Pamela Ziemann, Ross Arntson, Rob Hannley

In the 1970s, Ross Arntson was studying graphic design in college when he was introduced to network marketing. “I loved the concept of networking,” says Ross, “and I thought it would be a great way to subsidize my education.” But his search for a mentor who could show him how it really worked soon grew frustrating. After running a handful of conventional companies, Ross returned to his search for networking know-how—and transformed it into a career in coaching and business consulting.

Rob Hannley grew up in a home where the family mantra was “Nothing is impossible,” and it showed: of his seven brothers and sisters, three are self-made millionaires. After securing a degree in computer engineering and spending a decade in executive-level sales, Rob discovered network marketing and immediately fell in love with the concept. He didn’t find the financial success he was looking for with that company, but it introduced him to Napoleon Hill, Dale Carnegie and the world of self-development.

“Realizing the power of words, that you could say one sentence to someone that could set them on a course to change life, that just blew me away,” recalls Rob. “And that’s when I discovered what I wanted to do with my life: to train, teach and inspire people to create whatever they want in their lives.”

Pamela Ziemann, known to her friends simply as “Zee,” had owned and operated a real estate appraisal business for years. Making money came easily to her—but she eventually found herself seeking something more. “If I was going to grow, I needed to work with other people.” In 1996, she began a new career as a trainer in personal development.

A few years ago, Ross, Rob and Zee had all found their way to the same trainer-training program. One day, they all happened to converge on the same restaurant. They started talking, and something clicked—and has been clicking ever since.

The three trainers soon found that they had each independently arrived at the same goals: they wanted to find some way of taking their training careers further, into a new arena, by creating something new that would have a major impact on the world. And they all wanted to do it in the arena of network marketing.

They agreed to keep meeting, and after several months of brainstorming, they came up with the idea that has since become The NetMillionaire Training System. — JDM

How did you come up with the idea of a board game?

Ross: We were sitting in a conference room one day, putting ideas up on a big white board, and suddenly the word “GAME” went up there. I don’t even remember which one of us said it first.

Rob: I was already a big fan of Robert Kiyosaki’s game. And we knew we wanted to do something on network marketing.

Ross: At first, we had thought, “training program.” But there are already a zillion training programs out there. We said, “There’s got to be a different approach, a way that’s fun, that’s interactive, and that uses all the different modalities of learning.

Zee: People don’t generally argue with their own experience. When it comes from someone else, there’s often a resistance to hearing it. But when it comes from their own life experience, when they can share that among their peers and say what has worked and what hasn’t, then they get it. And we all have so much life experience.

With the board game, people can learn from each other as well as from the experts we tapped into along the way. It’s a great blend of learning from the experts as well as from our own experience.

Ross: It’s amazing how much each participant brings to the game, and how that changes the experience of the game for all the other participants. All you have to do is change one player, and suddenly it’s a whole new experience.

As much as we had loved other board games, we’d noticed that people play them with their elbows on the table and their chins on their palms. It’s not a high energy level.

Zee: There’s a lot of left-brain activity going on. We wanted to see a lot of energy, both right-brain and left-brain.

For example, we created what we call “Bring It On” cards that ramp up the energy level of everyone playing. Injecting that quick, one-minute energy elevation keeps people engaged, so they have a genuinely good time playing the game.

Rob: My hat’s off to Kiyosaki for creating a great program for helping people get financial knowledge. But it’s a fairly two-dimensional system. Our game is a three-dimensional system—you have a genuine experience playing the game, and there are things you take from the game and actually incorporate into your life.

For example, everyone agrees that reading positive material at least 15 or 20 minutes a day is a huge benefit to your business. So one of our cards says, “If you can say that you’re already doing this on a consistent basis, reward yourself with two hours of free time.”

“Hours of free time” being one way the game is scored?

Rob: Exactly. But then the card goes on to say, “If you’re not doing this on a consistent basis, but you’ll say to the group right now that starting today, you will commit to reading 15 minutes of positive material every day, then reward yourself with one extra hour of free time.”

Now, the next time you play the game and that card comes up, you can say, “Yes! I have been reading 15 minutes of self-improvement books a day.”

We designed it so that the experience of playing the game becomes more than a temporary, compartmentalized experience and actually spills over into your life.

You’ve said it also works as a recruiting tool—how does that work?

Rob: We had this thought about halfway through the process of beta-testing: what if the system itself could serve as a recruiting tool? Wouldn’t that be cool?

Ross: At first we couldn’t figure out exactly how to do that. But once we were having people beta test the product, they started telling us that they had brought in friends to fill the seats so they could play the game—and that as a result of playing the game, the friends now wanted to get into the business! We were floored.

How does that happen?

Rob: We eventually came up with this whole idea of what we call a “soft presentation.” These are cards you can add to the deck, customizing it to help teach newcomers about this business.

Network marketing is an educational process anyway. People who are in the business need education—but so do people who are not yet in it. So the game’s purpose is to train people who are in the business, and also to educate people who are not yet in the business.

Zee: It also gives people who haven’t been in the business long a chance to practice their skills. For example, we’ve got custom cards about how to connect with people—not just give your 60-second presentation, but really connect with them. Other cards work with how to handle objections, close the sale, and so forth.

By role-playing these things with the person sitting next to you, you get it in your bones. People tell us, “This is so different from reading about it in books! I’m learning it actually doing it.”

Rob: One night, we were at the house of a woman named Bridgett, and we needed one more body to play the game. Bridgett’s husband Tim, a retired telecommunications engineer, said, “Yeah, okay, I’ll sit in,” but he made it very clear to us that he was not interested in his wife’s nutritional business.

We had added some “soft presentation” cards to the deck. These cards generally ask questions. They might say something like, “Please explain the tax advantages of being in a network marketing business.”

Now, a networker, someone who is actually in the business, will have no problem answering that. He’ll say, “Well, I write off X percent of my mortgage based on the part of the house I use for my home office, and I write off my travel, etc., and I saved $10,000 in taxes last year.” And the person who’s not in networking goes, “Wow, I never thought about that.”

Tim was exposed to a lot of these cards, and they made an impact on him. But the card that really got to him—and we all saw his expression change when he picked up this card and read it out loud—was one we had designed intentionally to create this kind of impact. It said, “Your family has been kidnapped, and you have 90 days to go to the next significant level in your business in order to get them back. What will you do?”

All the joking stopped. Tim said, “Wow.” And he read it again, out loud, a few times. Then he turned to his wife and said, “Okay, number one: I would get on the phone with the people you talk to [her sponsors] and pick their brain, learning everything they knew about how to contact people and show them the business. Number two: I would learn this compensation plan down cold. Number three: I would invite everybody I could over to see this business. And number four: I would read all those books you’ve been trying to get me to read.”

She just about broke down and cried.

About five days later, Bridgett came over to our house to talk about the business, and Tim came with her. Not only was he in the business, but to this day he is fully immersed in the business. It’s no longer “her” business, now it’s their business.

Zee: We were also able to incorporate a mentoring element, which we hadn’t seen in any other board game. There’s one part of the game where each player mentors the player behind him and helps that player move forward. I’ve seen games where people actually have a breakthrough, realizing that if they genuinely put their energy into helping someone else win, they can themselves get to the top faster. It isn’t, “How can I beat everyone to the finish line?” but more, “How can we all have fun along the way and help each other to the top?”

Ross: Another change we made along the way was actually to take it down a notch. We reached a point where we wondered if we had made the game a little too advanced, and we wanted it to be useful and engaging for the broadest possible range of participants, so we scaled it back just a bit—

Zee: And then we added an optional set of advanced cards that you can fold into the deck when you play, if you have a group of seasoned networkers. It’s all customizable.

What was the beta-testing process like?

Ross: It was amazing—and extensive! We’d play the game ourselves, change it, play it, change it, and when we were pretty sure the changes we’d made were going to work, we’d call someone and say, “Can you put some people together?”

Zee: Every time we played it with other people, we would ask, “What works well, what didn’t work, and how can we do it differently next time?”

Rob: We even gave them a 20-page questionnaire—and video-taped the session, too. Then we’d go into a huddle. We agreed that if people started saying they didn’t like different features, we would not defend; we would listen. And we got beat up. That’s why the box is black and blue!

Zee had a friend named Bob whom we invited to many of our beta tests. Bob was brutal. We’d say, “What do you think?” and he’d say, “I think this sucks!”

Zee: And we encouraged that, because we didn’t want to go into production with a single element that anyone might be resistant to.

Rob: We thought about adding red to the color of the box—because when Bob was done with us, we were black, blue and bleeding! But we’d listen, take notes, make changes, and two days later the game would be twice as powerful as it had been before we listened to Bob. Then we’d do more beta-testing…and after a while we’d say, “Okay, are we ready for Bob again?”

Now that the game is released, how are people responding to it?

Ross: The response has been phenomenal. One of the first events we took it to was the Networking University–sponsored Mastermind Four with Art Jonak last spring. We had successful networkers from all over the profession who had paid money to be there. We set up a big table after most of the speaking was over and had two or three games going at once. We didn’t even start playing until 11:30 at night, but people really got into it, laughing and having a ball.

Is there a “winner” in the game?

Ross: The “object” of the game is to put a million dollars in your bank account, and yes, somebody does win. But nobody feels left out or that they “lost”—everyone has a blast. Although there is a nominal winner, everyone who participates has a winning experience, and there are no losers. It’s not Monopoly®!

What’s really exciting is to watch how people teach each other while they play. At one event, we played with a woman who had been in the business for 25 years. There’s a card called the “Seducer” card: it gives you the impression that it offers a really good deal, and at the end, you have to roll the dice. Because life can be that way. This woman picked up the card, read it, and picked up the dice to roll.

Now, she had the option to just pass it up, and everyone at the table tried to stop her, but she went ahead and rolled the dice anyway—and lost three-quarters of her bank account.

She stopped and I saw that she’d actually turned white. I said, “Are you okay?!” And she said, “This is what I do! And I’ve been doing it my whole life! I see an opportunity, and I just jump on it, I don’t think of the consequences or anything. I never saw it so clearly before, but this is exactly what I do.”

Then she paused and looked at us all, and said, “And I will never do it again.”

What’s your dream for this game?

Ross: When I first got involved in networking nearly 30 years ago, I couldn’t gain access to those with the real experience. There was a barrier there—and I would like to see our game serve to destroy those barriers.

That’s my dream: to get the top performers interacting with the brand new people and everyone in between.

Of course, some companies are more proficient at this than others. That’s a function of different cultures.

And your game can help shift that culture?

Ross: We’ve watched it happen. Around the game table, there’s no difference between the person who makes $100,000 a month and the one making $300 a month—they both train and learn from each other. And by doing that, the organization becomes that much stronger, because the bonds are stronger.

It breaks down walls, between people at different levels in the business, and between people in the business and people who are not yet in the business.

Rob: As we struggled with whether to design this as a system for new people or for experienced networkers, we hit on the idea of making it customizable. There’s a card series called “Sales & Marketing,” another on “Contacting & Inviting,” and so forth.

We don’t tell people specifically how to do this, because different uplines and organizations have their own preferred processes, and we don’t want to interfere with that. So rather than give specific instruction, the cards teach by asking questions and eliciting the participants’ actual experiences.

The Advanced set of cards teaches principles such as public speaking, group dynamics and building relationships within your group. If you’re playing with a fairly advanced group of leaders, you’ll want to use the Advanced cards; with a group of fairly new people, you might want to focus on the Contacting & Inviting cards, or the set on Overcoming Objections.

And this is all within a safe environment where they can practice these skills.

Zee: We’ve actually formalized that with what we call the NetSafe Guidelines: Before you start playing, you review and agree to a set of guidelines for creating an environment where people can wake up to their highest potential. For example, they encourage the players to be tolerant; no right or wrong answers; to use inclusive rather than sarcastic humor; to listen to others without interrupting and keep answers succinct. Most people have found that in addition to creating the ideal environment for playing the game, using these guidelines in their daily lives also increases the amount of sales and referrals!

What’s in the future?

Ross: One next step is to produce versions of the game in other languages. Another is to work with specific trainers to help develop customized cards that represent those areas of training where they like to focus.

For example, let’s say a trainer like Randy Gage has a special emphasis on prosperity; we can work with him to develop a set of Prosperity cards as an add-on to the NetMillionaire System, so that people could come together for an evening to work specifically on prosperity.

I just talked with a coach in California whose specialty is helping people to clarify their dreams. She wasn’t sure how well the game would work for her, and I said, “Tell you what: you develop a set of cards around clarifying dreams—and then imagine playing the game with those cards, with everyone sitting together around the table teaching themselves and each other how to clarify their dreams.” And she just lit up.

The game will never get old. We’re constantly updating the system and the materials we offer with it. Not only does every new participant make it a totally different game, but also, the possibilities for added-on cards are endless.

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