MLM restructures the traditional business model — manufacturer to retail shop to customer — such that sales agents working for the manufacturer sell directly to customers, bypassing the retail shop altogether. MLM companies can then convert customers into advocates for their products and possibly even sales agents. Because there is no retail store for the products they sell, MLM agents typically work from their homes, interacting with customers in the community or, more often, over the internet.
In a similar fashion, when you eliminate money from the network marketing industry, a new perspective emerges. Personally speaking, I love talking with people who are in this industry because they are always reading, posting, and sharing something inspirational. They have goals, a dream board, and are generally using the products that they are selling to improve the way they look and feel.
The Direct Selling Association (DSA), a lobbying group for the MLM industry, reported that in 1990 only 25% of DSA members used the MLM business model. By 1999, this had grown to 77.3%. By 2009, 94.2% of DSA members were using MLM, accounting for 99.6% of sellers, and 97.1% of sales. Companies such as Avon, Electrolux, Tupperware, and Kirby were all originally single-level marketing companies, using that traditional and uncontroversial direct selling business model (distinct from MLM) to sell their goods. However, they later introduced multi-level compensation plans, becoming MLMs. The DSA has approximately 200 members while it is estimated there are over 1,000 firms using multi-level marketing in the United States alone.
By theory, the MLM mode of operation is simply more cost efficient and easier to run. However the recruitment of sales agents revolve largely around the idea of hitting the jackpot of financial freedom. Simple math will tell you that most people will obviously not make it big through MLM. A certain individual even goes as far to say that 99% of people don’t ever make a profit during his interview with CNBC.
I’d like to point out a few things: statistically something like 96% of businesses fail within the first 5-10 years, which is a much more impactful loss, both financially and time wise, than the few hundred dollars one puts into whatever product they’re using in MLM. So realistically the success rate as a “self employed business owner” with MLM is probably a bit better than it is with launching a traditional business, or at least consistent with it. It takes discipline and tenacity that many people don’t have- that’s why they chose to remain employees in the first place.
Yet there must be something to the business model, since I see some big business icons like Donald Trump are joining in the MLM parade. I've written about these before, and I'm still looking for one that feels entrepreneurial. Who has a convincing story that will make me feel good and pure as I recommend their MLM to my best startup clients? Do you love them or hate them?