What to Do: The Etiquette of Direct Sales

The Etiquette of Direct Sales


direct sales, etiquette of direct sales, etiquette of multi-level marketing, etiquette blogger

There has been an explosion of home-based, multilevel marketing type businesses over the past decade. It is no surprise that women are latching on to these type of companies because they can make an earning on a flexible schedule and, if they have children, maybe even stay at home. But this trend has brought up a lot of etiquette issues. I can’t tell you how many emails I receive about this very topic. Finally, I am addressing it (or going to try to address it!).

You may have read an article floating around the internet a few weeks ago about how one mom’s fake facebook friends were trying to sell her things. I think many of us can all relate to the pseudo-friend from ages past reaching out to us randomly and insincerely. But for the most part – or at least in my experience – I think the women selling these products are genuinely sincere about them and just trying to be successful. So if that “fake friendship” thing that has happened to you, first of all, give grace. We’ve all had new jobs and made mistakes or missteps along the way (or at least I know I have!) so we need to be a bit more understanding as our friends try to navigate their new ventures. And second, remember that there are two sides to every encounter. Here are tips to make sure both sides are gracious:

For the potential customer:

  1. Always respond. It’s just the polite thing to do! I’m sure I’ve been guilty of not responding to all the emails I receive, but I really try to! Even though it may be awkward, is so much better to respond than to ignore. Here are some things you can say/email/text:
    • “Thank you so much for thinking of me and sharing your new business with me! I love that you are doing this, however, I am not interested in trying it at this time.” You don’t have to give a reason!
    • However, if you feel you need to give specific reasons be honest. “I am so sorry but these products are just not in our budget right now, we are trying to save for xyz.” Or “My dermatologist just put me on this new regimen so I am going to stick with that for now.”
  2. Don’t lead them on. Again, many of us don’t want to hurt people’s feelings so we immediately follow up our decline with a “but maybe in a few months!”. If you are genuinely interested in the products, then absolutely give the consultant a time frame for when they should contact you again. (“Please feel free to call me in June when things aren’t so crazy!“) But if you have absolutely no desire to continue this conversation, don’t waste her time or get her hopes up. She is trying to run a small business and you are actually helping her be more efficient if you are up front in the beginning.
  3. Encourage/Not Bad-Mouth. Most of the people I have talked who are part of these home-based companies told me this, “I never thought I would be doing direct sales.” Direct sales is awkward and, as I said above, missteps are going to be made. But let’s not put a label on all the women who are working hard to help their families. And you don’t have to buy a lipstick from your friend to encourage her. I mean you can, but there are other ways as well: ask her how business is going, send her a note of encouragement, or perhaps think of friends/family who might be potential customers.

If you are the consultant:

  1. Be genuine. Of course, you are super excited to share your new business and part of your strategy is to reach people through social media. But instead of doing the fake friendship thing as that article referenced, just be authentic. If your marketing strategy includes reaching out to long lost friends on Facebook, try something like, “Hey, I know we haven’t talked in a while, but I am just starting this new venture and the scoping out who may be interested in these products, and am starting with my Facebook friends first.” I have a friend who just started selling Rodan & Fields and she said she reluctantly reached out to someone and the person said, “Oh I am so glad you did; I’ve been wanting to try that line but just didn’t know how to go about it.” You just never know and most likely will be a better saleswoman if you are authentic!
  2. Try waiting for a natural opportunity to share. Sometimes the best customers come to you organically. My cousin, who is a Beautycounter consultant gave some great advice about the matter: “No one wants to feel like you are just reaching out to them because you feel that you could make a sale. If there is a kind way to reach out to someone who you have not talked to in a while, and you sincerely want to catch up, I think it’s more than appropriate to bring up your new business opportunity. However, if your primary motive is making money, I would recommend holding off until another opportunity arises to share with that individual.”
  3. One follow up is probably plenty. If you send am email/text/facebook message and get radio silence in return, I think it is okay to try a different mean of communication to try to get in touch. If you are ignored a second time, then take the hint. It’s really not you, more likely that the person just doesn’t know how to say no (and probably needs to read this post – which you might want to share on Facebook!).
  4. Watch the fine line of promoting your product/line and over-sharing on social media. You don’t want your Facebook friends to select the “I don’t like this post” option because then your posts won’t show up as much in your friends’ feeds! Another idea: start a business page on Facebook. You can actually get in front of more potential customers that way.
  5. Don’t get your feelings hurt. I have a few friends who have been discouraged with the slow start of their direct sales business. I think it’s good to keep in mind that the people you are reaching out to may have already been approached by other direct sales businesses – not necessarily your particular company – but nonetheless probably several companies, several times in the past month. Like any business, it just may take time to get your footing, but you will!

I am sure my readers have a lot more tips on this subject. If you are in this line of businesses, please share your tips for graciously sharing about your products!

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9 thoughts on “The Etiquette of Direct Sales

  1. What a great and needed post on this topic. I would add that the consultant/friend limit their marketing on their personal Facebook page. I have hidden friends posts because of the constant “sell sell sell” and “help me get to the next level” posts.

    1. Thank you, Leah! That was number four in the second part of my post (although maybe it wasn’t very clear!). I haven’t admittedly selected the “Don’t show me posts like this” option a few times. Appreciate the feedback!!

  2. Lovely post Lee. I have written some simple musings from a representatives perspective (Lee’s RodanField friend).
    DON’T: There is such a fine line btwn selling assertively and being pushy, and you don’t ever want to be pushy.
    DO always try to filter advice coming down the pipeline from your uppers. Decide what selling style best matches you. The secret to a successful business is not necessarily to post often or to continue to ask the same friend for business if that is not your style.
    SAY how your product/company has changed you for the better. It’s good and natural to be excited and want to share your successes with others. Who doesn’t call to tell their friend about a great new restaurant they’ve discovered? Selling is a process and not everyone will agree that they need what you have today, …and that’s ok.
    GIVE your customers regular attention. Check in to thank them, help them or address any concerns.
    *This is truly a wonderful way to work from home, but if you want to make a go of it working ‘PartTime’ is the key, not ‘Some of the Time’ ????

  3. I think what this post fails to acknowledge is that there is a very sketchy side of these “businesses” and that, while generally legal, most are MUCH closer to pyramid schemes than actual business ventures. All the language you suggest about “I love that you are doing this” and so forth is really not appropriate for most of these businesses. I HATE that these businesses are sucking in my friends, encouraging them to sell overpriced junk to their networks, and sign new people up to do the same… and earning them (in the vast majority of cases) extremely little, or even just compensating them in the merchandise. I’d like a way to be able to tell them that, not just a way to politely decline their advances. My friends are very capable people, and even if they have kids at home, there are so many more productive uses of their time to earn a little money. Odd jobs like petsitting or walking, childcare (done while bringing along your own child), tutoring, listing other people’s belongings on ebay, etc. can be much more lucrative in much less time, all without extracting pity money from your friends and family.

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment, Eve. Points well taken! But I’m not sure it’s appropriate to tell someone they should have chosen a different path (unless it’s your really close friend or sister that you can tell stuff like that to!). I think we can still be kind and encouraging of friends’ efforts to help out their families while not necessarily agreeing with their chosen route.

    2. This seems like a really judgmental comment from someone who is generalizing on a topic and industry that she may not completely understand. What has your research been like into every single company out there? I know a few who are terrible and there are a few I don’t mind supporting friends who do them, but I know that judging like this never served me well.

  4. I really like the things suggested here for both parties, especially the reminder that these people are trying to earn extra income for their families and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
    One point that I think is a case by case basis is that you should always reply. I have recieved inboxes from Plexus and R&F acquaintances that I NEVER talk to and I can tell they just got on messenger and pressed copy/paste/send a thousand times and added one line relevant to me to be less obvious. Replying to these people has led to nothing but a waste of my time. It is because they have literature (that you can look up yourself online) that says that “NO means NOT NOW. Keep lines open between this person.”
    Engaging these people in conversation for the sake of being polite has been nothing detrimental to my end game which is to effectively communicate that I am not interested. If they are trained to take any response as a potential yes, then we have already abandoned the basic rules of etiquette at the door.

  5. I did not edit that before I pressed send – RECEIVED is totally spelled wrong. Case-by-case needs hyphens. Oh, man. I could go on, but I’ll just ask for your forgiveness and try not to post af1:45am in the future. ?