Have you ever been approached by a com­plete stranger ask­ing for a buck and given them $10? Have you ever stopped to pick up a hitch­hiker? How about let a door-to-door sales­per­son into your liv­ing room and poured them a glass of lemon­ade? Most of us have had at least one encounter where we let our guard down and decided to trust another per­son, sim­ply because it felt right. You only just met, but their story was so sin­cere, com­pelling, and relat­able you couldn’t walk away.

In my door-to-door sales days, I was sur­prised by the warm wel­come extended to me by some strangers. I’ll never for­get a num­ber of Italian-American fam­i­lies who sat me down for din­ner and let me watch TV on their couch for the evening.

The face-to-face sales­per­son expe­ri­ences cus­tomer engage­ment in a direct, per­sonal, and vis­ceral way. If you have on-the-ground sales expe­ri­ence, you prob­a­bly remem­ber how it feels to look a stranger in the eye and win them over with noth­ing but warm words and a firm hand­shake. Each indi­vid­ual inter­ac­tion is a valu­able les­son in human psy­chol­ogy, and the art of connection.

Turn­ing the Cus­tomer Into a Friend

This isn’t the first time I’ve writ­ten about my door-to-door sales his­tory (and it won’t be the last). I spent four sum­mers knock­ing, and I’m still glean­ing career-building lessons from my expe­ri­ences. The way I see it, I gath­ered thou­sands of doorsteps worth of data on what makes indi­vid­u­als lis­ten, invite you in, and ulti­mately convert.

Engage­ment is at the core of what door-to-door sales­peo­ple do. Many peo­ple hold onto stereo­types that make them wary of “solic­i­tors.” They pre­sume we’re pushy, deceit­ful, manip­u­la­tive, and imper­sonal. My job was to hold people’s atten­tion long enough to explode those pre­sump­tions. I strove to make a gen­uine con­nec­tion and tell a com­pelling story each and every time.

So much of engage­ment is about the sub­tle sig­nals we send to oth­ers and the trust­wor­thi­ness we project. Relaxed body lan­guage and nat­ural con­ver­sa­tion are key when fac­ing the prospect. Once they’ve warmed up, you can stoke their curios­ity with some entic­ing infor­ma­tion or a spe­cial offer. You are giv­ing the prospect an incen­tive to trust you. If you really ignite their inter­est, they will relax and let you lead. And that’s the goal of engage­ment: lead­ing the cus­tomer on a jour­ney that ends in conversion.

Is Face-to-Face Engage­ment Pos­si­ble in Digital?

Yes. With today’s enhanced per­son­al­iza­tion tools, I believe dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing is resem­bling face-to-face sales more and more. Here are two key ways I apply my door-to-door skills to dig­i­tal engagement:

1. Mind Your Body Language

Here’s some­thing really fas­ci­nat­ing: Peo­ple tend to uncon­sciously mir­ror the body lan­guage of those they are speak­ing to. This is called syn­chrony, and it’s a prim­i­tive part of our psy­che that we use to bond and fit in with oth­ers. When you see some­one mim­ic­k­ing your stance or ges­tures, it means they are with you, or on the same page, as opposed to dis­tanc­ing themselves.

When I was talk­ing to some­one in their door­way and they had their arms folded defen­sively, I used mir­ror­ing to sig­nal that we were con­nected, and I was not a threat. I would also fold my arms and then, after sev­eral moments of con­ver­sa­tion, smoothly drop my arms to my side. More often than not, the prospect would unfold their arms too. I was gen­tly guid­ing them into a more open, trust­ing mind­set, although they weren’t con­scious of how I did it.

Online, the prospect dis­plays dig­i­tal body lan­guage. With every click, cur­sor move­ment , and over­all nav­i­ga­tion path through your site, vis­i­tors are giv­ing mar­keters inter­ac­tive sig­nals about their mind­set. When we respond to their behav­ior with per­son­al­iza­tion and respon­sive con­tent, we build a bond with the prospect and can even trig­ger their mir­ror­ing instinct to our advan­tage. If you want to learn more, Steven Woods has done an amaz­ing job writ­ing in depth on the con­cept of dig­i­tal body language.

2. Dan­gle a Carrot

If a prospect was mak­ing it hard for me to get in the door, I would get them to step out, join­ing me in a shared space. Some­times I would get peo­ple to come out into the yard and tell me about how they so per­fectly edged the lawn or trimmed some shrubs. From there, we’d start talk­ing about what I was sell­ing. Then, with­out wait­ing for them to accept or reject the offer, I’d talk about the home secu­rity sign cus­tomers get to put in front of their homes; “I have a great idea for where your sign might go,” I’d say. Ges­tur­ing for them to fol­low, I’d walk to a vis­i­ble, but unob­tru­sive spot—exactly what a home­owner would choose. “What do you think?” I’d ask.

By that point, I’d done sev­eral things: made a valu­able offer, guided the prospect into a shared space, and got­ten them to imag­ine them­selves as the owner of a home secu­rity sys­tem. I’ve engaged them on mul­ti­ple lev­els: body, imag­i­na­tion, and desire. The con­ver­sa­tion is in motion.

We do this dig­i­tally by mak­ing nav­i­ga­tion feel seam­less and pro­pelling action through­out the site. The Palms Casino Resort recently rein­vented their web­site with the help of Adobe Expe­ri­ence Man­ager. They cre­ated a more respon­sive site that works across devices, is inte­grated with social chan­nels, and enables busi­ness users to change their reser­va­tions directly through the site. The improved con­ve­nience of the site has increased cus­tomer engage­ment, turn­ing guests into an active dig­i­tal community.

What Hap­pens After Engagement?

The anal­ogy between door-to-door sales and dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing goes much fur­ther, but today I’m only focus­ing on engage­ment. This is my fourth in a series of posts exca­vat­ing my door-to-door sales days for valu­able lessons in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing and con­ver­sion opti­miza­tion. Read the first three for more insights, and check back for future posts explor­ing con­tent mar­ket­ing, cross-selling, and respon­sive experiences.