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.
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:
- Accelerating the first dollar earned by a distributor is the most effective investment LifeVantage can make in retention.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.