What Digital Selling Pros Can Learn from Con Artists

What Digital Selling Pros Can Learn from Con Artists
Author

Dan Biewener

Last updated October 31, 2017


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The old days of cold calls, email blasts and traditional sales techniques are dying. Today, effective sales is a process that combines technology with relationship building. These new approaches are called digital selling and social selling, and they leverage the latest skills of analytics and digital marketing as well as the personal connection and viral reach of social media.

Social selling is a lot like a "long con" game. The difference is that it avoids deception and ends with everybody winning. A long con refers to a confidence scheme that requires a lengthy period of time to prepare and execute, using subtle interactions and sharing by the "grifter" (in our case, a salesperson) to build trust with the "mark" (our prospect or desired influencer) before approaching them for the "payout" (a sale or referral). 

With so many books and movies about con artists, it’s easy to realize how many of the same techniques can be put to work by smart salespeople engaging in the art of social selling. Here are a few good sales practices you can steal (dare we say) from grifters.

5 Key Players in a Long Con: Building Your Digital Sales Team

As anyone who's seen movies like The Sting, The Grifters or A Fish Called Wanda knows, it often takes a whole crew of associates who play a variety of roles to make the scheme work. That’s the same with digital selling. To be successful, it helps to have a support team of well-skilled specialists on your side. Here are a few typical con game accomplices and how the same sorts of crew members can help up your game at social selling.

1. The Roper identifies and analyzes the mark and then lures the mark in. Good ropers find a way to get close to the mark—learning the mark’s likes and needs, building a friendship, maintaining interest—and eventually offering the mark what he or she seems to want. This leads to an introduction to the Inside Man (in our case, the salesperson). 

Social selling benefits greatly from similar “warm hand-offs” because having someone introduce you adds to your credibility. While “roping” can certainly be done by salespeople themselves, it’s often much more effective when executed by someone in the marketing department, specifically an expert in social media or content marketing. The nice thing about social selling is that you don’t have to do it alone; you can turn to experts in your organization who have great social media skills, and leave the sales relationship building to you.

A good social media person knows how to comb the web for influencers and prospects. By finding industry luminaries who have large followings on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, a social media expert can identify the best voices to amplify your sales message. They can then help you nurture this relationship through likes and shares via your corporate pages. Social media pros can even use social media monitoring tools, Google News Alerts, Quora comment tracking and more to discover potential prospects who have expressed needs, questions or even complaints that your information, product or service can solve. 

2. The Hacker is an essential crew member for highly technical cons. The hacker manages or assists with computer and IT operations, including website development, tech support, analytics and even cybersecurity. Digital selling demands to have similar expertise on the team. Experts certified in data analytics give salespeople and marketers important intelligence about website visitors, competitors, your marketplace, customers, and prospects, as well as metrics about content engagement and even potential triggers that salespeople can use to pursue contact.

3. The Shill (also known as the Face) is a third party, ostensibly previous client of the scheme, whose job it is to encourage the mark and offer a personal recommendation for the inside man, building trust and confidence. 

In the world of sales, testimonials are like catnip for conversions. This is especially true for social selling. According to a Content Marketing Trends Report from Pardot, 89 percent of B2B marketers consider customer testimonials to be the most effective content marketing tactic. Expert testimonials from industry leaders work even better. That’s the whole motive for using social selling—to woo such luminaries to liking and sharing your content or product.

The reason testimonials work is due to a psychological principle called the norm of social proof. When deciding on what is the correct behavior in a given situation (whether it’s buying a particular brand of wine or helping an injured wino on the street) people first look at the actions of others for confirmation of what is the appropriate choice: to act or not to act. Having just one other person (especially if this person is similar to them or is an expert or celebrity) removes people’s barriers to action and actually calls them to action.

4. The Outside Man is a counterpart who can be used to make the mark believe there is a potential threat (such as a fake law enforcement official). This builds trust by making the mark feel like a member of the team. In social selling, you can create a sense of unity with prospects or even influencers by identifying a rival, competitor or even a government agency who presents a potential threat to both your interests. Then you can recommend action, seek advice or offer to help by providing supportive content.

5. The Cooler is a person who stays behind after the con to “cool the mark out” by checking in and assuring that the mark is not so upset as to “squawk, beef or come through” (call the police or alert other potential marks about the con). 

In social selling, following-up regarding satisfaction after the sale (or to thank influencers for their help or shares) is an excellent opportunity to engage and reinforce the relationship. It’s also smart to have someone on your team who monitors your social media channels (often called a Community Manager, working closely with Customer Service) to quickly respond to any comments, questions or complaints. 

Effective follow-up also greatly increases the likelihood of getting future and deeper cooperation from an influencer. It can even build referrals and revenue from new customers. “It costs seven times more to get a new client than it does to sell to an existing client,” says BDC Consultant Jennifer Galley.

The Importance of Building Trust

Like a long con, social selling is a slow and methodical process that requires perfect timing, nurturing and trust. If you attempt it using an approach that’s too swift or “salesy,” the mark will bolt. Once the trust is built by a social media relationship, you can use well-written, well-targeted content to engage with that influencer or prospect. Keep in mind that this is no time for a sales pitch! You don’t want to spook them. 

For influencers, your goal is to get them to “like” or ideally share your content in their own blog or social media feed. For prospects, your goal is to foster your brand, generate referrals (in the form of likes) and eventually gain a conversion. Just like with any effective “soft sell” strategy, social selling is effective not necessarily because prospects like your product—but because they like you.

Triggers: When to Make Your Move

How do you know when the time is right to initiate a request? You must continuously monitor your social media accounts for engagement or relevant activity. You can make your life easier on Twitter by segmenting the accounts you follow by using the List feature (accessible from the menu to the right of the follow button) to add specific experts to a list. Third-party online tools are also available that can automate the process of monitoring multiple social media channels at once in real time.

Create and modify easy-to-follow Twitter lists using the drop-down menu.

Any time your influencer or prospect mentions you or makes a relevant post or other act of engagement that’s related to your line of business, that’s your chance to accelerate the process. You can do this by connecting with them to offer something of value, such as content or insight. Here are some social media triggers that create an opportunity for you to reach out:

  • A known prospect or influencer follows/adds you
  • A prospect or influencer likes, shares or comments on a post you made
  • A follower or connection is mentioned in the news
  • Someone asks a question or leaves a comment mentioning your company or something related to your products or services

The Wrap-up

Social selling makes a smart approach for companies with products offered in highly competitive marketplaces, even those with long sales cycles. Sales in the digital age are highly influenced by company reputation and reviews, as well as trusted quasi-personal relationships fostered by salespeople. The other advantage is that social selling reaches buyers directly through their own social media accounts, where even high-level executives often visit when they are least busy (such as scrolling on their phone while waiting in line), making them much more affable and receptive than through email or phone calls.

Keep in mind that digital selling should not be approached as a game of trickery. It’s not a con game. With social selling, the confidence you gain and the relationships you build serve the purpose of mutually benefiting yourself and your contacts. Always use your social selling powers for good, not evil.

About the Author

With 15 years of experience teaching and developing instructor-led training and video-based e-learning curricula, Dan is currently Director of Training Research at Simplilearn where he conducts and compiles research on the latest content and training best practices. Backed by his degree in Speech Communication and numerous certifications in Digital Marketing and aviation technologies, Dan brings insights from both sides of the training process.


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