4 April 2016, Johannesburg South Africa. Londiwe Mazibuko puts on her headphones and dials the first of the 300 phone numbers she will call today. Most of the people she reaches will hang up on her, and on a good day, she may chat to 20 people for a couple of minutes. So why does she do it? Londiwe has big dreams and has chosen direct marketing as her career.
The reality is that direct marketing is one of the few sectors in South Africa that offers employment opportunities for those who have a matric but little or no work experience. The alternative is to join the 5, 2 million people in South Africa who don’t have jobs. At 24.5%, South Africa’s unemployment rate is among the highest in the world. The situation is even more severe for our youth, as more than 60% of people under the age of 25 are unemployed (Stats SA Quarterly Labour Force Survey Q4 2015).
Steph Bester, CEO of The Unlimited, a successful direct marketing business in the financial services sector, says that at a time when other industries are declining, direct marketing is creating real opportunities for young people to make their mark in the world of work.
“In most industries, it takes years to prove yourself and even then, your promotional prospects are often linked to someone leaving or getting a promotion. Direct marketing is different, as it is one of the few industries where there are real opportunities to fast-track your career,” Bester explains.
At The Unlimited, the opportunity is aimed at people who have an entrepreneurial outlook on their careers and who would ultimately rather work for themselves and be in control of their own growth. Bester explains that the company develops its people to a point where they can run their own businesses and create employment opportunities for others. “We have more than 50 business owners, many of whom are under the age of 30 and are earning between R30 000 and R100 000 a month – a far cry from where they found themselves when they started. We have a fast-track model – and those who are most willing to put in the hard work, get the best results.”
Doing business nationally, The Unlimited has over 1 000 people who market the company’s products either through face-to-face interaction or telemarketing. The business has invested heavily in its own specialised training programme that takes individuals who are committed, but new and inexperienced, to professional level within two years or less. This programme provides skills training in sales and marketing including teamwork, goal-setting and planning, confidence-building, influencing and motivating others, and conflict-handling.
“We provide solid work experience and skills for young people with a Grade 12 who have a great attitude, are resilient and have a real passion for performance. Our offices are highly stimulating and dynamic environments where people thrive – as do their careers. It’s true that not many people would see direct marketing as a lifelong career, but for those who decide to make a real go of it, the opportunities can be nothing short of life-changing,” says Bester.
The Unlimited certainly has many examples of people whose careers have more than exceeded their expectations. Before joining the company, Sydwell Khoza was a bricklayer. Today, he runs a nationwide business with 300 people in five offices. Leo van Niekerk joined The Unlimited eight years ago to run a small, regional telesales office and is now responsible for more than 225 people across five offices who market the company’s financial services products nationwide. When Koko Mlambo’s career as a professional footballer ended due to injuries, his prospects weren’t great. Today, aged 26, he is a business owner with a team of 40 people.
Bester says that in the context of much-needed job creation, most South Africans are incredibly short-sighted in their attitude to direct marketers.
“Let’s be honest. Sales is a tough industry and there is a high turnover of people who either realise it isn’t for them or they are using it as a stepping stone,” he says.
“Most of the stigma, however, comes from the public perception of telesales. We all get annoyed at unexpected sales calls, but the reality is that the person on the other end of the phone is earning a living. Rather than being unemployed and living on a social grant, they have chosen to take responsibility and make a future for themselves.”
Bester says that it’s not only the career opportunities that motivate The Unlimited team; they know they are bringing people products that they need but thought they couldn’t afford. “Most South African’s don’t have financial advisors and they don’t know how to access products such as short-term insurance or emergency medical evacuation services. Our people are often their first exposure to cost-effective financial service products and we have seen how these have made a massive difference in our customer’s lives,” he explains.
Direct marketing can act as a powerful catalyst to rebuild South Africa’s declining economy and shrinking jobs market, especially for our country’s youth. The sector provides a platform for professional and personal growth unrivalled by any other industry. So next time you want to hang up on someone like Londiwe, before you do, consider what direct marketing is doing for our economy.