The Salesman: Building the Pyramid

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by Onicia Muller

This is about the time my marketing job turned out to be a wanna-be pyramid scheme.

In telling this story, I hope that readers recognize some of the sleazy schemes that pass through our Caribbean countries and encourage friends to resist the glitzy sales pitches and shun these scam opportunities from our communities. I know navigating the freelance/gig economy can be tough and sometimes we only want to focus on our direct deposits versus ensuring our clients are ethical. Let’s stand firm and say no to helping these predatory companies expand.

Roberto was a savvy salesman. Secrets shared during his workshop nearly convinced me to enroll. However, considering that they intentionally concealed from the potential clients that the other four people in the room (not counting the scammers) were employees, I doubted Roberto’s true selling abilities.

Roberto claimed to be a highly sought after guru, but was only able to convince three people to attend his FREE Profit Parties. Sure, he wasn’t on Tony Robbins’ level, but one would expect better attendance for someone who claimed to have a waiting list.

Using the presented sales secrets, I deduced that us contractors were required to attend to make the room feel full — thus adding to their credibility.

At the end of the workshop, Roberto proudly announced that my colleague was already enrolled in their $20K sales course, and that I was joining the next round. He omitted that employees received this highly-sought after training for free. Had they known, I’m sure the marks — I mean, leads — would feel less pressure to part with their retirement funds.

Weeks later, I was still dodging the free sales training and instead crafting a syllabus for a 2-hour webinar. The webinars and workshops were part of Roberto’s strategy to increase client leads.

Although I was excited to build my teaching and speaking portfolio, I was concerned about protecting my intellectual property. This webinar had the potential to earn them hundreds of thousands of dollars — especially because they wanted to record it and resell for years to come.

“What’s the payment scheme for these workshops; is it hourly or per attendee?” Remembering Plankton’s advice to be assertive, I remained friendly and confident. “You’re selling these sessions for $15 per attendee; what happens if my class has a high number of attendees?”

Roberto looked up from his laptop. I maintained eye contact. “Oh, you haven’t joined the sales class yet. Well, the rest of the team are committed to teaching these classes for free; this is not billable work.”

“Not even the prep work?” I willed myself not to make my “dis math don’t add” face.

“Onicia, let me share our vision with you. I teach companies how to increase their revenue. However, because this is a one-on-one service, it limits my earnings. Our vision is to grow this company’s profits exponentially.”

Dreddy, with five clients this man had a smooth $100K in revenue and minimal overhead expenses. But sure, let’s strive for more money.

Like a modified version of ‘head, shoulders, knees, and toes,’ his arms went down the length of his body. First, both hands hovered near his head. “I am a sales coach who is now in the business of training sales coaches,” his hands drop to his shoulders. “These coaches will in turn train other sales coaches using my methods,” his arms dropped again and fanned out away from his knees completing an invisible pyramid-like structure. “Now, I charge these coaches who in turn can charge the same — or more to their students. They’ll then pay me an annual fee to remain licensed and a commission for each student who joins under them. Achieving this goal requires you investing in us so that we can invest in you.”

Es-squeeze me? I’m supposed to be a marketing manager not to get trapped in some dimarypor convoluted inverted sales funnel. What in the multi-level marketing?!

“You’re at the ground floor and positioned to go straight to the top if you stick with us!”

The hell I was. I mentally pushed the emergency exit button on the imaginary elevator we’d been riding. Now that I knew their master plan, I was on guard and plotting my exit strategy.

Shout out to all the freelancers who smell what the Rock is cooking and side step scams before ish hits the fan.

Thanks for reading. More of my story will be published in my “Onicia Updates” newsletter  (September 2018).

Although Roberto’s sales coaching business wasn’t an established MLM, his business model followed the same predatory structure:

  • He was a coach who trained coaches to train other coaches. Different to regular companies, #BossBabes on each level do the same thing as those below and above them.
  • He charged coaches a 1-time fee to join his $20K sales class. MLMs usually push a low-quality, overpriced products.
  • Then he charged an undecided annual fee to teach his technique/remain certified. When you earn a degree from a legit school or online learning platform, there’s no annual fee to remain certified by the institution.
  • His students (direct downlines) had to pay him an undecided per-student commission for each person they taught his methods to. This is like how network marketing companies charge you a starter fee and then take a cut of future sales.
  • His students had the opportunity to make money not by applying his technique to sell their own products or services, but by recruiting others to complete the course and recruit more coaches (indirect downlines). I’m unsure if those indirect downlines had to be certified under him making an elaborate pyramid or if he only made income from students of students (two downlines).This is where he officially crossed into MLM territory.

Roberto could have had a legitimate business, but instead he wanted to be a coach of coaches, of coaches, of coaches, of — I’m so tired I need a couch, not a coach!

Onicia Muller writes, says funny things, and enjoys hanging with creative minds. ‘Just Being Funny’ is a weekly reflection where Onicia laughs at life. For more shenanigans, read past entries at or sign up to her newsletter.

Photo by Ruthson Zimmerman on Unsplash

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