By: George Elfond, co-founder and CEO, Rallyware
COVID-19 has had a hand in redefining and reshaping just about every industry and market in existence. We’ve seen small businesses, retailers, and the hospitality sector take major hits. We’ve seen drastic shifts in the way work gets performed on a daily basis. And we’ve entered a remote work revolution of sorts that has truly reconfigured the traditional workplace landscape.
One sector that, while also impacted, has remained strong is the direct selling channel. In fact, it has even emerged as a viable career solution for many as a result of this pandemic.
Built upon the backs of a distributor workforce and already very much used to operating off-site, those involved with direct selling were well-versed in adapting when the coronavirus put a new normal before us. As with pretty much any business in the country, the direct selling channel is also realizing that changes need to be made in the weeks and months ahead—such changes will largely come in the form of technological and digital transformation.
Today’s Selling Realities
E-commerce is not slowing down anytime soon. In fact, as in-store retail sales are predicted to steadily decline moving forward, we will likely see an even more rapid rise in terms of e-commerce. Social selling during the pandemic proved a boon to many—both for companies and customers. And that is poised to continue as a strong outlet, particularly for direct sellers. Additionally, as social distancing stands to hold firm as the national protocol, consumers will be more and more reticent to go out and shop, eat, and visit close contact services.
This suggests that there will be greater demand for easily accessible makeup products, such as those offered by direct sellers New Avon and SeneGence, or self-care items available from Nu Skin and Beautycounter, for example. Not to mention, we are apt to see more individuals and families opting to cook and eat at home versus restaurant dining, putting such companies as Pampered Chef, The Cocoa Exchange, and Tupperware in an ideal position to cater to the needs of at-home cooks.
The direct selling channel was built for precisely this type of climate. Now, moving forward, it is a matter of combining the knowledge and experience direct selling businesses already have with the tools and resources that can serve to keep them at the top of their game.
The key to adapting to the future really is going to be about understanding the new sales landscape, in general, and then adopting that which makes communication and interactions between the headquarters, field leaders, distributors and customers far easier.
Navigating Post-COVID-19 Reality as a Direct Seller
Having a full-featured back office. COVID-19 highlighted a number of problems plaguing every company. And even when it comes to direct selling, the ability to quickly and easily check in on personal sales, team sales, customer details and order statuses has been somewhat thrown off. Beyond helping centralize everything, back-office software also enables companies to gain deep insights via the data collected; this, in turn, enhances further training opportunities by allowing companies to deliver personalized learning based upon distributor performance.
Effectively onboarding new distributors. What many direct selling companies have had to contend with over the past couple of months is how to optimize the onboarding experience. Given that uplines no longer had the ability to communicate in person with newly recruited downlines offline, it became more important than ever to have a centralized platform in place with information regarding the company, its products, business-building strategies, and compliance requirements. Again, it is all about having that individualized welcoming experience and thereby ensuring a seamless transition.
A means of training existing distributors. The virus, without question, changed the way in which consumers thought about products and consequently bought those needed products. Here is where it is crucial for companies to introduce and train existing distributors in regard to new product lines, social selling strategies, and business-building methods, in general. Because of digital transformation, successful direct selling businesses have consistently been able to deliver learning and business-building opportunities unimpeded by a pandemic. With marketing and sales training, in particular, having the right tools to deliver each distributor the necessary marketing assets and the latest information regarding products and launch campaigns really has kept direct selling efforts moving ahead.
Engaging distributors with data-driven rewards and recognition. Motivation is key for distributors—particularly when any sort of face-to-face recognition, not to mention more large-scale gatherings and celebrations of personal achievement, are not possible. Having the tools that provide real-time data regarding personal sales numbers and relevant goal metrics thus enables companies to automatically recognize and reward at scale. All part of data-driven gamification, such tools allow for the use of leaderboards, badges and points, for instance, besides the traditional product rewards. This kind of encouragement during a period of lockdown really does make a difference, especially with so many direct selling annual conventions canceled this year.
Streamlining communications. For those who already had the appropriate communication channels in place prior to the virus, they were able to stay ahead of the game. From email groups to the right support for push notifications, many direct selling companies have still managed to effectively provide just-in-time compliance, marketing and sales training throughout the crisis. Communicating and supporting the field at a time of crisis was one of the key differentiators that distinguished those companies who managed to stay right on top of things. This has resulted in almost twice-better distributor retention in the past months.
What The Future Looks Like
Given the current situation, direct selling has actually seen something of a renaissance. Reactivated distributor numbers have grown significantly over the past couple of months as has the number of new distributors.
People are looking for new sources of income for a variety of reasons, and this is a business model that has proven time and time again that it can hold strong and survive even more turbulent economic cycles.
As the country starts to reopen and strives to return to something resembling “normal,” direct selling is certain to continue this upward trajectory, and by grabbing the digital transformation bull by the proverbial horns, this sector is most definitely going to thrive.