What P&G can learn from network marketing’s biggest mistake

As a fan of P&G and someone who’s been educating the Network Marketing industry for 17 years, my heart sank when I read about P&G’s latest marketing tactic – bribing women to use their friendships to sell soap.

Network Marketing (NM) has created an image of an industry whose people use and abuse their friends for personal gain. P&G has just created an army of 600,000 women who are using their friends in exchange for soap and coupons.

The NM recruiters’ pitch: Make money doing what you do everyday – recommending things to friends. Just go to people you know and talk up products like you always do. Only this time get paid for it. You do it everyday. This is the same thing.

Who wouldn’t want to make money doing something they do everyday?

But 95% drop out. Worse, thousands of reps in and out of the business talk about their new status as members of the NFL – No Friends Left. They’ve used them up. So now they have no money, and no more friends.

Here’s the big mistake:

NO NM company I know of teaches people to tell up front that they’re selling the product they’re talking up. (Because that would contradict the recruiting mantra that they’re getting paid to just do what they always do.) So when the other gal gets enthusiastic and wants to get the product too, the truth comes out: “Uh, I sell it.”

And right then the trust is broken.

“Ahh. So that’s why we had this chat and you said all those nice things about it…”

The next time, the friend doesn’t return the call.

Note: This reaction has nothing to do with the quality of the product. It’s having led the friend to believe they were just chatting the way friends do – using the transparent and trusted word of mouth channel – reserved for friends who speak with NO ulterior motive. See Wikpedia’s clear definition here.

P&G’s new tactic of bribing women to talk up products to their friends without telling could lead to the same erosion of trust among friends.

“We know that the most powerful form of marketing is an advocacy message from a trusted friend,” says Steve Knox, CEO of a P&G company doing this.

So they find the biggest talkers who, for a box of product and discount coupons, will chat up these products to friends, without disclosing a thing.

The tactic seems to be increasing sales significantly for P&G right now. But it may very well implode, and here’s why:

They conveniently leave it up to the bribed women to tell or not to tell. Those who don’t, and I expect that’s most because it changes the dynamic instantly, will have to deal with the fallout – the reactions of their friends who find out later that their recommendations were paid for.

If a friend of mine were talking up a product or program to me, and they were secretly bribed like this and didn’t tell me, and I found out later, it’s the last time I’d listen to them with an open heart and mind.

I do NOT mind people I know making money on me. I have helped them do it, by making sure they DID get paid for referrals that were worth money to me. But I want to know up front. So I can adjust my listening strategies. I don’t want to find out later, after I’ve already let my most vulnerable side respond to the (secretly paid for) recommendation of a then trusted friend.

P&G: Teach the women in these programs how to tell up front that they’re getting something from you to do this extra talking up of your products – they obviously weren’t doing it before (judging by the increase in sales.) You can accomplish much the same thing if you offer the language skill set to enable them to do that with their friends.

If you don’t, you risk getting the same image much of network marketing is stuck with right now:

P&G: the people who encourage their customers to use and abuse their friends for uh, well, in your case, a case of soap.

About the author

Kim Klaver


  • Along the same lines, I’ll bet many of us have had an experience when we were intivited to a friend’s house for dinner, only to find it was a pitch for their MLM company. You leave feeling used and deceived.

    I totally agree with you Kim — The best thing you can do is to be up front. “Hey Mike, why don’t you come over for dinner, and I can finally tell you about Company ZZZ I’ve been marketing for.” If Mike isn’t interested, then you say, “Okay, how about you come over just for dinner then, and we’ll skip the business discussion.” That shows the person you care about them as a PERSON and not just a customer / potential recruit.

    Another tip — Have party nights that are educational only; skip the high-pressure sales. I know a lot of women who dread going to parties because of the high-pressure sales pitch or guilt trip they’ll experience to get them to buy the product. Let them know up front — “This event is for education and socializing only. Relax and leave your checkbooks at home.”

    — Walter from Appleton, WI
    NuSkin / Pharmanex

    P.S. Hey Kim, thanks for the Jiggerbug tip on the YGT podcast. I’m now a paying customer who has all of your CDs in my queue. And . . . it was nice to hear you on the Optimizing your NSE business call. I’ve been talking you up to my MLM associates, and this was a good way for them to hear first hand the good stuff you’re advocating.

  • “No NM company that I know of teaches people to tell up front that they’re selling the product they are talking up”-KK

    Kim, Prepaid Legal is very clear in their trainings, “Don’t hide the name of the company. Be proud of it. You rep for one of the fastest growing companies on the NYSE, and the name of the company is Prepaid Legal.” That is verbatim from the company training manual, and it is repeated in the field well, in my experience.
    Thought you’d want to know…maybe there is hope!
    Glenn Jaffas
    Prepaid Legal Independent Rep

  • I like what Walter said. Have them over for dinner even if they do not want to hear about the business; and what a great idea to have an educational “party”.

  • If I am recommending a product I represent to my friends, I tell them I am selling it up front.

    I also do not recommend product to anyone that I really don’t think fits their needs.

    If I have something to sample friends, I give them a sample so they can try it first.

    If I am signing up a distributor, I make sure I tell them anything up front that I think could potentially be misleading, unclear, or they might not think about and might be asking me about later.

    I think the relationship is more important than the immediate sale.

    Brenda Bunney

  • I may have posted this essay here before.If so, forgive me, it bears repeating in this context.

    Are we selling, or just sharing?

    Let’s get one thing straight:

    People hate feeling they are being sold. Most people do not wish to be sales people.

    On the other hand, people enjoy hearing about products that work from people they already know, like, and trust. Most people recommend products and services to each other.

    Where does that leave us as network marketers? Are we selling, or just recommending?

    The answer is: both.
    And it is important to be totally clear and honest about both aspects.

    Network marketing is a form of direct selling that uses referrals by contented customers instead of stores, ads, and a professional sales force.

    We are recommending, because we use the products ourselves.
    We are selling, because we get paid a commission on referrals.

    The “Let me share something with you” approach often creates resentment and resistance. Why? Because when the seller’s financial interest comes out, it appears there was a hidden agenda all along.

    Many prospects will now dismiss the whole previous conversation. It was just sales talk,
    and therefore not to be taken seriously. (Thanks to Kim Klaver for that insight)

    How do we get around that?
    We mention the referral factor first, upfront and above-board, before any sharing.

    The most brilliant training I got on this topic came from Gold Ambassador Joy Gilfilen at an Amazon Herb Company training. AHA!!

    Joy pointed out that people distinguish between private space and commercial space.
    They both have their place. We all shop, don’t we?

    If you opened a shop you would invite all your friends to the grand opening.
    They would come with balloons and flowers and generally wish you well.
    And they would know your shop is commercial space, even to friends.

    We really resent an unexpected intrusion of commercial space into private space.
    Using a private social occasion as an opportunity to sell is just plain bad manners.
    Inviting people over for a social evening or lunch and then springing a so-called opportunity meeting on them is a disgusting approach that has given MLM a bad name.

    Inviting friends to something like a Tupperware Party is totally different.
    The party creates a commercial space at home. The intention is honest and clear.

    Much awkwardness that occurs in your networking marketing business comes from not knowing how to cross that gap between private and commercial space.

    The gap is easily crossed by being honest and asking permission.

    Here are two dialogues to illustrate the point. The product is obviously fictional.
    The bad case scenario comes first.

    Carol: “Hey, Liz, its Carol. You know how my knees have been bothering me? I found something that really helped. I know you were looking for something for your aching back.”
    Liz: “My back has been killing me lately. I’ll try anything. What is it?”

    Carol: “It’s called Joint Fixer. It is an herbal formula based on Traditional
    Chinese Medicine, enriched with genuine powdered Unicorn Horn.
    It sure is working for me!”

    Liz: “Sounds interesting. Does the neighbourhood pharmacy have it or do I have to
    go to the Health Food Store in the mall?”

    Carol: “You can’t get it in stores. You can buy it retail from me, or I can set you up
    with your own account with the company I get it from.”

    Liz, indignant: “Oh, you are trying to SELL me something!! Don’t tell me this is one of those MLM deals like the one uncle Archie was into? He would never take no for an answer and he was driving everybody nuts.”

    Carol, stumbling and on the defensive:” Eh, yes, it sort of is, but we are not like uncle Archie! “

    Liz, cynical: “Yeah, sure. Sorry, I am not interested. “

    Now, compare this to the following, where Carol is totally honest about her interest.

    “Hey, Liz, its Carol. You know how my knees have been hurting? I found something that really helped. I know your back has been bothering you. This stuff just might help you.”

    Liz: “My back has been killing me lately. I’ll try anything. What is it?”

    Carol: “Before we go any further, I have to tell you that you can’t get his stuff in a store.
    It is only sold through independent distributors. My friend Ann told me about it.
    I just became a distributor, so if you want to try it, I earn a few bucks. Can you live with that?”

    Liz, laughing: “Of course I can live with that, what are friends for! Say, is this one of those MLM companies?”

    Carol: “Yes, it is”.

    Liz: “I’d like to hear what you have, just don’t expect me to start running around selling,
    OK? I am not into that. My uncle Archie was with one of those outfits and he drove the whole family nuts.”

    Carol: “No problem! That part is totally optional. Now, shall I tell you what I am using?”

    Liz: ”Please!”

    Do you get the picture?
    Carol has asked for and received permission to enter commercial space.
    Liz has in a way stepped into Carol’s store and is now open to the information she will find there.

    Kim Klaver has an excellent article on this topic on her website.
    The link that is coming is an affiliate link. The article is free to read, but if you decide to buy any of Kim’s books or CDs, I earn a few bucks. Can you live with that?

    You will find the article in the side bar on the left, in the article archive.
    It is titled “It’s just like recommending”.

    Go to:

    Happy selling/sharing everyone!

    Permission is granted to use and share this article as long as credit is given and nothing is changed.

    Ien van Houten

  • Here’s a new concept. Have them over for dinner and see if they would like to order the steaks, baked potatoes and cheese cake they just ate and have them delivered to their house. 🙂
    I think the concept of pitching the business is what gets most people in trouble. Tell them you like this product line so much you decided to market it and you are trying to make some extra money for what ever reason you need money for. They can relate. You what them to come over for dinner and look at your product line so if they know what it does, they might know somebody would like to try it. If the story is good enough they might want to try it.
    Selling the product should be your first objective, not signing up a new rep that can’t make sales either.

    Thanks Kim for everything you have done for us. We really appreciate it.


  • My whole neighborhood and all my friends know I rep products. They know my big house is paid for by my product lines.

    When they come over to visit, I say things like: Oh, try this new juice, or whatever I market. It is really good. I like it for such and such…….

    Then I pour them a little sample. They usually smile and say WOW it’s so good – or something similar.

    I ASK them if they would like a brochure, magazine, CD, or such.

    IF they want to buy some on the spot, I sell them some.

    Sometimes they will ask if I have any product good for such and such. Then I will show and tell them something else that might help them.

    If they don’t like the subject matter, we get on with whatever else we got together to talk about.

    Ditto for my other products.

    I just mention it in passing, mentioning that I rep the products, would like a little sample… and then let it flow.

    I do NOT chase them, hit them over the head, pressure them, trick them, or otherwise do annoying tricky dicky tactics that destroy or erode friendships.

    I SUPPORT our friendship by showing them something that MIGHT be of help and of interest for them.

    I just OFFER them something to consider – as a courtesy 🙂

    I am UPFRONT with my role in demonstrating the product.

    Pat Crosby

Leave a Comment