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The growth at which the world is propelled makes today an interesting time in network marketing. However, this can also be a double-edged sword. On the other hand, this pace can make companies forget who the customer is. In this episode, Patrick Shaw sits down with the CEO of the Direct Selling World Alliance (DSWA.org) and Co-Founder of the Coach Excellence School, Nicki (Kittson) Keohohou, to remind us who the customer is and why we need their support. Nicki breaks down the dangers of not understanding these key people in your company, why companies get distracted, and what they should do in this gig economy. Tune in to this conversation and gain great insights on direct selling in this digital age. Find out who your customer is and let them take you to success.
Nicki (Kittson) Keohohou: A Guardian Of The Fundamentals Of MLM, Founder Of Direct Selling World Alliance
I am with Nicki Keohohou. Nicki, it is exciting to be with you. You are the CEO and Co-founder of the Direct Selling World Alliance and leader at the Coach Excellence School. Are you the Founder and President there as well?
That’s awesome. It is great to have you on. As I read up on your background, you had been around the industry a long time. You have some incredible insight that is meaningful to our guests, leaders in the network marketing industry, C-suite executives, CEOs, and network marketing companies. We’re all working on trying to get better and learn. I think you’ve got an awful lot to share, and I’m excited to dive in with you.
Thank you so much. I’m glad to be here. Aloha to everyone.
You’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving, which I told Nicki, it almost seems a little odd, but she’s going to be outside in the beautiful weather celebrating Thanksgiving.
Yes, it is beautiful.
Nicki, I want to dive right in. We’re at an interesting time in network marketing, and we’ve got an opportunity, as an industry, to turn the corner and do some incredible stuff. On the other side of it, kind of a two-edged sword, it’s a bit of a dangerous time in some ways for network marketing companies if they don’t remember who the customer is. I want to talk to you a little bit about that. If you’re an enterprise or a network marketing company, who is the customer, and why?
Your distributor is the first customer. That’s the one you’ve got to pay attention to in keeping them happy and excited about what we’re doing. Their customer is the consumer. You have two layers there, but you got to take care of the distributors in order for them to have the desire to go out and get new customers.
It seems like that is shifting a little in a lot of companies. There are a lot of buyouts and consolidations in the industry. Sometimes a leader that comes in maybe doesn’t understand that and they think the customer is the person buying the product. What’s the danger?
The danger is that if you bypass your distributors and you go directly to the customers, you’re competing with your own distributors. That’s a surefire way to have them exit pretty quickly. They don’t want to compete with the company. The company wants to support the distributor so that they can gain more customers and users, and they can grow and develop that company as a whole. Bypassing them is not a smart idea.
Trust is so paramount in a network marketing organization. If the leadership loses trust that they can trust the company, how does this play out sometimes? What do we see as the outcomes when companies don’t understand who the customer is? Right off the top of my head, I’m like, “Sometimes companies think they can sell direct.” They don’t realize in the process of selling direct, in any way, shape, or form, that they’re violating the trust of the field.
That’s absolutely true. Without trust, you don’t have anything. There’s not going to be loyalty if they don’t trust the ownership. The field starts to get worried when the company is sending a direct promotion to the customer. They’ve got all that information. The field starts to think, “Are they going to bypass us? Are they going to go direct-to-consumer? They have all of our contacts already.” What they forget is they have the past contexts, but the future contexts are not going to be that easy to acquire because you let go of the marketing arm or the people that are doing that work.
Without trust, you really don’t have anything. There will be no loyalty if they don’t trust the ownership.
It’s a dangerous spot to be in. It’s influenced by some digital marketers. You see all of these retail sales that are going on in the digital world or influencers that pop in and sell a bunch quickly. The companies get distracted. Is that what you think is happening? Why is this happening much now than a decade ago?
People are more aware of digital marketing. Companies see the quick sale. They see not having to deal with all of their field and their leaders. Not having all the incentives and expenses on that end that they see going to the field. They’re not really sure of which direction to go. People are dipping their toes in the water right now trying to add this to their mix.
They’ve got to be aware. That money’s got to come from somewhere. If they add an influencer program or add-on for customer acquisition and things like that. That money’s got to come from somewhere. Generally, that happens when they adjust the compensation plan for the field. The word “change” is what we never want them to use. We’re tanking. The compensation plan is not a smart thing to say. When they make those adjustments, they’re going to lose some people because they are worried that the company is going to take over this whole part of what’s happening.
The power of network marketing, the positive side is that companies really don’t have to deal with spending marketing dollars. They don’t have to spend a bunch on advertising. They don’t have to do PayClick. They don’t have to create or compete with the massive amount of digital spending traditional retail companies have to do now to stay relevant. They can just funnel that money direct-to-distributor-base. What you’re saying is, if you try to bridge that and live in both worlds, basically, there’s not enough money to go around. You got to decide who you are.
When they’re confused or trying to grab onto more, what happens is you start to lose this trust in the field. They sort of, “I’ll watch. I’ll sit back and see what happens.” You lose momentum, and then the company gets very panicked when they see itself losing momentum. “No, we got to jump in big time over here.” It’s a very difficult trap.
When companies are confused and try to grab more, they start to lose trust.
It’s hard. In some ways, the good news is going through the pandemic and COVID without person-to-person interaction and we lost some of the meetings. The ship almost got over-steered, which immediately, you think that’s bad but in some ways, people are learning their lesson. You can’t depend on influencers to build a sticky business. What are your thoughts?
The companies have got to go back to rebuilding that community and that feeling where people feel they belong. They want to participate. Whether they’re making a lot of money or not, they want to be a part of the community. What happened for many companies as they got away from this whole piece of having people feel that they belong? We had to do everything on Zoom. They stopped all their national conferences and the leadership conference. People got disconnected. We got to get back to that feeling of community.
Are people coming to that conclusion? Are they getting that idea or do you think they’re still holding on to that digital side?
Some companies are and some aren’t. The ones that aren’t are in trouble right now. What’s exciting about that? I do a lot of consulting work with companies. The ones that are new and coming in see the value from the beginning of having some influencers. They come in at a different place knowing that they’re not going to be there forever and always.
They’re not part of the real community. They’re just on the outside. They can upgrade and become a distributor. The other thing that companies are saying is, “You can do more than one company.” We all know that in the gig economy, people are doing more than one. Our old school companies are still sticking with the, “You only have one place to be and you got to choose. It’s us or nothing.”
That’s an old can of worms. We should talk about that one for a minute. I don’t think we’ve done that on this show. The old school way was you’re committed to us. It’s like a marriage. This is it. If you go anywhere else, you’re violating your agreement. Not only is it not the modern way of doing it. It’s not necessarily healthy, but let me be the devil’s advocate for a minute.
How do they protect the distributor base? If you’re a company that says, “If we create enough value, you will stay here and you will focus on building. If we don’t create enough value, you may go do some other stuff. We’re going to give you our blessing, but we don’t want you stealing the organization that you’ve built over here and moving them around.” What’s your feeling about that? How do they bridge so they can serve themselves and the distributor that might want to do something else?
Part of that is the no cross-recruitment because all those people aren’t mine. I didn’t personally sponsor those people. There are people in my organization that sponsored it. I’m hurting their business if they choose to stay. I agree that you shouldn’t take your people with you. If you choose to do something else, you can build something on the other side without disrupting your first existing organization.
You just ask every distributor to sign something that clearly stated, “You can do other things, but the minute you post anything or you try to cross-recruit. If anybody were to sign an affidavit against you, you would lose your book of business.” You try to draw very clear lines and communicate clearly, but you’re not trying to hold them captive for a lifetime.
Yes, and the other thing about that is social media changed all that. When somebody has a personal page, they’re going to post what they’re doing and where they are. They’re not specifically going and writing to those people, calling those people, and going after them. That is tasteless. That is not a good thing. They’ve got to be careful with how they’re going into the new business.
I couldn’t agree with you more. We’re in that day and age. You have to allow people to have. That is what network marketing is all about. Have freedom and flexibility. We live in the gig economy. Somebody’s driving Uber and they’re working their network marketing business part-time, and they’ve got a job over here for 15 or 20 hours. Create more value and they’ll spend more time building with you.
A dear friend of mine, John Fleming wrote a book, the Ultimate Gig. He is very strong on the thoughts or the choices that what the gig economy offers is a choice. People want choices, particularly young people. There are people that are a little bit afraid of putting all their eggs in one basket. They feel safer going across a couple of different companies. I was always told, “You can’t chase two rabbits. You’ll never catch either one.” Sometimes there are instances that you can, and companies need to take a look at this.
What the gig economy offers is choice.
If they put themselves in the distributor’s shoes, then they have to realize there are no guarantees. Sometimes, somebody might want to work 2 or 3 businesses, feel it out, get comfortable, and see where their home is. They can choose by cutting them off and saying, “You can’t do that out of the gate.” You don’t get to be 1 of the 3. You’re missing out on a pretty big market, especially the more experienced distributor.
It’s pretty much the legacy companies that are doing this. The newer companies aren’t.
Two big concepts here. One is the idea that companies should allow people to participate in multiple opportunities. Also, companies need to understand who the customer is and they need to build trust with the distributor. Are any other big concepts and big changes that you’re seeing out there that are valuable for people to understand whether you’re a distributor or a company servicing the industry?
I’m going to say something further about that trust. Trust comes with transparency and positive good communication with your field. Trust comes with working with your leaders first before the big announcements so that they’re on board and have all their questions answered. They’re the ones that are going to have to fill in those questions from their organizations. That is a big factor. The big trends are compensation and how it’s written and how it works. Making sure that customer acquisition is at the forefront and by the distributor.
Trust comes with transparency. Trust comes with positive, good communication with your field.
It’s because of the FTC and all the things that are happening there.
Yes, that’s basically what that’s about. The third thing is being more open to all diversity, all ethnic, and all ages. We don’t show the website middle-aged people in all our marketing materials. I had a company and it’s a big company. They said, “Will you look at this and give us your blessing? Tell us what you think.”
I looked at it and there was not anyone that wasn’t Caucasian. There wasn’t anyone that was two parents with two children. All the pictures that were in there were looking for a particular target of a kind of person. The others wouldn’t feel welcome. We’ve got to be aware of what messages we’re sending.
On the other side of that, when you think about things like branding and compensation, you do see all these outside consultants come in. The first thing they want to do is they want to adjust the branding or the compensation. Talk to me for a minute about something that’s near and dear to my heart. I think that 90% of the business, of course, there’s leadership development and culture.
These things are important. If an individual wants to succeed in network marketing, it’s the quantity of the exposures, the quality, and consistency of the follow-up, and then teaching 1 and 2. It almost sometimes seems like a lost art. People are seeing behind social, posting stuff, and they think that is exposure.
They’ve lost the art of personal connection, reaching out, having a conversation, making a friend, asking somebody to look at something that is meaningful that might resonate with them, and following up effectively. How does that fit into this that we get caught in compensation, branding, and all these different things? At its heart and soul, not to get long-winded here, Nicki, when I started it was a VHS tape, fax, phone, and meeting. It was so simple and we taught people communication skills.
People are looking for an easy way. I’ve had people say, “You don’t have to sell, you just have to connect with them on social media.” If no product is being sold, nobody’s making any money. We have to have some skills in that area. First of all, don’t tell people, “This is easy. This is for the field and the company. You don’t have to sell.”
If you don’t have to sell, we don’t need you. The other part of it is, when we say the product sells itself, no, the product doesn’t sell itself. You sell the product. We have old sayings that we use for a lot of years. Throw them on the wall and see who sticks and they die a slow death, fall off the wall. We’ve got to change our vernacular to let people know these are all humans and we want to engage them.
We don’t need to convince people anymore. We can engage them, so they willingly walk through the door and participate in what we’re doing. Communication skills, in some ways, are a lost art and it’s partly because of texting. The kids texted. I watched a family at dinner. It was two children and two parents. The mother texted her son what did he want to eat for dinner? What did he want to order?
He said, “I already texted you. Can’t we just talk? Put your device away and talk?” I think we’ve got to get back to training on communication, asking questions, learning to listen, building relationships, and building rapport. How that all works to have solid relationships and connections with people in this business so they don’t want to go anyplace else.
It is a bit of a dichotomy. We always avoided the word “sell” but you and I both know that yes, you have to sort, and yes, you have to share. No, you don’t have to convince me. I always use the simple discovery sizzle invitation. Ask some questions, build some rapport, create a little excitement, and then invite them to the next step in the process. The sales part is like, “I have to be creative in how I invite them to the next step to make a decision.” We avoid the word “sales” so much, which I do get because the average person hates sales. To pretend that we don’t have to learn any of those skills at all is disingenuous at the least.
It’s learning how to connect and build relationships with people. The sale follows when you have done that and when they trust you. When they can see you’re of service to them. It’s not about you. We have five principles that we teach in our coaching school. They are applicable to every company. Spell the word STAIR: Service, Trust, Authenticity, Integrity, and Respect.
Say it one more time. I love that.
S, you’re of service to your customer and the company is of service to the distributors. Trust. There’s got to be mutual trust. You build trust. Trust is automatic. There are certain things that you can do to build trust with people. Part of that is being interested in them, it’s not all about you. A stands for Authenticity, being real. Don’t try to be somebody else and be that superstar. Be yourself. Be who you are. Who you are is more than enough.
I is for Integrity. That’s doing the right things, even when people aren’t looking. Companies must operate with integrity. Leaders must operate with integrity in order for people to trust them. They’re all connected. R is Respect. Showing respect for the distributor, company, and customer. In some instances, respect is lost. People think they got to tell everybody what to do and you’re supposed to listen.
By the way, in direct selling, nobody signed up for this business, network marketing, to have a boss. They didn’t. They left that boss. They want to be independent. That’s why we must teach people what to do, but then we want to coach them to draw from them if they’re not doing it. There’s something there. There’s a limiting belief. Fear of success. Fear of failure. Fear of no. There’s a ton of fear that stop people from being successful in the business. We got to learn how to get that out of the way for people.
I love that, STAIR. It’s so true in the business. It is a lost art, I think.
That’s a foundational piece that we’ve got to get back to all the way around.
Are you teaching that through the organization?
Yes, it’s part of our curriculum.
Through the Coach Excellence School or Direct Selling World Alliance, or both?
DSWA is Coach Excellence School. DSWA actually owns Coach Excellence School. It is a separate division because we do a lot of schools all over the world.
What we do at RapidFunnel is we call it authentic sharing technology. It’s the bridge between the social world and the authenticity that is necessary. That’s why I love that STAIR concept. How important integrity, respect, and authenticity are to nature. The fundamentals of networking, those things are not true. No matter how much we try to say them.
The Kardashians do not give a f*** about you as an individual. No offense, but they’re not taking your professional phone call. That’s the power. What’s exciting about network marketing is that the average person is seeing more than 5,000 digital impressions a day. Everybody is fighting for that, and there’s nothing that cuts through that like a relationship and authenticity. That’s the power and the future of network marketing if we can get it right. That’s what you’re talking about. My goal here is not to tell you how on point you are, but you’re just so on point with your message.
Thank you. We’ve been working in this whole profession for many years. We started DSWA many years ago. The Coach Excellence School started teaching about coaching right out of the gate and then we started the school many years ago. It’s been a wonderful adventure. I think we have our finger on the pulse of what’s happening, and we want to be of service to the people.
Obviously, they can find you pretty easily on the internet, but if somebody is looking for consulting or coaching or what have you, what’s the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Our website is DSWA.org. The best way is probably to personally email me. That’s at Nicki@DSWA.org. I’m excited for 2023 with some great new things happening, and I’m looking forward to meeting more people. It was hard to not be going out and being at conventions and conferences, but I’m ready to go again. Let’s get things happening here.
Great being with you, Nicki. Thanks for being on the show.
Thank you. Aloha.
About Nicki Keohohou
Nicki Keohohou began her career as a teacher and athletic coach. She has held executive positions of CEO, President, COO, VP of Training and VP of Sales in a variety of companies. She has also been an entrepreneur most of her life. Her most current positions include CEO of the Direct Selling World Alliance (DSWA.org) and Co-Founder of the Coach Excellence School. She also serves on the board of directors for non-profits as well as public and privately held companies.