Learning from a Lion
A Conversation with Mark Yarnell, author of Your Best Year in Network Marketing
By John David Mann
There is probably no name in all of network marketing more storied than that of Mark Yarnell. After building a gigantic organization in the mid-eighties, the minister-turned-networker became one of the best known and most passionate advocates for the profession. A featured speaker at the very first Upline Masters events in the early nineties, Mark was the first (and only) career network marketer to serve as contributing editor to Success magazine. With Dr. Charles King, he cocreated the first certification course in network marketing, taught at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and in Seoul, Korea. His bestselling book Your First Year in Network Marketing, published in thirteen languages, is considered a veritible bible of the profession. If there was ever a true lion of network marketing, it would have to be Mark Yarnell.
A noted philanthropist, Mark also founded The Eagles, a literacy organization for penitentiary inmates, and the School of Sobriety, Nevada's only free treatment program for alcoholics and addicts; his charitable work earned him the Nevada Philanthropist of the Year Award from the Washington Times. He lives in the mountains of British Columbia with his wife Valerie Bates, with whom he coauthored The Lotus Code. — J.D.M
What's your favorite thing about your life in network marketing?
I'm a voracious reader. Reading has always been my hobby, and the joy of my life in this business has been that it's given me the freedom to read all I wanted. Every morning, from 5:00 to 7:00, Monday through Sunday, I'm in my lakeside office, reading.
How did you get started in this business?
I graduated from seminary years in 1979. My first church was in Knoxville, Tennessee; then I had one in Kansas City, Missouri, and then one in Austin, Texas.
By the time I wound up in Austin, the economy really was cratering. People had quit tithing and all the biggest contributors were going Chapter 11. In April 1986 the church had to cut my salary in half.
Our head deacon, Bill Dye, felt so bad about it that he came to talk to me. "You know, Mark," he said, "I've heard about this new business you might be able to do part-time and, you know, maybe bring your income back up to where it was."
That was how I first got involved in network marketing—a deacon felt guilty about my plunge into poverty.
Did you ever make up the other part of your ministerial salary, or not quite?
No, but I worked real hard and did manage to make a few hundred dollars. [We're joking; Mark made millions in that business—Ed.]
How did this new endeavor affect your ministerial career?
It changed everything. I still do sermons for my minister friends when they go on vacation. But I never had my own church again.
I still do a lot of lectures all over the world, and many of them are for ministers of different denominations. But mostly, it's been network marketing, and writing books—and reading.
The business gave you a new pulpit.
Exactly. The difference between the ministry and network marketing comes down to five words.
In seminary, they taught us five magic words: "I will pray with you." If people come in with a marital problem, "I will pray with you." If it's a financial problem, "I'll pray with you." Someone gets fired, got kids on drugs, "I will pray with you."
Network marketing allowed me to change that to five new words: "How much do you need?"
Don't get me wrong: I'm not being cynical. I believe in the power of prayer. I've seen some wonderful things happen with prayer. But it's amazing to be able to say to people, "How much do you need?" because that really changes things.
You've always had a fascination with taking this thing apart and explaining how it works, haven't you?
I have. That's been kind of my passion. But it's easy to understand once you grasp that it's work. A lot of magic formulas have emerged over the years—none of which have worked long-term. It's really about core values and work ethic.
The truth is, I'm still using the technologies and strategies of the late eighties, and for me, they're more effective than ever. The way I do it is the way I've always done it.
Everything tends to explode if you work hard.
What, if anything, has radically changed about the business since Your First Year in Network Marketing appeared? If you could rewrite it today, what would be different?
I've tried to get Random House to take it off the market three times. I'm dead serious! They won't do it because it's selling so well. It earned more in royalties last year than it did twelve years ago when it first came out.
A lot of it wouldn't be different at all. The stories would just be more topical and more relevant to today. But one thing that's changed has made my world a whole lot easier, and that is the advent of technology—but not for the reasons you might be thinking.
There's a perception that everybody in the world is carrying around a text feed and checking their iPad. That's not true. It's only 40 percent of the people who really spend a lot of time online. As long as people are caught up in the delusion that says everyone's online and tweeting all the time, those of us who actually understand relationship marketing have got it made.
Most people in my age group care very little about technology—and it's that same group of people who need the money the most. They're in the biggest hurry to replace their retirement losses. So I don't really have any competition—as long as I keep myself focused on that group.
What's more, most people in this business keep battling over an incestuous group of a few million people who jump from deal to deal to deal. I don't want network marketers. For one thing, I don't have to undo any bad habits or unravel those strategies that have never worked yet which people continue to use.
I don't even go after networkers. I target non-networkers. I'm looking for the 75 million baby boomers who are desperate and in a hurry to create a replacement emergency retirement capital.
The last ad I ran in USA Today said, "I will not talk to you if you're under 50." And I got calls like you wouldn't believe. People related to it.
Was that the headline?
Actually, the headline was, "Over 50? Over-qualified? Underappreciated?" And then there was the copy of the ad, and at the bottom it said, "People under 50 need not apply."
Of course, that baited a lot of young people, too. I got a lot of calls from people under 40, because they couldn't believe I would write that.
So I take it you're not a big proponent of social media?
All I see is a whole bunch of people walking around tethered to a wireless feed drip of irrelevant minutiae. If I was on a kidney transplant list, I'd answer a cell phone. But I'm not going to spend all day, every day, talking to the same ten people. Are you kidding me?
You are not going to believe what I saw yesterday on the street. As I was just driving along, I saw an 18-year-old girl walking down the street and I swear to God—now, you're not going to believe this—she wasn't talking on a cell phone!
While everybody else is trying to figure out how to maximize this alleged effectiveness of technology, I don't care anything about it. It bores me.
People will say, "Well, Mark, you're a Luddite. You're just an old guy who can't adapt to the new technology."
Not at all. Tell you what, if anyone can show me how to make even $10,000 a month using the new technology, I'm open to it. I'm open to anything. I've got tons of domains and websites. I know how to spread information through technology. I just haven't figured out how to use that technology to find quality people who will stick with the deal for very long.
I can recruit more people today than ever before by using the Internet—but in the last ten years, using these new technologies, I've not recruited a single person who has stuck with the business and built a good income.
You can bring a lot of people in—but that doesn't do you any good if they're so distracted by technology they can't do the business.
I use the technology to disseminate information rapidly, because I think that's what it's really good for. What I'm not using it for is to acquire prospects.
When you talk about building the same old way, what do you teach now?
I still teach data-specific recruiting. I think it's the most misunderstood success principle in our whole industry.
Can you explain what that is?
Your warm market is not your friends and family. A "market" is a group of people to be exploited. That's not your friends and family.
No matter who you are, you've got a warm market of 30,000 people, a group of people who will warm up to you as soon as they understand you have something significant in common.
For example, let's say I'm recruiting you to join my business. I'm going to find out what you do. If you are a paraglide pilot, I'm going to show you how to go to the United States Hang Gliders Association and get their list of 34,000 people.
That's what I did, because I'm a paraglide pilot. I got to $80,000 a month before I got through even 25 percent of that list.
Why? Because if I call you and I say, "Hey, it's Mark Yarnell. I'm a paraglide pilot. Are you still flying?" bam! Instant rapport. You warm up to me immediately.
Now, I could have said, "I understand you take golfing vacations," or "I understand you're a drywaller," or "I understand you belong to a union of bricklayers," or "I understand you're into flyfishing." It doesn't matter. There are lists of thousands of people with whom you have something in common. And once you identify those people, you've got an instant warm market, because that's people who warm up to you when you talk to them.
Makes perfect sense.
I still talk to people out in public. When I bump into people wearing a Rolex or pumping gas into a Lexus, I'm naturally going to give them a CD or DVD. But basically, my whole approach is to work my list of people.
My best weapon is my land line. I sit home and call people.
Here's the other thing: most distributors throw away their prospects who said No. Not me. I'm going to call you every six months, and my objective is to keep calling you every six months until I'm your pallbearer or you're on my front line.
I know the average American changes jobs every 2.7 years. If I can get you during a change window, you're going to go for what I'm doing.
If I talk to you today and you say, "No thank you," I'm going to move ahead exactly six months on my calendar and put your name under that day. And when I get up that morning, I'm going to have twelve people to call that I just called six months ago.
I'm going to say, "You know, John, you probably don't remember this, but I asked you permission to call you back in half a year, and you said I could. At the time, you really didn't need an extra $50,000 a month, and I was just wondering if anything's changed in your life."
After a year in one deal—which most people never even spend—you should have a file box with at least twelve to fifteen people to call every day.
That's so true: nineteen out of twenty people's circumstances change radically in a year, especially these days.
Yes, a lot of these people in my age bracket still have a good work ethic. A lot of them became the millionaire next door. They invested smart, they got a few rental properties, they went into Wall Street, they got tax-free annuities, they bought gold and silver. They were ethical. They played by all the rules.
And now they know that instead of retiring to that golf community in Sun City, Florida, they're going to die in a rest home with oatmeal dribbling down their chins, playing bingo—unless they figure out an alternative. And they've got to do it in a short time.
Well, there is no better alternative for that profile than our profession. So I'm not going to waste my time spamming and texting people who are functionally illiterate, when I can go after people who are in a hurry to recapture their retirement capital. It's a no-brainer for me.
What will happen in 20 years is anybody's bet. But right now, we've got the ultimate fortuitous intersection in capitalism going on.
Is that why you came out of retirement to do what you're doing now?
Yes. I was never going to do another one. And I kept getting these calls from high school buddies and college buddies saying, "Can you bail me out?" And I mean people who are desperate. These were some of the same people who told me I was an idiot back in the eighties for doing "this pyramid business," now all of a sudden they're calling me saying, "Can you help us out? We're screwed!"
I'd decided, "Hey, I'm 60, it's over. I've made my big pile of money, I'll just run out the clock. I'm just going to trout fish."
But then my old friend Jerry Campisi called. Jerry and I had gotten into our original company the same month, same year, and he's an old friend. Unlike me, Jerry had done only that one deal in his whole twenty-five-year career. So when he called to tell me about a new company, I was willing to look at it purely based on his credibility.
My wife Valerie said, "Oh, God, no. Please, not another one!" But I thought, hey, we should at least look at it. So we got on a plane, went down there, and were so impressed with what we saw, we had to join.
And John, I'm bringing on people right now I would have never brought in before. CPAs, two top lawyers, owner of the biggest envelope company in America ... people you never would have thought would do this, because they've already been so successful in life.
But they're 55 and older, and they're desperate. And they don't see any other options.
You know, we've got people who did really well and then lost it all with Bernie Madoff or Bear Stearns. It's a whole new echelon of people.
It's a totally different world.
I think the only problem we have in our business is that we need to work constantly to massage and enhance the image of the profession.
People look at the financial sector, for example, and they say, "Well, there's Warren Buffett, and then there's Bernie Madoff." The Bernie Madoffs don't make the whole financial sector bad.
But then they look at our business—and if they see a Bernie Madoff here, they write off the entire sector as a scam! And that's a big mistake, because there are a lot of Warren Buffetts in network marketing, too.
And that word seems to be leaking out.
I'm so passionate about this profession, more so than I've ever been. I have no regrets. I look back over my twenty-four years in this business and, honest to God, I think it's been the best possible use of my life.
I just love this business. You're helping people raise themselves up by their bootstraps, and it works. I just think it's marvelous.
It is a force for good in the world—I felt that the moment I laid eyes on it.
I know you did. You've been an outspoken advocate for network marketing. And thank God, there have been a few of you. That was critical all along. You and me and Fogg and the others of that generation—and it really has evolved in this last quarter century, in a lot of interesting ways.
I didn't mean to pull up my pants to my armpits and get on a soapbox. I just love this business.
What do you see for Mark Yarnell in the future? Where does your life go from here?
I am going to focus on putting young people in the spotlight. My goal is to find a handful of young people who can take the torch and run with it. And I think I've found them.
I've got four kids right now whom I've hand-picked for this business. Two of them are family (our two daughters), two of them not. One is a 25-year-old kid right out of the projects in Chicago. He's doing a summer internship with Goldman-Sachs up in New York, been accepted to Harvard, first kid in his family to ever get into college.
This kid is an absolute delight. He met Charles King at the University of Illinois, and Charles said, "You ought to meet Mark Yarnell sometime." He called me out of the clear blue and said, "If I borrow the money, can I fly up there and meet you? I've heard you'll mentor somebody without a dad." His dad had left home when he was very young.
So this kid gets on a plane, comes up here, and moved into our house for a long weekend. What a delight!
The trick is, you've got to be willing to give them the spotlight—which I'm willing to do, because I've had enough standing ovations for a lifetime. I no longer feel that arrogant need to be in the limelight. But I do feel the need to pass the torch to those thinking people in the new generation who want to carry it.
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