Six Lessons from a Network Marketing Ambush


This week I went across town for a meeting with someone who had reached out to me. There was a connection to a friend, and there seemed to be some interest in charting out the next chapters of his life through coaching. He also seemed to want to talk with me about some sports product he was involved with.

When I arrived at the cafe for the meeting, he introduced himself and guided me to a table he had staked out. As soon as I sat down, he started pitching his network marketing scheme. I extricated myself from this ambush, but not before I experienced enough of the pitch to pull some lessons from it.

1. Be Transparent

I left the cafe feeling tricked into meeting with this person. Our email exchange didn’t include information like “hey, I’m selling this product and would love to tell you about it so you can sell it too.” The information was sketchy, offered almost from a point of view of having to lure a prospect in rather than proudly sharing something of value. When I arrived, the products were on the table and the laptop slide presentation was queued up. There was no check-in on permission for a presentation. It felt like an ambush.

2. Value Me

I interrupted his presentation to let him know I wasn’t interested, then I said no again when he used different words to pitch the same thing. The moment I gave my second no, he packed up his knapsack and left. I was a prospect, not a person. Since he had no interest in me other than as a source of income, he invested no time in getting to know me before diving into the pitch, and he wasted no time on me once it was a no. Other than a bizarre priority of getting words of support from the guy who just said no, all he seemed to want to do was get the f out of the cafe.

I’ve heard something similar about another representative of this company who would get upset with friends who didn’t sign on. Maybe it’s part of their training that no’s aren’t people. They aren’t sources of future referrals. They aren’t long-term allies. They are no’s and therefore worth neither respect nor time. If it is a part of the company culture, it’s heartbreakingly empty.

3. Know Your Audience

I don’t think I present myself as someone who would be impressed by a 20 year old buying a Bentley, yet that was part of the sales pitch. Every network marketing story includes the cliche of the buddies who got them into the business and who are thriving beyond anyone’s imagination. This story was the same. And what would his buddy spend all his newfound riches on? Things that matter to me like planning for the future or investing in socially-responsible ventures or supporting progressive political movements? Nope. He was going to go straight to the auto lot to buy a Bentley. Awesome!!!

4. The Halo Effect Can Backfire

The pitch was fast and furious, designed to sound conversational and spontaneous but really rehearsed and awkward. It invoked at least one pro athlete involved with the product but more troublingly at least two who aren’t. The intent was to ride the coattails of wildly successful people.

When he mentioned Mark Zuckerberg, who does not work for this company, he was trying to use the halo effect of Facebook’s success and Zuckerberg’s fame. But did he realize I’m not fond of Facebook and think Zuckerberg is less than ethical? Too late. His product is now linked with two negatives for me.

5. Get Your Facts Right

For instance, Facebook is not a multi-level marketing company. When I like something on Facebook, the person who posted it doesn’t get a royalty. It’s a venture-backed-and-now-publicly-traded internet startup powered by advertising dollars.

And – while advertising has changed, it is not a dead tactic as was implied. It is in fact powering the profits of the very Facebook he worships as a MLM outfit. And a little startup called Google. And the list goes on. Companies do in fact use advertising effectively.

Network marketing is not the new and only path to success. I’m sure we could all find examples of startups that have thrived using traditional marketing (with a dash of effective social media of course) and traditional top-down of franchise structures.

Nuance was essential but absent in this meeting. This gentleman felt some compulsion to make the message “get on this train before it leaves the station,” so facts weren’t particularly convenient.

6. Have a Consistent Story

If the pitch starts by saying advertising is dead and talks about this company not investing in advertising as a plus, then bragging about the company being the official energy drink of the Charlotte Bobcats rings hollow. That status doesn’t come free. It’s bought. It’s advertising.

And when Michael Jordan is invoked around that Bobcats official drink status, don’t imply that it proves the product is great. Jordan doesn’t manually approve each sponsor based on the quality and ethics of the company. If so, he might never have promoted shoes made with questionable labor practices.

That’s All Good, But I’m Not In Multi-Level Marketing

This is a story about a multi-level marketing pitch, and it’s also a story about authenticity and how we live. We can apply every one of these lessons to ourselves as we shape our lives.

  • Are we being transparent or are we masking our intentions? And if so, why? What is holding us back from being ourselves?
  • Do we value those around us, or are they means to get what we want? Are we in touch with our friends even when we don’t need something from them? Are we looking to give without expecting to receive? When we read a great article, eat at their favorite restaurant or visit a beautiful park, do we think of them and share it? As important, do we value ourselves? Are we clear what we want and how we might be undermining those priorities?
  • Do we really know the people around us? What do they care about? Are we curious how we can be of service to them? And we can ask the same questions about ourselves. Do we really know who we are and what we want? Are we investing time to build a life that is true to ourselves?
  • Are we so focused on media and celebrity that our own priorities get skewed? Do we choose to watch a TV show rather than connect with family or friends? When do we choose to spend time with people based on reputation or surface beauty rather than genuine friendship?
  • What false things do we believe just because they were taught to us a long time ago? Which of our truths about the world might not actually be the unbreakable truth? What misunderstandings are creating noise or rifts in our relationships?
  • What is our story? Are we writing a sentence here, a sentence there to create a meandering, convoluted mess? Or are we crafting a compelling, gorgeous epic that reflects what matters to us and our valiant efforts to create a world that lives up to those ideals?

5 Replies to “Six Lessons from a Network Marketing Ambush”

  1. Beautiful how you created something new from such an awkward experience. I am quite moved by the summary and lessons learned/to be learned. Lovely post and food for thought.

  2. Arthur, this was one of the most well-crafted articles I’ve read in a long time. The message you deliver is significant, and your style is remarkable. Thanks for this, and keep them coming!

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