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May 01, 2010

Working Smart

Direct Selling: Consumer Centricity Personified

by Lia Keeping

Building millions of customer relationships, one sales leader at a time.

It would be difficult to find a company that didn’t believe it had its customers’ best interests at heart. In an age of “consumer centricity” and customer relationship management (CRM), most companies have incredible amounts of data on their customers and prospective customers. We have the ability to reach out to finely honed segments of the population to acquire new customers, form relationships with them and nurture those relationships. Social networking, blogging and all forms of online interaction lead to even more data segmentation and strategizing, so it’s no wonder companies believe they have their customers’ needs and wants front and center.

But, wait a minute. At the risk of sounding a bit like a Direct Selling 101 dinosaur, I have to admit that all of this CRM stuff hasn’t changed my belief that direct selling companies’ sales leaders are the first-line customers and that companies are best served when they put a laserlike focus on these important people. Direct selling springs from the “if you build the people, the people will build the business” tradition. I know in my heart that when I establish and nurture deep, honest business relationships with my very best sales leaders, everything else will fall into place. That was true before CRM came into vogue. It was true before the Internet, the PC and the smartphone. And it’s still true today.

In addition to our sales leaders/first-line customers, the end consumer is, and always has been, very important to Jockey Person to Person. After all, the wealth in any direct selling business is generated by end consumers purchasing products that perform well and offer a great value. In today’s wired and connected society, it’s even more important for Jockey Person to Person to form relationships with the end consumer. But every message, every interaction, every blog, every Facebook post, every tweet, every e-mail, every telephone call, every company Web site and every catalog needs to be executed with the first-line customer—the sales leader—in mind.

In Jockey Person to Person’s case, we call our sales team “Comfort Specialist®” consultants, and our mantra is “If it’s not beneficial for the Comfort Specialists, the party hostesses and the end consumers, then we don’t do it.” By definition, it can’t be a good idea, because, while profit is generated by end consumers purchasing great products, the rate of growth is driven by our best salespeople. And our best salespeople will perform at their finest when they have a strong belief in the company and they trust that the company has their interests in mind. It’s our relationships with top sales leaders that drive our growth.

Since our launch in 2005, Jockey Person to Person has made this multilevel, consumer-centric philosophy its top priority. Managing customer relationships by understanding various customer types is a major component of this philosophy, which is a natural result of the brand’s tie to Jockey International Inc.

Consumer centricity has been a part of Jockey’s philosophy since its inception in 1876, and it has been evident through the company’s product evolution, the creation of Jockey for Her in 1982, and now with Jockey Person to Person. Jockey Chairman and CEO Debra S. Waller responded to the requests of women looking for comfortable clothing and flexible career opportunities by creating Jockey Person to Person. Over the years, there have been guiding principles central to the growth and evolution of the company that, I believe, apply to any direct selling business:

1. Listen to the Field, Learn and Act on It

It’s not feasible to do everything the salesforce suggests, but it is always important to be willing to listen to them, to be open to implementing their ideas and addressing their concerns. Along with an open-door policy, we provide and promote many communication channels to our consultants. Because they know their voice will be heard, they have trust in management and faith in the business opportunity.

At Jockey Person to Person, we utilize many methods of field communication—sales conferences, leader retreats, road show events, social media sites, direct e-mails, formal conference calls with various levels of the field, formal surveys, unsolicited phone calls to consumer relations, sales and other employees—the list goes on.

We work hard to teach employees at the corporate office about Jockey Person to Person field leaders. Employees do a better job of nurturing the relationship between corporate and the field if an employee knows about the field leader, understands their interest and understands how many other salespeople they influences. The bigger we get as a company, the more important it is to remember that, to an individual leader in the field, it should always feel as if “they know me” and “I matter.”
In terms of allocating our time, we often decide that it may be better to spend a little less time pushing the corporate strategy to the field leaders and a little more time allowing field leaders to influence that strategy.

We also know that when we’re gathering ideas, consistency really helps. One method that has proven to be extremely useful in gaining insight from the field has been disciplined surveys. I say “disciplined” because both the timing of the survey and the topics being researched are fairly consistent. This helps us assess our progress and use the survey results as a “report card” from our customers.

Perhaps most important, Jockey Person to Person does all it can to act on this feedback. It is absolutely critical to demonstrate that we’re listening and that we’re using the feedback to enhance the business to increase the field’s trust in us and belief in the business.

2. Keep the Field in Mind When Dealing with Their Customers

When the company communicates directly with hostesses and end consumers, we always remember that if it were not for the consultant, these customers would not exist for the company. As part of a parent company with an established brand, we truly understand the importance of nurturing relationships with the end consumer. But as a direct selling company, we also understand the nuances inherent to serving multiple layers of consumers. In a nutshell, our philosophy boils down to this:
Never embarrass the consultant with her hostesses and customers.

Always fix our mistakes, and do so through the consultant whenever possible.

Remember that end consumers are best served by a local consultant, and that during the time the end consumer interacts directly with the company, we are but caretakers.

This philosophy can play out in many ways. For example, we’ve decided that all orders should flow from end consumers through consultants and then on to the company. We don’t take any sales volume direct to the company; the wealth always flows through the consultant, which we believe is in the best interest of the end consumer as well as the consultant and her upline leaders. With lapsed customers and the customers of former consultants, our goal is to maintain their connection to the company and the brand while serving as a catalyst to pair the end consumer with a knowledgeable consultant.

3. Turn Consultants into Brand Ambassadors via Training and Communication

As with every direct selling company, our Comfort Specialists are busy people who juggle family, work, their own business and so much more. Yet they represent our brand to consumers, so we feel an awesome responsibility to ensure that even the newest, part-time consultant can quickly feel comfortable being a brand ambassador.

That’s why we offer a plethora of training options. It is vital to be as flexible as possible to accommodate these women. They should be able to gain knowledge at times that fit their schedule and to do so through a variety of methods, including:
Online information. Information is available to consultants 24/7 via our “Comfort Connection.” This internal, online site provides the salesforce with all the resources necessary to successfully run their business: information about training, product, upcoming events, training videos, and audio links to past training sessions.

Conference calls. We host a weekly conference call for leaders, a monthly call for directors and monthly calls for the entire field. Doing so allows for a wealth of training that can be shared throughout the salesforce, as well as valuable feedback from various levels of the business. All conference calls are recorded so that consultants can participate live or listen to the recorded version when it’s convenient.

Videos. Showing is often better than telling, particularly in the fashion industry, but also in direct sales. So we use video to make our training come alive.

E-news. We generally send two newsletters or e-zines per month, one focused on information about the upcoming month and one focused on recognizing accomplishments for the prior month. These are sent on a regular schedule so that the field can plan their businesses more effectively.

Events. Our conferences, leader retreats and road shows always include a major training emphasis. The best way to ensure that our consultants represent Jockey and the Jockey Person to Person brand effectively is to work directly with them. So, while we do utilize outside speakers and trainers, we also rely heavily upon our top leaders to duplicate themselves, one great leader at a time. As we put together our training packages, we never stray from our values or the essence of our brand. The time-bound specifics may vary, but our ideals never waver.

4. Remember, Change Is Good When You Keep Up with It

At Jockey Person to Person, we sell clothing, but our parent company is best known for selling underwear. This was a very conscious decision, even if it wasn’t our original direction. But change is a good thing! I think that the best way we can meet the needs of all our customers—sales leaders, consultants, hostesses and end customers—is to ensure that our products continually evolve. We are relentless in our pursuit of data about our customers—who they are, what they like, what they need, where they live, where they shop, how much they spend, the list goes on. And we also work hard to stay abreast of the trends in fashion. Each product line is in many ways an amalgamation of who our customers are, what they have been telling us, and what we have learned about trends in the fashion and direct selling industries.

All of this happens behind the scenes, so that when we launch a product line, it just feels “right” and “on trend.” The idea is to make things easy for our customers by doing all the difficult research, strategizing and decision-making months, if not years, ahead of time.

It can be hard to keep an open mind when the customer is telling you to do something different, but it is always best to listen to them and to avoid resisting change. For example, our product offering has evolved from bras and underwear to active wear, and on to a blend of active, leisure, smart-casual and career wear. In response to customer feedback, the line is versatile so that consumers truly get the most out of their money. To add value, the salesforce is trained on mixing and matching pieces, clothing for different body types, and color combinations. A new and effective concept for customers is the “Perfect 5” and “cost per look,” which shows customers the true value of the product. The “Perfect 5” comprises five clothing items that create 12 unique outfits. Visual aids are provided through the catalog, Web site and videos. Customers are responding very positively to these concepts, all of which were the results of our consumer-centric philosophy.

Jockey Person to Person is unique and still fairly new in the direct selling industry, but it has the stability and trust of a worldwide brand behind it. Launching with built-in brand recognition has proven to be a great advantage for our salesforce, but what has kept Jockey Person to Person strong is our unyielding consumer centricity and focus on our comfort specialists, hostesses and end consumers. 

Lia Keeping is Vice President of North American Sales for Jockey Person to Person.