Arbonne CEO Kay Zanotti Shares Secrets To Individual And Organizational Growth

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What are the two characteristics needed to be a direct-sales expert?

When it comes to sales, being charming can often get you in the door. But when it comes to direct-sales, finesse can only take you so far. So what are the characteristics any great salesperson should have?

Kay Zanotti has held senior leadership positions at Procter & Gamble, McDonald's, and she is now the CEO of Arbonne, a provider of pure botanically-based health and beauty products. Since taking over as CEO, she's navigated the company out of bankruptcy into fantastic growth, and today, it's a $600 million a year business operating in seven different countries. 

I recently interviewed Zanotti for the LEADx Leadership Podcast, where she discussed her approach to setting company-wide goals, the key to being a direct-sales guru, and the exciting future of Arbonne. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)

Kevin Kruse: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself back when you were a first-time manager?

Kay Zanotti: I would say, “Trust your gut. You have a very good gut. Really focus on your discernment, because that's where you have an advantage. Don't let people shut you down. Don't hesitate, because you may not know all the mechanics of how to get a job done, but you do have good instincts.”

Kruse: How important have goal-setting and key objectives been in the growth of Arbonne?

Zanotti: What I always say in our town halls is, “If your work and development plan doesn't measure you based on something that's in our annual company priorities, then you probably shouldn't be working on it.” That's what we've done so far. I feel like that's pretty good.

Where I think we can improve is we need to be more proactive about reporting out exactly how we're doing and to have the employees feel more accountable and more a part of the successes and the failures and learn from them.

I think the big challenge for every executive who runs a company is to make sure that you're spending enough time communicating to your management team and they then have to ladder down. As you know, sometimes that doesn't work as effectively as it could, so there's got to be a lot of direct communication from me, and with technology, that can range from live webinars to Zoom calls.

We do that for our global town hall, but that's only quarterly. I'm finding that I've got to do even more of that because people don't always hear things the first time. They don't always understand it, and as an organization, I think you do better if you're constantly in communication.

Kruse: What advice would you give to a new direct sales consultant who wants to be successful?

Zanotti: In terms of characteristics, I would say, discipline around learning the system of how you sell most effectively. There is some innovation within this, but if you really want to be good, you have to see who's doing something well and duplicate that effort, and then you have to teach and train others. If there was ever a business where you learn the value of a team, it's direct-selling because you won't be successful unless you build a team. It's absolutely critical, and the only way you can build a team successfully is to steal shamelessly from the people that are really doing it right.

We spend a lot of our time in the office figuring out who's doing something right, getting a video of them talking about it or training on it, and then sending that out to the broader organization. It's really important to get over yourself and know that you're going to learn from the best and the brightest until you get to a point where you can come up with your own way of doing things. Even then, there's still a tremendous amount of duplication.

The other thing, beyond discipline, is persistence. If you're willing to stick with it, you will ultimately do okay. There are two things that drive ultimate income: One is effort, and one is time, but you have to do both. You have to build a strong structure beneath you with people that really are working their business, really living and breathing the culture, really doing a good combination between teaching and training and meeting new people, bringing new people into the business, then you'll be successful, as well.

What I love about our culture, it's unusual in direct-selling, is all of our leaders will hop on a plane or get on the call to help other people that have nothing to do with their pay. There's very much a culture of sharing, teaching, and training. They really ascribe to a rising tide will lift all boats, and so we want to help each and every person that needs the help.

Kruse: What are you most excited about at Arbonne?

Zanotti: I think we're way too well-kept of a secret. We're about a $580 million business right now, and we've been spending a lot of time in the technology area, figuring out how can technology enable this message about our products? By that, I mean not just our consultant growth, but also our consumer growth, which we were one of the first companies to break out our consumers, and we run at about four consumers to one consultant right now. I'd like to see that be 20 to one.

Technology is a key enabler of that. We're an e-commerce operation, and everything runs through our consultants' websites or people can go to the Arbonne website and order products. That goes back to what I was saying about the importance of having a good technology person, and the importance of myself and the executive team understanding that technology.

To answer your question, I'm really most excited about taking this culture, which is unlike any culture I've ever seen before, to more people who need or want more flexibility in their lives.

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Kay Zanotti has led teams in a wide variety of businesses, and for her it’s clear what creates a great employee and consultant: the discipline to continuously learn from others, and the persistence to stay the course.

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Kevin Kruse
CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE trial of the LEADx platform at https://page.leadx.org/demo.