Competition Marketing Group / Smart CircleDeceptive employment practices

W Review updated:

Hello to all. I'm guessing many of you have come upon this after a google search for "Competition Marketing Group" (henceforth referred to as "CMG"), or one of its affiliates, maybe even after being offered and interview or a position with them. Congratulations, I'm here to help you out. For the sake of clarity I'll say that I'm referring to the Laurel, MD office, run by Mike Maher under the CMG moniker but with a couple affiliated "firms" including (though not limited to) Lead Inc. (which, I believe, deals in home improvement leads) and Primal Events (not sure what they do, but "events" tend to be situations where the firm pays a business, like a gas station, store, or office, to allow us to set up outside and sell our wares). I worked for Mike at CMG for several months, and in the interest of fairness I will say that Mike is by no means a bad guy; he's not the brightest bulb in the box, but, as far as I can tell, he harbors no malice toward his employees and he genuinely wants to help the people who work for him. That said, CMG, and indeed all the Smart Circle International subsidiary firms (there must be thousands in the US alone), is a disingenuous, misleading, downright shady organization that promises far more than it could ever deliver and even outright lies to its employees.

Now, there are countless stories on this site (which is great, by the way) about how the various Smart Circle "firms" are scams and rip-offs, how people have had their money tied up, their cars ruined, even their lives shattered by working with one of these companies. A quick search of this site for "smart circle" will turn up dozens of these, and please, do read them; they are good indicators of the type of experience you could have working with CMG. These stories are, of course, the extreme, but they are by no means the exceptions to the rule. I'll keep it short and sweet for the benefit of everyone, but basically, CMG and the other Smart Circle subsidiaries hire people en masse by selling them hard on becoming a manager. Within 6-8 months, they enthusiastically claim, you could be running your own office, with dozens of employees and making six figures. That's an alluring pitch, is it not? Especially if you are a recent college graduate or coming straight from high school, if you've been unemployed, etc, the idea of making that much money in such a short time is amazing! It's not at all your fault for being duped; it happened to me and countless other people. I am here to tell you, however, that there is almost no chance you will become an owner. Think about it for a moment: when you did your first interview (or if you have yet to, consider how quickly they contacted you and how impersonal it was), did you notice the dozens of people in the waiting room? Most of these people end up being hired, I can tell you from experience, and most leave the company very quickly (within a week or so), and ALL of these people were sold on the dream of running their own office. But the numbers just don't work out: are all 15 (or 30, or 50) people in an office going to run their own office someday? Are there simply so many people who want to buy our products that we just can't open offices fast enough, and we want to put YOU on the fast-track to running one? No, that's ridiculous. But that's more or less what they expect you to believe, so please, listen and understand when I say that you WILL NOT become a manager, no matter how often they tell you that by following their "system", which is really nothing of substance, and by working hard you can achieve your goals. It is, for lack of a better term, BS.

Frankly, this way of doing business is immoral - they are using naive, often young and desperate employees as "independent distributors" to make a quick buck for themselves, and sell people hard on the idea that if they stick with it, they can succeed and then sit back and rake in the cash. Sounds too good to be true, right? It is. If you've ever seen the film "Boiler Room", your experience at CMG and other Smart Circle firms will seem strangely similar: loud "psych-up" music, machismo, lots of yelling (which is especially not cool when one is hungover) general shadiness (i.e. not detailing how compensation works or where the money comes from), etc. They are taking advantage of their employees. Obviously, a few people do make it to owner status, but that is the vast vast minority, and no reasonably human being could hope to attain that position. I can't attest to what being an owner is like, but another quick search on this site should turn up stories of being woefully underpaid and ripped-off by the head office, so it seems that even if you defy the odds and become an owner, you still get screwed over and lied to.

You can read the horror stories elsewhere on this site, but I'll give you a quick rundown of what your job at CMG will be like. Essentially, you spend most of the day walking around from one business to another trying to sell them these cards, which are basically coupons for anything from oil changes to paintball passes to baseball/basketball tickets. I can't attest to the validity of these cards (or "merch", as they are obnoxiously known), and I haven't personally heard of any problems with people redeeming the coupons (although, remember "Boiler Room", they might just shield the employees from these reports). The Better Business Bureau has a few complaints on their site about cards that were basically scams and were not valid, but I've given my phone number to many, many people that I've sold to and I've never received a single complaint call, so as far as I know, the cards themselves are legitimate. The actual working can be very frustrating and difficult, especially if hungover, but can also be fun. Talking to a lot of random people improves your people skills tremendously, and the proportion of people I encountered that were friendly and polite helped reaffirm my faith in the human race. Overall though, it's a pain in the butt, and if you don't bring maximum energy and effort every day, you won't make much money, as compensation is all based on commission, and there is no base salary. Based on the time you arrive at the office in the morning and the time you leave in the evening. you may well spend 12-13 hours a day at "work", which means that the $120 you made isnt all that great in terms of wages. And if you made $40 in a day (which happens, a lot, to everyone), well, you're SOL. The rejection you deal with on a daily basis and the way you will be treated by your superiors is ridiculous and occasionally humiliating. One of my former co-workers put it well when he said (making a reference that few of the uncultured, uneducated people at CMG or Smart Circle in general would understand), "There should be a sign on the front of the office, 'Abandon dignity, all ye who enter here'". In general, the managers and owner of CMG are just oddly vague about everything. I was promised $50 per day while training, for instance, but never received the money and every time I asked about it, they changed the subject. It seems like an odd way for people in a supposedly legitimate company to act, right?

The next issue I'd like to address is the general culture and psychology of CMG and its affiliates. I can't personally tell you what other firms in other cities are like, but based on the stories on this site and my general assumptions, I'm fairly certain they are quite similar. Their entire firm is based on getting you, the entry level employee, to do a ridiculous amount of work for very little money. You could walk away with $100-$150 for a day, sure, but the work you put in and the humiliation you endure far exceed that. Mike, the owner, makes almost as much from each card you sell as you do, and the head office gets a nice cut as well, but you do all the work. It's pretty unfair, by any standard. The basically want you to buy in, hard, to their philosophy and essentially give all your time and life over to them. For instance, you are strongly encourage (i.e. pretty much fired if you don't do it) to arrive at 7:30am every morning, even though you don't leave the office until well after 9am, to practice your pitches and chat with co-workers about sales strategies. While it is certainly helpful to get into a sales mindset before setting out, and while the practice is helpful, I can't help but think that if I got 90 minutes of additional sleep I would be a much better salesmen. They are not open to this, or really to any ideas that deviate from their planned agenda for things, at all. After returning from the field no earlier than 5:30pm, you are again strongly encouraged to stay at least an hour to discuss what was successful and what wasn't, etc. Anything that occurs outside of the realm of the work is strongly frowned upon, e.g. spending time with family, friends, or, god-forbid, recreational activities. Without giving away too much about myself, I had an outside job and Mike repeatedly suggested I quit it, regardless of my ties with that firm, etc, and scoffed at the idea that I would want to work anywhere else. Essentially, they require you to align your life with CMG and promise that it will pay off. Boy howdy, I will say it again, it will not pay off. You will not become an owner. A great resource, if you want to know more about Smart Circle as a rip-off, is the guide found here: Chapter 3, Atmosphere and Psychology, is particularly evocative of the Hitler Youth (obvious exaggeration, but in retrospect there are some eerie similarities!). Finally, there's just something strange about the office. Everyone is overly enthusiastic, people speak in vague generalities about how the business works and how compensation is organized, and everyone seems kind of impersonal, which makes sense when you consider the ridiculous turnover rate and the fact that dozens of people start work and quit every week.

I've saved up the most vitriolic of my scorn for a man whom, if you do end up working for CMG (don't do that, by the way), you may never meet. If you do, though, please be wary. His name is Carl Foss. I'm not precisely sure of his position, but he's been with the company for many years, owns many offices, and, it seems, is fairly wealthy. He is one of Mike's many bosses and occasionally visits the CMG office This man is not to be trusted. He is not to be admired. If anything, he is to be punched in the face repeatedly, and, if you're in a particularly bad mood, kicked (preferably in the ribs) while on the ground. Mr. Foss' much-hyped visit to the CMG office was one of the most miserable experiences of my admittedly-young life. We were told that Carl is a great businessman, salesman, and entrepreneur, and that we could learn a lot from him. His big motivational speech, however, consisted of him writing numbers on a marker-board detailing the logistics of how one could become fabulously wealthy by working for Smart Circle and even a mathematical breakdown of why working for any other company or making any other life decisions is laughably stupid. His worship of money was sickening, and I was repulsed enough to leave the room mid-speech. Frankly, it took all my bodily restraint not to shove a marker down his throat. He is so ignorant, arrogant and condescending that his speech led me to conclude that people like him are very much what is wrong with this country. His open disavowing of any job that, god-forbid, helps people or works toward a greater cause was sickening. The worst part of all, however, was how he paid lip-service to other "lifestyles", as he called them. "This job is not for everyone", he declared, "and everyone has different values". Again, this recalls the film "Boiler Room", and the implication, as anyone in the room at the time could tell you, was that people who don't work for him are worthless suckers, and other ways of like are simply wrong. It is sickening, and if you ever work for CMG or another Smart Circle firm (I can't imagine you will, if you've read this whole thing), and you do meet Carl, do me a favour and run him over with a vehicle of some kind. He has a young child though, so don't hit him too hard.

I'll sum things up for you guys briefly: DO NOT work for Competition Marketing Group, or any company affiliated with Smart Circle, DS-MAX, Cydcor or Granton Marketing (a name I believe is out of use, but may still come up here and there). They will lie to you, mislead you, promise you impossible things, and sometimes downright remind you of a weird cult. There are stories all over this site of "merch houses", places where large groups of Smart Circle employees live together in less-than-stellar conditions. Weird stuff. They also have the "8 steps to success" and "5 steps to a pitch" posted everywhere on the walls, as if something so complex could be listed like that. Just another indication of their arrogance and ignorance. Do yourself a favour and do not even show up to the interview; perhaps even do show up, then walk out in the middle just to waste their time. You'd be doing humanity a great service. The employees there are not bad people at all, just a little naive and easily seduced by the promise of riches. Don't waste your time and money like they are doing. Don't work for CMG.


  • C
      Aug 26, 2009

    Dear waryharry,

    The Smart Circle reaches out to many marketing firms, such as CMG, to serve as local, independent distributors of our cards. Each independent firm recruits and trains its own sales force in-house, not through The Smart Circle. As you discovered, a lot of hard work and long hours go into the opportunity in order to be successful. Because of this fact, we also believe that this particular line of business and sales is not suited for everyone.

    Numerous sales representatives have achieved a higher level of responsibility and financial growth through this channel and these individuals have helped expand the network of distributors available to properly and professionally represent The Smart Circle and our clients. This is why we continue to seek locally-based firms to work with as on-the-ground extensions of our marketing campaigns.

    Our organization strives to bring the highest degree of professionalism and quality to our clients and consumers across the country. We are very sorry to hear about your experience with this particular office and assure you that we do not condone any misrepresentation made by this local firm or its staff related to partnerships, clients or career opportunities. As is our standard policy, we will look into this matter further and examine the office’s recruiting system as it relates to the use of The Smart Circle’s name and / or products.

    Thank you for your feedback - we wish you the best of luck in all your future endeavors.

    Please feel free to contact us at [protected] with any questions.

    Customer Care
    The Smart Circle

    -1 Votes
  • B
      Oct 09, 2009


    +1 Votes
  • S
      Jan 27, 2010

    Rockin! I can't believe this is still around. Of course, Smart Circle also sells these promotions direct via their website -

    I interviewed - and actually went on the all day training - almost 14 years ago.

    The explained the program like this:

    - the businesses pay nothing for the promotion cards/packages. They simply agree to honor the "deals." This can be based on limited quantity, or whatever they agree on (say, no more than 100 will be sold).

    - the company pays less than $1/ea to have the cards/packages printed. So, the $40 package has a $39 profit.

    - they basically pay the "employees" around $10 for each card/package sold. So, $29 profit to the office/company for doing nothing.

    - cash paid out daily to the "employees." Nothing was ever mentioned about deducting for taxes, benefits, etc.

    - they are "so busy" that they are constantly looking for "sharp" people to be owners and open their own business! In fact, the office I interviewed with (in McLean, VA) had only been open a few weeks, so pardon the unfinished look on the rented office, they are still getting settled! And, actually the "owner" had just made it as he was moving from North Carolina and opening his 2nd office...after starting with the company in Georgia!

    The owner looked a little perturbed as a laughed at him and his offer of a commission sales job! "So, no salary, no benefits, and door to door sales? Sorry, that won't pay my $15k in credit card bills."

    +1 Votes
  • J
      Apr 08, 2010

    I worked for CMG for a few months.. Very Weird office, always looks like they just moved in. The most weirdest thing was getting Cash everyday.. i didn't understand how that worked. that seemed sketchy. Another thing was the LONG hours. working from 7:30am to 7:30pm and most of the time pulling in about 50 bucks a day sucks. what Waryharry wrote is Completely Correct. i Experienced the same thing he did.. DO Not work for cmg

    0 Votes
  • T
      Jun 08, 2011

    Dear whoever from Smart Circle that responded to this person's post,
    You must be on crack, because it is NOT just that one office that does this. Perhaps if you'd trained your people from the get go to not push long hours for so little money into their distributors heads, you would not see that SO many of your offices have similar complaints. Maybe if you all weren't money hungry butt pirates you'd see that all you are is a giant crock of bull. I worked for you for 3 weeks and literally had a break down the last week because of how you condition your people to think. THEN!!! I was coerced not once, not twice but three times into staying when I tried to reach out to me lead about quiting. I was so mad to find out that I'd been told one thing, then never corrected about the validity of what I was saying about payment, that when I finally WAS corrected, I quit without bothering to tell your sorry excuse of a business that I was doing so. I decided to not bother wasting my time to drive all the way out to the office after sinking about $300.00 in gas into my car the previous 3 weeks, after my first paycheck only being $180.00 when it should have been $300.00. You are not a legitimate marketing firm, if you were, you'd be hiring marketing graduates and wouldn't look like you just moved into your offices. You'd have an actual HR rep. and not just have your secretary SAYING that she's an HR rep. In fact, when you're hiring people, you wouldn't have them walk in for a five minute interview one day, then have them DRIVE ALL OVER THE EFFING AREA the second day for an "observational interview" wasting their gas before they've even begun. That's the one thing that should have queued me that there was something up with this place more than anything.
    Also, when a place that's hiring you is begging you to work for them because they call their hiring process "closing a deal" because all they care about is recruiting, there's just something not right with that.
    I do not appreciate being told, even after saying 10 times that I will not manipulate people into signing up for something if they don't want it because I'm not comfortable with being a pushy a-hole, that I need to be more aggressive when people say no.
    When I was being interviewed I was told that there were 3 positions open, customer service rep, sales and management. I have a feeling that the only people that didn't get called for a second interview were the ones that said that they wanted anything other than your "management program" which is BULL!!! Those positions don't even exist, the only thing they have to offer is the "management program". I can tell you that there will be some reporting to the BBB very soon from a few of us that worked for Smart Circle, because they are bogus.

    0 Votes
  • M
      Jun 14, 2011

    Absolutely Agree, I quit last week after 4 weeks of the BS in the Cleveland, OH office. Run Like He** from these people. Also, they will "hound" you to come back if you quit. I had to block their number...LOL! I might go Viral on them if I'm bothered again!

    0 Votes
  • D
      Sep 13, 2012

    The Smart Circle isn't just door-to-door, cold calling, or business-to-business direct sales and marketing. The Smart Circle has expanded their divisions to cover a variety of consumer markets. For example: I have been given an opportunity to grow into the Direct TV division in the Midwest. This opportunity is PHENOMENAL!!! No door-to-door, No cold calling, No business-to-business... I get to stand in a Best Buy, or a Sam's Club, or Menard's and talk to people about their TV service!! And get paid a boatload of money doing it.

    I was very skeptical about this at first, then just like clockwork, 3 weeks later after all those sign-ups became installs and now every week I'm on the high-rolling rep list, and my lead owner told me last night that in 90 days I will become incorporated and I WILL be my own boss, he has no option but to promote me because he knows as well as I do I will do whatever it takes to ensure not only is his office successful, but my office will be successful as well.

    No longer will I sign the back of the check, but now I'm going to sign the front.

    I'm really sorry you had such a horrible experience with "CMG" and I know the owner means well, trust me, we all had to start at the Entry Level and work our way up, your lead owner at "CMG" has nothing to do with whether you make it or not -- you do. You set your own goals, and nobody will want this opportunity any more than you want it for yourself.

    Best regards and good luck in all your endeavors,
    WC Martin

    0 Votes
  • Y
      Jun 01, 2016

    I've been working at an office for 9 months and am about to be promoted to assistant manager. I've seen plenty of people come and go and some times it's just too much work for what other things people have going on and that's okay. But most cases are like this. For whatever reason, he blames the office for being too loud when he outright says he was hungover. Why are you getting hammered the night before work? You obviously don't have the work ethic to put your head down and do whatever it takes to get to those management positions and you don't deserve the opportunity when you're just squandering it. I know not many people have that ability, and that's why there's such a high turnaround rate, but those who lash out and blame the company just continue to prove that they would rather have a mediocre job that allows them to drink a lot and don't want to grow as a person and as a professional. Stop blasting a company because you won't accept that you weren't cut out for the job.

    -1 Votes

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