Keeping 100,000 Direct Sales Consultants on Task
In 2003, Cindy Monroe founded a direct sales company, Thirty-One Gifts, from her home. Her mission was to empower women to take charge of their financial futures by selling a variety of personal and home organization products at home parties. In 2014, Thirty-One saw $643 million in revenue and had more than 100,000 active consultants in the U.S. and Canada, making it one of the highest-grossing direct sales companies in the U.S.
The company’s rapid growth gave rise to a number of business challenges. Various sales databases, marketing platforms, and training resources had been developed over time by separate teams. Maintaining, upgrading, integrating, and measuring the use of these resources was becoming increasingly difficult due to internal resourcing conflicts and technical restraints. So the company reached out to Hanson to evaluate the entire digital ecosystem and recommend the best way forward.
Hanson started with a strategic planning phase. First we conducted workshops and interviews with key stakeholders (Thirty-One Gifts employees, consultants, party hostesses, and customers). Then we assessed those findings in light of best practices in user experience and content management. Based on a clear understanding of audience desires and existing technical gaps, Hanson developed a digital roadmap that would set up the company to successfully meet current and future needs.
Specific recommendations included re-architecting and re-designing Thirty-One Today in a new Content Management System. Thirty-One took advantage of Episerver’s unique personalization and localization options as well as the low cost of the CMS.
How do you execute a long-term roadmap? One project at a time.
Once we were aligned on the roadmap itself, the first priority was developing a new consultant extranet. In the existing ecosystem, consultants had two primary digital resources. Thirty-One Today, the main consultant extranet, was used primarily for announcements and training. But consultants also used Her Back Office, a separate platform for placing orders and tracking commissions. The platforms were not integrated, and neither worked well on mobile. In addition, the training team was ready to roll out a new set of training content.
So Hanson set out to re-architect and re-design Thirty-One Today in a new Content Management System. The goal was to create a one-stop digital destination for consultants.
Consultant interviews made it clear that the majority of consultants work part-time, and they tackle their business updates between kids’ appointments, rather than from a home office. So it was crucial this new extranet be fully accessible on mobile devices. To ensure an effective on-the-go experience, Hanson designed the mobile view first, then created the tablet and desktop views.
Episerver helps carry through the brand’s emphasis on personalization, allowing each consultant to make the tool her own. Not only can she upload a profile photo and select from a variety of backgrounds, but the new Dashboard is populated with widgets organizing essential information at a glance, including Messages & Alerts (like customer orders), My Month (parties held and commissions earned), and Goals (customized based on her reasons for being a consultant).
The Improve My Skills section, home of the new training content, also makes use of Episerver’s Learning Management System, offering quizzes on topics around booking, selling, and recruiting, with recommended pages to visit to brush up on skills. Another widget on the Dashboard allows her to track her progress through the Improve My Skills content.
The new extranet required integration with existing systems to authenticate consultants and retrieve sales and other information from additional data sources. Leveraging their knowledge of the .NET platform to get up to speed quickly, Hanson’s engineers collaborated with Thirty-One’s IT team to define the web service interface and ensure a single sign-on experience for users.
The Hanson team architected and coded a set of templates in Episerver the Thirty-One team could use for various content types. With hundreds of pages to create in the new extranet, it was crucial that both the Thirty-One and Hanson teams be able to enter content simultaneously.
The new extranet needed to support consultants in the U.S. and Canada, so Hanson planned ahead during the first phase to create the Canadian version within the Episerver platform after the success of the initial U.S. launch.
Episerver’s language widget allows editors and content contributors to duplicate an entire page of base language (U.S. English in this case) and make adjustments for a different country and/or language. Thanks to Episerver’s personalization widget, when Canadian users sign into ThirtyOneToday.ca, they automatically view the Canadian versions of each page.
The permissions widget also supports the creation of content targeted for specific audiences within a country and/or language. Thirty-One can create a single announcement detail page and designate which levels of consultants should view which portions of text.
An iterative project plan allowed for ongoing development while supporting a consultant preview during Thirty-One’s annual conference. While continuing with development of the second iteration, members of the Hanson team presented demos of the new site to thousands of consultants at Thirty-One’s conference in Columbus and Denver. These real-time demos and follow-up surveys provided additional user input that Hanson incorporated into updates for the final iteration.
Hanson launched the new Thirty-One Today in September 2014, on schedule—and in what might be record timing (approximately seven months) for a project of this size. This success is in part thanks to Episerver’s project structure that fortunately allows Hanson to use standard build and deployment tools.
By the end of September, 100 percent of consultants had logged into the new extranet. They had set thousands of Goals to view on the Dashboard and completed a total average of 67 quizzes per day in the Improve My Skills section. Nearly half of all sessions in September were on a tablet or mobile phone.
Thanks to integration with Google Analytics, Hanson continues to track user engagement, recommending updates based on insights. Since launch, Hanson has created additional CMS templates for Episerver and more Dashboard widgets to address new content needs.
As originally planned in the digital roadmap, a version of the extranet just for Canadian consultants launched in March 2015.
Today, the Thirty-One team manages the new extranet with support from Hanson, while the successful partnership continues with the execution of additional digital projects.