When I was a young man at the start of my software career in the 1980s, companies saw software as a necessary evil. It didn’t create value. It didn’t bring in customers. It didn’t provide a competitive edge. It was like home owner’s insurance: You hated it, but you had to have it. And it wasn’t specialized—you simply hired a “computer person” and let that person do it all. My first programming job was for a meat processing company, where I alone handled the entirety of their IT. I loaded operating systems, I soldered cables to connect terminals to computers, and I wrote all of their software—every single piece they used. Because software didn’t do much at that time, it was simple to write. There was minimal data storage space and no internet—so security wasn’t an issue. I had two years of college and I could fill all of the IT needs for a company that did $30-40 million a year in business.
Today, even the largest companies don’t write all of their own software—the costs are too high and computer systems are too complex. You’d need a team to do what I did alone back in the 80s. Today’s complexity comes from the fact that we use computers to do so much more than we used to. We no longer have rooms full of order entry clerks; distributors enter their orders online. We don’t have sales tax charts on the wall; a program calculates sales tax automatically. Commissions are deposited directly into distributors’ accounts. Credit cards are authorized online. And all the while, security software runs alongside to detect fraudulent activity.
The software revolution is as big as the advent of highways in terms of the change it’s made to the way that people operate. Software has changed so much in the last five years alone that every business needs to thoroughly reevaluate its systems just to stay competitive. Is the fast pace of technology leaving your company behind? Here are the areas that you need to rethink:
You need to rethink ecommerce.
Direct sales is now an ecommerce industry, at least in the United States. And your online presence is the face of your company.
“But we’re not a tech company,” you might think. “We’re a person-to-person, belly-to-belly company. We don’t need to keep up with trends in software.” If you believe that, you need to go talk to your distributors. Your distributors judge your company based on their interaction with you, and they’ll compare you to the big players in ecommerce, like Amazon or Walmart. If your online presence confuses or frustrates your customers, they’ll leave. But if you give your distributors the tools that they need and expect, sales will increase and your company will grow.
You’re competing with the likes of Amazon, which spends millions of dollars a year on their shopping experience. How can you keep up without investing the millions in shopping cart development? By relying on experts to implement your ecommerce portals. By using third-party solutions, you can present your distributors a proficient shopping experience without committing to the enormous overhead of developing an ecommerce solution.
You need to rethink integration.
As your company grows, you’ll need more and more functionality from your software system. And you may be tempted to turn to an in-house development team to integrate this functionality into your system. But you need to consider just how complex modern software development has become. You’d need to have experts in database maintenance, networking, security, business logic, web logic, and more! Do you want to keep all of those costly experts on staff and spend up to 10% of your revenue on software development? Remember: You are not a software company—you need to concentrate on your company’s core goals and manage your IT costs.
The most cost-effective way to implement software into your system is by using application programming interfaces (APIs) to integrate ready-made specialized applications into your system. For example, at InfoTrax, we strive to provide a full featured solution—both our systems and customization—for less than 2% of a company’s revenue. For larger companies, we’re able to provide this for even less. You can’t run an IT department for that cost.
You need to rethink security.
You are entrusted with your distributors’ sensitive information, such as social security and credit card numbers. And no matter how hard you work to secure that data, it only takes one breach to expose it to hackers.
Such security demands can be overwhelming for your company. If you keep your security in-house, you have to worry about your network administrators keeping the network secure, that the databases are secure, that there are policies in place to discourage internal theft and breeches, as well as routine penetration testing being conducted. Instead of taking up the burden of security upon yourselves, you can partner with a vendor that has cybersecurity expertise.
At InfoTrax, because we want to focus on servicing the particular needs of direct sellers, we’ve partnered with a cybersecurity firm. We want to make sure that such sensitive data is protected from malcontents.
You need to rethink user experience.
User experience is more than a snazzy interface with all the whistles and bells. Your user experience must be easy and intuitive for distributors.
It used to be that people in the MLM software industry didn’t care about user experience. After all, anyone using corporate software was just an employee. They had to work with the software regardless of functionality or appearance.
But more and more of our processes now happen across the internet. We must understand that we cannot train users on unintuitive software. Users will reject software that confuses and frustrates them and turn to options that are elegant and easy to use.You don’t have to train someone to turn on a light. They just flip a switch on the wall. Today’s users expect the same level of usability from their software.
You must adapt your system with ecommerce, software integration, security, and user experience in mind. If you do, you’ll be in position to lead the industry, instead of scrambling to catch up. If you’re intimidated by the dramatic changes I’m describing, if you’re worried that your company can’t afford a top of the line software system, don’t be. Software has become much more complex and much more important to your company’s success, but these advances have made it much less expensive as well. I touched on the reason why in my previous article and I’ll talk more about how to strategize and save money on your software rethink in my next article.