During a recent conversation with an experienced network marketer, I heard a comment that I hear all too often these days. The well-meaning distributor's comment spoke volumes, not just for his lack of understanding of network marketing, but also for the attitude of thousands of other network marketers.

He said, "I'm not sure which strategy I want to teach my downline: to build the business or to sell products."

I asked a question to which I already knew the answer. "What is 'building the business'?"

He matter-of-factly explained, "Building the business is recruiting other distributors."

Then I asked, "So then, what would the new recruits do when they joined? Build the business too?"

"Exactly," he proclaimed, as if the answer were self-evident and supremely logical.

Here's the problem with this thinking: it assumes that you can build a network marketing business simply by recruiting other distributors. I believe this is one of the biggest problems plaguing the network marketing profession today.


Imagine McDonald's With No Customers

Think for a moment about what a successful business in a conventional, non­network marketing context looks like. Take McDonald's, for example: McDonald's became the success it is because they learned how to attract and keep customers.

How would my distributor friend's question apply if he were to pose it, not to his network marketing business, but to a McDonald's franchise?

"I'm not sure whether I want my people selling franchises...or selling hamburgers."

Hmm. If Ray Kroc had tried to sell franchises, but never actually sold any hamburgers, would McDonald's exist today? Of course not. In nearly every type of business--and this certainly includes network marketing--success starts and ends with customers.


Customers Legitimize Your Business

Consistently adding customers to your business should be the lifeblood of your business. It should be what you are thinking about every day. It should be what you are teaching your downline to do. Without customers, you do not really have a business. Customers legitimize your business. Getting customers means that you have a product that end users really want. It means that even without a business opportunity attached, people would still buy your products.


Customers Make Recruiting Easier

A few years ago I won a $12,000 cash bonus for being the top recruiter in my company during a two-month promotion. While others were out pitching our company's unbelievable compensation plan, incredible product line and amazing ground floor opportunity (sound familiar?), I was talking to my customers.

About what? About helping me keep up with the powerful demand for our products.

Since they were already sold on the product, it made sense for them to look at our business opportunity. In fact, it was actually pretty easy to recruit them.

When my company asked me to train everyone else on how I won the contest, everyone assumed I was going to reveal my secret, newfangled, whiz-bang automatic online recruiting system that did it all for me. Instead, I told them about my real secret, newfangled, whiz-bang system: talk to your customers.


It's Easier to Buy a Product Than Join a Business

It's a lot easier to experience more "little successes" selling your product than recruiting new business builders. For most people, it's a much easier (and faster) decision to say "Yes" to trying your product than to say "Yes" to joining a business opportunity.

In fact, one of the fastest ways to turn off a potentially great new business builder is to push a business opportunity on them before they are a satisfied customer. Most people, especially those who have never been involved with network marketing before, don't even understand why you would be talking to them about a business before they've even tried your product.


Customers Represent the Biggest Slice of the Pie

In the past four years, our company has taken over two million people through an extensive online survey to learn more about their attitudes about health. After completing this survey, they were also given an option to complete a second survey, this one about making money from home.

Can you guess what percentage of the people completed this survey, too? Fewer than three percent.

I admit, even I was a bit taken aback at this number! The plain truth is, there are a lot more people willing to talk about their health (and health-related products) than there are people who want to hear about a business opportunity. Out of 100 people with an interest in health and health-related products, only one, two or three are open (at that moment) to hearing about a business.

As networkers, we are often trained to recruit anyone within three feet--the "three-foot rule." Our survey statistics suggest that you're going to have to be around an awful lot of people for that strategy to work!

If you want to build a successful, long-term network marketing business, you need customers. They are the glue that holds your business together. When fickle distributors jump to the "next hot deal," your customers will remain. They will become the reason you will want to recruit new "customer-getters."

When your business model is similar to a franchise--you are successful at getting customers and then teaching others to do what you do--then you will be on your way to unlimited growth and a true lifetime residual income. n



MARK HELSEL has been involved in network marketing for over 15 years; he is co-founder of Virtual Office Systems, a company created to help network marketers find new customers.