The Worst Sales Tactic

I was reading a sales pitch this morning that was basically 50% “you’re too stupid to know that you need to learn this” and I have to say that I really, truly hate that sort of sales tactic.

And it is a sales tactic. To make you feel bad enough about yourself that you give someone money to “fix” yourself.

This same person also likes to use the “you’re too lazy to put in the work” sales tactic. Like, “I have this amazing, wonderful solution to all your problems, but of course, you’d rather be out there flitting around doing nothing instead of learning what I have to teach you…”

For $500. Or $600. Or $3,000.

The sad thing is that sort of tactic works on people. Someone speaks with absolute authority–there is an answer and I am the one who knows it and anyone who thinks differently from me is wrong–makes people feel really bad about themselves and then demands money to make them feel better.

I can’t remember if I’ve told this story before, but when I was twenty I decided that I was going to quit school and become a stockbroker. I had two years of college–at good schools, but still, I didn’t know a stock from a bond–and this place was willing to hire me to be a broker.

I figured I’d work five years, earn enough to pay for the rest of my college with cash, and it would all be good.

This was a place that gave a personality test when you applied. And it turned out that my “weakness” on this personality test was a lack of “killer instinct”.

I don’t know if the recruiter used that word, but basically the test showed that I didn’t have that sort of, “close ’em at any cost” attitude. I assured her I’d be fine, but it was absolutely true when it came down to it.

There I was. Twenty-years-old. I’d passed my Series 7 and my insurance tests, but three months before that I’d known nothing about any of what I was talking about. And I was on the phone with middle-aged business owners who knew their business, but knew nothing about investing.

All they wanted was someone to tell them what to do. All I had to do was be really arrogant and certain and they would have given me their money.

But I just couldn’t do it. (And good thing, because that brokerage firm was not a very good place.)

Later as a securities regulator I interviewed any number of customers who had lost everything to an arrogant broker who assured them he knew better than they did.

It’s so easy to do.

And I think about that a lot. Because I am one of those people who can see that weakness in others. I know exactly how it can be exploited. And it’s tempting to do that to people, because it results in success.

Make them feel less than they are or make them feel special and they will give you what you ask for. But it feels wrong to me to use people’s insecurities and weaknesses against them.

So I try not to do it. (Possibly to an extent that’s a little too extreme in the other direction.)

I also shake my head in disgust when I see someone else doing it to others.

The crazy thing is, this particular person has good information. I just cannot stand the way they make others feel bad about themselves while trying to share it (and sell it).

Anyway. End of today’s rant.

Author: M.L. Humphrey

M.L. Humphrey is a former securities regulator, registered stockbroker (although only briefly), and consultant on regulatory and risk-related matters for large financial institutions with expertise in the areas of anti-money laundering regulation, mutual funds, and credit rating agencies. Since 2013 M.L. has also been a published author under a variety of pen names and across a variety of subjects and genres. You can contact M.L. at mlhumphreywriter [at] gmail.com.

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