Tom and Denice Chenault are one of the most well-known, cherished, dedicated, and respected couples in the network marketing space. Top earners in an internationally established wellness company, they spend their days developing friendships and leadership. Tom is a recovering alcoholic who has been attending a daily Alcoholics Anonymous meeting for 27 years. He also has been hosting the Tom Chenault Radio Show for the past 15 years. Denice is a personal development trainer who is passionate about coaching women to step into their greatness. Together Tom and Denice live their lives 100 percent in contribution. They love people, and they love the underdog. They believe that “once you make more money than you have month, you have a huge responsibility to go out there and affect change for others.” While they can be extremely funny, they take this calling quite seriously.—J.G.
Tell us about your life before network marketing.
TOM: I grew up in Littleton, Colorado, where I lived most of my life. I was not an extraordinary student, but I always knew I was going to do something really successful in my life. I don’t know how I knew that. My family was fairly ordinary although my older brother was extremely sick and ended up passing away at age 35. My other brother and sister are both wonderful and successful in their own way. But being the quintessential middle child I realized that I had to make my mark on the world completely independently.
I got started in the restaurant business and learned to work hard there, like 24/7 hard. I was the boss of 103 people under the age of 18 whom you could not motivate with money, because they didn’t make a lot of money. So it all had to be positive energy. You learned how to smile while you were dying, and work when everybody else wasn’t. That really shaped my life for what I’m doing now.
From there I became an airplane salesman, which exposed me to wealthy people and what their lives looked like. I was a successful salesman, but always felt I was sitting on the wrong side of the desk. I just had to figure out what the people on the other side of the desk did to accumulate enough money to buy an airplane, and then I was going to be set.
That put me on the path to be a stockbroker. I became highly successful as that as well, but through all the careers I had, from the restaurant business to the airplane business to the stock brokering business, there was one common denominator: I was an extremely heavy drinker.
Everybody else probably knew I was an alcoholic, but I didn’t. In 1988 I got two DUIs and two other citations for disturbing the peace in one month. This made me realize it was time to quit drinking, and the person who helped me, they call him a “sponsor” in Alcoholics Anonymous, told me I had to stop doing what made me drunk.
So I stopped being a stockbroker, which isn’t what he meant. He meant I had to stop drinking. When I quit my job, I thought everybody was going to be running to hire me, but I was literally unemployable. I applied for jobs, but nobody wanted to take a chance on me. No one could pay me what I thought I was worth. The last house on the block was multilevel marketing.
How did you feel about that?
I got in kicking and screaming. I thought I was above it. I was this highfaluting stockbroker—and I failed miserably in network marketing. I acted like I was successful, but I wasn’t. I did everything wrong, making it all about me. It was a bad experience, but I kept forging on, trying to learn the skills in order to become a network marketing leader, and that took me through many companies.
I rose through the ranks of those companies, but the minute people got out of my sight, they quit, because the only reason they enrolled in the first place was because they knew I’d never leave their house until they wrote a check. I was like the vacuum salesman you couldn’t get rid of! Now looking back on it, those were defining moments of my life. They helped me see that my success as a stockbroker, as an airplane salesman, even as a restaurant guy, was totally predicated upon my efforts. When I got into network marketing, I had to unlearn all that, and learn how to make it all about everybody else. I had to take my agenda out of it and focus on what’s in it for them. Once I did that, everything shifted.
That’s where that whole “lead with love” thing came from. All through these times, as our kids were growing up we had homeless people living literally in our basement. We’ve always had this crazy heart for the underdog, and network marketing just gave us the ticket to be able to identify and be with the kind of people we wanted to be with and help, the people who deserve a second chance at life.
When I met Denice in 1997, about 10 years into my network marketing career, everything changed, because she has a bigger brain and a bigger heart than me.
Denice, what it was like for you?
DENICE: I grew up in the mountains of Colorado in a little town called Evergreen, and I moved to Boulder to go to college at the University of Colorado. I was a communication major. Both my parents are teachers. I grew up loving horses and was competitive in the equestrian scene around hunters and jumpers. It’s an expensive sport, so I worked at horse shows over the summer and did extra jobs to support my horsey habits. I absolutely loved it.
When I moved to Boulder, I had to sell my horse, and my first job out of college was with a company that did corporate training seminars and sold VHS and cassette tapes. I became involved in personal development and took a course called Understanding Yourself and Others through the Dreikurs Relationship Center. I loved it so much that I went into a two-year instructor training program at age 24 and started leading personal development courses all over the U.S. We did intensive weekend personal development seminars, which taught me a huge lesson in compassion. I saw how other people grew up, what they went through, the challenges they experienced—and the stories they created because of that, and how it shaped their adulthood.
I was involved with the Dreikurs Center for five years, then went into the natural foods industry. I was the third employee for Horizon Organic Dairy, and when Tom and I met I was a sales rep. Divorced, a single mom, I was living paycheck to paycheck. I was also selling shampoo for Paul Mitchell, 100 percent commission. My car had been repossessed. Tom and I became friends, and one day he called up and said, “What are you doing?”
I said, “You better talk fast, because my phone’s about to be shut off.” He said, “How much is your phone bill?” I said, “Like $40.” He goes, “For goodness sakes, give me the number. Let me pay it.”
We were both divorced and Tom was dating a woman, and I was dating her ex-husband. I knew her, and one day I said to her, “Your ex-husband seems to drink quite a bit.” She said, “If you’d like to talk to Tom, my boyfriend, he has about 10 years of sobriety. Maybe he could give you some ideas on how to talk to him about it.” I said, “That’d be great.”
That’s how Tom and I met. Tom said to me, “You’ve got to tell this guy that it’s either you or the alcohol.” I said, “We already know how that’s going to end.” The guy picked the alcohol, and then Tom and I stayed friends for about three years.
I honestly did not know what he did for a living. I just knew that if I said I was in a particular part of town, he’d say, “I’ll come up and meet you for lunch,” which I thought was a little peculiar. Then I found out he was in network marketing, and I thought, “Oh no…” I had tried a company in the 80s and liked the product. I also liked the idea of network marketing and the concept of residual income. I understood that, but I didn’t know the people who enrolled me, as they lived in a different state. I never had any mentoring or any leadership, so I didn’t succeed at it in any way. I thought I just wasn’t cut out for it.
After Tom and I got married, we started working the business together a little bit, but we were still doing other things on the side. At one point we went to the mailbox and found a check for $5,000. We looked at each other and went, “Huh? What if we actually learned to do this professionally? What if we did this together? What if we really put some time and effort into it?” So we did.
What year did you decide to go full time, and how did your approach change?
TOM: This was in 1999. I’d been going to Alcoholics Anonymous quite a bit, and I knew how to take people through the process, instead of trying to make them do things they didn’t want to do. We applied this to our business and started looking for people who were looking for us. Then we did everything we could to become part of their lives, instead of trying to put them into our life. We figured out what was important to them, and then showed them how to get it—and that became the tipping point.
We developed the Coffee Shop Interview, which is basically a merger between multilevel marketing and personal development. Denice talked about Dreikurs and I came out of the Landmark Forum world, so we both had learned the art of communication and really understanding people.
We merged the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous with multilevel marketing and personal development, and that gave us the ability to figure out what people love—and don’t love—about multilevel marketing. We figured out what they were passionate about and what they want to get out of it. Then we focused on giving them the ability to get the life they designed out of their multilevel marketing experience.
Instead of playing the numbers game, we really define who it is we’re talking to, what they want out of life, and whether or not we are capable of helping them get there.
How fun! Do you teach this Coffee Shop Interview process to your team?
DENICE: Yes. Basically, when you’re sitting down with people, you’re looking for what’s important to them and what’s missing in their life, or what they want more of. Then we offer our network marketing opportunity to fill those gaps.
TOM: Instead of going out there and acting like a barking Chihuahua, as some of us are trained to do in network marketing, we lead with a powerful conversation to find out what we can bring to people that’s going to make their life better.
If we have nothing in our company or in network marketing that’s going to help those people, then that is even better, because that’s when we really show our true colors. Our job is to serve them, even when there is nothing in it for us. Our mission is to have a conversation so that everybody we meet feels better having met us. The whole goal is to have no agenda and just purely be with human beings and develop a relationship.
Is it easy to teach others? How long does it take people to become good at this?
TOM: It’s really easy to teach, because inside the interview you ask them the questions before you ever get to the presentation. For instance, I have a conversation with you, and you tell me you have an issue with your health, or that your house is being foreclosed on. I don’t say anything about my company. I just listen and be a friend. I wait a few days, and then I call you and say, “You told me you have a financial problem, or a problem with your health… I work with a doctor who specializes in that (if we have something that will help their health),” or “I was talking to a friend and I told him about your financial situation, and he told me he can help you.” It goes automatically into a powerful three-way call that speaks into people’s listening, versus just throwing up on them.
It’s unbelievably effective, because in the interview you have the chance to find out what people are going to say yes to, and what they’re going to say no to. If you took notes, and you paid attention, when it comes time to do the presentation, you ask them the questions they’re going to say yes to, and you avoid asking the questions they’re going to say no to. It’s the perfect storm, because no one ever rejects you.
What do you say when network marketing isn’t really what they need at that point in their lives?
TOM: Great question. You don’t press it. You don’t lose the friend because you’ve decided they should be in network marketing, and they haven’t decided it yet. I’m in the two toughest businesses in the world: you try to get a drinker to stop drinking, and I guarantee you, until they’re ready, they aren’t going to do it. You try to get the best candidate for multilevel marketing, but I promise you, until they know they’re the best candidate for multilevel marketing, they aren’t. It’s exactly the same.
Of course, if someone isn’t ready, but they feel that you’re truly listening and want the best for them, maybe they will come around, because you didn’t burn them up as a friend. You loved them without an agenda.
DENICE: So often we love this profession or our companies so much that we think everybody should be in it. It’s kind of arrogant to think that we know better than people themselves where they’re at. A lot of people get into the business because they’re looking for something in their lives. If their lives are going along great, then they’re perhaps not looking for anything more. Your #1 goal is developing the relationship, loving the person, then if they get to a point where they’re looking for something, you’re the first person they think of, because you’ve developed that trust.
Tell us how do go about your day.
TOM: I designed my day like most people design their favorite vacation. I get up at 6:00 and I start thinking and praying a little bit, in preparation for a 10-minute call I do at 6:30 AM every day. It’s called the Hair-on-Fire call. It’s nothing more than “let’s get up and generate our lives at 100 miles an hour,” no matter what you do. Most people are in my company, but I’ve got friends that call in from everywhere, because it’s just 10 minutes of absolute, “Let’s get moving.”
After that, I walk about a mile and a half to my Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that starts at 7:00 AM. As I’m walking, I listen to motivational programs or to a book about business. I sit in the AA meeting for an hour, and to me it’s the best group of humanity you could ever meet. Having been sober 27 years, it’s good for me to check in with people who are going through some tough times.
Between the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and this place called Red Frog Coffee is about another three miles. I walk down there, and I’m talking to my leaders every inch of the way. I just scroll through them on my phone and call as many as I can get to. I just tell them I love them. I find out what’s going on in their life, and I let them know that I’m thinking about them. It’s my secret weapon.
I have coffee with my friends, my in-laws, my assistant—all the people I love. From there I walk down to the Two Dog Diner, another couple miles down the road. On that trip I follow up with all the people I’ve had a Coffee Shop interview with, or the newer people in my business. I make sure to be in complete integrity with follow-up. The reason all this walking is important is twofold. One, for my health. But most importantly, it’s because I can’t do social media. I can’t organize my desk. I am forced to dial the phone to do what I should do, which is keep that muscle of staying in contact with the people I love intact.
By the time I get down to Two Dog Diner, Denice has done what she does in the morning, and we have breakfast together. Sometimes she hauls me home, sometimes I walk home, but by 11:00 AM I’m literally done with my daily routine. That leaves me with an open palette to go create something wonderful, which I do for the rest of the day.
How do you like to start your day, Denice?
DENICE: In the morning Tom’s out of the house, so I enjoy peace and quiet. I get up, make a cup of coffee, and I set my intention for the day. This is my meditation and reading time for about an hour. Then I go to Pilates and by the time I’m done and ready for the day, Tom is done with all his calls.
What I’m most passionate about is coaching and inspiring women. I have regular scheduled times for people to call in, and I spend about an hour with each person. A couple years ago I was coaching a lot of women, and I sometimes felt stuck, because I couldn’t help them get past some of their stories to the point where they could actually take action and create positive change in their lives. So I enrolled in a program with Martha Beck to be a life coach. It really helped me understand what’s underneath the story and what’s stopping people. That’s what I’m most passionate about.
Tom and I also do weekly opportunity meetings around town, as well as monthly trainings. We feel that if you can’t enroll your next door neighbor, and you’re more interested in enrolling somebody halfway around the world, what’s the point? We prefer to create change in our own community first. We are very active in our town, sponsoring a lot of events and nonprofits. Tom is so well known that he has been asked to run for mayor, but we feel that we can do more by not being involved in politics!
The bottom line is, when you’re interested in other humans, creating relationships is easy. When you come from a place of wanting to connect with people, and being curious about what’s going on with them, they feel safe and will tell you everything.
What year did you start the radio show, and how did that come about?
TOM: I started the show about 15 years ago with a partner, quite accidentally. He ended up being really flakey, so I hosted it by myself. I was the most boring talk show host on the planet. My listeners were literally falling asleep. I had to get guests, so I started calling people. It was crazy, everybody wanted to be on the radio, especially people who had just written books. Then I started talking to network marketing leaders, and same thing—they all wanted to be on the show. It grew from there and next thing I knew, people like Robert Kiyosaki and Mark Victor Hansen were saying, “Yes, I’d like to be on your show.”
I realized I’d grown something, and I ended up getting a couple of really big radio jobs, and those worked out. Here I am today, 12 years later, with the largest home business radio show in the world. I’ve interviewed everybody. It is been a really big catalyst for my network marketing career. It’s been exciting to get to know all those people, go to their functions, and to be recognized as one of their peers. All of sudden I found myself growing into that. It was a mirage at first, but today I feel totally comfortable around those people.
You also were part of the team that started the ANMP.
TOM: Yes, together with Rod and Marcie Cook, Cheryl Kissell, Sandi Cohen and many more. We had this grand idea of helping distributors band together to be able to have a voice in their profession. The Distributor Rights Association it was called. It was a really small group of people committed to bettering the profession. However, we did a terrible job of getting new members. Finally, we ended up voting in Garrett McGrath as President, and he brought on more people and changed the name to the ANMP, the Association of Network Marketing Professionals. They decided to make it more of an educational organization.
Now it’s taken on a life of its own, with hundreds of people attending the yearly convention. It is all about positive motivation and showing people that this is a real profession. Having Chris Gross and Networking Times being the backbone of the association has made it into something that can now affect change, while we were just a band of merry men trying to do big stuff with no money and no teammates.
Today the ANMP is a force to be reckoned with, and Denice and I go down every year and bring as many people as we can, because we believe it’s crucial to support our profession, and the ANMP does important work. This profession needs an association, and the ANMP is the ticket.
You travel a lot. What’s it like to build internationally? What’s the best part?
TOM: You get to see the world while you work. In my case, I get to go with the greatest woman in the world. Every part of it is an adventure with my best friend. We absolutely love what we do, meeting people from many different cultures who look different, but are exactly like us.
DENICE: We love traveling, because we get to do it together—and we choose when to do it. It certainly is a lot of work and responsibility opening up a new country, but there’s no a greater feeling than getting to know people in another culture and helping them take their lives into their own hands.
We literally turn strangers into family members. When you approach the business with the Coffee Shop Interviews and relationship building, there’s really no way to lose. There is no rejection ever. Either people join your business, or you build a meaningful relationship. One of the biggest compliments we receive is that we are told how “down to earth” we are. We just don’t know any other way to be!
The key to network marketing is learning to stop talking, because people don’t care how much you know. They care how much you love them. We really do this business from our heart, not our head. The money and all the material things you earn are great, but there’s nothing better than the feeling of helping others become successful and healthy.
Any words about the future?
TOM: I’m 65 years old, and at this point I’m sensing there is a bigger project out there for Denice and me. We don’t have kids around anymore, so we want to travel the world and show people there is greatness within them, to the point where they don’t have to rely on anybody else like governments or corporations in order to create their best future.
Denice is doing coaching all over the world for women, because that’s what she resonates with. For me it’s any human being—preferably people in difficult circumstances—I can help and offer a better life. That’s what we are completely committed to.
We’re going to continue this life we’ve created exactly like we’re living it now—until they throw dirt over us. Every day’s a party for us. We get treated like royalty wherever we go. The look of gratitude and love and appreciation in people’s eyes is worth every penny and every minute of effort it took for us to get in front of them. This is absolutely what floats our boat.