A Nigerian Prince Shows You How to Target Prime Prospects

If you have an email address, you have undoubtedly received several variations of the “Nigerian scam” over the years. This is a message purporting to be from someone representing a high official in that African nation. There is a big pot of money hidden somewhere, and they need your help in getting it out of the country. They also need your Social Security and bank account numbers.

Since you read America’s Finest Advertising, Marketing and Sales Blog, you are certainly too smart to respond to something like that. I know that, and you know that.


guy reading email marketing

Photo by Sara Cimino

But here’s something that may surprise you: according to Roger Dooley at the Neuromarketing Blog, the scammers don’t want you to respond. In fact, they deliberately make the message so ridiculous that you will make fun of it and then delete it.

The reason? Smart people are a waste of their time. Citing a a study by Microsoft Cybercrime Researcher Cormac Herley, Dooley puts it this way:

For the scammers to make money, they will ultimately have to convince their targets to wire them money and perhaps even travel to Africa. Needless to say, these are steps that few prospects will find appealing. Even gullible targets will get suspicious as the demands increase, and most will drop out of the process. And each prospect requires individual attention in the form of emails, replies, phone calls, etc…

This labor-intensive process means that if more potential skeptics are knocked out of the conversion funnel at the outset, the density of potential victims goes up in the smaller pool of prospects. The scammer wastes less time and can convert more victims to maximize profit. Even if a few good prospects are lost by by using a less plausible pitch, the higher density of victims in the final pool makes the entire process more profitable. As Herley notes,

“By sending an email that repels all but the most gullible the scammer gets the most promising marks to self-select, and tilts the true to false positive ratio in his favor.”

 The lesson for you as a (presumably) honest businessperson is this: it might make sense for you to attract fewer prospects rather than more prospects. Here’s why:

Every customer interaction has at least some marginal cost. There is the time that your staff spends talking to each customer on the phone or in person – time they could be spending on something else. There’s the cost of brochures, postage, gasoline, paper… the list goes on.

Any of this time or material spent on a customer who doesn’t buy is wasted.

Rather than trying to attract the widest possible audience, Dooley recommends that you consider shrinking your sales funnel and focusing your resources on the people most likely to buy from you.

Jim Doyle, owner of the marketing consulting firm Jim Doyle and Associates (and my boss) puts it this way: “The scarcer your resources, the more narrow should be your focus.”

For best results, take a lesson from “Chief Oyinbolowo Eko” and “Barrister Mike Okoye, lawyer to Mrs. Mariam Abacha”: ignore the people who are not predisposed to buy, and focus your scarce resources on people who look like, act like, and think like the people who do business with you now.


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