Ten years ago, Meredith Berkich, Chief Growth Officer at Jenkon, attended a DSA event that made a massive impact on her. The speaker gave a presentation on technology and said, “The reality is that direct selling companies need to be technology companies first if they intend to survive and thrive.” This was a significant “light bulb” moment for Meredith, and the quote has stuck with her to this day. In this episode of the Direct Sales Masterclass, Meredith and I discuss how technology decisions can either hinder your company’s vision or drive your successful momentum.
Investing in the Right Technology
When the pandemic hit, I had two separate conversations with corporate executives in very different positions. The first talked about how much a struggle the transition to online meetings and digital tools had been for his company. He mentioned that they had been forced to advance technologically 15 years in five weeks. It felt overwhelming. On the flip side, I had another conversation with a client who had committed to investing in technology and providing the right digital tools to the field. As a result, their field quickly transitioned from a home-based business to a phone-based business without any major hiccups.
It does come down to a decision to ensure that not only do you survive but that you thrive. Recently Meredith read a Ralph Lauren press release that said the company’s number one focus is the metaverse. Historically direct sales have owned the business aspect of creating and fostering relationships with people through a network and building a successful business based on this solid foundation. Retail companies have now made the same commitment. They are coming into our space to interact and have conversations with people. If companies don’t learn that and realize that they will have to compete with technology and create a relationship-based buying experience through technology, they will lose.
“We can’t rely on the living room anymore; everything is now on the phone.”
– Meredith Berkich
Meredith recently purchased a product for her husband from a Utah-based direct sales company. Unfortunately, it took three weeks for the product to arrive at her house. Conversely, one evening I bought a product recommended by a friend on Amazon, and it was delivered the following day by 8:00 am. The technology and customer experience could not have been more different.
Companies investing in the right technologies and working with the right partners are finding success and taking the business to the next level. In comparison, other companies who aren’t maximizing technology to enhance the customer experience see obstacles and hindrances preventing their success.
Rolling out New Technology Through Beta Groups
What is the best approach to take when rolling out new technology to your field? The process requires much more than just “ready, aim, fire….” Which often turns into “fire, ready, aim.” In her experience as a corporate executive, Meredith found a simple way to involve the field and effectively roll out technology initiatives. It included a six-step process.
- Get Early Buy-In. Involve the field in an advisory role. This should be a balanced group of builders in the trenches and leaders. This group will become your champions of the project.
- Communicate the Why. Explain to the group why behind the project. Helping them understand the logic will help ensure buy-in.
- Explain the What. Let them know what is going to change. Be sure to provide a win for anything they view as a loss. Give them “something” in exchange.
- Show them How. Help them understand how it will work and its benefit on their business.
- Tell them When. Build a timetable around the initiative. Let them know the goals and the benchmarks that will be hit during the process.
- Demonstrate It. After launch, show them how it works and help the group focus on successes. Then, educate, train, and support. This may go on for months.
As can be the case with technology (and any business endeavor), things don’t always go as smoothly as planned. Sometimes they take a little longer than expected, or expectations need to be adjusted on the outcome. Communicating that appropriately and effectively in the field can help you be successful in this part of the change management process. In addition, knowing when to pivot or even step back is key to your success.
Communicating in the right way with your field—and your advisory leaders—is a base principle that will help you as you set out to create new tools and new ways of doing business for your field. The power of connection through communication can be a powerful tool for your company.
All Things that Can Be Connected Will Be
One of the critical components of direct sales has always been the power of connection. Building on relationships has been the core to creating successful networks. This is done by connecting people in a historically done belly-to-belly and kneecap-to-kneecap. This is now most effectively done through technology connections. Utilizing an app, practical back-office tools, live meeting platforms, and more has changed how we connect with people.
Mary Kay Ash famously said: “Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says ‘Make Me Feel Important.’ Not only will you succeed in business, but you will also succeed in life.” This is the power of connection. People want to feel special and know what’s in it for them. For years direct sales have offered the opportunity to do that. But it is often overlooked. A recent study by the DSEF showed that the public’s number one complaint about direct sales is that the individual distributors tend to be overly pushy. Finding a way to overcome this obstacle and create authentic connections can be challenging via technology. But finding unique ways to engage the audience and make them feel valued is the challenge our industry can overcome.
Technology is driving the success of growing companies in our industry. However, the simple understanding that this digital era depends on connecting people and that it can most effectively be done via technology is critical to your success.
“You never want your vision to be hindered by your technology decisions.”
– Meredith Berkich
The majority of direct sales companies commit to investing in technology. And that investment is paying off. Two things are critically important: Having the right talent in-house to manage your technology initiatives and partnering with the right companies innovating and leading where you want to go. Making this commitment to innovation can help enhance the experience for your business builders and customers creating successful pathways for both sides. Managing this effectively can help you bypass the challenges and drive your momentum.