The business environment is changing dramatically. From online transactions and social media to the rise of independent work in the marketplace, the need for ethical business decision-making has never been greater. DSEF’s most recent Campus Event at the University of Texas at Arlington showcased the ethical business practices of seven direct selling companies through presentations and interactions with 700 students throughout the day.
Our nation’s universities are increasingly looking to the business community to share expertise and model practices with faculty and students. The Business Ethics Forum on October 18, executives from AdvoCare International, Mannatech, Inc., Mary Kay, Inc., Nerium International, pawTree, Stream and Zurvita led discussions that helped students understand the changing business climate, the need for ethical decision-making and effective community involvement strategies.
Dr. Larry Chonko, a Professor of Ethics and DSEF Circle of Honor recipient, hosted the Foundation’s event. “As faculty, we are third parties in describing how companies conduct business – what selling practices they use, how they develop products, how they behave ethically, how they give back to their communities,” Larry says. “When representatives of those same companies come to campus they not only tell that story, they can talk about living that story, which is an invaluable experience for students.”
Mark “Bouncer” Schiro, Chairman of the Board of Stream, says campus events are a valuable experience for direct selling executives as well. “While we were on campus interacting with the students, you couldn’t ask for a better situation for reaching millennials,” Bouncer says. “I personally had more than 200 students listening to what it takes to be an ethical entrepreneur. Our time there was priceless.”
Business ethics is the pedestal on which every truly successful direct selling company has been built. One of the most fundamental business ethics issues is trust between a company and its customers. “Direct selling is a relationship marketing enterprise,” says Rick Loy, Vice President of US Sales Training and Field Development at AdvoCare, “People do business with people they like and trust.”
Developing a company culture that instills honesty and integrity in your independent salesforce is the first step, says Michael Lunceford, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs at Mary Kay and a member of DSEF’s Circle of Honor, “Never sacrifice growth and profit for integrity.” he says.
Businesses of all sectors, not just direct selling, have the responsibility to develop a framework for ethical decision-making. “People have a tendency to go along in order to get along,’” Michael says, “We have a moral obligation to say, ‘no, that is wrong.’ Just because something is legal, doesn’t make it right.”
Identifying potential ethical dilemmas and developing courses of action is a top-down business strategy. “You have to be proactive to make sure people are doing things the right way,” says Dick Laurin, Director of Business Ethics at AdvoCare, “And you have to understand the legal landscape.”
In addition, companies—and their independent salespeople—benefit from a code of ethics that every member of the organization must follow and put into action. “Whether you are a consumer, distributor or both, look for a member company of the Direct Selling Association (DSA),” says Rick. “They have a Code of Ethics and we, as member companies, must abide by it.” As a condition of membership in DSA, every applicant must agree to a comprehensive ethics compliance evaluation that takes at least one year. “We make changes to our products and marketing materials, based on this oversight,” Rick says.
When business challenges arise, direct selling companies work with their salespeople to resolve the issue. Direct selling companies closely monitor product claims on social media and are continuously work to improve their processes and communications. “At Zurvita,” says Director of Compliance, Erin McGuiness, “our policy for open communication and dialogue often results in our field coming up with the best marketing solutions.” Professor Omar Itani teaches the Social Media class in UTA business school. “We discuss social media strategies in my class, but having a real example of how one company controls its social media presence is a rare opportunity,” he says.
The event also provided a forum for direct selling executives to demystify the industry and explain the business model to students. “We were able to clarify that direct selling is a channel to market your products, not a stand-alone industry,” Bouncer says.
Al Bala, President and CEO of Mannatech points out that direct selling cuts out the middle man by redistributing the costs of advertising and distribution to pay independent salespeople. “Every time you buy a product, you pay for advertising,” he says. “As a consumer, wouldn’t you rather benefit from the opportunity and your own productivity?”
Another unique aspect of smaller direct selling companies is its immediacy. “Being connected to your customers – to 130,000 salespeople –enables us to problem-solve and course-correct in real time and results in innovations that wouldn’t otherwise be possible,” says Deborah Heisz, President and COO of Nerium.
Direct selling companies also have a positive effect on the US economy. “Mary Kay does business in 38 countries,” says Kerry Tassopoulos, Vice President of Public Affairs, Compliance and Risk Management, “but what people often don’t realize is that 60 percent of our global product line in manufactured is the Dallas-Fort Worth area.”
DSEF campus events advance knowledge of direct selling and demythify the business model to the benefit of companies, executives, professors and students. “The best way to grow a positive image of direct selling is to have executives visit with students and professors and show them, first hand, what direct selling truly is all about,” says Dr. Chonko.
The event exposed students to direct selling as a micro-entrepreneurship opportunity in what can be a competitive job market. “Many of my students are facing tough times finding jobs after graduation, so I also wanted them to understand that direct selling is a viable opportunity to work and earn income,” says Professor Itani.
Roger Morgan, Founder and CEO of pawTree agrees, “We had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of students who are already in the job market and help these students see direct selling as the powerful and viable selling channel we all know it is,” he says. “We appreciate the DSEF providing these opportunities to raise awareness and respect for our entire industry.”