Don’t Get Left Behind in the Direct Sales Digital Revolution

In the words of Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are a-Changin.’” The direct selling industry has faced myriad challenges just in the last decade. How people shop for and sell products, how they earn extra money, and how they communicate with friends, family, and businesses have all changed rapidly in that time frame, deeply affecting the industry’s place in consumers’ lives.

Online marketplaces offer quick shipping on millions of products, hosting for third-party vendors, and product suggestions driven by artificial intelligence. Ridesharing and other apps ushered in the modern gig economy, giving users an opportunity to make money on the side with their vehicles, homes, and other skills. Meanwhile, smartphones and social media websites have brought people together from across the globe — and targeted them with personalized advertising.

Direct selling as a business model has survived through all of this. In fact, some brands have even thrived. That’s partly because direct selling was doing all of these things in a low-tech way long before the digital era. Direct selling gave distributors a platform for selling products, making extra money, and expanding their market through local and regional connections.

That being said, it hasn’t all been sunshine and roses, and the industry still has an uphill battle ahead. While some businesses in direct selling have grown in recent years, many more have failed or made substantial changes to their business models in the face of evolving digital landscapes and government regulations.

Direct selling businesses like BurnLounge and WakeUpNow have come and gone after failing to battle better prices online, lawsuits, and regulatory pressure. Meanwhile, AdvoCare — one of the largest direct selling companies in the world by revenue — recently decided to end its network marketing model and focus on direct-to-consumer and single-level marketing sells.

To keep pace with the rapidly changing environment, you must adapt to the new digital era while embracing the people who make the whole machine run: your distributors. Here are some ways you can grow alongside your distributors and continue to be successful in the next decade.

Embrace New Digital Tools

There’s little better example of how the digital era has changed direct selling than the emergence of live video broadcasting on social media. In some ways, distributors’ use of live video has replaced traditional parties as it gives customers a similar experience without having to leave their own homes. In addition, live videos can be saved and posted to the distributor’s social media account, giving future customers a way to see the products despite missing the original broadcast. That’s not the case when somebody misses a party.

However, social selling should be just one small part of a digital strategy. Direct selling businesses need to embrace the latest digital tools to remain truly competitive.

For example, we’ve heard of many businesses that are investing in e-commerce platforms — a move that seems counterintuitive to company-distributor relationships — to battle the Amazons of the world and regulatory pressure on businesses to draw a clear line between distributors and customers. While it might seem distributor-adverse to direct customers to an online marketplace, there are ways you can keep distributors engaged as part of the process, such as using unique referral codes.

You could also have your distributors send personalized email newsletters to customers, keeping them aware of new products and sales, promoting informational and brand-building content, and directing the customers to convenient online ordering pages. But more on that later.

Keep Distributors Engaged

If you’re going to be making sweeping changes to your company’s approach to the digital space, your distributors need to be kept in the loop. Changing an existing technology or process is difficult enough, but so is changing mindsets within your company. Distributors will feel left behind and forgotten if they feel like the company doesn’t care about their role in the change.

How important is regularly engaging with your employees? Well, consider that one of the gig economy’s lingering problems is high turnover of workers. Some people might take on a few jobs or tasks, but few stick with independent work long term. People want to feel like their employers care and are invested in their personal development, but all they get from many gig businesses is an app or website that only facilitates the work. There is little communication intended to actually help the workers.

Direct selling companies have certainly seen their share of distributor churn, but since they’re more likely than modern gig businesses to invest in their workers, they’re much better positioned to nurture and enrich distributors through routine communications. Email newsletters can keep distributors informed about changes as well as offer them tailored content to help them perform better — promoting growth for the business in the process.

Give Distributors Tools to Engage Customers

As we mentioned earlier, the right tools can be powerful in the hands of your distributors during a digital overhaul. Sure, they have their personal social media pages and networks at their disposal, but what if they could use detailed analytics to segment their customer base and send personalized email content designed to elicit a response or conversion?

Your distributors can keep customers informed about upcoming changes to ordering methods as well as keep them engaged with new products and sales opportunities. The personal connection between distributors and customers has long been a strength of the direct selling model (after all, who better to buy from than a close friend or family member you trust?), and personalized emails can help maintain that relationship and promote sales growth.

Whether your distributors start directing customers to an online portal to order products or not, customers need to remember that they’re still buying from their distributor and not a faceless computer. This is critical to your entire business model.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, the waters of industry change are rising and soon you’ll be drenched. If your business is worth saving, then you better start swimming. How will you adapt in the ongoing digital era?

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