PSA: The Psychological Tricks of Salesmen
I recently worked at a door-to-door sales company for a short time. I hated it, so I didn't stick around for long, but I’m glad that I worked there for the brief moment I did. Why? Because now, when I encounter a door-to-door salesman, their techniques are laughably transparent. It’s quite funny to watch them following, step by step, the same pitch that I was taught. But it’s also kind of saddening to think how generally successful these sleazy techniques are. Today I’m going to tell you some of the tricks that door-to-door salesmen employ, so that you too can see right through them.
First some background. I won’t be a dick and name the company I worked for, but it’s a company that sells newspaper and magazine subscriptions door to door. I figured up front that it wouldn’t be my thing, but the pay was good and they hired on a “drop in and out whenever you want” basis, so I figured I’d give it a try. It was exhausting and I felt like a sleaze for doing it, so I opted out after a while. Still, I was there long enough to learn the tools of the trade. This is in the Netherlands, so people in other countries may not be fully familiar with the practices I’m about to describe, but I imagine that salesmen all across the world will employ comparable tactics.
It should be mentioned that this particular company prides itself on its client-friendliness. To some degree, I can see why. Unlike some marketing companies, they don’t outright lie to their client, don’t trick them with loopholes, and don’t pressure them into doing things they don’t want. Even so, the fact that this company considers themselves client-friendly is a pretty damning indication of how much of a wretched hive of scum and villainy the world of sales and marketing is. Here’s why.
The salesmen are given a pitch to follow. It works approximately as follows. You arrive at someone’s door and hand them a free issue of the newspaper you’re promoting, to catch their attention. You spark up a conversation with them and subtly try to figure out a few things about them. You at least want to find out how they get their news and how they’ve done so in the past. Any more personal details you can gather might be useful as well. Once you’ve collected enough information, you make your offer.
The next part is personalised, so let’s take an example. Let’s say the person you’re speaking to has had a subscription to the newspaper in question in the past, but stopped a few years ago because it was too expensive. What you want to do is make the client feel special, so you act all excited and tell them that we have a special offer for people who stopped their subscription in the past five years. If the client has a different story, you just make up a different reason to give them the special offer. In reality, you’re making the same offer (or a variation thereof) to everyone, but you want people to think that it’s exclusive.
Then comes the offer itself. The length of the subscription you offer varies depending on the client, as does the amount of newspapers per week, but you always use the following format. First you tell them that you’re giving them the Monday through Friday papers for free. Then you tell them they’ll gain access to the premium news website for free. Then you tell them that all they have to do to get all this free stuff is pay for the Saturday paper, which costs X euros a week. These X euros are not necessarily the actual price of the Saturday paper, it’s simply the price of the subscription. (Alternatively, some people say that all you have to pay for is the printing and mailing costs.) Then you tell them that this offer will last for X years, and that you hope that by the time it ends, they’ll be sufficiently happy with the newspaper that they’ll get a normal subscription. This last part serves to pull their attention away from the question of whether they want to accept the offer, by replacing it with the question of whether they want to keep the subscription afterwards.
The Truly Sleazy Part
As you can see, the pitch is already filled with a number of half-truths. Not lies, per se, just obfuscations of reality. But that’s not the sleazy part. The truly sleazy part is the way in which it’s conducted. The pitch is meticulously designed so that the client never has to explicitly agree to taking the offer. You simply make your pitch step by step, and instead of ever asking the client whether they want the offer, you instead interlace your pitch with questions to which you know the answer will be positive. Thus, the client is coaxed into silently agreeing with the offer.
To illustrate, making the offer might sound something like this.
Salesman: “I’ll give you the Monday paper for free, because that one has all the good sports articles. You said you’re a big football fan, right?”
Salesman: “I’ll also give you free access to the premium news website, which normally costs 20 euros a month, but you can get it all for free. Because you said that you prefer following the news online, right?”
Salesman: “Lastly, I’m going to give you the Saturday paper. Are you familiar with the extra-large Saturday edition?”
Salesman: “The Saturday edition is of course the most beloved paper of the week, so for that one we ask the humble price of X euros.”
I think you get the point. You coax the client into repeatedly agreeing with you, to make them indirectly agree to the offer. If they respond with doubt or reluctance, you back up a bit and rephrase the question, trying to make them agree with it anyways. The point is that, unless they have the nerve to interrupt you and give you a hard no, you have them stuck on a treadmill of agreement, all the way until the deal is finished.
When it’s time to handle the finances, you don’t even say that you’re going to do the finances. You simply say “Did I introduce myself yet? My name is X.” Logically, the client will then give you their name, which you then write down on the subscription form. Now you’re already in the process of filling out the sheet, so when you ask for their bank account number, pulling back at the last second will make them feel like a jerk, further coaxing them to continue even if they’re not sure about it.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the sleazy science of selling newspaper subscriptions. This is apparently what passes for client-friendly in the marketing world. It’s not just this particular company though. I’ve met salesmen of other such companies who use almost the exact same techniques. I’ve always taken the words of such salesmen with a grain of salt, but now that I’ve been on their side of the conversation, it is laughably obvious how manufactured and manipulative their pitches are.
I hope that you too are now sufficiently educated to see right through those pesky salesmen next time you encounter them.
© 2017 Jasper Martens