May 01, 2013
The Magic of the First 90 Days: Strategies for Serving Newcomers of Any Age
by Beth Douglass Silcox
There’s a magic window in direct selling—a tricky space between distributor signup and the first glimmers of success. Here, newcomers—green to the concept of owning businesses and working for themselves—vacillate between unbridled excitement and all-out fear.
It’s understandable. Few come to direct selling with the ability to self-motivate or hold themselves accountable when a boss isn’t lurking down the hall. But newcomers do show up with an indelible ability to learn and effervescent enthusiasm. Problem is, magical windows don’t stay open forever, and with newcomers, timing is everything.
Common industry thought gives direct selling companies 90 days before that window slams shut on the potential success and longevity of a new direct seller. In fact, some argue that technology and the speed at which Gen Y and millennials expect results is compressing time for new distributors to make some proverbial “magic” in direct selling.
Regardless how quick that window inches closed, successful direct selling companies must find methods for newcomers to create habits and behaviors that will enable them to scale and sustain their individual businesses for the long run. In so doing, direct selling companies make good on their promise to new distributors: “You are in business for yourself, not by yourself.”
Industry leaders agree that building on newcomer excitement, eliminating fear and self-doubt, accelerating product and opportunity savvy, and offering newcomers a peek at what’s on the other side of the 90-day window are top priorities.
But strategic differences exist when it comes to direct selling companies serving an increasingly diverse generational pool of new direct sellers, who interact in different ways and expect different things from the world around them.
Some companies, like ViSalus, use a broad brush to express their corporate message. “We’ve created a lifestyle brand that is for the young and young at heart. We have one approach and don’t do anything different, whether they are 18 or 80,” says Blake Mallen, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer.
“Gen Y likes things given to them in RAT form: raw, authentic and transparent. It’s the way they speak to each other and you’ve got to get to where they are.”
—Jeff Olson, Founder and CEO, Nerium International
Nerium International shakes up their messaging to appeal to younger generations. Jeff Olson, Founder and CEO, says, “Gen Y likes things given to them in RAT form: raw, authentic and transparent. They would rather have a YouTube phone video, than something that’s highly produced. It’s the way they speak to each other and you’ve got to get to where they are.”
Then there’s Vemma, who has completely embraced Gen Y and what they are all about. Rebranding their Verve energy drink to attract millennials was a turning point for them. They created YPR—Young People’s Revolution—and basically stayed out of Gen Y’s way.
They watched awestruck as 20-somethings built lucrative businesses and helped remedy their generation’s crises: college debt, unemployment, underemployment and haters bent on bringing them down. In 90 days, these Gen-Y newcomers accomplish what earlier generations took a year to do. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen,” says BK Boreyko, CEO and Founder. “Once we changed Verve and got this vibe going, we wanted it to be throughout the whole company.”
So, is attracting Gen Y some kind of “holy grail” for direct selling? It depends. Boreyko concedes, “If they had families, wives, kids, houseplants, they couldn’t run as hard and fast as they do to build this business. They have no fear of failure because it’s just them and they are used to sleeping on couches.”
And wedging a product into a Gen-Y demographic where it doesn’t belong makes no sense either. “If we were selling skin care or shakes or vitamins, we wouldn’t have a YPR movement because none of those things resonate with young people like an energy drink does,” Boreyko says.
But clearly Gen Y is here and direct selling companies need to figure out a strategy that resonates with all newcomers—young and old.
More the Same Than You Think
The answer is coaching. Call it a generational intersection for the direct selling industry, where the needs of baby boomers and Gen-Y’s, and likely whoever is coming next, merge.
Alexia Vernon, author of 90 Days, 90 Ways, belongs to Gen Y and helps companies understand them better. She says it matters little the working culture of a company. Coaching conversations bring people of varying communication and working styles together.
“It’s not about making everybody the same. It’s just about figuring out how our people like to play.”
—Alexia Vernon, author and Gen-Y expert
Messaging that revolves around coaching allows companies to learn more about their people. “When you learn what makes them tick, then you help them take responsibility for their behaviors and performance,” Vernon says.
“By asking questions and getting people to think, everybody plays together better. It’s not about making everybody the same. It’s just about figuring out how our people like to play. So you make adjustments and you play the way other people want to play.”
That advice goes for direct selling companies appealing to diverse generational groups of newcomers and to the newcomers themselves. When people play well together, they get a whole lot more done in the first 90 days and after.
Every Newbie Needs the Same Things
As different as they seem on the surface, the needs of Generation Y actually mirror the industry expectations for serving direct selling newcomers of all ages.
Vernon’s list of “Gen Y’s Top Five Needs in the First 90 Days” involve:
- Coming up with a career development plan. They need to know where they want to go and what they want out of it.
- Feedback delivered in a way they designate and that stretches their best performance.
- Support from a team consisting of people who don’t necessarily have a stake in their success. They need mentors, cheerleaders, and a community to calm their fears and answer questions.
- Short-term rewards. It could be money, but it could be as simple as sending a card that recognizes them for a specific accomplishment.
- Corporate modeling for what the company seeks from the newcomer. In other words, practice what you preach.
Getting Where You Want To Go
It takes hard work on the part of the direct selling company and any new distributor to get where they both want to go, regardless of the company’s messaging style or the newcomer’s generation.
New distributors must see and feel that they’ve got what it takes to succeed, while companies must devise the simplest method for them to get there and speak to them in a way they best understand.
“It’s about giving people very simple, very social, very actionable steps to get the result they are looking for,” says ViSalus’ Mallen.
Differing corporate cultures, product type and breadth, and demographics play into every company choice about the first 90 days and beyond. And while technology’s importance can’t be stressed enough in this high-tech, on-demand world, how companies leverage it to the advantage of newcomers, established distributors, customers and their overall business can be dramatically different.
The overwhelming focus of a new distributor’s first 90 days holds fast to fundamentals that stretch back decades in direct selling. Companies break it down, keep it simple, teach the basics, then repeat, repeat, repeat.
Call it what you will—mastering the mundane, creating new habits—but fundamentals work. Sure, the messaging, methods and tools may be changing, but today’s new direct sellers, whether baby boomers or Gen Y, respond like their predecessors did.
“It’s about giving people very simple, very social, very actionable steps to get the result they are looking for.”
—Blake Mallen, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer, ViSalus
Clear Objectives, Simple Steps
“Our entire culture is based around creating a success story within someone’s first 90 days. We want every Promoter that comes into our community to have both a physical transformation and a financial transformation. That really puts a lot of emphasis on getting someone started out of the gate correctly and focusing on a tangible result. It’s a micro-goal strategy,” Mallen says.
ViSalus knows what it wants—a success story. The objective is clear to new Promoters through Project 10: Lose 10 pounds on the Body by Vi Challenge, submit a before-and-after video, and get registered for weekly cash drawings with the chance to win $1,000. Lose the weight and ViSalus throws in a free T-shirt and donates 30 shake meals to kids dealing with obesity.
It’s simple, really. Drop 10 pounds. Help a kid. Share your story to earn product, cash and a sleek, black BMW, all within the first 90 days.
Simple works because new distributors have full-time lives filled with spouses, kids, dogs and hobbies, not to mention 40-hour-a-week jobs. They want quick, visible strides that fit within the framework of their daily lives. They want progress without feeling overwhelmed or overworked. In layman’s terms, these new entrepreneurs need a “to-do” list and Olson says Nerium gives it to them. “We’ve identified the highest-payoff daily activities that we know will give new Brand Partners the fastest and biggest results,” Olson says.
With Nerium’s 8-Point System, Brand Partners accumulate points, in what they call The Box, by participating in predetermined daily activities. They check company emails, seek personal development, contact and follow up with a customer or prospect, and attend or host a Real Results Party. Brand Partners choose what they do and when. Not every day’s activities will be the same, but the expectation is to earn eight points a day, 40 points a week—mostly by redirecting activities. “Instead of watching that sitcom that does nothing for you, listen to a conference call. Instead of building somebody else’s dream, build yours,” Olson says. “The 8-Point System has caught on like wildfire and it just works.”
That’s because Nerium’s 8-Point System breaks the business down into daily action items that are manageable. By consistently layering point after point, day after day, week after week, new Brand Partners build habits that help them become the very best version of themselves. Their individual growth sustains them and The Box keeps them on track through the ups and downs of the first 90 days and beyond.
Regardless of their age, new distributors often need to step outside their proverbial comfort zones in that first 90 days. Reaching out to people about products or services can be awkward for newcomers. Trepidation and lack of self-confidence impedes progress, so direct selling companies must hold some hands and give newcomers a little push in the right direction.
When It Works! distributors crack open their Welcome Kits, they find Blitz Cards, a coupon of sorts. These help newbies break through the fear of selling by tilting their perspective toward sharing, instead. With Blitz Cards in hand, suddenly striking up a conversation isn’t so scary.
But newcomers to party plan companies like Thirty-One Gifts can struggle with a stage fright of sorts. That’s why Thirty-One reaches out to new consultants, building one-on-one relationships to help pull them over their fears. “We evaluate what a new consultant wants out of the business and then figure out what’s between her and that first party,” says Alexa W., Independent National Executive Director. “New consultants usually stumble in one of two areas: getting over the fear of putting themselves out there or making sure they are armed with enough information.”
So Thirty-One teaches a five-step party process that offers the basics. “We try to keep it very simple, so she can see herself doing it,” says Natalie Johns, Executive Director of Communications and Training for the company. New consultants are encouraged to check out online party demonstrations and tag along with upline directors.
Some of the best learning, Johns says, happens when newcomers watch more experienced consultants in action or network with each other at Celebrate and Connect meetings hosted by field leaders across the country every other month. “It’s so important to the relationship building and networking to be at those meetings,” Johns says. “We really feel like it helps that new consultant learn who we are and feel a part of something bigger, a part of the Thirty-One sisterhood.”
Perhaps nothing works better to bolster newcomer confidence than being surrounded by fellow direct sellers at a live event. By far the most elaborate of newcomer activities—whether nuts-and-bolts regional trainings or national conventions with loads of bling—corporate messaging at these gatherings can still be simple, clear and direct.
Event-driven companies like ACN promote large, live events hosted every 90 days, as well as regional and local trainings because they say these events build newcomer confidence and knowledge and accelerate performance. “Events are a huge piece of our strategy,” says Sheila Marcello, Vice President of Marketing. “People are going to get the training, the motivation, the personal development, the contacts—everything they really need to be successful. Not to mention our events have the energy and excitement of a concert, making them that much more appealing for even the youngest, most progressive IBOs.”
It’s all about momentum, Marcello adds. “People need to have the tools to hit the ground running. We know that no matter who you are, money talks. It’s the one approach that truly crosses generations,” she says. “Our 30-day fast-start bonuses are designed to get our new IBOs off the starting block quickly—and to get some immediate financial rewards in their pockets right away. This ultimately helps fuel their businesses long after that ‘new business excitement’ has worn off.”
Regardless the product, the messaging, the branding, the demographics or the business model, a fast and simple start is what each of these fast-growing direct selling companies offers to newcomers. Thirty-One’s Johns says, “For the new consultant, we know we only have her for a very short time. She’s working her Thirty-One business in the nooks and crannies of her already busy life. We want to be very clear, simple, easy and fun for her on how to be successful.”
Tempting as it may be to jump on the latest tech craze, learning how best to leverage technology keeps newcomers and more experienced direct sellers from getting overwhelmed, confused and bogged down. It is often a slow, yet ultimately profitable, process. ACN started low-key with social media until they knew how best to implement it in their channel. “It had to add value for our IBOs and the company as well,” Marcello says.
What they found on the other side of their patient transition into social media was unexpected and of greater value than originally estimated. Their intent was to inform with social media, but motivational messages from co-founders and leaders gained more traction with IBOs. Facebook and Twitter exploded during ACN’s live events, and they understood that “people wanted to share what they’ve learned as they are learning it,” Marcello says. Social media empowers and excites IBOs and ACN now knows in real-time what they think and feel.
There are infinite ways for companies to successfully inspire, motivate and teach newcomers using technology, but an equal number waste time, money, and social media credibility and clout.
Companies who manage technology well keep tabs on how their people want to communicate with them, their customers and each other. That’s not to suggest companies cave to the tech-challenged baby boomer and become flipbook exclusive, nor should they invest in technology for technology’s sake.
But to attract wider audiences of potential sellers and buyers, companies must diversify and cross-purpose communication using technology. Newcomers, like their more experienced colleagues, need multiple touch points and choices in how to engage: social media; distributor websites; back offices filled with on-demand webinars, PowerPoint presentations and training; 24/7 access to top-notch personal development; entire business management and communication programs; and app after app.
That doesn’t mean newcomers must use everything that’s offered, but as Marcello puts it, “We teach them how they are all interrelated and then they pick the ones that work for them.”
Fair warning, Gen Y, seemingly born with a smartphone in hand, expects technology to work. Send them down a rabbit hole and they’re out. Hit them with “See me, see me, buy me, buy me” social messaging, and “unfriend” it is.
Despite their techno-savvy, however, Gen-Y newcomers often don’t understand the long-term business ramifications of social media. “It’s like standing in the middle of a crowded food court and yelling at the top of your lungs. It doesn’t go away and it’s not private,” Thirty-One’s Alexa W. says. “Some of the younger people need help understanding the impact of what they say and do on social media. They don’t realize how it shapes who they are to those they may not have realized they were reaching out to.”
As effective as social media can be, there’s a cautionary tale here for direct selling companies. “It takes time to educate newcomers,” Alexa W. says. “It takes resources from the company and it takes leadership in the field being proactive and directing people toward company resources.” While social media guidelines established by direct selling companies may seem restrictive at first to some newcomers, they protect the company’s broader vision and branding, as well as the branding of the individual consultant and her ability to sell the product.
Remember, connectivity of all kinds is the millennial’s realm and posers need not enter. Direct selling companies can’t pretend to understand them, they need people who actually do understand them. Gen Y wants authentic messaging, and don’t dare talk down to them. If they have a problem, they know where to find the solution—it’s called Google. But put something on their radar and create a desire that speaks to their values or lifestyle, and it’s magic.
“Knowing a company has a social mission, being able to Facebook or tweet pictures of everybody on the team working with a local Boys & Girls Club—those are the ways companies can appeal to Gen Y,” Vernon says. “You’re not talking about your product, but the fact that you do that kind of stuff gives you a competitive edge.”
Power exists in success stories, especially for a relationship-based industry like direct selling. When someone earns an extraordinary income in their first 16 months, people need to know it and be inspired by it.
Vemma decided to push these stories out through YPR Radio, an innovative podcast on YouTube and iTunes, which reached their consultant base precisely where they live. They hired hip-hop preacher Eric Thomas to hang out and listen to members of the Young People’s Revolution tell their Verve success stories, then uploaded for the world to watch. YPR Radio was so successful connecting with Gen Y, an initial twelve 30-minute episodes turned into 60.
Making the right moves in cyberspace can place companies and their products squarely on anyone’s radar, Gen Y or otherwise, and leveraging technology can mean developing a flashy app with every bell and whistle, or simply moving a great PowerPoint presentation to a place where everyone can find it. Regardless, technology ideally drives offline conversation that builds relations, empowers newcomers to feel smarter and more confident, delivers messaging in a way that a chosen demographic can best hear it, and inspires people to engage in the company’s corporate culture. In the first 90 days, direct selling companies need to reach the newcomer in each of these ways, and the newcomer needs to be able to reach right back. Do that and the industry makes magic!