What could you learn from the conman who sold the Eiffel Tower twice as a real estate agent?
Back in the good old days (the 1920s), a man named Victor Lustig was a smooth-tongued criminal who went from one con to another, always looking for a way to separate people from their money.
He was involved in many scams throughout his career. But the fraud that would make him famous throughout history involved the Eiffel Tower.
In 1925 Lustig, who was always looking for a new con, was in Paris and noticed an article in the newspaper describing how the French government was having a hard time maintaining the Eiffel Tower. Being the consummate conman he was, an idea popped into his mind. Why not sell the Eiffel Tower?
First, he had a counterfeiter create official government stationery and personally “appointed” himself to the prestigious position of Deputy Director-General of the Ministère de Postes et Télégraphes. Then, letters were sent out on the official-looking letterhead to five different scrap iron dealers; they were purposely vague and invited them to discuss a possible government contract.
When everyone arrived for the meeting, and after entertaining the men for a bit, Lustig made the surprise announcement that the government was indeed scrapping the Eiffel Tower.
He noted that the tower had been built in 1889 and was never intended to be a permanent structure, which everyone knew was true. He mentioned how the government could no longer afford the upkeep, which the men had already read about in the paper. The paper said that the Eiffel Tower was in great need of repair, the cost was very prohibitive, and there was a brief comment that the government was exploring the idea that it might be cheaper to rip it down than repair it. He was careful to stress that this was a very controversial decision on the government’s part, so the men had to keep quiet regarding the tower’s demise or risk public outcry.
Lustig then arranged to take each man on a tower tour to establish rapport, determine their emotions and select his “mark.” After interviewing each scrap iron dealer, he chose a man named André Poisson and worked his sales magic.
After the sale was complete, Lustig immediately left for Austria. He did not attempt to hide and lived a life of luxury at Poisson’s expense. Each day, Lustig checked the Paris newspapers for news of his con, but it was never reported in any of the papers. He concluded that Poisson was too embarrassed about falling for the hustle and had decided to eat his loss. Knowing he was in the clear, Lustig returned to Paris a year later and pulled the same scam again.
You read it correctly; Lustig sold the Eiffel Tower a second time! But he wasn’t as lucky that time around. His mark went to the police, and the story exploded in the press. Lustig was forced to leave Europe and head to the United States. There would be no third sale of the tower.
What does this conman do with you as a Real Estate Agent? Well, a lot. While selling the Eiffel Tower, Lustig used specific techniques that Natural Born Sales people use; sales techniques that you should be using too.
Con-men and natural salespeople have the same abilities. However, there is one significant difference between the two, and that is intent. Con-men use these psychology techniques to harm people in a win/lose proposition. The conman wins, and the person they are working with loses… sometimes everything.
On the other hand, the Natural Born Salespeople use the same techniques to help people in a win/win proposition, helping their clients obtain their dream and buy a home while becoming the top 10% of real estate agents.
They are both experts at using psychology.
They are both experts at using the client’s emotions to sell.
They are both experts at using and gaining rapport.
They are experts at discovering what the client’s unconscious mind wants.
They are experts at determining what emotions drive that person and using them to make a sale.
The difficulty comes when you try to get a natural-born salesperson to teach you to sell like them, but they can’t. They can’t because most natural-born salespeople have no idea how they do what they do. It comes naturally to them, and they don’t even have to think about what to do to make a sale. This is why many top salespeople make the worst trainers. They can’t teach what they do.
Now for the good news. These psychological sales techniques can be learned and mastered and, once got, propel you to the top.
For example, one psychology of sales principle is that people buy based on emotion and justify with logic. I am pretty sure you are even familiar with this principle, but do you know how to use it to make sales?
Imagine if you knew exactly how the principle worked, you could use it to help your clients while becoming a better agent yourself.
One of many natural skills sales professionals and con men use is to listen and ask questions until they understand exactly what the person wants, not only consciously but, more importantly, unconsciously. This is one of the biggest mistakes many, if not most, real estate salespeople make, they listen, but they don’t understand.
In a sales situation, and even in everyday conversation, people use “Code Words.” For example, a client might tell you they are looking for a house with a view. The word “view” is a code word. You might think you know what it means, but you don’t. You understand what “view” means to you but not what it means to your client. The Natural Salesperson instinctively knows they don’t know what “view” means and can extract the actual meaning from the client.
This happened to a new agent I was working with not too long ago. I was teaching her about code words. She seemed a bit confused at first, and then suddenly, you could see the light come on in her head. She told me she had been working with a couple looking for a home over the last couple of months. She had asked them what they wanted, and they told her a house with a view. With that in mind, she kept taking them around and showing them homes with views. The agent lived in the Great North West, with killer views of the mountains, valleys, and rivers, so there was a lot to pick from. But no matter what she showed them, the wife was never happy.
One day, while showing them houses, they passed a neighborhood and noticed a sign leading to a place that had gone on the market just that day. They decided to call the listing agent and could see it that day. While going through the house, the wife commented on what a great view the house had, and the agent was shocked because trees surrounded the house, and there was no view! While looking out the window at all the trees, the agent asked what she meant, and the wife said, “I can’t see any cars.”
For months the agent had tried to find a house that had, what the agent considered, a view, but it was never what the wife thought a view, and the agent was clueless. By “view,” the wife meant she wanted to be able to look out the windows and not see any of her husband’s cars, equipment, or tools… that’s what a good view meant to her.
Maybe if you understood code words and the other techniques the Natural born Salesperson used, you’d be able to sell the Eiffel Tower too. And if you could sell the Eiffel tower a couple of times when it wasn’t even for sale, think of how many houses you could sell.
Oh, and as for our conman Lustig, he died in Alcatraz prison (where he was sent after being convicted of a counterfeiting scheme), and his death certificate listed his occupation as a salesman.