Walk-Up Sales Pitches

My [new] wife and I are out in Hawaii checking out the sands and crashing waves of the North Shore, and we’re approached by a man looking straight at me saying, “you look like you’re from around here”. I’m dressed like I am definitely not–pure “tourist” on me. But I know what he’s up to. Before he walked up to us, he grabs a binder, and his face is beaming.

This man proceeded to pitch my wife and I on the problems of rusty, beaten-up old barrels the government is using as trashcans on beaches. Well, he started off showing his business license (a welcome surprise to help bring some legitimacy to his walk-up pitches). Then, the man shows us pictures of these horrendous barrels (much like those used for oil) that are rusty. They’re not only ugly but they are dangerous with their sharp rusty hulls and polluting our environment. He’s got a solution, of course–safe, durable plastic barrels. Oh, but there’s more! They can also be wrapped with beautiful art. In fact, this is his main pitch. He wants to not only provide / fund better containers, but he really means to slap artwork on barrels. He also has a picture of himself and others with the mayor of the local town. Not sure what they’re taking a picture of. After all, I could’ve taken a picture with an A-list celebrity on my flight to LA the other day, but that does not mean he and I are best buds even if I tell you it’s true.

I told him I was “skeptical of people who walk up to me asking for money” without legitimate opportunity to validate. With that, the man agreed that he probably wouldn’t give a couple dollars to someone like him either and promptly thanked us for our time and left.

My wife laughed out how upfront I was, but I mentioned to her that I knew what he was trying to do before he said a word. She asked me how I knew, and it’s quite simple. His opening salvo is employed by countless walk-up salespeople. When I was in Dubai a few weeks ago in the Old City Souq (marketplace much like a bazaar), I was constantly bombarded by merchants trying to lure me into their shops to buy herbs, scarves, etc. Much like this man at the beach, the salespeople at the souq would try to entice me with:

  • “Hi friend! Where are you from?”
  • “Ni hao!” (Mandarin for, “hello”.)
  • “Have you seen such a beautiful scarf?”
  • “Where are you heading today?”
  • “You look like you exercise.”
  • “I think you’re from Trump country.” (I heard this term too often.)

In several instances, merchants would try to lasso me in by actually hooking scarves around my neck to try them on. Subtle, these folks were not.

Today’s encounter made me think about these pitches.

  • Most of these pitches are for low-conversion, high-volume transactional sales. They’re just looking for one thing and are ready to move on.
  • Today’s man was actually quite nice, but he also realizes a “no” when he hears one. Hence, he was quick to give his thanks and take off. He’s ready to find someone else to sell to.
  • His business license made my head turn that he could be legitimate. In the least, I can hear out his plan further. However, my skepticism prevailed.
  • His opening line saying I could be from here was, likely, based on my ethnicity and skin tone. This is much like in the souq when folks would try to lure me by saying hello in various Asian languages. Playing on race is usually not a good way to start things off.
  • By launching full on into a pitch does a couple main things: (1) creates defensiveness to the audience and immediately creates a negative environment; (2) gives the pitcher the opportunity to lay out the message before the listener can say no and risk the defensiveness.

Folks get these pitches all the time. Some are more subtle in everyday life such as a grocery store food sample station or while walking around at a car dealership. They just keep coming.

How have you been pitched? Was there a pitch that worked on you? Why?