Guiding the New Micro-Entrepreneur: The Importance of Engaging and Empowering Distributors in the Direct Selling Industry

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the ways in which we live and work. Along with shifting worker desires and expectations, the pandemic has also spurred a rise in entrepreneurship – whether laid off from their job, looking to earn additional income or wanting to embrace a more flexible lifestyle, many people are venturing out on their own, determined to create their own success. Enter, the rise of direct selling and the micro-entrepreneur. 

According to research from the Peterson Institute for International Economics, business startups in the U.S. have grown from 3.5 million in 2019 to 4.4 million in 2020, a 24% increase. During the pandemic, entrepreneurship has increased in the U.S, more than in any other advanced economy. 

Direct selling is reaching all-time highs

For those keen on pursuing entrepreneurial opportunities, direct selling stands as an enticing option. The U.S. Direct Selling Association (DSA)’s 2020 Consumer Attitudes & Entrepreneurship Study highlighted 79% of favourability towards this channel, compared to 81% favourability towards gig work. Many customers of this channel are eager to support small businesses, also enjoying the personalized service that is offered. 

And it’s a booming one too – the Association’s Direct Selling Growth and Outlook Survey showed considerable growth in retail sales, direct sellers and customers of this channel, with 7.7 million direct sellers in 2020 – a 13.2% increase from 2019. Retail sales are higher – with the channel generating $40.1 billion that same year, a 13.9% growth from 2019. While traditional brick-and-mortar retail has been largely shut down during the pandemic, it is now undergoing a revolution and embracing digital transformation. Direct selling companies, meanwhile, had embraced this transformation years before. 

In this business model, distributors operate as independent contractors, selling products and services outside of a fixed retail establishment. Providing a personalized buying experience for their customers, it is a relationships-centred business, and one that relies heavily on networking and human-to-human interaction.  

Compared to other entrepreneurial ventures such as driver or franchise owner, there are minimal costs in terms of set-up – all that a distributor needs to get started is a start-up kit. 

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The changing nature of direct selling highlights the need for innovation and personalization

Like most industries today, the direct selling industry has been forced to pivot amidst a time of disruption – while it has traditionally been a high-touch model, this past year has called for it to also adopt a high-tech approach. To remain competitive today, having a website is not enough. 

To serve a burgeoning group of customers and distributors in this evolving and complex landscape, and one that is increasingly reliant on remote management and communication, business leaders will need to concentrate on how they can tailor their products and tools to serve the new micro-entrepreneur. How can distributors be provided with effective tools and digital solutions to help them grow their business, ensure they remain engaged and connected to the company values and reach their personal goals?  

There is a need for a different concept as to how organizations support and manage their distributed workforces. To align with the customer-centric nature of direct selling, it becomes critical for leaders to take an equally personalized approach to empowering their workforce – one with personalized training and personalized incentives and recognition – to help new entrepreneurs change their behaviors.

Addressing the challenge of onboarding a distributed workforce 

Onboarding a distributed workforce poses a challenge, and a seamless onboarding process is essential in the work-from-home age. Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Report found that only 12% of employees strongly agree that their organization does well in its onboarding new employees. 

No two distributors are alike, as all have varying personal and business goals and aspirations. Each brings a distinct perspective, including how they receive communications and how they consume information, and their experience should be adapted accordingly. Do they prefer infographics or podcasts? Do they favour mobile apps over email? Do they learn better in the morning or in the evening?

In a recent Forbes opinion piece, Rallyware’s George Elfond pointed to the importance of engaging those working in the gig economy, as well as direct salespeople and micro-entrepreneurs at all points of their daily routines, and in a highly personalized manner. This is where Performance Enablement comes into play. 

Taking a data-driven approach, Rallyware’s Performance Enablement Platform works alongside the individual to uncover such goals and deliver the relevant training, helping them advance toward their goals. The platform recognizes that, as they grow within an organization, their goals may simultaneously shift and adapt. This technology delivers personalized learning modules along with tasks designed to ensure that individuals are always aware of their next steps on their personalized paths to success. What do they need right now, depending where they are in their journey? 

Additionally, the software gleans more information about the individual each time they interact with the platform, thereby leading to improvement in individual productivity, as well as boosts in personal growth and organizational KPIs. 

An industry ripe with resources, distributors receive education, as well as business development resources and tools to grow their independent businesses, in addition to access to a worldwide network of fellow distributors. Therefore, providing the distributors themselves with ample tools and resources, in a simple and straightforward manner, is critical. When joining a company, new recruits may be overwhelmed with so much new information to learn, and little idea of where to begin. 

In an effort to remedy this and streamline the onboarding process, beauty brand and direct selling company New Avon worked to create a personalized experience for their distributors. This included automated personal goal setting when a distributor joins the company, and based on those goals, they are provided with personalized training as well as personalized incentives from day one. This approach focused on the distributor themselves and their interests – what appeals to them?

Rallyware also helped New Avon to create a Digital Library – offering all training materials and resources in one place for their distributed workforce. Using this library, new representatives can easily search or browse through the available resources and select what they’d like to learn, whether this may be information on a specific product or how to run a local marketing campaign.

Direct selling is a booming business, and in today’s digital-first world, is more relevant than ever. The numbers show: the demand is there – for both consumers and budding entrepreneurs. The opportunity is there. By harnessing the power of data and providing comprehensive tools and resources, leaders can enable distributors and micro-entrepreneurs to do their best work, and succeed in today’s world of work.  

Learn more about how Rallyware’s Performance Enablement Platform can help your remote and distributed workforce succeed with personalized training and onboarding programs to improve engagement and performance.