Blue Gorilia with Huge Sale sign.

Stop Making People Lie

Seth Godin is on to something with his latest post, “Why Lie?”  Seth’s spends a lot of time dealing with what happens after a lost sale, when salespeople typically try to recover a deal by questioning the buyer’s decision.  Seth is right about that situation, but the problem is deeper than Seth’s post indicates.

People lie to salespeople because they are conditioned like Pavlov’s dog to lie. The modern “sales process” is engineered to encourage the customer to lie from minute one.

Just watch a mall sales person offer help to a shopper:

Salesperson: “May I help you?”

Shopper: “No thanks, just looking.”

Never mind that the customer has been carefully studying the difference between two phones for the better part of 45 minutes… and really does have a few question. This conditioning is so bad that when I did my time in retail, you could ask:

Salesperson: “Is your car on fire?”

Shopper: “No thanks, just looking.

Why is it this way? Probably because the customer knows that the salesperson is going to engage in a verbal game that ends at the cash register – even if they are not happy with the product.  The problem is not the cash register. It is the game. It is no fun and buyers know that salepeople are very good at it.  So they undermine the game by misdirecting the salesperson and withholding information.

It doesn’t matter what level of sales you are talking about:

Salesperson: “So… are you able to make a decision on this?”

Customer: “Yes.”

Never mind the customer is a new hire who is just doing research for a decision that will be made by the department head. The customer knows that a “No” will result in the salesperson shutting down the sales process. Why? Every sales trainer since the beginning of time admonishes sales people not to waste time with people who aren’t the decision maker.  Never mind that decision makers have employees who often do the groundwork so they can focus on other, more important issues.

In short, it is high time we rethink how to bring honesty back into interactions with customers. It probably starts with throwing out any question that results in a conditioned response and doing something new: listening when customers answer. Then comes the hard part: being direct and honest. The hardest part is being willing to accept that customers do make the best decisions and sometimes, what you are selling isn’t the best choice.

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