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How to Handle "Lying" Customers

How to Handle "Lying" Customers

Sam Manfer

My daughter, who’s looking for a house, recently said she doesn’t trust realtors. Around the same time, some sales people I am coaching said that prospects always lie. So who is it that lies—salespeople are customers?

Well, as a sales person or sales manager, you probably hedge, embellish, wing-it, and stretch the truth at times. So does that mean you lied and should be included in the generalization of never trust a sales person?

As a prospect or customer, you probably keep information close to your vest, play coy, act surprised, overplay comparisons, and prefer to be “just looking”. So does that mean when you’re the customer, you should get mixed into the generalization of never believe what a customer says?

The issue is not the answers (the lies). The issue is the questions asked. In retail for example, if you ask, “Can I help you?” You’ll probably get a response of, “Just looking.” It’s really not a lie, but it’s not really the whole truth. However, if you ask, “How come you came into my store?” You’ll get a more meaningful answer. Even if you get the response, “Just looking,” you can always respond, “Well, something caught your eye and encouraged you to enter. What was it?”

Nota bene: The reasons you’re “just looking” are (1) you don’t want an unsolicited sales pitch or someone hovering over you waiting to pounce and (2) you’re “just looking” – possibly to kill time or for something in particular. A more explicit question will uncover if the person is just browsing (killing time) or looking for something in particular. This is important to know.

Salespeople have heard they should ask questions and listen. Unfortunately, they are encouraged through training, observations, and perceptions to give their pitch. On the other hand, highly successful salespeople learn to develop great questions and become even better at effective listening.

Credibility is the fastest way to distinguish yourself from the “all sales people are not to be trusted” syndrome. The quickest path to credibility is to be sincerely interested and concerned about the prospect’s issues and desires as they relate to your business. Many people try to establish credibility through friendliness, i.e. become their buddy. I’m not a believer in befriending people and getting involved in their personal lives to make a sale, because when people are buying, they want solutions or emotional highs, not new friends.

The best way then to get sincerely involved with someone is to get them talking about their issues or desires. Now, most salespeople tell me, “Well, they don’t know what I have to offer and what I can do for them. Therefore, I have to tell them about my services/products.” I may agree that they don’t know about everything you have to offer. However, they may not care either. People want information on what they care about. So you have to develop questions to get them talking. You want them to talk about issues relative to your line of business. You have to frame your questions so that the responses focus on your portfolio of solutions.

For example, a very popular question that salespeople feel will reveal all the pains of a customer is, “What keeps you awake at nights?” If I were the customer, my answer would be some bodily function, rather than something relative to business. Framing it however, would sound something like, “What keeps you up at night, as it relates to …?” Where the … would be your line of business—sales, productivity, factory automation, the 12th Street bridge project, living in your current neighborhood, etc.—the issues and opportunities you impact.

Now if the person says, “Well, I have no issues, and nothing keeps me awake relative to …” Then you should be prepared with 3 issues you feel should be a concern and offer one up to see if it jogs any interest. For instance, for factory automation, you might say, “What about the increasing amount of low cost foreign labor? Is that a concern to you?” If this doesn’t stimulate any interest, offer the other two. If there is no interest after three enticements, this prospect is dead. He is not going to move forward with you and you need to let him go for now.

Let’s go back to developing credibility so the customer feels you’re a trustworthy salesperson. If you’re not talking, you can’t be exaggerating or lying. If they are doing the talking, and you’re listening—occasionally probing to understand better what they’re trying to explain—now you’ve show genuine interest (sincerity) and this sends a powerful message. Matter of fact, the more they talk, the more credible you become. People love to listen to themselves and think that anyone that listens to them has got to be special. It’s a credibility home run when you repeat back to them what they just told you.

The only time one can be considered a liar is when she starts talking—giving the pitch. If, however, you know the prospect’s issues and desires, you’ll present facts that hit them in their sore spots. Asking, listening, and then presenting what people care about is the fastest way to establish credibility and distinguish yourself from all the typical salespeople. Now, if they haven’t mentioned things you think they should be mentioning, then you can expose and entice three times as described above.

Caution: If you think you already know what someone wants (because you’ve been doing this for years) and feel you can short-circuit right to the presentation, you’ll miss the credibility development phase. Remember, the more they express themselves, the more credibility you build. You’ve just got to help them keep talking, and then there will be no lies.

In conclusion it’s your questions and your follow-up probes, coupled with your exposing enticements that will get you to the truth. So it’s really not about lying. It’s really about setting up the person to tell you what’s on his or her mind.