Primerica Financial Services is a multi-level marketing company that sells life insurance and investments. I’ve written about Primerica in the past, questioning whether Primerica is a pyramid scheme, and whether PFS is a scam.
The bottom line is that Primerica sells legitimate products and services (life insurance and investments), but sells them at inflated prices to generally unsophisticated consumers. So consumers are overpaying, and likely buying the wrong products. Additionally, the MLM structure sucks for the Primerica representatives. Because there is recruiting with so many levels, the distributor who sells the products receives much less money than if he or she sold similar services through a traditional insurance agency or investment company.
A typical recruiting ploy in Primerica is the job interview. Representatives of PFS troll the internet for job seekers, harvesting resumes from job sites. They contact the job seekers with an offer of an interview for an opening. They give the job seekers very little information about the “job” (it’s not a job at all… rather it is a position in the MLM pyramid), con them into showing up for an interview, and telling them if they have the right skills, they may be invited to stay for an information session.
The truth is that the “interview” is no interview at all. It is simply bait to make a [possibly desperate] job seeker to show up for a potential job that doesn’t exist. Everyone gets invited to stay for the informational session, and everyone will be strong-armed into signing up as a representative.
Below is a narrative of how this went down for one PFS representative. She submitted her story to Pink Truth, a website I run about Mary Kay Cosmetics and other multi-level marketing companies. Notice how the representative not only deceived the job seekers. He also deceived the new Primerica representative, telling her that he was helping her and teaching her how to recruit people into her downline, only to keep some of the recruits for himself.
A few of us bought into a resume site, access to hundreds of local resumes. My Primerica Regional Vice President (RVP) we’ll call “John” offered to teach me how to call them, to build my team. I felt awesome, like he had seen the potential in ME to want to spend time teaching me. Now of course I realize that I was probably the only one who wanted to learn. Sigh.. they’re so good at manipulating, or “leveraging” as they call it.. they create false demand and artificial scarcity all the time. The whole “you QUALIFIED to spend time with me” thing seems ridiculous to some on the outside, I know. I totally see it now. But believe me, when you’re lacking in confidence any morsel thrown down from the master’s table seems like a feast.
Took a few days of being put off, “appointments came up”, etc, but finally we were sitting in his office, my stack of resumes in front of him, me sitting eagerly poised to take notes. He picked up the phone and began to dial but I noticed he pressed *69 first.. what, he was blocking the outgoing #?? I must have looked confused because he said as he dialed, “people are more likely to answer an unknown number than if they see the name.” I was shocked… I thought we weren’t doing anything wrong? Why the need for secrecy? I thought everyone wanted/needed our products and opportunity.
Of course, now looking back and seeing it for what it was, I see why he wanted to hide behind secrecy. At the time though, it didn’t sit right with me. Plus, I knew I had read somewhere on POL (online website for reps) that it was against compliance to block the number. I started to say “but I thought…” and my face must have conveyed my thoughts because he impatiently rolled his eyes and cut me off, lowering the mouthpiece slightly, “look, we’re not supposed to, but I’m here to run MY business and I know what gets results.”
Just then someone clearly answered because he quickly spoke into the mouthpiece, his voice fast and sharp, “Hi, I’m looking for Amy…” I listened to the call and to him book the interview, but my thoughts were jumbled. I didn’t understand how he could deliberately break a rule like that. Especially because it just didn’t seem necessary. Why keep the name of the company a secret, wouldn’t they eventually HAVE to know? Like, you might be able to trick them into showing up without knowing the company name, but then what? Later I learned that they do “whatever it takes” to lure someone out, then rely on the hyped-up emotions stirred up by the Opportunity Night presentation to get them to sign the agreement and pay to join.
Sitting there listening, my mind went back to the phone call that him and I had, when my interview was booked. He had rushed through the call, creating the perception that he was a busy man with many interviews to call for a much-in-demand position, and when I asked the company name he rushed through that part as well. In fact, the only thing I remember from that call was his saying “Citi”… weird. I must be remembering wrong… I tuned back in just in time to hear him say, “well, have you ever heard of Citi?” then pause.
I couldn’t make out the muffled answer but saw his demeanor change to become a bit more aggressive. “Like I said, I own my own business and am looking for some sharp people to add to my team here. As far as positions, I haven’t even met you yet, how could I know what you’re qualified for?” Listening again.. I leaned forward and held my breath to try to hear the woman’s reply through the phone. Something about more information.. John said, crisply, “I’m offering an interview, that’s the first step in the process. Second is you would stay for a career information session at my office with all of the successful interviewees and then I give more information. I spend my time with people who show up.” Another pause, then I saw his face relax a bit as he gave directions for the office and set up an interview for 6:30pm that night.
As he hung up the phone I exhaled to release the tense feeling I felt, then realized I had been holding my breath for most of the call. He went on to make about six more calls, each leaving me a little more tense than the last. He seemed so angry, I thought. Like, if someone asked a question that would be fairly customary in the real world, he really would let off on them with something snippy like “well, I don’t know what you’re worth yet. I don’t even know if you’re someone I want to work with.” But then again, I thought ruefully to myself, maybe he was right and I was too soft. After all, he was the successful one here of the two of us.
Now, of course, I see it through different eyes, more objective and analytical. When you feel the need to bully someone like that, there is something lacking in you. NOT the other person. When you get that defensive and that angry, it’s like you feel the need to justify yourself so you go into defensive mode.
Now I also understand more about “success” too. He did have an office, yes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he made the money to keep it afloat. In fact, given his air of desperation in hard-booking like that, the evidence appeared to point to the contrary. I felt anxiety throughout this whole calling session. I realized, if “success” at PFS meant doing this forever, I might not make it. I just didn’t understand.. when they hired me on they told me that referrals would pour in and “we never cold call.. in fact the company prohibits it!” complete with fake hearty chuckle. Then why was he so eager to get ahold of my stack of resumes, leads I had paid for?? Didn’t add up.
That night I came back to the office a bit before 6, when the first interview had been set for. I was the first one there so I put the lights on and tidied up a bit. Promptly at six a man walked in and introduced himself and said he was there for an interview with John. I pasted a smile on my face and said “of course, he’s expecting you, he just stepped out for a few minutes” though inside I was fuming. Now what?! Did he expect me to conduct this interview? Anger gave way to fear.. what if I interviewed him and messed it up and he stormed out of here angry and calling it a scam? John would be furious with me.. I felt paralyzed with indecisiveness.
Now of course, I see several red flags in the situation. A real boss wouldn’t be furious with me for honest fumbling. A real boss would have trained me properly in the first place, not have been so blinded by potential dollar signs and a “taking care of ME first” attitude. Thirdly, in a real job I wouldn’t be so terrified that the person would think “it’s a scam” and I wouldn’t care if they came on board or not.
Fortunately, my paralysis didn’t last long. John breezed through the door and introduced himself then instructed the man to sit down for a few moments; he’d be “right with him”. He went in his office and closed the door. As the man sat looking around at the various posters and motivational items on the walls I felt that anxiety-induced tension again. What should I be doing? Talking to him? No, better not, or John would be angry that I said something wrong. I kept my head down and fiddled with my phone, then shuffled some papers in a folder, desperately trying to look busy and important. Instead my thoughts were screaming through my mind.. really, what was John doing in there?! Why keep this guy waiting, wasn’t that terribly unprofessional and disrespectful?
Sizing up the interviewee’s professional attire I again looked around, feeling self-conscious as I really noticed for the first time how cheap and tacky the office looked with its random motivational decorations and big scoreboard marking sales and recruits. I stared at it blankly for a moment, noticing how low the numbers were. It must be weekly, I thought to myself, no way that’s monthly? It’s the 23rd already, isn’t it? I dismissed the thought as finally, after several minutes, John opened his door and beckoned the man in, intruding himself again.
I got up to follow the man into John’s office but he closed the door. Now I was really confused. I thought I’m supposed to be learning here? I wondered to myself. I started to feel a bit angry as I realized that John wasn’t really interested in teaching me, he just wanted to get any recruits in that he could.
Then I felt a bit ashamed for thinking badly as I remember John’s words to me, that he would always act in my best interest as an expert in building a business. Surely a man that professional-looking would be deterred by someone as inexperienced as me in the room, I rationalized to myself. Okay, made perfect sense. I took a few deep breaths and began to greet reps I knew as they began to enter for the Opportunity Night. There were a few guests, but I kind of nodded and said hi then left them to my much-wiser business mentor so that I not blow it by saying something dumb.
Just before the session started I looked at the guest book and noticed that John had put his name beside most of the new guests, though 4 were a result of my resumes. I furrowed my brow thinking I thought he was making those calls for ME.. shouldn’t I get credit for those names? But I again dismissed the thought, feeling a bit guilty for doubting John. Surely it wouldn’t matter in the end, as long as we get the recruit right?
I was wincing to myself at times, man this guy could be a jackass. I suddenly found his bragging really off-putting. Funny thing is, the first 20 times I heard this same spiel I was envious of his life and attracted to the lifestyle he proclaimed was not only possible, but a given if one followed his leadership. Now, though, I felt different. It just all seemed very cheap and tacky, like the trinkets around the office.
I focused on a plaque over John’s head as he bragged about his family’s last vacation, noting his “highest attained income” splayed across it in huge numbers. Suddenly it occurred to me, who knows what that really means in context. What would that income really be after all expenses, office rents, etc, were deducted? Plus his wife worked full-time here too. Split between two people working full-time, it really wasn’t that impressive. Plus who knew if they actually still earned that? There was literally no way of knowing. Even asking the guy flat-out wouldn’t help, he was pretty slick and dodgy at answering direct, factual-type, questions.
I looked back to John, who had now moved on to the “hard close” part of the presentation. He had become quite animated now, telling the audience about “what all was included” for the fee. I noticed several of the new people in the front row looked very restless, like they just wanted to get out of there. I checked my watch. An hour and a half already? Oh jeez.. he told them on the phone it was a “quick 40-minute session.” Again, the little lie bothered me.
Randomly the thought popped into my head, he also said working 2-5 hours a week would mean an extra $1-2000 a month for your family but I quickly dismissed that thought. It would be too painful to add up all the hours, dollars, and gas I had so far invested into this “business”.
The evening eventually came to an end, and I watched John as he scored 2 new recruits. I wanted to be pumped but I found it hard to ignore the fact that John had blatantly lied when the professional-looking man had asked if there were any additional costs other than the $99. John said no.. yet I knew that wasn’t true. I also knew what John would say if I asked him about that one. Same thing as he told me when I asked him why I hadn’t been told about the fee to write the state exam: “we give recruits information on a need-to-know basis.. too much information would overload your mind and paralyze you from making smart business decisions.”
Once the new recruits, the professional-looking man and a scared-looking, awkward young guy who looked about 20 and was wearing ripped jeans and left on a bicycle, had left, John was photocopying the paperwork to put in the mailbag for tomorrow. I noticed that he put me as a recruiter on one of them, and himself on the other. I raised my eyebrow, curious as to how he could explain that one away. He noticed, and must have read my mind because he said in an argumentative way, “hey, I need something to show for my time too right. It won’t end up mattering in the long run anyway, you’ll have enough new recruits to train.” I nodded silently, not wanting an argument. Deep down I felt angry.. what part of this was training to help ME? I realized, for the tenth time that night, that this guy was an asshole, and that was most likely what had halted his progress in his business.
We walked out to our cars, him telling me about how successful the evening had been. He clapped me on the shoulder with a hearty “see you tomorrow for training!” and I watched him climb into his beat-up Honda civic. I had heard him talk many times about the cars and houses that the top leaders in the company owned, and had asked him when he was going to get the viper posted on his wall.
I remembered now, although I didn’t pay attention then, how defensive he had gotten as he told me he was “too wise to throw away money on a car”. Baffled, I shook my head. What’s this guy’s deal anyway? Discouraged, I climbed into my own car and went home. I wasn’t really looking forward to more training in the morning, but figured with the scared-looking new teenage recruit coming, John would at least be in his “jovial, upbeat” mood. It was sure better than his “you guys aren’t doing anything, you’re being a bunch of losers” talks he usually gave at training meetings. I shook my head, frustrated again, starting to wonder how long it would take til I would really succeed at this. Wondering if it was even actually possible.