Personal Development: The fuel that drives direct selling

By Barbara Seale
Direct Selling News, December 2007

Although personal development is rarely the lead topic in an opportunity meeting, it's often the intangible benefit that leads to business success and distributor retention.

As distributors develop, change is the name of the game. After they sign up and get their business started, their skills begin to grow. That leads to greater confidence, bigger goals and sometimes a new way of looking at life. And while the four companies featured here have different products and cultures, the personal-development stories they and their distributors told lead to the same conclusion: Direct selling businesses are personal-development companies in disguise.

As distributors travel their personal-development journey with their company of choice, they integrate everything they've learned, as well as their new vision of themselves, into customer gathering, business presentations, downline development and running their businesses. All these new skills and attitudes become part of the fabric of their lives.

Becoming More
"The natural state of humans is to drift; they just float along,” says John Addison, Co-CEO, Primerica Financial Services. "Leading a direct selling company, you have to be the force that continually draws them into you – and the best way to do that is through offering consistent and excellent personal development material.”

At Primerica, evidence of the power of personal development content and tools is at all levels of the organization – from the boardroom to the field. "Having been around here for 30 years, I've seen thousands of people who have literally changed their station in life," says Duane Morrow, Primerica's Executive Vice President of Marketing. "Fate and their environment told them that you're a taxicab driver, a teacher, a lawyer – and they had settled for that. Suddenly, they got around someone from Primerica and it stretched their vision of what they could become in life.”
While Primerica's financial products and services seem worlds apart from the fragrances, foundations, lipsticks and lotions that help women in 30 markets build businesses at Mary Kay, each company's experience with its salesforce is similar.

As Mary Kay's beauty consultants sell skin care and color cosmetics, many of them also sell hope. Most clients hear about the Mary Kay career opportunity at skincare classes or formal events conducted by salesforce members. As part of the presentation, a consultant tells her personal account of how her career started and progressed to its current place – her "I" story. It's an important part of gaining the interest of a potential team member and making a personal connection with her.

"The prospect doesn't necessarily want to do what the beauty consultant does," says Sean Key, Vice President, Sales Development. "She wants to be what she sees in that consultant. Depending on the client's priorities, we have a lot of ways to present the Mary Kay opportunity. Often, part of the discussion is about how they can personally grow into being who they want to be – and not just as a businessperson."

Other-Focused Opportunity
The conversation that takes place between a distributor and a prospect isn't just a rote opportunity presentation. It requires that distributors listen closely to learn the prospect's needs and dreams. It's a skill they often must develop and one that isn't always easy to teach or learn. But it pays big dividends.

Oxyfresh distributors sell the company's premium health and wellness products, and President Richard Brooke says his company teaches its distributors that the conversation isn't about them. "Their orientation is around prospects first and foremost," he says. "They seek to understand who the prospect is, what is important to the prospect, what is missing in the prospect's life. They don't try to get people into network marketing or Oxyfresh. Instead, they build a relationship and then present the opportunity. If there's a fit, there's a fit."

And when there's a fit, that opportunity presentation can lead to a lifetime of personal growth that enhances the distributors' businesses and their personal lives.

Des Walsh, Herbalife's Senior Vice President, Worldwide Distributor Sales, says that when the nutrition and weight management company's top distributors speak at events, they often emphasize that the personal development they've received through their Herbalife careers has been priceless. "They talk most often about what it has meant to them to be a part of Herbalife and how much it has changed their lives­not just their health or financial picture," he says. "They're talking about the whole self. We know this is a very important factor to them. It's one of the reasons we put so much emphasis on it as a company."

High Tech, High Touch
Training and personal development are closely related, and direct sellers recognize that they must start with the basics of how to run a business and then move to topics such as coaching and leadership. Since the vast majority of direct selling distributors work at their businesses part time, they proceed with training at their own pace. But many companies make information available to them at the click of a computer mouse – an essential ability for a company that operates not just in several states but in multiple countries.

"We have an incredible support system online through Primerica Online," Primerica's Morrow says. "Our representatives can plug into weekly training, and it's all archived there. There's constant streaming of speeches on topics that include not just product information but also motivation and culture." Primerica also provides CDs, DVDs and videos for reps who like to review information away from their computers. He believes that because direct selling distributors almost always start their business while they're employees for another company, they must go through a long process that leads to thinking like an entrepreneur. "You can't change your way of thinking and belief and your confidence level overnight," Morrow says. "You must be immersed in a culture and environment where people care about you, encourage you and fill your mind with positive affirmations and literature.”

Morrow grew up in that culture. His parents were Primerica representatives, and he credits being on the periphery of their business with a significant part of his own attitudes and abilities. He believes that the positive attitude and work ethic he learned in those years led to success as a high school student, an athlete and later as a licensed Primerica representative who built his own business. He joined the Primerica corporate staff in 1987.
While Morrow's second-generation status may be unusual, his direct selling personal development experience is not. Distributors are treated to computerized education and development at almost every company. But face-to-face classes and coaching are still as relevant as ever.

Oxyfresh's commitment to personal development is one of its first three defining characteristics. It tells its distributors that it will "help them win big in the people business." To do that, it offers a series of programs and workshops its distributors can attend. Many are contracted to speakers who specialize in particular areas of development, but the company's president himself leads one of the most popular seminars.

"Most distributors attend my Vision and Self-Motivation seminar repeatedly," Brooke says. "In the most recent one I presented, about 60 distributors had been in the workshop before. It teaches people the concept of authenticity and the power of bringing their authentic self to bear on anything they want to improve in their life.”

Self-Directed Development
Through a standing committee composed of members of its executive team and key distributor leaders, Herbalife distributors help determine the direction of the company's training and personal-development materials. For example, in 2006 Herbalife released a collection of training sessions originally conducted by company founder Mark Hughes. Distributor reaction worldwide – the two double-DVD collections were published in 14 languages – was so positive that Herbalife is working on a follow-up collection planned for release in 2008. It will feature combined training with Hughes and well-known motivational speaker-philosopher – entrepreneur Jim Rohn.

"Jim was Hughes' mentor, and he has been associated with Herbalife since the formation of the company," Walsh says. "He travels and lectures extensively throughout the world and is a much beloved figure for us. The topics on the new set will be very generic and will apply to any distributor, regardless of how they conduct business or what part of the world they're in: perseverance, commitment, follow-up, consistency-universal messages that apply to everyone, no matter how long they've been in the business.”

He notes that the meetings and events that take place around the world every weekend are also major development tools, featuring success seminars run by local distributors who host and present them. "Speaking at these meetings is one of the ways in which people are groomed in their leadership roles," Walsh says. "It may be the first time a new distributor has had the experience of speaking to a large audience. In certain countries, distributors take that process a stage further. They have programs in which, if you wish to be selected to speak at a regional training event, you go through a mini-training school with other prospective speakers. The best speakers are nominated to speak at a larger event. It's an important part of their personal-development process.”

Growing Roots
The payback for companies comes from seeing distributors blossom in their businesses and personal lives. And when they blossom, they send their roots deep into the company for years.
"People who talk at our events often say that they come into Mary Kay for a reason, and then it becomes a season, and then it becomes a lifetime experience," Key says. "Money might be the reason they join, but that desire to make extra money turns into something bigger. Top salespeople say that the thing they've gained the most from their Mary Kay journey has been personal development. And what they get from Mary Kay impacts all aspects of their lives. Excellence is a choice, and when you choose to be a woman of excellence, it starts to become your standard in every area of your life.”

Reflecting on Oxyfresh's experience, Brooke sums up the importance of personal development for any direct seller. "There are two reasons our company has survived for 25 years," he says. "One is our product line. About 70 percent of our monthly sales are from products we developed 20 to 25 years ago. They've stood the test of time. But more dramatically, what has kept us in business is our field leadership. They have developed themselves to a point where they handle adversity in a powerful way. Our top 10 field sales leaders have been actively building their businesses for 15 to 25 years. We don't tend to lose those people. There's a direct, very strong link between personal development and retention."

Jeff Olson, Senior Marketing Associate at Pre-Paid Legal Services and author of the classic personal development book, The Slight Edge, echoes Brookes sentiment. "When someone first joins a direct selling company, they're often at their highest level of anxiety," he says. "By providing your salesforce with effective personal development materials and programs, you can help them significantly improve their performance, and ultimately increase retention.”