December 01, 2016
The Rhythm of Events
by J.M. Emmert
Events are a crucial ingredient to direct selling. From small, local meetings to massive, national or global conventions, each company has its own event rhythm that drives productivity throughout the calendar year. When done right, this pattern of events helps to educate prospects, systemize a company’s vision and branding, and build anticipation that will strike an emotional chord with those prospective business owners whom companies wish to attract.
Many of the most successful companies in direct selling make the cycle of events a key component for business development. New direct sellers who attend an event receive training and personal development that empowers them to go out and execute the company’s carefully designed sales system. Attending events is, of course, optional, so companies must work to ensure that each event brings value to those who participate, arming them with tools to successfully build their businesses, instilling a sense of belief in themselves as entrepreneurs and setting realistic business-development goals to build toward the next event, where the process begins anew.
“At every single ACN event, you will see the top people sitting in the first few rows, but they didn’t start there,” says Greg Provenzano, Co-Founder and President of the North Carolina-based services company ACN Inc. “Each and every one of them started in the back of the room and worked their way to the front, one seat, and one event, at a time. Of course we know, as is the case with any business, not everyone becomes a success story. But by attending our events, you dramatically increase your odds of becoming one.”
ACN hosts four large-scale events a year, once each quarter, with the cycle beginning with an Annual Convention at the start of the calendar year. The events are the flagship of the company’s training and support system, providing Independent Business Owners with everything they need to build a successful business in as short a timeframe as possible, Provenzano says. “These events take an incredible amount of planning. As soon as one ends, we are immediately working on the next, and we wouldn’t spend the time, energy and resources on these events if they weren’t absolutely critical to the journey.”
Building Your Event Rhythm
The structure and scheduling of company events are, like music, orderly alternations of contrasting elements, from annual conventions and regional training meetings to boot camps and incentivized trips. They’re also usually collaborations between corporate and field leaders, who look at business metrics to determine needs most crucial to the company’s success and to drive productivity and keep the organization moving forward—development of the field, training for new product launches, selling and recruiting efforts or incentivized programs.
Nu Skin, for example, runs its business on a global cadence known internally as the Success Roadmap. While the company’s 54 business markets build their own events, everyone is working off the same strategic framework. “It generally runs on an annual basis,” says Ryan Napierski, President, Global Sales and Operations. “We view in our business that there are three primary motivators for sales leader performance. One is compensation, two is recognition, and three is qualified events. We look to the Success Roadmap as a primary business driver for enabling performance as well as consistent messaging and culture.”
On a global level, the Provo, Utah-based company has an annual national forum or convention that differs in timing according to the market. For example, in Korea the convention might be held in April, and in Singapore it might be in June. These conventions are open to any distributor regardless of performance. In addition, the company has qualified events that are performance-driven and more intended to focus on rewarding and recognizing performance in field leaders. “Those are what we call Success Trips, and those happen twice per year in each of our markets,” says Napierski.
At the local level, Nu Skin has various models that work differently, according to how the market has performed in the past. “The predominant model that we leverage in many of our Asia markets is what we call an Expo model,” Napierski says. “The Expo model occurs once a quarter, and its intention is really to reach new people, so it is primarily a recruiting event or opportunity for existing salespeople to bring new people.” The Expo model is generally used in highly concentrated urban markets throughout Asia, such as Hong Kong or Taiwan. In the Americas and in Europe, where the business is more spread out, the company does not use the same structure. Rather, it supports leader meetings that are intended to accomplish a similar outcome, working closely with leaders in the field to ensure there is a maximum synergistic effect between their events.
Nu Skin also has a third layer of events that serves to ensure the company brand is presented consistently around the world. “Every two years we do a global convention that really sets the framework for the next two years for messaging and for company focus and direction,” says Napierski. “So, this corporate event is very much a key part of our messaging and certainly the way we manage our brand and manage the customer experience. It’s highly integrated into these events.”
Having a strategically designed event rhythm is no less important for companies operating in a single market. Like global enterprises, they must create event calendars that can maximize sales and recruiting efforts. That means evaluating the specific needs of various regions—whether it be product training, leadership development or incentive programs—and leveraging holiday seasons or post-convention timeframes to motivate and inspire the field.
Taunton, Massachusetts-based Princess House uses the excitement of the new year to kick off the annual event cycle, reconnecting with the field after the Christmas season and re-energizing its leaders. Princess House, which sells cookware and other products in the U.S. only, has company-sponsored “Back-to-Work” leader meetings in January that are open to the Top 50 leaders based on status, and are intended to advise field leadership on company goals and strategies for the upcoming year as well as to encourage them to get their teams active, engaged and ready to take on the new year. A similar strategy is applied to the Call to Action leader meeting immediately after the close of the National Convention in July. In the September/October timeframe, Princess House holds events in six to seven major markets across the country to support the holiday selling/recruiting season. These events range in attendance from 200 to 600 people, and serve as daytime training sessions for local leaders as well as evening Opportunity Events to “re-recruit” current consultants and introduce potential prospects to the Princess House opportunity.
“We don’t look at events as a short-term booster to business,” says Tom Cooper, Director of Sales Strategies and Incentives. “Our events are designed to reinforce the big picture of Princess House, remind Consultants why they joined and why they have stayed while amplifying their sense of affiliation with the company and the brand. ...The timing of events is purposeful—often to serve as a springboard for upcoming launches, initiatives and stimulus to achieve longer-term objectives.”
Throughout the event cycle, Princess House also puts a major focus on recruiting at events. From there, the company tailors the content of local events to fit the strategy for that particular market. Product training or leader development might be a focus in an established city, while business opportunity events will happen more often in underdeveloped markets. National events are the preferred platform for the launch of major initiatives, such as new product categories and new incentive or development programs. “We try to follow a formula that every event should have three elements that help us move the business: motivation (incentive), inspiration (recognition) and education (training),” says Cooper. “...In our experience, sales people who feel they belong to something bigger than just their own business are more likely to stay engaged and are more likely to engage others. We measure the success of our events over a longer time frame. We measure how many Sales Consultants have we added since the last event, how many Sales Consultants moved up the career plan, and how engaged are they.”
Cooper adds that a key aspect of Princess House’s rhythm is knowing when an event is a benefit and when it is a distraction. “Balance of distraction, loss of focus and time away from the business with the excitement, motivation and ‘feel good’ of a major event are critical,” he says. “Otherwise, you risk investing a significant amount of resources on an amazing event ‘production,’ which is cancelled out by business interruption or distraction that takes time to get the salesforce back into the productive ‘groove.’ ”
Partnering with the Field
For an events strategy to be truly successful, there must exist a strong partnership between corporate and field leaders. While the scheduling and facilitation of national, global and leadership events are the domain of corporate executives, it is the field leaders who typically run local and regional events geared to increasing recruiting efforts and enhancing the sales performance of consultants or distributors. The interaction between corporate and the field is instrumental in determining where events should be held and what the specific focus should be for the meeting.
Such is the case for Plano, Texas-based travel club WorldVentures. The company’s major event cycle begins in January with an event called “Get Your Business into Momentum.” Typically held within the first two weeks of the month, it takes place throughout the company’s 29 markets, drawing 15,000 to 20,000 people in the U.S. and additional large crowds in Asia, South Africa, Australia and Europe. In April, WorldVentures holds its international convention in which executives report on what the company has accomplished and where it is headed. The latter half of the year includes a June/July event called Boot Camp, which is for top leaders, and a September/October event called the “View from the Edge,” the company’s most popular event that features inspirational and motivational skits.
However, a large part of the WorldVentures event calendar is filled with regional events, and the structure and scheduling of events are collaborations between corporate executives and field leaders, says CEO Dan Stammen. “Some of my top leaders throughout the globe help pick locations where there is growth,” Stammen says. “We corroborate that internally with numbers and data. We then create a calendar to move trainers around the world so we do not have the same trainers training in the same market time and time again.”
These regional meetings are held in February, March, May and August. They range in size from 300 to 2,000 attendees and focus on how to build the business. “They are teaching what to do, where to go, how to do travel parties, how to do one-on-ones and two-on-ones as well as getting people to book their first DreamTrip,” says Stammen. Approximately 25 to 30 regional meetings can take place within the U.S. market on a given day. “The idea is that we can hold a regional training event simultaneously, on a Saturday in February, within 5–7 hours maximum driving distance for everybody in the country,” Stammen says.
While Super Saturday events are led by field leaders, corporate will partner with them to ensure successful meetings. The only prerequisite for obtaining corporate sponsorship is that the event must have at least 300 people attend. Once that goal is met, corporate will help the field leaders find trainers, assist with the production of the event and provide sales tools. “We’ll have sales aids flown in that can be sold on site,” says Stammen, adding that these aids include DVDs, brochures and custom Voyager magazines that explain the business opportunity. “We want people walking out with the best tools we have available,” he says.
At Princess House, where field leaders typically manage their own events, corporate provides tool kits that include elements such as customizable video and PowerPoint presentations, pins and buttons for recognition, and corporate print pieces. However, the company invests in innovative ways to facilitate communication throughout all levels of the organization. Princess House has a unique situation in that its salesforce is predominantly within the Hispanic market. To ensure that communication cascades down to the field, the company creates tools in both English and Spanish. “We refer to it here as trans-creating instead of translating,” says Norbert Brown, Director of Communications. “We have Spanish-speaking writers on staff who will take the English and really do a complete rewrite on it to make it culturally appropriate to speak to the audience.”
In addition to using sales tools to reach the field, direct sellers leverage the power of technology to communicate with them. Nu Skin, for example, has been utilizing mobile apps to reach the field and occasionally uses simulcasts to broadcast events. Currently executives are exploring a new type of event that has never been done before in the channel. “We’re using television production capabilities to primarily conduct events in a virtual manner,” says Napierski. “We have already been testing the concept in Southeast Asia and plan to build upon it in the future.”
Whereas a typical live event may attract 8,000 people, Napierski believes the new platform will allow 20,000 people to watch online. However, such technology does present its pros and cons. While this type of broadcast would increase Nu Skin’s reach, it would also decrease the emotional connection created by a live event. Napierski, however, feels confident that using the new capabilities, already slated for the company’s next global event, will provide that combination of both reach and immersion.
Using Events to Strengthen Connections
A rhythm of strategically scheduled and designed events fosters tight relationships within the salesforce as well as between field leaders and the corporate office. Events, especially national conventions, are meant to strike an emotional chord with attendees. They are jammed-packed, fun and exciting times that foster friendship, comradery and renewed motivation for the business opportunity. Even smaller events help build belief and strengthen the emotional connection between the salesforce and the company. Events unite the entire salesforce into a shared collective identity, where people from all corners of the globe can proudly proclaim membership.
“We strategically decide when to host training events based on the rhythm of our business,” says Mark Pentecost, Founder and CEO of It Works!. “By connecting with our leaders and teams at various points throughout the year, we get to re-energize their passion through product training, coaching and launches, taking their business to a ‘Whole ’Notha Level.’ ” For It Works!, company events around the world are unified to reinforce consistent messaging and branding across all platforms. “This means whether you are in Australia, Austria, or Austin, you experience It Works! the same way,” says Pentecost. “The It Works! way is celebrated throughout events recognition, training and wrap parties. We spend time creating and investing in our friendships, having a lot of fun, and earning freedom—whether it is freedom of time or becoming debt-free.”
At Princess House, events are a mix of motivation, inspiration and education that support the personal development of the field and the Princess House culture and brand. “Nothing builds culture like bringing people together,” Brown says. “A very strong piece of our culture is the appreciation of our people internally and in the field. We work very hard to make sure everyone who is supposed to be there is included as timely as possible and as accurately as possible. That’s a critical piece. Our people do a lot to build up their own sense of team and sense of shared culture—like whole teams that show up wearing the same color or the same clothes. There is a very strong connection between them, and it connects between them through the company.”
Moving Business Forward
A rhythm of events is, ultimately, a structured composition of mission, values, culture and passion for the company all tightly woven together to create emotional experiences that re-energize the salesforce and attract new recruits. It is as critical to a direct selling company’s ongoing success as any of the drivers that help to define direct selling as a distinct channel of distribution.
“One of the things our founders have believed in from day one of the business is the importance of establishing culture and values, and the belief that that happens best person to person and in an immersive environment where people can truly experience the life-changing impact that these events can have,” says Nu Skin’s Napierski. “Like weddings and anniversary celebrations, these conventions provide that sort of emotionally binding experience that truly bonds our salesforce to the company and creates lifers or true evangelists of the brand. We’re very committed to these events.”
Companies with similar commitments can keep their businesses moving forward by using events to drive productivity in the salesforce, retain valued leaders and recruit new evangelists. And that all adds up to increased profit to the bottom line, which is music to any executive’s ear.