Thought Leadership

A New Day: Direct Selling in the New Economy (Part Two)

TL;DRHyperwallet’s DSO editor looks at two proven factors that can help direct selling companies find success in the new economy: usability and disruption.

I heard an interesting term at the Direct Selling Association’s Sales & Marketing conference last month. During the marquee session, The Rise of the Gig Economy, Rodan + Fields’ (now former) President and CEO Lori Bush was discussing the impact of popular on-demand platforms on the direct selling industry, and she occasionally used the term social commerce synonymously with direct selling. Other people at the event were using the term, too—not a lot of people, mind you, but it was enough that I sat up and took notice.

See, you might shrug it off as just a new way that people are talking about this business, but I think that it’s indicative of what’s happening in the direct selling industry right now. Social commerce doesn’t sound like a business model that’s been around a long time. It sounds modern. It sounds savvy. It sounds relevant.

Whether social commerce catches on—or not—isn’t really the point. I took notice because it became clear to me that direct sellers are recognizing the disruptive changes taking place around them. They’re witnessing the emergence of a new economy and they’re making an effort to adapt.

Direct sellers are recognizing the disruptive changes taking place around them. Click To Tweet

Tracing Success in the New Economy

In A New Day: Direct Selling in the New Economy (Part One), I talked about the rise of the new economy and explained how on-demand companies like Uber are inadvertently pushing the direct selling industry into mainstream social consciousness. I pointed out that, although direct selling is larger and more profitable than it’s ever been, the new economy represents an opportunity for the industry to accelerate its growth to a staggering pace.

With direct selling companies looking forward onto a new year, I think it would worthwhile for us to take a moment to consider the factors that have contributed to the rapid emergence of on-demand, gig, sharing, collaborative, and marketplace platforms. The big one is technology, obviously. Recent advances have given us a world where everyone is connected at all times; communication is cheap and information is readily accessible. On-demand and marketplace companies have (brilliantly) taken advantage of this to subvert existing transactional models and seamlessly connect sellers (and renters, and contractors, etc.) directly with buyers. Like the modern technology that enabled them, these companies have made it easier for people to get the things that they want.

As technology has made our lives easier, though, our demand for usability has similarly increased. The digital revolution has amplified our collective expectation for speed, flexibility, and convenience in all things. On-demand platforms are fulfilling that appetite, both for their end-users and the independent contractors that power them.

Making Your Opportunity Accessible

This is the same influencing force that we’re seeing in direct selling today. Ease of use has become paramount to the distributor experience, and it will only become more important in the future. Your independent sales representatives don’t want to go home to place an order on their computer; they want to do it right from their smartphones. They don’t want to wait for a paper commission check in the mail; they want to manage their earnings online and get paid in whichever way is most convenient to them. Put aside all of direct selling’s other differentiators—the community, the philanthropy—and consider: in this new, technologically-charged economy, why would someone invest themselves in your opportunity if you’re not doing your part to make it easy for them? The vast majority of the time, they won’t.

Ease of use has become paramount to the distributor experience. #directselling Click To Tweet

Success in the new economy often hinges on usability. This is a facet of independent work where direct sellers can learn a thing or two from on-demand companies. Gig platforms offer integrated ecosystems of digital tools designed to make their earning opportunities more accessible and easier to perform. If direct selling companies hope to capitalize on the surging number of people immigrating to the new economy, they’ll need to become more competitive in usability. It’ll take more than that, though: they’ll need to become disruptive.

Getting Disruptive in Direct Selling

Lori Bush announced in mid-December that she’d be stepping down as CEO of Rodan + Fields. Just a few weeks before that, she did an interview with Smart Business to talk about some of the strategies she employed to help build Rodan + Fields into the global direct selling leader that it is today. Naturally, Bush highlighted Rodan + Fields’ digital strategy, explaining how the company embraced digital tools early as a way to improve the sales experience for both distributors and customers.

Perhaps more interesting than her discussion on digital is Bush’s draw to the idea of disruption—how Rodan + Fields came into direct selling with a different perspective that helped them become direct selling innovators. “The challenge [was that] those who joined us in the early days had absolutely no direct selling experience,” Bush recalled during her interview. “In one way, it was a very good thing because we wanted to do something different and disruptive in our approach… We started thinking about things a little bit differently.” Bush emphasizes that, without this outside perspective, Rodan + Fields may not have found the success that it has today.

The Draw of Disruption

Disruption is one of the reasons that companies like Uber get so much attention—but disruption means more to on-demand platforms than just another article on VentureBeat or TechCrunch. These companies are shaking up well-established industries in ways that few people could have anticipated, and they’re reaping the rewards. Rather than being a byproduct of these companies’ success, disruption is fueling it.

Because direct selling has such a long history, one might assume that there’s little room left for innovation. I think that Lori Bush’s interview debunks that notion. Rodan + Fields’ history shows that there are always opportunities to be disruptive—even (or, perhaps, especially) in an industry that’s more than a century old.

There are always opportunities to be disruptive—even in an industry that's more than a century old. Click To Tweet

The Road Ahead

Direct selling made major strides over the past twelve months, and there’s still plenty to be excited about in the coming year. Part of what makes this industry so strong is its adaptability, and as we prepare for 2016, we’ll continue to find ways to make this business better for everyone involved. There will be challenges, no doubt, but there will also be opportunities, and it’s clear that direct sellers will make the most of them.

Welcome to 2016, and welcome to the new economy. It’s a new day.

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