About two months ago I had coffee with one of my closest friends. He was all hyped up, and it wasn’t because of the triple caffeine injected espresso. Well, maybe that was part of it. He was jittery with excitement because that morning he received the call he had been waiting for. A new customer (ahem, prospect) informed him that they had decided to proceed with the project. It was a go! That is, once the prospect got the sign off from his team.
I was excited for my friend, but I had been down the road of broken promises before, so I asked a few questions.
“This guy who just gave you the verbal commitment, what is his title?”
My friend responded, “Not exactly sure, he’s an administrative guy.” Red flag one.
“Who else did they consider for the project?” I asked.
“No one! That’s the best part, we are shoe in.” Major red flag. If you are keeping count, that’s two.
And then I asked the most important question, “How urgent is their need?”
“I would say they are near desperate. They have been waiting two years and can’t push this off any longer. If they don’t do this project now they are toast,” my friend responded. And with that I had three big red flags waving around in my head.
Why all the red flags? Because customers lie. For that matter, prospects lie too. They both lie in the same way, so as you read this use the terms customer and prospect interchangeably.
Before we get started into how they lie, let me explain why they lie. They lie because like you and I they are human. They lie because they are embarrassed, or ashamed, or trying not to offend you, or to control something, or to show their power, or a million other reasons. People are people.
No one is beyond lying. Everyone lies. Everyone. Not just your children. Your customers lie, your friends lie. I lie. You lie. Shoot, Mother Theresa lied too (last time I checked, she wasn’t a mother. See, she’ a liar. I kid. I kid. But you get the point.). Lying is a fact of life, and knowing this gives you the ability to find the truth behind the words. A critical tool for successfully growing your business.
Here are the most common ways customers (and prospects) lie to you:
1. “I think your service is great!” – The next time a customer tells you she thinks your service (or product) is great, she is probably lying. It is socially inappropriate to tell someone else they are bad at what they do. Think about it. How many grade school concerts have you gone to and told the trumpet player he sucks? None! It would be socially inappropriate. So, instead you say the child is good or he tries really hard. You lie as softly as you can, but you lie. Adults lie in the exact same way to each other. You’ll just pretend you don’t see that fuzz ball in their hair and booger on their face and simply say “You look great.” You don’t want to hurt feelings, so you lie. And your customer is no different. They say you are great and then never use your services again.
2. “You got the project!” – Have you ever got a verbal commitment and then it doesn’t happen in reality? This is the customer lying to you. Again, not to be evil or even misleading. They make actually believe you are getting the project and intend to give you the work. But until they get the sign off on the contract and get the check cut, things might change. This is simply a “counting of the chickens before they hatch” lie.
3. “You’re our only consideration.”– You might be the only vendor your customer is considering. That part may be true. But there is always the option of leaving things status quo. Don’t be fooled by the “there is only one choice” lie. There is always alternatives, including the “do nothing” alternative.
4. “I need your references to make a decision.” – This is a confusing lie, since the request for references is genuine, it is the implication of needing it to make a decision that’s the lie. References are not used to make a decision, they are used to support a decision that is already made. Prior to calling references, your customer has an decision on if they will proceed with you or not. The references are simply used to give them comfort in their decision, not to make a decision.
5. “I am the sole decision maker.” – Rarely is someone the sole “yes” decision maker. Even when your customer is a company of one, he will have outside influencers (friends, spouse, vendors, clients, etc.) who can persuade the “sole decision makers” decision. Almost every “sole decision maker” does have the ability, solely, to say no to proceeding with you. They are just lying about the part of saying “yes” to you. There is almost always other outside influencers.
6. “I am weighing all the factors.” – Everybody likes to believe they are completely logical. But no one is, even Spock. Emotion is a major (perhaps exclusive) driver to decision making. When you hear someone say “weighing all the factors” recognize it is a lie. People can’t comprehend all the factors, nor can they put an even proper significance on the factors. Logic is less present then people think, and emotion is an under appreciated driver of decisions.
7. “We have an urgent need!” – This lie is particularly confusing because urgency changes. The customer is not only lying to you, but also to themselves. Urgency is relative to other urgency. For example, if a person has severe muscle pull in their leg, they may urgently seek rest on the couch. Then if they start experiencing a fire in the house. The urgency will no longer be about laying on the couch, it will now be about getting out of the house and the leg pull will be forgotten (at least for now). Pain is the driver of many decisions, and the urgent need your customer tells you about today, may no longer even matter tomorrow.
The lesson here is not that people have bad or ill intentions (albeit some do). The lesson here is that you should expect your customers and prospects to lie to you. Your job is to anticipate lies and determine what the truthful message is behind the lies. Paying close attention and responding accordingly will pay off with big returns!
Oh, and regards to my friend. . . it is two months later now, and he still hasn’t gotten the deal. But there is an upside to the story. He recognized that his prospect was likely (and unintentionally) lying to him, so he kept aggressively prospecting and didn’t slow down his sales efforts in the least. He landed four other projects in the meantime and is having an banner year. Nicely done (I am not lying about that)!