Can Direct-Selling Compete With The Gig Economy?

The times they are-a changin’, especially in the world of work. “Gig” roles now make up a significant portion of young and old workers’ time, though many still retain traditional jobs. Younger workers seek work that aligns with their life mission, generally to make the world a better place. The notion that multiple revenue streams are necessary to be prosperous, or even to take a vacation, has become a standard part of career planning. Gig platforms are emerging as the easiest way to establish additional revenue sources in the emerging economy.

Will direct-selling companies be ready to compete for part-time and full-time distributors in this new job market? There are several challenges facing any firm that wants to win and keep gig workers, and e-commerce and retail companies are investing heavily to be compete for sales and support staff who can bring the sales relationship into the home:

It is a plain fact that part-time work is on the rise. Although the U.S. Department of Labor reported that the traditional job market is still alive and well as of May 2018, the agency’s count did not include part-time work in its count of employment arrangements. The DOL suggests that only 3.8 percent of workers are in “alternative or contingent” work arrangements as their primary employment.

During the same month Labor issued its reassuring report, the Federal Reserve found a very different total by counting all work arrangements, not just workers’ primary employment. According to The Fed, 30 percent of adults are working on side jobs to raise their income. The gig today is viewed as necessary to making a sufficient living, consequently the gigs that fit most conveniently in a worker’s life are preferred by potential hires.

People are driving for Uber and Lyft, doing side jobs on TaskRabbit and, critically, many small and medium-sized businesses are turning to online marketplaces to find customers. Intuit reported 34 percent of U.S. workers were working side jobs in 2017 and projects the share of gig workers will rise to 43 percent by 2020. Today’s “hustlers” are choosing software-enabled work opportunities.

Put yourself in the distributor’s shoes

Direct sales opportunities may appear riskier than the typical gig job that promise lower but consistent income. Workers are willing to take the lower pay in lieu of higher income that isn’t certain, according to the Fed: “Three-fifths of workers would prefer a hypothetical job with stable pay over one with varying but somewhat higher pay.”

This is the lens direct sales recruitment must use when assessing its pitch to prospective enrollees. The worker has many choices for a side-income and, if they are going to engage in direct selling full-time need a successful program with world-class onboarding for distributors as well as better tools for selling than competitors.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics suggested in a 2007 study that flexibility and a sense of being in control of one’s time and choices are key motivators for workers, across all generations. That’s an implicit endorsement of the benefits offered by direct selling. As the labor market has tightened, prospective direct sellers are able to measure their options and pick selectively based on social feedback about companies, how distributors are treated, and the tools provided to help them achieve success.

Just as pre-sales determines which sales program will be most successful, distributor recruitment today requires early engagement of prospects with targeted video and audio content, sales messaging delivered through the tools the prospect will use to sell, and a stellar onboarding process to keep them moving toward early success.

Turn the prospective enrollee’s view on your companies offerings: Are the tool mobile and designed to provide training that converts sales rapidly? Are marketing and sales messages reinforcing the importance of distributor success at every step? Has your content library developed to support personalization of sales experience, and does that include helping new distributors embrace and make your sales process their own? Without complete distributor engagement, customers will quickly come to doubt the marketing message overall.

The Brookings Institute reported in 2016 that gig work is thriving in cities, which direct sellers need to target with increasingly diverse personalized messaging. Brookings found that 81 percent of four-year net growth in non-employer firms took place in cities, where huge groups of transient workers are mixing, networking, and making life-long connections that direct sellers can leverage to build revenue. The gig wave will reach the suburbs and rural communities in the next five years.

The next generation of self-starters are entrepreneurial by nature. Millennials, Gen-Z and the newly born Gen-A have grown up in a world where information tools give them extraordinary powers of choice. They also tend to think in terms of building service relationships with customers, a natural fit with direct selling that, without the right tools, quickly leads to frustration and distributor attrition.

The first wave of gig work made commodity labor delivery more efficient. But the sales challenge in the 2020s will revolve around deep customer relationships facilitated by smart content platforms. This gives direct sales an advantage, because the industry has focused on one-to-one relationship for decades. Without the right tools and a clear socially responsible message expressed daily through sales training content, customer messaging, and within the sales network, direct selling will face declines in recruitment.

Even as retail and ecommerce companies launch campaigns to get a foothold in direct selling’s traditional stronghold, the home, potential direct salespeople are juggling more options than at any time in history. Is your direct-selling network ready to engage and support the next generation of self-starters who are willing to work hard for a profitable business and satisfying lifestyle?

See You In San Diego

Gig Economy Group and LifeVantage will be presenting at the upcoming Direct Selling Association 2018 Annual Meeting in San Diego, June 17 through 19. We look forward to meeting you at the event, where our team will be exploring critical questions about the future of direct selling. Schedule a demo or reach out to meet and talk at our suite during the event.

We would also appreciate your joining our blog team for a discussion at the event about the challenges facing the industry. We will be writing about direct-selling in the weeks before DSA 2018 and would like to include your thoughts in our reports. Send email to schedule an interview.