After years with multiple direct sales companies, growing businesses through both field work and corporate coaching, Connie Ashburn has gained a lot of knowledge around successful sales. This week on the podcast, she shared that knowledge with us! She not only dove deep into how to build a team and spend quality time on your business, she also offered advice about finding a strong community, growing personally, and most importantly, connecting your big goals to your business plans. No matter where you are in your direct sales journey, you won’t want to miss it.
Time based notes:
- 1:26 Successfully extend an invitation
- 4:15 Connie Ashburn introduction
- 6:35 Timing in direct sales
- 8:39 Opportunities in direct sales
- 13:25 Maximizing personal growth
- 17:17 What makes a successful direct seller
- 24:40 Finding your “why”
Stay on Track for Direct Sales Success with Connie Ashburn
After years in the direct sales industry, growing businesses through both field work and corporate coaching, Connie Ashburn has gained a lot of knowledge around successful selling. This week on the Modern Direct Seller Podcast, she shared that knowledge with us! No matter where you are on your own sales journey, you won’t want to miss her advice.
So, fill everyone in. Tell us a little bit about your background and your personal direct sales story.
Well, I came from a corporate background that I thought I would always be part of; I couldn’t imagine myself not working full-time for a company. But things changed tremendously after our second daughter was born. I didn’t want to be gone all the time. And, I was tired of what I would call the “merry-go-round,” trying to balance full-time jobs and two kids at that point. So, never in a million years did I consider direct sales when I made that decision to leave my corporate career—until I was invited. And, when I was first invited, still took a year before I said “yes.”
So, if you’re wanting to build a team, it’s important that you invite people, because you just never know what stage of life they’re in. And sometimes you feel like, “What do I say?” But a simple, “Have you ever considered or thought of __?” Fill in the blank with whatever it is that you’re into. It’s so simple, and it does work, especially when, after you ask the question, you’re quiet. You give them a chance to consider what you’re offering.
The other thing I would say is to ask for permission to follow up later. Because, that’s really my story. The person that recruited me, we’d never met before. We went to a parenting class, and as we’re walking out, she said, “Have you ever considered having a home-based business?” And at the time, I literally was a month into my stay-at-home gig, and I said, “No. I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.” But, the simple question of: “Do you mind if I follow up with you in a few months?” Of course, I said, “Yes, that’s totally fine.” I gave her my contact information, and the key was, she called me every three months. She literally did. Every three months. And, she always asked, “Has anything in your life changed that might make you want to hear more?”
So, you know, three or four times I said, “No. I’m just not ready.” So, she would ask me again, “Can I follow up with you in a few months?” And when you say that, it opens that door to the possibility of you calling again. And, it’s not like you’re hassling somebody; you’re doing your job. So, that fourth time, a year later, when she asked me, I was ready. I went to a meeting, I joined, and that was 31 years ago.
And I stayed in the industry the entire time, and we are still really, really good friends. Extending that invitation was what made all the difference in the world. And since then, I’ve been with three companies. I was in the field with Discovery Toys for five years, where I built a team of about 110. Then, I went on to DK Family Learning, where I spent four years and built a team of 1,300. And when they went out of business, I spent the last eleven years of my field career with Southern Living At Home, and we built a $26 million organization with 10 million people. And, even though that first year it built quickly, things happened quickly, income grew quickly, I had nine years of prior experience that helped me elevate that business to the level that it went. And so, I think time is one of those things that people just don’t think enough about. They’re jumping into businesses and think that they’re going to increase their income multifold over a shorter period of time, and you have to be willing to just be in there for the long haul.
So anyway, that’s my story. I went corporate after Southern Living At Home, training and coaching, and seeing the other side of the business has been a tremendous experience. And now, 31 years later, I’m just looking back thinking that I would never ever have joined direct sales unless I was asked.
It really is all about timing. You never know when you’re gonna ask somebody, and they’ve had the worst day at the office, and they’re thinking, “There is not another day I can continue having this day job. I’m looking for another opportunity.” You just never know how people’s situations change. And so, that is such a good reminder that it is all about timing, and also perseverance, and having conversations, following up on those conversations, and continuing to make those asks.
And when you’re doing your follow up, and you’re doing it professionally, and you’re doing it based on their timing, not yours, you do end up building relationships. You just have to be willing to do what it takes in terms of staying in touch and not looking at it as pressuring people. It’s not that at all. It’s just the follow-up is critical.
So, we can see how passionate you are about the direct sales industry and the opportunities that creates for people. It’s changed your life. It’s changed mine. I know many of our listeners would agree. So, tell us what you really love about the opportunity that direct sales creates.
That’s a big question. And, there are many, many things. But, I thought about, like, four for me: travel, friendships, personal growth, and products. I mean, every single company that I represented and was a part of, I loved their products. They enriched my family; they enriched me. Travel, too. I’ve traveled to places I would never have imagined, all because of direct sales. Resorts that I probably would never have been able to afford to stay in, and experiences that I just would never have had.
When I’m looking at friendships, I’m looking at those that developed within my community, with all of my hosts and the guests that come. I mean, there was a time when I would go to the grocery store and be like, “Oh my gosh, she had a party for me last year!” It was so fun to see those clients again. And then, there are also people across the country, because as you start building a team, and your team starts to expand, all of a sudden, you’ve got friends all over the country. These are all people that I would never have met if it wasn’t for direct sales. And, there are some really great people that are my lifelong friends to this day. And so, when we travel to different places now—and especially now that I’m retired—there are going to be people that I will go visit.
And for me, personal growth is the last one. I just think that every skill that you’ve gained, up to this point in life, whether it’s on a personal level, or whether it’s a professional level, can be used in this business. They all come in handy. And, I just think that direct sales can stretch you. It can challenge you. It can surprise you in so many ways. I don’t think anybody joins this business to improve their personal growth, but it naturally happens. I’ve seen it hundreds of times.
So, for all of the direct sellers out there doing the work, how do you suggest that they really maximize that personal growth? What are your recommendations on how they can really soak up as much as possible out of this opportunity?
I would say that you need to devote time, every week—even if it’s just 20 minutes—to learning. Research what you need, read books, listen to podcasts, and read some more. There’s some great industry stuff out there for you. Seek out people that will speed up that learning process, because you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are so many great resources in all categories in this industry, and what you can actually learn and tap into to save you time and spark up your creative energy is limitless.
I would also consider investing in a coach when that time comes, because they will help you kind of see the forest through the trees, and figure out your plan, and decide what you want to try to accomplish, and then they help you navigate the challenges—because they come. Not everything is simple in this business. I should say it’s simple, but it’s not always easy. So, when you get to a point where you’re looking for some growth, I think a coach can be someone that can really help you just get over that fence.
And when it comes to learning, and figuring out everything that you can, I think that being part of a community makes a big difference. It’s nice to be able to talk to other direct sellers that are in the same boat that you are, and you’re all trying to navigate the same challenges. And so, find people that you can really use as a sounding board outside of your team.
We do talk a lot about the community that you build on your team, or within your company, but we don’t talk enough about the direct sales community as a whole. Everyone’s really there to help each other out. Everyone’s there to say, “Hey, this is what’s working for me. You might want to try this, because I’m getting some good results here.” Or, “Hey, this is not working. Facebook Groups? They’re driving me crazy. Give me some help here.” That community beyond just your team can be incredibly powerful.
Okay, so you’ve been in the field. You’ve been on the corporate side. So, give us your best tips on what makes a direct seller successful.
Well, that’s a big question. I would say, be clear about why you’re here, what you want to accomplish, why you’re doing this business in the first place, and what it’s really going to take you to feel successful. When I talk to people, I see all the time that they’re in the business, they’re going through some of the motions, but they haven’t spent any time really saying to themselves, “What do I want different in my life? What do I want to change?” Your business can be an avenue to make that happen, if you know what the heck it is. On the other hand, when you don’t have a clear mission to work towards, it gets frustrating, and that’s when we see people walk away.
It takes persistence, no question. Perseverance, tenacity, there is no doubt. I think commitment. Consistency. And really, a strong belief in your company, and in your products, and in the importance of the services that you can bring to people’s life. Most importantly, believing in yourself. If you don’t have that core belief system in place, it’s going to be really hard for you to be successful here. And, I just feel that if you can’t dream it, you can’t manifest it, and it’s not going to happen. And, even if you’re not a goal-setter, just write something down that you really, really want as a result of your business. Don’t be afraid to think something bigger than what you think might be possible—and to encourage others to do the same. When you can dig deep and discover that core goal, that “why,” that thing that connects your head to your heart and makes you want to work toward it every day, that’s going to make you successful.
For anyone right now that’s thinking, “Maybe I am a little bit lost,” or “I’m a little bit unsure. I don’t have that big thing that’s driving me and keeping me going. And, I’m not clear on the direction that I want to go.” What would be your best advice to help them get back on track?
So, I would say that if there’s someone that’s been in the business a while, that they need to revisit their “why.” Because, I can tell you, in my 21 years in the field, my “why” changed a lot. You have to revisit it. You can’t keep going back to that thing that you set up in 1990 when you joined. I think that that feeling of being lost kind of comes from complacency and boredom for someone that’s been in the business a little bit longer. And, if you’re not changing things up and growing, it can get monotonous. I would walk those direct sellers through the same exercise that I would with a new team member to get that core “why,” connecting that heart and head, plain and simple. There’s always something there.
I would also suggest that someone invests time in the incentives and promotions that their company offers. Because too many times, people think, “Oh, I could never earn that trip,” or “I could never achieve that,” whatever it might be. Instead of saying that, try it a different way: “What if I could earn that? How would that change things for me?” Focus on those bigger incentives, whether it’s a trip or something else, because it really can spark an extremely good business plan. When you are working towards something—or even building up team members to achieve something for themselves—and you’ve got this plan laid out in front of you, it keeps you engaged. There’s always something there in this industry that will pull you back up.
That just really speaks to that personal growth, right? What is it that’s going to really spark that excitement? How are you going to try something different, or do something in the business you haven’t done before? I think that that’s the beauty of the landscape of direct sales right now. There are so many different ways to sell, whether that’s in-home, or if that’s online, or through vendor events. If you haven’t tried one of those strategies, switch it up. Try to keep it exciting.
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