Business Insights

BNI and multi-level marketing (MLM) Companies – The Real Scoop

For decades, many people in multi-level marketing (MLM) businesses have been using BNI to help grow their business.   Below, Jordan Adler, a successful SendOutCards® representative, talks about his experience using the BNI program:

A large percentage of my business income comes from my involvement with BNI. For 14 years, I have promoted BNI as a great opportunity to connect with other business professionals, build quality relationships, and learn the art of networking. There is nothing better.

My team is involved in BNI all across the United States, Canada, and Australia. We do not share our opportunity in BNI meetings. We always do our best to practice Givers Gain. We look for opportunities to give business to others, and when sharing our services with other BNI Members, we focus on the benefits of our services. Once someone uses our product and loves it, at times there are specific individuals who want to share it with others and ultimately get paid to do it.

We have not found a need to promote our opportunities in a BNI meeting that tends to be geared around exchanging referrals for services offered and giving referrals to others.

The energy of recruiting at BNI meetings is inconsistent with the cultural context of the organization.

This is one positive example of an MLM representative using BNI successfully. But many MLM representatives don’t know how to harness BNI to build their business. In fact, as the founder and chairman of BNI, I am often asked about the relationship between the organization and MLMs.

Just recently, I was asked by a BNI member whose business is based on an MLM model, “Why is it that BNI does not allow people in MLM professions the opportunity to share both our products and the business plan?”

First, let me say that reputable MLM companies are welcome in BNI.  As a matter of fact, we have one or more MLM members in almost all of our 7,000 groups in more than 60 countries around the world.  Furthermore, BNI members representing MLM businesses have been active in the organization going back to our very first chapter in 1985.

I personally approved that MLM representative to become a member at the first-ever meeting of BNI (this was prior to BNI having membership committees).  He and his wife retained their BNI membership for almost two decades.

Know the BNI Culture

To answer the often asked question about promoting both the products and the business opportunity aspects of MLM-based businesses, it is important to first have an understanding of the cultural of BNI.

We believe that networking is more about farming than it is about hunting.  It’s about cultivating long-term relationships with other business people.

Also and this is critical– each BNI chapter is comprised of members from a variety of professions but there is only one available membership spot open for any given business or profession in an individual chapter. Once a member has filled an open business category, nobody else in the same business or profession is allowed to become a member of that particular chapter.

Also, one of our guidelines states that members need to represent their products and/or services in BNI and not its business opportunity. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, BNI is about promoting the products and services that people represent.  That is our mission.  More importantly, each BNI chapter is permitted to have only one person per profession in their chapter.  Though it is not a problem if multiple members in a particular chapter represent MLM businesses which sell non-competing products and services, it can become a problem if one or more of those members begins advertising and offering the business opportunity side of their business.

It creates competition among all of the MLM-affiliated members as they are ultimately now selling the same thing—a business opportunity. This then creates a conflict in business categories because they have competing professional classifications.

Learning the Hard Way

Over the years, we have learned the hard way that when one BNI member pitches the business opportunity side of their business during a meeting and a fellow chapter member who sells a non-competing product or service for a different MLM company witnesses this, it does not go well.

The member witnessing the opportunity pitch gets upset because they feel the potential no longer exists for them to attract other chapter members to take an interest in the opportunity of their business.  In fact, in the past, many verbal knock-down, drag-out arguments have occurred at meetings as a result of MLM representatives publicly stepping on each other’s toes.

Consequently, many years ago, our Board of Advisors (made up exclusively of BNI members) decided that members representing an MLM company must solely represent their products and services when attending and participating in BNI meetings and refrain from sharing the business opportunities.  Note that this decision was made by the membership of the organization, not the management of the organization, for the overall benefit of BNI members everywhere.

The Right Time to Share an MLM Business Opportunity

However, with that said, I’d like to be crystal clear in saying that there is nothing wrong with representing the business opportunity side of a MLM business with another BNI member during a 1-to-1 meeting that takes place apart from the weekly chapter meeting.  In fact, most strong MLM representatives in BNI will tell you that speaking to someone in a personal setting is much better than trying to pitch a group on a business opportunity in only 60 seconds.

In addition, members representing MLM-based businesses can effectively lay the groundwork for effectively sharing their business opportunity during future 1-to-1 meetings by focusing on relaying the quality and usefulness of their products and services at the weekly networking meetings.

By first becoming recognized as having credible products and services, members are able to broach the subject of any business opportunity much more easily when they are meeting with other members in a personal setting.  The bottom line is that the business networking environment has to work for the whole group; not just certain members of a networking group.

If one’s personal network is a mile wide and an inch deep, it won’t be a strong network.  If, on the other hand, a person has a network that is both broad and deep, they are much more likely to have a powerfully effective personal network.

Strong contact networking groups like BNI are about going deep in our professional relationships.  First and foremost, fellow members of a group should be viewed as referral partners—not just clients.  If a BNI member views their BNI chapter as a room full of clients – their reach is limited to the number of people in the room.

Conversely, if they view their BNI group as valued referral partners, then they can consider the chapter in terms of the opportunity they have to reach the hundreds of additional people their referral partners know.  This is a much larger potential source of business—and it is one that is ever changing as people grow their personal networks.

Hunting vs. farming is the perfect analogy to explain BNI and our approach to marketing and sales.  For anyone interested in participating in BNI to market their products and services, whether they’re representing an MLM company or not, it boils down to this:  People who cultivate their referral relationships will do great in BNI; people who hunt to close deals simply will not do well.

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