With Summer coming to an end soon, I’ve decided to take some R&R and bring some long over-due projects to an end. This year has been quite interesting but one thing never changes: every month or so, I run into at least one over-zealous sales person. Few things turn off customers more than empty words, cliche statements, and typical sales talk yet even the best companies are plagued by individuals that I feel have a sort of diarrhea of the mouth, to put it bluntly.
The bad thing about these sales people is that they bring a lot of heat to the rest of us, the few that know better than to use tired scripts and strong-arm tactics. It is something that has hurt the IT field, retail, and many other industries. Today, I want to hone in on the MLM/Direct Sales/Network Marketing industry because these types of business now account for more than half of the businesses in the United States (believe it or not). With these companies growing rapidly, everyone will be exposed, which can spell out good things or bad things, depending on what side you’re on and what sort of training the involved parties may have.
I’ll be clear about this for anyone that may have not read my other articles on the Network Marketing business: these types of franchises work but, like in any occupation, there’s good, bad, and plenty of ugly! If you ask me, many of the MLM folks I have encountered also seem to train with the same few people. Their scripts and systems vary a bit but you can always spot these folks from a mile away. They dress the same, use the same corny jokes, draw the same diagrams, and try to hard to exude positive energy, result-driven performance, and things that they think will attract customers and team members alike. These folks couldn’t be more wrong. Anyone that listens to these folks and has been exposed to a similar business would believe these MLM folks all read the handbook on how to scare away customers as quickly as possible by the way they overwhelm you with robotic sales speech!
Just recently, a good friend of mine had an interesting message on his MSN Messenger. It was simply this: I’m fired up, fired up, FIRED UP! Yowza. This has to be the #1 mistake of business people all over the world: the dreaded fraternity/meathead behavior. Sure, like any other sales tactic, it may get you results every now and then. There are people that are very forgiving or speak the same language. Let’s not forget that the greatest lesson in marketing is learning how to identify your audience and tailor your communications to their specific needs; in other words, there is a great need to speak the language of your target market. If I had a dime for every time a network marketer missed the mark on this end, I’d have enough money to open up my own McDonald’s!
I have been approached by many, many MLM business owners in an attempt to bring me into their fold. They all swear that their “thing” is the best and that their system is most unique one around. Naturally, when my curiousity peaked and I asked my friend if he happened to be involved an MLM business, he responded in a similar manner. Knowing that I was a writer and one of my areas of interest was business management and marketing, he decided to use the typical salesperson smokescreen. My simple question was this: so what’s the name of your MLM (the equivalent of “what do you do”, the #1 question all sales people, especially freelancers and small business owners, should be ready to answer at any given time)? His response: oh, it’s not one of those things. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself when he responded in that manner. You see, there is a sort of elitism that hurts people in sales. All too often, sales people act like the competitors are evil and, in turn, they insult costumers in a round-about way when they are asked about the alternatives. Suddenly, my friend was telling me “I know you worked an MLM before but this is different and the one you was in sucked.” Tsk tsk…
After I managed to contain my laughter and hold back on cynicism, I asked him, quite simply: so what DO you do? His response was something to this effect:
“Well, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before, I can tell you that. It doesn’t involve selling and it’s not one of those MLM schemes. This is truly something unique but it’s hard to explain over IM. I really would have to show you. Where do you live again?”
…And there you have it – verbal vomit! If I was truly interested in joining his business, he would have lost me right there. He tried to assume what my likely objections would be and, as a result, bombarded me with details I really did not care to hear.
At this point in our little late-night IM conversation, I was just too curious to quit. I decided to probe a bit further. After just two or three minutes, I already had my ideas narrowed down to one or two business models. I never heard of his specific business (after I pryed it out of him) but the business model reminded me of Quixtar/Amway, and many other businesses I’ve seen just like it. Surely, they’re founded in sound business principles but the models are hardly anything break-through. No matter how much I told him that I already know what type of business he is in, he insisted I was wrong. I then decided to see for myself. Conveniently, the company web site was under construction. Fair enough. I requested print materials, DVDs, and whatever he could spare.
The DVD arrives almost a week after he confirmed sending it out. No biggy – I wasn’t in a rush! When I finally got around to seeing it three or four days later, I laughed some more. It was the typical thing that even the best MLM businesses do: they filmed a hotel meeting, the famous “business receptions”/presentations, and well-dressed people spoke for what felt like hours. The first 30 minutes (or the amount of time before I started to fall asleep) hit all the basic training material…
- Michael Dell and the three C’s (Content, Commerce, and Community).
- Robert Kiyosaki’s cashflow quadrant.
- Ray Crock and the first successful franchise, McDonald’s.
While those things are great, these are generic systems and, if you want to make a business model stick out, you have to bring something fresh into the equation. I’ve personally examined at least 20 “different” MLM opportunities over the past 4-6 years and none of them have made me go “wow, that’s really unique”; in the end, it came down to the product, the market, and the current consumer trends. That means sales people may have an truly incredible products but the tools to move product may not be there.
In any case, after viewing the DVD, I knew that my suspicions were correct. Not only was this business similar to Quixtar but they stole pages straight out of their handbook and, on top of that, they were partners. Apparently, this business (TEAM), has recently dropped Quixtar due to their reluctance to drop prices. Whatever the real story is (there’s always some sort of self-serving spin that businesses use to make things sound nicer than they really are), I was severely disappointed. I was actually a bit hopeful that the business would present some amazing new model, something that I could invest money in. My buddy’s over-zealous enthusiasm and over-selling actually built me up, as much as I was a little cynical about the whole thing. He scared yet another potential supporter away (I am sure I am not the first).
Both Quixtar and TEAM are built on sound principles but I’d say that their training needs a lot of work. First and foremost, you can’t assume everyone is oblivious to the true nature of entrepreneurship. We don’t need a two-hour business crash course before you explain to us what we really want to do: what is your business, how was it started, how do you make money, and why is your business different/special (a.k.a. why should I care?) – that’s it.
A few books come to mind when I consider the mistakes of “sales talk” in general. These books mostly revolve around a few simple concepts. Allow me to paraphrase some of the the most prominent ones:
- If you are marketing to women and you talk about your business exploding, being fired up, or use other “boy talk”, you may very well lose a customer and a potential business partner.
- If you talk too much, you can’t possibly listen to your prospect. You’re also likely to say a lot of things you’ll later wish you did not.
- If you hide the true nature of your communication, people will question your integrity and credibility, two things you cannot afford to tarnish when dealing in sales.
Item #1 is particularly interesting because it has been shown, again and again, that women are more open and often more effective in sales. They also do most of the buying decisions for their respective households yet there are men out there using the sort of talk that even some men find inappropriate. Quit the techno babble and sportscaster rhetoric – it doesn’t make your business seem more attractive to prospects!
If you want to get into the business of showing salespeople what NOT to do, just invite those people to any local MLM meeting. All cynicism aside, these meetings often miss the mark because they forget some simple rules; namely, the things that turn off customers. I make this call to all salespeople and business owners (you are salespeople, whether you want to admit it or not): remember what things have excited you or scared you away in the past when dealing with salespeople. Sure, we all have different hot buttons but practically everyone shares the same turn-off’s.
Stepping away from the MLM context, sales processes are all fundamentally the same. Customers either look for you or you find them but, no matter what, there’s very little that can be done when someone is not ready to make a buying decision. It’s like drawing water from a well: if there is no water in there, why keep trying? Salespeople often forget this. Leave the dry wells alone and identify those that have water.
If you look at retail, you may learn a few things. I’ve found that there is a greater success rate in retail sales for a few simple reasons:
- Customers come in, usually because they are ready to make a purchase.
- Customers tend to know what they want the moment they walk in.
- Salespeople tend to focus only on specific product lines, making it easier to be viewed as an expert and trusted.
- With specific questions to answer, it’s easier to be direct and avoid saying too much.
- Products are readily available, bringing customers that much closer to the buying decision and less likely to change their minds once they go through the process.
- Products are generally positioned effectively, facilitating easier cross-sales and impulse buys.
- The competition has less leverage when customers are surrounded by your products and marketing.
Those are just a few factors that I think can spoil someone coming from a retail background and tackling sales in a “new sector”. Whenever you deal with a relatively new product or an unusual delivery channel, sales becomes increasingly more difficult because customers are spoiled. It’s easier to go to a huge retail chain or shop online. Chances are someone has what you’re selling, perhaps not in a cheaper or better format but, in their eyes, from a more trusted, recognized provider. In fact, one of the hardest lessons for established business people I find is this: cheaper, better, and faster do not always define value for customers. As I will continue to profess, customers do not always look for quality but, instead, go with the things that are most familiar and seem the least risky. We, as business people, cannot assume that every customer will choose our products and services, no matter how much of a clearly “better” option we may offer.
It’s easy to fall in love what we are selling and become over-zealous. Passion and belief are definitely crucial as they can be very contagious, but the danger then becomes allowing our excitement to take us over. I’ve seen it many times. The moment an objection comes about, the marketer starts to project his frustration. This projection manifests itself many different ways but it all ends up in ugliness. Sometimes, the best way to recover potentially-lost business is to simply take away the opportunity.
The take-away is a very simple sales tactic that works surprisingly well. Instead of seeming desperate or pushy, which is what most sales people will do, you simply back off. The trick to a successful take-away is to leave the door to communication open somehow so that the customer can get in touch with you or, in the ideal situation, you may follow-up with them.
I recall in many MLM training sessions, they always told you to avoid providing take-home materials or making it easy for the customer to change their mind. This is poor advice. I know that I personally hate being cornered and pressured. I also dislike it when I request more information and I cannot receive it in my preferred medium. My many experiences in sales also show that I am not alone in these feelings.
One revolutionary thinker, Doug Firebaugh, warns against this sort of thinking. Providing some sort of exit strategy to prospects early on is an awesome way of making people more receptive to the information you provide and allowing for more friendly interactions. Remember: as the professional/expert, you may command the respect of your customers but warm interactions must be facilitated if you want to have their trust.
Triangles, as seen above, are a tool that are often used in sales training, especially in network marketing. Again, we see that familiar constructs and concepts are use to frame new concepts. The idea here is to make people more receptive to unusual and perhaps unique concepts by using simple, common reference points. MLM training is not all wrong, it’s actually quite exceptional, even if it is a bit broken, but, like most sales and marketing training today, it’s not complete.
So why is it that customers run away from network marketers and salespeople? Well, like I mentioned, not offering an exit strategy coupled with the tendency to be too aggressive and pushy makes for a losing combination. There are also many signals that may even scare customers away before the opportunity for a sales pitch even presents itself. Network marketers and salespeople in general tend to have a certain way of dressing, talking, and conducting themselves.
I am a firm believer that the age of suit-wearing is behind us. Being dressed up in a suit is great and certainly makes you presentable but, in many situations, it can make you seem less approachable. Customers do not like being talked down to and, if you’re dressing up better than them, it can give off many bad signals, just like certain body language and words can turn them off as well. To target a specific market, you have to connect with them on many levels and fit in. The more natural the connections are , the less your integrity is questioned. Conversely, you can’t try to force the fit with your products and services; it’s either for the prospect or not. Outsiders scare people, so do robots – why act like one? It’s really as simpled as that.
I find that one of the fatal flaws with Direct Sales and Multi-level Marketing (MLM) companies is that they try to break people out of the programming that we’re all subjected to since the first day of school yet they offer very little differences. You’re told that you get the freedom of your own business yet, really, it is more like a franchise, where you have to follow someone else’s rules and systems. You’re told to wear a suit and a big smile all the time yet the sincere elements behind such appearances are not always touched. Worst of all, you’re taught to do the same mistakes salespeople do, regardless of which cashflow quadrant they may be operating out of.
Within every business network in the MLM universe, there are people that break free of the system and bring with them the good parts, the stuff that works. They learn how to stand out from the rest, have fun with their business, and be natural. These are things that few people really pick up on, no matter how much they swear upon their personal development, which is why MLM businesses seem the same success rate that traditional sales systems see. If you get a 1 out of 100 conversion (from prospect to customer), that’s a really good day!
The lesson to be learned with MLM systems, or any sales system, is that you simply cannot try a one-size-fits-all approach with customers. For a sales approach to be successful, it needs to be adaptive and, most importantly, help you filter out the right people from the wrong ones. Don’t waste your time with people that are not ready to make a decision, whether it’s joining your cause or buying your “thing”, whatever it is you offer. Even when a prospect is ready to get on-board, make sure you identify their specific needs and offer them the solutions that best apply to them.
Anyone doing sales long enough may hit a point in their careers in which they may offer countless products at once. This is when it becomes even more dangerous when dealing with prospects. The temptation may be to take out samples and materials all at once while going into long-winded presentations but that is the worst thing you can do. If you want to make prospects happy, spend more time listening to them and ask them what they need.
Think about it: when you enter a store, the opening question is usually something to the effect of “how may I help you?” At that point, a customer will tell you if they are “just looking” or if they need your help with something in particular. This eases the process because now you are a solutions provider, a fixer, a troubleshooter, and not really the big, scary salesperson. If your intention is to scare away the customer, offer them something completely different from what they asked for, flood them with excessive information, and do not take “no” for an answer. This is what many salespeople do. It astounds me. In their approach, massive volume is necessary to off-set chargebacks and lost business. Why not focus on the few that actually want what you are offering and try to build a network of loyal customers, returning business, and frequent referrals?
The interesting thing about consumer decisions is that people will not think twice about making big purchases for luxury items. People will walk into a store and, on a whim, purchase a $150-300 pair of shoes or perhaps a wallet that costs the same. When an investment comes into the picture, they think about it a lot more. Part of it is that people have been exposed to MLM and all sorts of sales schemes already. They know of the horror stories, hidden costs, and ugliness of it all, even if they did not experience it first-hand. Right now, one out of ten people has heard of something similar to what any network marketer out there is offering. In five years, I expect that figure to be more like seven out of ten.
What this means is that people should be more forthcoming with their intentions and less cryptic about the company or companies they represent. With the Internet spreading like wildfire, people are informed and, while the information may not always be correct, they are jaded, apprehensive, and ready to hang up/run away at any given moment. This means that all they hype, fluff, flashiness, and cheesiness of sales and MLM talk will only put more defenses up. Stuff like this…
- It’s a ground-level opportunity with explosive growth!
- We are expanding our business and looking for people in your area.
- This may or may not be for you but if you are motivated, teachable, looking, and breathing, you already qualify!!
- Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired?
- I don’t consider myself a salesperson. I am a solutions provider.
- We do not sell. We share information with people.
- Our product is the best of it’s class.
- There is nothing like what we offer out there!
- Our advantage is that we offer the best service for the cheapest price!
- I market health awareness systems.
- We help people save money and improve their lifestyles by changing their buying habits and getting them only the best money can buy!
The list goes on and on. My biggest sore point is when people say they do not sell. Anyone that is in business for themselves does some sort of selling. In fact, there is no revenue model in which money selling does not happen at some point. Money needs to come in because businesses take money to run. Whether you are a customer or someone looking for a business opportunity, you are making a purchase, a buying decision. MLMs are franchises at heart and any one that is really worthwhile has some sort of initial and operational costs.
I mention MLMs and sales together because it’s the same principles that hurt these industries. Over-zealous business people scare customers away and make the market even tougher for those trying to make an honest living. On MySpace, I have a bunch of friends that have caught the sales bug and now everything they do sounds the same. One of my best friends changed his display name to “Platinum Status” and added a picture of a huge house as his default photo. These are the types of signals that make people go into defensive mode around you. When you exude that air of hype-filled, cheesy sales behavior, people start to avoid you and, when they do interact with you, they keep their walls up.
In the process of writing this piece, I actually had a follow-up conversation with my friend. I told him that he didn’t need to use the sales talk with me because I am a veteran of the field. He kept up the act and I called all the lines he was going to use, including the last bit where he said “Well, since you’re not interested, I’m going to leave now. I do not need to be insulted about something I am passionate about. I will simply talk to some people right now that want something better for themselves.” OUCH. If that’s the sort of elitist attitude sales people develop, it’s no wonder their customers run away! Everyone thinks their thing is the best or unique but the reality is that there is something out there just like it. Instead of trying to push “better”, just share how you are different.
Here is one line that MLM people overuse: “That’s the best part: we do not sell anything! We just share information with people. If they’re interested, great, if they’re not, there are others.” Again, it’s the stench of hypy, fluffy sales talk that scares customers as fast as you can get them to listen up. To really succeed, you have to dump the cliches and use real talk. I know I hate talking to robots and automated systems, I also know I am not alone on this, yet sales people day Sales & Marketing is ridden with people that just don’t know how to be natural. The problem with talking how everyone else talks is that you copy their failures more than their success so, yes, the system is duplicatable but are the results what you want to duplicate?
I can go on forever about different sales scripts and systems that work but, in the end, NOT scaring customers away means just being honest and listening to the customer. Some customers really are just looking and you can’t force them to make a decision when you feel is right. Other customers may be looking to spend or even invest some money but it doesn’t mean they will want what you offer. If you happen to be peddling some truly-innovative products and/or services, priming the market can be tougher but, in the end, it’s all simple. Answer questions quickly and honestly. Don’t project expectations and let the prospects develop their own opinions. Kill the hype. Stop overselling. Breathe. Stop. Listen.
I’d like to hear your thoughts on this, folks. Let me know what side interests you more: the sales stuff, the MLM stuff, something else? Tell it all and share it with my readers here. In the next installment, I’d love to address the things that are at the forefront of your thoughts. I know that, with the MLM stuff alone, there’s plenty of things to talk about. If you happen to be in the network marketing or sales business, share what you feel your challenges are. I’d like to tackle some of the more specific challenges since these more generalized pieces seem to get lots of attention. See you next time!