Just as black hat hackers break into secure networks to destroy data or make the network unusable, black hat selling employs unethical manipulation to goad you into buying something you really don't need or want. It doesn't happen often in the technology business, because most companies exist to retain customers for the long term. Black hat techniques don't withstand scrutiny in business for long, and the word gets out fast when unethical sales tactics are used.
I'm not advocating the techniques discussed below, but I believe they're worth studying so that you are familiar with them and recognize them if they're applied to you. The chances are that you won't see them in professional technical sales, but I guarantee that you will experience them firsthand in spam emails, and you're certain to run into them if you follow many Internet marketers.
There's a fine line between ethical manipulation and full-on, dark-side manipulation. It's hard to use these dark triggers effectively without lying or misleading people. That is the crux of the matter: At best, one must omit facts. The white hat salesmen won't like the following comment, but generally speaking, though sales and marketing professionals who completely avoid these psychological motivators are seen as nice folks, they often fail to close sales.
Now for the really dark side: There are some triggers that nobody talks about, except for people exposing cults. Here are six, but there are more.
Vanity: People who think they are more important than others for superficial reasons will do many stupid things. Flattery works on most of us most of the time. Pile it on in sales copy, and you're loading the game. Presenting calls to action right after the flattery often results in the action being taken. I suppose a vanity trigger can be used in an ethical manner, but it's easy to slip deeper into the dark side.
Laziness: There are a great many ways of sugar coating this, but people in general like to automate routine stuff, so they don't have to think. With more than 20 years of being urged to "work smarter, not harder" behind us, it's easy to avoid the central fact that people are lazy. People prefer to push a button and have everything handled. This makes them feel like they are masters of their domain -- without having to study to get it right. You can see this in spammy email. All you have to do is tell people they will learn a secret or a simple-to-learn technique nobody knows. Desired results like profits are supposed to happen magically. The mark will pay handsomely for such a secret, but it's the black hat marketer who reaps the rewards.
Inner thief: Nice euphemisms like secret weapon, special technique, loophole, hedge, and sidestep do the trick. The bad guys don't say "steal." This way, prospects can lie to themselves and pretend they are not stealing. It's a sad fact of life that almost all people will steal if they think nobody will find out.
Tribe member: You can see this one at work almost every day by the black hatters, and it's used by the good guys, too. An us-against-them approach is the most common way to activate this trigger. Potential customers feel they are part of a special minority striking a blow against an enemy of truth. (It seems like an advertisement for Marvel comics.) The implied promise is that they will get rich by being virtuous. This is often reinforced with some easy-to-learn insider jargon for common concepts. Black hatters use these words and phrases frequently in presentations and add subtle cues like nodding their heads. The deal is sealed once group contact with the customer is established and the expert singles them out for special praise in front of the group. Bang. Tribal feelings combine with vanity. Now the customer will do most anything.
Guilt: Lazy people are easy to exploit with guilt. They know deep down that they don't know jack, so black hatters remind them once in a while that they really don't know anything. The customer only needs to push the magic button. The lazy customer always tries to get off the easy way and doesn't do the work needed to master the job.
Greed: This one is my personal favorite. It works in a sinister manner. Tell people they are not to be greedy but must seek inner balance. Then, because these people are very special and enlightened, the scammers will teach them how to make millions. Now, visualization techniques come to the front. Black hatters make their customers think the millions are arriving soon -- tomorrow, the next day, or even in the next week. Pictures of money, beaches, expensive cars, mansions, and members of the opposite sex are used to reinforce the message. Even if the magic secret doesn't work, people who fall for this gambit will continue falling for it. Scammers counter lack of success with a promise of even more coming with a new and better secret (often something made up). Customers will fall for it again and again, because the larger amounts being promised cater to their greed.
There's plenty to learn about black hat manipulation. One of the best ways is to study cults. Cult leaders are masters of the dark psychological triggers. Gray hatters will be more ruthless using all psychological trigger techniques. Perversely, black hatters use these techniques sparingly. But look out when they're promoting special projects and spam email. Then they use the triggers without mercy.
Using psychological triggers responsibly is separated from becoming a con artist by a thin line. Marketers and sales people need to be highly disciplined to use the triggers well without crossing into black hat territory. Fortunately, most technology companies do a good job of using triggers responsibly.
Finally, a piece of trivia: What 1957 movie was used to influence people subliminally to buy popcorn and drink Coca-Cola? If no one gets this, I'll tell you the answer in my next column.
That's the one thing I've always admired about you the most LOL
I must admit that about a year ago I came real close to falling for a scam -- I got an email from a "Sock collection group" -- they said that they collected money to buy socks for homeless people and that they were just starting to move into my area and invited me to click a link to learn more.
The thing that made it sound real (in addition to the well-written prose) wa sthat they said that they were working with the Downtown Rescue Mission in Huntsvilla and with another local charity -- both of which I support ... so having that local tie-in made it sound really-real.
I was just about to click the link when I thought "Just a minute" and I "looked under the hood" and found the link went somewhere else completely...
These sinister tricks don't address the issue directly, but rather how you look or how you feel you look in dealing with the issue. It's pure psych play. These guys will fall apart upon a technical question presented after they make you feel good. You just have to remember to ask it.
@Henry Davis: Laziness: There are a great many ways of sugar coating this, but people in general like to automate routine stuff, so they don't have to think. With more than 20 years of being urged to "work smarter, not harder" behind us, it's easy to avoid the central fact that people are lazy.
It's not just laziness.
In my more cynical moments, I think that while we trumpet "freedom of choice" as a desireable feature, most folks really want freedom from choice. They want to reduce the number of things they must consciously consider and make decisions about.
What I'm cynical about isn't the desire to reduce the need to make decisions, it's the inherent hypocracy in claiming one thing but doing another. There are good reasons for wanting to simplify our lives and reduce what we must think about.
An increasingly technological environment with attendant increasing levels of stimuli can overload us. We get too much information, and get asked to make decisions about too many things, to the point where truly critical information and decisions can get pushed aside by lesser matters.
As an example, I'm a sysadmin among other things. I installed Ubuntu as my Linux distribution because it did the best job I've seen a Linux distro do of figuring out what it was running on, setting itself up, and Just Working, with minimal interaction with me. I'm a tech. I know how to answer the questions other distros ask on installation, and can pop the hood and tweak things, but it isn't how I want to spend my time. I want to spend my time using the system, not fiddling with the OS to make it usable.
So yes, I automate. If I find myself doing something more than once, I think about how it might be automated, so doing it again is pressing a button of clicking an icon.
The only sales people I've come across that are sheisters in general are used car, real estate, HiFi/TV etc. and on TV products. Probably because either the time between purchases is so long and the gains so high for a generally unsuspecting mark. With proferssional products I've seen nothing but professionalism over the years, because as they say reputation is everything.
The only thing that I sometimes wonder about is benchmarks in processors because the target code has a big impact. As apinful as it is, I think CPU benchmarks should be done in assembler to be really fair. Sadly that requires the test suite designer to understand what special features are available that can influence the outcome.
One of the most pushed aspects MCU perfomance these days is power consumption and I have a Microchip supplied demo board that shows off RTC behaviour and low power yet it only ran for 3 months on a alkaline battery where as I've done this with other MCU's and got a couple of years which is contrary to a Microchip benchmark app note. Of course the ancilliary components like the LCD display and pullup resistors have an impact so maybe that's it? If I ever have time to get to the bottom of it I'll write an article for EEtimes :-)
Hi Max, that is always the question isn't it :-) I have never fallen for a scam/spam that's come by email or post, I feel the hairs on my back going up as I read it. Flattery gets you no where with me, always raises the eyebrows. I did almost by an apartment for investment after a "strong" sales presentation, but the same evening I did an analysis and decided that the "too good to be true" was too good... and cancelled. I think the crux of the matter is whether you're impulsive or not, if you sit back and ponder the the whole thing I think you come up with the right choice. Also they say fate favours the prepared mind, so none of us should fall for technobabble after a few years on the job. Basically the more you read about different subjects the more likely you are to recognise baloney when you see/hear it, and a good baloney detector should prevent bad decisions.
@mvea75101 Indeed, the whole "subliminal advertising" was a fraud. The original experimenter made up the "data" and finally confessed to falsifying the data after many researchers were unable to duplicate the experimental results.
Perhaps the idea *might* work on a local scale trying to influence people - but only to do the things that they already want to do. But among other flaws, the experiment was based on cultural bias.
But there are social triggers that work on buyers' behavior. For example, running a split test of an advertisement with only a change in the person featured in the ad can yield some unexpected results. An ad that features a pleasant, good looking, woman outpulls the same ad featuring a pleasant, good looking, man. I was surprised that the ad worked better regardless of the genbder of the viewer - unexpected.
Caleb Kraft Intent is certainly part of the sales calculus, but I believe that some of these manipulations are usually over the line. For example, appeals to pride or vanity are not the basis on which I want my products sold. Yes, these techniques can be effective, but should they be used for sales of indusstrial parts?
When I first started work in the semiconductor industry as an applications engineer, I learned from writing comparison articles about competitor's parts to make the comparison "intrinsically fair." The wisdom of that guiding principle has stood me in good stead throughout my career.
Join our online Radio Show on Friday 11th July starting at 2:00pm Eastern, when EETimes editor of all things fun and interesting, Max Maxfield, and embedded systems expert, Jack Ganssle, will debate as to just what is, and is not, and embedded system.