Make Sales like ‘Slippin Jimmy’ (of “Better Call Saul”)
Seven Marketing Lessons From The The Kennedy Half Dollar Con
The other night my son and I were sitting on the couch snuggled together watching the hit TV show Better Call Saul. I was not expecting a marketing lesson to jump out at me from the carefully crafted, character rich, narrative. But at season 1, episode 10, titled “Marco,” that’s exactly what happened.
In the episode, Jimmy (Saul) heads back to his old home of Chicago and hooks up with his buddy Marco. In an effort to relive their glory days the two of them effortlessly dupe a businessman sitting alone at the bar into buying their Kennedy half dollar at 21900% above its value (here’s a clip of the scene). The scam is done effortlessly, and it struck me how many important marketing lessons are to be found in this fictional scene.
“Slippin Jimmy,” as he’s referred to on the show, and his friend Marco are “selling” a complete knock-off scam. But substitute a genuine product with proof from past customers and a rock solid guarantee… and Slippin’ Jimmy’s style becomes a superior lesson for how to capture your market and make the sales roll (or should I say ‘slip’) in.
Here’s how the scene unfolds… and the seven marketing gems I found there.
Step 1: The Research
Jimmy and Marco are catching up after years apart at the local bar. Jimmy looks sideways as a middle aged man in a business suit walks past him engrossed in a phone conversation. The business man appears pompous and self-absorbed. Jimmy gets an idea, but first he asks Marco one key question as he gestures towards his next victim, “Is he a regular?”
Before they began to run the scam, the two swindlers gathered some basic information about their next victim. For instance they knew he was alone at the bar and had some financial means. They also deduced certain things about his psychological and emotional state, specifically that he would be interested in a lucrative investment opportunity. And finally they made some assumptions about his background, specifically that he would have an interest, but not an in-depth knowledge about coin collecting. All of these pieces of information about the “prospect” were key to the success of the scam. I can only imagine that if the loner at the bar were a woman, or tough guy wearing a motorcycle jacket, or a preppy looking college kid, the two would have chosen a different scam to run that night.
As marketers we can be much more thorough and methodical in our research than a con artist, who has to move quickly between victims and make split second judgements about the circumstances and character. We don’t require any special talent at reading people, though it can help, rather we need simply an inquisitive mind. We can spend days or even weeks learning intimate details about our prospects, understanding not only their basic demographics, but also their daily struggles, fears and desires.
Since we aren’t in the business of swindling, we don’t have to ask “is he a regular here?” But we do need to ask other, similarly poignant questions about our prospect in order to understand their relationship to our product and solutions it provides for them. Like Jimmy and Marco, you need to know both the surface demographic details, like gender or income bracket, as well as their inner desires, their pressing needs and what will peak their interest. For both Slippin’ Jimmy and us, understanding our customer avatar intimately is the key to making the rest of the sales process work effectively.
Step 2: The Hook
The two friends first get the attention of their prospect by manufacturing some light tension between them. Jimmy implores Marco to “have a look” and Marco tells him, “I’m not interested.” Jimmy keeps pressing, and finally Marco, with an eye roll, gives in.
Jimmy pulls out his prize possession, the Kennedy half dollar and presents it to Marco with one word, “BOOM.” With this Jimmy implies he has a secret, something of value, but neither Marco, the businessman or the viewers of the show, have any idea yet what is special about the coin.
This hook is text book perfect because it relies on emotion and also introduces a secret. Introducing a secret with your hook is a great way to not only grab your prospect’s attention, but also keep them, however mildly, intrigued as you guide them towards your big reveal.
Step 3: The Story
Once Jimmy has Marco’s (and he’s pretty sure the businessman across the bar’s) attention, he keeps that attention by launching into a detailed story about the Kennedy half dollar. He begins the story by drawing attention to the direction Kennedy is facing on the head of the coin. He’s facing left, or “west” as Jimmy calls it.
Here, Jimmy reveals a little bit more of the secret he’s hinted at earlier but he doesn’t give the full explanation. Instead, Jimmy explains with great detail and drama the origins of these coins, why they came into being, and then what happened to make this specific coin that he is holding extremely special. By the time he’s halfway through his story, the business man across the bar has looked up from his work and is not only hearing what’s going on in front of him, he’s paying attention.
Whenever you need to capture your audience, especially if they are a highly skeptical audience, telling an exciting story, sometimes even a largely irrelevant story, is the best way to get your prospect to listen to you. Use the story to build on the hook you used to grab their attention, but don’t give away the secrets about your product. Instead, use the story to hint at the benefits to your prospect, and keep them wanting more.
Step 4: Scarcity
Finally, after going on about the details of why the face on the coin should be facing one way, Jimmy finally reveals why the direction of Kennedy’s face on the coin makes this coin so unique. But what really drives the point home, is when Jimmy explains that a very limited amount of these coins, with Kennedy facing left, are left in circulation. Suddenly the coin is worth far more than it first appeared.
Anytime you can legitimately introduce an element of scarcity, whether because time is running out, or because of a limited supply, you greatly increase the desire of your prospect. When something might be gone before we have a chance to experience it, we are hardwired to want that item, whatever it is, more than if there was no urgency involved.
Slippin’ Jimmy takes this selling tactic a step further. At this very moment he looks over at his businessman prospect and calls out his skepticism directly. “What’s the buddy?” even though the man hadn’t said anything, and then “Do you mind? We’re having a private conversation here.”
I’ve seen marketers do something similar by including a first name tag in an email at exactly the point in their argument when the stakes seem the highest (talking scarcity is one of those moments). In VSL’s this would be an ideal time to look at the camera and speak pointedly and directly to the camera. By this point you definitely have their attention, and making it known that you know it is a slick and brilliant interpersonal move.
Step 5: Value
Next Jimmy launches into telling how much this coin, because of the rarity and unique story behind it, is worth. He picks an almost outrageously high number, $800. It’s a lot of money, though not an unreasonable number for a true collectors item. The reason he does this is to increase the perceived value of the coin juxtaposed with the price he ultimately gives to Marco to buy the coin off of him.
You never want to name the price of your product or service without first giving it context, both conceptual as well as numerical. You can build up the perceived value of your product by telling stories about the benefits, pointing out scarcity, and finally, naming what it should cost. The higher you increase the perceived value of your product, the more likely you will be able to name whatever price you want, and people will be willing to pay it.
Step 6: Proof
Up until this point, although the businessman is paying attention to Jimmy and Marco’s charade, he is still scoffing at the idea of the coin actually having any real value. He is certainly nowhere near opening his own wallet. This is where the con takes a crucial turn.
Jimmy excuses himself to use the bathroom, giving Marco the chance to go behind Jimmy’s back and corroborate the claim. Marco starts talking to the business man, mirroring the skepticism he’s feeling. Marco even declares he’s gonna prove Jimmy wrong and call the cops on him. He’s methodically calling out all the objections the businessman has about the coin and its high value, and then he makes his move to prove the claims with evidence.
Marco asks the bartender if he can use the bar phone. Marco could have pulled out his own cell phone, but instead he enlists the bartender in the theatrics, a small gesture of proof, simply saying, hey, this is real, here’s yet another person (the bartender) involved in what’s going on.
Marco then calls a made up friend, telling the businessman he knows a guy who happens to deal with rare coins. He dials the number and then briefly explains (to a dead line) what Jimmy has told him about the coin. Before Marco can finish the story, he is “interrupted” by the nonexistent expert on the other end of the line, as if they already know the important details about this rare coin. Marco’s skepticism turns instantly to a look of smug interest. Marco ups the scarcity factor by turning his back on the businessman. Now Marco is in on the secret, and he doesn’t want anyone else getting in on the deal he’s just discovered is “real.”
It’s important to provide proof for any claims you make about your product. But you need to go a step further. You need to figure out all the objections that are in your prospect’s heads and provide proof for every one of those objections as well. You can do this in the form of expert’s opinions, research backed data, and customer testimonials.
And even though you’re probably not selling something to one lucky buyer, unless you’re in the business of selling lottery tickets of something like that, you can still learn a lesson from the way Marco guards his new discovery after he’s ‘proved’ the true value of the coin. You want to make your prospect feel like they are getting an exclusive offer, and they should act now before someone else takes away their chance.
Step 7: The Close
Jimmy and Marco close their deal effortlessly at this point. When Jimmy comes back from the bathroom Marco corners him and offers $50 for the coin. Jimmy says no, he’s not taking anything less than $100. But there’s a problem, Marco only has $64 cash on him at the moment.
This is the opportunity the business man needs and he seizes the chance. He offers Jimmy $75 for the coin. He’s now fully convinced, and he wants that coin as his own. Jimmy turns down the $75, again insisting on $100. In a moment the businessman is out of his chair, offering $80. He’s almost yelling, “This guy was gonna call the cops on you!” Which makes Marco heated, he’s still begging Jimmy to sell him the coin, promising he’ll bring back the rest of the money… and a second later the businessman is waving $110 cash in both men’s faces. “Sold” Jimmy announces and exchanges the simple coin for 21900% it’s worth.
There are many ways to close a sales message, but the thing I love about this one is that they keep upping the drama. I see so many sales pages, emails and VSLs that start out strong, with emotion and high stakes, but once they get into the product details, all the bells and whistles, the message completely loses its momentum. The key to remember here is that people always buy from an emotional place so you will always do better to close with an emotional appeal, upping the stakes more as you reach the end. You can do this with future pacing, painting a picture of what life will look like if they make the purchase, or even better, what their life will look like if they don’t make the purchase. You can also close with scarcity to create a final sense of urgency to push your prospect over the edge. However you choose to close your sales message keep your prospects emotions involved, and drive your message home to the very last call-to-action.
When the businessman takes the coin and walks out of the bar, Marco still isn’t done with the con. He keeps yelling after him about what he’s gonna do to the guy for “stealing” this opportunity from him. If the business man has any regrets, he’ll be miles away from Marco and Jimmy before he comes down from the emotional roller coaster and realizes the stupidity of what he’s just done.
If it’s this simple to pull a con on a hunk of silver worth fifty cents… how much more should you be able to sell your highly valuable real products and services using these same tactics!?
The seven tactics here can apply to all different kinds of marketing. But there are many other tactics not discussed here. The truth is, there are lessons in selling to be found all around us. The more we study life, people, and other marketers, the more we internalize these lessons and become experts at making the good sale.
In the words of today’s fearless teacher, “S’all, good man”
Hi! I’m Annie Aaroe, a b2b email marketing strategist. To find out more about story-driven, conversion email copy and strategy that’s tailored for e-com apps and SaaS brands, visit my website, aaroewriting.com, or shoot me an email at email@example.com.