The 10 Most Common Mistakes in Direct Selling Part 3

by Dan Jensen

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#5: Lack of a Selling System

As noted previously, a system is a process or approach that is duplicatable and provides predictable results. A selling system, therefore, is a method of selling that you can train to your sales force that provides them with consistent sales success. What are examples of sales systems used in the direct selling industry?

  •  Party Plan (most common)
  •  Catalog (Avon)
  •  Office parties
  •  Automatic monthly shipments to customers (Melaleuca, Nu Skin)
  •  Door-to-door (Southwestern)
  •  Lead follow-up (fairs, referrals)
  •  Free video with follow-up
  •  Free gift or sample

If you fail to develop an effective selling system, your distributors will try to develop their own and, for the most part, will fail. Your attrition rate will be high and your business will not grow. An effective selling system is essential to your success. It also allows you to exert some control over your product message to avoid unfounded claims that might put your company in a bad light.

#6: Inexperienced Management Team

No business can rise to the pinnacle of success and sustain it without effective management and leadership. It’s been said that leadership is doing the right things. Management is doing things right.2 You need both. Yet, the graveyard of free enterprise is littered with the bones of companies who were poorly managed and poorly led. Most often, the mismanagement started with an enthusiastic business owner with little or no direct selling or business experience believing that he or she could handle the job. Statistics show that across all industries 80% of new business startups end in failure within their first year. While there are many who launch businesses successfully, there are few who have the skills to sustain the success. Make no mistake, direct selling businesses fail from the top down, rarely from the bottom up.

A wise business owner recognizes that there are people he can hire who are better than him or her in many areas of the business. He seeks for these people. He must then empower them to do their job effectively. Don’t hire skilled people and then ignore their wisdom and talent!

The ideal role of the business owner is to lead and then get out of the way of his effective and competent managers who are empowered to handle the various departmental needs of the business. Leadership becomes one of planning, reviewing results, accountability, promoting and motivating… selling the vision! Let managers do their job according to the business plan which should be the yardstick by which the managers are accountable.


What NBA basketball team would recruit a new player, place him on the floor his first day, and expect him to perform like the rest of the team? Without training with the rest of the team his performance at best would be mediocre. At worst it would be disastrous and the game would be lost.

So it is with any new manager or employee, especially if the whole staff is new as in a new business launch. Who should train them? What should they be trained to do? How do we know if they have completed their training? These questions need to be addressed individually:

Who should train new employees?

Don’t let the old adage, the blind leading the blind be said of your trainers. Find very competent people to lead and manage each department and have an experienced general manager orchestrate the various departments like a symphony. Experience in direct selling is vital in most key roles. Don’t be led into the trap of saving money on inexpensive workers in the beginning; it will cost far more than it saves.

To find experienced and friendly people to do the training, look to professional consultants, the direct selling Association (DSA), and other direct selling business owners for names. Advertise in industry publications such as Direct Selling News ( Executive search firms can often be fruitful as well. There are several firms that specialize in direct selling talent which can be found in the supplier members list at Many people find they must hire from outside the industry and train them on the principles of direct selling because experienced direct selling people are hard to find. If you do, plan on them having a steep learning curve.

What should they be trained to do?

As an experienced person is hired to supervise a department, their first task is to design and document a “system” or method of operation. For example, to process sales orders, a diagram of how an order must flow through the office should be created. Exceptions should be noted with a flow chart or diagram to handle each case. What do you do if the credit card is declined? What should a warehouse person do if some of the products ordered are not in stock? Every conceivable problem must be documented in advance with an appropriate solution. Policies need to be documented and organized into a handbook for the staff. These policies might even be put on the office computer system for instant look up. Professional direct selling consultants can be an invaluable source to help prepare these flow charts and documentation.

Once the systems, policies, and procedures are documented, training can begin. With documented systems in place, training proceeds quickly and thoroughly. Without systems, policies, and procedures, training can never be complete, and takes many times longer.

How do we know if the employee has been trained? 

An evaluation process should be established which takes a new employee through a sequence of duties and responsibilities. For example, a distributor services rep might not be allowed to handle commission related questions until they have explained the compensation plan to the department supervisor thoroughly, top to bottom. Each department must also establish a minimum level of competence before allowing an employee to perform their assigned tasks alone. Until then, they are “buddied up” with another peer or supervisor. Some companies have tests that are taken and scored which focus on the various objectives of the job. The best tests focus on objectives rather than on the mechanics of the job.

Success comes when:

  •  Your staff catches ‘the vision’
  •  They are rewarded for excellence
  •  They feel accountable to the sales force
  •  They are empowered to succeed
  •  The barrier between office staff and the field is gone… it can never be ‘we’ versus ‘them’, but rather, ‘us’.