Malou T. Caluza is the CEO of QNET, a prominent e-commerce based Direct Selling company with a global footprint. She holds the distinction of being the first female CEO of QNET and has been featured in “Asia’s 15 Over 50” – a publication that recognizes most successful women in Asia. Malou has been with QNET for over 20 years. Having started her career in customer service, she went on to build an award-winning global customer care center, before expanding into business development, operations, marketing and network success.
Despite the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic, the direct selling industry was able to adapt swiftly and thrive. Companies have pivoted to online solutions to support their community of distributors and help bolster incomes. Industry stakeholders have implemented various changes to ensure long-term sustainability to tackle unforeseen circumstances. In countries like India, last year recorded the highest year-on-year growth rate of 28.3% and the highest CAGR of 17.6% over the period of last three years, making it amongst the top 20 direct selling markets across the globe. It’s proof that the sustainability measures are working. Malou Caluza, Chief Executive Officer of QNET, summarises her insights based on the learnings from the challenges of the last two years and what it means to operate in India, a key market for QNET in Asia.
As the world rebounds from a pandemic that has profoundly impacted almost every facet of life, it is quite obvious that what looks like a unique once-in-a-lifetime experience has left us knowing more about ourselves as individuals, members of communities, industry, and the international community. I say this knowing that the economic consequences have been astounding. Many businesses shut down completely, others struggled and continue to battle with economic instability. However, some businesses displayed a great deal of adaptability and resilience.
The global direct selling industry, of which I’ve been a part for more than 20 years was also initially impacted, especially since the business is best conducted by building value through individualised, personal relationships. However, in a surprising show of strength and perseverance, the industry managed to adapt to the changing business environment and new consumer behaviours. Here are a few invaluable business lessons we learnt over the last two years as we continued to serve the needs of our customers and build stronger relationships with them.
- Invest in digitization
According to a McKinsey report, responses to COVID-19 have expedited the adoption of digital technologies by several years – and many of these changes are here for the long haul. We’ve seen this to be true, with video calls, contactless payments, e-learning, and online shopping becoming a part of our daily lives. The rate of adoption for direct-to-consumer businesses could well have been higher since the industry has always had a combination of online and offline support systems.
Just before the lockdowns first came into effect in March 2020 we had been preparing for our annual global convention, a five-day mega event that takes place in Malaysia and welcomes over 20,000 participants from around the world. This event is usually the highlight of our calendar since it gives us the rare opportunity to meet our global community of distributors in person and engage with them. When the world went into lockdown and all physical events were cancelled after an initial period of apprehension, we pivoted to a digital solution by turning the convention into a virtual event.
With the use of cutting-edge technology, we were able to provide our customers with an immersive experience that brought the energy and excitement of the convention to their homes. Over 200,000 QNET distributors and customers from more than 50 countries logged into our 3-day virtual event and nearly 40% of the audience was from India. By going virtual when we did, we managed to penetrate a much broader and diverse group of people for the first time in our 24-year history!
The advantages of going virtual go beyond reaching a wider customer database. Businesses can also drive cost efficiency by providing services and support through digitised onboarding, programmed business support materials, and on-demand digital content to enable business building. Similarly, businesses that have invested in improving and enhancing the online customer experience for their distributors will reap the rewards in the long run.
- Invest in leaders
Leaders are at the heart of how people feel about delivering on their company’s purpose and being our ambassadors while selling to our customers. It is leaders who shape a company’s culture, cascade it across teams and motivate them to be their best versions. The pandemic helped our company’s culture evolve in ways that put even more focus on our people, guiding us in how we responded to their needs in times of a global crisis. And when our leaders shared this evolving culture with their teams, the teams were able to demonstrate pride and trust in us to our customers. Much of this trust is behind the numbers that our top distributors were able to help us deliver during the pandemic. Our response to the pandemic gave them confidence in the way we conducted business.
It clearly demonstrates the power of open honest communication within and outside a company. We made sure to communicate every step of the way and backed up our messages with action, always putting our people first, taking every measure to keep them and their loved ones safe. Our leaders were on the same page as us and adapted as we adapted. This past year, my team and I have done more virtual meetings, training, and events than ever with our global leadership of distributors. I’m proud to say that the engagement and level of collaboration has never been higher. In fact, thousands of new distributors registered for the QNET business in India in the last two years and the retention rate has been like never before!
- Recalibrate, adapt and evolve
This is perhaps the most important learning that emerged from the pandemic. Since the entire world was experiencing new ways of working and conducting business, setbacks were expected. Everyone was trying to wade through unfamiliar waters – some of them without contingency plans even! We learnt that every time we experienced a setback, the best course of action was to understand the cause, learn from it and prevent it from recurring. It was the only way to stay one step ahead of a constantly changing global scenario, with zero visibility into the future.
Unwittingly, we’re all a part of the gig economy now. More and more professionals are embracing micro-entrepreneurship and seeking work-life balance, leading to a 180-degree shift in how companies generate revenue. What’s more, this is the best time to invest into markets like India, given the stable macroeconomic environment despite the disruptive pandemic wave. It is the right time for QNET too to catch up with the upward economic momentum, as elicited by the recent PHDCCI report on International Economic Resilience (IER)
Overall, it’s hard to imagine a period of greater change, or opportunity, for direct sellers. As long as direct selling companies have adapted to the change and learned to ‘roll with it’, as they say, this period of change is likely to be the greatest for our generations – and for generations to come.