Thoughts on Multi-Level Marketing

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Pampered Chef, Young Living, Thirty-One, Plexus, Mary Kay, Tastefully Simple, Jamberry Nails…Ask anyone you meet what they think about these direct sales companies (also referred to as MLM (multi-level marketing) or referral marketing or network marketing or even “pyramid scheme” companies), and you’re likely to get either a strongly negative or decidedly positive response. Some people have no qualms about companies who embody this marketing strategy; others avoid them at all costs.

So far, though I’ve been tempted a time or two, I haven’t ever sold products for any of these companies myself.* However, I have lots of friends who have, and I am not opposed to buying from, attending, or even hosting their sales events, commonly referred to as “parties”, and here’s why.

Direct-sales “home businesses” are a great way for stay-at-home moms to earn an income and for other busy individuals to supplement their income with a side job. Money, much as I hate it, is pretty necessary to live in today’s world, and I’m all for enabling people (especially women) to be able to make a living AND raise their children in a healthy home setting or otherwise live out their core values.

Unfortunately, you’ve probably experienced or heard about a friend’s bad experience with MLM sales reps that are “too pushy.” I can’t say I’m exempt from this myself, and I do know how disappointing it can be when someone with whom we used to enjoy spending time becomes suffocatingly obsessed with “how you really should try X, Y, or Z” (the miracle product or cure they’re selling), or when the Facebook friend or blogger that used to post such interesting content now seems to only post about how great their company is.

However, I’ve often heard comments such as “I don’t want to be friends with so-and-so when they’re so interested in making money off of me.” Let me ask you this: do you like that all the other business establishments you support make money off of you? The big box retailers and fast food joints and convenience stores that invest their incomes in things that you would readily agree are morally wrong?

We all give money to these places at some point or another, even those of us who try to avoid it as much as we can. Tell me, then, what could possibly be so bad about making a purchase to support a friend or acquaintance who is trying to put food on her family’s table, or pay for college, or get out of debt? (Even IF you have to pay a little extra for it?!)

Unfortunately there have been people and there have been companies in general who have given some of these businesses a bad rap. But trust me, the people who choose to participate in this type of marketing are NOT all greedy, money-driven, pushy, and rude. (For that matter, even the companies themselves aren’t all created equal.) You don’t have to look very far to find sales reps who truly DO have your best interests at heart.

And that leads to another advantage I see in buying from these companies: the unprecedented personal customer service. When you have questions about use, need to reorder or replace a product, or just want to figure out how to get the most bang for your buck, the consultants are often immediately available and are more than happy to provide the satisfying, individualized customer service experience you most likely will never have in a large store or business establishment.

Another thing I often hear people ask is that “if the product is so great, why can’t they sell it in stores? Why do they have to get in your face to try to get you to buy it?” There’s certainly not a blanket answer to that question, and even if there were, I’m sure I wouldn’t have it. But personally, I can respect that there is more than one way to market products. You know what? Some of the big companies use much more maddening advertising tactics than these home party operations. You may not necessarily be as aware of how much the stores you frequent are tracking what you buy and when in order to figure out how to get you to buy more from them…but marketing is marketing and every single business does it.

When I receive an invitation to a product-themed event, I don’t automatically turn it down. It’s usually not too hard to gauge whether the hostess wants me to attend regardless of whether I plan to purchase anything, and if she does, then I will honor our friendship by attending. And if during the course of the presentation I discover something that could be quite useful or improve my life in some way, or serve as a thoughtful gift for someone I love, I will make that purchase without guilt. And if not, I will enjoy the socializing, thank the hostess for a good time, and leave–also without guilt. I choose to believe that this is all that my friends expect and want from me, and I hope you will do the same.

So for the time being, I’m happy to support the people in my life who are working hard to pursue their own unique versions of the good life. If that means purchasing an accessory or kitchen gadget from them instead of from Target, that seems like a win-win to me.

I don’t mean to open a can of worms here and I hope that you’ll feel my heart on this issue despite any injustice of description, but I would still love to hear your thoughts. What’s your take on MLM companies?

24 thoughts on “Thoughts on Multi-Level Marketing

  1. Ohhhhh I absolutely love this! You said it so well! The products I sell have truly changed my life physically and now financially as well. I look at it as a huge blessing and do my very best to not be the “pushy type” and try to give the best customer service to my customers! 😉 ! Thanks for this!

  2. I serve a growning Young Living crowd and love it! What you have to say here seems right on. And one thing I might add is that many of these products could be put ON store shelves! However many of these products are very unique, so the GATHERING/TEACHING setting is much more do able, in getting out particulars about product. Take YL for instance, I do classes and feel like I always come away with new ideas! In other words, I’m LEARNING all the time! Part of the fun of it is the opportunity to grow and invest in people’s lives! You can find that on a store shelf! And I love that there are Moms who have an enterprising gift and can use it while being home with their growing children. Thank you for sharing and Thank you Mimy for passing it along! Great read!

  3. Sonny and I were just discussing this recently and we agree with you Melanie. Why people think they are so much more honorable doing painting, carpentry, etc. than marketing what you talked about. Sometimes we dont see ourselves.
    Youre my kind of girl!

    • I still have so much to learn about how earning money and spending money fit into the life we are called to as Jesus’ disciples. But yes, above all we are called to love each other. Thanks, Rosanna!

  4. So I’m one of those that dislike multi level marketing. 🙂 I like some of the products- my kitchen has Tupperware, pampered chef, and princess house. I have 31 totes. But…. I will never host a party. I refuse to use my friend’s money to earn free things. When I want something, I simply contact a consultant. The more a consultant trys to sell, the less likely I’ll buy. My invitations to parties go in the trash. :/ I love my friends, but will not be guilted in to buying an unwanted gadget. 🙂 lol…im coming across strong! :/ sorry! 🙂

    • Well, you’re certainly entitled to that opinion, and I’m glad you felt comfortable sharing it here. 🙂 The way I see it, I won’t at all pressure my friends into buying if they attend a party at my house, so if they choose to purchase of their own accord, I needn’t feel guilty taking advantage of the discounts or freebies as a result. But so far, all the parties I’ve hosted were done not to earn things, but as a favor to the consultants whose businesses I wished to support for the reasons mentioned above. I love to entertain guests for any reason, so if I can do that and help someone I love earn some money in the process, that’s a huge win for me! 🙂

    • Why wouldn’t you want to support your friends? Who do you think the money goes to when you go to the store? Most MLM were started by people who truly have a passion for their products rather than the big box stores who are really in it for the money. And they are true supporters of their consultants unlike BB stores, who usually don’t care about their employees. Another huge plus is that they support fundraising, one of my companies has raised thousands of dollars for operation smile!

    • You can buy from the distributor and let them have all the profits or you can split the profits between the distributor and your friend at her party. Am I wrong? I enjoy supporting my friends if I plan to buy something anyway… I enjoyed the post. Most of us could learn how to say a simple “no” without getting defensive or offended. 🙂

  5. I have great admiration for and support women (and men) who create something with their own hands, take a risk, and put it in the market place to see if it fails or thrives. But those creators don’t call me, message me privately on social media to tell me how great their product is, or ask me to host a party with their products in my home. They don’t tell me their product will change my life, or try to motivate my purchase with “I’m just so thrilled to be able to contribute to my families income.” Can you imagine if you walked around Target and the manager was encouraging you to buy more because his salary is commission based and he was “just trying to support his family?” Aren’t we ALL trying to support our families? Would it be appropriate for your husband to use such a line at his work? The biggest thing for me is that the whole sales process seems to rely on a chain of friends and family…..and their friends and family. I’ve heard and experienced so many stories of dishonesty, fake “friendships” that fall apart when someone doesn’t support their “business”, and pressure tactics applied to “loved ones” that to me it just is not a business model I admire or respect.
    P.S. I’ve been enjoying your blog! Keep writing.

    • I agree with you that it’s certainly not a line that it would be conducive to use in a sales pitch. I guess that’s why I thought I was in a position to write this…because I am not one of them but can point out something like this that they never would.

      Again, I think that we are all called to value and invest in our friendships, and if we really do that, greed aside, the dishonesty and pressure you mention won’t be an issue. And I think that most of us could admit that we’ve been introduced by a friend to a product that really has changed our life for the better. I can respect that someone whose quality of life has been improved by some purchase would want to share that with friends and family.

      I’m wired in a way that I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt; so whether their motives are right or not, I will consciously choose to believe that they are. I think that’s what selfless love is all about. 🙂

      • As someone with a distaste for broad generalizations, I should have clarified that I do not believe that every consultant/ambassador for these companies is dishonest, or has some deeper, darker motive than financial gain. And some of the products themselves are useful/helpful. I was speaking mostly about the methods that are generally used in MLM. Whether each consultant is aware of them, or culpable for applying those methods is not for me to decide. They are simply distasteful to me personally.

  6. Great piece! I almost didn’t read it when it came up because I avoid drama on subjects like this whenever possible. And I didn’t even realize till I got to the comments who wrote it. One more thing I have to mention, you wrote about supporting a friend even if it means paying a bit more. Many people feel like MLM products are overpriced to help pay for the freebies for the hostess or the big prize trips. The truth is most of these products (at least the ones I’ve tried) are superior to the quality you would buy in stores and worth the extra $$. Every company has overheard costs. Stores spend this on rent, utilities and advertising (and more) MLM pays it’s distributors instead.

    • Thanks! I usually do my best to avoid drama on subjects like this as well; it took a lot of nerve for me to work up the courage to hit publish on this one. 🙂

      I agree with you that a lot of these products are superior in quality (for example, a lot of Pampered Chef’s stuff)! And you bring up a good point that I had intended to mention but must have forgotten: what the MLM companies pay their reps in incentives, other businesses are paying in other expenses that the direct sales model doesn’t incur. Thanks so much for pointing that out; I so appreciate your input!

  7. Love this! And I really like that you can be unbiased about it:). I have learned so much from recently being involved in a MLM company, and it has opened my eyes to be more thoughtful about the way I purchase my products. For instance, I can search on ebay and sometimes the product is a couple of dollars cheaper, but would I rather pay money to a stranger, or to my friend? And as far as my own business goes, I NEVER want to build a friendship with the intention of making money on them, but I want my friends to stay friends even if they never buy a single item from me!

      • Social Marketing is not for everyone……. but we’ve been part of a Wellness Company for over 35 years. The # 1 Natural Nutrition Company in the US for almost 60 years. A company with the best of Science and the best of nature! The philosophy of this company is to enpower people to improve their health every day and to earn an income simply by sharing natural products they love! We’ve been taught to listen to the needs of people and help them improve their lives whatever that may be. It’s been a journey for us and by far we haven’t always done it right when approaching people but have experienced many rewards for being involved with this company! New friends, seeing many people experience better health, extra income with flexibility of time, Improvment in our own health. We have come to trust this company and whenever they comes out with a new products we take it!

  8. I really enjoyed this post. MLM is something I’m typically negative about, but your perspective is refreshing. I dislike getting messages from people who would not otherwise be messaging me, with a paragraph of feigned interest and flattery followed by a business pitch. (If we’re not in close contact, I’d rather just have an honest business pitch.) And the different nutrition/weight loss ones will probably always drive me crazy. BUT there are a lot of great products in MLM, and when people aren’t pushy and are genuine about it, you’re right – why not support friends instead of major corporations?

    What a great, original topic to write about. I love your blog! 🙂

  9. Just read this and know I am a little behind the times… I do agree with what you said. There are a lot of people who do it well. But there are some who do it not so well. And unfortunately, I lost a dear friend over this very issue. If I post something on facebook I don’t mind if someone comments about a product that they think would help or private message me about it. But there was a dear friend who sent me a message telling me of this product I just need to try because she thinks I need to lose weight. It was very untactful and hurtful. And she would tag me in all kinds of posts on facebook that were about how the product helps you lose weight and helps with this hormonal issue or that health issue that I was facing that I didn’t want published on the public facebook world. Needless to say it was very hurtful. I contacted her and nicely told her that I am not interested in her product and if she could please stop tagging me. And our friendship is lost. I feel so sad.
    I also struggle with friends whose posts I enjoyed reading are now only about the products they sell. I think and believe it can be done tactfully and tastefully because I have seen it done that way.

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