When a person joins a multi-level marketing (MLM) company, the onboarding journey plays a significant role in that rep’s future direct selling success. Not only that, effective journey-based onboarding drives engagement, satisfaction, and retention for MLM representatives. While these factors may put a lot of pressure on getting onboarding right for your MLM organization, the good news is there are plenty of research insights, best practices, and MLM software tools that can help you design and deliver highly effective onboarding training to help your reps and your company succeed.
The business impact of onboarding
As MLM companies gain newly recruited reps, they face a somewhat harsh reality. Half of new MLM representatives drop out within their first year of selling. Nine in ten MLM representatives leave the industry within their first five years. While some of the attrition is made up of representatives who aren’t a good fit for direct selling, a portion of it is due to inadequate or ineffective training and support.
Today, smart MLM companies recognize the strategic importance of creating an onboarding journey for new representatives that starts on day one and transitions into ongoing training support that lasts throughout their direct selling careers. The impact of effective onboarding is noticeable. Organizations with standardized onboarding programs have retention rates that are 50 percent higher and productivity rates up to 62 percent higher than companies without standardized onboarding.
Effective onboarding is not a once and done task. Journey-based MLM onboarding takes a strategic approach to design and deliver accessible, step-by-step training and support over time. The steps along the journey are based on the MLM company’s onboarding timeline, the training elements that are required, and milestones that the representative achieves along the way.
Making a strong first impression
First impressions matter in business. For MLM companies, making a good first impression starts well before a representative enrolls and onboarding begins. Recruiting conversations and experiences establish expectations for new MLM representatives. During recruiting, it’s essential to balance between setting realistic expectations about what a direct selling career with your company requires and inspiring people to engage, enroll, and succeed.
One way to strike the balance is by understanding the different goals people have when they choose to pursue a direct selling career. According to the Direct Selling Association, 77 percent of Americans are interested in flexible, entrepreneurial income opportunities. The percentage spikes higher for younger generations, with 88 percent of Millennials and 91 percent of Gen Z interested in these types of entrepreneurial opportunities. Direct selling is seen as a favorable option by nearly eight in ten people.
As of 2019, the Direct Selling Association reports there are 6.8 million MLM representatives in the United States. Most – 87 percent – approach MLM sales as a part-time way to supplement their income. The other 13 percent focus on their MLM business full-time (30 or more hours per week). Both recruiting and onboarding messages should be tailored to match the individual’s objectives and create appropriate expectations that put new representatives on a personalized path to success.
The MLM onboarding journey begins
After optimizing recruiting messages, turn your attention to the official starting point of a representative’s MLM onboarding journey – the enrollment experience. The decision to become a representative with your organization comes with a new rep’s attention, excitement, and energy. It’s a moment in time that you’ll want to capitalize on to engage new reps when interest is high and motivate them to learn, sell, and recruit others into your organization.
One of the first opportunities you have to engage representatives is through their representative enrollment experience. Create a convenient and impactful enrollment experience that translates enthusiasm for your company’s products and services into action by offering a simple process for joining online representative enrollment form. Look for MLM software that enables you to seamlessly build representative enrollment into your online shopping experience. This allows someone who is engaged and enjoying your products to click and enroll to become an MLM representative in the moment by completing a simple form as part of the checkout experience. You should also have the ability, leveraging your MLM software and shopping cart capabilities, to offer a special promotional incentive for shoppers who decide to enroll as a representative. (You can add copy here that says, your MLM software should also allow you to create a custom enrollment using APIs.) Note: Enrollment can also be called join now or join if you need alternate words.
The instant someone enrolls, capture the moment by delivering a trigger-based welcome message that reinforces the decision, feeds her interest and enthusiasm, and provides tangible next steps for what she should do to begin building her MLM business. Your company’s MLM software technology should facilitate the ability to create and automate the delivery of personalized welcome messages, along with the option to include a welcome video from company leaders. Welcome messages and videos can consist of an overview of your company’s story, a look at the success that’s possible, and a preview of what to expect during the onboarding process.
While the enrollment decision marks the start of journey-based onboarding, the journey isn’t defined by a timeframe alone. Rather, thanks to integrated MLM software technology, journey-based onboarding can be designed to deliver content and tools at precise moments based on a combination of time-based and event-based triggers.
Mapping out the onboarding journey
To get representatives from enrollment to where you want them to be – successfully selling and building their MLM business – requires a thoughtfully planned approach. Think of onboarding as a journey with three distinct phases: initial onboarding, skills development, and ongoing development and retention. Then, define specific objectives for each phase, along with a precise – and proven – set of steps for representatives to take as they progress.
As you map out the onboarding journey for your reps, stay focused on a primary goal of delivering essential information and support to new representatives at the right time. Successful journey-based onboarding is never just about providing a welcome message and a link to a vast training library of content. While both your welcome message and an online library of resources are vital components of an overall onboarding program, journey-based onboarding means breaking the valuable resources you’ve created into bite-size pieces and then sharing them at the point along the journey when they are most relevant for a new representative.
Journey-based onboarding works because individuals learn and retain information differently. Most people – 58 percent – prefer to learn at their own pace, and half want to learn at the point they need the information. For each phase of the onboarding journey, put yourself in the shoes of a new representative to develop the answers to three key questions:
- What does the new representative need to know?
- What tools and resources does she need?
- What type of support does she need?
Phase 1: Initial onboarding
The initial onboarding phase is often thought of as the crucial first 30 to 60 days after the representative joins an MLM organization. Not only is this stage vital for engaging and motivating new reps, but it also sets the foundation for the onboarding phases that follow.
During these first few weeks, you have the opportunity to capitalize on what’s called “emotional momentum,” also known as the positive feelings new representatives have about joining your organization. The primary way to do this is by creating a series of regular communications that give the rep reasons to engage, encouragement to move forward, tangible steps to take, and recognition when they do. Although not specific to MLM companies, research shows that the initial onboarding period is critical as one in five people leave within the first 45 days after joining an organization.
When designing journey-based onboarding, break the initial onboarding period into distinct segments, such as the first 72 hours and then weeks one through four. For each time period, define specific objectives, steps for success, and key deliverables. For example, one key to long-term success is getting new representatives started on building their business right away. Your MLM software can make it easy by giving new representatives immediate access to their own replicated website. This gives reps a quick-start way to share the news about their business and start selling as they continue to learn.
Over the first few weeks, focus on providing “just in time” information that mixes practical “how-to” operational details with sales training, business building, and compliance guidance. Most importantly, don’t forget to provide plenty of support through automated online messages as well as personal outreach by leaders, sponsors, and peers. Make the content easily accessible through the rep’s dashboard within your MLM software platform and mobile app, and send regular messages and links, so the information is easy to navigate without being overwhelming.
During the initial onboarding phase, you’ll want to share more about your MLM brand story and core values, provide training modules about your products and services, and convey essential information about your organization’s policies and procedures. Use a variety of formats, including written materials, training videos, online content, and webinars. Plus, create checklists to help representatives know what they should focus on and accomplish each week.
Phase 2: Skills development
Initial onboarding is an appetizer for the deeper dive into skill-building that will occur in the second phase of your MLM company’s journey-based onboarding. Over the course of three to six months, the purpose of the skills development phase is to arm new representatives with the information and tools they’ll need to build their business by enhancing their sales and marketing abilities and building out a downline team.
Remember, journey-based onboarding is personalized, enabling MLM companies to effectively deliver training and resources in a modular format, with the information shared at the right point in time. Representatives are able to proceed at their own pace based on their objectives for their MLM business, sales activity, and recruiting success.
When designing the modules for your company’s onboarding journey, include content for these core categories.
- MLM business model: Even if they think they know about direct selling, most representatives need more information about how multi-level marketing companies are set up, how the compensation program works, and how to recruit representatives to build a downline team. Start with the basics and then share more details over time.
- Products and services: For long-term success, representatives need to build a deep understanding of your products and services, and the differentiators they should highlight for each. Create a series of product training modules that provide information about product features as well as positioning points to help reps sell and ensure overall brand consistency.
- Customer service: One-to-one, personalized relationships between customers and MLM representatives are at the heart of MLM success. Help reps build solid relationships by teaching them about your company’s customer service philosophy and expectations. Use your MLM software to create trigger-based messages that remind representatives to follow up with customers after events and sales transactions. Include tools and resources to help them within the reminder messages.
- Compliance: Understanding compliance regulations and requirements is essential for all MLM representatives. Weave compliance training into the entire onboarding journey and emphasize how the regulations apply to real-life situations.
- Policies and procedures: As representatives set up and run their MLM business, they need accessible, step-by-step guidance. Vary the formats you use to convey the information by using checklists, how-to videos, and FAQs.
- Technology: Representatives need to get up to speed quickly on how to use your company’s MLM software to set up their replicated website, optimize back-office capabilities, and start making sales. Break the information into bite-size chunks and deliver the information tied to relevant triggers, such as initial log-in, first sale, and rank achievements.
- Direct sales training: Incorporate ongoing direct sales training throughout the onboarding journey and beyond. Support representatives in building their capabilities and confidence with targeted marketing, sales, and recruiting training modules. Supplement the training with outreach from mentors who can provide both guidance and encouragement.
Phase 3: Ongoing development and retention
Once representatives have their MLM businesses up and running and are consistently selling and recruiting, it’s time for your onboarding program to transition smoothly into the third phase: ongoing development and retention. Aim to build off the momentum created throughout the onboarding journey by providing ongoing training opportunities designed to help representatives further develop their direct selling skills, increase their business and industry knowledge, and keep up with product enhancements and evolving market needs.
Support, mentorship, and recognition should be focal points during phase three, which will last for as long as the rep remains with the organization. Establish both formal and informal mentoring programs to ensure representatives have connections they can reach out to for advice, best practices, and encouragement. In addition, engage reps as mentors for new recruits. Research shows that mentors provide important socialization and help new representatives become more knowledgeable about the organization compared to those without mentor relationships.
Most importantly, make sure that ongoing development provides representatives with a clear path for growth both in terms of their business as well as within the overall MLM organization. Ongoing training should be well integrated into the company’s over-arching sales communications and recognition programs, with continued learning and improvement embedded into the overall organizational culture. As further reinforcement of the importance of ongoing skill development, consider making completion of training levels a qualifying criterion for achieving ranks within the organization.
Reward early success
An MLM company’s compensation plan and recognition programs are the cornerstones of attracting and retaining sales representatives. From the beginning, find ways to encourage and recognize success during the onboarding journey. Early success keeps enthusiasm high and impacts long-term retention.
Throughout the onboarding journey, create opportunities to incent and reward the actions and results you want. For example, recognize reps as they progress through the training modules. This can range from a shout-out on a team meeting to awarding a small bonus when a representative graduates from each phase of the training.
Consider incorporating “gamification” into the onboarding journey. Gamification uses competition, scores, and rewards to inject an element of fun into training. There’s science behind making learning fun. Gamification helps reduce information overload by breaking the information down into smaller pieces and creates emotional engagement as people learn. Eighty-three percent of people say gamified training is motivating, and 87 percent report that it increases their feeling of connection and belonging within an organization.
Along with recognizing representatives for engaging in and completing training, reward results. Research shows that MLM representatives who make a sale within 14 days of joining a direct selling company are likely to stay with that company for an average of six years. Assist new representatives with their initial marketing outreach and follow up during the early stages of onboarding, so they’re able to begin having sales success as early as possible.
Automate the onboarding journey
Automation makes mapping out an onboarding journey that keeps new MLM reps engaged and motivated easier. With automated, trigger-based delivery of training content and recognition, you’re able to deliver the right message at the moment in time when it’s most meaningful for the individual representative. Today, the best MLM software platforms provide automation capabilities that make delivering tailored, learn-at-your-own-pace onboarding not only possible but also relatively simple to set up and manage.
Here’s an example of journey-based onboarding, leveraging integrated MLM software capabilities. When a new representative makes her first sale, the MLM software platform automatically triggers a congratulatory message along with a training module about delivering outstanding customer service. Or, when the new representative recruits a new team member, the software can be set up to deliver a module about the role of a sponsor and tips for balancing running their personal MLM business needs with the leadership responsibilities that come with a downline team. Timely, automated onboarding messages like these meet two objectives – real-time recognition as the representative achieves business and sales milestones, paired with highly relevant training the rep is able to put into action right away.
When evaluating MLM software options, seek providers who recognize the value of journey-based onboarding by making it easy to create and deliver training modules and trigger-based messages based on events, such as sales milestones, enrollments of new recruits, or meeting the criteria for a new rank within the company. In addition, look for MLM software that enables you to also provide onboarding content at defined times, such as after the rep’s first 90 days and as they reach milestone anniversaries.
As you map out your company’s onboarding journey, look to your MLM software provider for insights. Experienced MLM software providers should have best practices and off-the-shelf onboarding journey messages that you can customize with your branding and align with your training strategy without having to start from scratch.
Measure your onboarding efforts
Like all business strategies, gauging the effect of journey-based onboarding requires tracking and measuring the results and using those insights to continuously refine and enhance the program. As a first step, think about the key performance indicators (KPIs) that you want your onboarding strategy to impact. For MLM companies, the most obvious KPIs include sales representative satisfaction, sales, and business-building activities (productivity), and overall retention. Other KPIs to consider when measuring the impact of journey-based onboarding are engagement in and completion of training modules, recruiting rates, and average tenure rates for your field team.
Check your progress against your KPIs at set dates throughout the year to identify what’s working and find places where you may be lagging. Dig into additional data points to better understand the KPI results and reach out to onboarding participants for feedback and suggestions. Tap into the integrated reports available through your MLM software to view data by representative, by downline teams, or specific timeframes.
Throughout the onboarding journey, you will also want to examine how well representatives are understanding and retaining your training information. Track their progress through the modules and explore incorporating short quizzes at different points along the journey. Quiz scores will help you identify areas where reps may need additional support, as well as gaps that can be addressed by creating additional training modules. Keep in mind, these types of quizzes should be positioned as another learning tool for the representatives, not as a pass or fail grade on their future with the organization. Mix quiz metrics with a forum that allows you to regularly seek feedback from representatives about their onboarding experience.
Giving representatives the chance to share candid feedback and influence onboarding enhancements is crucial. Not only is input from representatives one of your most valuable sources of information but demonstrating your interest in what they have to say goes a long way toward keeping them engaged and feeling appreciated. Taking action based on the feedback you receive and involving reps in refining the onboarding journey is another powerful way to show how much you value your organization’s field sales representatives.
MLM onboarding best practices
Whether you’re creating your company’s first onboarding journey or enhancing an existing program, use the following checklist of MLM industry best practices as a guide.
- Set clear objectives for your journey-based onboarding program and measure your progress regularly.
- Take a modular approach to creating training content. Use a mix of formats – written, video, online, webinars – to share the information and keep representatives engaged.
- Map out an onboarding journey that provides relevant information “just in time” based on timelines and as representatives reach defined milestones.
- Make a good first impression. Put an extra emphasis on welcoming new representatives and getting them engaged in onboarding training right away to capitalize on their interest and energy at enrollment.
- Let new representatives know what to expect during onboarding. Provide checklists that answer “what should I do next” for different timeframes throughout onboarding. (i.e., first day, first week, first month, etc.)
- Supplement training content with personalized welcome messages, formal and informal recognition, and ongoing support from mentors.
- Optimize your MLM software platform to automate journey-based onboarding content based on event or timeline triggers to create a personalized and cohesive experience for participants.
- Keep up with technology as it evolves to ensure you’re optimizing the ability to communicate with, educate, and engage your field sales team.
- Create quick-start opportunities for new representatives to achieve early sales success as they progress through onboarding.
- Seek feedback from representatives about their onboarding experience. Use rep input to guide enhancements to the onboarding journey.
- Never stop improving the onboarding journey.
- Recognize and celebrate accomplishments all along the way.
Done well, journey-based onboarding combines comprehensive content with the automation and trigger-based capabilities available through your company’s MLM software to give new representatives the information they need, when they need it. Building and automating a thoughtful and thorough journey helps ensure training consistency as the MLM organization grows and gives sponsors and leaders more time to focus on what they do best – establishing relationships, mentoring, and motivating new representatives.
ByDesign partners with MLM companies as they grow. With 20 years of experience in the MLM industry and lessons learned while serving nearly 1,000+ clients along the way, ByDesign’s MLM software solutions provide journey-based tools and technological capabilities that your organization can use “as-is” or customize with your own branding and content. Learn more at ByDesign.com or contact us to schedule a consultation today.
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