How Not To Sell A Coaching Program


I walked away from an opportunity because something rubbed me the wrong way. Did I do the right thing?

Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, The Netherlands.

I am having a dilemma. Or I had a dilemma but not anymore. But there is still a residue that comes and goes and makes me uncomfortable, curious, frustrated, angry and relieved.

Last Tuesday I was about to spend an enormous amount of money on a coaching program that promises Visionary Business Owners That Have Dreams Of Making A Difference to break through the obstacles that limit them reaching a bigger audience, finding the right clients and create the cash flow that gives space to breathe or — in their words — is in alignment with their purpose (a 6 figure income is suggested). I heard great things about the program from trustworthy people who had a first hand experience. The problem was that with every call I had with the male coach I was feeling annoyed, manipulated and pushed.

It started with an introduction via email by one of their former clients who is raving about them and the gratitude and excitement she feels after breaking through her “money ceiling”. After doing the work with them she now makes much, much more money consistently. (This is how we say that in Europe, in the US you would say she is now consistently making 10K+ per month). After the introduction I was offered a “Complimentary Strategy Session”. Before the session I had to fill in a “Blueprint Assessment Form”.

When the session started strange things happened. The coach started with summing up his successes in business and told me how much money his partner had made in her first year of running some company. In my eyes a person loses his authority when he feels the need to brag about his achievements in the past but I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Later he asked me a couple of good questions, forcing me to define my goals, mission and path. The fact that I find it hard to give clear answers makes it clear that I am not clear on those things. That is good learning. But then he drew conclusions and made assumptions that were not mine. And I noticed that the exact words that I used earlier in the interview were now used against me. Not only is it annoying, it also gives me the feeling that somebody is using a script. That means I am not really talking to a person but to a script, which is quite boring. I started to fold my laundry.

At the end of the session — I was still not clear what the program was about — I heard something interesting. Part of the program was developing a “Signature Talk”, a talk that would make clear who you are and what you have to offer in a way that it would speak to people. This was kind of interesting because I want to learn to become a better public speaker plus I have proven to be not great at selling myself. This sounded like killing 2 birds with 1 stone. I didn’t understand though why it should have taken more than an hour before something interesting came along. I wanted to leave, people were waiting for me. Also the coach had made very clear the complimentary session would take 60 minutes max. But that changed as soon as I showed interest. Now he didn’t want me to hang up because it was too important. I wanted to go and we made a new appointment.

I felt pissed off for having my time disrespected. And in some way I felt violated too: somebody who is using strategy against me to persuade me to do something (aha now I understand why it is called a “Strategy Session”). But I still have the raving testimonial in the back of my head too. I also wonder if this is what the program teaches: how coaches can aggressively sell their programs by getting lots of information out of potential clients and then turning it around, telling them they will be stuck forever with their obstacle unless they hire the right help. Do I want that? Is this a sacrifice I want to make for more financial freedom? Am I stupid or blind for not wanting that?

I had another talk. If you smell like ready to buy you can have a second Complimentary Strategy Session, you see. Now I was presented the deal and if I had decided on the spot the 15k program that was offered to me for 12k would be available for only 9k. I was impressed with the power of persuasion. 9k seemed reasonable all of a sudden. But I bought myself some time. To me it is still an awful lot of money.

During the weekend I spoke with their former clients. Their testimonials were beautiful and felt very sincere. They spoke fondly of their coaches and recommended me to take the step. It had truly transformed their lives. I decided to take the jump. I was shit scared but hey, I walked the streets of Baghdad as the first unarmed and unaccompanied white guy. I should be able to deal with this shit. What helped was that I also met with a former participant of one of my meditation courses who confessed that he likes me now but thought of me as a dickhead the first time we met. If I can make a terrible first impression I should be able to forgive that in another too.

To cut a long story a bit shorter: at the very second I wanted to take a moment to breathe to say “yes” to the program the coach did an intervention that pissed me off completely. I was furious. Still I was not ready to give up. Actually I was ready to throw the money in his face and spit on him. Not so subtle. And then I am not mentioning the thoughts that crossed my mind to jump on a plane and settle this thing mano-a-mano. I send an email that I would pay the down payment when I had cooled off (I was not ready to break my word). Next morning I heard that they “didn’t feel the intimacy” and decided not to work with me. I am quite sure that they would have no problem feeling the intimacy if I had paid by credit card immediately as requested instead of accidentally causing a delay by requesting a PayPal transfer.

I am left with so many questions. Did I make the right decision? Did I make the wrong decision? Would it have worked out if I enrolled into the program or would it have been a miserable journey? There is a famous strength coach that is a judgmental jerk but he is a genius in his field and his workshops are mind-blowing: truly worth attending. I have no doubt that this couple truly facilitates great results too. How much blind spots of a coach should I tolerate and forgive to get what I want to learn? How would my life look like if I had surrendered? Would it have been life-changing? Why is my response to pushiness and persuasion so strong? If somebody is such an amazing coach and salesman how come he can misinterpret me and rub me the wrong way so often in such a short amount of time?

The fact is that the ship has sailed. Although I feel regret I also feel that this is right. I would have liked to find my missing piece of the puzzle but I guess I have to figure it out myself. I decided that I will just do that. That makes me feel relieved.


Photo credit: Flickr / tiagonicastro

About Atalwin Pilon

Atalwin Pilon is a former bad boy from Amsterdam who had an experience of spiritual awakening at 32. Since that moment he committed to the truth and lives from his heart. Currently he is traveling the world on a quest for meaning, aiming to make a difference. Follow him on his blog Basic Goodness, Facebook and Twitter. You can try him out as your life coach too, if his voice speaks to you. Email him. He will be honored.


  1. Thank you for your responses! I have a question. When I speak about this with my friends – I live in Amsterdam and my nationality is Dutch – without exception the response: ‘oh, that is so typically American’. But that response doesn’t really clarify anything for me. Assuming that most readers and commenters are American: does the described sales process feel familiar to you? Is it considered a fair and accepted way of selling something? What is the rationale behind it?

    For example: if I offer somebody a free session it will be actually a session where I want us to find out if my approach feels beneficial to the potential coachee. I will not talk about how great my coaching is and how many people I have helped, I will show how I work. Is that uncommon?

    • Cornelius Walker says:

      The tactics used on you are standard sales practices used to “overcome resistance” during closing. There are books and coaching sessions for sales people to teach them how to make the sell, just as they are offering you coaching sessions to “break through your money ceiling.” (When I broke through my ceiling all I found was plaster, lathe, and a couple decades of rodent feces – I hope they provide better results.)

      In my experience, this method of selling is almost always used when the value of the product being sold is out of alignment with the price. Warren Buffet doesn’t have to use pushy sales people to drum up attendance for his seminars – his track record in the financial markets speaks for itself and people attend based on that record. Whenever someone asks me to make a decision on the spot I always tell them, “I need some time to think about it. If you need an answer right now, my default answer is ‘no’.” If the opportunity is legitimate, why should they have a problem with your taking some time to reflect upon the offer?

      Always beware someone offering a low price but only if you act now. For seminars and conferences where they need to commit to 3rd parties based on anticipated attendance, they provide an “early bird” registration period that is known ahead of time. This is a legitimate practice. Offers that are “only valid today” are based on their knowledge that with the added pressure of the expiring offer you’ll be 10% likely to part with $2000 today, but only 5% likely that you’ll part with $3000 tomorrow.

  2. I’m currently working with a life coach, partly as a training opportunity to see how this works, mostly to get over some humps/blocks I need to address. What I’ve noticed is how important it is to feel understood. Would this program, based on real life experience during the sales process, treat the person like the unique individual they are? It doesn’t sound like it.

    Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts.

  3. I think your “gut” or intuition was screaming at you that this was not a good fit, but you were swayed to ignore it because of the glowing reviews. I definitely think you made the right decision. I personally think testimonials are a waste of time. Another person’s experience can never be your own!

    I think the Universe was watching out for you when they decided you were not “right.”

  4. I had a similar strategy session with a writing coach, when I attended a writers’ conference. This woman pushed hard, and boy, do I NOT like pushy sales pitches. I immediately felt my hackles raise, like my inner voice had said “Something’s not right here!” I was fairly interested in the program, even after being told the price of $2K. It sounded like a great opportunity from a woman who was there as a paid faculty member, so I trusted that she’d been “vetted” by the state writers’ guild. But she was just so pushy it was a huge turn-off. When she said the $2K was a one-time offer and that if I didn’t sign up right away, the price would go up to $3K the NEXT DAY, red flags went up everywhere around me. Well, is this “program” worth $3K or not? Why the F is it cheaper if I do it right this second, without consulting my husband? Two grand might not be a lot to some people, but that kind of money decision MUST be discussed with my spouse! No way could I commit to it on the spot, was she crazy? I told her this (not the ‘crazy’ accusation!), and her reaction was to get even more pushy, throwing in her past achievements and success of “former clients.” I said thanks but no thanks. Now that I’ve looked further at her website and social media, I realize she sends out spam, spam, and more SPAM, and hardly has any real interaction with people. I am so glad I didn’t get swept up in her promises. I can think of a great many other ways that I can improve my writing, without spending that kind of money–or even spending the money taking some courses, where I would at least have something to show for it in the end, like a degree or certificate. I say if a “coach” comes across as a smarmy salesperson, then he/she IS just that–a smarmy salesperson who is not out to help you. He’s helping his pocketbook. Trust your instincts AND let yourself sleep on it, always.

  5. It sounds like there were many learnings from this experience and exchange. I encourage you to trust your Self. And it might be worth your while to dig into those areas where you felt “triggered.” Regardless of their motives – you may never know nor does it really matter and yet, our own expansion comes often when we follow our own line of energy to the core judgement. It always leads to liberation for me. For your consideration.

  6. You made the right choice.

    I have a friend who runs an audio/video company, and he used to film these things. They are about conning desperate people. The most important business lesson is “trust your gut”, which you did.

    People who have actually made it in business don’t need to run a coaching program. They usually give away their advice for free.

  7. Cornelius Walker says:

    What exactly is a “money ceiling?”

    It sounds like they’ve broken through their money ceiling by finding a way to get people to split with their hard-earned cash based on little more than vague promises and sales-babble. Nice work if you can get it.

  8. There’s a difference between the physical (Strength coach) and the , how to put, human interactive, sales industry. Look, I work in the physical end of things (Heavy Construction) so maybe I’m out of my league here, but by following your base instinct , I truly feel you made the right decision. I mean, think about it, if you do something now that you’re not comfortable with now,do you really think you’ll be comfortable with it down the road?

    • Sales, management and entrepreneurial skills can all be taught, and many older men like to mentor young up and coming businessmen (it’s fun). The problem is the specific person who is trying to sell mentor services to the author of the post.

      Maybe Tom Matlack could write a much better article about business mentoring and how to get/give it.

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