Last week, I wrote about a handicapped man who had asked me for help at Walmart. He reminded me of the homeless people I see on a regular basis in downtown Peoria who routinely ask for money when I pass by. But he was more sophisticated than the homeless people I’m accustomed to. While he didn’t ask for money, I believe that it was his intention to do so until he saw the way I reacted to his behavior.
The man used a fairly sophisticated technique on me that I learned from Dan Kennedy, a well-known business strategist and marketing expert. Kennedy teaches that in order to convince a person to buy your product or service, you must first engage in a process that gets the person to enter into several agreements. He calls this technique “progressive agreements.” Some agreements are easier than others, but they must occur in the right order. The only time an exception to the technique takes place is when a person’s buying decision is based entirely on impulse.
Although the man at Walmart probably didn’t have any formal training about the progressive agreements technique, he did a masterful job of using it on me. All the other people I’ve encountered in the past who have tried to solicit money have started with a question asking for money, followed by a reason for the request, such as “I need it for food” or “I need it for bus fare.”
The man at Walmart was more sophisticated. He started out by asking me a simple question that he knew I would probably go along with. Then he secured my agreement with three follow-up questions. Here’s what I wrote last week about the conversation I had with him (you’ll be able to see the four “agreements” he got me to go along with):
When I arrived at Walmart, I found a parking space, locked my car, and reminded myself how much I hated going to Walmart. I saw a man sitting in a wheelchair next to the store entrance. He looked like he was in his forties. He hadn’t shaved for several days and it appeared as though he hadn’t changed his clothes for a couple of weeks. He had a box of items sitting on his lap.
He looked like the typical homeless person I see on a regular basis in downtown Peoria.
I knew that if I looked at the man and said hello, he would probably ask me for money. I hesitated to say anything to him, but I noticed that he was staring at me while I walked toward the entrance. As I approached, I said, “How are you doing tonight?” He was waiting for me to say something, and he immediately answered, “I’m doing okay. Could I ask you to do something for me? Would you please help me get to my car by pushing my wheelchair?”
I looked at him and said, “Yes, I’ll be happy to help you out.” I couldn’t help but be suspicious of him. Several questions immediately popped into my head — questions such as, Why can’t he wheel himself to the car? How did he get from his car to the Walmart entrance in the first place? How did he navigate through the store in his wheelchair?
After I started pushing the wheelchair, he said, “Thank you so much for helping. I just need for you to get me to my car and I’ll be okay.” He pointed to where his car was and I pushed the wheelchair until he was next to the driver’s side door.
He pulled out a key that was attached to a 12-inch-long rope. After unlocking the driver’s side door, he asked if I could place his box of groceries inside his car. I did what he asked. He then asked me if I would be willing to help him into the car. Despite being suspicious, I did what he asked and helped him into his car. It was obvious to me that he was handicapped, but I couldn’t figure out whether he was faking some of his limitations.
While I was helping him into his car, I asked, “Were you born with this condition?” He replied, “No, I was in a bad car accident several years ago and I broke my hip in three different places.”
He asked me if I would fold up his wheelchair and place it inside the trunk of his car. I did what he asked, and then I asked him the obvious question: “Do you have someone who is going to help you when you get home?” After he responded by saying no, I asked, “How are you going to get from your car to your apartment?”
He explained to me that he was still able to use his legs to a certain extent, but that it was a struggle for him to walk. He said that he relied a lot on his hands and arms, and that his biggest concern was getting the groceries that needed to be refrigerated from his car to his refrigerator. I told him to be careful and he thanked me for helping him out.
He failed to do the one thing I expected him to do — ask for money.
The primary reason that I believe the man did not ask for money was because he sensed that I was extremely skeptical of him. He knew from my reaction to his questions that I didn’t trust him.
Initially, when he asked me to push his wheelchair, I quickly agreed, but the questions that went through my head about how he was able to get from his car to Walmart and how he was able navigate through the store made me very skeptical.
When he asked me to place his box of groceries inside his car, I didn’t answer right away. Why was he now asking me for additional help when he told me that all he needed was for me to get him to his car? I stood next to his wheelchair and looked inside his car, which had several items on the seats and the floor. Then I looked at him and the box of groceries, and then back inside the car, trying to figure out where I was going to put the box. I found a place for the box and placed it inside the car.
When he asked me to help him get inside his car, I hesitated again. The question that popped into my mind at that time was, If he needs help getting into his car, how was he able to get out of his car and into his wheelchair? After I helped him into his car, I hesitated again when he asked me to put his wheelchair inside the trunk of his car.
During my conversation with him after I put his wheelchair away, I looked to see if his car was equipped with the type of driving controls that are customarily used by handicapped drivers. Because he had told me that he had trouble using his legs, I expected there to be equipment that he could use to control the gas and brake pedals with his hands rather than his feet. There was no such equipment attached to his vehicle, which indicated to me that he was able to use his legs and feet to push on the gas and brake pedals.
When I realized that he had the ability to use his legs and feet to drive his car, I told him to be careful and walked away from his vehicle. He knew that I didn’t trust him from the way I had reacted to his questions and I expect that he knew it wouldn’t do him any good to ask me for money.
Can you see how the progressive agreements technique worked? If he had simply asked me for money while I was walking toward the entrance of Walmart, I would have turned him down and proceeded to walk into the store. Instead of asking the question that is generally asked, he asked me to perform a simple task that he knew I would probably agree to. He then asked me three follow-up questions, all of which I responded to in a positive manner. I’m convinced that on previous occasions he had used this same technique to gain sympathy from people who either ended up offering him money or gave him money when he asked for it.
The most successful businessmen, politicians, and white-collar criminals know how to use the progressive agreements technique to get their way with people. They are masters at manipulating people to do the things that the people would not ordinarily be predisposed to do and that are not in the best interests of the people.
More on this topic next week.