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FOR HONEST FOLKS ONLY: How to Avoid Being Snookered by Unsavory Salesmen

“Everyone lives by selling something” — Robert Louis Stevenson

We are all salesmen.

We are all selling something. Every single day.

After all, “selling” merely means “to convince someone to buy (or buy into) something.”

So when you go to a job interview, you are selling yourself. When you try to convince your friends to go to one restaurant over another, you are selling your ideas. Even when you are trying to convince your toddler to go to bed, you are selling something.

We use certain selling techniques, even unconsciously, to get what we want.

But sometimes it feels awful when these sales techniques are used on us, and we find ourselves buying products, services, or ideas that we don’t want.

This article will teach you a few of the principle sales techniques that you can use to get what you want or need and avoid being snookered by unsavory salespeople.

But an important note: these are POWERFUL principles, and with great power comes great responsibility.

If you are not a very responsible person, or you plan to use these ideas for personal benefit only, rather than seeking to help others as well, stop here. Go watch a YouTube video or something, but DO NOT KEEP READING.

The Principles of Persuasion

“Character [is] the most effective means of persuasion “— Aristotle

1. Contrast

Have you ever seen a sale where an item is listed as heavily discounted? Sale! $100 Off! 75% Off! We hurry into the store, hoping to buy the item, or more copies of the item than we need, before this fantastic opportunity ends.

But is it really such an opportunity?

Salesmen know that humans operate on the contrast principle: when we see a big number, the smaller number looks smaller than it is. When we hold a heavy object, a light object feels lighter than it is.

By “marking down” a product by some massive number, salesmen hope you will think you are getting a good deal. The thing is, sometimes you are, sometimes you aren’t. So be aware.

Counter: Tell yourself that the “discounted” price you see is the ACTUAL price. There IS no discount. Now, consider whether you would purchase that item for that price, ignoring the inflated higher price it was supposedly marked down from.

2. Social proof

People are social beings. We rely on others to tell or show us what to do. Especially when we are uncertain. This is not a bad thing, but it can be used against us.

On one end of the advertising spectrum, you have companies conducting “man-on-the-street” interviews regarding their product, to show viewers that people “just like them” are using and enjoying said product.

Online, sellers of services post testimonials on their website from previous users/customers to convince us that if they were happy with the product, so can we be.

On the other hand, our reliance on society leads to unhealthy phenomena like the Bystander Effect: in which large groups of people will stand by and watch a person die without calling the police — not because they’re evil, but because the other people around them don’t appear concerned, so they don’t do anything.

Cure: Do your best to surround yourself with healthy, wise people that you want to be like. If you see testimonials, consider how honest they really are — are those people really like you? Are the results they are promising realistic? (Even better, just don’t watch or read testimonials at all, and rate the product on its own merits).

3. Emotions

Smart marketers play on human emotions to get them to buy. They will try to get you to like them, or their product, by playing on your deepest emotional needs: triggering anger, stirring up fear, inflating desire, etc.

In 2013, Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches campaign created a video to demonstrate that women were lovelier than they themselves believed themselves to be. A woman was asked to describe herself to an artist, who would draw her without seeing her.

Then another woman, a stranger, would be asked to describe the same woman to the same artist, who would draw another portrait of the woman, again without seeing her.

The result? The portrait drawn based on the stranger’s description was always prettier than the portrait based on the subject’s own description.

The commercial produced lots of warm fuzzy feelings and probably drove many people to feel good about the Dove brand.

There’s only one catch: soap has nothing to do with self-image. That is, not unless YOU choose to conflate the two.

Even so, the Dove commercial worked because it evoked positive feelings that made people want to share the video.

Counter: Remember that while salespeople may try to manipulate your emotions, you also have a great deal of influence over your own emotions. Take a time out, take a deep breath, do whatever it takes to keep your emotions under control before you make a purchase decision.

*These above sales techniques are described in greater detail in Influence by Robert Cialdini and Contagious by Jonah Berger (affiliate links).

How to Avoid Being Swindled by Unsavory Salesman

“Many a man thinks he is buying pleasure, when he is really selling himself to it.” — Benjamin Franklin

The sales techniques listed above are extremely powerful — sometimes so much so that even when you realize they are being used, they still work.

So how can you protect yourself from unsavory salesmen who try to use these tactics on you?

1. Be aware

Sometimes simple awareness is enough to protect yourself from the advances of unsavory salespeople.

When you can label the selling technique they are using — even out loud — you can escape their hypnotic power.

2. Don’t overestimate yourself

Even when we know the psychological tricks being used against us, they are so powerful that they can affect us anyway. So don’t consider yourself totally immune, no matter how educated you are.

And put up environmental barriers to keep yourself from succumbing to slippery sales techniques:

  • Know what you want, write it down, and stick to it
  • Subscribe to fewer marketing emails/letters
  • Go shopping on a full stomach instead of an empty one
  • And consult a trusted friend if you’re considering making a big purchase. They may be able to see things you can’t.

3. Return what you don’t want or need

If you do get suckered occasionally by a salesman who gets you to buy a few extra bars of soap or a jacket you didn’t need, be grateful you live in a world where returns are available.

Don’t get lazy and forget that you bought something you didn’t want. Once you realize you made a foolish purchase, give it back ASAP so you don’t end up wasting your money and resources on too many useless things.

If you cannot return something you purchased, then think about sharing. Donate those extra bars of soap to a homeless shelter or give that jacket to a friend for Christmas.

We all make mistakes now and then (like buying things we shouldn’t). Might as well do our best to turn it into something good.

Be aware of sales techniques and trust your gut if it tells you to steer clear of someone unethical.

If you are snookered once in a while, consider it a lesson learned. It will protect you from possible bigger scams down the line.

The Other Side of the Coin: How to Avoid Cynicism

“A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing” — Oscar Wilde

The reason why selling techniques work is because they are based on important and beneficial principles that make life better for all of us. In everyday life, it is a GOOD thing to to learn from other people, to experience emotions, etc.

If you ignored all social cues, and turned into an emotionless, cynical robot, your life will be very, very hard.

So in your quest to avoid unsavory salesmen, be careful not to swing so far to the opposite side (become so overly self-protective) that you turn into a bitter, cynical, unpleasant, and unhappy person.

The best thing to do is to have the attitude of the athlete who was swindled by a con-woman:

An athlete had just won a bundle of money in a competition, when he was approached by a bedraggled woman who claimed to have no money and begged for financial help to pay for her sick baby’s hospital bills. Touched, the kindhearted athlete gave the woman all of his reward money.

But later, someone ran up to him, shouting: “You’ve been cheated! That woman lied and stole all of your money! She doesn’t have a baby!”

Instead of becoming furious and raging at the unfairness of the world, the athlete merely said in relief: “Thank God there’s no dying baby.”

It’s best not to be cheated, of course.

But after taking every reasonable precaution and living your own life with integrity, don’t worry if some slippery salesman runs off with a bit of your money. In the grand scheme of life, what you have is far more valuable than what they took.

Also, you may find that such things even out in the end. Slippery salesmen are caught, and those who take the high road tend to be rewarded for their persistence.

But do your best to be trusting and trustworthy. Most salespeople DO want to be ethical, and DON’T want to cheat you. Treat them accordingly, and your life will be much happier.

Are You a Slippery or Sincere Salesman?

“Selling is something we do for our clients — not to our clients” — Zig Ziglar

Salespeople sell. That’s how they make their living. We can’t exactly blame them for that — after all, we are salespeople too.

And not all selling is bad, not even some of the selling that goes on against our will.

People may not care about reducing their carbon footprint, for instance. But using sales techniques to convince them to take care of the environment is beneficial for not just them, but everyone.

So et’s get one thing straight. Selling, like money itself, is not evil.

The key is to check and double check your motivation for selling.

Don’t just focus on “do no harm.” Focus on positively and actively improving people’s lives by asking yourself these two questions:

  • Am I selling something to someone who really wants/needs it?
  • Will their buy-in improve their lives (and other people’s lives)?
  • If I were the potential client, would I be happy/grateful to be sold on this?

If the answer is “yes” to all, then pull in all of those powerful sales techniques, and go for it!

The best salespeople don’t just use powerful sales techniques, they sell powerful products and ideas that will benefit not only their direct clients, but also everyone around them.

Those are the superaltive salesmen —people of the highest quality not just in terms of selling skills, but in terms of integrity and impact.

Those are the kinds of salespeople this world needs more of.

Which kind are you?

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Sarah Cy

Sarah Cy

(aka The Scylighter). Writer, musician, reader, daughter. Join our Merry Band, become a Brilliant Writer, and dazzle your readers! BeABrilliantWriter.com

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