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Direct sales 2020

Direct selling assn. chief highlights initiatives amid social distancing era

The "Great Sequestration" has made Joseph Mariano of the Direct Selling Association "keenly aware of the human need for interaction and connectivity."

I thought I knew my staff. I thought I knew the importance of personal connections. I thought I had a reasonable understanding of the future. I was wrong on all counts.

So now, I find myself at 3 a.m., pacing the hardwood floors of my suburban home in Washington, D.C. with only two Bassett Hounds for company. This "Great Sequestration" we have all been enduring has made me keenly aware of the human need for interaction and connectivity. I long for the silly joke of one of my colleagues, the friendly handshake of one of our members, the scent of someone's perfume as I walk down a crowded street. But these are all, for the moment at least, gone. And the questions caused by their absence seem to grow every day, not just for me, but for the entire country.

But out of this absence, a determination grows. A determination to work toward bringing those connections back. And that is part of what I am thinking about during those 3 a.m. paces down the hallway. How can we help the country? How can we maintain and restore our businesses? How can we contribute to our communities? How can we help our member companies? How can I help my friends and colleagues? This determination is central to the message we are sharing across the channel. #Community is #StrongerTogether, as well as #ShopDirect highlight the connectivity during these unprecedented times.

I said I didn't know my colleagues on staff. What I meant was I have been amazed by their resilience and creativity in meeting the demands of this crisis, and their dedication to serving the DSA (Direct Selling Association) membership in new and exciting ways. The DSA team has been focused on ensuring we do everything we can to keep our member companies and their independent salesforce armed with the resources they need to deal with the current crisis, as well as envision how we will work in the changed environment that faces us down the road.

To that end, we have embarked on a series of immediate and laser-focused activities intended to assist direct sellers—member companies and non-members alike. These activities include:

  • Immediate data gathering focused on the effect the crisis is having on direct sellers; the data is updated weekly and informs the strategies and approaches of our member companies.
  • Outreach to all member company leaders to identify their needs and let them know DSA is working for them.
  • A series of webinars designed to present the insights of experienced direct sellers, consultants, academics and others to address the immediate needs of companies.
  • Regular industry-wide communication using our existing media vehicles and publications, all updated with a focus on the current challenges.
  • Convening of all DSA leadership groups and committees (virtually, of course) to address each aspect of the situation. First among these was the DSA board meeting entirely focused on COVID-19 and what it means for the business channel, individual direct sellers and their communities.
  • Rescheduling and reformatting of all DSA educational meetings to accommodate the realities of the sequestration while still providing the necessary virtual connections among our members and their executive teams. This included the reconfiguration of our in-person annual meeting (our largest gathering of the year, originally scheduled for June) into a virtual learning and networking experience.
  • Advocacy activities at the federal and state level on behalf of direct sellers, to help ensure assistance is available, if necessary, to individual direct sellers and small businesses.
  • Sharing of information gathering about the patchwork of assistance programs, so direct sellers might access them as necessary.
  • Guidance regarding appropriate (and inappropriate) marketing efforts in this moment of crisis and vulnerability for consumers.
  • Identification of, and communication about, the numerous and incredible philanthropic efforts by companies and their salesforces and employees to assist in dealing with the consequences of the pandemic.
  • Encouragement of intra-industry support of other direct selling companies and their vendors as well as public support of these companies through the development of the DSA #ShopTheChannel Member's Directory and #Community Buyers Guide.

To be candid, I'm still pacing the hallways at 3 a.m., and the house still echoes with the absence of family and friends. But I know I'm not truly alone. Because even during this "Great Sequestration," none of us are alone. There are dedicated and amazing association executives, company leaders, individual direct sellers, all working together—from their kitchens, dens and offices—to help ensure we remain healthy and prosperous. And that thought lets me sleep a little easier.

Joseph N. Mariano joined the Direct Selling Association (DSA) in 1985 and assumed the role of president and CEO in 2011. Mariano is admitted to practice law in the state of Maryland and before the Supreme Court of the United States. DSA is the 110-year-old not-for-profit national trade organization representing direct selling companies, and their 6.2 million independent salespeople.

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