Direct sales: when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em

How many times have you opened Facebook and cringed because of a friend’s post? It could be something embarrassingly stupid, TMI, or overly lovey about a significant other (they’re clearly compensating for something). But the cringiest of all cringe-worthy posts are the sales posts.

We all have at least one friend who spends her entire day on Facebook. She’s constantly posting about whatever product she’s selling this week. You’re drowning in notifications – you’re tagged, invited to parties, her group name changed for the bazillionth time or she’s PM’d you asking if you’ve got time for coffee.

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The culprit? Direct sales.

That word used to make a pit in my stomach. I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with crazy direct sales ladies. Nothing beats the Tupperware* party I went to at a friends house. The consultant chastised me for being late (sorry my marathon training inconvenienced you), scared everyone into placing an order, and refused to leave my friend’s house until she agreed to become a consultant.

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About a year later, I started selling Lia Sophia. I was newly pregnant, let go from my job and completely panicked and thought selling jewelry was my only option. When I told my up-line I didn’t have any friends in my area, she aggressively insisted I did. I didn’t. She also lied about to requirements to become a consultant.

According to her and her team, potential consultants were required to host a party that met certain sales criteria. And since I legit didn’t have any friends, I had to buy a buttload of jewelry just to qualify. Yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds. But I fell for it. I could have gone on Lia Sophia’s website and signed up for about 50% less than what I actually spent. But that’s not the point. The point is, I did all that and then had to dodge calls from her on a weekly basis. She would pressure me to book more parties with my fellow subway riders. I told her that made me feel dirty. She didn’t seem to care.

After a while, I stopped paying the website fees and let my account run to “inactive”. Once I was kicked out for good, I swore I’d never touch direct sales again.

*This is, by no means, a reflection of Tupperware as a company. There are definitely good consultants at Tupperware (this just wasn’t one of them).

Oops, I did it again.

Roughly 3 years and 2 kids later, I went to lunch with my mom and one of her teacher friends. I just came from Target and was complaining that I couldn’t find anything I wanted to buy the kids for their Easter baskets. And that’s when I found out about Discovery Toys.

I was skeptical when I reached out to the corporate office for information on becoming a consultant. I wasn’t going to be duped by a direct sales lady again. And when I saw an unknown number pop up on my phone the next day, I was ready for the hard sell.

But it didn’t come. I had questions, Betty Jo had answers. I told her I worked full time and wanted the toys for my kids, she was fine with that. She went through the company’s compensation plan and told me more about the products. But not once did she tell me what my goals should be or how many people I should bombard as soon as I joined.

My skepticism was moving toward cautiously optimistic.

Fast forward again…

In 2 years, I’ve built a small business, working on it a lot at times and not so much other times. And I just got back from national convention where I got to meet my Discovery Toys friends in person.

CFO and CEO of DT with my mom and me

The people at convention are not the “direct sales” people I expected. Even though I knew my upline, Betty Jo, was wonderful I was still unsure about everyone else. Was I going to walk in and be told I needed to up my game?

What I found was a room full of passionate women. They were at convention to learn how they can help bring unstructured, free play back to the masses. To learn how they can combat the over-scheduled, plugged-in culture we’ve created for ourselves. The goal isn’t just to help us build our businesses. It’s to help the families we come across slow down and realize that play is more valuable than they could ever imagine.

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The toys and games in the catalog are more than just toys and games. During convention, we learned how these products can help children with disabilities, how to intertwine ourselves in our communities and how important it is to give back.

And when they handed out rewards for top sales earners and team leaders, my mom jokingly said to Betty Jo, “Allison and I are really letting you down.” Betty Jo looked at her like she had 3 heads, threw her hands in the air and responded, “I am a coach, I will never be your boss.” In my limited direct sales experience, this kind of reaction is hard to come by.

Have you thought about starting a business?

There are hundreds of businesses to choose from if you want to go the direct sales route. And there’s no shortage of opinions about them on the internet. But if you’ve toyed with joining a direct sales company, here’s 3 things you should think about.

  1. Are you passionate about the products you’ll be selling? I wasn’t a successful jewelry lady because I don’t care about jewelry. But I do have kids and want them to enjoy life unplugged as much as possible. Discovery Toys aligns with my values and that’s what has made it stick. Find something that sticks with you.
  2. Does the company you’re looking at have a cause? Will you just be hawking products or is there a bigger purpose for what you’re doing? Whether it’s a charity your organization backs or a feeling your product gives people, you will be happier if you’re doing something bigger than just selling.
  3. What’s the worst/best case scenario if you join? How much could you lose or gain from joining your company? You’ll want to talk to current consultants that you trust to get an accurate sense of what you’re getting into.

I may not have 800 direct sales companies under my belt or swimming in top sales rewards, but I am confident that I found the company that’s right for me. I have the flexibility to work as much or as little as I want and don’t have to be afraid of a phone call from my upline.

If you’re seriously thinking about joining a direct sales company, check out this Forbes article to know what you should look for and why. You should also follow the lovely ladies listed below who will help you avoid being spamalicious and put your best foot forward in your new business.

And if the company you’re most interested in is Discovery Toys, let’s get to know each other!

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What do you think about direct sales? Share your good and bad experiences (as a customer or consultant) below.