Of all the partnerships in network marketing, there’s surely none smarter nor more experienced than Kim Klaver and Dan Hollings. Harvard, MIT, Stanford and the University of the Internet, have given Kim and Dan an unmatched education, both academic and hands-on (in the field and on the keyboard). Author, speaker and former successful network marketing professional, Kim Klaver (also known by her stage name, Ms. Stud) is the creative force behind the successful networkers’ Web site MLM911 (www.mlm911.com). Dan Hollings, also a successful network marketer in a former life, has been the creative technology force behind numerous Internetwork marketing enterprises. Together, the two have combined their extensive talents to create a leading-edge virtual community, Alternative Network Marketing (www.alternativenetworkmarketing.com). We met with them to learn more.
"Neighborhood" sounds to me a lot like "community"; is that what you've created here, a community?
KK: Yes--it's a community for people who believe that something needs to be done about network marketing's image.
Network marketing is often perceived as something capable people probably would not go into, if they knew what they were in for. To the extent that this perception is accurate, it's due to the endless hype about how easy this business is; how anyone can do it; how all you have to do is this, that, or the other thing...when in fact, none of that is true.
We started our neighborhood with the idea of having a place for people who want to learn to present the business to somebody without all the hype.
DH: This is a concept that's sometimes hard to grasp for people, because it stands in such contrast to much of what you see. From so many meetings, conference calls and other venues, people are told, "Everybody's going to buy this product! Everybody's going to join your business!"
The community gives them a place where they can absorb this concept and share with others the challenges and successes they experience implementing this concept in their businesses.
What makes this a community, as opposed to simply a Web site?
DH: One definition of "community" is the presence of interactivity between the members. Our members can interact not only with Kim and me, who serve as their coaches, but also with other members across many different company lines. There are over 100 different companies represented in our neighborhood.
We have message boards, with about a dozen different key topics related to alternative network marketing, so people can chat with other members, ask questions, share ideas and learn. We have polls where we ask questions--some purely informative, some just for fun--so members can get a feel for what others think about certain ideas related to alternative network marketing.
Every training or article we post has a feedback mechanism, so all our members can see what other members have taken away from the article. Did I try this? Did it work for me? Do I have further suggestions? Are there other places on the Web with additional information that relates to this article?
Do your people encounter resistance from their own upline or companies to what you're doing?
DH: In some cases. There are a lot of distributors who are really thirsty to get some solid information on what's really working, in terms of how to use the Internet to build their businesses. There may be resistance, from their upline or even from their companies, to them getting involved with a system that can expose them to other approaches. Those free-minded distributors who are thirsting for this knowledge and tired of hitting a dry well come anyway.
Here again, this is where the strength of community comes in: Kim and I don't say we know everything that works. What we do say is, before you spend your money or try anything you learn here or elsewhere, you can put the question to other members: "Have you tried this? Is this working for you?" Why waste your money, time and energy, trying things that don't work?
Does it surprise you that network marketing companies themselves have not embraced this kind of community model in their own Web sites?
DH: It does, to a certain extent, but I've been involved at the corporate level in trying to deploy community systems for specific distributor organizations, and by and large, they have never worked.
Why is that? It seems to me, it ought to be a slam-dunk.
DH: In my experience, those groups who have tried don't put enough into the community to really draw people. They'll put up a message board or a few other interactive features that you could call "community"--but there's no dedicated staff to manage or maintain it on an ongoing basis. There's no mayor of the city. And if the leaders don't participate, there's no way it will work.
That's one weak link in online community: If you create a community, you better show up!
KK: That's right!
DH: Also, most distributors still aren't yet comfortable with the technology. If the company doesn't combine the online experience with regular, live telephone calls, it won't fly. Our community would not exist if it weren't for the phone calls that go with it.
KK: We do live training calls two or three times a week, and post others on the site. I've seen companies put up Web sites where their idea of "community" is to post pictures and stories of people who are using the product and having success with it. That's just not enough.
So it's really an issue of simply not realizing what it takes?
KK: Number one is just not knowing. Number two is a general resistance; I don't think there's a belief yet, at the corporate level, that building an online community really works.
Do you think it's going to happen?
KK: I hope so! It's a big commitment to create something like this; we've invested a huge amount of time over the past year. But when people realize how powerful it is, they discover it saves enormous amounts of time.
DH: The companies, by and large, are providing their distributors with Web sites that mix opportunity and product line so closely together, you can't send a customer or prospect there. Kim coined a wonderful term for the prospect site part of our community: it's a "first-date site." Most distributors don't yet have a place where they can take somebody on a first date, where you can slowly introduce what this is all about, without hammering big money or great product.
Where do you see the whole notion of online community going in the future?
DH: I think there will be a natural progression as the number of people with the skills to use the Internet comfortably increases. That is probably the biggest barrier to successful communities right now. We depend squarely on the telephone: It's on our calls where we help community members get over whatever little technical hurdles they've got. Once they do, then they're in.
As people's skill levels increase and the systems become easier and easier to use, I think you'll see more and more true community interactivity happening on the Web.
We have people go on the Web while they're on our calls so we can show them how to post a message on the board, or how to add their picture so others can see what they look like. Trying to do it all Web-based has proven too difficult for most.
KK: People don't trust their own skill level. They make one small mistake, get frustrated--and then the kids come home from school, and they have to leave it for a whole day. That whole day becomes a week, which becomes a month...and then they're gone.
So by golly, I'll gladly spend hours on the phone to take them through the whole thing, if that's what it takes for them to get it. Because once they're done, they go on cruise control and watch the returns.
What do you see sites like yours being able to do for people?
KK: The same thing churches do for religion: They're places for people of like mind to meet, talk, say what they've faced during the week, what's helped them and what hasn't.
It's a place where you can hang out and get rid of the toll all the unbelievers have taken on you during the week, the people who bang on you and tell you this doesn't work. A place where you can laugh and survive the process of building your business.
It's great to provide a place where people aren't afraid of each other's companies, where everyone isn't "the competition." Sometimes our people will sign up for each other's services--not going after each other for distributors, just sharing their products and services with other people as customers. To me, that's a dream. Why wouldn't all networkers want to buy as much as they can from other networkers without having to sign up for the business?
Daniel, anything for you? When I asked the question about the future, you went, "Ahhh!"
DH: I hope that people grow to see the Internet not as a marketing medium but as a relationship medium. The Internet is a place where networkers can extend their reach and meet people who have common interests much more easily than they could in the "real world."
My background is in music; I taught classical guitar at the University level for years. I can get online and find a thousand classical guitar players within 30 minutes! These people can become my friends very rapidly--online. Why? Because we have something in common.
Anyone can find and build these relationships; once you do, you can share with them what it is that you do--the products or business you're involved with. Maybe some will be interested. That's alternative network marketing. No-hype relationship building.
But what's being taught? "Use the Internet to mass market." That's why Internet leads are so hot; millions of leads have been sold. That's why spam has just about killed everybody. It's because everybody thinks, oh gosh, this is just a big marketing medium.
I'd like to see our profession take the world in a gigantic left turn and start using the Internet as a relationship medium.