In his December 21, 2021, article, Scaling A Startup: Look Toward Operational Automation, Forbes Technology council member and reporter Aaron Vick writes, “When first building a business, founders reach for tools that will help them achieve specific tasks—frequently by cobbling together a Rube Goldberg collection of off-the-shelf software and homegrown solutions without much thought on the larger picture. The focus in this phase of startup growth is on acquiring customers and growing revenue, not how to make the business operations function more efficiently at scale.”
Vick goes on to identify four stages of digital transformation—identifying and optimizing your process, automating your process, using data from your automation to improve your process, and monetizing your process—that can lead a company of any size to a data-driven, automated workplace that elevates every person at the company and streamlines operations.
We’re in an age of automation. Everyone wants to automate as much as they possibly can, and while that creates great efficiencies as we prepare for the future, people are desperate for authentic connection. Direct Selling gives us the platform to build relationships in a way that can directly change lives. We can and should work together, collectively, to share the message to overcome challenges faced by the industry. Being candid with who we are and what we do—cultivating a culture focused on our mission—will help ground us and bring us back to the fundamentals of why we started in direct selling in the first place.
The term changing lives is repeatedly heard in our industry. Often, companies refer to their products and businesses as doing just that, and we have the stories to share as evidence. The truth is that what we do matters. Our products matter. Our business opportunities matter. Our business model matters because it has the ability to change lives. However, those lives need to be ready and willing to be changed. Journalist Walter Lippmann stated, “You cannot endow even the best machine with initiative.” Simply put, we as companies can create amazing products, opportunities, systems, and plans, but the people must do the work.
This is the work of relationship building, connecting to other humans in a very . . . human way. Some of the most exciting aspects of direct selling include finding new and innovative ways to bring people together, celebrating the success of our field sales force, and continuing to evolve the way people experience our products. As much as we can automate things, we can’t automate connection. This is the key driving piece that differentiates direct selling from traditional selling. Direct. Selling. We can build a relationship, foster trust, gain insight on the needs of the consumer, and tailor our offerings directly to those needs. The connections that we make encourage lifelong customers and serve as the path to sharing our business opportunity with them. Although sometimes we would prefer that this could happen quickly and simply with just a well-written script or automated system, as author Shep Hyken states, “You can’t automate a relationship.” Connection is a people business and in direct selling, we are in the business of working together.
Working together in collaboration is the basis for success in direct selling. Consultants must work together with their customers to help them, while our sales leaders must work with and mentor their teams to reach goals and build their businesses. Working together should not just be relegated to each of our businesses from the top down; it should also include a collective strategy and focus from all of us within the industry. The direct selling industry has been around for more than a century, with many established companies willingly sharing their lessons learned. Conversely, those who have a business rooted in direct sales can take a few pointers from newer companies emerging on the scene. This collective group thinking will continue to propel us forward into new territories, new experiences, and new ideas. All the new is necessary to take us to the next. The next in direct selling is not necessarily a completely new model or structure but instead a new system or strategy. The next new in direct selling means working collectively to put our best foot forward consistently to ensure that the perception of direct selling matches its reality—a reality that is one of opportunity, ethics, excitement, and progress. We become stronger together because direct sellers have a collective voice even when we are competitors in the marketplace.
As an industry, we have an obligation to be candid with our audience. Unless and until we embrace that obligation as an opportunity, we will continue to miss an amazing chance to educate our current and potential customers about our benefits. Regardless of the product your company offers, you have an obligation to the customer to distinguish and define what sets you apart from others. This responsibility allows you to inform the customer about your product and your business. What is your culture? What benefits do customers receive from your products and your company? How do they learn more about you? (The answer here should be to connect with a consultant or rep from your company.)
We can figure out whatever challenges are ahead of us if our people and the mission stay at the center of everything we do. Instead of trying to handle challenges through an automated process, it is time to reassess through alignment.
Do you have a clear vision with date-specific goals that support your mission?
Do you have a strategy that can be backed by tactical execution?
How do you build communication to align with momentum?
How can you use focus and perseverance to overcome missed opportunities and transform them into the greater picture for success?
In the end, what we cultivate is what will grow. Are we spending our time focused on automating systems and creating new strategies that will help grow the bottom line? Or are we investing in tools and training that will help us cultivate our mission, the core of what we believe and have spent years (or maybe even just days or months) to build? I would recommend that we do both. One without the other becomes either too robotic or too bogged down in the minutiae. We must build and cultivate our business each and every day. When things are good and it is fun, and when things are not so good and it is a challenge. Once things have been cultivated, they can grow. Isn’t that what we are all working toward?
As direct sellers, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to create the culture we want to continue promoting for years to come. We can only do that with our eyes on our mission, allowing this foundation to guide all our steps into the future. Whether you are just launching your business or have been in this industry for thirty or forty years, you’ll realize that trends will come and go, and sales strategies will be packaged in various forms, but the mission of your company should hold steady throughout it all. It is the anchor that keeps us grounded. It is the true north in our compass. It is the heart of who we are as direct sellers. We can’t afford to lose our heart—it is what gives life to everything we do.