Show 1 – Psych Insight #13: Con Men, Persuasion, Manipulation, Ethics…


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Psych Insight #13 (Show 1)

Welcome to the show. We’re still getting all moved in here (haven’t decided where to put the bookcase and knick-knacks yet)…

but it’s a very simple operation: Below is the original Rant which was posted on Facebook some time ago… followed by Kevin’s excellent notes on the show you’re about to hear. You can read along while listening, or give yourself a “preview” of what’s on the menu today before settling down to listen.

To start the podcast, just hit the “play” arrow above. You can listen on your smart phone or iPad, too, which means you’re totally mobile — listen in the car, with earpods on the treadmill or trail, or with headphones while your spouse is watching that dumb TV show again.

The main thing to remember, while checking out this “premiere” show…

… is that we’ve gone far into “advanced” territory here. This isn’t beginner-level insight to salesmanship, but the much deeper stuff that involves understanding the brain and how humans tend to behave in certain situations. It’s great stuff for a rookie to find out about…

… but it’s freaking critical (and useable) advice for veteran marketers and writers (especially when you’re going up against heavy competition and you need extra-powerful tools to close the sale).

Rule #1, however, is to enjoy this show. You don’t need to take notes, you don’t need to follow every storyline precisely, and there will be no test afterward.

We’ve been careful to limit each show to just one or two main points we want to address… and then we go deep into those points. So, while we do cover a lot of territory in the show, we’re actually targeting only a couple of subjects. We may come at these subjects from several slightly different angles, supported by different tales or snatches of info.

But we’re always coming back to the main points. 

This show is important because we so often encounter marketers who totally misunderstand how persuasion works… and how it’s different from manipulation, or a con. My whole premise, as a copywriter, is to use every tool in my possession to close the deal… so it’s imperative, for example, to start out with a good product that deserves to be sold.

The nuts-and-bolts of selling are the same, regardless of the quality of the product, however. Because you’re dinging the same parts of the brain with your pitch — and the emotional, intellectual and even spiritual trigger points are often the same whether you’re trying to convince your date to see a certain movie, or you’re closing the sale of a new house. The “science” of persuasion is very consistent, no matter how it’s used.

This show is an in-depth examination of how street-level, salesmanship-oriented persuasion works… and why the ethical ramifications are so profound when you get hip to these skills.

Love to hear what you have to say in the comments. And, if you like the show, please share it with your colleagues and buddies (but not with your competition).

Stay frosty,


Here’s the Rant this show is based on:

When I began my freelance career, I studied three models: Classic direct response ad wizards (like Claude Hopkins & David Ogilvy), old-school street-wise salesmen (like Abraham & Halbert) and con men (like Barnum, the circus man).

Basic salesmanship psychology is the same for ethical as well as unethical products — establish credibility, increase desire, close the deal. This freaks newbie marketers out, but it makes sense: Con men usually only get one shot at making the sale (because they got to leave town). However, I hope that you rot in hell if you con people.

First rule, always: Start with a damn good product or service. There is zero need to con people. Sociopaths do that because they simply enjoy “gaming” the system. However the “mechanics” of the sale are the same. The human brain needs to be courted and seduced for the sale to happen. The super-effective ways cons establish a sales funnel works for ethical products too.

Click on the “more…” link to see Kevin’s notes on the show…

Confusing persuasion with manipulation reveals a near total misunderstanding of reality of human-to-human coexistence in a complex society.

You’re trying to move folks off their inherently stubborn, almost self-defeating skepticism and reluctance to buy until sold.

People get very confused about that and nobody wants to be seen as that salesman who is pushy and kind of forcing people to make decisions they don’t want to make.

Rookie marketers try to lecture or bludgeon or force people, or at worst they just shout themselves hoarse saying, “This is a great product. Why the hell aren’t you buying it?”

The answer is very simple… more things have to happen in the complex human brain than just saying “Yeah, that’s a great product.”

When you convince somebody that they need your product — because your product can solve their problem — what you’ve essentially done is created a brand new problem for that person, which is, they now have to get over their apprehension to buy.

It’s an inherently hostile situation where you want to sell something and have that deal go down and he wants a solution but he doesn’t want to get taken.

He’s almost more afraid of being conned than he is of not having that solution in hand.

Some of these guys are almost sociopaths. I’m not going to name names but some of these guys … the quality of the product was really kind of secondary to the fact that they got their charge out of selling something — making the deal go down.

It’s almost like being a martial artist… you know how to twist people’s heads off and you spend a lot of time working on this stuff but you can still be a good person and either never use those skills or only use them for good.

As a salesman you really can’t do that because once you have a good product, then you don’t have ethical conflicts. It’s just you’re going to use everything you can.

If you have to use a tactic that is a little, let’s call it sneaky, then you do it because you know that the product is actually going to make the person’s life better.

People think, “I have the money… I have the investors in the back, I’ve got an opportunity to get a big office downtown, I can hang my shingle and I could open my pizza place or something” and they think that’s all the important stuff, and it’s not.

Give me a street-wise salesman, throw him into a career, selling pizza or selling shoes or selling something online where he has no clue what the product is, has never dealt with it… give me the salesman, throw him into that and he’ll make it work.

Give me a guy who knows everything else but doesn’t know how to sell and he’s going to fail.

No matter how logically it makes sense for Joe to buy this product that you’re selling, if you’re good, you know that what Joes needs is some unconscious emotional soothing before he can do it.

The more you know about the human race, you know that there aren’t that many different types of personalities. There aren’t that many different types of fears that we have.

We have similar nightmares. We have similar problems in life and that’s because we’re all from the same zygotes that go way back. Knowing that gives you a bit of an advantage

That’s why even the most brilliant advertising campaigns, they’re only going to hit a fraction of the market because most people are just not listening, will not pay attention and cannot be sold at that point, for whatever reason. They’ve got something else going on, they’re distracted, they don’t have the money. There’s all kinds of reasons.

Remember that almost none of the needs that they will tell you consciously that they have, are the problems that they really have.

I find the human race to be more lovable, the more I understand them.

I don’t get mad at people. I almost always know that the argument they’re having is never about what they’re talking about. There’s always something else going on.

Think about when you have a sticking point or a problem and then you solved it, what was the process you went through? It’s almost never a straight line A to B problem solution.

Take the pack of cigarettes, throw it away and never buy another one. Done. You’ve now quit smoking. How tough is that to pull off as a human being? Turns out it’s very tough because of the self-sabotage that goes along with things like that.

One of the great advantages of the Internet now, is you can go look up a niche message forum, and let me tell you a lot of your copy will write itself.

People got fooled by Barnum and they came and willingly got fooled again.

The farmer, working really hard and feeling good about things and leading a good life, will look up and wonder “What’s it all mean?”

That whole thing about Eve and the apple from the tree of knowledge … that’s a warning to people that knowledge carries its own things.

Once you understand things a little better, you often won’t accept the status quo.

You’re supposed to sow your oats, get all that done and then settle down, have a family and go to your damn job every day. That’s the society that works, that’s a model and that’s where people tried to fit into.

Humans aren’t built that way. Humans really thrive with a sense of wonder, with a sense of being able to expand.

The message at the end of the Wizard of Oz was go home and enjoy your home but do that after seeing the rest of the world.

We’re all Dorothy in a way. We’re all feeling stuck and mired in our lives.

Barnum was the agent of wonder, “Come with me into a different world.” People wanted that, they needed that.

Anybody who’s studied old tribes … there was always a shaman or a magic man who was the go-between, between a world that we couldn’t see and the world that we lived in.

The Joe Sugarmans and the Jay Abrahams and the Gary Halberts — they were shaman.

You want to maximize the number you can and at some point they’re going to have to make that decision that they’re going to come with you, but you make it as easy a decision to make as possible… so you cover the rational sides, the emotional sides, the storytelling sides…

If you give somebody a story to tell, you solved half the problem because they can tell themselves the story, they can tell others the story. They have a way to fit this whole process of buying something — or going with you — into their world.

Join the conversation…

Kevin, John and tons of smart listeners from around the world jump into the comments… Let us know what this episode brings to mind for you.

21 thoughts on “Show 1 – Psych Insight #13: Con Men, Persuasion, Manipulation, Ethics…

    1. John Carlton

      Well, I don’t know anything about genius, but I know I got to rub elbows with a lot of business wizards who opened up vast horizons for me… and the revelations are easy enough to share. I tend to go off on tangents (because, as Kevin says, each subject goes off in a new direction very quickly), because everything is interconnected when you get past the surface nonsense of understanding human behavior. It may seem like you need to go back to college to “get” this stuff, but it’s not true. It’s all accessible, right now, in easy chunks you can absorb, think about, and use yourself quickly. It ain’t brain surgery, in other (somewhat ironic) words.

      Most marketing chats are low level, surface stuff that the experts can spout off about without much thought. K-man and I are trying to challenge that notion, and get into the deeper stuff that the smart and successful marketers always talk about after the rookies have left the room. If it comes across as “deep” then I’m glad — there needs to a place where smart people can congregate and discuss smart issues. That’s kind of the point of advanced civilization, ain’t it?

      Anyway, appreciate the kudo, Neil. We have a couple more shows already in the can, so come back and see what other kind of intellectual trouble we get into…

  1. joel helfer

    Hi John and Kevin!
    Early in my sales career in a family glass business, I had the good fortune to work with an old time salesman who had been selling glass to glass companies for years. We were a large distributor of the product. It was a commodity that people needed for new buildings and maintenance of existing buildings. Price was paramount and literally for a penny a square foot, you could lose the sale to a competitor. So how didthis foxy old salesman overcome the price issue? First of all, he drove a 10 year old car with dents and scratches, that hadn’t been washed in three years. His customers couldn’t help but notice. And as he got out of the car, and walked into the place of business, he wore a simple, clean sport coat with a very noticeable tear in the left sleeve. It really looked terrible. As he greeted his customer, he purposely raised his left hand to salute his customer, almost pushing the torn sleeve in the guy’s face. The customer couldn’t help but notice. My salesman never said a word, but sooner or later, the customer would make a comment, like ” Bob (his name), you know you have a torn sleeve?’ or “Bob, I noticed your car needs to be fixed and could really use a wash”. Bob would reply, ” I know, and I’m a little embarrassed about showing up here in a beat up car, and a torn coat, but what can I tell you , times are tough for me” ( sympathy at its best… yet he didn’t use it directly to get the order for the day). Bob quickly changed the subject back to the matter at hand and asked the customer what glass products he needed to complete his contracts. The customer almost always gave Bob the order, at the company price, without any question. Bob thanked the customer profusely and walked out the door, with me by his side.
    He then told me that this sport coat and this beat up car made him rich. It played on the sympathy of the customer to help Bob ( the poor guy out) so maybe he would be able to make enough money to buy a decent sport coat and a decent car. They loved Bob for the way he tried to overcome his fate in life. Bob wore that coat for years. It always worked. Just thought you might get a kick out of some old school selling – call it persuasion or manipulation – it worked.

    1. John Carlton

      Great story, Joel. I was lucky enough throughout my career to find a number of classic salesmen to hang out with and learn from. The old-school guys never went to college, but were better-read and infinitely more street-savvy than any MBA on the planet. They understood people at a frighteningly deep level, and at times appeared to be mind readers. Some relied on a single tactic or angle, and some were versatile… but they all transformed my initially naive notions of why people did what they did.

      Modern psychology would do itself a huge favor by researching these old-school guys more, and skipping the navel-gazing crap. Freud didn’t invent psychology, and the neuroscientists now identifying which nodule in the brain does what aren’t going to discover anything about human behavior that good salesmen haven’t already known since the dawn of time.

      Thanks for the note.


      1. larry

        Reading this in 2016, having finally gotten to the website searching for some reflections on ethics in selling.

        I’m gonna need some help here.

        So I read Joel’s story of the old salesman, and while i can empathise (used to be an insurance man dealing with prospects wanting to compare policies all the time), can’t help but feel a tinge of manipulation…and this gnawing sense of confusion. I don’t feel its wrong but i’m having trouble justifying my feeling. I know this isn’t a shrink clinic but if anyone can spare me some light, maybe point out what I’m missing then that’d help 1 other aspiring ethical salesman on his journey to right some of the world’s wrongs.

        And for some backstory:

        I’ve always prided myself of being principled and ethical, standing for integrity and all. But recently i wrote a sales letter for an alternative health product as part of a friendly competition. another copywriter wrote another for it, and this was like a fun thing we were doing to promote a product which a mutual friend brought in.

        While i’m somewhat convinced of the merits of the materials, i’ve not used it before. and know nothing anything about the manufacturer. So i’m suddenly feeling this conflict…whether it makes sense to only sell what you’ve tested and know works.

        p.s while i binge on psych insights commuting, i never did visit the website. strange thing this fate thing.

  2. Cheryl

    Excellent. I think going forward with audio you are going to have a hard time ending the podcast.

    I waited a few minutes to reflect on your words before I added my comment.

    Most striking to me is the realization of how much I enjoy listening to you and the stories and information you share. You have become the story. You have become the story within the story within the story.

    You have become your own set of Chinese dolls. And I like that.


    1. John Carlton

      Good point on the dangers of unlimited audio capability… which is why we’ve set time limits on each show. Otherwise, we’d still be talking about this same subject, weeks later…

  3. Angela

    I’ve listened to this twice – just great stuff. Love listening to (and reading) John’s stories and advice. The cliche’ quote “the teacher will appear when the student is ready” is always thrown around but sometimes cliches are true. Lately I keep coming back to both of you guys.

    Sharing the link with my groups, etc.

    Thanks for the insights!! Look forward to what’s up next…

  4. Ben

    John and Kevin thank you for doing this podcast and making it available like this… I’m curious to see what this will turn into after a few podcasts…

    … This one definitely entertaining, educational and charged up my mind.

    Viewing marketers as shaman… the ones who bring that “spark of magic” into other people’s lives… and presenting your product like that… that viewpoint shifted something for me…

    Also… I really gotta put in the effort to get in contact with some street smart salesmen… If you have some tips there they’re always welcome…

    P.S. John: for the moment I’m devouring your blog archive… I’m down to November 2009 I think right now… great stuff there…
    Gotta love the internet age (especially once you’ve separated the clutter from the real value)…

    Again, thanks.

    1. Kevin Rogers

      Hi Ben,

      Glad you’re digging the first episode. It only gets better from here. We’re really enjoying putting these out. (And good on you for exploring the deep treasure trove that is the archives at

      Re: marketers as shaman — I guess it’s no surprise that so many marketers have musical talent or performance backgrounds. One of the biggest struggles people encounter with marketing is putting themselves out there as an authority, or even writing for an “celebrity” guru.

      So having some entertainer’s blood flowing your veins provides a natural advantage – and a lot more fun. Any good selling has to be engaging above all, and entertainers are inherently sensitive to their performance from moment to moment.

      (Not that this can’t be learned and developed for even the most painfully shy people. Being an entertainer does not equate to being “outgoing”. Most comics and writers I know are situational extroverts at best, and need long periods of recharge afterward.)

      While the products need to be legitimate and ethical, at the end of the day, we’re dealing in fantasy here. It’s where we need to take our customers in order for them to imagine how much better life can be for accepting our offer. No different than Barnum or Blaine or any other “shaman” selling the promise of fantasy and escape – just backed up with a solid product and an easy no risk refund.

      If you want to get a good dose of old school salesmanship, simply pull on to any traditional car lot and start browsing around. Or request some quotes on stuff for your house, like a landscaping or a new fence. Anyone out there hustling appointments for straight commissions is likely to have a deep bag of tricks – and watching them in action can be a genuine sales masterclass.

      After about ten encounters, you’ll be able to rate the best salespeople by looking out your window and counting the shiny new things you had no idea you needed so bad.

      Thanks for listening, Ben. Hope to hear from you again.


  5. Kevin Wood

    I really enjoyed this… and I usually hate giving up my time to listen to an audio. I savored every minute. Keep ’em coming!

    Being in sales (mostly because I failed at everything else I tried), I’m fascinated with how persuasion works. I have always found it to be true that when I didn’t fully believe in a product, my sales efforts were dismal, at best.

    But when I fully believe in my offer, I’m excited to find ways to persuade someone to buy. I like the way you guys approach sales… with ethics.

  6. Adam Levine

    First Complaint — it was not long enough!
    Second Complaint — how did you not put up all 5 episodes on your launch?
    I could listen to you like Stern 12 hours a day. You’ve left me angry that I have to wait for more…… Your guys are gonna kill it and your killing me that I have to wait…Adam… ps very excited for you guys 😀

    1. Kevin Rogers

      Adam, you’re too handsome to be this enthusiastic. Don’t you know good lookin’ guys are supposed to be aloof?

      Thanks for listening in. We’re trying to keep length in check cuz John and I can GO. But I promise to keep up a brisk pace of fresh episodes so you don’t blow up the support desk with your angry rants.

      I appreciate you and update me on what’s shaking with your revolutionary product. My wife WANTS one!


  7. Jeff

    Great questions and awesome podcast.

    1) The three parts are fight or flight, emotional and logical (Reptilian, Mammalian and Cognitive)

    a. Emotional is the biggest part and has been growing larger… deals with both conscious and sub-conscious vibrations.

    b. The fight or flight is and always be just that.

    c. The logical brain has been evolving for only about 2,000 years, but more rapidly in the last 200 and even more so over the last 50. It is still plays a tiny fractional role in the decision making process.

    2) False.

    3) False.

    I am a firm believer in the following theory…

    If you can articulate the needs, desires, challenges, fears and aspirations of the other person (whoever that may be) better than they can… not better than they can to you, but better than they can to themselves, you have passed a tipping point of becoming this person’s trusted advisor for life. Then all you have to do is continue adding value to the relationship relative to the above emotions and they will eagerly receive that value FOR LIFE.

    Am I on track?


  8. Joan A

    That was just a great, empowering, confidence boosting article. A succinct task list confirming, validating and reality checking how to have constructive communication.

    Thanks for sharing it!


    p.s. should I add supportive there in a couple of places, I think it applies both directions. lol

    1. John Carlton

      Hi Joan. Feel free to add anything you feel is relevant, or even off on a good tangent. These kind of forums are where the really good conversations start…


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