LinkedIn Twitter Facebook RSS Feed

Empowering distributors through coaching

Podcast episode 20

Article by: Nicki Keohohou | CEO and Co-Founder of the DSWA®
Nancy Tobler | Data Analyst, MLM Compensation Consulting
February 5, 2018

Listen on Google Play Music

What’s the difference between coaching and training? Why are coaching skills so valuable in MLM organizations? How can coaching empower your sales force and boost retention? What is a coaching culture and how can you create one at your network marketing company? Nicki Keohohou, founder of the Direct Selling World Alliance, joins guest host Nancy Tobler to answer these questions. Nicki has been teaching coaching skills to direct sales distributors, leaders, corporate employees, and executives for 17 years and we are proud to have her voice back on our show.

Full transcript

Nancy: Welcome to today’s episode of the podcast. I’m Nancy Tobler. I’m the guest host. I’m the managing editor for, so I’m excited to perhaps get a chance to guest host more often. Today we have Nicki Keohohou on from DSWA, the Direct Selling World Alliance, and we’re specifically talking about coaching skills. This is one of the areas that I think the industry tries very hard to do personal development, and I think Nicki has a great approach and unique approach to how to help your downline or your company. So, Nicki, start off and tell us a little bit about yourself and then how DSWA got started with teaching coaching skills.

Nicki: Thank you so much Nancy. I’m so excited to be here with all of you again. We started the DSWA about 17 years ago and when we first started we realized coaching was missing in our profession. So, we, from the get-go, started teaching about coaching. And most people confuse what coaching is and isn’t and so we created clarity around that. And then we started the Coach Excellence School about eight or nine years ago. So, it’s been part of us since the beginning and we continue to work on it because we see it as a real need within our profession.

Nancy: Great! I should have said this in the intro: Nicki has been a guest on the podcast before and has always been supportive of So, thank you. I remember even when we first met was probably about 17 years ago, Nicki, in Hawaii at your first conference I think.

Nicki: Yes. A long time ago and we’re still here!

Nancy: You’re still here and still doing great things! So, I think there’s probably some misperceptions on the difference between what’s coaching and what’s training. So maybe define coaching for the audience, would you?

Nicki: I’d be happy to do that. So, coaching is a bridge to transport people—your team members or you—from where they are now to where they want to be. So, example: if you took your two hands and put them about 12 inches apart, on the left hand is what you’ve taught that new person on your team. You taught them about recruiting. And on the right hand, they’re not recruiting. And not that anybody’s ever experienced this—

Nancy: [Laughing]

Nicki: —but it is a fact that companies invest a lot of money in training and they train and train and train but the gap between what they’re doing and not doing doesn’t need more training. That’s where coaching takes place. Because in that gap example with recruiting or sponsoring, there’s about ten reasons why people don’t sponsor or don’t recruit. It’s not that they don’t know how. They know the mechanics of [recruiting]. Hopefully the company has taught that. What’s in that gap is fear of success, fear of failure, fear of “no,” fear of responsibility, fear that “I don’t know enough,” fear that “I’m not good enough,” fear that “I might lose them.” It’s all those things that make people go, “oh I’m not meant to recruit.” And when we train them and train them and train them and keep telling them what to do and they don’t do it, they begin to feel like “I’m not cut out for this.” So, coaching actually moves people from where they are to where they choose to be. They really want to build a business. That’s why they joined the business. Yet if they don’t know what’s holding them back they can never get through it. So that’s an important distinction for people to understand.

Nancy: Yeah yeah I think you really hit that on the head. The distinction that you’ve made about coaching—that training is about mechanics. “Step one, do this. Step two, after you’ve identified the person, do this, say this, say this.” And I think you’re right. They know what they’re supposed to say but having the fortitude or depth of belief in themselves isn’t there. So, it’s not gonna happen.

Nicki: And that’s where coaching comes in. It’s to eliminate limiting beliefs. So, when you coach… it’s not when people are broken. They’re not broken. They don’t need to be fixed. Coaching comes in when people are stuck. They have a goal—a stretch goal for themselves—or when they have a challenge or a limiting belief around something. So those are the instances to coach.

We all know that training is different in that in training we teach a skill or a concept. In coaching we support others to learn themselves. In training we provide the answers. In coaching we help others to find their own answers. They’ve got them inside them. That’s why coaching is very empowering. In training we tell—we tell them what to do. In coaching we ask and draw from them. In training we have a teacher-student interaction. I am the teacher you’re the student. In coaching it’s a partnership interaction. In training the focus is on the trainer’s agenda. It’s their agenda. In coaching the focus is on that team member’s agenda. And in training we find the expertise to be with a trainer. And in coaching that expertise is really with the person you’re coaching.

So, you can see the light shining on the person that you’re working with. It really isn’t about you. And that’s one of the most difficult things in coaching is that people are used to having all the answers and being right. In training versus in coaching, and you let go of the outcome and you let that person discover. Now you also must train on a skill before you can coach because if they don’t know what to do there’s not going to be a way for you to figure out the reason they’re not doing it. So, you train a skill before you coach. Yet you coach on a limiting belief before you go into great detail in training because they aren’t going to hear you anyway. So, they are two very distinctly different things.

Nancy: I like how you point out that they’re an interdependent sort of process but it’s not linear. It’s somewhat circular. You train a little and then you coach and then you may train more and then have to coach again. Getting past our limiting beliefs is a time-consuming process or at least it has been for me, time-consuming. But it takes work I guess maybe not time but work.


Nicki: You know coaching is a skill to be developed and I’m speaking here to all executives and in direct selling companies also because we’ve been taught in management school or in old management guidelines of how we did things that we were the expert, we were supposed to tell people what to do, and we’re supposed to manage the expectations and manage what that person does or doesn’t do.

Nancy: Right.

Nicki: And in today’s society, particularly with the millennials and the younger people, they didn’t come to direct selling to get a job, they came to be an independent business owner. People inside the corporation are looking for a coaching culture where they can grow and learn and not be under somebody. It’s a different way of doing things.

Nancy: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think you also point out really nice thing about what coaching does: coaching can happen inside of MLM and direct selling business organizations but it also can help distributors. I think lots of times we think about training and personal development as happening with the distributors but not necessarily happening inside of organizations and I think it’s something that can move your internal culture as well.

Nicki: We have discovered that in many instances of working with the corporations… most of our companies that we work with we’ve worked with for 10 years. We know their company inside out. And part of what happens in coaching is that the field says “we want this.” So, the field starts coming to coach schools and taking webinars and developing these skills and then they go to the company and say “you know what? We really want this to be part of our company. We feel it’s something everyone can benefit from.” But there’s a disconnect with how the corporation operates and how the field operates. We don’t become one. And corporations want to be one with the field. We’re all on the same page. We are one big team.

Nancy: Yeah.

Nicki: Now what we’ve discovered in that is the corporations then step up and go “Wow. We want to learn this too.” So, we do executive retreats. We do just coach schools for corporations. I’ve got one coming up where they’re bringing their top 30 people and their top ten people out of the office together to do a private school. And we found that that is very effective because we’re all going to operate with the same methodology of building people and building confidence in people.

Nancy: So, one of the things that coaching school does is to help you become a coach once you’ve sort of moved yourself. You’re training people to become coaches. So, what does it take to be a good coach?

Nicki: You know there are five skills actually in coaching. People think it’s just the art of asking questions. It’s [asking] a particular type of question. It’s not any question. Leading questions don’t count. Questions that are closed-ended—meaning they can be answered with yes or no—those aren’t good questions. You learn the art of questions.

A big part of being a good coach is developing your patience because in the beginning it takes a little longer to move someone into agreed action accountability (which is one of the skills). So, they’ve got to believe they can before they say they will because otherwise they’re just saying it so that you will stop asking them. So, listening, the art of listening, and being able to follow the thread is a powerful skill. And it takes patience in the beginning. Some of us in our profession are very direct, decisive people and we just want to tell people what to do, when to do it, how to do it, why to do it, and get her done, and we’re frustrated that it may take a few minutes longer [to encourage people toward their own answers]. The example I use for people is: would you rather teach your children how to use a washing machine or have them come back at 35 with their dirty laundry in a basket for you to deal with? Well it’s kind of the same thing in this business. If we teach the fishermen to fish, they will fish and not lean on us.

Part of the challenge in coaching in our world of direct selling is that we have a lot of codependent people that come to the company thinking you have all the answers. They go to the leaders wanting them to tell them everything to do, what to do, and how to do it, because they’re afraid to do it wrong and they believe the leader knows more than they do—which in many instances they do. But the idea is that the leader and the company empowers the people so they begin to see themselves in their greatness and [begin to see] that they are knowledgeable, that they do have skills, so they don’t create the codependent relationship.

Every customer service department in direct selling could save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by just investing in that customer service department to create a coaching culture versus be the people that answer all the questions. When you are answering the questions, not only does that person come to you, when they become a leader they send all of their people to the company to find out what the shipping policy is. Teaching the fishermen to fish and walking through that with a coach approach [makes it] so that you don’t have so many calls over things that we all know [are accessible elsewhere]. We all know we put [these details] in the back office, we all know it may be in a manual somewhere, we all know that they’re on the website, but guess what? They don’t want to make a mistake so they call the company for those answers, or they call their leader and the leader sends them to the company. Neither one is good. Neither one is good.

Nancy: Well and I think when they call in and you fix things for them rather than explain how things are done and how they can find out that information for themselves, you almost create a distrust because you’re fixing it rather than them finding and developing their ability.

Nicki: And seeing how smart they are! It’s interesting you say that because we teach coaching is not about fixing. Fixing people says, “you’re broken.” We don’t want people to feel broken. In our business we want people to feel empowered and that they have what it takes to be successful. If just this skill alone—by the way it’s the number one retention tool in the direct selling profession. We have lots of analytics behind that. I’m going to tell you when people stay—if it’s a month longer, if it’s three months longer, if it’s a year longer—that’s going to, one, increase the value of the company, two, increase the belief of that distributor that “wow I can do something here. I belong here. And direct selling does work.” So, this retention is what’s critical in our business and for every company to develop.

Nancy: That was the next question I had really was how coaching increases retention and I think you’re right. Even if people can stay a month longer, try something a month longer, they have developed a new level of resilience. That’s a big word in psychology today, that people lack this ability to bounce back from what they perceive to be failure. I think that the more people can accomplish then the next time they try something it gets easier, not harder.

Nicki: That’s part of it and the other part of that is that when they stay with it and they begin to get that confidence because they figured things out themselves, then all of a sudden, direct selling works! Because what people say is “oh that doesn’t work.” Well you know you want to say “well did you [work]?” But you know you can’t say that so “how could you make it work?” What do we have out there in our world to show people that this profession not only works, you can thrive in this profession and create the lifestyle you choose? So, what is it about direct selling that works? And when people start to think for themselves… you know that it takes your brain… your brain must work like six to seven times harder to answer a question than it would ever do with any statement you make. So, we keep people engaged with coaching versus telling them everything. That’s a part of it. And being engaged means we’re learning and we’re moving forward and that’s all good for our business.

Nancy: Yeah hopefully I didn’t get you off track. Is there anything else you want to say about coaching as the number one retention tool in the direct selling profession?

Nicki: They stay because they begin to realize they have the confidence and that they are smart enough and they don’t have to be like their leader to be successful. And the retention occurs when people gain success and they find out they’re not broken.

Nancy: Yeah.

Nicki: And they know they’re smart, and they know they’re capable, and that’s what coaching does for people. So, it absolutely increases the longevity of any distributor that you’ve got.

Nancy: Okay so the next coaching question is how can coaching skills impact the culture of a direct selling company?

Nicki: Part of that is again less codependency on the company and on the leaders and we don’t have our leaders burning out so they stay longer. The people have more belief in themselves, more confidence in themselves, and in turn more confidence in the company. The culture is… it’s a gentler culture. And we all know that—right now today and it has been [this way] for a number of years—women are leading the way. There are more women in direct selling than there are men and more couples. So, what I’m going to say to you is women like an empowering culture. They particularly do not want to be told “here’s how you have to do it. This is the only way to do it. It’s my way or the highway.” Which some leaders from the old school are still doing. So [empowerment] can impact a culture to have more longevity for the people. And we also know that if you’ve studied this that S’s—the steady people who are the people oriented and more reserved—make up the majority of almost every company. So those steady people, as a high percentage of your distributorship, don’t do well under a dictatorship. They do well when they have the opportunity to grow, to express themselves, to think for themselves, and to know they have a support system but not a dictatorship. So, what it does, it makes people attracted to your company or to a unit or to a leader because they are people who empower people versus people who try to direct traffic or companies that try to tell you this is how you have to do it if you’re going to be successful. So, it makes a big difference.

Nancy: I think that that’s a nice contrast that you painted there, a picture of between being told and being allowed to explore and then be empowered by that exploration. I think that’s a nice distinction between those two types of cultures. So where do you begin in bringing the coaching culture into a company?

Nicki: There’s multiple paths but one path is to get your leaders to at least understand what it is. And there’s different ways to do that—through webinars, through live events, through speaking at conventions, through exposure. I think I’ve spoken to over a million people. When you talk to that many people you learn a lot about what people know and don’t know and what cultures are within companies and so on. And one thing that we’ve discovered pretty strongly was that very few companies have that coaching culture. And it’s not one exposure to it that it’s going to shift the culture. It’s coming at it from multiple directions. So, getting your field exposed to it. Having all of your executives that interface with the field, particularly your regional directors, your sales director, your director of training. All those types of people must attend and not just attend they’ve got to go to the certification process which is more than the level one Express and which is good for leaders to get through that. Most leaders go through Express, Advanced, and most corporate people are people that are wanting to become professional coaches outside of… they aren’t in a field position now. Those folks want to get through the rest of the certification, because they’ve got to understand more than what the field knows. So, coming from the field, coming from corporate, and meeting in the middle. And it becomes part of how you operate, how your company’s thinks, how your company empowers people. That’s what is so amazing to watch. It’s my favorite thing to see that come together because we communicate more effectively. Coaching is a form, at the highest level, of communication. So, if you feel it’s us and them in your company—we’ve got the field, we’ve got the corporate, we’re kind of at odds with each other—or you feel that you we don’t communicate very well or effectively and then you’re perceived as trying to run their businesses for them or tell them what to do, this is an approach that is a win win win win. Win for the company, win for the corporate employees as themselves, win for the field, and win for the profession as a whole and your clients. Because coaching is not just one on one. You use these same skills in sales, you use these same skills in sponsoring. So, it’s all applications. It’s a way of operating in the world.

Nancy: Yeah yeah I think it’s very powerful. Well the last question is just how do people learn more about the coaching school? And where do they go? And I think you’ve told them who can start. I think we can you can start from any as the distributor side or the corporate side and then build that bridge between the two. So tell us a little bit more about how to find more information.

Nicki: Well you can go to and there’s a button that says events and under that event button is Coach Excellence School. So, you can read, you can listen to some testimonials, you can learn some things. There’s also all public schools are listed there. Most of our schools today are private schools. So, the private schools we do only on that company’s private website, but we have a lot of public schools that are getting finalized right now and coming into place for this year. Take the time to explore. You can also write to and we will get back with you to set up a conversation, because the idea is just to understand what this is about. There’s lots of misconceptions of what coaching is and we want to help to support you to really understand how it can benefit you and your company and your field and your customers by stepping on board and being open to hear what this is all about. It’s the new thing in the direct selling world that again is still a little bit misunderstood with what it is and what it isn’t. And I’ll tell you what, it can massively impact your organization and your success and the longevity of your distributors.

Nancy: Yes. Thank you, Nicki. I yeah I really like and the thing that’s really stuck out with me today is not only can [coaching] help distributors and companies but when we do this well, it helps the overall industry which helps us all in the end to come back to new customers, new distributors, because we have a better image as a place where people can succeed. And really in my mind… I just read a story last week about a woman leaving the reorganized LDS Church where they have polygamy—leaving a polygamous life and not having any money and not having any education and she went to direct selling and now she can support herself and her children. And you know it’s just those powerful situations where people kind of fall into what you’re talking about where really what you’re talking about can help more and more people meet that gap that you started off talking about today. Getting to where they want to be from where they are. So, thank you so much. Anything else you want to add?

Nicki: Well thank you for the opportunity. No just I’m so happy to be a part of the productions that you offer. Your organization… you’ve been connected to DSWA for many many years, I think since the very beginning, and always offering tools and support for people. We’re just happy to be a part of that.

Nancy: Thank you so much. We’ll hopefully have you on again soon.

Nicki: I will love it!

Nancy: That concludes our episode today on coaching from the podcast. We were excited and well informed again today with Nicki Keohohou. She is from the Direct Selling World alliance. We want to thank Jana Bangerter and Adam Holdaway who are the production crew for these episodes. That makes a big difference to us. I hope to be on with you again soon and Kenny, I know, will be on for an episode coming up so thank you!

Read more About

Build your Direct Sales Business, MLM Training, retention, The Podcast

Nicki Keohohou | CEO and Co-Founder of the DSWA®

Nicki began her career as a distributor in the direct selling profession more than 35 years ago after leaving her teaching position. She built...

Read more Articles by Nicki Keohohou

Nancy Tobler | Data Analyst, MLM Compensation Consulting

Nancy Tobler has a PhD in communication from the University of Utah. She specializes in research on how organizations change,...

Read more Articles by Nancy Tobler

Share Article