Mary Christensen is one of the world’s most sought-after
Mary has the credibility that comes from success in every aspect of direct sales. She left teaching to start her first direct selling business and soon after founded her own company where she sponsored a thousand people in her first year. She is a former CEO of two network marketing corporations and past president of the Direct Selling Association of New Zealand.
Through her books, keynotes, and leadership workshops Mary empowers direct sellers worldwide to create wealth by becoming an inspiring leader and positive influence in the lives of their customers and team members.—J.G.
What brought you to the work you do today?
I was a teacher by profession but I gave up teaching to raise my family. Then at age twenty-four, I became the sole provider for my kids. I needed to find away to be the mom my kids deserved and support them financially at the same time. That’s when I stumbled into direct selling, although I had no idea of the incredible potential that came with my starter kit.
I was narrowly focused on making enough money to pay the bills. But it didn’t take long to realize that my business gave me the opportunity to control my income. And when you control your income, you control your life. Ultimately I made enough money from my direct selling business to become financially free, so I stopped working and fulfilled my dream of traveling the world.
While touring America I fell in love with the country and decided I wanted to live here permanently. After five years of not working I was ready for a new challenge. That’s when I decided to write a book to help others live their dreams through direct selling.
I started writing, found a publisher, and the first book came out. Then I realized how much I had to offer from my experiences so I wrote another, then another, and kept writing. Direct selling companies started asking me, “Do you also speak?” That’s how I became a speaker.
To clarify terminology, when you say direct selling, do you consider that different from network marketing?
No, it’s all direct selling, and it’s mostly network marketing. Even party plan companies are network or multilevel marketing companies.
The perception of party plan in the U.S. is changing, as many moms who started out with small financial goals have become highly successful entrepreneurs making six-figure incomes. Some network marketers may shy away from that term because they want to see themselves as business builders. But the reality is, the two have more similarities than differences.
In my presentations to network marketing audiences, I bring together the best of both worlds, teaching them to build product sales alongside recruiting. The more people you have using and benefiting from your products, the easier it’s going to be to find distributors. It seems obvious but some network marketers lose sight of this. The growth of your business is in recruiting, but the money comes from selling, because nobody gets paid until somebody buys something. Think of it this way: sales generate my income today, but recruiting could generate my income forever. All I have to do is learn how to become an inspiring, influential leader. And anyone who is willing to work and learn can do that. All it takes is what I describe in my books as triple-A attributes: an optimistic Attitude, consistent Action, and a flexible Approach.
In many countries the term direct selling is more accepted than multilevel marketing, because the former implies a product and customers, while the latter refers to building a network of recruiters. European law considers a business an illegal pyramid if sales come primarily from a distributor network, rather than from customers.
It’s also an issue in the U.S., and rightly so. There are two parts to our business: selling products and recruiting others to sell products. There was a period when some slick operators took advantage of our business model and got masses of people to sign on as distributors and buy a bunch of product they realistically were not going to use or sell. But there has been a huge culture shift. The top earners realize the importance of building a strong customer base.
Leaders who train their teams to focus on enrolling distributors are shortsighted, as those people are not going to stick around. They’re actually setting their distributors up to fail. They may find some success in the short term, but there is no point turning your best customers into your worst distributors.
Let’s say you’re my customer and you love the product. I say to you, “Josephine, why don’t we sign up for auto-ship so you can get your product every month?” Then I give you less attention because you’re now a distributor. You’re no longer getting those weekly calls from me asking, “How is it going?” or, “Here’s some new information about our product you will find interesting.” You’re on your own, and when you stop contacting your customers they soon stop buying from you.
Personal relationships are the magic of network marketing. The challenge for most leaders today is how to build personal relationships with large teams so they can inspire them to sell as well as consume the product.
You’re right that direct selling is a more acceptable term in many countries. But to me it’s just semantics. Be proud of what you do. Don’t get into a debate about direct selling or skirt around the issue with, “It’s not really network marketing” or, “We’re different.” None of that does our business any good. If you’re not proud and excited about being a network marketer, how can you expect others to be?
What do you think of the debate lead with the product versus lead with the opportunity?
Lead with the product. Distributors only achieve security in this business when they’re earning money, which comes from selling products to customers. When you have happy customers word soon spreads. Eighty percent of my book sales come from referrals. When we love something we want to tell others about it and I am very grateful to my loyal readers who I can count on to buy my books and refer them to others. The immediate benefit is the sale, but long term that’s how you grow your contacts.
A lot of people are successful in the beginning because they’re enthusiastic and charismatic, but you need more than charisma to create longevity in your business. The most successful leaders realize you have to create an environment where your distributors will want to work, want to learnand want to grow. When people feel they’re in the right place they will work through roadblocks and not quit after a few rebuffs or because it’s taking longer than they expected to gain traction. Successful leaders make it easy for people to join and hard for them to leave—which brings us back to relationships.
One of the reasons we see such a high turn turnover is that many rookie distributors oversell the opportunity. The fastest route out of this business is disappointment. If I say to you, “All you have to do is find ten customers, put them on auto-ship, and everything’s going to be fine,” and you’re struggling to find three customers, or none of them are ready to sign up for auto-ship, you’re going to feel like you failed and you’re most likely going to give up on the business. Chances are you will also stop using the products because you’ll be chasing another opportunity. It’s much smarter to set new distributors up for success by lowering the expectations. That way when they exceed them you can say, “You’re a natural. In your first month you’ve exceeded what most new distributors do in two months. Well done!” Success is the best motivator.
Since you use the terms party plan, direct selling, and network marketing to refer to the same business, what distinguishes your different book titles?
Each one addresses a specific aspect of the business. Be a Network Marketing Superstar is an essential guide for beginners. Some companies put it in their starter kits because it helps new distributors launch their businesses.
Be a Party Plan Superstar teaches how to generate sales, bookings, and recruits from parties, but it’s also a goldmine of resources on how to pep up your one-on-one or group presentations.
Be a Direct Selling Superstar is a clear blueprint for leadership. It will guide you step by step through the three stages of building, leading, and managing a six-figure organization. The publisher chose to put “direct selling” in the title so it would translate well into the many languages, but it is a leadership book, and in my opinion my best book to date. It basically takes the guesswork out of how to succeed.
Be a Recruiting Superstar came from something that took me a long time to learn, which is that our business attracts a certain type of person. The book includes a prospect shopping list that allows you to identify your best prospects, and shows you how to get them to identify themselves to you. Once I worked out who was more likely to join and who was more likely to succeed, I tested my theory out amongst my readers and convention audiences for years. I’ve even invited audiences up to 10,000 people to share by show of hand what brought them into the business and the results were powerful. That’s why I see the book as a shortcut to success. When you know who you’re looking for and how to approach people—using the questions provided in the book—the rest is easy.
Presenters at opportunity meetings typically deliver information, and only at the end is there time for interaction with prospects, most of whom by that time have already made up their minds.
So true, selling and recruiting are about inspiration, not information. If your focus is on informing, you’re trying to convince people to buy your products or become distributors. A true leader inspires people to want to change, whether it’s to be healthier physically or financially. Every decision we make to change starts with a spark that ignites inside us. If I’m a little overweight, first you have to inspire me to want to lose weight and to believe I can do it, not to persuade me to use your products. That’s the next step, the solution. You can’t go straight to the solution. You have to start by making me uncomfortable about the problem.
How do you inspire people? Lots of network marketers rely on their personal story, but you have to be careful. I see far too many distributors who go on and on and on about their own personal circumstances. Nobody cares. We’re all absorbed in our own lives, our own issues. That’s why I teach the fifteen-second sound bite: if you can’t share your story in fifteen seconds or less, you’re probably boring your audience. You may have a powerful story, but my circumstances could be completely different and your presentation irrelevant.
To inspire me to change, you must directly touch upon where I am in my life. This won’t happen if you’re talking at me; you need to be talking with me, asking me questions and listening to my answers. Instead of saying, “Here are the facts about our product,” I would start by asking: “If you could improve one thing about your health, what would it be?” You’re learning nothing when you’re doing all the talking.
I teach my audiences to ask very specific, targeted questions. Open-ended questions inspire people to ramble. There is a big difference between, “Tell me about your diet,” and, “If you could change one thing about your diet, what would it be?”
In a business conversation you may ask, “If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?” You should be seeking answers that reveal a problem and an opening to suggest a solution, such as “a shorter commute,” “better hours”, or “I’d probably kill my boss.” Now I know what you dislike about your job. We have a specific problem to address and we’re moving step by step towards me offering you a solution. After the first answer I will ask another question, “If you’re not happy, what is keeping you there?” Now we’re having a conversation that could very well lead to you becoming a distributor, or a future business builder. You can’t force things. People will fall where their hearts, talents, and ambitions lie. Don’t let impatience be your downfall.
If the first key to succeed is to inspire people, what’s number two?
Nourish your distributors with a flow of fresh ideas to help them present their products and business more successfully. People are busy juggling all the other aspects of their lives, so if we expect them to come up with their own ideas they will most likely not do it
To stay connected to my readers and followers, I continually feed them short tips and techniques that will help them lift their game. The market is changing fast and you can’t keep trotting out the same tired approach and expect to stay competitive. You want to give your distributors ideas that will get them working, and it’s more likely to happen if you share something new, and they think, “I could do that!” or “I can say that!”
For example, if I was promoting nutritional products that help cleanse our systems I might research and share a shocking fact such as, “Twenty-seven trillion pounds of chemicals are produced or imported into the USA every year. And only five of them have been regulated in the last thirty years!”
You’re not going to sell someone an aspirin if they don’t have a headache.
If you give your distributors news worth sharing, they will contact their customers. You have to give them a reason to make the calls.
Any leader should create a resource of persuasive ways to inspire people to act. To me, that’s the fun part of selling and recruiting.
So we give inspiration, we give ideas, and the last key?
To be a positive influence in your distributors lives. Corporate leaders lead by dominance. “Do this because I say so” or “Here is your deadline.” Direct selling leaders must lead by influence, which means creating an environment for their customers where they want to be healthier, thinner, wealthier, whatever it is. And for your distributors it means creating a culture in your organization where even the smaller players feel involved and valued. When you do that, they will stick around.
It starts with making them feel welcome. People go where they’re invited, but they stay where they feel they belong. The most successful network marketing leaders make sure they become a bigger influence in their distributors’ lives than all the dream stealers, disappointments, and distractions. A leader’s goal is for them to think, “Joining Mark’s team was one of the best decisions I ever made. He makes me feel more confident. He makes me feel valued. He makes me believe in myself.”
This requires emotional intelligence.
Yes, and that doesn’t come if you’re fixated on just telling people what to do or hammering out the compensation plan.
After I sign you up as a distributor, the first thing I am going to say, “I’m thrilled that you decided to join, because from the first time I met you, I thought you’d be somebody I’d love to work with.” I’m starting right off the bat to build your confidence and belief and showing you that you’re not just a number to me.
Every time you’re successful, I’ll say, “Josephine, do you know the average distributor in her first month sells five hundred? You’ve already sold over a thousand. I can see you going far in the business. You’ve definitely got what it takes.” Who wouldn’t want to hear that?
I’ll keep finding ways to build your confidence and belief in yourself. It’s not just about belief in the product or belief in the company. The ones who stay in this business are those who believe in themselves.
Would you say this is something women do more naturally than men?
Smart men employ emotional intelligence as well, even if they have to work a little harder at it. What men have working for them is they are more single-focused than women. A man says, “That’s where I’m going,” and he goes for it.
Women immediately ask, “Am I good enough?” or “Could I really do that?” Or they do something to sabotage themselves such as agreeing to go on the school committee. Multitasking is great for day-to-day chores but in business it can be counterproductive.
Women need to learn that when somebody asks them to do something that will not help them further their goals, the answer is “I’d love to, but I can’t. I’m working.” If they get a response such as, “I thought you worked from home?” they have to say, “I do. That’s why I have to stay focused.”
Women have so many gifts, yet we tend to overestimate the challenge and underestimate ourselves. If you think you’re worth twenty thousand dollars a year, that’s what you’ll earn. If you think you’re worth a hundred thousand a year you’ll get there. You have to give yourself permission to succeed. I call it succeeding on purpose.
Lack of belief held me up for a long time. I grew up with a dad who was angry, abusive, and alcoholic. I had low self-confidence and allowed that to hold me back, but when I became a single mom, I had to accept that I’d been using my background as some sort of trophy to victimhood.
At a conventions after I speak, invariably a few attendees will come up and say, “My wife is not supportive,” “I’ve got too many children,” “I’m too young,” “I’m too old,” or “I making $80,000 a year. I hate my job but I can’t afford to leave it.” My philosophy is, “If you want it. you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.”
Don’t accept excuses. One of your responsibilities as a leader is to help your distributors realize that if it’s not working, they’re either not doing enough or they are doing the wrong things. When you identify the problem you’re halfway towards the solution. Again, that’s when a great leader asks questions and doesn’t rush in with suggestions:
“Are you really making ten calls a day or are you making two calls and hoping that one of them will lead to a yes? You’re not going to build a $150,000 a year business if you’re making two calls a day. If you run out of leads, get out in your community more, do trade shows, join a few clubs.”
If you’re doing enough and still not seeing results, I will tell you, “You may be talking too much or coming across as too pushy. Are you asking questions? Do you listen to the answers, or are you just waiting for the other person to be quiet so you can talk?”
This kind of leadership is very powerful—and it’s self-leadership too. It’s a simple approach: If it’s not working for me, I’m not doing enough or I’m doing the wrong thing. You can’t afford to look for blame. You can’t make excuses and make money at the same time.
What is your bird’s eye view of our business over the past thirty years, and where do you see it going?
It’s definitely easier today, and that’s because we’re more connected. You can do so much by text. For example, you can encourage everyone to text you when they’ve made ten calls. Then text them back, “You’re on fire. You’re number one.” Communication has never been easier because of social media. Webinars have demolished the barrier to long-distance recruiting.
The future belongs to those who employ the best of high tech and high touch. Embrace all the tools but don’t become so obsessed with them that you lose sight of the magic of network marketing, which is high touch.
High tech is not a substitute for hard work, and I worry when I hear people say, “I sent out fifty Facebook invitations and three people showed up to my event.” If I got an invitation that went to fifty people, I doubt I would show up, but if my friend called me and said, “Mary, did you get my message? Are you going to come?” I would go.
It takes hard work, discipline, and drive to succeed in this business. You start with a goal that makes your heart spin and then go for it. Keep moving. Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re moving fast forward, sometimes you feel like you’re moving too slow; and sometimes you feel like you’re stalled or even going backwards. If you know where you’re heading and you don’t leave your lane, you’ll get there.
It takes courage and commitment to succeed in network marking. Most people have dreams but they’re pipe dreams if you’re not willing to put the work behind it. You have to put your ego aside and say, “Maybe they’re saying no because I’m boring, or because I talk too much, or because I’m too pushy. Maybe I don’t really show a genuine interest in them. Maybe I’m just trying to bulldoze in.”
Success comes from drawing on the strengths you have and developing the ones you need. There are no shortcuts, but the good news is you can’t fail if you don’t quit before you succeed.