eligible for Fast-Start, their current progress to Fast-Start, and a way for the consultant to engage with these eligible people.
Providing this report would be common in most back offices. The difference is that when using the segmentation methodology, the product team’s job does not stop when the “Downline Fast-Starts” report is complete—rather it has only started.
The product team’s job from post-deployment forward is to increase user engagement with this report. These efforts might include improving the user experience of this report, adding additional information, or even creating notifications to users to encourage them to engage with the report.
What matters is that the product team now has a clear set of objectives on how they will drive business with the back office and can be held accountable for reaching those objectives.
When done correctly, the product team can utilize the usage data from these actionable functionalities to demonstrate to management how the back office increases revenue-driving activities and how recent development has improved revenue-driving among the field.
Thus, the company can show a clearer ROI on back-office investment. This helps to transform the back office from simply an information portal for the field to a major business asset for the company.
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