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6 Tips To Turn Around Your Direct Selling Company

Jane Creed is the President & CEO of Wine Shop at Home.  She's also a friend.  I recently sat down to dinner with Jane a few days before the 2012 DSA Annual Meeting in Dallas, to catch up.  While talking to her, I decided she would write the first Guest Post on Butler Advisors.  She is a talented writer, and as you shall read below, a talented CEO as well.  Here is some of her wisdom. 

A Brand Is A Promise Delivered

I believe that the best definition of a brand is “a promise delivered.” The promises you make and keep with your sales field, your employees and your business associates. When I came onboard my company as its CEO in late 2009, I entered a situation, with my eyes wide open, where I was promising to do my best to lead to profitability a company that had broken its promises -- promises to employees, sales field organization and vendors.

What I thought I knew

I had worked with the company as an outside consultant prior to accepting my position and, yet, had
seen it only from the outside in. Like a guest who is invited to dinner, I had only seen what was meant
for me to see. Ironically, the consultancy role I was hired to oversee was that of strategic planning and
building the brand – the image of the company, the face that it showed to the world. I had gotten
to know and care about the company’s employees – most of whom were talented and strong in their
respective areas of responsibility. Invited to present at the company’s national conventions, I also
developed strong relationships, and great respect for, the sales field. When the company’s founder
decided to pull back from day to day responsibilities, I was flattered and proud when the board of
directors asked me to step in and lead the company. With what I then thought was my well-grounded
knowledge of the brand and my relationships with employees and the sales field, I said to myself, “This will be a cakewalk!  I’m in!”

Taking the Pulse

Before giving my formal “yes”, I asked the board for permission to do my own audit – to take the pulse
of the organization. This critical step led me to learn that the “patient” was not as well I believed it to
be looking as I was from the outside in. Over three weeks’ time, I interviewed every employee. I spoke
with over fifty sales field leaders and a dozen vendors. I listened and I learned. The things I heard
are unimportant here. They were confidential and will stay that way. Let me just say that from the
employees to the sales field to the vendor, distrust was rampant. Promises had been broken. People
were ready to bail out and leave the company. As a consultant, I had been busy putting the shine on
the apple, polishing up the brand, yet from the inside out – the brand was not delivering on its promise!

Game On!

My audit and subsequent report to the board had given me an opportunity to turn the position down if
I so chose. It wasn’t going to be a cakewalk after all. Nothing worthwhile ever is. Instead, I decided to
give an emphatic “yes”! This was an opportunity beyond my wildest dreams. This was an opportunity
to really do something. Take something on. Turn something around! After giving my answer, one
former board member, Charlie Orr, who now heads up the Direct Selling Education Foundation, gave me a piece of advice that has been worth its weight in gold to me. “If from the time you get up, to the time you go to bed, all you think about is your sales field organization,” he said, “then, Jane, and you can turn this thing around.” Game on!

Fast forward two years and our company is profitable for the first time in its history. We have new
majority shareholders and a reconstituted board of directors. The worst of our debt crisis from past
over-spending is behind us. Our first quarter of 2012 saw a sales increase of 40% over 2011 and a sales field increase of over 50%. Here are a few things I learned along the way about brands and promises and getting things moving from negative to positive.

1. Take the pulse of your organization.

Do you know what your employees and sales field are really thinking? It is your job to find out.
We want our sales field organizations to recruit, but guess what? They won’t bring people into
your business if they don’t fully trust you. You can offer up every reward or contest under the
sun, but if the trust isn’t there, forget about it. Be in constant communication and never stop

2. Right-size Your Business

Get your top and bottom line in order and forget the over-spending to look bigger than you
are. If you owe money, reach out and explain your situation. If you can’t pay in full, suggest a
payment plan and then stick to it! Over-communicate, don’t ignore. Those creditors do not go
away and they deserve your respect.

3. Develop your dream team

It’s all about the team all the time. You will never get there alone. Let your coworkers know
that you are there for them but that you need to count on them, too. If you can’t count on
someone, let them go. Sooner rather than later.

4. Hear Every Voice

After my first few days in the office as CEO, I noticed that it was deadly quiet. Coworkers
kept to themselves, having learned through experience to keep their heads down. I was
told that it was common knowledge that a particularly bright coworker had been written up
for “insubordination” several times for speaking up in meetings. One of my first acts was to tear
up her “insubordination” notices. Today she is one of our brightest stars! Let your team know
you need to hear from them in meetings and one-on-one. Let them know they can bring the
passion of defending their position with no fear of reprisal. Hear every voice. In the end, make
a decision and move forward with one voice only.

5. Know your promises and keep them

What do you promise your employees, your sales field organization, your customers, your
vendors and associates? Whatever your promises are, write them down, post them up on the
wall and live by them. Your company’s promises represent all you stand for. They are the very
essence of your brand. Don’t worry about putting the shine on the apple until you’ve got it right
under the skin. All that brand polishing won’t matter if you don’t deliver on your promises.

6.  Let the "Charlie Rule" Rule!

From the time you get up to the time you go to bed, think about your sales field organization.
Yes, Charlie’s rule has made all the difference. Know the dreams, the aspirations, the fears
and the challenges of your sales field. They are out there on the front line. The need you to
pick them up when they are down, they need to know you believe in them and are behind them
every step of the way. If you dream right along with them you can move your business forward
together. If you create a bond that is based on trust you will move the compass to your true
north – the path forward. Let them know you’re in it to win it and that you’ll win it together.

After two years on the job, I have learned that the face of our brand are the faces of our sales field
and our coworkers working together to deliver on the promise. Sure, we’ve put some shine on the
apple…but underneath the surface is the truly sweet fruit -- and the true face of our brand -- Promises made and promises delivered.

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