In a year marked by crisis and uncertainty, businesses around the world are at crossroads. The continuing impact of Covid-19 is evident across a number of industries. The direct selling industry, which has a reputation for being largely recession-proof was not entirely spared. This is particularly as it is traditionally a high-touch business model. The very core of direct selling is the building of value through individualised relationships. This was affected by directives in connection with public health and safety. Given lockdowns and movement restrictions imposed in most countries and social distancing becoming the new norm, in-person meetings, events, and training programmes — which are the lifeblood of direct selling businesses — came to a grinding halt.
Despite the unprecedented nature of challenges, the direct selling industry again proved its swift adaptiveness and impressive ability to thrive in difficult conditions. Direct selling with its historically distributed workforce has proven to be incredibly robust during the pandemic as companies have pivoted to online solutions to support their community of distributors and help them bolster their income.
The US Direct Selling Association conducted a survey of its members to assess the impact of Covid-19 on their business. The findings indicate a generally optimistic outlook, with more than 60% of respondents claiming a positive impact on their companies. This trend will likely persist this year, thanks to the various changes that industry stakeholders have implemented to ensure long-term sustainability. Observing and learning from those who have overcome these challenges will serve as a great primer for direct selling in a (hopefully) soon-to-be pandemic-free future. Malou Caluza, Chief Executive Officer of QNET, shares her insights into the three valuable lessons that she has learnt from last year’s challenges.
- There is no turning away from digitisation
Video calls, contactless payments, e-learning, and online shopping are now a part of our daily lives. There is no turning back from this. The changes that accelerated during this time have set the foundation for a fully digital society. Direct selling businesses have always had a combination of online and offline support systems for their networks but in this past year going 100% online was the only option. Those who made the shift and channeled the changes in a positive way to educate their distributors and provided them with tools and support to help them build their business online, thrived!
When we had to transform our annual distributor convention into a fully virtual event, we approached it with some trepidation. An event that is normally spread over five days at a physical venue and involves around 15,000 participants had to now go online and provide people the same immersive experience they were used to. The response took us by surprise. Over 200,000 participants logged into a 3-day virtual event from around 50 countries. By going virtual, for the first time ever, we managed to penetrate a much broader and a far more diverse group of people than ever before in our 22-year history!
It is not just events and trainings that have benefited from the online approach bringing together previously diversely connected and unconnected groups. The digital transformation of onboarding programmes, business support materials, and an increase in the availability of on-demand digital content to enable business building, is also a very cost effective approach for companies to deliver support and systems to their networks.
Companies that have invested in improving and enhancing online customer experience for their distributors through their e-commerce platform and virtual dashboard will reap the rewards in the long run.
- Focus on your leaders
People are at the heart of any direct selling business. The lasting relationships direct selling companies build with their leading distributors shapes their growth and evolution. It is during times of crisis, people are looking to their leaders for guidance, support and hope. And those top leaders are looking to the company. The fortunes of many direct selling companies relied heavily on how their top distributors felt about the response of their company to the pandemic.
While building a relationship is an ongoing process, it is during times of crisis that people need to hear from you on a regular basis. Communicate, communicate, communicate. There is no substitute to this. And stay on-message.
At the onset of the pandemic, things were changing dramatically each day. The world was in shock and everyone was looking for information. Uncertainty fuels anxiety. We realised early on that we needed our leaders to be on the same page as us and change as we changed. We needed them to have faith that we were adequately equipped to respond to this crisis. This past year, my team and I have done more video meetings and conference calls than ever with our global leadership of distributors and the engagement and level of collaboration has never been higher. They have the pulse of the network on the ground and that is invaluable for any company that is making rapid changes in these troubled times.
- Learn to move on from mistakes
The swift and massive spread of Covid-19 is perhaps one of hardest-hitting crises the entire modern world has experienced in the last 100 years. No amount of crisis preparedness had armed any company to face the changes that hit home relentlessly over the first few months.
Considering the situation, mistakes were inevitable – everyone was trying to wade through unfamiliar waters. For many, there was no contingency plan for such an event. Terms like pivot, adapt, and reimagine are the new buzzwords which essentially mean trying new things. As with any trials, there are bound to be errors. The trick is to not let these mistakes get to you.
The best course of action is to understand the cause and prevent it from happening again. The lesson here is to learn from mistakes and setbacks quickly and move on, because even in the midst of a pandemic, the world does not wait for you to recover.
The Way Forward
This pandemic has caused a dramatic rise in the number of gig workers and micro-entrepreneurs. Everywhere, there are signs of a revolution in the way people and companies generate revenue. Micro-entrepreneurship has become a much more common theme in the last few months as people are either losing jobs or are trapped in their homes and are looking to find new ways of working.
It’s hard to imagine a year of greater change, or opportunity, for direct sellers, than 2020. And this trend will continue into 2021. As long as direct selling companies have adapted to the change and learned valuable lessons from the past year, there has never been a better time for everyone than now.
About the author
Malou T. Caluza is the CEO of QNET, a prominent e-commerce based Direct Selling company with a global footprint. She has been with QNET for over 20 years. Having started her career in customer service, she went on to build an award winning global customer care centre for QNET before expanding into business development, operations, marketing and network success.
Malou has been awarded Best Executive in both Asia Pacific and Global categories in the Top Ranking Performers Awards of Contact Centre World held in Singapore and in the United States respectively. She was also awarded the CRM Director of the Year by Asia Pacific Customer Service Consortium in Hong Kong and is presently a CRE Community Leader, Honourable Speaker and Panelist in a number of Customer Service Quality Standard events arranged by Asia Pacific Customer Service Consortium in Hong Kong and Malaysia.
Malou has the distinction of being the first female CEO of QNET and has been featured in “Asia’s 15 Over 50” – a publication that recognises most successful women in Asia.