June 25, 2014
Today’s Shifting Direct Selling Landscape
by Michelle Larter
Increasingly, brands are using mobile and social as channels to interact and engage with customers and prospects. In the direct selling industry, consultants and brands continue to embrace the opportunities each provides to better run their businesses and drive leads. But just how much have these two impacted the way direct selling organizations do business—and what further changes can we expect to see this year?
Three shifts we are already seeing can be found in the use of social media, mobile devices and analytics.
Social Media Shift: From Facebook to More Private Channels
Social media today has become one of the primary ways that messages are getting out now. Any brand lacking a social media strategy today is at risk of becoming obsolete, as consumers increasingly discover and interact with brands through these channels. However, the social media landscape is changing, and what has worked in the past couple of years is no longer a guaranteed approach.
Consider Facebook. The popular social media site’s saturation has caused 20- to-30-somethings to increasingly utilize more “private” channels, including Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest, to connect with peers. In fact, according to Nate Elliott, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc., consumers interact with brand posts on Instagram at a rate that far surpasses the interaction rates produced on Facebook and Twitter. This could mean that while Facebook has helped direct selling organizations and their consultants drive customer acquisition and sales with 20- to-30-somethings in recent years, it may not continue to generate the same level of results—and establishing or growing a presence on other social media platforms will be more effective.
The key for maintaining a successful social media presence is to understand where your customers are most active and provide them with valuable and relevant messages tailored to each social media outlet in order to cultivate those relationships. Instagram, for instance, provides an opportunity for a jewelry consultant to provide images of each piece being worn in order to showcase the versatility and real-life appearance of the jewelry for sale. On Pinterest, the same consultant can not only create boards showcasing all of the jewelry looks, but can also show her individual style suggestions. This enables her to show her creative side and projects an image to her customers that she can be a resource for accessorizing.
The content-sharing opportunities made possible through social media are compelling, and direct selling organizations and consultants who use them strategically can find that they truly engage with customers and prospects in new and fun ways, even as their social media preferences change.
Mobility Shift: Consumers—and Consultants—Are Always On
Mobile devices are increasingly an integral part of everyday life. And while mobile devices serve many purposes, both personal and professional, one of their most common uses is to access email anytime, anywhere. This can be an important point for the direct selling industry. The key is providing relevant and engaging content to keep them interested and informed.
But it’s not just consumers who are impacted by the increasingly mobile landscape. Consultants are using iPads and tablets to run their businesses—conducting presentations on them at parties and using them for order management. We are starting to see a shift where printed materials—catalogs, order forms, invoices—are increasingly becoming electronic.
Think about the advantages: If you are hosting a party, you can easily look up information and show additional products that may not be showcased in the catalogs or as part of the live demonstration. Even if they are, it’s likely that online you can show multiple product images, giving the potential customer a clearer picture of the product. Order management is easier for both parties and processing is quicker, as well.
Outside of parties, consultants are more likely to be prepared for anytime sales, since most won’t leave home without their mobile devices (but may leave home without their product portfolio and paper order forms). The ability to immediately show customers what you are selling, even in moments when you least expect a potential sale, is changing the direct selling game!
Analytics Shift: Tracking ROI and Driving Leads
Consultants who are serious about marketing are increasingly using tools to help track ROI and drive leads. Along with managing their own social sites, consultants are increasingly tracking ROI on Google Analytics to see what’s working and what’s not by examining where their site visitors are coming from, how long they are staying on their site and how many are converting to leads. They’re using Facebook Graph Search as a new way to find new prospects and drive leads. This service helps users find more of the people, places and things they’re looking for and discover new connections based on what others have shared with them. They’re measuring the success of each of their email newsletters by examining open and click-through rates. All of this data is more readily available to consultants, who are increasingly empowered to track their successes and determine the most effective strategies for driving leads and sales. As more and more data analytics tools become available, the direct selling industry will continue to be impacted by the insight they provide.
As direct selling continues to evolve, the same overarching lessons remain true: Staying in front of the customer, delivering relevance and engaging with them via their preferred channels will be the key for driving direct selling success. While technology shifts can impact the communication channels, the same best practices ring true.
Michelle Larter is the Worldwide Director, Direct Selling, at IMN Inc. Larter has more than 20 years of experience in sales, including more than 10 years specifically with direct sales. She is a contributing writer to direct selling and technology publications and a frequent speaker at industry events. IMN Inc. was awarded the prestigious 2013 DSA Ethos Award for Partnership.