A Multi-Level Letdown

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Last night I was bathing my 3-week-old daughter and she was screaming like a banshee. The shrieking was similar to something that Mary Murphy would do while judging a routine that she loved on "So You Think You Can Dance?" If you don't know who she is, just watch this video and you will get the picture. It gets really good at the :45 second mark, so hang in there. (And yes, I watch SYTYCD? with my wife even though most of the guys on the show make me feel a little bit awkward and everything I know about dance was learned from "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo". Guys, you are completely justified in calling me a sissy right now, but what else is there to watch until the NFL season kicks off? I am a sucker for reality television and spending time with the Normal Mormon Wife, and this lets me do both. Am I the lone man watching SYTYCD?, or do other guys watch this estrogen-rich show as well?)

Anyway, the phone rang while I was bathing the miniature human noise maker and it was for me. My wife handed me the phone and said, "I don't know who it is, but they asked for you and they have an 801 area code." The mystery voice on the other end of the phone played the whole, "Do you recognize my voice?" routine with me. After a few failed guesses on my part, I concluded that it was either going to be a very good call (e.g. reconnecting with a long lost friend) or a really, really bad call (e.g. a shady figure from my past attempting to extort money from me because of something dumb I did when I was eleven).

In a way, I guess it was both.

You see, it actually was one of my long lost friends who called me out of the blue to reconnect. I had not spoken with this person in about ten years and was thrilled to get a call from him. In order to protect the innocent, I'll refer to my friend as "Eddie". Eddie and I spent about 15 minutes just rehashing old times, talking about work, family, church and how our lives have changed over the years. We both probably said, "Man, it's great to talk to you!" about a dozen times.

After we caught each other up about our lives there was a slight lull in the conversation. Eddie broke the silence with the dreaded line that we have all heard before - "So anyway, the reason I called is because I have a fantastic business opportunity that I would like to share with you..."

I have had this exact same experience happen three or four times over the past two years and the "business opportunity" angle has caught me by surprise every time. I feel like a total chump (I accidentally typed "chimp" instead of "chump", but I guess either word would suffice) because I am always thinking they are going to say, "So anyway, the reason I called is because I still consider you a good friend and I want us to keep in touch. I would also like to give you four thousand dollars and a lifetime supply of free Slurpee coupons for being such a great guy." I'm still waiting for that call to come through.

I politely told Eddie that I appreciated the call, but that I am not currently interested in leveraging the power of "compounding wealth creation". We then awkwardly ended the conversation and promised to keep in touch. He asked if he could email me with some additional information about the business, and I agreed to let him. I hope we do keep in touch, but I feel pretty used right now. If he never contacts me again because I took a pass on becoming a distributor of the product he was offering, I will feel like the whole "Hey, remember what great friends we are?" conversation was somewhat disingenuous. My previous experiences lead me to believe that I will never hear from him again. Nor will he offer me friendship Slurpees in the year 2012.

It is important for me to note that I have absolutely nothing against multi-level marketing. In fact, I am grateful for it. I worked at NuSkin's corporate offices for four years and my salary was paid because hard-working distributors went out and sold our products. I also learned during that time that I do not have what it takes to be a distributor. The NMW and I have several friends who have done quite well by selling everything from skin care products to food storage to deregluated electricity. If you are among that group, good for you! I wish you nothing but success. Those of you who organize candle, Pampered Chef or scrapbooking parties are not lumped in with the MLM's because your friends know in advance that you are going to give them appetizers with the hopes that they will buy a $47 candle. There is nothing disingenuous about that.

There is also something inherent in our Mormonness that attracts us as a people to multi-level marketing. After all, many of us have spent two years going door-to-door sharing something that we firmly believe in with complete strangers. I think our pioneer heritage leads many of us to be fiercely independent, hard working and self-reliant. We believe that we will eventually reap what we sow and to never expect a handout. These qualities make for good multi-level marketers. It is probably not coincidental that NuSkin and Tahitian Noni have ginormous corporate offices in Utah.

After thinking about this for a day now, I am proposing that when multi-level marketers call a long-lost friend to "reconnect", they have to follow a few rules, including:

1) Under no circumstances can you mention the "business opportunity" until you have called your friend at least three times in the past year. Bringing it up on the first call makes us feel like chimps.

2) When telling your friend about the business opportunity, get to the point. Just say, "I want you to sell Tahitian Noni in my distributor group. I will get paid on your sales. You will get paid when you recruit people to join your group." Avoid doing what Eddie did to me, which was asking me to sit through a 36-minute online video that did not even mention the company or product until the 24th minute. Since I only had about 12 seconds to watch it, I skipped past the 24 minutes of "wouldn't you like to drive your Ferrari down to your private yacht? Well, you can!" so that I could finally find out what product I would be selling.

3) If we are obviously not interested, please do not ask us for the contact information of any of our mutual acquaintances. Giving out their contact info makes us feel like Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" when he tells his mom that his friend Flick taught him how to swear. Ralphie knew he was throwing his buddy under the bus, but he was backed into a corner and had no other choice. Please, guys, don't back us into the corner.

I am sure there are other rules that should be out there, so please post some comments with the rules you would like to see put into place. This is also a good opportunity for those of you who have been on the receiving end of these awkward phone calls to vent a little bit, if you feel so inclined. Also, if there are any MLMer's out there, please share your side of the story with us. Is it hard for you to make the, "Hey, remember me?" calls? Do you worry about how it may impact your future relationship with the person you call? What kind of gas mileage do you get in your Ferarri?

While you are typing your comments, ask yourselves if your hands feel dry. Because if they do, I have the best hand lotion in the world for you. Seriously, a group of independent scientists proved that it can reverse the signs of aging by 9,472%! It's a revolutionary product from NuSkin called Revitalotion. Now, if you have 36 minutes, I can tell you all about it...


Denise said...

Rule #1: No buzzwords. No benchmarking of corporate markets to redistribute investment opportunities. This just manages to keep everything vague while trying to sound impressive. Stop assuming we're stupid.

Rule #2: No implying that you're doing us a favor by letting us in on this very exclusive opportunity. Stop assuming we're shallow.

Rule #3: No pretending it's anything other than what it is. When the smoke and mirrors are gone, what is the bottom line? We join, you make money. Stop assuming we're gullible.

10:48 PM
Dead Poet said...

Rule #4: If the SPOUSE of the person you called says no, even if the person you called seems interested, don't push that person to get their spouse interested.

Rule #5: DO NOT keep pushing if they both say no.

Man I hate those kinds of calls.

1:00 AM
Natalie said...

First and foremost David also watches SYTYCD. He enjoys it just as much as I do.

I can't believe your 'friend' did that too you. I would have cursed him out and hung up on him immediately! That is some shaddy stuff right there. How disappointing. If anyone ever does that to me, I will never speak to them again! What kind of friend are you?

So no this hasn't happened to me ever. Maybe because my friends now I am a straight shooter and would probably laugh at such desperate attempts to get me to 'invest' in something.

I feel for you dawg. After such a great couple of minutes catching up on old times, that must have been really disappointing to find out he just wanted your money.

5:41 AM
NMW said...

Great post, babe. Let me know when the call comes in for the free slurpee coupons. I'll happily take over bathing the little banshee for that one.

5:53 AM
bioman75 said...

Hoping to see a reference to the RM in this one.

Maybe it is the appealing structure of the company that mormons like so much (seems to mimic church government).

It will make a great post once the slurpee dream is a reality.

6:14 AM
Sandy said...

UGH...my Dad's "best friend" from High School used to call about every other year while I was a kid with some new MLM scheme. He tried to get Dad to buy vitamins, exercise equipment, lotion, you name it. I think that just the fact that the conversation was initiated with the intent to sell something soured my parents on what the guy was selling, no matter what it was. Other families that had moved from our ward in CA to UT (funny, ALL of the people we knew that did these things had moved to UT...) got into some of these companies, too, and definitely used their old CA stake directories to try and drum up some business.

I have had a few friends sell me out totally randomly...one was actually a girl from the MCKB studio who gave my name and info (don't know how she got it, since I had moved out of UT like 3 years previously and had not been in touch with her) to a certain pseudo-LDS video company that can get really nasty on the phone when you don't want to buy their non-church-approved animated scripture movies.

My principal when I was a teacher actually held a meeting for all the new recruits telling us how he lost his $10,000 savings to a pyramid scheme. He had seen too many low-paid Utahns (like teachers...) buy into these things and wanted to make sure we knew what had happened to him. I also know of a couple that divorced after she racked up $30 grand in debt meeting her "quarterly quotas". Funny, her husband didn't want her entire room filled with cosmetics as part of their divorce settlement.

6:53 AM
Eden said...

I had a similar experience a few years ago when I ran into a fellow alumni from my mission at the grocery store. We hadn't seen each other for a long time, and it was really nice to reconnect. Then she asked if she get my address and visit me and my husband the next night. I was confused (since we had just spent 20 minutes catching up), but gave her my address anyway.

When she showed up to my house loaded with direct marketing materials, I internally groaned. As she started her presentation, we politely told her we wouldn't be interested. But she continued. And continued. And continued. FOR TWO HOURS.

My husband, a college student at the time, had massive amounts of homework to get to, and he was so angry. He kept kicking me under the table. But no matter how much we told her "no," she wouldn't stop.

So my rules are: #1--Don't "trick" your way into someone's home. Be honest about what you want, and respectful if they're not interested.


#2--No matter how much you love the business idea, nobody wants to hear you prattle on and on. Keep it brief.

Also, as a direct marketer, be prepared to be shuned and mocked if you violate the rules. My husband and I have no desire to ever see this girl again--under any circumstances. And even today all I have to say to my NMH is "what would you do with more free time?" (her catch phrase that she used over and over) and he roars with laughter.

7:12 AM
trying not to be rude, but... said...

Can I leave a rule? Stop responding to comments in your posts. It's strange. Respond to comments in the comment section, like normal mormon bloggers.

Of course, this is your blog, and you can do whatever you want.

Oh, wait. This is for MLM. I think a good rule of thumb is "don't get into business with good friends or with family." This includes the person contacting and the person being contacted.

The whole thing is manipulative and wrong. They get trained to talk for hours so you agree just to shut them up, and not to mention what it is so you can get all excited about your boats and whatnot before you realize that you have to sell approximately 1.5 billion vats of lotion to get anything at all.

10:32 AM
Shelle said...

I'm just have to say that my husband...who is definitely a manly man :) watches the show with me for somewhat the same reasons you do...only that he also works with an office FULL of women who chat about it...so he SAYS that, that is why he HAS to watch it with me

but you know what? Secretly I think he LIKES the show! He sure has a lot of opinions on it!

11:10 AM
Jennifer said...

My husband watches SYTYCD and loves it as well. Four of the 14 people left currently are from Utah which is awesome.

Growing up in a MLM family I was exposed to the lifestyle at a very early age. My husband thinks they are the spawn of Satan and will have nothing to do with them. We have family members that are in 4-5 at a time. Some successful, some not, but they keep the dream alive.

When my friend moved to Utah from CA she was shocked to be invited to 5 "parties" in her first month. She sent an email to the bishop about how horrified she was about this development. I had to go give her a lesson on Utah/MLM culture.

11:52 AM
Pappy Yokum said...

MLM - those three initials just put a shiver up my spine. Like you, I don't have anything against MLMers themselves, just some of the horrible tactics they use to try to get people in. Here is my rules:

#1 Recognize that MLM is not for everybody. It takes a certain personality to make it, regardless of the structure.

#2 Don't get all bent out of shape when you see a family member using a different product than what you sell. Don't use the "families should support families" line to guilt other family members into using the products you sell.

#3 Don't quote scripture to support your decision to join a MLM or as a sales line.

12:02 PM
Gretchen said...

What is is with Mormons and MLM??? I don't think the RM thing completely explains it, so I wish I understood. How does a devout member end up looking for a free lunch at the expense of others. Would they gamble? No. Would they steal? No. But they'll get into MLM.

I don't have a problem with sales people. I couldn't do it, but more power too ya if you can. I have a problem with sales people who spend more time trying to get you to sell under them than they doing actually trying to sell whatever they supposedly sell. Someone, somewhere, has to eventually actually sell SOMETHING ya know or else it won't work. It's like they all want to make someone else work for them so they don't have to actually do anything. That's just not how life (or the eternities) works.

1:16 PM
Cheryl said...

I don't know you. We aren't old friends. But if I am ever in a position to give you a lifetime supply of Slurpees, I'll send them your way even if you don't want get in on the "ground floor" of a fantastic opporunity. (As long as you keep me laughing at the annoying situations life presents, the Slurpee coupons will be well spent.)
Another Rule: MLM profiling of potential 'recruits' can be wrong. Just beacause I know a lot of people, doesn't mean I want to alienate them all trying to get them to buy fancy vitamins from me. No thank you is still "NO!"

2:02 PM
Asenath said...

One of my old friends did this to me too--only since we're in college she changed her tactic a little. She called and we chatted for a bit (it's so great to talk to you! etc etc), and then she let me talk with this guy who was quite charismatic and had the most beautiful voice, who tried to convince me to become apart of this great opportunity!

I'm sad to say that I haven't talked with her since.

3:08 PM

Wow, this is so great, reading your blog post! It's been so long. What, like five, six years? This is so great, catching up with you like this.

Now, the reason why I'm posting is because I have a great business opportunity that I need to share with you...

3:45 PM
mama cow said...

I must say that thanks to "network marketing" (that is the new term for it) My husband gets to stay at home and work from there. BUT he doesnt sell a bunch of crap to all of our family and friend. He actually helps people who have joined companys market online so they dont have to bug family and friends AGAIN! Anyway it is definately not for everyone but with the way the economy has been going lately our buisness has definately gone way up.

5:55 PM
mama cow said...
This comment has been removed by the author. 5:55 PM
Jeremy said...

I've never had a friend do this to me before, but I seem to be an easy mark for Target/Wal Mart/Best Buy/whatever other lage store you can think of MLM solicitations. It never fails, I'm standing looking at movies or toys or whatever, and some guy approaches me and we start to have a conversation as he asks my knowledge on the latest Video Game system or what have you. I talk because I like to be helpful, and I feel like I'm doing a good deed, then the dreaded question comes, "Would you like to make some extra money?" First of all, this is a ridiculous question because everyone would like to make extra money, however not everyone would like to participate in your MLM, even grown men who still play video games.
I proudly proclaim my love of SYTYCD and love watching it with my wife who, as you know, is a dancer. It gives us some great things to talk about, and then she feels good about watching Tarheel basketball or the NFL with me. Highly recommended.

8:56 PM
Kimberlee said...

My husband watches SYTYCD as well. There's no shame! We both watch American Idol too.
We lived in Average College Town, Utah until recently, and we got the "risidual income" schpeel from 4 or 5 different friends in a six month period. I must say, at least candles and necklaces provide food for their guests....we watched that video for 40 minutes and got nothing but a numb bottom.
To this day the words "risidual income" activates my gag reflex.
Oh no! Gotta run!

10:43 PM
Beth said...

I used to be engaged to a guy who was into all kinds of "business opportunities." Notice I said, "used to be engaged" and by this I mean that I did not marry him. He got into Cutco while we were engaged and after that failed for him he sunk $80 into something called the purple hippo co. with a friend of his. That's not THE reason why I broke up with him, but it was a contributing factor. I couldn't ever be with someone who gets so easily caught up in weird schemes without thinking about them too much.

I have never known anyone personally who went into MLM and succeeded to the point where they got a Mary Kay car. People talk about the cars all the time but I never knew anyone who had one.

10:49 PM
Anonymous said...

A suggestion for the normal mormon wives and their various marketing programs:

Please don't invite close or semi-close aquaintances to your "Mary Kay parties" (or whatever you are selling.)

The problem:

Most of you seem to expect your aquiantances to buy something. After all, you are giving them brownies right?

Bad idea. What happens? When the invited decide not to buy something - hey, who wouldn't want a free makeover? - all of a sudden you look at them differently. They become less of an aquaintance because they let you down (even if you weren't expecting them to buy - there is still a residual thought that does damage.)

A suggestion to those who have been invited:

Politely decline the invite if it is from someone you know; it is not worth the risk to the relationship.

11:00 PM
Lindsay said...

Sometimes when visitors have stayed at my house too long, I say "I'm glad you're here. I have a fantastic business opportunity to tell you about." It clears the room.

I, too, have been victim to the call from the blue from an old friend who really wants to sell you on a MLM. I told her "if you want to catch up on old times, great. If this is just about a business, I'm not interested." Didn't hear from her again for over 7 years.

9:24 AM
Jami said...

Hey, trying not to be rude person, no razzing the Normal Mormon Husband. My job. Thanks.

Normal, This happened to me once with a pagan friend from High School. (Literally pagan.) She called got to the point(the world's greatest mops) Then she made a date to come up for a picnic, with mop time included. We had a great time and I didn't buy anything. She was really laid back about the whole thing. I didn't even feel slightly used.

I've had LDS friends do the same thing and it is disconcerting how they've wrapped their product up in the gospel and greed at the same time. It's just not a good combo.

Anonymous who hates home parties, People are different. I like home parties. My feelings get hurt when people don't remember to invite me. And an explicit portion of my invitation to my friends is come eat the food, visit, I don't care if you buy anything. It's an excuse for a party. It's shopping. It's fun.

11:04 AM

Thank heaven I grew up in VA instead of Utah- hopefully I won't have old friends trying to guilt me into buying something from them. Talk about awkward.

11:11 AM
Brenda said...

Oh brother...

This reminds me of a time when I got off my mission and a member from one of my areas tried to get me into Melaluca. (Is that stuff even around anymore?) It was the whole "I'm calling to see how you're doing, by the way I'm sending you a video to check out!" convo. So I feel your pain.

BTW, Slurpee's rule.

12:38 PM
Debbie said...

My husband and I are frequent watchers of SYTYCD and he believes he would make a great judge of their technique and style...he's usually right, too.

Since, we usually can't avoid the question or phone call asking those dreaded words of whether or not we'd like to hear about that "business opportunity"...my only advice is to stand firm and without guilt or remorse just say "NO!" That simple.

5:40 PM
Melinda said...

I must have a sign on my head saying, "Don't even ask me to participate in an MLM" because I've lived in Utah my entire life and have never been approached by anyone with a neat business opportunity. And I've lost track of plenty of friends over the years who could have tried to reconnect with me just to ask that question!

I did have one person who asked me if I wanted to sell Mary Kay four years ago, but Mary Kay isn't an MLM. Or is it? I don't even know.

8:17 PM
Emily said...

I had the worst experience once. I hadn't been visit taught for quite a few months. Then a couple from our ward came to our door and tried to interest me. When I said no they suggested I watch this video they gave me with my husband (I fely they were implying that I was not smart enough to make a decision like that alone). They said they would come back in a few days to see what we thought. The next day I got a call from the wife. Guess what ... she was my visiting teacher and would like to see me that day. So I let her and she didn't mention the business oppurtunity but did try to shmooze me a little. The next day the couple came back and I, as politely as I could, declined yet again. I was never visit taught by her again. Talk about using the church to further your own business interests. OUTRAGEOUS!

2:43 PM
Adriane said...

Brenda, Melaluca is still around. I'm an NMW in TX and I had a friend from the ward tell me about it. I contacted her when I saw an add in a local mom&kid type catalog. She never pressed the issue and I decided it wasn't for me.

8:10 PM