Why Do Customers Lie to Salespeople?

Last Updated Feb 21, 2011 2:27 PM EST

I recently posted a gallery of the 10 most common lies that customers tell. Most of those lies are, of course, directed at salespeople, since they are the main interface between a customer and the firms from whom a customer buys.

As I read over all those different lies, I realized that there was one unifying element that lay behind all of them: a lack of connection. Most people don't hand their colleagues, friends and family a line of BS, because that would be a violation of a social contract.

However, those people feel entitled to lie to salespeople because they don't feel that there's an emotional connection and therefore no social contract. In fact, nearly everything that's difficult about selling stems from the inability of most sales professionals to emotionally connect with customers.

Why is it so difficult to connect with customers? I think it's because of the way that we've been trained to think about selling. We think about selling as something that WE DO TO OTHER PEOPLE. We think of it as series of active processes, like pitching, questioning, convincing, persuading, and so forth.

This way of thinking creates resistance and a lack of connection.

Take, for example, the idea of "asking probing questions" -- a mainstay in most sales training programs. Now think about that for a second. When was the last time you enjoyed being "probed"? No wonder customers don't feel connected with salespeople! They're afraid that, as soon as they're not looking, they'll be "probed."

Or how about "persuading and convincing." Do you like it when somebody tries to persuade you that you're wrong? Or convince you that you're about to make a mistake? If you're like most people, you regard such behavior as meddlesome and annoying.

So it's not surprising that customers think it's OK to lie to salespeople. It's because salespeople are already breaking the social contract.

Does this mean that making a connection with a customer is impossible? Of course not. But making that connection requires a rethinking of what selling is all about. With that in mind, I'll give you the big secret. Here it is:

I can tell you right now that some of you are thinking something like: "sure, you listen until it's time for you to pitch your product." Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

The only reason that you talk about your product is because it's a necessary part of the listening process. You're not trying to convince the customer to buy. You're providing a perspective to the customer's decision-making process, which is expressed through what the customers is saying.

Once you give over the idea that selling is something that you do to a customer and is instead something that the customer is doing with your help (i.e. buying), you'll find that you won't be the recipient of customer lies and avoidance.

Instead, you'll be connected, and therefore receive the benefits of the social contract that exists between equals.