Direct Sales Success: Five Retention Strategies to Make Consultants Stick

It happens to every direct sales leader sooner or later: attrition.

The first one is almost always the toughest, as you try to figure out what you could have done to keep that consultant on your team. We scratch our heads, chalk it up to a lesson learned, and eventually we get over it. Alternatively, you know in your heart that they didn’t really “want it”, so you try not to think too much about it and carry on.

Team retention is a big deal in direct sales. I’ve seen leaders add 50+ new recruits in a single month, and three months later, less than half of them remain. Why are we doing this to ourselves? A lot of hard work goes into building a team. It should not be for naught. We should not rest in the murky waters of “a third are joining, a third are staying and a third are leaving”. That’s too much work for too little return in my book!

It’s rare for me to lose a direct sales team member that’s engaged in the business. You’ve probably heard it said that “consultants don’t quit with a full calendar”. In my years as a direct sales leader, it became clear that an engaged consultant sticks aroung. I made it my business to find ways to keep retention numbers high, and attrition numbers low. Here are a few suggestions to help your team stick together:

  1. Communicate the vision. Make sure each member of the team understands their role – and their value – in achieving the vision you have for your business. Remember that you are building “You, Inc.” so each member of your direct sales team is a member of your “company”. Everyone needs to know where they stand and what your expectations are. They also need to have the latitude to create their own vision within your direct sales organization so that they can build something that they can eventually call their own. It’s a fine line in direct sales leadership that must be balanced: build your team, and help your team build their own teams.
  2. Be selective. While it may seem great to add 50 new recruits to your team in a single month, you need to make sure you’re recruiting for the right reasons. People that are very good recruiters sometimes lack necessary follow-up skills, leaving a wake of consultants that have abandoned ship – with a bad taste in their mouth for the entire direct sales industry. You’ve heard me say before how I would rather turn away a prospective recruit because they don’t fit the vision of my organization, than to sign up “anyone with a pulse” just to meet my incentive award quota. Success isn’t about quotas. Look instead for recruits that are a good fit for your organization, that grasp the vision you’re trying to create, and are willing to give you an up-front commitment of a minimum of 6 months to really get their business off the ground.
  3. Ask for a 6-month commitment up front. Direct sales can yield a substantial return on their starter kit investment, but new consultants are still getting their feet wet in the first three months of business. A six-month commitment gives new recruits a better look at the seasonal cycles of the industry, as well as a couple of product releases for most companies. They’ll have a better idea how customer service really works, and what to expect at their team meetings.
  4. Involve other leaders and strong consultants in your team meetings. You’re not looking for the best speakers, you’re looking for compassionate consultants that want to help others be successful. Ultimately, they will be your best leaders. Seek out even the quiet ones that have great potential and have them share from their heart. There are lots of elements of the monthly meeting with which they could help. One of the best is simply a testimonial. Have your new consultants share why they joined the business, and seasoned consultants can also share why they stay in the business. It’s a great way to keep a meeting authentic, and consultant focused.
  5. Recognize activities, not just results. This is probably the biggest secret to strong retention. Direct Sales results can fluctuate from season to season. A consultant that joins in October may have an amazing winter, and wonder why February is rotten. They’re still making the calls, but not getting the results. Take time at each meeting to recognize the actions that beget success. Make mention in the team newsletter of the consultant who made the most booking calls, not just the consultant that held the most shows. Even a personal recognition to the individual can go a long way if you can’t recognize everyone at the meeting. Make a point to encourage the behavior you want to see more often in your consultants.

These are just a few of the strategies I’ve used in my years as a direct sales leader and trainer. They are also the tip of the iceberg that we’ll be cracking in my upcoming program: Direct Sales 103: Leadership Development. We’ll be covering all the bases you need to step into leadership – and stay there – with a strong team that understands and supports the vision you have for business growth. Look for more details in early July. Implementing these concepts will go a long way toward securing the foundation of your future leadership team. After all, the recruits you add today could be your front-line leaders tomorrow.

© 2010 Lisa Robbin Young.



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Lisa Robbin Young is a certified direct sales marketing coach, teaching direct sales professionals to grow their business like a real business instead of an expensive hobby. Sign up for her free weekly ezine at