September 02, 2014
Controlling the Conversation: Balancing Product and Opportunity
by Lori Bush
At Rodan + Fields, when we made the decision to pivot from our department store marketing channel to direct sales, a great deal of consideration was given to protecting the brand equity that derived from our founders’ legacy in the skincare segment of the beauty industry. As we looked to transform our go-to-market strategy, we wanted an independent business ownership model with low cost of entry that afforded our Independent Consultants the opportunity to compete with other industry players. The key here is what we define as our “industry.” While there are many definitions for the word industry, the most relevant ones read something like this: noun \ˈin-(ˌ)dəs-trē\: a group of businesses that provide a particular product or service. By this definition, Rodan + Fields is in the beauty industry. The business opportunity derives from product leadership coupled with our sales and marketing strategy: The opportunity itself is not our principle product.
Sounds simple enough, right? But gaining buy-in and protecting and advancing this aspect of our brand equity is a challenge that requires rigor in monitoring and compliance, especially when it comes to engaging direct selling veterans as employees or as Independent Consultants. Our investment in product and brand development is materially eroded when a successful business-building Consultant is dismissive or even disparaging to those who want to engage as product ambassadors rather than promoting the business model. The worse-case scenario of this is the proclamation that “it doesn’t matter what you’re selling as long as the compensation plan works.” Not only does this fly in the face of who we are, but it generates ill will and validates the position of those who challenge the legitimacy of our business model.
So what is direct selling to Rodan + Fields if it’s not an industry? We see direct selling as crowdsourcing our marketing and sales initiatives. And with the advantages of social, mobile and web-based tools for customer acquisition, engagement and monetization, it is a highly effective, modern business model that provides individual micro-enterprises the opportunity to participate and capture market share in an important, lucrative and growing consumer products category.
When we launched our current business program in 2008, we believed we had the opportunity to help shift public perception of direct selling and went as far as to bake this notion into our mission statement: “Our mission is to redefine independent business ownership with brand presence and transformational products and programs that change skin and change lives.” It didn’t take us long to learn that walking the talk requires constant commitment to education and compliance because, when it comes to salesforce behavior and performance, the simple fact that something works doesn’t necessarily make it right.
Another part of our mission statement, the creation of “an enduring legacy for our Consultants and our employees,” led us to take a deep dive into the soul of our company. To truly have a company soul requires a shared understanding by everyone who is involved as to purpose and values. Out of a deliberate exercise to define the soul of our company, a clear set of business values emerged, which we call our “True Colors,” and we constantly assess our people and programs for demonstration of these values. One of these key values is Assurance.
Assurance is about brand and business integrity; it’s the commitment to our Consultants and their customers that what they signed up for is what they get. If we promise a unique brand and uplifting culture one day and they show up to find a generic, hardcore moneymaking scheme the next day, our soul is eroded. “Assuring” that the Rodan + Fields brand and business models continually meet or exceed expectations requires surveillance of how our programs manifest into and through our sales organization.
I recently attended a training conducted by members of our field development team and discovered that some important aspects of our program had drifted away from our original intent in response to preferences of some of our Independent Consultants. Even though these preferences could, arguably, accelerate the rate of growth of a Consultant’s income, they could put the long-term value of the brand and business opportunity at risk. In a nutshell, there was an overemphasis on recruiting and building an organization without a balanced focus on engaging and servicing customers. Both aspects of the business model are important, but the training was heavily biased toward the former without first firmly establishing the brand, product experience and our overall approach to social commerce. We recognized the need to make an adjustment to our approach in order to reinforce key aspects of our value proposition.
Instilling an understanding of the rationale for our vigilance helps our internal team and our Consultant leaders appreciate the importance of governing the execution of our business programs in the marketplace. No matter how carefully we craft our compensation program and articulate our Policies and Procedures, if we promote or turn a blind eye to practices that undermine our brand value proposition, a handful of rogue players can wreak havoc and lead to significant net detractors for our products, our programs and even direct selling in general. We have a responsibility to our sales organization, their customers and the direct selling community at large to control the conversation so that it doesn’t become controlled for us.
A direct selling business model enables us to collaborate with passionate micro-entrepreneurs to market compelling, innovative products and services that might never see the light of day in risk-averse brick-and-mortar retailing models. Our future is dependent on continuous introspection as to how we guide our Independent Consultants to appropriately communicate our brand and business values. The meaningful marketplace value of our opportunity is part and parcel of our compelling product proposition. If we present this the right way, the word pyramid should never enter anybody’s mind, much less the conversation.
Lori Bush is President and CEO of Rodan + Fields.