I was recently asked to list out 10 factors that distributors could use to measure companies. After having represented countless companies and been on the front lines to observe both good and bad behaviors, I have a pretty good idea about the important factors. So here goes, in no particular order…
1) Experienced Leadership
In this industry, it takes more than an idea to be successful. It takes execution, and execution requires deep vertical knowledge. Vertical knowledge refers to a broad understanding of the nuances in this industry, only obtained through years of experience. Experienced leaders know how to avoid distraction, conserve resources, be encouraging yet firm with the field and, if necessary, know when and how to fight.
2) Compliance Culture
Looking compliant is easy. Building a CULTURE around compliance is hard. Building a culture requires doing more than paying lip service to compliance. It requires full buy-in at the corporate level to teach and enforce the important policies. It requires field leaders committed to responsible growth, and corporate leaders that avoid saying things like “the lawyers make us do this.” And finally, it requires constant investment.
3) Exceptional Product
The sales force needs to be armed with incredible product. Selling is an extremely hard sport. When the sales force has inadequate product, their jobs are made that much more difficult, which then has corrosive affects on the company when people resort to cheating to move sub-par product. Learn from Toys R Us: if similar products can be obtained elsewhere at comparable prices, bankruptcy is inevitable.
4) Path to Profitability
The intelligent companies obsess over ways to get their salespeople profitable FAST. When distributors are profitable, they’re less inclined to quit and less inclined to complain to regulators. Profitability is defined by earning more than you spend. Profitability can be enhanced through customer acquisition models like 3 and free programs, sample products, trainings on how to move inventory, etc. It can also be enhanced by avoiding taxing the distributors with overly expensive (and oftentimes ineffective) training materials.
5) Generous Consumer Safeguards
Consumer safeguards are policies a company can implement to minimize the possibility of consumer harm. Because a distributor’s success depends on his or her efforts along with market conditions, there’s no way to completely eliminate the chance of distributor losses. But…things can be done to minimize the sting if a distributor gets stuck with product they no longer want. The smart companies spend more money than required to build these safeguards. The easiest protection is offering a generous refund policy on unused or unsellable inventory. It’s considered a best-practice to offer a 12 month buyback period on resellable inventory. The refund needs to be clearly published and easy to understand, and customer support needs to make the experience of requesting a refund as painless as possible.
6) No Deals
I’ve written ad nauseum about the idea of offering special, confidential deals with “elite” networkers. Confidential deals occur when a company provides extra incentives to lure experienced networkers from another company. The incentives take many forms, but usually involve up-front money, preferred placement in the genealogy, enhanced earning potential in the pay plan, etc. If you look historically at the companies that have been aggressive with deals, there’s always a massive POP followed by a massive DROP. Who gets hurt? The average distributors that signed up under the pretenses of joining the “next hot thing.”
7) Physical Presence
This one is debatable. Based on my observations, companies tend to do better when they have a physical presence for the corporate team to work. The idea of a “cloud based” office sounds nice, but in my opinion, it’s a little cheap and leads to less production. I think it’s important for executives to provide a consistent environment for people to come together during normal office hours and focus intensely on their duties to the company. There’s value in people coming together daily in a physical environment, sparking ideas off of each other at random times. If there’s no physical location, the company, in my opinion, is typically unable to adapt and change quick enough to stay ahead of the competition.
These things require capital. I would say that the BIGGEST mistake startup entrepreneurs make when they start a network marketing company is the failure to appreciate the amount of capital required. They do the simple math, add up a few known expenses, and assume the company will be profitable within the first few months. Capital allows the founders to be patient and focus on longer term goals, which leads to healthier companies. Desperation for money has led countless entrepreneurs to make catastrophic mistakes. And be wary of companies listed on exchanges as penny stocks — I’ve seen very few network marketing companies navigate those waters successfully without defrauding investors.
Good companies find ways to intelligently leverage technology. Thanks to Amazon and Wal-Mart, we’re all spoiled. We want what we want, we want it NOW and we want it delivered for free. Smart network marketing companies are eliminating as many barriers as possible to make it easier for consumers to place and receive orders. They’re finding ways to make it easier for consumers to connect via mobile apps, tell stories via social media tools, provide best-in-class web experiences and leverage as much data as possible to stay ahead of consumer demand. The corporate team also needs to leverage technology to enhance workflows.
When you’re asking people to volunteer their time to sell a product or service, the experience needs to be fun. As adults, we all feel tremendous pressure in multiple areas of our lives. If a network marketing company starts to feel stale, unappreciative and a little corporate-y, consumers will invest their energies somewhere else. As Millennials hit the scene, it’s important to understand that they’re placing less emphasis on financial metrics. Companies need to always maintain a sense of humor and constantly show appreciation for their sales force. When a company starts leading with an iron fist and sends out warnings to fence in a sales force, it almost always backfires. People need to have fun with the brand and fun sharing the brand with others. If it’s painful, forget about it.
It’s not easy! When a company has most of these elements, they’re in pretty good shape. It’s easy for new companies to “look” good. It’s harder for them to actually “be” good. The factors above are designed to be easy, tell-tale signs (heuristics) to help distributors make good decisions out there.
What do you think? Did we leave anything out?