Why You Need the Secret Marketing Wisdom of Nigerian Scammers

By Andrew McDermott Analysis, How To, Research

Have you ever received an email from a Nigerian scammer?

You know, the kind where a wealthy foreigner asks you to help them move millions of dollars? Where they promise you a huge reward in exchange for your help?

Of course you have.

Have you noticed the emails these scammers send are almost always written in broken English?

Like most people, I assumed they either didn’t speak English well or weren’t very smart.

As it turns out, these scammers are brilliant and incredibly sophisticated.

When we see these emails we shake our heads and wonder “who falls for this stuff? Does this scam even work?”

These emails seem so ridiculous that it’s hard for us to imagine any reasonably intelligent person falling for them. Which is exactly what scammers are hoping for as well.

Wait. What?

Scammers use these ridiculous emails to target and pre qualify their victims.

It’s their way of thinning the herd. They want to spend the least amount of effort to attract the best possible mark.

This upfront work ensures that scammers get the most ignorant, gullible, greedy and naive suckers they can find.

Microsoft published a brief paper explaining why:

The scam involves an initial email campaign which has almost zero cost per recipient. Only when potential victims respond does the labor-intensive and costly effort of following up by email (and sometimes phone) begin.

In this view everyone who enters into email communication with the scammer is “attacked” (i.e., engenders a cost greater than zero).

Of these, those who go the whole distance and eventually send money are true positives, while those who realize that it is a scam and back out at some point are false positives.

Who knew those irritating emails had a purpose?

We need to understand why this works if want the same exceptional results.

Microsoft’s research paper continues to explain.

Who are the most likely targets for a Nigerian scammer? Since the scam is entirely one of manipulation he would like to attack (i.e., enter into correspondence with) only those who are most gullible.

They also need, of course, to have money and an absence of any factors that would prevent them from following through all the way to sending money.

Since gullibility is unobservable, the best strategy is to get those who possess this quality to self-identify. An email with tales of fabulous amounts of money and West African corruption will strike all but the most gullible as bizarre.

It won’t be pursued by anyone who consults sensible family or friends, or who reads any of the advice banks and money transfer agencies make available.
Those who remain are the scammers’ ideal targets.

They represent a tiny subset of the overall population. In the language of our analysis the density of viable victims, d, is very low: perhaps 1-in-10,000 or 1-in-100,00 or fewer will fall for this scam.

You know what this really means right?

Nigerian scammers use inbound marketing to pre-qualify their marks. The pool of customers they’re working with is tiny – 1 in 10,000 if you missed it.

That’s tiny.

They can’t afford to spend any time with suspicious people so they’ve created a system that encourages the most gullible marks to self identify. And they spend almost nothing to do it.

They know…

Their per lead cost skyrockets as soon as they start talking with their “customers”

At that point, a real person has to spend real time and actual money to finish the con. They have phone calls to make, details to fake and objections to overcome.

This needs to be as close to a sure thing as possible if their con is going to pay off.

Believe it or not, it’s the same for your business.

You’re not a con artist, but the concept remains the same.

Marketing works best when customers self identify. While inbound marketing is what businesses are supposed to do, a lot of them aren’t all that comfortable with letting their customers self identify.

You see it all the time.

Company A uses inbound marketing to generate a lead. Let’s say it’s an ebook. Someone downloads their book and receives the info they wanted, along with a promise that “someone will contact you shortly”.

Suddenly it’s not your choice anymore.

Which most people hate. If you’re one of these businesses, you’re spending valuable time and resources on people that aren’t really that motivated to buy.

It’s like they don’t want to talk or something…

So how do you apply ‘scammer wisdom’ in your business?

When someone downloads your ebook, views a demo, or interacts with you, it doesn’t automatically mean they’re hot for your products and services.

If you’re targeting the right people, odds are good they’ll want to buy. Eventually.

Just not right now.

It’s sort of like kindergarten. Everything is new, there’s lots to learn and tons to do. Experienced teachers (that’s you), know they need to take it slow.

Push too hard, move too fast and customers fall apart.

Or they shut down.

When there’s too much information to take in it’s easier to do nothing. But good teachers (that’s you) don’t want that – you care more about creating positive associations and regular habits.

So as a good teacher, you’ll take it slow.

Yes, it’s about how you use scammer wisdom, but it’s also about where and when you use it.

Here’s an example of the ‘where’ and ‘when’

Let’s say you create an email course and your customer signs up.

They’re interested in learning more, but when it comes to what you do, they’re basically at the level of a 1st grader.

They’re not ready for 5th and 6th grade work. And they’re definitely, definitely, not ready for a 7th or 8th grade commitment.

When they’re ready, they’ll request a trial of your product.

Only now, they’re ready for 2nd grade work. So you give them to-dos that are appropriate to their grade level. You’re careful to avoid giving them more than that – you know they’ll shut down.

So you show them how to use your product – one step at a time. You show them the ropes and offer helpful tips. When they run into a problem for the first time, you’re there to save the day.

Doing this the right way means you continue to teach them.

Using your content and know-how, you move them from 1st grade to 2nd grade. Then from 3rd to 4th. Some customers will dropout of your school. That’s okay.

You’ll always have a few dropouts.

But the number of customers that stay in your school will continue to grow. And then one day, you have what every K-12 school has.


Graduation is different for every business. Your graduation could be as simple as customers completing an email course. Or installing your app. Or requesting more info. It can also be as complex as starting a new project.

Graduation, whatever it is, is a milestone. It means your ideal customers are ready to make a commitment.

They’re ready to buy.

What if you don’t know who your ideal customer is?

This is the most important lesson we’ve learned from our Nigerian scammers. You need to know your ideal customer.

It’s a common mistake to assume that your ideal customer and your target audience are automatically one and the same. They can be, but often times they’re not.

Your target audience is made of the people who are willing and able to pay.

But these people aren’t always your ideal customer. They have the problem you’re trying to solve but your product isn’t a good fit for them.

Maybe what you’re offering is too complex, or too simple.
Or maybe they’re not engaged, they buy your product but they don’t use it.

Or they use it and then they move on.

Which means you’ll need to know what your ideal customer looks like.

There are 3 pillars you can use to identify ideal customers. If your customer is solid in one of these 3 categories they’re probably an ideal customer.

If they fit in all three categories they’re an all-star customer.

1 Relationship:

Customer relationships are a great indicator of who’s ideal and who’s not. These customers know you, trust you and they’re willing to be open with you.

2 Engagement:

These customers are active. They ask lots of questions, use your products regularly and bring up problems. They’re using your stuff and they’re interested in your business.

3 Admiration:

These customers love your company. They follow your work, they care about what others say and think about you and they’re willing to fight for you when you’re criticized. These customers become your evangelists, your informal sales team.

Now you’ve probably noticed only a few of your customers meet the criteria.

And you’ll always have customers that don’t. But most businesses want more ideal customers.

Here’s the good news.

Ideal customers can be created or grown. Nurture the right people in the right way and BOOM – ideal customers.

There’s just one problem.

Most customers don’t care about your business.

I mean, they care about your product or service in the sense that it solves their problem. They’re comfortable using your stuff, it’s familiar, it’s what they know.

But new customers don’t care about your business. When they come to you for the first time, they want something.

Great companies know that’s how the relationship starts. But they work to convert and train them.

Because growing ideal customers takes time. Ideal customers spend more money and they do it more often, because they’re believers.

Take Apple for instance.

There’s a big difference between the customer that buys an iPad and the customer that has an iPad, iPhone, iMac, and MacBook. That second customer might also hangout at the Apple store or attend company events.

See the difference?

What about those that resist becoming ideal customers?

Our Nigerian scammers figure out who they’re looking for first, then they focus their attention on them. They ignore those that aren’t interested.

Some customers may ask for your help then leave once they get it.

That’s okay. Accept their money, help them as much as you can. Let them go if they want to leave.

Your ideal customers will self identify.

Nigerian scammers have an ideal customer in mind.

And so should you.

Figure out what your ideal customer looks like. Focus your time and attention on them; do what you can to cultivate them, then watch as your business takes off.

Do you treat your ideal customers differently than your average ones? How do they respond to the extra attention? Share your expertise in the comments.

  • Really interesting perspective. A lot of sales funnels seem so product-focused that they neglect to take the time to walk people through the value of the product. Nice hook to the post, too!

    • Good point Josh. I notice t his happens a lot with tech startups. It’s like the customers an afterthought.

      Nice perspective. Thanks for the compliments too! 🙂

  • Rick

    So that’s what they call it, Self Identifier…Looking for the perfect client I have been following Jeff Walker’s Seed Launch technique used to build the perfect product that fits for the perfect client. So I see using the Seed Launch with survey to not only create the perfect product but also to find the idea customer…thanks for the insight…

    • You’re welcome Rick, glad we could help.
      The key thing with ideal customers is this: They have to earn it.

      You’ve put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears to serve them. They have to contribute something in order to reciprocate, or they’re not an ideal customer.

      Thanks for your thoughts (and feedback) man.

  • Andrew, Thanks for sharing
    I’d like to suggest another way of qualifying the right customer, by way of telling the truth . Give the bad news first (you’re going to see a bad UX, less features), and the good news (We have fantastic feature X and Y) second. Customers who are undaunted by, or even appreciate the honesty of the “bad news” section, could also find themselves intrigued by the “good news” section, and attracted to what is being offered

    • You’re very welcome Dror.

      I agree, the brutal truth is a great approach with customers, assuming they’ve got the right temperament for it.

      As you mentioned, getting bad news sucks, but almost always my reaction has been, “okay, what do we do now?”

      So yeah, I appreciate the honesty, even if it’s bad news. Great thoughts.

  • Brent Flink

    Smart article. Thanks.

    I’m working on an inbound strategy right now and was, likewise, of the belief that my customers must be grown over time. Few people understand the value of the work that goes into building a brand BEFORE a logo and package are created. Food for thought.

    • Great feedback Brent, thanks. Finding your ideal customer before you begin marketing is crucial.

      • walterdaniels

        That is not only foolish, but backwards. They are rarely who you _think_ they are. Advertising is putting the “lure” out to attract attention. Marketing is getting the buyer to want to decide. “Maybe this is the solution to my problem.” Sales is actually *solving their problem.*

        • @walterdaniels:disqus are you saying it’s foolish and backwards to figure out who your customers are before you begin marketing/advertising?

          It sounds like I’m missing something here.

  • Vanessa Collins

    I never thought about it this way. I just thought they were being stupid (which, of course, meant that I was not their ideal customer). This is going to help me so much! I realized reading this that I am spending too much time trying to grow my list instead of nurturing the people that are on the list and have taken action. I got work to do!

    • So glad you had that realization Vanessa! Nurturing the people you have is wonderful because it creates super fans or evangelists. Those people then take it on themselves to spread the word – sort of like an informal sales force.

      You’ve got this. 😉