Message alignment and agility will determine sales success in the 2020s as a tidal wave of customer feedback becomes available to marketers. The next era of direct selling will be built on content management systems, customer relationship management, and smart coaching delivered to distributors through a mobile app that feels natural to digital natives.
Garrett Hughes of payment platform Hyperwallet recently wrote as a tongue-in-cheek challenge to the industry: “Is direct selling only for old people?” His point is deadly serious: If young network marketers are not excited by the tools provided, they will rapidly move on to other opportunities.
A new distributor who does not feel supported and achieve first-month sales goals start looking for more engaging and profitable sales programs within the first 30 to 60 days. In the mobile era, brand and sales messaging must be tightly aligned, capable of changing quickly in response to feedback from the field and customers. Direct-selling companies that want to win and keep younger distributors will need to execute a consistent messaging motion every day, delivering Twitter-simple meaning, mission, and sales messages through mobile tools.
Millennials and Generation Z (born after 1993, when the Web was introduced), who make and keep friendships around the world through digital channels, demand tools that allow the same connections at work. The old manual approach to sales preparation is foreign to them, they do not want to spend more than half the day preparing when they could be selling. They demand immediate access to the information they need, and according to Gallup, demand that their work and values match if they are going to stay in a job.
“Millennials don’t just work for a paycheck — they want a purpose,” Gallup wrote in How Millennials Want To Work And Live, a 2017 white paper. “They are also the least engaged generation of workers, because “[m]any millennials likely don’t want to switch jobs, but their companies are not giving them compelling reasons to stay. When they see what appears to be a better opportunity, they have every incentive to take it.”
We don’t intend to paint a caricature of Millennials. They are a complex and collaborative generation, and Gen-Z appears to be even more oriented to the larger world. What they want, though, is very different than previous generations due to the digital technologies on which they were weaned from television, the mall, and traditional approaches to retail and direct-selling experience.
Context creates meaning
Marketers recognize that their first function, before revenue generation, is pre-sales engagement. The Harvard Business Review reports “companies with strong presales capabilities consistently achieve win rates of 40-50% in new business and 90% in renewal business.”
Sales content must be offered to the consumer at the right time, with authentic context. Direct sellers are in a unique position to leverage personal interaction and establish a meaningful context in sales relationships. But most selling content still mimics static collateral or TV commercials instead of entertainment or informational programming. There is no room in the content marketing world for the interruptive commercial.
Not surprisingly, the power of personalized communication is essential to retaining direct-selling distributors. From the moment a new distributor enrolls in a direct-selling network, they must feel engaged. Before they begin selling, young digital-native distributors have no time for hours of searching to find useful training and product knowledge, it must be served up in logical and actionable order to keep them moving toward their first sale.
Young sellers also want video and interactive tools that feel like the apps they use in their personal time. SnapChat, WhatsApp, and Tinder are the new model of interaction, until those popular examples give way to newer, simpler tools, too. Simplicity is eternally valuable in software. Young distributors want to sell using video, by sharing programs with prospects that can be consumed at the customer’s leisure. The Content Marketing Institute’s 2018 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends-North America research shows that 76 percent of consumer marketers now invest in video programming.
The mantra “Every company is a media company” has become a commonplace, yet few companies succeed in communicating a consistent message internally through their sales channels and every customer engagement. VentureBeat reported that 60 percent to 70 percent of sales collateral produced by business-to-business companies goes unused. Companies must monitor media use and adjust their programming, not set out a year’s programming and hope for the best.
Marketing and sales teams working together based on media analytics can understand where gaps exist in the distributor’s journey to a sale as well as the customer’s decision-making process. Content stored away on a server is hard to find and companies are starting to view their collateral as steps in a process that can be recombined to address personalized seller and customer needs. Enterprise content management investments, which will rise by 16.8 percent to a total of $37 billion in 2018, are expected to rise to $67.1 billion by 2022, Markets And Markets reported.
Direct-sellers must rethink their sales process to integrate video and app-based sales management to remain competitive.
Crafting A Natural Rhythm
Mobile will redefine distributor and customer expectations. A new sales process based on deep understanding of the individual distributor’s strengths and product knowledge, as well as how they manage their business, from their contacts to their closing cadence, will redefine retention. Customers with buying options that span the world will demand intimate, confident engagement with each company they consider before buying.
Consider how much information is entered on a mobile phone each day — is your company tuning into the mobile distributor’s ability to capture the state of the customer? Millennials and Gen-Z workers interact with others through their phone more than they do in the physical world, a LivePerson poll found in September 2017. The transition to the next generation of direct sales will be built on the data collected on the phone.
The same survey found that 57 percent of young Americans would not leave the house without their phone while 72 percent of U.S. respondents over 35 years of age would choose their wallet over their mobile phone. That stark difference in priorities defines the generational change in direct selling. The phone, not the enterprise, is the organizing point. The inflection point is here.
What’s a direct-selling company do? It is not just a matter of hiring young people since a super-majority of direct-sellers are older. The Direct Selling Association reported that in 2016 that only 29.6 percent of distributors were under 35 years old. Network marketing organizations must support everyone while integrating advanced technology and elegant content management into the sales experience.
Providing each new distributor with a tool that starts on Day One to collect data, help organize and optimize the individual’s sales process, and accelerate the time to their first sale are the new table stakes in direct selling. Building on customer feedback, marketers must create flexible sales paths through content that the distributor can customize to the customer based on their emotional connection with the person sitting in front of them or someone across the world via Facebook or a Zoom conference.
The demand for meaning that characterizes Millennial and Gen-Z work aspirations provides a clear map for direct-selling organizations which have traditionally offered flexible work-life relationships. As Gallup wrote of these young workers: “More so than ever in the history of corporate culture, employees are asking, ‘Does this organization value my strengths and my contribution? Does the organization give me a chance to do what I do best every day?’ Because for millennials, a job is no longer just a job – it’s their life as well.”
Will your company reorganize its sales process, optimizing it constantly to achieve a natural rhythm delivered through a mobile app that fits the life and expectations of young distributors?
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.