Note: I wrote this piece back in October 26, 2010 and when I lost my hosting service, I didn’t get around to repost it. Today, I couldn’t re-date it back to 2010 because the blogging system I’m using isn’t allowing me to do so. Anyway, please enjoy this long narrative as it was right after I posted it in 2010.
My former colleague, mentor and past country manager of Avon in the Philippines, Malu Dy Buncio, now Chief Business Development Strategist at Mansmith and Fielders, Inc., recently popped a image-poster announcing her two-day pubic seminar on the dynamics of direct selling. For those who are thinking of entering the wonderful world of direct selling, I urge you to spend a little cash and time for this two-day seminar. Malu will not only thrill you and drive you nuts about direct selling (oh, how I miss listening to her); she’ll make sure you walk your way out of the seminar with a real, no nonsense plan. For more information, please go to the Mansmith web page of “The Dynamics of Direct Selling” or click on the poster below.
Anyway, this announcement from Malu got me thinking of my glory days working for the number one direct selling company in the Philippines (do you have to guess?) where I discovered the finer lines of managing thousands of independent dealers, not to mention learning to remove pride and ego by singing and dancing in front of everyone during sales rallies and assemblies. I mean, when do you get the chance to sing “Rapper’s Delight” in front of 800 people at The Music Museum? LOL! Those days have gone and passed but Avon was the pinnacle of my experience in the art of managing a direct selling organization and I owe many subsequent successes I’ve had to the people I worked with in direct selling. The fact is many of the things I will mention in my story came from pronouncements of Malu during her long tenure in Avon, not to mention also being the precursor to Avon in the Philippines – Beautifont.
In the interest of my love for the small business, I’d like to put this story in the same perspective that any new direct selling endeavor often starts as a small business and ends being a huge success, sometimes beyond your wildest dreams. All you need to do is “begin.”
Why I made my way into Direct Selling
I was first and foremost an I.T. geek or nerd long before anyone even heard the phrase “information technology.” It used to be called EDP (electronic data processing) and then transitioned itself to a more sexy term, MIS (management information systems). I spent seven years holed up in an office facing humongous CRT screens of “green fonts over black background” and programming my time away using Cobol, Basic, Pascal, C and xBase. Then, a blinding glimpse of the obvious struck me: I have never heard of an EDP or MIS guy become general manager of a company – any kind of company. This was the era long before the internet crept into the common household and Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. Come to think of it, we were already excited just using Bulletin Board Systems (or BBS).
I pondered the thought some more and saw general managers coming from three usual places in corporate Philippines: finance, marketing or sales. Geez! Me do finance? I’d have to go back to school to do that plus pass the CPA exams and have a decade or so of grudging experience. I also quipped, “What the heck is marketing?” And so, the inevitable was obvious – find a job in sales.
I was the head of MIS in the Philippine licensee company of Jockey Internationalwhich created other business units inside the company. During this time, Jockey Philippines recruited and convened a small team of experienced managers to plan, set up and operate a direct selling division. Being the top IT guy of the company, I became part of the planning team which included Millicent “Joy” Isaac and Naomi “Omi” Diaz. We eventually launched the direct selling unit and set up the first branch with myself handling automation and operations management. In a year or so, Omi left and the Operations Manager position in the direct selling unit became vacant, and I was asked to fill it in on a temporary basis while the owners looked for a replacement. After a week of its daily grind, I asked that I stay on a permanent basis. That started my direct selling career.
Two years in Jockey Philippines’s direct selling unit was great but my quest for learning more, especially on the sales side of the business, grew beyond what the company could provide me. So, I sought the help of two headhunters to find me a job inside the number one direct selling company in the country, Avon Cosmetics Inc. I moved into Avon in a lower rank, from National Operations Manager in Jockey to the Branch Manager of Avon Shaw (boulevard) Branch, with almost the same salary. That’s okay – the point is I’m in the best corporate university to get me a degree in direct selling, so to speak. I managed the third largest branch of Avon in the Philippines which, in two years, became number two in the country (Avon then had 21 branches nationwide), thanks to my able branch teammates in the likes of Arlene Nolasco, Tente Alday (now Country Manager of Mary Kay Philippines), Ria dela Vina and, of course, the original Big Brother when the TV show didn’t even exist, Jimmy Gatdula. We also had our mentor and the best group manager, Connie Arboleda, always patiently supporting our needs and our very diverse branch management team. After two years of grassroots experience dealing directly with the independent dealers and franchise managers of Avon, I moved to its head office to set up and manage the newly formed Customer Service Department, headed by another great mentor Tonet Rivera, now the Global-Regional top guy for Bristol-Myers Squibb and a budding pilot who writes about flying, together with his son, in their blog, Flying in Crosswinds.
But during my next two years as head of a new department in Avon, politics crept in, a good way in hindsight but not something I wanted for my career path. There was a new computer system being developed and implemented, and I was asked from the highest management realms to be part of the users group, the team that brought the practical ways of managing and operating direct selling branches. The history of automation in Avon always pulled good, experienced people from branch and support-unit levels, and involved them in the IT project. However, such projects usually lasted for a year or two, and by the time it ended, those branch sales and operations people already lost the original job they once had, not to mention a career path they started out with. Avon is a very good employer and in that respect, it usually created new positions to adopt these jobless champions of automation. Having that perspective in mind, I thought my carefully planned career path in Avon was gone. Then, a good friend recommended me to Personal Collection a.k.a. LTS Philippines, a competitor of Avon in the direct selling field, to head national operations. It took no longer than a week to decide, resigned my post in the IT project and immediately jumped into my new job. It only lasted a year to which the reason would need more paragraphs to relate; so, I won’t. After a total of seven or so years in direct selling, I spent two jobless months contemplating what to do before I eventually joined Mega Magazine as its General Manager. The rest is history.
The Beauty of Direct Selling
Mind you, I’ve never had the opportunity to be the moniker of the “Electrolux Man” gloriously singing, “I’m gonna knock on your door, ring on your bell, tap on your window, too…” But I invited myself to join two area saturation activities conducted by my Avon franchise managers to actually conduct the literal “knocking on the doors” activity: introducing myself as a representative of Avon (I couldn’t imagine calling myself an “Avon Lady”) and selling make-up and brassieres. On occasion, I would tag along in other area saturation drives but just observe than conduct the face-to-face cold-calling process.
After seven years inside the wonderful world of direct selling, I came to realize good things (and some not-so-good) about it. The most basic description and analogy to direct selling was that it was about personal selling: everything was face-to-face; 80 percent of the entire selling conversation was banter; relationships and camaraderie mattered more than today’s “business as usual” consumerism principles; it was a 9-to-9 job, especially on weekends; there was always an inviting commotion happening in our world almost every day – if not, our dealers would have left us; you learn the real “art of the sale” in direct selling and not from Donald Trump’s books; it was always “fun” almost every day; and it was also exhausting at times.
Despite all these things about direct selling, and running and managing a small or large organization of sales and operations people, one thing was very glaring – it was all about money. If money is not you cup of tea for a lifelong career, then direct selling isn’t for you. I remember my former IT boss telling me: “There are only three loves in the world which correspond to who you eventually become. For love of country, you become a teacher; for love of pride, you become a computer programmer or scientist; for love of money, you go into sales.” That’s what direct selling is all about for the millions of people who join the many companies in the industry – it’s all about money. It may be called “income opportunity” or any highfalutin description the creative marketer can coin, but the simplest, one-word term for it is still “money.”
“RITA” will help you succeed
To earn money in direct selling, you don’t pin yourself to area saturation drives and knocking on doors for the rest of your life. You must recruit people, commonly termed as your “down line.” In time, your down lines also mimic your success by recruiting their own network of people; and so the cycle continues. The larger your network of down lines, the better your income if the direct selling company you belong to acknowledges your down lines’ success to you. But things change and life for some down lines take a 180-degree turn, and so you lose some of these people along the way. To replace those who have left your network, you keep recruiting more people into your network. The famous moniker in direct selling happens to be the name of a woman – R.I.T.A. Simply put, it means “Recruitment Is The Answer.”
It’s like the job of the recruitment officer in a company, and you’ll never know when your best employee will decide to leave you. The recruitment officer continues to cull the labor pool for people with the right skills and competence, and puts them in an active file. For direct selling, RITA must not be in an active file – these new recruits must immediately join your network and you start teaching them how to sell great. RITA is a daily job, not a seasonal one. You don’t stop recruiting until you stop direct selling. It’s just part your job.
One of the most important acronyms I learned – R.T.D.M.S.
Okay, here come the acronyms again; but this is important. This time, it describes you entire role with your network and your direct selling business. In sequence, RTDMS simply means “Recruit, Train, Develop, Motivate and Sell.” These are the pinnacles of your work in your direct selling job. It is a cycle that you do every day. It is the process by which you become successful in your direct selling career. It is inevitable that you do all these, not just one.
We’ve touched on RITA as a means to continue growing your network while others inside it may falter and leave. “Training” your network, new recruits or otherwise, is an ongoing function. Many of your down lines cannot afford formal study about sales and many of them may not have gotten a college degree; and so you must fill-in that hole in order to better themselves. Training can be one-on-one coaching or group sessions. It can be short, one-hour bursts or whole-day, out-of-town sessions. However it is done, your content has got to be meaningful to them. From selling tips to effective on-time collections to recruitment blitzes and developing a growing network, it’s your job to teach them all these. The best method is obviously based on your experience of becoming a successful direct seller. Ask the help of someone who can assist in creating simple Powerpoint presentations or just talking points. Don’t create a written speech of the entire session – speak from your heart and experience, and with gusto! Sometimes, you need to attend good public or private training sessions – do so at your expense. What you pay for at these public training courses will return back to you in multiple folds if you apply it and teach it.
Developing your network means finding those rare down lines who can one day become great leaders like you. You have to be observant in finding these future leaders and give them more of your time than usual. You have to pull and convince them of your intention to groom them as a future leader of their network (under your network). Like a teacher, you have to create a simple syllabus of their development so there is a guide for both of you to follow. Some of your future leaders cannot be groomed – that’s okay. This means don’t just choose one – choose a few good ones. Besides money and pride of success, the basic thing we usually leave our children, network of friends, and work colleagues is education. The additional gratification for developing future leaders is their admission that you were responsible for their success, even if the direct selling company you work with does not financially recognize the leaders elevated from your network.
Motivation and inspiration may be intertwined but the point is to make the heart as energized as the mind. The psychology of successful people is always bred inside the heart and soul – the unconscious part of a being – that propels him or her to do great using his conscious mind. It is a daily role you play while you crisscross the many people in your network. Be it done on stage or a small group session, motivational speeches are usually impromptu. I used to buy those corny “Chicken Soup” books and other similar titles, and would index-card them according to title or theme. I made sure I wrote down the group to which I told my motivational story in each index card so that I don’t repeat myself the next time I’m called to talk. However you do things, you have to carry many stories with you and be careful not to repeat them else you start hearing snickering and pun smiles from your audience.
Selling does not stop because you have a network doing that for you. There are always people who will demand to buy only from you, especially your personal customers to which you have been selling to when you started your direct selling career. They may even recommend you, not your down line, to sell to their friends. Whatever the reason may be, your selling job is never over. Even while sitting in a restaurant you open your Avon catalog and glance at the neighboring table looking at you and your catalog, heck! Offer to show them the catalog and sell them. You’ll never know – they may become your top seller in the future. Like any good teacher training your down lines, keep your selling skills intact by practicing what you preach all the time. These instances are also good stories to tell your down lines during your motivational speeches.
Alone is not the answer to Direct Selling success
If you browse publications that show the successes of people in the direct selling field, you’ll notice that most of them are always married couples. Why is that? Simple: you can’t do all things successful, alone. “No man is an island” is alive and well in direct selling. You have to have a partner to help you achieve your success.
A partner doesn’t really have to be your husband or wife; it can be your cousin, brother, sister, parents or even your friend. At most, it’s always been a relative in the Philippines. But a spouse is usually best. The way it works is that both of you divide the many things involved in your direct selling business. For one, face-to-face activities such as recruitment, training and motivation are primarily in your alley. Back-office work like inventory management, credit and collection, computerization or automation, and a host of others belong to your partner who is usually not the type who can talk in front of hundreds of people, if not just a dozen, and can sell themselves about your direct selling business. Sometimes, these partners are also your drivers, collectors, distributors, coordinators, personal assistant, etc. Don’t put them down because of the type of job they do for you – they are as every bit important as what you do. Together, you bring totality in your direct selling business and make it even more successful because of your diversity in character and the division of labor you’ve both agreed to undertake. In the end, always reward your partner, whether with your time or money, because without them, you will greatly lose out and fail.
There are many upcoming direct selling businesspeople who think doing it alone is better than having to manage a husband or wife to help them with their business. History has been repeating itself that couples are the best type of business partners that make an endeavor succeed faster than you would think. If you are focused on your job, knowing the other always has your back, the chance of success becomes limitless.
Will your children openly inherit your Direct Selling business?
Here’s one glaring thing that I have noticed in the great direct selling businesses in the Philippines – no matter how hard the parents try, the children are always never interested in inheriting and pursuing their parents’ direct selling business. For most, the children’s interest lies elsewhere. Why is that?
Think about it – when parents are financially good, their natural tendency is to educate their children in the best schools money can buy. These children grow up hob-knobbing with the children of other successful parents who live in posh residences and mingle only with the upper echelons of society. Well, generally speaking. If that or anything similar is the scenario with the kids, they will eventually develop interests that’s probably contrary to your direct selling business like a professional career in the medical or legal fields, hi-technology work involving computers and the internet, or other career paths.
Direct selling in the Philippines caters to the middle-to-lower strata of social classes as a good source of income. This is where the ambition of wealth is more desirable in direct selling than asking the successful ones to abandon what they’re doing and join in. Children who have been bred and educated in expensive private schools tend to shun away from dealing with the masses of direct selling. The mere idea of speaking in the jargon that the masses can understand is already a feared activity, not to mention having to do everything that mom and dad have been doing during their growing-up years. There is a disconnect in terms of social breeding, education and ambition to be someone; if it were a life of corporate boardrooms where titans meet other titans of industry, that would be most appealing to the children. But a direct selling business isn’t anywhere in that spectrum. Though even more successful than many struggling corporate giants, the allure of neckties and chic corporate suits just doesn’t match the loose, very informal setting of direct selling. In the end, the parents end up giving their successful network to someone who has no blood relations to them – anyone they trust the most in their down lines.
This is a challenge to many direct selling companies managing successful and thriving networks – there is no succession plan within one network. The inevitable is that when the successful couple retires or are too old to work, the network is in chaos and immediately divides itself into many smaller pockets, and the former glory of the parent network withers away. I once attempted to convince Avon that employing automation as an incentive to lure the Yuppie kids of successful direct selling moms and dads is a gateway, not the only solution, for the kids to enter the direct selling domain. Once inside the business, it becomes easier for mom and dad to story-tell what they’re doing and slowly introduce the children to their day-to-day activities. They may set up a small office for the children where they can dress up in suits and chic corporate attires, but they eventually become personally involved in the business. In time, they realize the income potential, imbibe the work styles, assimilate the character of mom or dad, and continue the business when the parents retire. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, my proposals fell through the cracks of the mighty direct selling giant. “That’s how the cookie crumbles?”
Hey! For every story or article, there’s got to be a summary, right? So, let me jump right into it and rewrite everything in outline form:
Much like any kind of job you do, you do it because you love it. Period. The moment you fall out of love, forget it. No matter how hard you try, you’re just dragging yourself into something you think is worth it but in hindsight you don’t give a crap about it. In the end, you’re bound to fail.
Direct selling is personal selling as opposed to today’s mix of online and offline selling in the corporate sense. Think of it as social media selling – it’s always more a social encounter than business as usual. If you can’t socialize, you’re a dead duck in Direct Selling.
Direct Selling, like any kind of sales job, is primarily about money before anything else. Ewww! Money? Not for me. Then don’t.
“Recruitment Is The Answer” (or RITA) is only one answer to make it big. There are lots more I didn’t discuss.
RTDMS is another “answer” of making it big in Direct Selling.
“No man is an island” in Direct Selling success means you have to have your partner doing full-time work, too. Doing it alone is just too hard, creates too much anxiety and not worth the cake. Find the right partner, synergize and do it together, forever!
Provide the best education for your children that your Direct Selling money can buy. But if you want them to inherit your Direct Selling business, you’ve got to start planning a way to entice your kids to join you. Forcing them to do so at a more adult age won’t make the grade. Create a succession plan – ask help from others if you need to – but make a plan, any workable plan.
Today, I am what I am thanks to my seven years of in-depth and hands-on experience in the three direct selling companies I worked for, the longest and best of which belongs to Avon. From a geek who often replied in single words, I can now express and describe a single word in multiple paragraphs and have no qualms speaking to large groups of people; besides the awesome “people and sales management” skills I learned. If you intend to be general manager one day, you’ve got to make “sales” part of your career itinerary because it simply goes a long way in molding you to the right future head of a company, large or otherwise. Direct selling is here to stay; you can’t discount the fact that it offers the lowly poor an invitation to succeed if he or she puts their heart and mind into it. It’s the fastest way to make money – for everyone!
If there’s a book entitled “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” someone ought to write “Don’t Sweat the Direct Selling Stuff.” Direct selling may be part of your destiny – today! So, find out if it so.
Ending this, I leave you with my favorite ten, two-letter words that make up a great, inspirational sentence. “If it is to be, it is up to me.” Awesome indeed!