In this issue, Ivan Misner offers a valuable piece of professional etiquette: when you are part of a formal networking group like BNI, it’s better manners to present yourself as a representative of your product—not your opportunity. This is good to know. Careful, though: outside the BNI meeting, that same advice does not necessarily apply.

Last issue Scott Allen contributed an excellent article [“Due Diligence” Nov/Dec ’06] that was golden in every respect—except one. His “point #5” was: it’s better to be recruited as a customer of the product than as a candidate for the business. I disagree.

Scott says, “The strongest way to build a downline is to bring people in as customers first. Once they grow to love the product, they’ll be drawn to become distributors.”

Alas, this seldom happens. Indeed, my experience is quite the opposite.

If you try to build a growing, duplicating network by being a product evangelist, hoping you will “back-door” enthusiastic consumers into discovering their latent interest in building a business…well, you’ll probably have to wait a long, long time. In more than two decades of building network marketing organizations, I’ve found it is exactly those people who follow this approach who get stuck in first gear.

“I’m getting people onto the product, but nobody’s duplicating…”

Of course not. If you go around planting lettuce seeds, it’s not reasonable to think you’ll grow carrots. If what you want is carrots, plant carrot seeds. If what you want is people with an interest in growing a business, that’s who you need to go looking for.

I appreciate both Ivan’s and Scott’s point of view: they are appropriate to their context, which is the world of formal business networking. In that context, it’s good manners to focus on your product. Outside of that specific setting, it’s not the strongest strategy for building your business.

Customers don’t duplicate. Most happy consumers of the product stay happy consumers of the product. They don’t spontaneously combust into growing networks: growing a large, thriving network is hard work and takes focused intention.

If I had been recruited twenty years ago purely as a product user, I probably would never have joined. I got involved for the same reason as the overwhelming majority of successful networkers I’ve ever known: because I saw an amazing income opportunity. Because I fell in love with the multilevel concept. No nutritional product, no matter how exceptional or life-changing, would have gotten my attention the way this brilliant business model did.

You never need to feel apologetic about this opportunity, or that it’s more “legitimate” to promote the product first and mention the opportunity only as a whispered footnote. The business itself is your most valuable product. Don’t hide it under a bushel.

JOHN DAVID MANN is Consulting Editor of Networking Times.