Downline Pirates: The Scourge of the Industry

By Len Clements © 1999

Your friend is in a multi-level marketing program. They are dissatisfied. They jumped into the first program they ever saw, and had no idea what they were really getting into. They still believe in MLM, just maybe not in this particular product or program. They’re looking for something else. Knowing you are also involved in MLM, they may even ask you for a recommendation. Naturally, you tell them about your program. They like what they hear — and they join.

You are NOT a Downline Pirate!

The picture I am about to paint of these unscrupulous individuals is not going to be a pretty one. Before brush hits canvas, I wanted to make clear that everyone who has ever pitched their MLM program to an active distributor is not necessarily a Downline Pirate. Your prospect could be currently involved in a blatant money game or quasi-pyramid scheme and you only intended to show them the more honest side of the industry. Perhaps you were offering a complementary program to go along with their primary program. There are a few (only a few) valid excuses for enticing current MLMers into your program.

After the painting is done, scan it carefully. Only you can judge wether you are the viewer — or the subject.

My first experience with a Downline Pirate came in 1979. He was the worst kind. The kind that tries to rob you from your upline into theirs — in the same program! I experienced decent success in that program fairly quickly, and soon realized I was now choice meat. Not only did distributors from other companies covet my services (they were usually ex-distributors from my program, or strangers waiting outside our meetings [yes, even back then]), but this one guy even tried to get me to join his downline under a false name (my girlfriend’s), and discretely abandon my existing organization.

Despite the fact he had one of the largest organizations in the company (no doubt filled with shanghaied distributors from my organization), after the company folded he was never heard from again. Ever.

About three years ago, I came across a man in Southern California who responded to a classified ad my business partner had placed for his MLM opportunity. This prospect seemed genuinely eager to receive more information, and came across as very sincere. After sending him a package of information, he called my partner only to pitch him on his program. The brochures and video my partner send were waisted.

Already being in an investigative mode at the time, I sent this gentleman a box filled with literature, an assortment of company brochures, many product samples, and two videos. I included a cover letter specifically requesting the return of the videos, and even included return postage. Total cost: $18.00.

Sure enough, he calls me to tell me why his program is so much better, and tries to get me to switch. During a short “discussion” regarding his tactics, this jerk actually told me I was out of line for being so bent out of shape, and that I should consider my $18.00 loss as a “cost of doing business”. He went on to admit he receives “three or four” such packages a day, and that he has his office staff “trash” them.

Unfortunately, the conversation didn’t last long enough for me to find out if he had “trashed” the $2.90 for postage.

I recently came across a situation where a man described as a “real MLM pro” has been responding to generic ads placed by MLM lead generation services for the purpose of getting his name sent out to subscribers of the service. This “pro” doesn’t even have to go out and find his victims — now they call him! I though “pro” was short for professional?

Just today I talked to a woman who told me about her experience with sending out a postcard promoting her program to an “MLM enthusiast” mailing list. She sent 1,000. She claims she received two responses for more information — and 40 pitches on other programs!

Again and again I see information sheets that are designed specifically to recruit people from one program into another. There is always the side-by-side comparison of the comp plan, and occasionally even a comparison of products. Law suits have been filed recently alleging that mass corporate endorsed pirating is taking place as well.

So who is a Downline Pirate? Why do they do what they do? What are the repercussions?

First and foremost, a Downline Pirate is L-A-Z-E-Y!

Some of you may recall our F&M column of 6/91 titled The ABC Technique which describes the three parts of the recruiting process. First, you must open the prospects mind to getting involved in their own business. Second, once opened, you must first remove any preconceived ideas the prospect may have regarding MLM specifically. By step three, the prospect should be much more receptive to hearing about your actually opportunity. To some extent or another, you must always work through these three stages. And the first two may require the most work of all — unless of course, someone has already done the work for you!

A Downline Pirate is a COWARD!

One of the hardest parts about this business is either finding people who are interested in MLM, or interesting them in it. This process may involve a lot of rejection, and perhaps even ridicule. Let’s face it. It’s real easy to find people who are already interested in MLM — in someone else’s downline.

A Downline Pirate is NAIVE!

Anyone who thinks they can build a successful organization by loading it up with people who are willing to move over based on a better pitch is in for a first class education on attrition. Why do they think they are the only Downline Pirate out there? Don’t they realize their people are going to eventually get pitched by someone else? What do you think they’re going to do the first time another “better” opportunity comes along? That’s right. Poof!

Downline Pirates just can’t seem to understand that the only people they really want from that other program, are the ones that won’t switch! The serious, committed people are — committed.

A Downline Pirate is a HYPOCRITE!

The same clown who spent days hyping all the reasons why you should change programs will inevitably preach to you about loyalty, commitment and long term vision — the moment someone tries to pirate you away from them.

A Downline Pirate is a SUCCESS PIRATE!

Not only does stealing someone’s downline reduce their chances for success, but they may be setting back the pirated distributor as well. Every downline organization, if worked consistently, will eventually take on a momentum phase much like an MLM company. Remember, if you recruited just one person a month, and 40% a month did nothing and dropped out, and the other 60% did no better than you, you would have only about 40 people in your downline after one year — and over 10,000 half way through your fourth.

Every time you switch to another program, you start over on the time-line. As long as you keep switching, you’ll never get to the point where geometric progression kicks in, no matter how many you recruit personally. Downline Pirates are doing you no favors!

They aren’t doing the industry any favors either. MLM needs new blood. We must increase our numbers by attracting more professional people from outside our little world. The timing has never been better for America to discover, en masse, the value of what MLM has to offer this country. One of the reasons why it just hasn’t happened (yet) might be the way this industry feeds on itself. We, in general, seem content to just keep recycling the same people over and over and over, until they drop out. For the most part, those entering MLM for the first time just enter the same cycle along with everybody else. And the number of new people coming in isn’t exceeding those going out by much. Sure, we’ve seen the number of MLM participants increase by five times what it was ten years ago. But this isn’t really impressive at all considering the state of our economy and what MLM has to offer it, the immense size of the untapped market of prospects, and good ol’ geometric progression. Consider this: over the same ten year period, the number of people operating home-based business has increased by over twenty times!

From my own experience, I can tell you that the reason why all these tens-of-millions of new home-based entrepreneurs haven’t chosen MLM as their vehicle is not due to just skepticism — they don’t know about it!

In my daily life I come across many people who are not only not involved in MLM, they are completely oblivious to it. I don’t mean they don’t understand it, or know of only Amway and Mary Kay, I mean they literally never heard of it! How can this be? There are 6-million people out there promoting their opportunities with the most powerful form of advertising available. The spoken word! And they’ve been doing it for decades. Maybe it’s because so many of them are only speaking to each other!

A Downline Pirate is UNETHICAL!

Some may argue that MLM distributors are free agents. They are free to take, and be offered, a better deal. It could be said that corporate headhunters “pirate” employees from their companies all the time. Why should MLM be any different? Considering distributors are independent contractors, it should be even more acceptable, shouldn’t it? Let’s not forget the differences between MLM and the corporate structure. If you quit your job to take a position with another company, the company simply replaces you. Your departure would most likely have little or no effect on your boss’ income, or his boss above him, or her boss above her. In MLM, when you pirate a distributor away from another downline, you’re essentially stealing money from their upline. You may very well be directly impacting their sponsor’s ability to earn a livelihood, and their sponsor’s sponsor as well. Okay, sure. It may be legal. But having a right to do something doesn’t necessarily make it right.

A Downline Pirate is a LOUSY MENTOR!

This is a business of duplication. You do what successful distributors before you have done. A Downline Pirate who raids other people’s organizations my appear to be a successful recruiter to their downline. Their downline may even take on the role of Downline Pirate by example, even without the encouragement of their pirate sponsor. Pirating breeds more pirating.

A Downline Pirate is DOOMED TO FAIL!

I’ve never seen a single example of a downline build by picking the fruit of other people’s labor that has endured. Their “tree” may grow for a short time, but inevitably the harvester of this fallen or ripened fruit is provided sustenance for only a short time. After the fruit has gone sour or been devoured, there’s nothing left. And the pirate is off to harvest more.

Successful organizations have roots. They are primarily based on seeding, nurturing and growth. A picked long-stem rose will only last so long in water — a rose bush will create beauty forever if properly cared for.

Again, I must reiterate: Just because you’ve sent postcards to an “MLM enthusiasts” mailing list, or advertised in an MLM trade publication which is read primarily by people already in MLM, doesn’t necessarily mean you are a Downline Pirate. Many of these people are still in the searching stage, and there will always be a high percentage of those that are already in MLM whole are in transition — by there own accord. We’re talking about the careerpirate here. The jerks who feed exclusively, or at least primarily, on other people’s organizations. The guy who is always looking to go one-on-one with anybody he can, to try to talk them out of their program (any way he can) and into his (or hers).

So the picture has been painted. Look at it carefully. Do you see a depiction of what is wrong with this industry? Is it an illustration of what to avoid? An image of what to not be a victim of? For some of you, it may still appear to be nothing more than a white canvas, garnering no reaction at all. To still others — it’s a self portrait.