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Crashing The Direct Sales Chasm: Integrating PR Across The Enterprise

08/02/2012

Bobbie wrote the following article for Butler Advisors, which appears on their website:

In Crossing the Chasm, author Geoffrey Moore argued that direct sales at its best creates demand and fuels mainstream market adoption. While he was specifically referring to technology adoption, the two entities have converged with the advent of social media. Moore’s broad hypothesis still holds – direct selling creates demand – and leveraging new communication technologies accelerates it. How ironic is it then that direct sales companies are so slow to adopt technology shifts. What’s the disconnect?

Historically, direct sales companies have left public relations efforts to their entrepreneurial sales force.  It has been the distributors’ responsibility to promote their business. Yet, in today’s hyper-connected world, it is the enterprise that establishes reputation and communicates culture and milestones that attract distributors and customers.  It is a symbiotic relationship established and maintained by the enterprise.

MLM companies that are growing today sell more than products – they sell lifestyle, community, opportunity. These companies use technology as the tool to effectively communicate their value proposition through public words and images. Consistent messaging and actions/behaviors that positively reflect the enterprise are the primary drivers of momentum. Simply, it’s public relations, and if a company doesn’t tell its story, then others will.

Yet the job of public relations – defined as a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics – is often considered tactical and narrow; broken into functions that lie in various departments with no overarching ownership, creating the silos that offer limited results at the enterprise level. This is a strategic and common misstep as accelerated information available online makes reputation management critical and much harder to maintain.

Research of the Global Fortune 100 by Burston-Marsteller and Visible Technologies shows that social media tools are maturing; companies are online and engaged. For direct sales organizations, these tools are critical in providing direct corporate support for distributors and the transparency consumers demand.

Of the global companies researched, 74 percent had a presence on at least one platform in 2011, boasting 4-10 accounts per platform. The good news for direct sales enterprises is that each distributor represents a potential account and niche market – which ranges anywhere from approximately 20,000 to well over 1,000,000 communication channels per platform.

The road is paved for quick adoption. Based on emerging trends, there are four key elements for consideration:

1. Plan

Revisit the corporate PR/communications and crisis plan and fold in the social media strategy, activities and measurement ensuring that the strategy is based on business and marketing objectives. It is critical that the entire C-suite signs off on the strategy and general execution timeline.

2. Implement

Start with the fundamentals, leveraging all tools in a coordinated plan execution, tweaking as needed. Here are some hints:

Twitter is driving online conversation. There are 340 million tweets per day, and with a 140 character limit, there is less room for messaging error. Tweets regularly reference links back to company websites, video or press stories. This platform allows distributors to communicate credibility and opportunity quickly with corporate generated messages, press and information.

Facebook is a company’s second website. Nearly one in every seven humans on earth is an active Facebook user, and growing. Roughly 75% of global companies have a Facebook presence with over 150,000 likes per page. For direct sales firms, Facebook is the virtual equivalent of a face-to-face gathering that the enterprise can help host.  Having up-to-date news, information and an active dialog directly helps distributors build their business and the enterprise reputation.

YouTube is a must. It’s the second largest search engine and the third most visited website in the world. For an enterprise, it serves as a press platform, field classroom for distributors, and a brand experience for customers. Furthermore, YouTube content is regularly viewed on Facebook, shared via Twitter and via email.

3. Keep a pulse on emerging channels, regional trends, and adapt

Once social network fundamentals are in place, adapting to new, emerging platforms can be rapid. Pinterest, Google+ are quickly gaining in popularity in the U.S. For enterprises looking to geographically expand – Latin America continues to favor Twitter while Asia-Pacific users favor a micro-blog and social network mix.

4. Empower your distributors

Your distributors are business owners. Provide tools, information and education for success. Use corporate compliance parameters as guideposts that can work and be adapted as new technologies emerge. Social media and other communications tools should be a regular component of field training. Understand challenges and opportunities from a distributor perspective and incorporate that feedback into improving the enterprise.

While the ‘chasm’ is creating demand that drives adoption and general market sales, today that buzz is fueled through various communication channels led by technology tools. No longer can direct sales enterprises or entrepreneurs ignore their influence.

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