The 3 Stages Of Falling For A Buying Con

Everyday economist Tim Harford began a new podcast series; Cautionary Tales. To check it out, I chose the second episode. It’s subtext being why we fall for cons.

Throughout, the fascinating yarn of a 1906 Berlin robber dressing up as an army captain is unravelled.

Also referenced, are the psychology module staple of the famous electric shock experiments of Milgram.

The one where, in a staged environment of actors, volunteer ‘subjects’ administered potentially lethal electrocutions to those who answered simple quiz questions wrong.

Combined with later test evolutions, it appears that blind obedience doesn’t follow so much as our unwillingness to stop once down a certain path. Frightened to admit to making a mistake, when feeling in too deep, committed, and unable to turn back.

If given a direct instruction at the outset (‘you have no other choice’) that you’d normally push back on (‘oh, I have a lot of choice’) unwelcome bullying will be halted. Yet if persuaded by a seemingly reasonable initial request, no matter how out of the ordinary, people will accept and carry on.

This is how we fall for all too many a conman.

Harford suggests these three elements.

The fraudster on the surface has all the right credentials. From right clothes to actions and ‘rank’. The look and feel are just about there. So much so that any small discrepancy can even be overlooked.

Then they know how to put victims into a ‘hot state’. “We don’t think so clearly when we’re hungry, or angry, or afraid”.

Proceedings follow with step-by-step reasonable requests. Which salami slice all the way to the insane.

He even called on the example of the phishing scam messages we all receive via email or text which truncate yet stay true to this same framework.

Moving away from outright criminality, I realised this structure is one I have encountered professional buyers using. The legions of Procurement Managers are perhaps dwindled from their late-90s heyday.

Through such combination first of various electronic buying progress (even e-auctions played a role, yikes), the significant shift to OpEx from CapEx (subscriptions and rentals growing from lease models) and atomising cost centres to the individual level (personal budgets).

Yet echoes of such thinking can still ‘beat you up’.

A buyer will claim the ultimate authority. The final say-so for your bid.

You’ll either be deliberately fed hope. Told there is a degree of urgency. It’s a pet project. The incumbent is toast. Anything to get your juices flowing.

Or fear. Informed priority is low. They can’t really see the point. They can survive without you in their life. Anything to make you feel concession creativity is your friend.

Then the demands begin. Small bargaining chips perhaps at first.

You accede. Pretty much without question. And quick. Why not? They’re only small giveaways. And you must fan the hot deal flames.

Then they grow in impact.

Delivery. Resource. Margin. All not just squeezed, but strangled until blue in the face.

You now in too deep. No turning back. Ramifications writ large.

How can you avoid looking back and thinking you’ve been taken for a ride?

It starts at the beginning.

How you handle that first request is critical.

You are allowed to push-back.

It goes against so many a salesperson’s instincts.

Yet not those of the consistent quota-busters.

Get conditional. Trade-off. Say no.

Be on your guard from the very off. Don’t fall victim.

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