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Network-marketing parties: Emotional blackmail?

Is this what friendship is all about?

By Karen Datko Dec 2, 2009 11:16AM

This post comes from Marla Walters at partner blog Wise Bread.


After my first Arbonne “party” last weekend, I made a list of the other product sales “parties” I have attended. Can you match this?

  • Pampered Chef.
  • Princess House.
  • Mary Kay.
  • Tupperware.
  • Christmas Around the World.
  • PartyLite.
  • Oriflame.
  • Amway.
  • Stampin’ Up.

As it turns out, I have been to 19 of these things (some two or three times). I guess that makes me quite the party animal.


“Network marketing is the future!” proclaimed the Arbonne representative. Network marketing and multi-level marketing are terms that can be used interchangeably. The concept is that products are sold by an individual, but a distributor network is needed to build the business.

Interpersonal relationships and word of mouth are relied upon to market and sell. If I like a moisturizer from Mary Kay, the idea is, I’ll tell my girlfriend about it. In multi-level marketing, sellers get paid for their own sales plus the sales of others whom they bring into the company. In “direct sales,” the agent deals directly with customers, usually in a party atmosphere. These aren’t new concepts -- I remember my mother going to Tupperware parties in the ’70s.


In case you haven’t attended one of these shindigs, here is the rundown: You receive an invitation to a party. When you arrive, there is usually a demonstration of the product(s) (often hands-on) and a sales pitch. Then the check-writing begins. There is often a further pitch to host your own party or become a team member. Also included is a personal testimonial by the hostess, or presenter, about what a life-changing event becoming involved with the company was. Afterward, food is served.


When I discussed this story idea with my friend “MZ,” she said, “I’m always getting invited to those things, but I never go. Sometimes I feel guilty, though, so I buy something from the hostess without going to the party.”


Lisa from TerriO, who has participated in network marketing, says, “Sometimes when my friends sell products, I feel obligated, and sometimes I'm interested in the products.”


To get really introspective, is this what friendship is all about? I honestly believe that if I refused these invitations, my girlfriends would pretend to understand, but they’d really be disappointed, and perhaps a little angry with me. It’s not just me. My friends are educated, mature professionals, and yet they are still emotionally blackmailed into attending parties. Simply declining, politely, to host a party in my home seems to be an affront.


There it is, the crux of party marketing: feelings. Should your emotions enter into your shopping experience? At these parties, I have experienced the feeling of largesse because I could help a friend who needed additional income. Have you ever felt a sense of belonging because you joined in the buying frenzy? Some find happiness in their shopping experiences. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if you are invited to a party, the invitation will come from a friend, a family member, or a co-worker. You will usually have some emotional tie to the hostess.


Interestingly, in all the parties that I have attended, the only one where a few men were present was Amway (even though several of the above-listed companies do sell men’s products). This leads me to surmise that, if network marketing is the future of sales, it is the future of sales for women, who respond more favorably to personalized, emotionalized selling.


Fine, label me a sexist, but the statistics support my theory. According to the Direct Sales Association, 87.9% of sellers are women. Also, 32.8% of items sold are skin care, jewelry and clothing/accessories, and 25.6% of sales are in the area of home care products.


Are the parties fun? Sometimes, yes. Kelley, who used to sell Pampered Chef products, explained: “Our team worked hard to create parties that were entertaining and educational -- we even called ourselves edutainers!”


The latest pitch had a new twist: “Make up your Furlough Friday lost income!” I think it’s admirable if a person wants to earn extra income, as many of my friends have, by taking on another job. However, you should recognize the fact that you are not responsible for helping them earn their “dream house” or “a new car.” I have found myself empathizing with the hostess’ desire to homeschool her children, or to help her kids pay for college. As a savvy Wise Bread reader, though, you should understand that the products you are purchasing at a home party may be available elsewhere for much less.


A tactic I do not care for is being invited to a party, only to find out it’s a sales pitch. If they are not straightforward about the purpose of the gathering, that doesn’t speak well for the product or the company. Why should I have to be tricked into buying something?


A bad experience, in response to one of my queries, came from Kathleen of Client Connections, who had this to say:

I’ve had both good and bad experiences with network marketing. Bad ones include: Being invited to a “business card exchange” that turned out to be a one-hour pitch for joining the MLM company, either as a customer or distributor, and being invited for “coffee and conversation” only to discover that was a euphemism for “listen to my pitch about my MLM."

Knowing all of this, what if you receive an invitation to a party? Go, if you want, but be ready. Here are my thoughts about surviving the sales “party” experience.

  • There is nothing wrong with saying, “No, thank you” or “I’ll have to think about it.”
  • Find out if the product is guaranteed. If you want your money back, how do you get it (i.e., will the presenter/hostess handle it, or do you have to call a national customer service hotline)?
  • Really consider whether or not the product is a good value. By “good value,” I mean, would you buy it if it wasn't being sold by your friend?
  • A pitch I’ve run across many times is: “If this party has receipts of $300 or more, your hostess will get this bonus gift.” This is a ploy for you to have sympathy for your hostess, who may be gazing longingly at that spa set.
  • Beware this statement: “If you spent another $xx, you can get free shipping." It's another ploy for you to spend just a little bit more. Try buddying up and sharing an order with someone else at the party.
  • Alcohol is frequently served and it does loosen your inhibitions. You could be in for a buyer’s remorse hangover, so if you have a drink, be extra careful about spending.

As a veteran marketing-party animal, my advice is that there is nothing inherently bad about buying products this way. Just be aware of the tactics that are designed to induce you to spend more. Keep your emotions in check, and think about whether you really need the product or can get it elsewhere, for less.


To find out more about network marketing, check out Nora's thorough explanation in “Multi-level marekting: The future or folly?


For the marketing-party veterans among you, if you have favorite products that are available only through network-marketing companies, or are of superior quality through them, please share them with all of us in the comment section, and tell us why you like them.


Related reading at the Wise Bread network:

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