Thought Leadership

Forecasting a Digital Direct Selling Revolution

TL;DRIt’s hard to predict how emergent technologies might change the way we do things. Fortunately for direct selling, we don’t need to predict the future—it’s already here.

Early last year, Forbes ran an article that highlighted some of the worst technology predictions of all time. There were the absurd forecasts that you typically see in these sorts of lists: someone in 1955 suggesting that we’d soon have nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners; another in 1959 calling for a guided missile mail delivery system. (“We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.” Actual quote.) Other predictions—while still incorrect—were more grounded, anticipating that new, disruptive technologies would ultimately fail. For example, an engineer with the British postal service suggested in 1876 that the telephone would never find significant adoption in the United Kingdom. Similarly, a studio executive at 20th Century Fox commented in 1946 that television wasn’t a real threat to the movie industry because viewers would grow tired of “staring at a plywood box every night.”

It’s funny, with the knowledge that we have now, to look back on these predictions and see just how far off they were. As much as I’d love to respond to spam with guided mail-missiles, it’s insane that anyone could think it would ever happen. Likewise, it seems obvious in retrospect that something like television would change entertainment forever. A world where I can’t flop on my couch and crush a full season of House of Cards on a lazy Sunday? That’s not a world I want to live in.

Of course, it wasn’t so easy to predict these outcomes at the time. These emergent technologies were new, unproven, and often threatened to fundamentally reshape how these commentators were doing business. Sure, with the benefit of hindsight, you can say that their predictions were silly. In reality, it looks like a combination of uncertainty and wishful thinking.

Breaking the News

That’s the trouble with technology, isn’t it? Often, it’s difficult to recognize its impact until the damage is already done. Just look at the newspaper industry. In a now infamous Newseek article from 1995, author Clifford Stoll mocked the idea that digital content could ever replace the printed word. By the early 2000s, newspapers were scrambling to put together digital strategies. Too little, too late: the Internet had already snatched away a serious chunk of the readership and advertising revenue, and Stoll’s failed prediction was to be forever immortalized on the Web. Cruel irony.

Often, it’s difficult to recognize the impact of new technologies until the damage is already done. Click To Tweet

Let’s pretend that the newspaper industry had accurately predicted the change that was bearing down on them. Imagine that they had recognized the early warning signs of the trend to come and taken steps to prepare themselves. How different might things look for the battered industry today?

Technology in Direct Selling

I don’t have to tell you that a similarly disruptive change is taking place in direct selling right now. Over the past decade, rapid advances in communication technology have dramatically affected many aspects of the industry. Relationships are built and sustained over social media. The training and sales processes have been augmented by mobile apps. We’re in the midst of a digital revolution, and direct selling companies need to adjust.

We’re in the midst of a digital revolution, and #directselling companies need to adjust. Click To Tweet

Some are already doing it. They’re equipping their sales force with mobile tools and moving their recruitment efforts online. They’re integrating with technologically-adept partners and expanding their capabilities. Other companies, though, have chosen to double down on their existing model. Like my dear, sweet Mema, whose iPad has laid dormant since it was gifted to her four years ago, these businesses are reluctant to change the way they do things. They didn’t need modern technology to become what they are today; why do they need it now?

Good question. The reality is that direct selling has found itself in a unique position—one that the newspaper industry would have killed to be in back in 2000. For starters, we don’t need to predict the change that’s headed our way. It’s already here. We can see it all around us—in digital marketing and ecommerce and cloud computing—and there’s no reason to believe that any of this is just a fad. More importantly, this shift hasn’t done any major damage yet. There’s still time for direct selling to adapt to the technological developments taking place around us.

That’s great news. Trouble is, the new economy has quickly given rise to a host of marketplace and on-demand platforms that, like direct selling, offer individuals an opportunity at professional flexibility and control. They’ve incorporated technology right from the get-go, making it easy for their workforce to market their services and earn a living independently. These companies will be competing for the same pool of recruits, and direct selling will have to pull out all the stops to remain attractive. That means adopting new technology.

Harnessing the Digital Revolution

There’s a silver lining in all of this: if we approach them in the right way, these disruptive technologies could actually be great for the direct selling industry. Think about it. How much more effective would your distributors be if they could set goals for their downline and check the status of orders in real-time on their smartphones? How much further would your marketing efforts go if you could use data insights to tailor messages to certain audiences? What would it do for your retention if you could give distributors total control of their commission payments, down to choosing their preferred payout method and tracking payment delivery? This isn’t the future; these are things you could be doing right now.

Like #directselling, on-demand platforms offer flexible earning opportunities. Click To Tweet

At Hyperwallet, we believe that these digital tools offer an opportunity for direct selling companies to improve how they do business. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be exploring the major changes in the direct selling industry and discussing how companies might incorporate digital tools to make themselves more successful. In the meantime, you can download our comprehensive guide to the changes direct sellers are facing today: Harnessing the Digital Revolution: 9 Questions for Direct Selling Companies in the New Economy.

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