In the spirit of Halloween, I thought I would share a real-life horror story. Be warned! This is a psychological thriller that taps into every solopreneur’s deepest fears.
We are all afraid of being too aggressive, annoying, or off-putting when marketing and selling our brand. And for good reason.
I recently was on the receiving end of an off-the-charts-sleezy sales pitch. And I mean GROSS. Think of everything you personally hate about salespeople, and the things we joke about as a culture. The bait-and-switch, the manipulation, trying to shame or scare customers into buying – this woman did it ALL. The whole experience was a master class on How to Disrespect and Devalue Customers.
Here’s what went down.
It all started on LinkedIn. I accepted a connection, who then messaged me a link to a webinar they thought I might find interesting about how to generate business leads on LinkedIn. I have recently been exploring how to use LinkedIn more effectively in my business, so I thought, what the heck? I’m curious, why not check it out? And that’s where this sales-pitch-horror-story began.
Red flag #1: The webinar platform wouldn’t work. At all. It was clearly an evergreen webinar, but I couldn’t access it. The system would count down the minutes to the top-of-the-hour start time, only to reset the timer for another hour instead of starting the webinar at the appointed time.
For a self-proclaimed “INTERNATIONAL #1 BEST SELLING AUTHOR!” this seemed like something that should be in working order. Especially since, as I suspected and was able to confirm later, this woman’s “big ticket” program offer was to teach people this exact process – how to invite people to your evergreen webinar via LinkedIn to generate leads. If you’re going to claim massive six figure earnings from a system you teach, it helps if your system isn’t overtly and obviously malfunctioning.
Red flag #2. The webinar was like a monster truck commercial. After messaging the LinkedIn contact I finally got access to a recording of the webinar. While I will say that there was some intelligent content on the webinar (though none of it new or earth-shattering), the delivery was gawd awful.
Remember those monster truck ads they used to run on TV? They would show a monster truck driving over a heap of scrap metal cars, with a deep, course and shout-y voiceover. MONSTER TRUCKS! COMING JULY TO FOXBOROUGH STADIUM! IT WILL BE THE MOST AWESOME AND DESTRUCTIVE EVENT EVER!!!
Similarly, the entire webinar was delivered in an all-caps, shout-y, shriek-y voice, except it was female and had a southern accent. Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous. But no, I’m not kidding. I seriously couldn’t make this stuff up. IF YOU WANT TO MAKE MONEY, IN YOUR BUSINESS, THEN YOU NEED TO DO (pause while I read my script in the middle of my webinar) X-Y-Z RIGHT NOW!!!!! Thanks for the tip. And the headache.
Sidebar: You’re probably wondering why I bothered to listen through to the end. Like why does that character always go into the creepy basement alone in a horror movie? Good question. Mostly, I was still curious about what the LinkedIn strategy was. So despite the early and obvious red flags, I decided to go through the process to satisfy my curiosity. That, and I was already taking notes for this blog post while I listened to the webinar. I know a teachable moment when I see one. (And while it was definitely creepy, there was no scary basement.)
Red Flag #3. The strategy session calendar tech was super glitchy and unprofessional. Ok, so at the end of the webinar, the next step, of course, was a strategy session with “someone on my team.” As with the webinar sign-up, the tech was glitchy. I had to sign up several times, each time having to fill in a series of required questions that apparently weren’t being saved by the system. When I finally got a confirmation and a reminder email, I was asked to answer the “mandatory” questions yet another time. Fifth time’s a charm, right?
So I showed up for the 30 minute call as planned.
Red flag #4. Disrespecting my time and treating me like I was born yesterday. Unsurprisingly, the strategy session itself over-promised and under-delivered. Now admittedly, I’m writing this post from a jaded perspective, after the fact. But at the time of the call I remained open minded and curious. I am all about giving people the benefit of the doubt. And that’s what I did. (That wasn’t sarcasm. I really did go into the conversation with an open mind.)
So 90 minutes later…I finally got off the 30 minute call. Now there are times when my own strategy sessions (and probably yours, too) go over a little, but never without checking in with the person I’m talking to in order to make sure we can continue our conversation a little longer, and only if we’re both engaged and willing to continue.
I would never schedule a 30 minute call and drag it out for 90 minutes. And I do say drag it out, because this strategy session was so obviously scripted I was almost able to write out her checklist of questions.
Ms. Monster Truck started off by asking me questions for 55 minutes straight, demonstrating poor active listening skills by repeating back what I said periodically, but doing so inaccurately. (Translation: didn’t really care, wasn’t really listening. Just following her script.)
It was obvious that her questions were part of a checklist. She was like a lawyer in court leading the witness, asking me five leading questions to fish around for information that answered the one, real question she wanted the answer to. At one point I called her out on it. “Are you asking if I have a program that I could run as evergreen?” Just freakin’ ask me what you want to know. No need for this BS runaround.
Red flag #5. Total failure to convey value. When her script finally reached a turning point, she switched from interrogating me to talking at me for 15 minutes straight about the “huge” value of her “life changing” offer. Needless to say, it was utterly unconvincing.
Her offer was essentially an 8 week evergreen program that would teach me how to make up to $25k per month selling my own high-four-figure evergreen program using the Linked-In/Webinar/Strategy Session approach I was in the middle of experiencing with Ms. Monster Truck.
Now theoretically, from a strategic standpoint, selling fewer items with a higher price point is smart. My problem with her offer is that in the world of coaching, professional development, and online information and education products, the evergreen program is typically your LOWEST priced item, if you even have one at all. And there’s a reason for that.
Evergreen programs typically run all the time, and work best with a self-serve, self-paced model. Evergreen programs are by their very name and nature automated. This makes it challenging to include live, in-person support to clients in evergreen programs. And while it’s not impossible, evergreen programs are not an ideal format for providing the high-value, high-touch support that make high-ticket programs worthy of their high-ticket price tags.
That’s why I didn’t feel paying $8000 (her initial price point) for an 8-week self-study evergreen program (later reduced to the “amazing” deal of just $5000) was not only not worth it, it was highway robbery.
It was also evident her offer was preying on a common emotional trigger used in sales tactics directed at coaches. Make a lot of money quickly, without doing a lot of work. You’ve seen it before. Be a six figure coach! Make six figures in six months!
In fairness, Ms. Monster Truck was at a disadvantage, considering she was pitching this concept to me, and I happen to specialize in helping clients create and leverage programs strategically as part of their business model.
But even without the advantage of my own expertise and ability to see the faults in her offer, she failed to convey true value. Because she talked at me, not to me. Because she was all hype, and no substance. Because she failed to relate her offer to ME and my personal situation. (And after 55 minutes of interrogation about me and my business, she really missed the boat on that opportunity!)
Simply dangling the prospect of YOU COULD MAKE MORE MONEY!!!!! THIS IS SUCH EASY MONEY YOU’LL BE A BILLIONAIRE BY THE END OF NEXT QUARTER!!!!! …is not the way to convey value to prospective clients. You can quote me on that.
Red Flag #6. Shaming the customer into buying. This part of the encounter was by far the most chilling. After her pitch, I politely declined and explained that I didn’t feel her offer was a good fit for me. She proceeded to try to shame me into buying her program, telling me, “Well, not everyone is willing to do what it takes to uplevel their business.” If you didn’t catch her condescending tone there, allow me to emphasize it for you now.
It was at this point in the conversation that I politely cracked open a can of professionally-worded whoopass and called her out on trying to shame me into buying something I didn’t want. After which she made lots of excuses and got off the phone with me in a hurry.
There is no excuse for treating a customer this way. Ever. There’s nothing wrong with getting curious about why your program isn’t a fit for a customer and addressing their concerns or objections. But it’s never ok to try to get a sale by condescending them or trying to shame them into spending. Ever.
Red Flag #6.5. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse… You can imagine my reaction when a couple of hours later I found an email from her in my inbox. It was a lengthy replay of the shame-game. She told me how shocked she was that I thought her program was expensive because (obviously) it would help me make $25k per month in 8 weeks time and allow me to work only 20 hours per week. (Wow!)
To justify her pricing, she said, “The shorter, faster, and bigger the outcome, the bigger the value.” That may be true, but not without QUALITY and actual VALUE, both of which she failed to convey at every step of the experience. She went on to say that the only other person who had said her program was too expensive was a coach who wasn’t making any money and “doesn’t have any clients himself, so go figure.”
Just when I thought she couldn’t be any more unprofessional or gross, she went there. She was 100% committed to being right, and to making me wrong. If only she were as committed to true service, honesty, and integrity. But she wasn’t.
Red Flag #7. Misrepresentation of your qualifications and achievements. Ms. Monster Truck claimed to be a “INTERNATIONAL #1 BEST SELLING AUTHOR!” and made claims of being highly established and reputable in her business. But her Facebook page and other social media told a different story. I would expect an actual best selling author, even one who doesn’t actively promote their social media presence, to have more than 100 likes on their Facebook page. And a reputable author-coach claiming to have a profitable business and steady clientele usually has a social media presence consisting of more than endless solicitations and ads on their Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.
Everyone has to start somewhere, and that’s ok. I’m not saying you can’t claim credibility and expertise just because you don’t have 10,000 followers on your social media accounts. None of us instantly have hundreds or thousands of followers online, and not all of us use social media the same way. However, don’t blatantly misrepresent your level of success or achievements. Especially when they are verifiable online.
The moral of the story…
I’m fortunate to be in the company of so many well-respected and professional coaches and entrepreneurs in my world. And because I am surrounded with such upstanding, respectable peers, I sometimes forget that there are some people out there who embody the scary, sleezy sales stereotype we all loathe and avoid. It’s a real thing. People actually still use these tactics. And unfortunately, it often gives the rest of us in the coaching business a bad name. And that is the biggest horror of all.
But you and me, we don’t have to play that game. We don’t have to be that person. In fact, this whole experience has been a great reminder of how important it is to invest the time and energy to learn respectful, authentic, relationship-building ways to market our business and sell our services. We need to take responsibility and stand up for our profession by setting the tone, and leading by example.
It’s not easy mastering the marketing and sales skills that bring a business to life. But it’s 100% worth it. Your business can’t survive without it. And bonus – you’ll avoid becoming a cautionary tale.
Do you have a scary sales story? Share in the comments below!