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Network Sales Meets Social Network

Wed, Feb 18, 2009

Social Networking

[podcast]http://www.newmediaminutes.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/visalus-podcast1.mp3[/podcast]”Let’s Get It Started” by The Blackeyed Peas is blaring from big pole speakers, and the ambience is like a tailgate party, all  in an upstairs conference room at the LAX Raddison.

Multi-Level-Marketing (MLM) company VISALUS has paid for me to attend this Red Carpet event for New Media Minutes.  As I enter, attendees are throbbing with exuberance and anticipation that the Health and Nutrition Products company is preparing to drop a big announcement today.

They won’t be disappointed.

In the room — the annointed Visalus (Viss-AL’-uss) distributors, regional directors, and officers, as well as those who may, on this day, decide Visalus is their future.

I have free access to the company officers, and as a journalist by trade, my job is to tell it as I see it.

A little Perspective, Please

Let’s face it, multi-level-marketers fall somewhere between Insurance salesmen and Jehovah’s Witnesses on the scale of people we most want to see knocking on our front door.

The questionable MLM’s tend to be judged as Ponzi schemes, and their CEO’s inevitably end up doing time.

The enduring ones, like Amway, Mary Kay, and Avon, produce quality products, and make tons of money.  In other words SOMEBODY…lots of somebody’s…are buying this stuff.

For budding entrepreneurs, MLM’s are intoxicating in the speed of return on investment.  Be the first into the market selling doohickies, and you can make a killing.  Even coming “second” to the market, can yield a handsome commission.

But ever since the original Fuller Brush salesmen, the basic sales design of an MLM hasn’t changed…until now, according to Visalus.

It should come as no surprise that the internet would change marketing, just as it has transformed virtually every facet of our modern digital world except maybe toilet paper.

Sure, MLM’s were early adopters of website exposure, electronic ordering, digital scheduling and inventory management, but that hasn’t made much difference to the local distributor who’s always garnered customers based on time-tested technique called word-of-mouth.

Choosing a Direction

Now VISALUS believes it has finally moved network marketing to an entirely new paradigm.visalus-logo

VISALUS has duly noted the ability of Social Networking sites to build huge kingdoms of participants based on a model that encourages human interaction.  Sites like MySpace and FaceBook, though, have so far failed miserably in finding a way to make much money on those hordes of happy talkers.

On the other hand, successful MLM’s can make oodles of money on a relatively small database of, say, a couple of million buyers.

Just think what could happen, VISALUS posits, if you could marry the proclivity of the social networking sites with the profit of the traditional MLM operations?

Out of that simple question, VISALUS made a crucial change in its vision.  It has thrown all its considerable muscle building a successful distribution network of health and nutrition products behind a new, innovative, and quite costly social network marketing initiative.

“Disruptive” Marketing

Back in the conference room upstairs at the LAX Raddison, a steady stream of the party faithful have made their way to the stage in a carefully orchestrated chain of events.  All of them extol the virtues of Visalus’ health and fitness products.  The company’s overall keywords are: LIFE, HEALTH, PROSPERITY.

The obvious enthusiasm in the room does tend to underscore the company’s point about “community”.  If you could extrapolate the energy from a gathering like this, onto a platform like a membership-only social network on the web, you’d have a little piece of magic, making a lot of money.

Visalus thinks they’re creating an entirely new paradigm…an evolutionary technology…something on this day they time and again called: Disruptive Marketing.

ryan

Ryan Blair, Chief Executive Officer

In fact, CEO of Visalus, Ryan Blair, says it this way: “  It takes a young company.  If you look at who has disrupted industries, it is a technology company in principle that attacks or goes after antiquated or legacy values.”  Blair goes on to explain that Amway makes billions of dollars on a relatively small set of networked customers; small compared to say, MySpace or FaceBook.  But those online social networks have yet to find a way to successfully monetize their popularity, Blair says.

DUE DILIGENCE

All this talk of evolution and disruptive marketing didn’t just fall from the sky.  Visalus is a direct selling business segment of Blyth, Inc., “A Home Expressions Company”.  Blyth has encouraged Visalus to be agile and innovative.  Their new social networking site is three years in the making, though, and was preceded by other social-networking experiments you may or many not have heard of: PathConnect, which was designed to help people make and achieve goals, SkiSpace, and the MaketheDifference Network, which was a social network based on charitable giving.

Barry Watkins, VP of  Internet Product & Strategy

Barry Watkins, VP of Internet Product & Strategy

Barry Watikins, Visalus’ VP of Internet Product and Strategy says the product revealed for this event is actually six programs in one, each developed to be part of the whole.  “Vi-Net…it’s a social network, it’s a training system, it’s a marketing system, it’s a prospecting system…and back-office for payments and accounting.”  “We’re coming out of Beta here and now…today,” Watkins says.

Watkins goes on to say when he began doing market research, he was astounded to find a gap in the industry.  ” I did the competitive analysis…nobody else out there is doing this, so it is something that’s groundbreaking.”

SHARING AND CARING

Visalus doesn’t expect anyone is going to find their new social network unless they’re invited by a distributor of the company.  It’s a proprietary, not public network.  Members only.  Much like well-established weight-loss companies such as Jennie Craig and Weight Watchers — being accountable, and sharing your goals publicly are hallmarks of the Vi-Net success strategy.

vinet action itemsVisalus encourages everyone in the company from the CEO on down to the new purchaser of it’s NEURO energy drink to share their experience on the new company social network, or Vi-Net.  Distributors share successful sales stories, find prospects, and learn marketing techniques.  The buyer shares a weight-loss success or an exercise regimen that works particularly well with the Vi-Pak, a nutrient supplement.vinet

Networkers are free to share videos, pictures, stories, contact information, and even goofy party pics to the extent they’re comfortable.  In other words, every iteration of  human interaction you now see on MySpace or FaceBook is possible on the Vi-Net, with the added feature that users can make money — after all, that’s what MLM’s do.

“Social media tools…the Web 2.0 technology, basically means the collaboration of people, and allowing us to go out there and evolve the old ways of doing business,” says Blake Mallen, the Chief Marketing Officer of Visalus Sciences, and a founder of the company.

Blake Mallen, Visalus Founder, Chief Marketing Officer

Blake Mallen, Visalus Founder, Chief Marketing Officer

“The power of going out there and getting people to share their stories, in a way that can happen 24/7 from the comfort of their own home,” he says, is the magic of this whole program.

Mallen explains that he and Ryan Blair discovered social networking while doing motivational public speaking at High Schools, and mentoring the students in follow-up e-mails.  They saw the magic of people sharing personal stories, was empowering.

THE CLOSE

The crowd in the conference room is now back after a break in the presentations.  The rallying cry from Nick Sarnicola, Chief Sales Officer is peppered with short memorable inspirational phrases that Sarnicola constantly asks the crowd to repeat: YOU. MUST. GET. STARTED.  Every few minutes, he and the other speakers hold sway by constantly having the crowd raise their hands in agreement to obvious statements: “Who here likes BMW’s?”

Oh yeah, that’s another thing.  The company freely offers BMW’s in it’s “Bimmer Program” for qualifying salespersons, it’s their most popular incentive.

Nick Sarnicola, Chief Sales Officer

Nick Sarnicola, Chief Sales Officer

I’ve excused myself from the rally in the room, and retreated to a corner of the hotel to ponder whether I really should drop out of TV news and become a Visalus distributor.  I begin writing this article instead.

Here are the facts:

– Visalus is a proven performer in a saturated health ‘n’ fitness market, and an overcrowded MLM market.
– They have a strong backer in Blyth, Inc. (in this economy, that’s a big plus).
– The young management team seems dedicated to their vision, their employees, and their pie-in-the-sky desire to help people.
– Vi-Net is an impressive and well-designed full-featured proprietary social network

The unanswered questions:

– Will people (especially buyers of the product) actually support the social networking system of sales?
– Can the newness of the social network paradigm work in favor of distributors/salespeople…or will the novelty wear off quickly?
– Has Visalus truly stumbled upon an evolutionary sales model that will vault them to the front of the class?

From the look of the dreamy smiles on the faces of the freshly-baptized apostles streaming from the conference room, the answers are a no-brainer.

……..Dave Courvoisier

View our social media release on Pitch Engine here, NewMediaMinutes Social PR

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