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.