I was committed to my new adventure as an Executive Coach, looking forward to acquiring and working with many of my former colleagues as clients. I didn’t see myself buying anything other than a website and business cards, so I didn’t remember the caveat emptor (a.k.a. let the buyer beware) principle.

My new website went live, and I was bombarded with calls—not looking for my services but rather wanting me to buy their services. These callers all wanted to promote, develop and expand my new business. When I say bombarded, I mean tens of tens of tens of these types of calls.

Many were extremely persuasive to a new entrepreneur. “If you don’t do this, these terrible things will happen,” or, “Do this and clients will flock to your door!” And on and on. They were successful in making me nervous.

I knew NOTHING about starting, operating or marketing a for-profit business. Nothing. I was a sitting duck, and the marketing hunters had a bead on me in a heartbeat. I was anxious, uncertain, and vulnerable.

A few times in the beginning, I bought the threat and got burned. For example, I paid for a conference that would solve all of my problems. (I didn’t even have any problems, but I was so worried that I might that I bought the pitch.) It was great training in hucksterism. I’ve never seen or experienced anything like it–like I would imagine a tent revival meeting. In retrospect, it was a kind of religion—and most of the other 800 attendees seemed to be willing to add a lot to the rather large collection plate that was frequently passed.

The session opened with a dazzling video featuring the company’s founder and chief preacher, followed by a come to the Lord sermon. Promises of business salvation with his help were thrown out in abundance. Books, audio cassettes, DVDs were pushed in our faces as our lifeline to avoid failure. I kept thinking to myself, “What are you doing here and why in the world did you pay for this?” However, since I had paid, I stayed.

Midpoint in the second day, the flamboyant, confident, high-flying leader of this marketing church brought his microphone up to my face in an attempt to engage me in a role play sales pitch.

“Good morning, ma’am and how are you today?” he asked, grinning at the room—and at the constantly rolling video cameras.

“I’m fine,” I said

“Fantastic! I could tell that from the minute I saw you. You are not only fine, but you are fantastic. And do you know how you could be even more fantastic?” Before I could even blink, he said, “Well, let me tell you.”

He gave me a hyped-up, two-minute, breathless pitch about one of his products (in his satchel). He paused briefly to ask, “Well?”

I said, “That’s interesting. How much?”

“Well, let’s not rush to the details. Let me tell you more about…(XYZ, Blah blah blah and then finally, a pause)…Well?”

“Like I said, it’s interesting but how much?”

He tried again, got the same reply, and then he pulled back. “Well, obviously,” he said, a little huffily, “you’re not the right target for this product!” And he turned to find another sucker down the aisle.

My plane wasn’t scheduled to leave until 7 p.m. that night but I was at the airport by 2 p.m.

On the way home, I thought, “Am I the only one who asks how much?” I had years of experience as a CEO of people pitching products, services, geniuses, solutions and miracles. I learned to ask how much early on—and if the seller didn’t respond, I would either end the conversation or walk out. The guy at the conference had a special genius for finding people who were willing to waste minutes, hours, days listening to a pitch that was beyond silly hype—and emptying their pockets of cash.

And empty their pockets for the hype they did. Before I left, I walked past the sales table and realized the beautifully packaged sets of DVDs were videos of previous conferences (remember those constantly rolling video cameras?)! Participants had purchased so many there were only a few left for sale.

While this was a total waste of my money, energy, and time in terms of acquiring business revenue for me, it also taught me a lesson. I learned how to avoid attending one of these creepy events in the future. And yes, part of my strategy is to stop answering the phone.

Here are some other things I learned about managing a Pitch Person:

  • Give them a chance. If the Pitch Person hasn’t answered your questions directly, offer them one last chance to do so. If they still don’t answer them, end the conversation.
  • Get to the meat of the proposition sooner rather than later. If the Pitch Person repeats the same information in three different ways, back up and ask for the “beef.” If no meat is forthcoming, ask where the restroom is–and climb out the window!
  • Make it more comfortable for you. If the Pitch Person stands too close, talks too loud or too fast and seems to have something useful to say, ask him or her to back up, and to please speak more slowly. Note: If there is no change in his or her behavior, beware. You might be the intended prey of a Huckster (although, to be fair it might be an amateur that hasn’t learned to be more skilled in the art of “the pitch”).
  • Listen with an open mind, regardless of the style of the pitch. Whatever the Pitch Person does to win you over or with how much volume they use to drown out your doubts, listen with a third ear and politely. Not all pitches are useless; some pitch people may just be over enthusiastic about a good product—one that can, in fact, help you be more successful.
  • Probably most critical, have a solid business plan. Before you do anything else. In it, identify what you must buy to be successful plus what you can’t live without—and stick to it!

The conference I attended didn’t help my business, but it was a valuable lesson managing the outcome of superb hucksterism. I learned how to recognize it, how to sidestep it—and occasionally, how to take advantage of it.