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October 02, 2017

New Perspectives

Do the Right Thing

by John Addison

Click here to order the October 2017 issue in which this article appeared or click here to download it to your mobile device.

John Addison spent 35 years in the corporate offices of one of the world’s largest direct selling companies, Primerica Inc., most recently serving as Co-CEO. Since his retirement, he wrote the best-selling book Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose, and he now serves as Leadership Editor for SUCCESS magazine and President and CEO of Addison Leadership Group. He regularly offers his leadership insights to Direct Selling News readers and has answered some of your questions below. If you have a question you’d like John to answer in a future issue, email

More and more companies are taking a “customer-first” approach to growing their businesses. What is your recommendation when it comes to the best way to develop a robust customer base?

Tremendous customer service is what’s going to keep a customer loyal to your company. Be available when they need to get in touch with you. If a customer has to go through 89 call trees in order to actually talk to a human being, they are going to get frustrated and find their goods and services somewhere else. 

Most purchasing decisions, including in direct sales, are very emotionally based. Some people will change their minds, or want to discontinue an auto-shipment, or return a product. Serving all customers well is the way to keep them coming back. 

John Addison

How can our company better equip our salesforce to provide outstanding customer service?

First, training the salesforce with the appropriate level of knowledge to answer their customers’ questions is important, of course. But a growing company will be constantly attracting a large number of new people, and they aren’t going to be well-versed in all the aspects of your product line. So, it’s also very important to train the salesforce on how to get the customer in touch with corporate’s service area to answer any questions or concerns. 
This takes us back to your first question, because once the customer reaches the corporate customer service, the process should create a great experience for the customer, regardless of what their need is. 

Is it advantageous to offer customer loyalty programs, or is it better for the business to position loyalty rewards at the distributor level, to attract possible business builders?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, when you are evaluating loyalty rewards or any other incentives. My definition of a good business in direct sales is whether you could sell the product to customers without the business opportunity. 

A direct selling company is only successful if there is a large base of customers who are not involved in the compensation plan. However, from the company’s perspective, their No. 1 customer is the independent representative. They are the cornerstone of your business, and because of that, it’s critical that you have great incentives and promotions for them. 

Selling is hard work. As the corporate team, you need to do everything possible to lift up and support your salesforce. At the same time, the salesforce must focus on their customers and building those relationships. Building in programs that support both relationships is actually necessary.

How can a small- to mid-sized company keep pace with customers’ delivery expectations today? We just can’t keep up with the Amazons of the world.

I think this is perhaps the most difficult challenge for our channel today. I call it the “Amazonation of America” and it truly affects all delivery expectations from every company. Of course, most companies don’t have billions or even millions of dollars to invest to compete at that level. 

If I were running a company today, I would focus on three things. First, having excellent customer service as we’ve already talked about. Great customer service can overcome nearly every obstacle. 

Second, building an infrastructure that can deliver consistent service. Don’t allow internal problems to interfere with the infrastructure’s objectives to hit delivery targets. 
Third, set appropriate expectations with customers up front, and then meet those expectations. People can be happy with a reasonable delivery time that is met consistently, as long as they know what to expect. 

How should our leadership team respond to increased scrutiny of the direct selling channel from regulators and critics?

Deal with regulators by taking an honest look at your business. It can be easy to convince yourself that certain practices are OK, just because you’ve always done them that way. You have to look at your business with the realistic eye of a critic, not through rose-colored glasses. Modify any practice that needs to be aligned with the regulators. One of the most important aspects of the culture we created at Primerica was to be very vigilant about our word. We said, “We’re going to deliver on our promises to people.” It’s important to create a culture where people know doing the right thing is critical.

Our industry is always going to have critics, because there are a lot of people who just don’t like sales. We need to focus instead on those things we can be proud of—that we tell the truth about our business, that we don’t over-exaggerate by telling everybody that they’re going to be a millionaire, and we don’t tell people that this is an easy path.

I don’t think we should spend time saying “I want to make all of my critics happy.” That will never happen. Regardless of what company you are with, it’s not easy to be a top seller and earner, but it is realistic and it happens for those who work hard.  

Our channel would cut down on some of the criticism if we were more honest up front with recruits and tell them, “Hey look, it takes work. It takes consistency and persistence to win here. But it’s definitely possible.” That motivates the people who are going to do it. 

What role should teaching about customer acquisition play in our events?

All events should be a careful combination of celebration and skill building—not just about customer acquisition, but all necessary skills. The event should not be all rah-rah-rah, sis-boom-bah. The way to combine those two elements is to make your events a showcase of success. You do this by having the people who are succeeding at a particular aspect of the business in front of the group, sharing their stories and techniques. For example, you have the people who are the best at recruiting talking about recruiting, and have the people who are great at building their business sharing their stories about how to develop a client base. Telling their stories will equip others to follow in their footsteps.