Getting Started With Machine Learning for Sales Content

Human insight and inspiration are the basis of solidly profitable applications of machine learning to sales processes. LifeVantage, which recently launched a Gig Economy Group-based sales app for its distributors, improved its sales and marketing alignment as part of their onboarding to machine learning.

The GEG process builds on five principles that ensure clients onboard to improved, personalized sales experiences:

  1. Attribution analysis provides useful metrics for assessing content and messaging.
  2. Design to deliver “What’s Next” automatically, offering distributors the choice to use or refuse the machine suggestion.
  3. Make the process repeatable and scalable while supporting testable content and messaging variations.
  4. Deliver real-time leading indicators to management to facilitate their own content production decisions instead of blindly following machine recommendations.
  5. Provide a proactive view of the business from Day One.

We began the LifeVantage process using the company’s existing video, audio, and PDF-based content assets. Those assets served as the foundation of a machine learning platform. Assigning expected outcomes for each of these assets, whether LifeVantage management believed the asset moves a prospect toward purchasing, provided the GEG analytics system to identify opportunities for optimization. Each surprising outcome lets the machine learner choose alternative steps and test their efficacy in the funnel.

The teams assessed content provided to distributors as they join the organization, and consumer marketing content. Every aspect of the interactions between LifeVantage sellers and customers were examined and cataloged. With this inventory and a list of expected outcomes at each step, a machine learner can look at every interaction to identify what content works best, which messaging spurs prospect action, and the optimal order for delivering marketing content to customers.

Having innovated early with several technology vendors to develop four mobile apps, LifeVantage found its new distributor onboarding had become fragmented across several applications. Each app addressed different aspects of learning the LifeVantage Way, the selling process, and ongoing training. The company realized its distributors needed a single point of contact with LifeVantage information and its backend sales management systems. Simply providing training through streaming videos, audio programs, and coaching by sponsors would not be sufficient to keep a new distributor engaged if their early investment of time in LifeVantage did not convert to sales.

Results, Before The Machine Kicks In

The LifeVantage app for iPhone and Android connects distributors to the company’s media catalog and sales platform to provide next-step guidance for each phase of the selling process. Building on its established training and invaluable guidance from its most successful distributors, LifeVantage analyzed each step in its selling motion to create a machine learner capable of recognizing the salesperson’s progress in training, achieving product competence, and how each relationship they are working is progressing against network-wide benchmarks.

It was clear from the start a mobile-first strategy was essential. In many cases, distributors used paper-based sales management tools rather than PC applications. iPhone and Android versions of the app became priorities for the team, who moved to the design stage with a challenge: How to make the seller’s success as simple and pleasing as an Uber rider or driver’s experience.

A significant finding in early surveying and interviews centered on the design on framing seller’s choices. Distributors did not want to be told they have only one option, which they must follow the instructions given precisely. Instead, they sometimes want to skip sharing a video or time the gathering of feedback differently than established LifeVantage practice. For newcomers to LifeVantage sales, spontaneity in communication reinforced their sense of confidence. The team had to allow users plenty of flexibility. Experienced distributors moving from other network marketing companies were less inclined to watch training, but eager to get to work.

Through internal discussion and continuing interviews with experienced distributors, the team settled on critical metrics to change with the app that focused on novice sellers. While the first version of the LifeVantage app does offer services for long-term distributors, the newest seller is the next source of growth at the company. The selling steps and events that lead to initial success, such as time to first contact added and messaged, the frequency and success of the new distributor’s meetings, and speedy progress toward the first sale and progress up the compensation ladder became central to the project.

Customization At the Design Stage

Rapid development demanded continuous collaboration between the design and development teams during the onboarding and launch process. The initial distributor interviews produced a design the team decided required too much tool knowledge on the user’s part. The needed to know steps when adding a contact or creating a meeting, for instance, gets in the way of completing the task. A key decision resulted: Each action card that called for a distributor task should open the workspace where the work takes will be performed and, on completion, acknowledge the progress made. Sellers want feedback from their app about their progress.

App performance, too, presented challenges. Machine learning is an evolving computationally intensive technology. Building in a robust development environment on proven cloud systems was essential to fast responses to user input in the LifeVantage app. Feedback from distributors came fast and frequently, providing many signals about where to prioritize early investments.

The internal knowledge that had seemed concrete turned out to be merely intuitive guesswork in some cases. App usage demonstrated that new distributors wanted to get to work by starting to communicate instead of going through extensive training. Consequently, training sequences were shortened and selling steps moved to the “top of the deck” of the new user’s experience. Early usage showed distributors gravitate to creating new business. Consequently, LifeVantage recast much of its extensive media catalog as daily training material presented contextually while the distributor is performing a related task. When related to an immediate sales challenge, such as gaining commitments, LifeVantage’s training content proved even more effective.

Designers and developers worked closely to move the beta through seven release cycles, each shared with the beta community. Additionally, 20 top LifeVantage distributors and a cadre of 20 newly registered distributors were engaged to give weekly feedback. The result was hundreds of changes to the functionality and design captured over three months that would have taken a year to collect through traditional channels.

The first general release of the LifeVantage app delivered a simple-to-use tool for learning, selling, and supporting customer and distributor network relationships. It integrates the LifeVantage’s Media Library, Contact Management, Meeting and Feedback Management, as well as providing business performance information that assists sponsors in training their distributor networks. From first contact and entry of personal data into the app, through media sharing, it prompts distributors to make calls and send messages that capture prospect feedback. Based on what the prospect does, the app selects from a variety of optional next steps, such as triggering a distributor enrollment or shared cart with a potential buyer.

LifeVantage: Machine Learning In Direct Selling

Seeing is believing for Sandy, Utah-based LifeVantage. CEO Darren Jensen presented the sales results of LifeVantage’s early implementation of machine learning at the 2018 Direct Selling Association Conference in San Diego, reporting that distributor retention is up 34 percent overall in its 2018 fiscal year, which ends this month. The reason is improved visibility into the state of the business with the ability to intervene with new content and messaging to the individual distributor.

“We can now see if people are getting stuck at any of the [steps in the sales journey],” Jensen said during the presentation. The company, a leading seller of nutriceuticals and beauty products, is Gig Economy Group’s first commercial customer. Although its machine learning tools have been available only for a few months, LifeVantage’s pre-launch analysis of the sales process resulted in rapid improvements in novice distributors’ time-to-first-sale and, by extension, retention rates and average revenue per distributor.

Instead of looking at the whole process “once a year” based on annual sales results, Jensen said LifeVantage now relies on leading indicators, such as the number of contacts being added by distributors as well as meetings and calls presented by distributors. “Now we can see deep into our funnel,” he added.

LifeVantage CEO Darren Jensen speaks at DSA 2018.

Planning for machine learning in its business brought LifeVantage management face-to-face with each step of its sales process, raising new questions about how to achieve the highest revenue and revising the company’s basic assumptions about where to invest. LifeVantage’s comprehensive review of its sales methods and marketing content has recast management activity to focus on tactical changes to messaging and selling process that have delivered continued improving results.

“GEG sat down with us to devise systems and technology to answer and resolve the sales issues we have,” Jensen said. The process, which involved quantitative analysis of almost a decade’s worth of sales data, revealed three key principles that govern decision-making:

  1. Accelerating the first dollar earned by a distributor is the most effective investment LifeVantage can make in retention.
  2. It is equally valuable to sign a new customer or distributor. Because 66 percent of distributors begin as customers, LifeVantage deemphasized the traditional focus on having new enrollees recruit new distributors. LifeVantage also found that customers stayed longer and spent more money than unengaged distributors.
  3. The speed to the first sale by a new distributor is critical to their long-term success. LifeVantage found that if a distributor makes their first sale within two weeks of enrollment, after a year they earn an average of 71 percent more than someone who takes just another two weeks longer to close a sale.

Taking the next step

Direct selling is poised to evolve, adopting greater transparency and digital tools to treat distributors as key partners in success, according to Jensen. As retail and e-commerce companies, notably Amazon, press to gain access to the home, direct sellers enjoy a unique, temporary opportunity to take a greater share of U.S. and global consumer revenue. Shaping each customer experience to address personal concerns and values is mission critical.

The addition of machine learning lets the company “deploy technology to be sure people are closing in the right way to establish a trusted relationship,” Jensen said.

An Action Card: The distributor has just shared a product video with a prospect and will be reminded to follow-up when the video is played.

For example, LifeVantage now focuses intense effort on getting a new distributor to close their first sale. Simply winning their first dollar in revenue increases distributor retention by 44 percent over the lifetime of the enrollee (see LIfeVantage image above, which shows the likelihood of a distributor placing a monthly order based on how much they earn cumulatively). To accomplish this, LifeVantage provides each distributor a free machine learning-enabled app that begins training and sales activity on their first day with the company.

The app, which runs on the Gig Economy Group platform, reminds distributors what they’ve shared with prospects and how to follow up through a customized set of “action cards” delivered to each distributor. Action cards can display training content, product knowledge programming, sales guidance, and relationship management tools so that the distributor is always ready to do What’s Next to succeed.

“The first network marketing company I signed up for was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been part of,” Gig Economy Group Senior Vice President of Business Development Yak Gertmenian, who spoke with Jensen on-stage. “Two weeks later it started to wane because I couldn’t find anyone to help me. I got stuck in the What’s Next trap. I didn’t know what to do.”

In addition to training, action cards provide suggested content to share with prospects, recommended messaging ideas, and follow-up reminders. These cards sent by the GEG platform to each distributor based on their sales skills, communication habits, and, importantly, customized messaging flows for engaging each prospect based on their expressed interests and feedback from the distributor.

Existential questions

Direct selling now competes for distributors with many more options for side income, a challenge LifeVantage sees as life-or-death.

“The next economy is here,” Jensen said. “We are at a tipping point where [direct selling] can become a leading industry or become irrelevant.” He recounted a seeing a recent Facebook add for Shopify, the online commerce tool, that claimed to provide “the best side hustle” to make extra income. As the gig economy evolves, 30 percent of Americans have embraced added income sources, ranging from Uber to selling.

“We are competing for the “side hustler” with multiple industries,” Jensen said. He told his direct selling colleagues: “We need to compete with all these companies at a higher level.”

By embracing machine learning, LifeVantage has learned to customize the onboarding and training experience, helping to increase success when it matters most. The results have been rewarding. In 2015, only 26 percent of new LifeVantage distributors completed a sale during their first two weeks with the company. By 2018, sales in the first two weeks after enrollment reached 36 percent, a 38 percent increase overall.

Interestingly, the sales lift extends past two weeks, even though attrition soars after the first month. LifeVantage also reports that sales in the first month after enrollment has increased from 55 percent in 2015 to 67 percent.

Working from well-aligned principles, LifeVantage and GEG developed a sales process that has allowed LifeVantage to weather the dismissal of a third of the company’s sales force due to unauthorized overseas sales without a decline in revenue.

“Technology can you extremely resilient as well as position you for greater success in the future,” Jensen concluded. As machine learning runs daily, LifeVantage’s insight into their funnel is propelling ongoing content and messaging changes to improve conversion success.

In our next installment, we’ll explore how Gig Economy Group translates client business processes into measurable sales workflows ready for machine optimization.

 

 

 

DSA 2018: Direct Selling Recruitment & Retention with Sylvina Consulting

The Gig Economy Group talks with Jay Leisner, President of  compensation planning and direct selling advisory company Sylvina Consulting. Part of our exploration of the future of direct selling, Leisner explains the role of residual value in differentiating the direct-selling business from emerging gig options that may attract distributors. Leisner also co-produces the Direct Selling Edge Conference in Salt Lake City this July, as well as other cities around the U.S.

DSA 2018: Direct Selling Trends with Avalara inc.

We sat down with DSA attendee Colt Passey, Strategic Alliances Manager for Direct Selling at Avalara Inc. to talk about the trends reshaping direct selling. The sales tax processing vendor handles domestic and trans-national sales taxes for many of the largest direct selling companies at the show.

DSA 2018: Mapping The Future Together

Gig Economy Group present at the Direct Selling Association’s annual conference. Please join us to discuss the future of in-home and local sales enabled by brand content and smart sales coaching. We’re also conducting interviews with direct sales company leadership, vendors, and advisors to lay out the challenges facing the industry in pursuit of its biggest opportunities.

Join Darren Jensen, President and CEO of LifeVantage, and Gig Economy Group Senior Vice President of Business Development Yak Gertmenian for Improving Distributor Success with Artificial Intelligence Tools, at 3:30 PM on Monday, June 18 in Grand Ballroom 4. We will be recording the presentation and collect your ideas in interviews after the session.

We built the Gig Economy Group platform to allow anyone to sell anything using the right branded content and brand sales processes to ensure a comprehensive and satisfying customer experience. Our analysis of the e-commerce and retail world made clear that person-to-person relationships will endure and become more essential, not less, as the economy shifts toward care and service-centric customer experience. Empowering people will more information will ignite new intimate sales opportunities.

Would you join us to talk for 15 to 20 minutes for our podcasts and research program? If you’d like a demo of the Gig platform, we can share that, too. Schedule your session here.

Our demo and recording station will be set up in Marriott Suite #1871.

We look forward to meeting you at DSA 2018.

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.

What’s Next Is Personalization

Personalization of customer experience requires two investments: machine learning-based targeting technology, and; human intelligence to interpret customer moods and feedback, as well as curate the media and messages served up for sales use. One without the other will create an inhuman and untrustworthy customer experience that feels to both worker and customer like following rules instead of exercising their passion and fulfilling their needs.

No one wants to be automated, subjected to rigid rules that cannot change, but anyone dealing with lots of information can appreciate being helped by automation. The choice to be assisted by your company’s automation is the critical offer every future employee, contractor, and a customer will consider. The future will be decided outside your organization, by those who can make it a success. These are the personalization-readiness questions to answer in 2018:

  • Is your company’s sales team ready to change based on measurable feedback?
  • Are sales and marketing teams equipped with content and tools, including mobile apps and social network integrations, that help capture feedback that crafts a personalized experience?
  • Is your company organized around constant progress towards distributor and customer personalization?

“Digital technology makes the customer the star,” according to ZEITGUIDE, an influential trend-watcher in New York, and while stars need technology it is the audience they need most to achieve stardom. The What’s Next model, which serves the right content to a salesperson at the appropriate moment to close or move a sale forward, can be extended to provide unparalleled post-sales engagement.

Human interaction is the basis for turning each customer into a star influencer on behalf of the brand – these person-to-person interactions are where creativity and variations on machine rules invented by a human create the surprising experiences that customers remember and share.

Here is the essential shift of context necessary to achieve personalization with limited resources: Think of your marketing, sales, and support teams as the customer’s audience. Companies have tended to think of the relationship the other way, treating the customer as the audience. The brand’s job is to deeply understand the customer, reflect the customer’s desires through the organization, and deliver the fulfillment of those needs as “star treatment.”

Think of your marketing, sales, and support teams as the customer’s audience. The brand’s job is to deeply understand the customer, reflect the customer’s desires through the organization, and deliver the fulfillment of those needs as “star treatment.”

The star experience is based on a series of actions, literally what the expected next step in the marketing and sales funnel, laid out by company leadership and tested through interaction with distributors and customers. A rigid and unresponsive customer experience will always fail because every customer and all the sales and marketing people who interact with them brings different criteria for success. Every star is unique and wants to be treated as their own end, not simply the means to revenue.

The star treatment is a form of mass customization. Applying available content to telling a personalized story based on targeting factors. The next step in the evolution of on-demand markets will require breaking down content, processes, and the measurement of success into micro-steps that can be personalized more efficiently.

Rise of the Augmented Worker

The rise of the machine intelligence is widely seen as a threat to human employment. We see a new challenge for human workers, an increased focus on service and care, which will extend far beyond familiar caregiver roles, such as assisted-living for seniors and physicians’ assistants using AI to replace doctors in many clinics. Doctors are now freed up to spend more time with emergent and chronic care patients – they are not disappearing, just moving to a different level of caregiving.

The next generation of care-delivery roles will be the interface between highly efficient supply chains and customers. Market research firm IDC projects that the combination of customer data and artificial intelligence will create 471,819 new jobs this year, as people augmented by machine learning fan out to improve customer experience in novels niches, adding $1.1 Trillion in new revenue top the economy by 2021.

The business of caring will include marketing, which must understand and anticipate customers’ needs during pre-sales engagements, sales staff that modulate the delivery of marketing content and personal messages to the customer, and a wide range of post-sales services. For example, many direct-selling distributors provide personal training services along with the products they sell. Markets are fusing products, services, and human functions into a continuous customer experience in which the salespeople play essential supporting roles for the organization and customer.

Winning and keeping customers, not just conversions is will be the defining challenge in sales during the 2020s. Every company will need a process that preserves its brand and policies while supporting the flexibility required by customer-centric personalization.

Brand Consistent, Human Creative

How can a branded organization interact with a constantly changing cast of human contributors to their sales and service experience? Since the commercial World Wide Web was introduced in 1993, the rigidity of corporate boundaries has been under assault and C-level executives have agonized over finding and keeping the best talent engaged in a sea of mobile workers.

We suggest “What’s Next.” The idea is simple: Use the brand’s existing marketing content and sales processes to analyze what is effective and racking the variations introduced by individual salespeople during their interactions with customers. A machine learning platform trained to understand the process and measure how variations impact sales outcomes watches all marketing and sales activity to find the most effective variations. Successful variations on the steps are rolled into organization-wide best practices delivered through the brand’s marketing content and sales processes.

It is not necessary to throw away the playbook your company operates with today. By launching a new level of customer-centric care using existing marketing content and sales processes, an organization can minimize upfront investments to free more resources that can be applied to filling content gaps, upgrading and expanding sales communication channels – leading toward an omnichannel customer experience – and find the optimal sales/support-to-customer ratio to maximize average revenue per customer. The challenge is deciding to change from a long feedback cycle to a short one, a finger on the pulse of your market every day.

What’s Next can be applied from the first encounter with a prospective distributor by a direct selling company, extending the onboarding process into the pre-enrollment. For example, LifeVantage, which recently launched a new Gig Economy Group platform-based app for distributors, engages prospects through an app and, at enrollment, sponsors help download and install it on the new distributor’s phone.

LifeVantage is optimizing its sales interface through the app to address every prospect, customer, and distributor touch individually, based on its existing best practices. Incorporating distributor choices about which message to use with a customer at a specific part of the funnel provides the company with guidance about where to invest in new content, improve training programs, and increase revenue.

Start Before Day One

The most successful training programs begin before the employee’s first day and last months after many companies consider their hires fully onboard. At LifeVantage, the app allows training programs take over from the sales experience through the same tool the enrollee experienced as a prospect. Depending on their experience level, the new distributor can start with more or less brand and product training – it’s their option to skip ahead to the core work the app does, to manage the customer relationship. That feedback informs training program development.

On Day One, the LifeVantage enrollee enters and starts communicating with up to 10 prospects, substantially increasing the probability of a sales in the first few weeks. As those customer interactions become more specific, such as focused on a particular product, the LifeVantage app suggests additional product knowledge training to ensure distributor success.

Throughout the onboarding, the machine learning platform observes the distributor’s sales activity and compares it to the brand’s established processes. If the distributor ignored product training that, because of customer interest is becoming a gap in their sales ability, the platform suggests additional training.

The platform also helps to compose successful text and email messages based on phrases and words that convert well for other distributors in the network.

Sponsors and management can receive alerts about changes in one distributor’s progress, which they can address through one-to-one conversations, or to performance changes across the entire network. Working from a simple dashboard, marketing, and sales leaders can create new content and messaging suggestions, testing them in real-time and receiving feedback from the field within hours.

The outcome is a comprehensive, well-aligned worker-customer experience. The two roles, worker and customer, have tended to be treated as separate experiences, but in the era of personalization, when every participant can observe and comment on the values they expect to be realized by a company, worker and customer’s experience will shape the brand’s reputation.

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.

Personalization Advantage In On-Demand Markets: Direct Sales Or Retail?

The economy is going on-demand, following consumers’ desire for immediate delivery of whatever they want. The sales landscape is erupting with innovation like Kilauea volcano, wiping out businesses that fail to adapt. The way out of the swath of destruction is personalization based on consistent content marketing and sales messaging. Is your company in the path of creative destruction or leading the way with technology to rapidly personalize messaging, test results, and share best practices across the organization?

Consumers have embraced personalization of sales experience, as well as product and services delivery to the home. They are also seeking more home-based work opportunities. More than 44 percent of Americans are adding side-work, or “gigs,” to enhance their income. More consumers welcome local expertise when considering a purchase and more people will be seeking part-time work. On-demand markets create both growth and distributor-development opportunities for direct selling brands. The flexible and in-home business model is becoming the norm.

Retailers, including Amazon, Facebook, and Walmart, are moving rapidly to bring the customer journey into the home, too. Amazon has begun deploying the Alexa voice infrastructure to facilitate in-home ordering, digital locks to provide secure home delivery, and, even, offer medical services. Facebook partnered last week with on-demand home services companies Porch, HomeAdvisor, and Handy.com to offer in-home services tied to products sold and delivered to the consumer. WalMart this week introduced Jetblack, a text messaging order service that will bring products to the customer’s home in hours in hours.

Direct selling and retail brands both face the onslaught of e-commerce, which is eroding the advantage of physical retail as pre-sales customer interaction shifts to digital devices. Trade and business publications frequently announce the end of retail, a claim that should be seen in context: e-commerce accounts for only 10 percent of U.S. retail revenue in 2018, according to eMarketer.com.

For example, Amazon reportedly “owns” 90 percent or more of online sales in home improvement tools, skin care, batteries, golf, and kitchen and dining accessories as of early 2018. However, as a share of the total market, Amazon converts only 10 percent of sales in these categories.

There is plenty of maneuvering room to counter e-commerce with personalized sales and service in the physical world. Resisting the change, though, will lead many companies into dead-ends. Sales experience is fragmenting due to the rise of technology, particularly mobile phones, and the consumer’s developing sophistication and dependence on social influence when buying.

Direct sellers and retailers alike will eventually follow food delivery, home services, and e-commerce into intimate relationships with the customer that start and end in the home. Direct sales companies cannot allow retail to get ahead in the race for individual customer experience. One-to-one selling remains a necessary part of the sales process.

The face-to-face advantage

Face-to-face selling is still alive and well, but it cannot ignore the digital personalization challenge. No longer will a single sales message work for every customer. Direct sellers, who enjoy the advantage of building on personal relationships, will need to craft their messages to deliver better customer experience than retail. Since retailers must first attract customers to their stories, direct-selling strategies are advantaged in the social marketplace. Distributors can develop friendships online to grow their business and forge strong local communities on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and other social networks with the same level of investment of time as a major brand.

Source: eMaketer.com

The online threat, nevertheless, is existential for consumer products and services companies that fail to recognize change and invest to build personalized and one-to-one customer experience. eCommerce will reach 15.1 percent market share by 2021, claiming an additional $365.68 billion in revenue, mostly from retail stories.

Recognizing that they could be consumed by the digital lava rolling through Main Street in cities and town around the world, retailers are not standing still or playing golf in the volcanic smog. Retailers are leading the charge into artificial intelligence to win a personalization advantage, spending the largest amount of any industry, $3.4 billion in 2018 on cognitive systems to augment their online and in-store marketing, according to market research firm IDC.

The Boston Consulting Group reports that retailer expectations for personalization are very high. In a survey conducted during 2017 by the firm, two-thirds of respondents said they will see a six percent increase in revenue from personalization spending. Half of the respondent retailers with more than 25 employees said they were putting at least $5 million into the machine learning technology last year.

Both direct selling and retail will depend more on personalization to convert sales as mobile-native generations age and become the largest group of workers.

“Over 70 percent of retailers are trying to personalize the store experience. That’s never been higher,” Forrester ebusiness and channel strategy analyst Brendan Witcher told AdWeek. “The reason is because so many customers respond to it. We see nearly three out of four consumers responding to personalized offers, recommendations or experiences.”

Success starts before the sale

Direct sales’ challenge is to stay in front of digital marketing efforts by retailers, which can be accomplished by building best practices within an organization and disseminating them using automation. Pre-sales communication, starting online or in-person, must become a focus of investment to ensure messaging is consistent and relevant. Using machine learning, an enterprise content platform can analyze messages and propagate successful content and sales steps to sales representatives using mobile devices.

Brand discovery also increasingly takes place online. Direct selling marketers must develop campaigns that drive and qualify leads. Content platforms then hand leads off to representatives using automated sales process coaching to deliver all the context to present a personalized experience to the prospect. From the first to the last, every touch must reinforce the brand message to successfully close a sale and establish a long-term customer relationship.

Consumers today do more research, check facts and customer reviews, as well as depend on conversational confirmation of their buying decisions than any previous generation. Often, engaging with a brand, retailer, or distributor is the last step in the process. Marketers can respond with better pre-sales content that develops trust with consistent messaging through the entire customer journey.

Machine learning-coached sales reps can step into the digital engagement at critical moments to add the human element that establishes trust, something retailers cannot do during their sales process today. Feedback captured by representatives sitting with the customer gives the smart platform hints about how to personalize the experience, refining the suggested content to share and messages the distributor can use to move the sale forward.

“The key to closing deals is presales’ ability to shape conversations with the client to position the company’s solution as the ideal ones,” wrote McKinsey’s Homayou Hatami, Candace Lun Plotkin, and Saurabh Mishra in the Harvard Business Review.  “This approach is not about developing a ‘smoke and mirrors’ pitch, but rather investing the time to have a deep understanding of the client’s needs (met and unmet) and then highlighting those elements of the solution that can address them.”

The foundation for a consistent brand message begins with mapping every touchpoint in the sales journey, from pre-sales and discovery through content marketing and sales process steps. The “attribution modeling” process allows management to identify what it expects will happen at each step and, using a machine learning-content platform, rapidly test and revise messages. Instead of launching content one or twice a year, then waiting to see its impact on sales in quarterly or annual results, it can be adjusted as fast as software updates are today.

The speed of software is the new pace of sales in the era of personalization. Companies are beginning to adjust to this accelerated communications cadence, and the tools for in-home personalization are catching up to web-only interactions. The combination of digital and personal engagement is a breakthrough moment in sales.

Personalization is the path out danger for retailers and direct sellers that don’t want to wait for the lava of change to erupt under them. For now, the one-to-one selling community has a sustained advantage over retailers who must attract the customer to their stores. If retailers’ investment in machine learning and personalization goes unchecked, direct selling could fall behind despite their strong foothold in consumers’ homes.

Content In Context: Cultural and Generational Awareness

Five generations co-exist in the economy and they live in thousands of cultures. Digital technology has wiped out traditional boundaries while culture has become more influential than ever. If a company cannot overcome generational and cultural differences, it will be relegated to a short life with little revenue. Future business growth will bump into ceilings created by differences in values and communication styles more often than those resulting from limited access to markets.

One-to-one selling is uniquely placed to grow revenues by testing cultural differences using rich libraries of content remixed by salespeople using customer feedback and assisted by intelligent platforms. Personal interactions in direct selling are the richest source of feedback available in business, allowing direct sellers using the data to see through values barriers long before the competition. Retailers can survey consumers endlessly, but their insights cannot match the feedback captured by a salesperson sitting with a customer in their home or during an intimate online conversation – before, during, and after the sale.

Younger workers have established that they want a mission in their work, and frequently opt for less traditional rewards than their parents to achieve flexibility in their lifestyles. Just as when they make decisions as a consumer, Millennial and Gen-Z workers value experience above compensation in many cases. The first thing a direct sales company must do with the next generation of distributors is establish that the mission behind what they sell aligns with social and environmental goals of new enrollees.

The development of onboarding and training programming, as well as customer-facing content that will be presented by a salesperson physically or through virtual channels, are a minefield in which cultural and generational mistakes can drive down distributor retention as well as decrease lead generation and conversion rates. Unfortunately, many companies think of their communications strategy – their narrative – as a black-and-white problem when they live in an age of rainbow perspectives.

Well-articulated stories told by a company about who they are, what they do, and why they do it, are the foundation of a global multi-generational communications strategy. Success grows out of variations on core themes expressed in subtly different language that maintain authenticity. Think about the difference between Baby Boomers’ idea of “cool,” Millennial’s use of “savage” to mean the same thing as “cool,” and teens today who say “It’s lit” or “Gucci” to confer coolness.

Every cultural interface is a communications challenge, one that marketers and sales leaders can transcend with solid data about which messages perform their expected role in the sales journey.

Messages must be mixed by the sales representative, who uses corporate content like a disc jockey selects music, to deliver a personalized human experience to the customer in their home, a coffee shop, or a retail store. For the first time, they can do it efficiently using machine learning librarians that serve content in context during the training process, sales process, as well as pre- and post-sale to keep customers involved in the brand’s community.

Budgets don’t need to be broken trying to cover every possible angle on a story from the start. An intelligent content delivery platform using distributor and customer feedback allows management teams to make incremental investments to address new labor and customer opportunities.

Look beyond the format trap

Many organizations see the cultural challenge in the simplest terms, too simple for their own good. They believe one generation or geography favors a different form of communication than others. Often, managers will assert that only 30-second, 60-second, or two-minute videos are acceptable to audiences, when the average time spent watching video online totals 2.6 hours daily, just minutes below TV viewing time.

Beware certain conclusions. Test what distributors tolerate when training and examine customer fall-off within videos as well as whether they drop out of the sales process after viewing a content asset. Distributors in learning mode may spend hours with a company’s videos each day. Each audience has different expectations that can be mapped to understand what message and format to suggest.

Differentiate your organization from most companies that invest heavily in just one communication strategy, albeit delivered in many channels. Plan a content strategy that spans cultural differences. Leaders who think their people can consume information in just one way can fail to engage new workers and customers, particularly when values-based products and services are discussed.

“By making the same message available in multiple formats (thus increasing the number of times you communicate a message), you’ll ensure that you reach all workers,” The American Management Association wrote, for example, when explaining communication preferences. “Silents [born 1925 – 1946] and Baby Boomers [born 1946 – 1964] may appreciate verbal communication about changes in policy or procedures, while Generation Xers [born 1965 – 1980] and Millennials [born between 1980 and 1996] may prefer the use of e-mail, instant messages, or corporate broadcasts.”

Content libraries have swollen with documents, video and audio programming, interactive training, and myriad other formats because of globalization. Marketers struggle to keep up with the demands of a multi-national presence, but that investment is the only path to ongoing growth. New markets are established using content programming that defines value propositions and introduces direct sales reps and customers to new products or services.

Think of the emerging cultural challenge as being like localization of content, the practice of translating text, video, and application software into many languages. Having five, 10, or 15 versions of the same message in different digital and physical formats does not necessarily help a company communicate effectively across borders. The English versions of a message must be translated without offending important cultural sensibilities into 80 or more languages to address the major linguistic markets around the world. The translated messages say virtually the same thing, but with unique tone and style that fits a target market.

Content targeting is not just a matter of agreeing with the language and values of the distributor and of the customer, it must also facilitate their continuing conversations. Their personal relationship may be built on cultural or generational bridges. A smart content platform can assess the identity of the distributor and their prospect based on distributor-entered data and sculpt a set of messages that genuinely connect these people during a sale.

We’re different, and not

The reality managers face as personalization comes of age reaches beyond acknowledging differences in values, they must also recognize and build on cross-generational and cultural similarities.

For example, different cultures emphasize the importance of leadership as an achievement in work. According to a survey by Universum in 2017, Millennial professionals in Nordic countries are far less likely to want to become leaders in their organizations than their U.S. and Mexican counterparts. Work-life balance is a driving concern for younger professionals everywhere and so many say they avoid leadership roles, but older people see stress as a natural component of their day. Across generations, however, the desire to be part of leadership varies by only four percent, from 61 percent of Millennials, 61 percent of Gen-Z, and 57 percent of Gen-X.

Content assets designed to emphasize different aspects of the company’s values or product attributes can plug critical gaps between cultures and generations. These gaps must be identified through real interaction with employees and customers, in effect probing the sensitivities of target groups. Distributors using a mobile app can relay back to management qualitative data that augments quantitative feedback to help them judge where to invest in new content or adjust the sales processes.

Intelligent content platforms are ideal for this kind of data-driven content and sales management experimentation. New programming can be rolled out to a narrow target audience, tested and, if the content leads to better engagement or increased conversion, deployed more widely.

The cost of poor cultural fit within an organization amounts to between 50 percent and 60 percent of an employee’s salary, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Poorly engaged distributors sell less and move on faster, both of which drag down profits.

Without a clearly articulated company mission, values, and policies, organizations have no basis for achieving a fit. They can’t explain themselves and there is no benchmark from which to measure cultural alignment with distributors and customers. We suggest the attribution modeling strategy, which maps the sales process step-by-step. That effort is the basis for beginning to engage distributors during onboarding and throughout their career with the selling network. It provides logical paths to content reuse in support of customer communication.

Having built the distributor and customer relationships on smart content management services, direct sales leaders can use the inherently social nature of the business model to go “viral” with market-defining messages. New geographies can be accessed through distributors who, for example, emigrated from a country that the network would like to test. Targeting messaging to these bridge distributors allows management to explore the limits of their content investment and build new programs confidently.

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.

Distributor Retention: Accelerating Time-to-First Sale

Direct selling is challenging work, but the distributors who achieve early success do build long-term businesses, often as a sideline to a day job. The emerging gig economy presents direct selling companies a rare opportunity to claim more revenue across markets traditionally dominated by retail. As workers become more mobile, many are opting to mix gigs instead of dedicating themselves to one job from 9 to 5. In this mobile and values-centric environment, in-home sales and personal networks can connect virtually any product or service to a market.

The first step for a direct selling company is to win and keep a distributor. A new enrollee’s initial success can create a large network of personal relationships that convert into sales revenue. When their first sale converts within 14 days of enrollment, during the “Golden Two Weeks,” a new distributor is likely to stay with the network for an average of 72 months. That six-year commitment substantially improves the direct selling company’s revenue. Direct selling training company ServiceQuest estimates a 10 percent increase in retention grows revenue by 49 percent over 10 years.

Younger workers also tend to start seeking alternative employment if they don’t make an immediate connection with the company’s mission while finding sales success. Mobile apps connected to intelligent content and training platforms will be the primary point of customer engagement in retail and direct selling within five years. As much as 50 percent of customer relationship management already takes place in the cloud and market researcher IDC predicts spending on artificial intelligence to deliver personalized customer experience will grow by 46.2 percent CAGR between 2016 and 2021.

The next step in the evolution of one-to-one selling is personalization, the delivery of targeted training to distributors and, in turn, helping them to present exactly the information each customer will respond to with a purchase.

A personalized experience that begins when a distributor enrolls in a direct selling network unlocks early sales success. Using a What’s Next approach to a brand’s sales process, sponsoring distributors working with smart mobile apps can address the recruit daily, even hourly, to keep them taking the steps toward a first sale.

First Impressions: Action and Purpose Ignite a Business

It’s also time to for direct selling to put the attrition issue behind it and point out that success in every business is hard to achieve and grow. Reinforcing the business challenge a new distributor is starting in combination with simple actions a new distributor can take is essential to moving the tentative recruit to confident selling. It’s not necessary to apologize for high attrition rates, the industry can focus instead on making more distributors successful.

Keeping a recruit today is difficult in every industry. Annual churn rates in retail are 53 percent compared to 56 percent in direct sales. Only traditional employment models have an advantage in hiring and even they face higher attrition rates when the economy nears full employment – 26 percent of the U.S. labor force quit their jobs in 2017, up from 20.3 percent in 2010. Moreover, 90 percent of entrepreneurs fail within five years. Success is hard-earned and, regardless of the form the company takes, an entrepreneurial success will never be easy.

At LifeVantage, Gig Economy Group’s first partner app takes the new distributor through a brief series of mission- and policy-establishing video programs then turns to get them to enter their first contacts as part of Day One activities. Then, a What’s Next process kicks in to get the distributor selling instead of finishing their contact entries and resting.

The LifeVantage app suggests actions the distributor can take with each new contact based on selections made in the app about customer interests, from buying health products to joining the network as a distributor. Drawing on a growing library of video programming, the LifeVantage app composes an introductory message to a new contact and attaches the appropriate video to share. Critically, this is not done in the background, rather the distributor can review and change the message and media selected or discard the suggestion.

The distributor’s choices help shape their understanding of LifeVantage’s process, and if they make changes or refuse the suggested content, the Gig Economy Group platform records the results. The platform can mine changes to identify improvements in messaging, so even a brand-new distributor will start to reshape the company’s sales process with improvements if their changes convert more sales. Final decisions about content and messaging rest with sales and marketing management, who are able to deploy budget based on real-world results that change conversion rates.

Contacts become the raw material for a conversation between the new recruit and the company, with activity and conversion data available for both to review. No contact is left untended. The app reminds the new distributor to make an initial outreach and to follow up at each step in the sales process. Customer feedback collected by the distributor also shapes the ongoing content and messaging selections targeted to each prospect, driving personalization from the first interaction.

The first day with a sales tool must result in first actions taken for three to five contacts at a minimum to convert a sale within two weeks.

Activity Breeds Sales

With a measured sales process, improvements can be rolled in daily to test and revise messaging, sales cadence, and training. The distributor’s experience is one of an intense focus on their process, reinforcing their psychological need to see investment in their potential.

In today’s sales environment, pre-sales activity is vital to closing a new customer. Content management platforms can push the right content, but without feedback gathered from customers by the distributor, it is easy to push a prospect out of their comfort zone. When a customer’s interest level goes down, the distributor is encouraged by the platform to revert to informational engagement, building the prospect’s trust using video and suggested messaging that identifies objections that can be addressed.

Failure to develop and keep a personal connection is one of the seven reasons salespeople don’t close deals. Using the wrong closing strategy, failing to listen, and the representative’s own insecurity also contribute to poor conversion rates. A smart platform that encourages feedback can adjust the suggested closing strategy, prompt the rep to listen and record feedback, as well as build product knowledge and confidence.

Yet it still comes down to making the calls that close the gap between prospect and sale. If the direct selling company does not help the new distributor follow up, providing the right messages and variations that address customer feedback, the rep will not close the deal and, if history is any guide, start looking for their next opportunity – one where they close in the first few weeks.

The proof, however, is in conversion. That requires extensive follow-ups, which many salespeople never have the determination to complete. An app can coach distributors through these steps until they become second nature.

With so many economic activities moving to the “edge of the network,” where people meet and interact with one another in person and through social and other digital channels throughout the day, direct sellers have an enormous opportunity to increase their share of the market. The tools are ready and people are living mobile lives that invite frequent trusted interactions. Is your company ready to move a new enrollee to their first sale in the “Golden Two Weeks?”

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.