As you look at the many aspects of marketing models and how they come to life across various industries, it is especially intriguing how marketing operates within the direct selling business model. The relationship between a corporate marketing team and independent consultants (or business owners) blurs previously distinct marketing methodologies—B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-consumer)—into one interconnected, dynamic experience.
The specifics of marketing within direct selling have morphed considerably over the last decade, driven in part by the rise of the digital age, but the end-consumer experience remains foundational to the whole existence of the product, the brand, and the business model. And the customer must continue to be at the core if the business model is to thrive moving forward.
Conventional B2B vs. B2C vs. B2B2C Marketing
You could make the argument that there is still a customer in both B2B and B2C marketing. But those customers tend to have different mindsets.
Traditionally, B2B marketing focuses on more logical, process-driven purchasing decisions where relationships are key and detailed messaging related to matter-of-fact business decisions is important. Whitepapers and webinars abound. B2C marketing focuses more on emotions-driven purchasing where brand awareness is critical and the simplicity of hyper-relevant messaging aids in moving customers through a purchase funnel. Catchy storytelling often plays a bigger role when the relationship between the brand and the consumer is comparatively minimal to that of a B2B marketing relationship.
It is also important to understand traditional B2B2C (business-to-business-to-consumer) marketing, which focuses on selling through distributors to the end-consumer. In this case, distributors don’t buy anything they don’t expect to be purchased by an end-consumer. As a result, it is critical that marketing focuses on creating demand in the marketplace for traditional distributors to even want to carry a product.
Weaving a Unique Marketing Tapestry
One of the most interesting marketing challenges is to find ways to take learnings and best practices from past experiences and weave together a unique tapestry of strategies to drive business goals in a direct selling business model. This helps to drive the global corporation forward and support small business owners in achieving their goals, however big or small they may be.
The direct selling business model mashes these concepts together, forcing corporate marketing teams to take an agency-like approach as they build integrated marketing strategies and go-to-market plans that typically include three key elements:
1) B2B tactics to support the field in the launch of a product or program, simultaneously creating excitement and instilling confidence through training;
2) B2C tactics connecting top-of-funnel brand awareness to reach new audiences with bottom-of-funnel tactics to increase conversions through relevant and triggered touchpoints; and
3) B2B2C tactics where corporate marketing teams look to market to customers on behalf of independent consultants and create tools and assets for consultants to use directly with their customers.
To throw a curveball into the mix, corporate marketing teams must also be aware of marketing strategies and tactics that consultants develop independently to reach their own customers or new audiences and understand how those are juxtaposed with corporate marketing tactics.
This unique mix of marketing strategies is nothing new for direct selling. However, the digital age has certainly amplified complexities and created new, blurry lines of responsibility between corporate marketing teams and independent consultants. Ease of access to digital marketing and communication channels has increased the need for distinct visibility and coordination between corporate and consultant marketing efforts to ensure a seamless customer experience.
A foundation of easily accessible, business-focused information, paired with a steady stream of marketing best practices, creates an amplification of success across your salesforce to your shared customers."
B2B Marketing Dynamic in Direct Selling
Independent consultants (or distributors) should be a direct selling company’s strongest asset. As a salesforce, it is imperative that they are excited about the direction of the business just as a customer might feel an emotional connection with a brand. It is equally important that they are fully educated about the business model and the products to be successful. This ensures they best represent the product and the opportunity—and your brand.
For example, at Scentsy, one of the corporate marketing initiatives is to support engaged consultants in becoming better marketers. This comes not only by consistently setting a high standard through B2C marketing efforts but also preparing consultants with information ahead of broad market launches, equipping them with compelling marketing tools, and leveraging in-house subject matter experts within the corporate marketing team to share best practices about social selling and influencer marketing tactics through marketing training.
A foundation of easily accessible, business-focused information, paired with a steady stream of marketing best practices, creates an amplification of success across your salesforce to your shared customers. This is one of the most significant ways to get a brand message out. However, with hundreds of thousands of independent consultants comes a certain level of variance and unpredictability in how that brand message lands with customers. That is where a layer of B2C marketing touchpoints can ensure a steady end-customer experience with a brand.
Direct Selling Factors in B2C Marketing
A corporate marketing team should focus its efforts on things that consultants can’t do themselves and core elements to the business. This helps to ensure that what the corporate marketing team does is as coordinated with and complementary to consultant marketing efforts as possible.
Corporate-led efforts consist of top-of-funnel tactics like generating broad-scale press and leveraging paid advertising and partnerships to target new audiences and increase brand awareness. If the corporate marketing team can successfully influence positive brand recognition at scale, it primes the pump and sparks consumer interest. That makes it easier for conversations between consultants and new customers to take place, essentially filling an already-established need.
These tactics also include customer touchpoints lower in the purchase funnel like triggered and transactional emails based on customer behavior or data points that consultants wouldn’t have access to such as abandoned cart emails. Providing a strong collection of relevant, branded content at the ready to serve customers’ needs as they continue to self-educate through online research is critical in fulfilling interest and intrigue sparked higher up in the funnel.
A Unique Blend of B2B2C
Within a direct selling business model there are inevitably customer touchpoints that the company manages on behalf of the consultant. It powers basic elements of an independent consultant’s business, such as online merchandising of an e-commerce site or a monthly customer newsletter. But it is important to respect what the consultant can do better than your corporate marketing team. You must provide consultants with customizable elements to add a unique level of personalization, and all these elements should drive customers back to the consultant’s personal experience to achieve deeper customer loyalty and consistent customer service over time.
Other corporate-driven tactics like customizable printed mailers or mobile apps with branded stickers that allow consultants to add their personal touch to their marketing are key elements to consider in the marketing mix.
Evolving Customer Centricity in Direct Selling
The power of the direct selling model and what makes it so unique is often the close, personal relationship that consultants form (or already have) with their customers, providing a connection and personalization at a level at which the Amazons of the world just can’t compete. That makes it imperative to protect that consultant-to-customer relationship. It is also critical that corporate marketing teams realize that with a large, diverse salesforce, there will inevitably be variance in those consultant-curated touchpoints. More so, there are things that a global brand can do (or may do better and more efficient) than an independent consultant.
It is for those reasons that having B2C and B2B2C customer-centric touchpoints in place—either as a starting point for consultant personalization or as a safety net to catch a customer who may fall through the cracks—ensures that each customer has a positive brand experience at a minimum and, ideally, an awesome brand experience.
In today’s increasingly complex world, with so many interconnected touchpoints between the brand, distributors, and customers, paired with the ease of marketing through digital channels, it is critical to the customer-centric experience that the corporate team and the consultant communicate early and lean into what each does best to coordinate the ultimate customer experience.
Here are questions you can ask as you look at the customer centricity of your marketing:
What is your brand and corporate office uniquely positioned to do better than competing brands? Better than Amazon? Better than Walmart?
What are your independent consultants uniquely positioned to do better than your corporate office?
What customer touchpoints are key to the elemental part of your business, and how can you craft a safety net to ensure consistency for your end-consumer?