Is Your Direct Selling Business a Partner or a Supplier to Your Distributors?

PartnershipIn direct selling, your distributors are arguably as important as your products. The types of personal relationships they build with customers and other distributors are critical to the direct selling model and are rare in more traditional retail operations. Your products might be great, but the passion distributors bring to the table is what moves inventory.

Though distributors play such an important role in direct selling, the industry still battles a large amount of distributor turnover. According to, it’s typical for 80 percent of distributors to quit within a year. Many of those who quit have their reasons — some sign up just for discounts or as favors to friends — but it’s certainly something the industry has tried to tackle over the years.

One of the most common solutions you’ll hear for churn is that improving compensation and milestone rewards is a surefire way to keep distributors on board. While compensation is certainly important, hitting those milestones might be a pipe dream if your sales force isn’t equipped for success.

Regularly engaging with your distributors and giving them the tools, training and tips to succeed plays a critical role in reinforcing that you care about your distributors. Like your products, your distributors aren’t disposable.

The key question here is, do you invest in your distributors and help them succeed, or do you simply send them products and wish them luck? Are you a partner to your distributors or a supplier? Let’s take a look at the differences.

Partners Are Committed to Their Distributors

Partners are people who make decisions together, encourage each other and help everybody on the team succeed. If your direct selling company is a partner to your distributors, you regularly send them timely and useful communications about new products, sales trends, training opportunities and helpful sales tips. You recognize the value of your distributors to your company and equip them with the tools they need to be successful.

If you’re in the multi-level marketing (MLM) business, you also know that success isn’t just about selling products. Distributors need to recruit more people to help spread your message and your product. While that might take some distributors out of their comfort zones, a direct selling company that’s a partner will work with them to improve their recruiting strategies and building a strong downline.

Suppliers Are Disengaged From Distributors

While sales numbers will always be important in every business, direct selling companies that act like suppliers toward their distributors will put far too much emphasis on meeting sales goals while minimizing engagement with distributors. Suppliers send products to distributors regardless of regional sales trends and leave distributors on the hook for unsold inventory. Distributors receive minimal communications from the company outside of invoices and order forms, leaving them feeling unvalued and unlikely to succeed.

Suppliers involved in MLM emphasize recruiting and expanding the downline while giving the distributors little to work with in the way of product improvements, recruiting strategies or training. Though they’re happy to send more products as often as possible, MLM suppliers let the same products take a backseat while putting pressure on distributors to recruit. This approach might generate a sizeable amount a revenue in the short term, but it will be unsustainable as the distributors and the company both stagnate.

Don’t Be a Supplier, Be a Partner

According to a recent LinkedIn report, more than 90 percent of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers. While the direct selling model has its own unique advantages and disadvantages compared to traditional businesses, the fact remains that people want to feel valued by their employers.

Shipping distributors boxes of inventory and leaving them twisting in the wind is no way to build a loyal salesforce that believes in your company. Be a partner to your distributors and keep them feeling like they have a place in your company by investing in their success. Send them regular communications with engaging content that will help them understand that you’re their partner and that you want to see them excel.

So take a little time for some self-reflection and consider the question we opened with. Are you a supplier or a partner to your distributors? If you asked, would your distributors agree with you? Do they feel like you care?

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