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  Structure and characteristics of network marketing businesses   i Elina Oksanen, Helsinki School of Economics & Business Administration, Helsinki Abstract The paper describes network marketing businesses within direct selling industry. Firstly, key aspects of network marketing business concepts, especially the structure of the sales organisation and the distinctive characteristics of network marketing compensation plans are presented. Secondly, hierarchic and network characteristics of network marketing organisations are described. Finally, the concept of network marketing opportunity structure is introduced, and various distributor roles \\ithin this structure are discussed. Introduction Network marketing (NM) organisations are direct sales companies that operate through a sales organisation consisting of non-employed individuals. NM sales organisations grow through the social network of the sales people; i.e. NM distributors 2 are allowed to recruit new members into the organisation among their social contacts. The growth potential of a NM-organisation is related to the idea of theoretically exponential expansion of the distributor organisation a distributor recruits three new distributors, these new ones each recruit three more and so on. NM phenomenon raises both sheer enthusiasm as well as merciless criticism whenever discussed or experienced (see Appendix 1.). On the one hand, NM companies offer various benefits for individuals joining the sales organisation ranging from discounts on the product purchases to the opportunity to start a business with no significant financial risk or occupational/educational requirements involved. Entering a NM business evidently appeals to those enterprising individuals unable or unwilling to start a traditional business. On the other hand, critics suggest that over-enthusiastic distributors may easily violate their social relationships in their effort to turn them into business relationships either by hard selling or by heavy recruitment. Also, easy entry to the business may involve unrealistic expectations about the future business success, and consequently lead to disappointments and negative images of the entire business concept. So far, there is only limited amount of research on NM practices. Still more and more companies as well as some researchers have currently started to evaluate NM business concept as a significant alternative for more conventional direct marketing channels Coughlan and Grayson 1998, Croft and Woodruffe 1996, Herbig and Yelkur 1997).   Elina Oksanen, P.O.Box 1210, FIN-00101 Helsinki, Finland. Tel: + 358-9-43131, fax: + 358-9-43138660, email: el na .oksanen@hkkk. fi. : NM companies typically use the term 'distributor' and 'distributor organisation' instead of sales representatives, sales people or sales force in order to emphasise the more diverse role of NM distributors compared to that of traditional direct selling person. For the practical purposes, the terms used in this paper are mainly adopted from the NM contracts and other documents used by practitioners. in McLoughlin Damien. and C. Horan (eds.), roceedings of The 15 t Annual IMP Conference. Lniversit C ollege, Dublin 1999 I a tit o 5  Evaluation of current NM business practices as well as review of the academic literature on sales management and organisational behaviour indicate that NM companies face several managerial problems and challenges which are not common in traditional direct selling companies. Furthermore, examination of the marketing implementations occurring in NM context may prove to be beneficial for marketing management in general, independent on the organisational structure of the sales/marketing unit. Purpose of the paper This paper is a part of a doctoral research project focusing on the development and management of network marketing sales organisations. The goals of the paper are threefold The first goal is to increase our knowledge of network marketing business practices in general, as there exists only limited amount of academic research focusing on this phenomenon. First, the paper discusses current network marketing practices in non- store retailing and direct selling context. Second, the paper identifies key characteristics of NM business concepts including multilevel organisational structure, distinctive aspects of compensation plans, as well as hierarchic and network characteristics of NM sales organisations. The second goal of the paper is to briefly review prior academic research on NM practices.Finally, the main goal is to propose a set of concepts, through which NM businesses can be examined and evaluated. First, the paper describes business opportunities incorporated in the NM business concept and introduces the concept of N opportunity structure. Second, the paper proposes a basis for a distributor role categorisation and, as a conclusion, discusses the advantages of examining network marketing businesses from a role theoretical perspective.The description of business practices is mainly based on three sources; scarce academic literature on network marketing practices, researcher s working experience as a NM distributor and as an advisor for NM companies and documentary data company material, newspaper articles, distributor interviews, literature for practitioners (e.g. Dewandre & Mahieu 1995, Poe 1995) - collected during 1994-1999. The conceptual framework for the study is mainly based on literature on 1. role analysis, rooted in the psychology of individual differences and social psychology, 2. sales management and 3. organisation behaviour. Network Marketing Business Practices This section examines network marketing business practices within non-store retailing and direct selling industry and briefly discusses prior research on NM practices. Key figures in network marketing industry All non-store retailing combined currently accounts for only a modest percentage of all retail sales (5-10%), with little growth in recent years (Alba & al. 1997). Still, several in McLoughlin, Damien. and C. Horan (eds.), Proceedings of The 15 t Annual IMP Conference, University College, Dublin 1999 Page 2 of 17  academics interested in nonstore retailing indicate increasing interest in home shopping encompassing buyer behaviour through catalogues, direct mail, telephone, direct sales, television home shopping (McDonald, 1995) as well as Internet, CD-ROM catalogues, and highly advanced forms of interactive home shopping (IHS) channels (Alba & al. 1997). Especially the direct selling industry based on personal contact betvseen a .-.ales person and a customer has grown significantly during the last decade. Global retail sale^ have increased more than 2,4 times and the number of salespeople has more than tripled. In 1997, the estimated global retail sales through direct selling were USD 80.47 billion. and the number of salespeople totalled more than 30,9 million. (Whl)SA, 199S). Furthermore, the interest in direct selling seems to exceed the level of recent purchases, although marginally, indicating still room for continued growth (Wirthlin Worldwide 1997). Today, NM is one of the most applied direct selling concepts in the world. In this context, NM refers to the development of a legitimate retail selling and distribution network that grows via a social network (Coughlan & Grayson, 1998). For example, about 79% of all U.S. direct selling companies were NM companies, with retail sales of $16.08 billion (72% of total sales). Accordingly, about 81% of all U.S. direct selling people, almost 7.5 million individuals, were members of a NM organisation (DSA, 1998). Network marketing companies include companies applying exclusively NM, as well as companies that have particular NM divisions. For example, Amway Corporation is the world's largest NM corporation, present in 60 countries with two million distributors worldwide (Herbig & Yelkur, 1997). Nu Skin has about 300 000 consultants spread over eight countries (Ettorre 1995; ref. Herbig & Yelkur 1997). A.L. Williams Corporation, the largest seller of individual life insurance since 1984 -just recently bought by the insurance giant Primerica (Herbig and Yelkur, 1997)- is a NM company, as well as Shaklee, Herbalife, Jeunique, GNLD and Quorum. On the other hand, Gillette, Colgate-Palmolive, Discovery Toys, MCI and ExCel are examples of companies selling through network marketing parallel to other marketing channels (Herbig & Yelkur, 1997). Prior research on network marketing practices Empirical research concerning the NM phenomenon as such is very limited. So far academic discussion mainly includes a few descriptions of NM practices. Croft and Woodruffe (1996) argue that both the silence and the polarisation of opinions on the subject or even hostility towards it is due to the belief that NM organisations are essentially thinly-disguised pyramid-selling schemes.The more or less grounded bad reputation attributable to moneymaking schemes (Appendix 2.), inaccurate conceptualisation and incomplete or distorted descriptions of practices have added to the controversial image of network marketing. This has likely impeded more focused academic consideration on the subject. Herbig and Yelkur (1997) examine the phenomenon in an interesting but quite cursory manner, maybe mixing some fiction srcinating from the industry handbooks with facts from the same source. Croft and Woodruffe (1996) assess network marketing against in McLoughlin, Damien. and C. Horan (eds.). Proceedings oj The 15 th Annual IMP Con/ereim. University College, ublin 1999 Page 3 of 17  six strategic criteria for channel management, in order to aiidl>se its suiLibiln\ a> u channel of distribution in international markets. They conclude that although NM in terms of cost, capital, control and coverage has some advantages over conventional channels, these apparent strengths are frequently outweighed by particular shortcomings. Coughlan and Grayson (1998) focus on the development and analysis of a dynamic decision model of the growth of a retail NM organisation. The descriptive and prescriptive insights in their article show how compensation and other model parameters affect distributor motivation, sales, and network growth and profitability. A conclusion drawn from these scarce studies on NM practices is that there exist some unique and distinctive characteristics both in the structure of a NM organisation as well as the implementation of marketing functions in this context, which raise several managerial problems unlike in traditional sales organisations here fore, a quest lor a thorough descriptive analysis of the NM business practices is justified. Network Marketing Business Concepts Network marketing business concept generally refers to a v\a\ of organising direct selling businesses (DSA, 1998). The term multilevel marketing is common \ used as a synonym for network marketing. This section focuses on the key characteristics of network marketing business concepts distinguishing them from traditional sales organisations. Key characteristics of network marketing businesses NM business concepts have some common features with franchising concepts. In addition to the products, distributors market the NM business concept, i.e. the opportunity to join the organisation. Each distributor joining the company has equal rights and obligations concerning their NM businesses defined in a distributor contract. Thus, distributors are independent (non-employed), but agree to follow the NM concept of the particular NM company they are joining in. Network marketing organisation involves 1) a NM company developing a NM concept and providing the goods and services and 2) a distributor organisation consisting of independent sales people, distributors, selling the products direct to end customers and establishing and expanding the organisation. The distributor organisation also relerred to as sales organisation - accomplishes marketing functions, \\hich can be divided into direct selling and network marketing functions. Direct selling is a method of marketing consumer goods and sen ices directly to consumers where sales are achieved as the result of personal contact between a salesperson and the consumer. Products sold direct to end customers \ary from home. family, and personal care products to wellness, leisure, and educational products and miscellaneous services. Direct selling is particularly suited to products that benefit from detailed explanation and/or demonstration, or which are being tried out by the customers - in other words, to products the value of which can be enhanced by the sales person presenting them (DSA 1988). in McLoughlin, Damien. and C. Horan (eds.), Proceedings of The 15 t Annual IMP Conference, University College, Dublin 1999 Page4otl7
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