Field focus groups, or councils, are becoming more popular in the Direct Selling Industry – and rightfully so. Actively listening to your field can help you adapt to new/growing needs they have, help them to understand their tools, products, and services, and help you avoid costly mistakes if choosing a path inconsistent with their needs.
When it comes to technology and a Rep’s Back Office tools —wants and needs can be completely different. While you may have an idea of how a Rep works the business day-to-day, they are the ones out there working it. Therefore, the insights they can provide on which tools are useful, how they use them each day, and what they’re trying to achieve is invaluable. From their feedback, you can arrive at specific use cases, which leads you to the best back-office tool to offer them.
However, as beneficial as direct feedback/input from your field can be, it also brings with it the potential to misguide you due to breakdown in communication, ever-changing needs and opinions, and (most often) lack of clarification of field requests.
Why does this happen?
Actively listening is supposed to PREVENT missteps and costly mistakes, not CREATE them. And, if you’re giving your field precisely what they ask for, shouldn’t they be 100% satisfied and happy with those resulting tools?
While there are many reasons why this unintended misdirection and resulting dissatisfaction can occur, most often it is due to:
- Reps are usually speaking from a particular experience – one time, one specific path, one roadblock to overcome.
- Your focus group/field council represents just one (or a handful) of the many Reps using your system.
- Reps are unaware of how your system(s) are configured/built; thus they aren’t aware of specific opportunities or limitations of the system(s) and cannot anticipate unintended consequences of their suggestions/feedback.
- Reps are unaware of current items in development, and how those current items are already going to impact their day-to-day experience when working their business.
- Each individual Rep has a unique way of working their business, from mobile devices to home computers, to paper and pencil with hanging files. Likewise, each has a unique mission/objective for their business – with some focusing on recruiting and building an organization, and others who are only selling socially and have no interest whatsoever in reporting tools or prospecting.
How to Avoid Costly Mistakes
Even with the potential for misdirection and dissatisfaction, actively listening to your field is still a good idea. The key is to do it in the right way. These tips will help you listen to, engage with, and deliver upon the feedback from your field:
1. ASK WHY they want it.
Satisfy the goal they’re trying to reach, instead of just building/buying what they want.
- Why do you need that tool?
- How would you use that tool?
- What, specifically, would you do with that tool every day/week/month?
2. EXPAND on the requests.
Field input and suggestions should be the basis upon which you build/enhance Back Office tools, not the entirety of how you curate your field tools.
- What else have they NOT asked for, that would help them to do this?
- Are there ways their request could be even better? Think of additional functionality in that same tool, or integrating a new tool/function into those tools they already know and love.
- What is the best location for the enhancement? If they ask for a report, they might need a report, or they might need an automated email or a new interactive dashboard feature. Consider your ENTIRE back-office suite when looking to meet their actual needs.
3. Manage field expectations, and then EXCEED them.
Be clear that while their input is valued, it will not always be implemented. Deliver a tool that does more than satisfy their request.
- Is there a solution that is easier to use/more intuitive than what they’ve suggested?
- Ensure all new functionality is in line with your existing branding, voice, and user experience.
- Support them in achieving their original goal, and MORE
- Consider the perspective of each Rep and view their specific feedback/input through that lens. What works for a seasoned leader isn’t always what works for a brand new Rep, and vice-versa.
4. Look for UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES.
This is the step that most often prevents a misstep or costly mistake.
- Is there an impact on overall site performance, load times, etc.?
- Does the proposed tool/enhancement work for someone with a large team as well as someone with no organization?
- Are there inconsistencies with proposed data reported when compared to existing data reported?
- Does the proposed new tool/enhancement promote income-producing activities? Or does it encourage time spent AWAY from networking, promoting, building relationships, etc.?
Remember, Rep Back office tools should be effective and efficient, requiring less time on WORKING the business and allowing more time for GROWING the business. With every decision regarding Back Office Tools, remember to step back and consider the ultimate goal: supporting your field as they walk out that door or pick up that phone. Keeping this in mind will help you to deliver the best tools for your field — whether it’s precisely what they’ve asked for or not. When your Reps know that this is truly your intention, they’ll accept when the answer is no, and appreciate when the answer is beyond a yes.