How to attract millennials to your direct selling business

Recruiting new customers and distributors is the lifeblood of every direct selling business. So why not expand your network by adding more millennials?

They participate in the market both as consumers with increasing buying power and as potential employees who will comprise up to 75% of the workforce by the end of 2025. Companies - not only in the direct selling business - must adapt to the changing demographics.

Maybe you've tried to address this group before and failed. Maybe you're scared of Generation Y’s bad reputation - they're considered lazy, entitled, disrespectful towards authority, and disregarding of work culture. Millennials, on the other hand, are always online and connected, are digital natives fluent in technologies, and are the generation of entrepreneurs who can help you conquer new territories.

But first you have to reach them. Here's how.

1. Learn their language

Do you understand the millennials' style? Playful and immersed in technologies. Young people enjoy tech novelties, digital gadgets, instant messengers, mobile apps, and gaming. That's their natural environment for interacting with brands and friends. 87% have their smartphone constantly within arm’s reach, spending on average 25 hours per week online. Truly, the most digitally obsessed demographic!

Also, research shows that they prefer to text, not talk, so when you want to engage in direct conversation with a millennial, write! Instant messengers or chat apps are less intrusive and correspond better with the millennials lifestyle. According to a 2014 Gallup's poll, text messages are outranking phone calls as the dominant form of communication between young people. About 68 % of people aged 18-29 texted “a lot” on the day before the poll, compared to 47% in a group of 30 to 49-year-olds. Among millennial workers, text or email is preferred mainly because of a much lower risk of misinterpretation. What's more, text can be stored and re-read later.

This generation wants to be engaged in discussions with the brands they like. They want to be active co-creators, not just passive recipients who consume marketing messages and then buy what they are told to buy. As Forbes points out, 62% of millennials claim that they are more likely to buy products if the brand engages with them in social networks like Facebook. It is a challenge for companies to rethink their strategy and talk with customers on an equal position, but it is definitely worth it.

When you use polls to ask a milliennial’s opinion, listen to what he or she has to say, react to it, and show that you care. Just let them know that as consumers or as sellers they co-produce, not just follow the beaten path. They’ll be happy to give you their feedback and help you innovate your business. Inspiring success-stories of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter are the best examples of high engagement of millennials into product and service development, even from the very beginning.

2. Understand how they shop

Millennials are going to be the most dominant group of shoppers in the upcoming decade. They buy online, using price comparison engines and social recommendations (real people's feedback seems more reliable that official company websites). Most essentially, they hate being sold to. Having been bombarded with omnipresent ads all of their lifetime, they grew immune to the salespeople buzzwords.

Millennials research products before they pay and tend to buy on an impulse. Does this sound like a paradox? Not necessarily: when they need something, they just search for it, read a couple of reviews and buy instantly. Because millennials value bargains and are a very price-sensitive group, they shop right now when they see a good offer. Wherever they are - the shopping process, or at least a part of it, often occurs on mobile devices. Almost half of the generation has downloaded a shopping app on their smartphone. In fact, 87% of them use between two and three tech devices on a daily basis and 39% are going to purchase a tablet computer in the next five years.

Millennials are impatient and have a short attention span - if they don’t buy now, they won’t buy at all. Long buying cycles don’t happen - if the need fades away or is handled otherwise, the purchase becomes irrelevant. It’s either instant gratification or nothing.

So are they brand-hoppers with only current need in mind? Not really. According to Forbes, 60% of them are loyal to brands that they use or purchase frequently. They are going to buy the same brands as they grow up and get better jobs, so if you would like to connect with them, there is no time to waste.

3. Appeal to their values

Millennials are natural born direct sellers - all you have to do is to make them realize it. This generation looks up to startup founders and freelancers who working flexible hours without a boss over their heads. Raised on the stories of disruptive entrepreneurs who questioned the status quo, they want independence and freedom, not rules. As a Bentley University study reveals, 66% of millennials want to start their own business, and 37% want to work on their own. They don’t believe in climbing the corporate ladder till the retirement.

According to recent PwC study about millennials reshaping workplaces, independence is one of the most important values for young adults. They are interested in gaining interesting experiences like working in less developed country (53% globally) or changing the country they live in (71% globally). What's more, they are interested in flexible work hours (38%) and choosing places to work remotely (more than 20%).

Thus, direct selling is a perfect option for them: low entry barrier, training offered, and the possibility to work part-time, from home, online, and using social media which is their natural environment. It can become a vital career step: they can learn entrepreneurship without taking on any risks associated with funding and running their own company. And they gain knowledge without having to get involved in traditional, corporate company structures, which they can’t stand.

A direct selling business offers millennials the independence they crave and resonates with their idea of the perfect job!

4. Sharing, not selling

Young people might associate direct selling business with someone going from door to door with a suitcase; an odd figure they remember from their childhood. Show them that these times are long gone and today sales happen mostly in social media and online since these are now the most effective channels.

For millennials, sharing their findings in social media is a natural reaction - if they like something, they instinctively share, pin, like, tweet, snap, forward, or comment to tell the world about it. So a direct selling business actually lets them get paid for doing what they already do - spreading the news about the products they like. Millennials define themselves by their social media presence. As their parents used to look into photo albums to remember key events in life, millennials simply scroll down their Facebook feed. They keep and share their resumes (via LinkedIn) or information about music preferences (using or SoundCloud).

How do you leverage millennials’ willingness to share in your direct selling business? Firstly, your website has to be social-media friendly. Put integrations that enable content sharing in one place - make it easy to publish products or offers on social media instantly. Secondly, you need to produce valuable content your millennial audience will want to share because it’s useful, relevant or funny. Instead of dry product descriptions, add some how-to posts including your offerings or infographics that involve the need your products addresses. Focus on your customers’ needs and problems, things they want to learn more about, not on talking louder and louder about yourself. It is essential to share something, for example, knowledge, before you try to sell something. According to consulting company PwC, access to service is equal to ownership for 57% of American adults. Create materials that will be a good starting point for the discussion and encourage your users to generate content (think of contests or rewarding product rating and reviews).

Imagine you sell cosmetics. Publish make-up tips, video tutorials, polls about celebrities’ recent looks, educational blog posts about how cosmetics are made, quizzes that help someone choose the perfect eyeshadow. Ask for photos of your customers’ make-up, for their beauty routine tips, feature them and promote them in your channels so your followers feel acknowledged and recognized.

This philosophy extends to other areas as well. Your communication must be about a true relationship, trying to help your audience and listening to their feedback. No millennial will enter an organization that encourages them to sell hard and bombard their friends or followers with the most-hated salespeople talk. In other words, you need valuable content and social presence not only for your millennial customers, but also millennial sellers who want to participate in a community, contribute actively and identify with brand messages.

If you don’t feel social media and can’t establish a meaningful connection with the audience in this channel, try to hand your accounts to someone else. For example, maybe an influencer can take over your channels for a week? Just research him/ her well before reaching out.

5. Don't forget about mobile

As the most mobile generation, millennials will most likely visit your website on their mobile devices, so responsive web design (RWD) is vital. And remember that it applies not only to your website, but also to landing pages and emails.

Also think of tools that simplify and streamline work, such as a direct seller's mobile app equipped with business features. With the app, sellers can build their distribution network by adding new downlines, just as they add friends in social media. In the app they could also add products to a shopping cart and place orders, check bonus points and statuses of orders, manage invitations to their network, and send messages. The app could also be used to present products to their customers during face-to-face meetings. In the next step, the seller's app can be integrated with contacts in the smartphone and social media networks.

Not to mention that such an app is a great area to implement gamification techniques - a concept that millennials love. Well known games designer Jane McGonigal estimates that the average 21-old has spent more than 10,000 hours gaming, about as much as he spent in school from 5th to 12th grade. The difference was in motivation. He HAD to go to school, while gaming was not obligatory. It was just fun.

Yet you shouldn’t oversimplify the way millennials use their mobile phones. According to ComScore MobiLens nearly a quarter of millennials use their mobile phones to take pictures of products in a store while shopping. What's more, about 13.9% of them are actively comparing prices during a trip to the store and 14.7% are actively texting with family while shopping. This is really disruptive for retailers, who are usually convinced that a customer is “won” once he or she enters the shop. Not anymore.

What can you gain?

Although it will require additional effort (creating informative and shareable content, optimizing your website and communication for social media and mobile devices, possibly developing a mobile app and creating a mobile strategy), the process doesn’t mean that your direct selling business will have to change its identity or values. On the contrary, addressing millennials will help you go back to the basics and focus on relationships, independence and flexibility, the core of this profession. When opening your business to millennials, try not to rely on stereotypes and buzzwords about the group, but find aspects of your culture that could appeal to Generation Y and approach them in their channels of choice. Be honest - nothing feels more phony than desperate attempts to dress up as urbanite hipster.

In return, you get not only new customers, but also a lot of business inspirations. They’re called the most entrepreneurial generation because they don’t want fixed corporate structures and procedures, but real business results, and are ready to experiment with new ways to achieve their aims.