What I learned from 18 months in Direct Sales
I entered into Multilevel Marketing/Direct Sales/Social Selling with the suspicion and skepticism of a jumpy schizophrenic. Even after I started with my company I tried to find chinks in the armor, tried to catch them in the old bait and switch; I was looking for a “Gotcha!” moment that never came.
I never intended to be in direct sales. In fact, I viewed it as icky and inferior. As a freelance writer working from home, an introvert, and on the cusp of being an empty nester, I was worried about my isolated lifestyle. The blogs I researched and wrote for boutique-y retirement communities around the country told cautionary tales about the perils of isolation in seniors. While not yet a senior, I found myself precariously balanced on the edge of the slippery slope of unintended isolation. It was time to make a change.
And wouldn’t you know…this new company kept circling me in organic ways. I said “hell no.” I tried one of the products and was almost mad at myself for liking it. I met some of the women on the team and honestly? I wanted them to be weirdo slime-balls so it would be easy to walk away. That didn’t happen; they were like me.
If you find yourself noodling a side gig in direct sales (nearly half of all Americans have one), here are a few things I learned that might help you narrow the field; not all companies in this industry are created equally.
1. Choose Wisely!
• The reputation of an MLM company is like location when it comes to real estate: it’s supremely important.
• Has the company won awards or gotten recognition from third party sources?
• Are there lawsuits against the company, its products, or practices? It’s not uncommon for big businesses to ruffle the feathers of a few people, but if it looks like lawsuits abound, move on.
• Do some research on the products you’ll be selling. Are they safe? Well made? Look at trends in that industry: beauty, fashion, coaching, etc. Consumers vote with their dollars and you want to make it easy for them to vote for you!
• Look for a company or product that's in alignment with your lifestyle and only opt for something that sparks a passion in you.
2. How will you be selling?
• Is this a one and done sale or could it result in repeat business? Will you be selling something that people buy anyway, like toothpaste, or is it something new you need to introduce to a cold audience?
• Will you be selling a product or service? For some, selling an intangible can be difficult to describe and difficult for your customer to visualize.
• Will you have to carry inventory? In my opinion this should be a hard no. Avoid this…it puts unnecessary financial burden on you and is an outdated way to do business.
3. Act like you just bought a brick and mortar store
• Often investments to start a business in MLM companies are low making it easy to devalue and overlook the opportunity. If you become an independent consultant with a direct sales company your opportunity to succeed is no different than if you spent $50K on a franchise. Like most things in life, you get out what you put in. Treat your direct sales franchise like the valuable business it is.
4. Culture matters
• Does the company invest in its sales force with trainings, tech tools, support and mentorship or are you flying solo?
• Do you get a sense of abundance or scarcity when you talk with others in the company? Do others share generously about how to succeed or do they withhold help because they view you as their competition?
• What is the messaging that comes from the top down? Hint: look for an “all boats rise with the tide” vibe.
5. Be prepared to work really hard and experience a lot of rejection
• Do not take rejection personally!
• Consistency is key and the fortune is in the follow up.
Check out these stats:
48% of people never follow up after connecting with a potential customer
25% make a 2nd contact and stop
12% make only 3 contacts and stop
2% of sales are made on the 1st contact
3% of sales are made on the 2nd
5% are made on the 3rd
10% are made on the 4th
80% OF SALES ARE MADE ON THE 5TH-12TH CONTACT!
• This bears repeating: The fortune is in the follow up.
• Unless you are some kind of phenom (You aren't. Neither am I), count on at least 2 years to build your business. There are no shortcuts. The model is ridiculously simple: connect with new people every week and follow up with them.
6. Don’t shove your business down people’s throats.
• Direct sales has the ick-factor in part because of hard-core pushy a-holes…don’t be one of them.
• If you want repeat sales, build relationships. Customers like to buy from people they know, like, and trust.
Nearly 50% of millennials have a side gig, as do 39% of Gen Xers and 28% of Baby Boomers. Combine that with not just the increase in online shopping, but the way we online shop. It’s social in that we rely on reviews and recommendations that influence our purchasing decisions. This makes direct sales, or social retail, an attractive and viable way to earn extra spending money or grow savings accounts.
According to a report on cbs.com “The sharing economy has grown quite a bit over the years, and now there are many more convenient options that allow people to partake in these jobs whenever they have spare time, day or night."
When done right social retail sharing works. My experience is one of incredible personal growth; living outside my comfort zone has been terrifying, frustrating…and immensely rewarding. If you’ve been thinking about a side gig I encourage you to take the leap and join the half of our nation that's already said yes, after doing your research, of course! It can be a fulfilling, fun and social endeavor and it will definitely be hard work that will take you outside your comfort zone. But the payoffs in life, the good things, don't happen on the inside, do they?
What was your biggest takeaway from working in direct sales?
Abby Messner is an author, free-lance writer, and an Ambassador with EVER Skincare/S&D Family of Brands in Cincinnati, Ohio.