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 caffeine injection of a triple espresso. Well, maybe that was part of it. He was jittering with excitement because that morning he had received the call he had been waiting for: A new customer (ahem, prospect) informed him that their new project together was a go! That is, once the prospect got the sign off from his team.
I was excited for my friend, but having gone down the road of broken promises a few times before, 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.”
That was the first red flag.
“Who else did they consider for the project?” I asked.
“No one!" he exclaimed. "That's the best part. We are shoo-in!”
This was the second red flag—a major one.
And then I asked the most important question: “How urgent is their need?”
“I would say they are near desperate," he said. "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.”
Red flag number three.
So why, you may ask, are all these seemingly positive aspects warning signs? Because customers lie. Prospects lie, too, for that matter. In fact, you can use "customers" and "prospects" here interchangibly because they both lie in the same way.
Before I show you how they lie, let me explain why they lie. First of all, they lie because they are human. As humans, they are embarrassed, ashamed, trying to avoid offending you, to gain control, as a power play, or because of the million other reasons we lie. People are people.
And let's not forget that no one is beyond lying. Everyone lies. Everyone. Not just your children. I'm talking about your customers, friends, you, me—even Mother Theresa (last time I checked, she wasn't anyone's mother). All kidding aside, lying is a fact of life, and knowing this gives you the ability to find the truth behind the words, which is critical to business success.
Now for the how part. Here are the most common ways in which 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. Instead of risking offending someone, you just pretend not to see that fuzz ball in her hair or booger on her 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 that never materialized? This is the customer lying to you, even if he or she does not mean to. You only "get the project" when the contract is signed and the check is cut.
3. “You're the only vendor we're considering.” This may be true, but there is always the option of leaving things status quo. Don't be fooled by the lie that “there is only one choice.” There are 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. However, it is a lie for your customer to imply that she needs references to decide. References are not used to make a decision; they are used to support a decision that is already made.
5. “I am the sole decision maker.” Even when your customer is a company of one, she will have outside influencers (friends, spouse, vendors, clients, etc.) who can persuade her. Almost every “sole decision maker” does have the ability, solely, to say no. They are just lying about the part of being able to say yes alone.
6. “I am weighing all the factors.” Everybody likes to believe they are completely logical. But no one is—not even Mr. 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 herself. Urgency is relative to other urgency. For example, if a person has severe muscle pull in her leg, she may urgently seek rest on the couch. But if her house starts on fire, the urgency will no longer be about lying on the couch; it will now be about getting out of the house. The leg-pull will be completely 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 intentions (though some do). Rather, 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.
Oh, and about my friend: It has been two months since that coffee meetup, 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—something I am definitely not lying about.
Mike Michalowicz is an author the founder of multiple multimillion-dollar companies. He is a nationally recognized speaker on entrepreneurial topics and is the CEO of Provendus Group–a consultancy that helps companies whose growth has plateaued. You can read Mike's blog by visiting his website at MikeMichalowicz.com.
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