How I Learned to be a Better Tech Salesperson by Watching Police Interrogation Videos

For my international readers, it’s common knowledge (but not common enough) that if you’re ever called into question by police, you have a right to obtain legal counsel, meaning police are legally obligated to end an interrogation. But that doesn’t stop some suspects from thinking they’ll outsmart the police and waive that right, almost ensuring they’ll be locked up, and providing fodder for edutainment on YouTube. While the intention of the interrogation is antagonistic (whereas sales should be collaborative — working toward the same goal) many of the concepts are similar for obtaining said goal.

Photo by Jonny Clow on Unsplash

I’m just gonna lay it all out here at the get go — I’m not a salesperson. Some days I feel like I wouldn’t be able to sell a defibrillator to a person having a heart attack. But that’s not to say I can never sell — that would be limiting myself. Instead, I’ve been learning and growing in this area and sharing what I know.

So, here are things I’ve learned from interrogation videos that can help you be a better salesperson. I probably don’t need to say this, but never take interrogation videos as legal advice; likewise, don’t take this article as legal advice. With that out of the way, let’s begin!

Understand the Other Person’s Baseline

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On cop dramas, you know the drill. The suave suspect sits behind the cold metal table, a smirk on his face. The cop in the blue sports jacket comes in, face red, fists at the ready. “WHERE’S THE BOMB!” he yells, slamming the table; but, of course, the suspect— unaffected by the cop’s display of rage — continues to smirk and keeps his mouth shut. The cop has lost, and must race against the 55-minute runtime of the TV episode to find the bomb and save the city.

That’s not the way investigators do it — maybe after 3 hours with no other tactic has worked and he’s conferred with his colleges that fury is the only way to make the person budge. No, in most cases even the not-so-skilled investigators spend the first couple of minutes doing chit chat. I’m serious. Talking about where they went to school, their families, the places they like to hang out. If you watch it it’s very eerie…because most are very good at sounding genuinely friendly, while they are 100% in business-mode.

I’ve started doing this in my business. In my personal life, I HATE small talk…I’d rather jump right into intimate questions to truly know a person. But small talk is vital to interrogations. It helps show who a person is and what makes them tick — their basline. So that if, for instance, the interrogator finds out the suspect really cares about his sister, he can later bring up how his crime would affect his sister, nudging the suspect toward a confession.

How This Helps in Selling

Even though I hate small talk, I opt for 5–10 minutes just to get to know the person. I avoid talk about the weather. Instead, I try to ask about something more personable, like how they’re affected by the flooding in their area, or ask about their recent acquisition. If I can do some sleuth work beforehand that helps, but more than often I usually ask an open-ended question, “How are you feeling?” (emphasis on the word feeling). Because often this opens the door to more personal matters, like their recent bout of COVID or their new HIIT workout routine.

Getting a baseline can help you determine the temperament of the person. Did they just rant about how all the illegals are coming over the border? Then you might need to change your sales pitch for raising money for your refugee camp. By the same token, if I get a sense of warmth coming from the person about something their passionate about, I’ll usually lean into that, ask them to tell me more. This helps gain trust (despite the fact that I am genuinely interested in peoples’ passions) and allows me to explore other questions to close a deal.

Don’t Spill All the Evidence

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If a suspect is in the interrogation room, that means the police have evidence against them.

Since the investigators have collected a lot of evidence, often suspects will try to glean any information they can from the investigators, sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle.

An officer will dole out information bit by bit, often by first gaining the suspects’ trust, and then dropping the bombshell on them (“You say were at the store at 6PM, but who’s this we have on video at 6:04 halfway across town?”)

How This Helps in Selling

You may think I’m going to say that I try to hold everything, doling out little bit of my pitch until the final punch!

That’s…partly right. I acknowledge to myself why I’m there, but put that idea in the closet. I start at the baseline, then update the information I have to match the other person’s needs. Like this (stilted for brevity)…

Me: Hi.
Me (in my head): I’m here to sell this woman my idea for a new CRM for a bakery.
Other person, named Marge: Hi, I’m Marge. I sell equipment to firefighters.
Me (in my head): Okay, so then this may not be for a bakery.
Me: Oh, how do you currently sell the equipment
Me (in my head): perhaps this is an opportunity to pivot!
Marge: Anytime a fire’s happening we drive to where the fire is and say, “hey, that fire looks hot. I bet you’d like to stay cooler,” and sell them the equipment.
Me (in my head): Hm…so then maybe a CRM may not be the best idea, but I’ll ask anyway.
Me: So then, from what I’m hearing, you don’t use a CRM. I know that’s typical for people in your business.

You get the picture. I’m allowing my paradigm to be modified by the customer or client. I’m not trying to fit the customer or client to what I’m trying to do.

Be Okay With Silence

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Often investigators will just let the suspect talk. Humans are vocal creatures. Most people love to talk. As many of the videos describe, if a person’s guilty, often they think the more they talk, the more they’ll be able to appease any suspicions the investigators have.

Silence is a heavy weight to a guilty person.

Without any words, silence says, “I don’t really believe you.”

There are some videos where the suspect can remain silent for 30 minutes to an hour…the entire time the investigator is just sitting there…patiently (probably one of the few jobs where you get paid to do nothing 😆).

How This Helps with Sales

While with the investigations, silence is supposed to make a suspect confess, I also like to use silence — but more as a tool to give the person I’m talking to time to think.

“With this $1K budget we want a login page, a setup workflow, and an AI chatbot that rivals ChatGPT!…(silence)….I dunno, the chatbot may be a bit much. I mean, we only have a week until launch…(silence)…Gee…the setup workflow…I’m not sure the user really needs it.”

It may not even be a matter of talking someone down. Sometimes a client or customer may not have the full picture in mind of their needs; providing them extra ideas and questions may just confuse them more. In this case I use silence as a way to let their thought settle before deciding on a move.

Be the Other Person’s Point of Salvation

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During an investigation, investigators will typically uncuff the cuffed suspect, allow them to sit down, and may even run to the nearest fast food joint to get them some food. All of this is an attempt to gain trust. Psychologically, this puts the suspect in the frame of mind that the investigator is the only one who can supply their needs — including getting them out of jail (although, as stated earlier, their job is to do the complete opposite). After 2 hours being pinned against a wall, suddenly having the freedom to leave sounds like a good deal.

How This Helps with Sales

I also put myself in the same mindset. Not so much in the mindset of “what else are you going to do?” but more so to myself — this person I’m talking with is trusting their business in my hands. I’m responsible for ensuring I give them the best tech solution for their business. This sets me up to ask the right questions to ensure I get the job done right. I don’t have a boss to look to. Nobody’s telling me to do this job. It’s all up to me.

I’m Still Learning

I’m still learning how to do sales. I don’t often think of myself as the smarmy guy from the Bay Area in a pin-stripe suit talking at full volume about KPIs and revenue stream — I much prefer to sit at a computer and build amazing products for those people to sell.

But this is not the reality of life. I don’t have a sales team to back me up. Oftentimes I have to sell myself. While this is highly uncomfortable, I think it’s also necessary. And I don’t believe it’s necessary for me — selling is something we all need to master. Your cushy job could end tomorrow; then what do you do? You’re going to have to sell yourself to someone.

But I just take it one day at a time. I’m not a master salesperson. I’ll continue to learn and grow in this area, and I hope you do, too.

📢 Comment below: Are you a fan of police interrogation videos? Have you learned anything from them? Sound off on what you learned in the comments.

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Jordan H (Principal, Damn Good Tech) #openforwork

Senior Full Stack Developer & Tech Lead (#openforwork)