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Giving Amway Business Owners a “Voice” in innovation

Giving Amway Business Owners a “Voice” in innovation

Michael Edwards and his team of global digital experts spend a lot of time determining what Amway distributors need to support their growing ventures.

Like teams all across the company, helping distributors – Amway calls them Amway Business Owners – succeed is their total focus. But something was missing.

“We had a bunch of corporate people sitting around a table debating what’s right for our business owners,” said Edwards, Amway vice president of channel and service strategy. “But none of us are Amway Business Owners.

“What we really needed was to listen to them,” Edwards said. “The average Amway Business Owners were not being heard.”

They are now.

Welcome to The Amway Voice, an advanced new online tool that uses social collaboration—“crowdsourcing”—to capture Amway distributors’ ideas and opinions, so there’s no question about what they need.

And now, Amway Business Owners and their ideas are helping drive great new projects at Amway.

Amway Business Owners can sign in to The Voice through their email, take a look at the questions posed there and comment on them, or post their own ideas and suggestions.

They can also see others’ ideas. And — here’s the key feature  — they can vote on those ideas, and the program automatically ranks them according to total votes.

And now, Amway Business Owners and their thoughts are helping drive great new ideas at Amway.

The Voice launched in August 2014 with selected Amway distributors invited to try it out. Since then, teams have posed five questions – or business challenges, as they’re called – for distributors to collaborate on.

It was a large success in the 25 markets where it debuted, with more than 25,000 people enrolled in multiple languages. As The Voice continues to deploy across more Amway markets during 2015, more and more Amway Business Owners will be able to participate.

“The best innovation is common-sense innovation. We’re solving a common-sense problem.” – Michael Edwards, Amway vice president of channel and service strategy

At the heart of it, Edwards said, is common sense.

“The best innovation is common-sense innovation,” he said. “Look at the taxi business. It was a pain to get a taxi, right? Then the car service apps came along. What they provided was the common-sense solution to fix the pain points involved with getting a ride somewhere.

“We’re solving a common-sense problem.”

Direct selling in the digital age gives customers the best of all worlds – the personal touch of a trusted advisor, top products built on science, and technological support for ordering, business management tools, education and more.

Corporate teams are focused on supporting distributors with the products, tools, structures and other support to help them build successful businesses, but it can be difficult to tell from inside the company which things are most useful to the people they’re designed to help.

A recent challenge the digital team posed on The Voice is a great example, Edwards said.

“We wanted to give our business owners a design center, with content they could use plus tools they needed to create brochures or a presentation. Some of the people on my team thought it was really important. Others didn’t think so.

“When we posed that question on The Voice, Amway Business Owners said, ‘You know what? I have lots of design tools on the web I can use for free. I don’t need anything new to learn. But I really want content to use with the tools I already have.”

With that settled, the content teams could get to work while Edwards’ team moved on.

Other challenges posed on The Voice have centered around what kinds of tools might help distributors to better identify and recommend products based on customers’ needs, and on what features are most important as Amway develops the next generation of the Atmosphere™ air treatment system.

The best ideas bubble to the top

It may be common sense, but the technology to gather, sort and rank ideas this way has only been available in the last three or four years, said Amy Millard, chief marketing officer at Mindjet, the U.S. company that provides Spigit, the crowdsourcing software that powers The Voice.

“Spigit doesn’t just gather the ideas,” Millard said. “Out of millions of ideas, it will rank them in order of business value, from one right down to six million.

“We talk to hundreds of companies who are leaders in their industries. The approach of The Voice — to reach out and listen to the voice of Amway Business Owners in more than 50 languages in four global regions — is absolutely unique.” – Amy Millard, Mindjet CMO

“The Voice enables Amway to reach into the power of the crowd and get any idea,” Millard said. The ideas that resonate best with business owners automatically bubble to the top.

The way in which Amway is using this technology is unlike that of any other company, Millard said. Other companies use crowdsourcing internally to reach out to much smaller communities of employees, perhaps translating comments into two or three languages.

But “Amway is ahead of the curve in terms of developing this kind of crowdsourcing with a global crowd,” Millard said. “I can’t emphasize enough how advanced their approach is.

“We talk to hundreds of companies who are leaders in their industries,” Millard said. “Pfizer, Estee Lauder, Citibank. The approach of The Voice — to reach out and listen to the voice of Amway Business Owners in more than 50 languages in four global regions — is absolutely unique.

“Amway recognizes that there are great ideas across the globe,” Millard said. “The Voice team really gets it that a great idea can happen in China and work in the U.S.”

“We finally have a platform to share our thoughts”

Greg Bray knows this firsthand, as regional head of digital services for the Amway Asia Pacific region, the first region to adopt The Voice.

He calls The Voice “a big leap.”

“They’ve said, ‘This is great. We finally have a platform to share our thoughts.’” – Greg Bray, regional head of digital services for Amway Asia Pacific

Now, Bray said, “We’ll see seeds grow into big ideas, from the ground up. And we’ll spend more time working on concepts we know business owners want.”

Meanwhile, Bray is encouraged by the feedback from his region.

“They’ve said, ‘This is great. We finally have a platform to share our thoughts,’” Bray said.

An Amway Business Owner in Malaysia calls The Voice “an open mind experience.”

“Even though we don’t know each other, we are in the same boat, all trying to build an Amway business,” he said in a survey about The Voice. “Putting in ideas and having people support your ideas makes you realize you are not the only one who has this thought…it is nice if the company can do some of these ideas.”

Pushing the envelope, building relationships

Gayle Evans, whose team leads The Voice global program for Amway, is excited about the potential.

“The Voice could become one of the world’s largest corporate innovation communities,” said Evans, Amway manager of global digital marketing services.

Millions of Amway Business Owners will ultimately be invited to take part, she said, making Amway a giant in the world of innovation and team engagement.

“We’re pushing the envelope. We’re bringing global feedback to corporate teams, and we’re bringing it in quickly. There’s so much possibility.” – Gayle Evans, Amway manager of global digital marketing services

“We’re pushing the envelope,” Evans said. “We’re bringing global feedback to corporate teams, and we’re bringing it in quickly. There’s so much possibility.”

Part of that possibility is relationship building, Evans said – and not just between Amway and its business owners. Evans said the tool will help Amway Business Owners all over the world share ideas with each other.

“Through The Voice, Amway Business Owners have conversations across markets that they couldn’t otherwise have, building relationships and sharing what works,” Evans said. “I think this will set our business apart from other direct selling companies.”

“Your idea has led to this tool”

A key part in making all of this work is acknowledging the business owners’ input, Bray said.

“We have to make sure we tell them, ‘Your idea has led to this conversation, which has led to this tool, and this tool has gone live.’ And the quicker we can show that, the better. Otherwise, why should they bother?”

Edwards can’t wait to see what happens.

“If there’s any company that can do this well, it’s ours,” he said. “You won’t find more passionate people than our Amway Business Owners.”