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January 01, 2010

DSA News

Resolve to Prosper in 2010

by Amy R. Robinson

It’s a bit cliché to talk about New Year’s resolutions, especially since so many fall apart by the second week of January. Who doesn’t want to lose weight, be more organized and spend more time with their family?

What I think does make sense is to resolve to prosper in the coming year. That may sound even more elusive than the 20 pounds you’ve been vowing to lose for the past decade, and it is certainly less tangible than increasing sales or streamlining operations. In today’s economy, prospering can mean a lot of things, not necessarily higher profits or greater market share. Adopting a whole-new perspective on “business as usual” will likely help your company emerge from the recession ready to take on the next economic cycle.

The past two years have been tough. A troubled economy has made the media pessimistic and consumers skittish. Even Americans who are “doing fine” may tend to feel they should tighten their belts, as they see and hear tales of woe around them.

The good news is that consumers can’t be kept down for long. It’s a fact—$5 lattes and the newest plasma TVs remain indispensable necessities that we just can’t seem to do without. But the consumer-scape has changed. It was already changing before the recession hit, but when we fully emerge on the other end of the downturn, evolution might well be better termed “revolution” in recognition of the speed with which we’ve moved from a corporate-driven society, right through consumer-centric, into an undeniably consumer-driven model.

Here are a few things to consider as you navigate your business into 2010 with a resolution to prosper.

The people are coming; help them succeed.

After trying to tough it out on their own, hundreds of thousands of hardworking Americans have either lost a job or fear they’ll lose one as unemployment continues to hover around 10 percent. They are looking for alternate sources of income, and they are finding direct selling. Concurrently, as consumers begin to resume their spending, the path is clear for budding entrepreneurs to build a solid customer base, but they will need help getting there. After two years of slipping sales numbers for direct sellers, 2008 brought a welcome increase, however minimal, in the number of sellers. Those new sellers have varied reasons for signing up, but they will all need solid training and nurturing if they are to reach their goals. In no other climate is it more important for new sellers to understand what it takes to be successful and feel supported as they grow. The promise of the direct selling opportunity must be delivered, or we risk deepening misperceptions about our business model.

New consumer attitudes may determine your success.

Today’s consumers are demanding, possess a healthy bit of skepticism and expect to be treated with authenticity. Brand loyalty may be determined by much more than price or performance. Less tangible attributes, like perceived value or even the philanthropic diligence of a company, play a role in buying decisions. Consumers will go out of their way to patronize companies that align with their values (and will often pay more for it), while expecting personalized service and 24/7 convenience. What tools are you providing to your sellers to help them satisfy their customers? Do your policies give them the flexibility to cater to a wide variety of consumer needs while still protecting your brand integrity?

Every seller and employee is a point of first contact for your company.

Changing consumer attitudes and expectations mean you don’t have a second chance to make a first impression. Even more important, you won’t even have the chance to make a positive first impression on the 12,000 people who read a disgruntled consumer’s blog post, the 487 people who follow her on Twitter and her 843 Facebook friends. One faulty transaction can sour an entire network of consumers, so why take any chances? Empower your salesforce and employees with the freedom and skills to be brand ambassadors. No longer will consumers call a company’s 800 number when they have a problem; they take it viral and tell everyone they know—and thousands they don’t! Anyone with a computer can talk poorly about your company, so make sure there are an equal number of people who are empowered to sing the praises of your company or diffuse negative situations (e.g., dispense with the red tape in the customer service and compliance departments and make the consumer’s satisfaction job No. 1).

In today’s consumer-driven world, prospering can be as simple as putting the needs of the consumer first, making ethical decisions and recognizing the emergence of a fully integrated world. There is no straight line to business success in the 21st century. ROI is rarely a simple calculation, and a company that looks only at the bottom line for guidance isn’t likely to survive for long.

So when you think about your resolutions for 2010, be sure to focus on what’s important in an economy driven by consumers, and remember that the answer is not likely to be found on your P&L statement.

Amy M. RobinsonAmy M. Robinson is Vice President of Communications & Media Relations for the Direct Selling Association.