According to direct selling company QNET, the advent of Internet technology has changed everything—including the field of direct selling. Now, more than ever, independent distributors can call upon Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks to help expand their reach and their consumer engagement. Meanwhile, direct selling companies—QNET among them—have innovated new mobile interfaces to make online commerce easier and more seamless.
“We believe that technology can serve to empower our distributors,” QNET Head of Marketing Trevor Kuna said. “That’s why we conceived QNET Mobile, an app that allows our distributors to conduct their business on the go, enroll prospects and make payments for products on their mobile devices.”
Pros and Cons of Digital Technology
Direct selling is a form of person-to-person marketing, prevalent across the world. Certainly, there are many direct selling companies that are taking advantage of new technologies—but that does not necessarily mean that these new technologies are without drawbacks or downsides.
A report from Direct Selling News made this clear: “For the direct selling industry, the access to information and the technology bringing it are providing both the best of times and the most challenging of times,” the article said. “While companies can more quickly and easily communicate with the global community, they can also find that the information glut allows customers to switch vendors more regularly than in the past; younger consumers, in particular, go where the information takes them.”
The article continued by describing modern technology as a kind of double-edged sword for direct sellers—and for that matter, business-to-consumer companies of all kinds. On the one hand, it has never been easier for companies to spread the word about their products and services, getting their message out to consumers by means of social media and search engines. At the same time, companies can become easily derailed by consumer complaints or negative reviews.
Promising Opportunities, Important New Tools
For companies like QNET, the best approach seems to be taking the good with the bad. Businesses cannot do anything to prevent themselves from receiving online complaints or vicious attacks, but they can seek to suppress those attacks—or at least to counterbalance them—with plenty of engaging, user-centered online marketing.
Moreover, matters of online messaging aside, there are plenty of new avenues for direct sellers to expand their reach and make their business models more efficient.
“Mobile e-commerce, in particular, will assume greater importance for direct sales,” Direct Selling News said. “Customers may become increasingly intolerant of brands that don’t have easy means of mobile commerce. Some companies are driving technologies that aim to replace a customer’s wallet with their mobile device. Mature brands may have even more pressure in the [foreseeable] future to accommodate mobile payments and smooth mobile shopping experiences.”
Positive Trends in Direct Selling
By most indicators, the mobile boom has been extremely positive for direct selling companies. A Crain’s article said that direct selling is growing more lucrative all the time; in the U.S., 2012 saw direct selling sales rising above $31.63 billion, up 6 percent from 2011. As more and more of these direct selling companies move into the digital sphere, meanwhile, they are growing increasingly alluring to venture capitalists, a sure sign that the industry is moving forward.
The Need to Adapt
While technology has ushered in many positive developments for the direct selling industry broadly, the actual sellers are only thriving if they are willing and able to adapt. Direct selling has always been driven by relationships, but the very concept of relationship building has been turned on its head by the advent of mobile technology and social media sites.
“For direct sellers, the evolving role of the sales representative must be considered,” Direct Selling News said. “There is not much value added by a salesperson who simply makes calls to provide product information. Positive new tools for direct sellers must be leveraged effectively by companies, and the sales force in particular.”
“This is really our vision with our new mobile platform,” the representative from QNET said. “We want to put power in the hands of our distributors to nurture relationships with their customers.”
The Future of Direct Selling
As technologies continue to evolve, however, the question remains: Where exactly is the direct selling industry headed? Direct selling has always thrived on the notion of condensing sales messages into portable and professional narratives. That new communication methods would turn this approach upside down is inevitable.
“Distributors are already looking for technology that can augment their historical dependency on physical media,” Direct Selling News said. “Salespeople and other road warriors across industries are turning to tablets such as the iPad to not only replace their laptops, but also to replace their order book, day planner and sample case (depending on their product category).”
“That’s what it’s all about: Adapting to trends, empowering sellers, and leveraging on data to market a relevant message to better serve the end customer,” QNET said.