Dirty Secrets A

7 Dirty little secrets marketing agencies hope you never find out

We’ve previously discussed the questionable practices used by marketing agencies to secure a sale, or boost their profits. These manipulative practices are used by unscrupulous ‘pretenders’ which try to make up for their lack of expertise by cheating clients.

In this blog we focus on the hard sell manipulation and ‘smoke & mirrors’ applied on unwary customers, in the absence of substance …. Counting on your ignorance (and inability to differentiate value) to get the sale over the line.

I believe a certain amount of ‘razzle & dazzle’ is necessary for every sale, including pulling the occasional ‘rabbit out of the hat’. What I disagree with is the absence of:

  • • collaborative analysis of business issues,
  • • logical assessment of business needs,
  • • with a compelling value proposition to proceed

Manipulative sales tactics have been part of business before the ‘snake oil’ merchants, and will continue to do so. The solution to their existence, is not how to eliminate them but to understand how they are applied. In doing so eliminate them from the decision process – consequently focusing on valid argument and tangible data.

In supporting informed marketing decisions – I have listed some “sales tricks”, outlined how they are applied and suggested ways to determine their validity (or negate their impact).

1. ”Tell you what you want …. What you really, really want”

Agencies offer to solve common business issues (or more accurately symptoms) as a way to position their solution, for example “Loosing sales to competitors? …. We guarantee to boost sales by 150%”. The critical distinction here, is the agency assumes you know as little about the course of your slump in sales as they do – and are prepared to accept their solution on ‘face value’. In reality this is a baseless assumption commonly done in the absence of assessment of your current state, business needs or core issues.

The way to handle this tactic is to firstly understand your decline in sales is a symptom of any combination of your ability to:

  • • communicate your message to the world, to generate customer traffic
  • • engage customers and make the sale
  • • build relationships for repeat customers
  • • Set goals, define strategy & plan campaigns

The solution needs to directly address at least one. To have a real impact on your business you need to assess capabilities across all areas, throughout the entire customer life cycle.

Don’t be satisfied with vague claims …. question the validity of each and seek further information or clarification.

2. “Sell the sizzle, not the sausage”

Agencies dangle the prospect of wealth, high returns or something they know you want but can’t have. “Imagine earning bucket loads of cash while spending quality time with family …. Or is adventure more your style? ” – don’t laugh, I’ve been asked that (verbatim).

By having you picture yourself achieving your goals agencies are seeking ‘buy-in’ / responsibility in achieving them, and by extension the solution they are about to present.

In my experience, the best way to handle requests to extrapolate success or failure (“imagine”, “how would you feel”, etc) is to immediately discard such discussion by saying something like …. “John, my time is limited, can we skip the meditation and get down to facts”

3. ”Death & taxes …. The only guarantees in life”

The use of ‘guarantee’ statements, ‘certification / accreditation’ logos or ‘trust’ badges are valid criteria to assess risk (particularly when selecting an agency to partner with) …. After all they do infer quality and security. There are although issues in how they are used:

  • • Their value is often overstated and exaggerated
  • • ‘Dummy’ logos & badges are used

Question the validity of any guarantees or assurances (quality, knowledge or implied security) and seek additional details (how they guarantee it, what evidence they have, can they provide examples/referees etc).

4. ”Trust me …. It won’t hurt a bit”

Agencies claiming to have special knowledge or credentials …. “I’ve been in this business for 20 years and I’ve never seen an opportunity like this” or name dropping …. “had a meeting with Google yesterday, they’re keen to jump on board”.

Confirm why the opportunity is better and provide details of like projects. I personally delight in extracting the contact/referee name, conveying my intention to call them directly for feedback, and watching the agency rep squirm.

5. ”Don’t get caught with your pants down”

Agencies want you to believe many businesses want in …. “My phone has been ringing off the hook with others getting in on-board” or name-drop a competitor business, implying they’re going ahead. This tactic plays on the ‘herd mentality’ (fear of loss by not following the market) and suggests a loss of business to competitor if you decline the offer.

This claim is often a gross exaggeration which can easily be negated by requesting names of businesses ‘rushing’ to sign on.

6. “Get in quick …. Or you’ll miss out”

Agencies build a sense of urgency by claiming a limited supply or limited time. “I can only hold this offer open to you today”.

This claim is only valid if the offer is linked to a supply deal eg cash back offers, bulk purchases, etc. Even if the offer results from an agency marketing initiative, the chance it expires the following day is negligible. Play dumb and request an explanation …. You’d be surprised where a few simple words like “I don’t understand” will get you.

7. ”You scratch my back …. I’ll scratch yours”

They promise to do something for you, like cut their commission, if you act now – often coupled with fake call to their boss on your behalf.

This tactic indicates the agency’s preparedness to negotiate price and provides a negotiation starting figure …. Great for you, not so much for the agency, so play along.


The constant with all these sales tactics is the need to test the validity of what you are being told. Don’t be afraid to seek further information, request clarification and demand proof. Remember, if the agency cannot validate all the information being presented – they’re either incompetent (lack experience/knowledge to fully articulate their assertions) or dishonest (hiding their lack or experience and character behind false claims).

As you expose these tactics you’ll notice reputable agencies will increasingly rely on substantiated facts & hard data, focusing their attention to your needs …. while ‘scammers’ will excuse themselves and leave.

“To find gold …. Dig deep”

About the Author

Peter VidaPeter Vida is a serial entrepreneur and sales & marketing strategist, with a visionary ability to take organisational objectives and produce real solutions for long-term success. Specialising in strategic planning, sales process engineering, sales & marketing management and performance development - Peter devides his time driving growth of 'Optisell' & 'Bizii', as well as contributing on business panels and corporate speaking engagements. Peter enjoys discussing sales & marketing issues, technology & trends, commenting on sales related news & events and challenging conventional business beliefs.

Number of posts: 19
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