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October 01, 2015

New Perspectives

Building Momentum with John Addison

by John Addison

Click here to order the October 2015 issue in which this article appeared or click here to download it to your mobile device.

Direct selling is a momentum business, primarily because it grows through the enthusiasm and commitment of its volunteer armies. An uptick in growth in the sales organization, a new product or even a shift in focus can often spark excitement throughout the salesforce, creating momentum. So what can help the industry’s C-level executives make creating waves of momentum “priority one”; and what can help them steady on through when reaching a plateau? It can be done with three strong leadership traits and three key strategies.

The Balancing Act Trait

The first leadership trait for building momentum for success is optimistic realism. That sounds like a condition resulting from having a type of multiple personality disorder, but it’s actually a balance that creates exceptional success. A lack of balance would be having great growth for a couple of months, and then projecting that trend for the next three years. It always amazes me when people draw a chart with constant growth. That doesn’t happen. But if you’re not at least leaning strongly toward being optimistic, you really don’t have any business being in this business.

Direct selling’s top leaders have a tendency to expect the best out of their companies, products and people. But they’re also realistic enough to know that to stop downward momentum during crises you need to be able to think fast on your feet and be willing to take a close, hard look at difficult situations, as well as connect with players on every level so that you aren’t just hearing what those closest to you think you want to hear. Being optimistically realistic keeps your company afloat when national media is portraying your company as predatory, your products as dangerous and your field as something less than intelligent, enthusiastic entrepreneurs. So, dream and plan for everything to go great, but cultivate a mindset that can shift quickly so you’re prepared when things aren’t going great.

Out-of-the-Box Trait

Creativity is the second key trait, and it’s often overlooked as being crucial to good leadership. By creativity, I don’t mean you have an eye for design, are able to take great photographs or that you would rather attend the ballet than watch a football game. Creativity is seeing the world differently than most people. Perhaps being just slightly off-center from the norm. Everyone else sees a huge warehouse in the middle of nowhere, but you see that it’s affordable and close to a major airport, and that you can design the interior to suit not only today’s needs, but those during future growth. That’s creative.

If you’re worried that you’re not creative, or not creative enough, simply make sure you have a few people on your executive team who are and that you’re able to recognize their creativity. Choose those who are bold enough to voice their thoughts, and then purposefully seek out their opinions. They’re going to come up with some ideas that won’t work logistically, but so are the executive team members who aren’t creative.

The High-Touch Trait

Direct selling is a people business. There’s simply no way to create sustainable success in this industry without being a “people” person. This doesn’t just apply to the field. You and your leaders, and for that matter anyone who has any connection with your salesforce, should enjoy interacting with people. Because while the world is clearly changing—including the way products evolve, companies function and technology gets ever more technical—people don’t change.

As a leader, you’ve got to understand that you are in charge of building a movement.
—John Addison

Direct sales utilizes the conveniences of high tech, because it’s an efficient method of commerce. But our industry’s successful momentum will always be built on people sharing products and ideas with other people. What’s great about that is that people are consistent. They have common motivators, such as a desire for a better life for their families, as well as more time to spend doing the things they enjoy doing.

As a leader, you’ve got to understand that you are in charge of building a movement. People are attracted to a movement, not the business institution, no matter how inspiring its mission statement. You, as a leader, must be inspirational. You must be able to light a fire within (not under) people. What you say and do has to inspire large numbers of people to go out and talk to others about your business. You’ve got to be a leader who causes people to take action. They will take action when they trust you because you:

  • Create both an aspirational and inspirational environment (personal development is key here), and
  • Prioritize the salesforce members by focusing on earnings per chair over earnings per share.

By balancing optimism and realism, being creative, and building an inspiring movement, your leadership attracts a volume of people to your company, which, in turn, increases the number of the type of leaders you want to attract. These leaders are key to building momentum.

Of course, great leaders have strong strategies to build momentum.

Strategy 1: Hit the Accelerator

When things are going your way and momentum is building, boldly hit the accelerator. That doesn’t mean sling a slew of good ideas on the wall and see what sticks. You need healthy growth, not just growth that is full of sound and fury. So optimize what is working, and don’t radically change what you’re doing. If a hero product is creating the stir, don’t introduce another product line and dilute the momentum. I do have a word of caution here, when preparing to hit the accelerator: Don’t out-think yourself. Overanalyzing, corporately, is exactly what it leads to in the field: paralysis by analysis.

When momentum is in your favor, you need to:

  • Build healthy momentum on that momentum,
  • Make the growth as sustainable as it can be,
  • Dream and plan for everything to go great (but prepare for things to not go great), and
  • As you spend your money, prepare for when momentum doesn’t go your way (don’t let your expenses grow faster than revenue).

Strategy 2: Understand Momentum

There is nothing more magical in this business than momentum. But momentum doesn’t perform like an arrow ascending on a chart. Momentum comes in waves, and it can’t be maintained. In other words, you have to build your activity to match the momentum. This can mean implementing more recognition, or perhaps building on the success of a hero product. To “let it ride” is to actually force momentum to dwindle. You never maintain momentum. When you go into a maintenance mode, the only way you can coast is downhill.

Direct sales is all about momentum. The magic is that it can grow very rapidly. The downside is when momentum turns it can begin to spiral downwards just as rapidly. When you lose a key distributor or you have a product issue the leverage can go alarmingly against you.

For example, your executive team may plan to create momentum with a great idea (a contest, incentive, etc.), but none of it seems to work. You’ll feel frustrated because nothing seems to take hold. So when you experience a lack of momentum:

  • Invest in your business, and
  • Fight like crazy to get momentum.

When an idea does finally click, and you have the trifecta of a good product, good people and a good business plan, momentum will begin to turn in your favor.

Strategy 3: Keep Perspective

One of the lessons I learned while sharing the helm of Primerica is that you never are as bad as you think you are when things aren’t going your way. Conversely, you are never as good as you think you are when everything is going great.

Creating and building momentum can be a very frustrating process. One of the frustrations is the Law of Attribution: It’s hard to tell which thing you did that triggered the momentum. Usually it’s not a single thing, but rather pieces of a bunch of things that you’re doing.

There were times, when sales were up and recruiting was through the roof, that I thought we were the biggest geniuses that ever ran a financial services company. Then there were times, when we lost products and people and momentum was on a downward trend, that I felt like I was the biggest idiot that ever walked the planet. During those times, it seemed like everything I tried failed. I would spend money, invest time and create programs only to have things go down faster; a frenzied, downward momentum spiral.

The Lesson

Finally I had the takeaway. There really isn’t a predictable formula that will work consistently. I have summed it up for my people like this, and now I share it with you: “Our business is an ORGANISM more than an organization. It is a living, breathing entity. Therefore, it’s predictable in some ways but also has lots of unpredictability. You have to live on the tightrope of that dichotomy.”

When you’ve lost momentum, or it has taken a downward spiral, don’t give up. Just keep forging ahead, on a course that has the three key factors of a solid and consistent plan, a good product, and good people. With these factors, the tide will turn and you will begin to build good momentum again.

In direct sales, you’re either growing or you’re shrinking. The one thing you won’t do is stay the same. A large part of the job is constantly managing the ebbs and flows of momentum.

John AddisonJohn Addison, President and CEO of Addison Leadership Group, engages and inspires audiences with his relatable leadership message. Most recently, he served as Co-CEO of Primerica Inc., a company he joined more than 35 years ago.