In this modern age, when we can reach out and touch someone via Skype - seeing them, as well as hearing them, earn a graduate degree without ever setting foot in a classroom, and take online "virtual tours" of homes instead of driving around with a realtor, it's easy to understand why webinars, downloadable podcasts, and searchable training databases are the focus of many companies' field-development efforts.
People are busier than ever and your consultants are no exception. The information they need should be available and you want to make solid investments in your technical infrastructure. Information is power, after all, and if the field wants it, you'd better have a good way to deliver it.
We agree wholeheartedly with the basic premise of this trend in the industry, but in our 30 years of experience training the trainers, coaching established leaders, and cultivating leadership in accidental leaders, we've learned that information without inspiration loses much of its impact. It’s time to increase your investment in the people part of the equation.
Your company’s growth and long-term success is tied directly to the promotion of new leaders on a continual basis. Instead of waiting for the cream of the crop to rise, you need a system of moving people into leadership. That means solid programs for cultivating new start success, support systems to make them more comfortable and successful when it comes to recruiting, and a field culture that promotes building vision in others. When they reach leadership, they need more training on how to recruit as a leader, which is a completely different skill set.
Is your company providing this kind of path to leadership? Are your new leaders prepared to hold effective meetings that keep their people engaged and excited? Have they been instructed on the best ways to hold opportunity events? Are they being coached on the importance of keeping up momentum? You need these leadership-development essentials in place to insure that you have well-trained leaders to move your company forward.
Recently, companies’ training focus seems to be on high-tech solutions. It's now possible to monitor the day-to-day activity of a team by running reports online and leaders are getting into the habit of leading from afar.
This tendency is understandable. If the company keeps improving these systems, it would appear that a high-tech approach is the key to success. No leader wants to feel like they’re “checking up” on their team members. Plus, many of your field leaders have families or other jobs that compete for their time.
So, a busy leader opts for those instant reports and feels confident that a phone call to the consultant would be unwelcome. In many cases, if the leader is concerned about a consultant’s stats, they can shoot an e-mail off right from their “back office.” Mission accomplished? Not so fast.
In reality, their time-strapped consultants would probably benefit from that phone call. People need encouragement! If a consultant is doing well, they need a call of congratulations from their leader. If they’re struggling, they need a call from their leader offering assistance. There is no substitute for a real conversation, but the more a leader feels like they’re able to gauge how a consultant is doing by viewing their activity via computer, the less compelled they are to reach out.
Though they provide significant detail, these reports don’t tell the whole story. While a sponsor is checking reports and feeling pleased with a consultant’s order or party average, the consultant can be viewing the same results and second-guessing herself because the party took twice as long as expected, half the attendees didn’t order, or she didn’t get any new bookings. The consultant may not call the leader for help, concerned that a phone call would bother that busy leader. Many consultants will withdraw when they fear failure, rather than reach out for help.
Instant reports have led to another unfortunate trend. Leaders in our industry are becoming more reactive, instead of proactive. Rather than regularly touching base and tailoring support to each consultant’s needs, temperament, and performance, some leaders wait until the last week of the month to “check in” to see whether more orders will be submitted during that period. Though savvier, self-aware leaders try to craft the inquiry to at least appear focused more on the team member’s individual achievement, consultants see right through it and can become resentful.
Consultants notice if they only hear from their upline as the monthly deadline looms. Being reactive like this is a huge disservice to the team. It makes what should be a cooperative relationship sometimes seem adversarial and the consultant is not getting the attention at a time when they need it. The leader, too, misses out on the opportunity to coach and inspire while it can still make a difference in that month’s results! If your new leaders aren’t mentored properly, though, they don’t even recognize these missteps. They don’t know that they could be more effective, because they haven’t been trained in leadership effectiveness.
Leader or not, one of the hardest things about direct sales is being self-employed, which is a lifestyle for which most of your consultants are ill prepared. They struggle with time management, budgeting, and strategy. Many feel isolated or even lonely, unable to maintain perspective or manage their own expectations. Yet, we send them off with a business manual, a kit, and the password to a web site containing all the information they could ever need - and no idea where their shortcomings are! Their sponsor will say “Call me if you need anything,” but silence from a consultant rarely means things are going well. Generally it means they’re slowing down - or checking out. If they’ve never done something like direct sales before, how do they even know what they need, or whether they’re doing well?
Attrition numbers illustrate an alarming fact: many new consultants give up before they even give your business a fair try. They either aren’t set up for a good start by their sponsor or they hit a rough patch early on. Without well-timed encouragement and guidance, they just fade away.
But, those new consultants joined your company for a reason. They didn’t enroll planning to fail! Something about your opportunity sparked hope in them that they could make extra money, pay off debt, take better care of their family, etc. They want to be successful, but they don’t know how unless someone sets the standard and explains the steps. They need feedback! They need an example of how things should work. If they’re lacking an accessible, caring mentor, their experience ends up being far from what they dreamed when they signed up. So, discouraged and disenchanted, they decide that it’s not really the business for them. Given the chance and some real guidance, though, they may have been able to build a real business with your company.
Of course, some brand new consultants are real go-getters and will do well regardless of the circumstances, even becoming accidental leaders. They seize your new start reward program and meet all the marks. Now they have a team, but no real training in “how” to lead. Many aren’t able to articulate or even identify what made them successful up to this point.
But, because they have sponsored X new consultants and are generating Y in monthly volume, they’re dubbed a “leader” and are expected to be able to duplicate their achievement. Naturally, since they were able to advance by reading their business manual, earning all the new start rewards, and using the online tutorials, they’ll expect their brand new consultants to do the same thing. But just as joining a gym doesn’t translate into more frequent exercise for most people, having adequate resources available to them won’t ensure that the majority of new consultants will use them. There your new leader is, excitement waning and thoroughly mystified that only one of the X consultants is active and worrying about maintaining qualification for leadership.
At promotion, the energetic new leader probably isn’t entirely alone. Along with a pin or certificate and a raise, the company likely provides some leadership guidelines, usually lists of “responsibilities of a leader.” With instructions like “coach your team to success,” “hold regular meetings,” “train your new consultants,” “help your new consultants complete ‘Success/Fast/Quick Start’ ” and “write a newsletter.” The new leader looks at this list and typically feels completely overwhelmed.
If you asked most leaders – new or established – to explain how to coach, few would have a solid answer and fewer still would be able to truthfully say they have a coaching strategy, philosophy, or system that they stick to. Your leaders need help! They need to be taught HOW to coach, hold an effective meeting, train, or produce an interesting newsletter. Without a list of expectations, some don’t even know that they should be providing these things to their teams. And even when the expectations are clear, most would admit that they’d love to be “good” at these things, but that they aren’t and that lack of confidence leads them to neglect these areas – or even stop sponsoring altogether.
In surveys of industry leaders, what they continually request is instruction on the nuts-and-bolts of these very things, as well as help with developing leaders in their organizations and providing proper recognition. Teach your leaders how to lead. Train them in how to be encouragers! Help them see the tremendous and exponential power in true mentoring. You need systems in place to train them, so they can be of better assistance to their teams.
Your programs should reinforce that there is no substitute for personal contact. Leaders should be taking their new consultants along to watch them in action – to listen to the leader and observe how they handle different situations – so that they can model their new business on the leader’s successful and established one. Often, leaders need to be shown that this kind of mentoring is simply the best way to teach the business to their new consultants. Those consultants will have more confidence, will likely be more successful, and will tend to train their teams the same way, which rapidly results in more leaders.
Leaders – especially accidental leaders – also need targeted training in the practical aspects of how to manage their organizations. They need systems to track each consultant’s progress, to ensure they hold effective meetings and opportunity events, to tailor their training and assistance to team members at different stages of development, etc. We developed "The Power Hour for Leaders" for that very reason (www.stepintosuccess.com/products.cfm). Your leaders need ready-made systems, so they can keep moving forward and continue to grow their teams with confidence.
Plan your leadership conferences so they provide specific how-tos. Inspiration is fantastic and it has a place in all company events, but when you gather all your leaders in one place, you want to have good speakers on hand, ones who know our industry and can teach the attendees HOW to lead and HOW to inspire! Knowing how will boost their confidence and they’ll head back to the field armed with the skills and systems they need to spur growth in their teams.
Developing leaders is more important than it’s ever been. In this climate, our business is going to become more appealing and teams are going to grow at incredible rates. You need a constant flow of new leaders who are prepared to guide these teams and help your company take maximum advantage of this shift. It’s time for your training to reflect that it’s not enough to leave consultants to their own devices and hope that they are good at self-study and disciplined enough to seize the opportunity and run with it. You need real leaders at the helm, leaders ready to build strong teams and help your consultants reach their fullest potential. Demonstrate your commitment to growth, by investing in them.
Belinda Ellsworth, Step Into Success, Inc., offers a variety of training resources for consultants and leaders, as well as customized programs that assist companies in setting the stage for new-start success and leadership development. They work with companies to create high-impact training materials and field-development strategies.
Belinda Ellsworth is a dynamic and sought-after speaker at conventions and leadership events and has a reputation for reinforcing a company’s programs and providing step-by-step training in the areas that often need extra support. Industry sales and team-building standouts consistently point to Belinda’s approach as the one that has made the biggest difference in their success. Belinda may be contacted at 931-525-3552 or via StepintoSuccess.com.