Crowdsourcing and Direct Sales
Representatives Create Reality
Every Direct Sales company has representatives and customers who think they can do things better than corporate. They may think they can design better packaging or come up with a better use of a product. What if in a controlled setting, they were allowed this opportunity? Crowdsourcing allows this to happen. It feeds into the human desire to make things better, to innovate, create and allows individuals with great ideas who otherwise might not be heard, rise to the top of the mountain and have their ideas heard.
Crowdsourcing was a term coined by Jeff Howe in his June 2006 article, “The Rise of Crowdsourcing” for Wired Magazine. Howe explains “the amount of knowledge and talent dispersed among the human race has always outstripped our capacity to harness it. Crowdsourcing corrects that…”
In basic terms, crowdsourcing is using a group of people to perform a task or group of tasks. The individuals in the group perform the tasks because of their interest in the subject. Sometimes there is a prize or a cash payout but many times it is personal satisfaction or recognition among peers that encourages participation.
Direct Sales companies have thrived off the passion of individuals and have helped their representatives to do what they love. Adding crowdsourcing to the mix is a natural next step. It increases representative’s engagement and brings out the best of the individual through innovation. This in turn creates a better product and a better company. Individuals join the direct sales industry because they believe in the product and the opportunity. Allowing them to crowdsource increases company awareness and allows for additional engagement opportunities.
There are some perceived benefits of crowdsourcing for the Direct Sales Company:
• Problems can be explored very quickly at little cost.
• The Company can tap into a wider range of talent than is currently present in its current corporate structure
• The Company can gain first-hand insight into their representatives’ and customers’ desires.
• Through contribution and collaboration the community may develop an earned feeling of ownership and connection with the Company
One of the better known examples of crowdsourcing is Wikipedia. Individuals are allowed to create a subject or add to a subject. The greater the number of individuals who edit a page, the more accurate the page can become. Another example is Threadless.com, a T-shirt company that artists submit too. The designs are voted on by the Threadless community. The top voted designs are printed onto T-shirts and sold. The artists receive approximately $2500 in cash and prizes for their winning designs.
Large organizations have recognized the power of the crowd and are using it for their benefit. NASA is a great example. In 2000, they produced a test study of analyzed data that took two years for one planetary geologist to meticulously complete. NASA developed a Clickworkers program and displayed the information on their website. Within one month several thousand individuals analyzed all the data. Even though they were not planetary geologists the work was comparable to the professional and achieved at a much faster rate. The Clickworkers program is now a mainstay in the NASA organization. In 2009, NASA introduced its “Be a Martian” program to Clickworkers to help map the satellite photos of Mars. The web site and database were created and are being maintained by one part time engineer who is advised by two scientists.
All companies have areas that they can improve or receive insight on. Examine where the areas for improvement or growth are within your company. List your greatest areas; marketing, product packaging, international expansion, recipes or decorating ideas, then begin to think about how you can engage your crowd in helping you with these areas. A true crowdsourcing effort would allow representatives within your community to submit their ideas on the chosen subject. Then, others in the community would review and revamp those ideas until the top product or process emerged.
Great excitement and engagement can occur when one of your representatives has created a new exciting product design, an outstanding recipe or given you the information you need to expand your business. Crowdsourcing allows your representative to review it and approve it. Hopefully your company will find great success by implementing it. The margin of error goes down considerably based upon the early market approval by your community.
Alexander Pope an 18th century English poet once said “A person who is too nice an observer of the business of the crowd, like one who is too curious in observing the labor of bees, will often be stung for his curiosity.”
There are some important things to consider when engaging your crowd.
• First and foremost, get to know your crowd. Many Direct Sales companies already have a moderator that provides answers and feedback to posts. This person will be a key person if you decide to crowdsource an activity.
• Decide what tasks the crowd could perform for you and break it down into small portions that could require as little as 15 minutes
• Allow for options. Some representatives can give you 15 minutes while others can give you days
• Your motives must be altruistic and authentic. Recognize that the crowd does not like to be used. (You really do want to improve your process or product, not just your bottom line)
• Recognize that it might cost you more financially to crowdsource something than to just pay someone else to do it (especially if it is a small marketing piece) but the rewards might outweigh the initial cost
Before the internet many Direct Sales companies found ways to stay in touch with their field to ask questions and get feedback. The internet, Facebook and community groups have added a more expedient method for receiving feedback.
A few Direct Sales companies are beginning to find the power of the crowd through their community groups and Facebook sites. Some are using polls, asking general questions and sweepstakes, but a few are crowdsourcing.
In 2010, Scentsy, a direct sales wickless candle company, crowdsourced a piece called County Fair. (http://www.scentsycountyfair.com). Individuals were asked to create unique scents and submit them to their site. Others (representatives or the general public) could then vote on which scent they preferred. Individuals were allowed to view the scents as soon as they were submitted so that they could review and build upon scents if they wanted too. One of the favorite scents received over 28,000 votes. In this example, using the crowd allowed Scentsy to become more aware of different scent profiles and also discover which scents were most pleasing to the greatest number of people. It allowed the company to engage with its current representatives and customers in a fun way. The crowd did the work very quickly. After all submissions were received, Scentsy chose their favorites and produced a recipe book awarding blue ribbons, first place and honorable mentions to the favorite scents From the comments on their fan page it appears the representatives loved it. This is one of the great points of crowdsourcing. Individuals who crowdsource do it because of their passion for the subject matter. Whether it be for art, health, fashion or a scent profile, people love to live out their passions.
Direct Sales companies have recognized and benefitted from the power of the crowd long before a term was coined for it. Representatives are passionate about selling their product and have been the face of their company to the world. In the past, this has been an outward approach, from the company to the representative, to the world. It is now time to invite the crowd back into our companies in a different way. The internet has changed how the world functions and crowdsourcing has become easier to manage. Direct Sales companies have avid fans, eager to encourage their company’s growth. It is time to harness that power and utilize it. Companies that are open to social media and are regular participants with their fans have thousands of individuals in their communities. Each of these individuals is connected and each recognize that their personal success rides on the success of the community. Crowdsourcing takes the power of the community, recognizes it, multiplies it and benefits from it.