In 1979 Rick and Jo Tonita began building a network marketing business, rapidly growing it to a point that has since allowed them financial independence. This new-found freedom enabled Rick to leave his corporate work and pursue his passion, which is so broad as to be difficult to capture in a phrase, but might be described as a combination of systems dynamics and market research. In 1995, Rick sold the international marketing company he had developed for many years, and he and Jo started Global Partners, where they have incorporated some of the most leading-edge research in the world into their network marketing consulting business, working with organizations in a cross-section of companies throughout the industry. -- JDM


Rick, where did your interest in systems begin?
I've always been an avid observer of group dynamics, even as a youngster, observing the people within my family and community. When I got involved with network marketing, I found so many organizations rife with conflict, both between the distributors and the corporations and among the distributors themselves. Multilevel is such a beautiful structure; what could be causing this?

In the early '80s, I began to follow the work being done out of MIT by Peter Senge and Robert Fritz, on continuous learning, system theory and personal and organizational development. Their work introduced me to the thought-provoking concept of structure generating predictable behaviors which in turn generate predictable results.

That begs an interesting question. In network marketing, the majority of us aren't trained professionals: there is no thought-out professional training prior to our engaging in our practice. How do we cope with that reality?
We've done research around that question for eight years. I believe it starts with recognizing the value of what we actually have here. The multilevel structure has a tremendous strategic competitive advantage for delivering what customers really want in the 21st century.

I recently looked at research conducted by Capp Gemini Ernst & Young and First Matter LLC, a leading futurist firm. They interviewed 10,000 customers on what they wanted around five attributes: access, experience, price, product and service. Here's what the customers said.

Access: Give me a solution, help me out in a bind.

Experience: Establish intimacy with me by doing something no one else can.

Price: Be my agent; let me trust you to make my purchases.

Product: Inspire me with an assortment of great products I didn't know about.

Service: Educate me when I encounter a product or situation I don't understand.

That's us!
Exactly! What marketing channel can deliver all that? I can't think of a single marketing channel other than multilevel.

But the critical question is, how do we deliver on that? One of our key critical problems is that we never really define what a distributor's business should look like. What is the structure of the single, individual distributor's business?

And this is where you've focused your research.
Yes. We knew that we needed to define a structure that people coming in can create within a timely period--a structure that delivers customer value and service in a way that provides a strategic competitive advantage in the market. This brought us to the concept of strategic business units, which we call SBUs. We define an SBU as at least four customers and three first-tier partners.

Research says that limiting your teams to four people per team greatly increases the probability of success.

So when you talk about developing a core structure, you're saying, go find three leaders to sponsor.
Yes, but we would say, "to partner with."

The language we use is so important. Dr. Saltman at Harvard is doing some phenomenal work around what he calls "metaphor marketing." He finds there are words that cause us to withdraw. For example, in multilevel we traditionally use the terms "prospecting" and "recruiting." Who wants to prospect and recruit? We talk about profiling and inviting the people you want to partner with.

How does an SBU work?
To create an SBU we need to master three core competencies. The first is learning how to work together in professional and accountable relationships that afford us dignity, respect and trust. We do that based on a learn-and-practice model, using the structure of the creative process as defined by Robert Fritz.

You start with the question, what do you want to create? Then, what's the current reality? Holding those two in your mind creates what Fritz calls "structural tension" or "creative tension." As you hold that tension, the major action steps become apparent. This is the first of three core competencies we need.

Practically speaking, what does that look like?
We host a weekly call in which we review the action steps of the previous week and ask, what's the most important thing you learned? What was your biggest frustration? What were the best decisions you made? What was the worst? We assign action steps for the next week.

We do this in a structure where you (the new person) are supported by three partners in levels above you who've already gone through the exact same process: a teacher, mentor and manager. With three tiers of upline all focused on that one new person creating an SBU, how could that person possibly fail?

Most people think of "system" in terms of a presenting or prospecting system. But you're talking about a larger aspect of system: how do we consistently go about evaluating where we are and what we need to do next?
Absolutely correct. We are charged with the responsibility to create a distribution and service organization. Our task is to learn how to create organizations that generate predictable and sustainable outcomes. That's what our job is.

We've fallen into the trap of believing that our job is mass recruiting. That's not it. Over the past eight years we've demonstrated that you can create organizations with retention rates of over 90 percent, for both customers and distributors!

With most systems we've seen in network marketing, you'll find one leader providing leadership for as many as eleven tiers--well that's impossible!

It runs on the strength of personality.
Yes. And then we say, "Find the next person you think is a leader, even if you have to go down ten levels to find him..." the idea being that out of fear of loss, everyone in between will get moving.

That's just silly! In no other organizational structure would you get away with even saying something like that, let alone promulgating it through the organization!

How does this learn-and-practice, teacher-mentor-manager sequence work?
We bring in just one partner at first, take him through the learn-and-practice role, then the teacher, mentor and manager roles, which develops his organization to the fourth level. This is based on Elliot Jacques' research on how you step away from being hands-on yet still ensure that the desired output continues to happen.

All we want you to do in the first stage is build your SBU: bring on four customers and help three successive partners progress through the four roles. You're not going to make much money in your first year--though of course, you can accelerate it if you want. In fact, you're going to have a hard time keeping it from accelerating. But even if that's all everybody did, in four years you would have 625 SBUs in your organization serving 2500 customers.

That's the power of structure generating predictable and sustainable results. This is why the people we work with have people waiting to partner with them. Once you understand structure, how could you not be successful?!

Pardon me, people waiting?
Yes, because you bring on your second partner only after you've moved from the teacher role into the mentor role with your first partner. Most often you already have your next person profiled, invited and waiting for you.

So you have people actually waiting to partner with you.
I know, it sounds strange! Distributors have never had that happen for them before.

The industry is stuck in North America, even with all these grand plans and mass recruiting systems and lead generations systems...

It looks like what you're promoting here is the value of stability; yet what we tend to promote is not stability but momentum, which is different.
That's it exactly. What we want to promote is organization-building, not just blind momentum. They're two very different concepts.

Not that momentum is bad--but how do you create momentum reliably and consistently? You create momentum by having someone successfully complete an action step. How does she feel about it? She feels great! "What's the next step?!" Teaching people to be competent is what creates predictable, sustainable momentum.

You mentioned three core competencies; what are the other two?
They are, 1) how to profile and attract business partners, and 2) how to profile, select and service customers.

This is where systems get exciting. We don't have to make up our action steps each week, because they're in the education we've developed. Here's how you profile, here's how you invite, based on solid research from leading minds around the world and field-validated by leaders in the industry.

Dr. Saltman's work helped us gain an insight into what people really want in an opportunity. What values are they after? The pioneers of network marketing always promoted values: the Golden Rule, helping yourself by helping others, and so forth. Build a company that has values and people will flock to it.

Following Dr. Saltman's work, we interviewed 1000 people to understand what they would want in an opportunity. Here's what we found:

Freedom. One hundred percent want the freedom of financial resources and time. No surprise there.

Respect. Nearly everyone (97 percent) wants to be involved with someone who respects them and their talents, who will include them and mentor them to success.

Meaning. About nine out of ten also want to be part of a team that is doing something meaningful in society.

Tell me about your system for profiling and inviting.
We ask, out of your professional sphere of influence, who do you really want to work with? Who do you respect the most, and why?

We ask questions to help zero in on 12 highly qualified prospective partners. From these 12, we usually find three or more to partner with.

So it's not, "sit down and make a list of everyone you know."
Not at all! Then we ask, "What are the two things you most respect about each person? What are the two benefits you think he or she would most enjoy from this business partnership?"

When I invite you, I will tell you that in this project I'm working on, I have the opportunity to choose three people I'd like to partner with, and I immediately thought of you, because whenever I've worked with you, I could always count on you to get things done, and knew they'd get done with full integrity.... I'll cite whatever those things are that I admire about you.

Then I'll describe two benefits I think will appeal to you. My purpose is to appeal to you, on a subconscious level, around those three commonly desired benefits I mentioned before: freedom, inclusion, meaningful impact.

I'll tell you I'm going to email you an overview that will take about 20 minutes to look through, then call you back and we can go through any questions you might have. But before you review the material, I'll ask you to think about this question:

"What are two benefits an opportunity would have to provide me with in order for me to consider being involved? As you go through this business overview, I'd like you to hold those two benefits in the forefront of your mind, and demand that if you were to partner with us, this opportunity would generate those two benefits."

You do this so I'll be on the lookout for my own benefits?
Exactly--because if you don't focus on looking for the benefit, you'll tend to look instead for the red flags.

We're not trying to sell you on the company, product, or compensation plan. We want to identify your values and connect them to the beauty and simplicity of the system. The company and product must be credible, but they're secondary.

After a follow-up call I would arrange a call to introduce you to my teacher, who would comment on the same characteristics I respect about you that we identified way back at the beginning! Then he'd ask, "John, based on what you've seen so far, what are a few benefits that most appeal to you?" Nine times out of ten, you will describe those benefits that we identified in the beginning when we were profiling you.

And you're not pressing me to join, at this point.
Not at all. The purpose of the introduction process is to build belief. That takes three ingredients: 1) have a clear end result; 2) provide information congruent with that result and third-party validation, 3) then provide incubation time.

Incubation time--that's interesting. In other words, don't press them into a decision right now?
Absolutely not. If you do, people will make a decision based on emotion rather than on what they truly believe is best for them. That's why come next Tuesday they've changed their mind. We want to give people the information and the time to make a quality decision.

This runs contrary to what is often taught, which is, "Stay on top of them! Don't give them time to think it over and change their minds."
Exactly: Bring 'em in and get 'em out there in 24 hours talking to people! Light 'em on fire! We're the opposite. We want to teach you the competencies so you'll feel comfortable doing this.

Too often in network marketing we say, "If we could only fix you, make you more skilled, you will become successful." But there's nothing wrong with you; we don't need to "fix" you. They don't "fix" every lawyer and every doctor; they just teach them the competencies their professions require.

Robert Fritz says, you don't have to be a positive thinker to create. How many days do you get up feeling absolutely positive? Some days you'll be positive, some days you'll be negative. It's like the weather. What's it got to do with anything?

Your values are your anchors, not your feelings. If your values are in place, your feelings can ebb and flow, but you have a place to stand.

Speaking of values, I know you also have a passion around working with people in developing countries.
What's needed in developing nations is not only opportunity per se, but also the educational structure to support the opportunity. What's really needed is the kind of predictable, sustainable results we can achieve through the creative process and the learn-and-practice, teacher-mentor-manager concept.

Robert Fritz's creative process structure is being used in Uganda and East Africa to create self-sustaining villages. This model is so successful that it's now being employed by Oxfam, governments in East Africa and The World Bank to implement projects to teach people to be self-sustaining.

About three years ago I spoke with the CEO of a multinational corporation; they were selling their products to the poorest of the poor in India and Brazil through a kiosk concept. I shared the work we were doing and strongly suggested that they had the opportunity to do more than just sell their products: they had the opportunity to create structures where people worked together in dignity and respect--to actually break through caste systems. They said, "Nah, we're never going to get involved in any kind of multilevel distribution."

And guess what? A year ago last November, they transitioned to a form of multilevel distribution. It's not multilevel as we would recognize it, because the percentages they're working with aren't near what we're used to. But it's people working together in these four support roles. It's amazing. It just works!