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How Each Generation Views Direct Sales And The Impact On Trust

Actionable insights and opportunities from the first-ever direct selling generational engagement study.

Direct selling has become an increasingly popular avenue for individuals to start their businesses and earn income, yet some still question whether they can fully trust the sales channel. To gain a comprehensive understanding of the perceptions surrounding direct selling, the Direct Sales Generational Engagement Study was conducted by Bridgehead Collective and carried out by The Center for Generational Kinetics, led by President Jason Dorsey.

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In this first-of-its-kind study, Bridgehead Collective partnered with the Center for Generational Kinetics, which has led more than 100 research studies in all major industries. Their seminal annual study, The State of Gen Z, formed the basis for the best-selling book ZConomy and has been consistently featured in national and global media, including The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, CNN, and many more.

I set out to discover America’s perceptions of entrepreneurship, the gig economy, and—more pointedly—direct selling. Statistical significance was of utmost importance in this analysis, so the study represents a wide-sweeping sample that reflects America, with an equitable mix of genders, demographics, employment status, education levels, and location that allows for a 97 percent confidence level. This study aimed to explore the attitudes, motivations, limitations and beliefs about starting a business in America, as well as uncover perceptions of direct selling, recruiting strategies, onboarding methods, distributor retention and preferred payment structures.

We designed the study to provide actionable insights across 10 key categories:

In this series, we are exploring each of these categories more closely, focusing this month on Incentive Trips and Events.

As we shared consistently throughout this series, the news surrounding all generations is that EACH generation is radically different in how they want to be prospected, talked to, and approached about direct selling opportunities. We have highlighted that a “One Size Fits All” approach doesn’t work anymore, and while that is still the case when it comes to Incentives and Events, this was one of the topics on which each generation was perhaps a little more closely aligned. However, the insights are still a stark departure from the traditional types and channels for Incentive Trips and Events that many of us currently utilize.

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Passports and Pics Required

Last month, we focused on recognition and highlighted the significant upside for Younger Millennials and Gen Z team members when we get it right. They are highly motivated by “being seen” and have their own ways of measuring that. When you implement some of the learnings from this section, you will see increased engagement, activity, and retention (my favorite needle to move!).

This month, we turn our energy to the insights gained on Events and Incentive Trips. While we may not deliver as many shocking “a-ha”s in this insight, I challenge you to look closely at your programs through this lens and (perhaps ruthlessly) edit. You can see massive savings by not paying for duplicative rewards and increased productivity by focusing only on the most compelling offerings.

We jumped right in on this one and didn’t mince words. We asked each group which types of events they would find most engaging. Across the board, all generations were unified on this one—incentive travel topped the list, with 46 percent of all participants ranking it as their top-of-box choice.

Not surprisingly, the younger generations flagged the opportunity to bring someone not in the business (friend or family member) with them as a key element of the appeal, and 89 percent said that the ability to share this destination on social media in an aspirational way was a deciding factor in how compelling and engaging they believed the event to be.

Again, we all sort of knew that…or certainly could have come up with it if we had thought about it for a few minutes. It’s when we start to explore additional choices that we learn some new things.

Action Item: An annual incentive trip (with no more than a 9-month qualification period) is the new table stakes. Be sure your destination is Insta-worthy, marketed that way, and that you promote the ability to bring others and share this experience. Language around “helping others experience something new” was the highest-rated language to use!

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A Seat at the Table

One of the types of rewards that we asked about (mostly because I see so many companies offer this) was the opportunity to have a reception or dinner with company leadership. I was prepared to hold on tightly to my ego when reviewing these results, assuming that the future generations would be beyond nonplussed at the very idea.

It turns out…I was WAY off. It’s actually the older millennials and Gen Xers who are totally over us, with only 15 percent saying that was an interesting or compelling reward vs. 39 percent of the younger generations. That is a huge gap, and it leads us to our second Action Item.

Action Item: Actively look for ways for your senior leadership team (Founder, President, etc.) to interact with your field in exclusive opportunities. Again, the ability to promote this socially is critical, but rethink the environments and venues to ensure that you are gearing these events to those who want them more—the younger generations.

It also tops the list and comes in third and fourth place, with 33 percent of participants ranking them in their top three choices of most compelling events: weekend leadership retreats and destination conferences.

Sensing a theme here? Yes, you got it! Take me somewhere new, somewhere interesting, somewhere beautiful—somewhere that I can share with all my followers and make them want to be me. The message is crystal clear—give me an experience, and I will work like crazy to earn it.

What Doesn’t Move the Needle

As with many elements of this study, what the younger generations did NOT want was just as riveting (and instructive) as what they DID want.

This category did not let us down in that regard. The bottom of the list…or the least compelling and engaging events include conferences at a business hotel and—the very last, lowest rated item at all—this one didn’t surprise me. Still, you may find it shocking for this industry. It also may give you some considerable relief when you look at your budgets for your annual events.

What is the least desirable type of event, with only 21 percent of all participants and only 5 percent of younger generations ranking it in the top three?

Sad, slow drumroll, please…

Hearing a motivational speaker—I know—it seems a little off-brand for our channel. However, when we probe it a bit more, it really comes down to the availability and accessibility of this type of content today. It used to be that the only way to hear from motivational speakers was to come to an event like the ones we put on or spend a fortune on your own, either purchasing content or going to see them.

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That’s not the case anymore. Content from virtually every speaker is available everywhere—for free—and in friendlier formats they already regularly engage with (YouTube, podcasts, etc.).

So, please save your money and their time and refocus your events to showcase your field leadership. Thirty-six percent of all participants and 84 percent of younger generations ranked “hearing from successful leaders in the business” significantly higher than any outside motivational speaker.

Unless…perhaps…you all went to Bali to hear them!

That covers the most compelling types of events and what will get (and keep) your field motivated. Next month, we will dig even more deeply into retention. There is so much woven through all areas of insight that I want to share how to pull it all together into one cohesive (and effective) retention plan.

WANT TO KNOW HOW ATTRACTIVE YOUR COMPANY IS TO EACH GENERATION? Schedule your Generational Attraction Assessment today, which is complimentary for DSN Gold and Platinum Supporters.


With 20+ years of cross-functional experience in direct selling, Heather Chastain brings a solid understanding of sales, marketing, technology, manufacturing, operations, and C-Suite challenges, as well as a strong collaborative and relational style of leadership to the table. Heather has held executive roles at Shaklee, Arbonne International, Celebrating Home, and BeautiControl. Heather also serves as the Strategic Advisor at DSN and is the Founder & Chief Executive Officer of Bridgehead Collective.

From the March 2024 issue of Direct Selling News magazine.

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