Why People Lie

A friend of mine likes to say, "All prospects lie - it's in their nature." But is it? 

So why do sales people assume that their prospects are being untruthful?  We think they are fibbing about their project schedules, their budgets, their decision-making authority, and all manner of other things.

Here's a radical proposal about this phenomenon—and a few  keen observations.

1. People lie less because of their own motivations than they do out of what they perceive to be your motivations.  They distort the truth because they think it will please you—or keep from offending you. 

Which means that in every sales situation, I make it clear that the process is not about me.  My only interest is in how my actions will affect the prospect or client.  My clients understand that I expect them to do whatever is best for them—not for me.  Keep in mind that I said “Best for”, which is not always the same as, “Most convenient for.”

2. People are much more truthful than you give them credit for.  Most people squirm when they have to tell a lie.  Make it easy for your prospects to be truthful by not squirming yourself when you hear the truth.  You may not want to hear that an anvil is about to fall on your head—but being ignorant of that fact is not going to save you.

3. You get at the truth more quickly through specific questions—as opposed to open-ended ones.  “Tell me about the challenges you are facing,” is never going to get as solid a response as, “Why are you having trouble making your revenue goals?

Use those specific questions to move the conversation in the direction of the answer(s) you are seeking.  It’s not, “When are you going to make a decision by?”  It’s, “What events/mandates are driving the decision?” 

Ask questions like; “Has your Board ordered you to do this?”  “Is your old equipment is failing?”  “Do you need to take the tax loss or realize depreciation?”

Once you know the answer to your prospects' business-specific questions, you should ask, “After what date will that problem be unsolvable?”

From there, we can determine how necessary the project is, and if a hard-and-fast date really exists.  By understanding the prospect’s pain, you can help him keep better track of his goals—and yours as well.

Stop Staring - Don't Die

Every serious motorcycle rider knows the truth.  If you stare hard at the thing that you’re about to hit—then you will certainly crash directly into it.  In order to survive, you have to tear your eyes away from the looming oak tree, the guardrail, or the oncoming car that threatens to squash you like a bug.  Instead, you yank your head and your eyes in the direction that you want to go!  You look through the dangerous curve, to the side of the parked car, and toward whatever escape route is available. 

Lots of salespeople spend their careers acting the same way as the inexperienced motorcycle rider.  They focus their attention on their commissions, or their signed contracts, or seeing their names at the top of the “Leader Board.”  And just like the poor rider, they continually crack up on the very thing on which they are focusing. 

Like an actor on stage…or a guilty spouse, the true motivation of every salesperson will be clear to his audience.  Your prospect might not know exactly what it is that you’re focusing on—but he can almost always tell that you’re focused on something other than helping him to achieve his goals. 

Motivation is everything in life.  If an actor is motivated by finishing the scene he’s playing so that he can go out drinking with his friends, he’s BORING to watch.  If the salesman cares only about getting your signature on the bottom line, he’s not too interesting either.  He may be boorish, annoying, or even a little bit creepy.  But interesting?  Not so much. 

Successful sales requires a readjustment of one’s underlying motivations, and then a clear focus on where you want to go.  And in every case, your motivation must be the same; to help your prospect achieve his goals (whatever they may be). Set an unwavering course in that direction, and you will win both friends and business.

Really Sick Story

I was waiting in line for a sandwich the other day at my local Whole Foods store.  In front of me was a mom with her five or six-year-old son.  It was obvious that the boy was sick as he coughed repeatedly in the direction of the sandwich fixin’s. I watched the spray of saliva and other fluids glaze the Plexiglas barrier.  Unfortunately, his mouth happened to be right at the level of a gap in the plastic shield, so he was covering the lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and sandwich meats with a healthy dose of spit.

I looked at the boy—and I looked at the mom.  I looked back at the boy—and back at the mom.  She absent mindedly watched him cough all over everyone else’s food—and did nothing.  Finally, I spoke up.  “Son,” I said, “Please cover your mouth when you cough.”

The woman snapped out of her stupor, and looked at me with an expression of shock and loathing.  “How DARE you?!” she said.  “How DARE you speak to us that way??”

Confused (and a little bit scared of her) I began to back away slowly.  “You B*****D!” she shouted.  “You don’t have any children, DO YOU??”  “You are an a**h***!” she shrieked.   I then made a dash for the cereal aisle, my appetite for sandwiches completely ruined.

Later on, with time to reflect, I had an epiphany.  That crazy little scene had been a totally botched sales job – and even if the woman was a bit…high strung, I was the one who had botched it!

Here’s why:

1. I had directed my appeal at someone who was not the decision maker.  The child was not really the one who was going to make the call on this topic—it was (and should have been) his mother.  Quite simply, my “ask” had gone to a person who did not have any decision-making authority.

2. I had made poor assumptions.  It seemed obvious to me that the mom would not want her child to cough on other people’s food—but I hadn’t bothered to notice all the obvious indications that my assumption was wrong.

3. I did not make a credible case for the sale.  I could have led the mom to a better conclusion by first expressing sympathy for her sick child (“Poor guy.”  “That doesn’t look like any fun!’)  Then I could have asked how he caught his cold. Was it other kids at school who were coughing too?  (See where we’re going with this?)  A few well-placed questions might have led her to realize that junior was infecting yet more people—without having to “accuse” him (or her) of inappropriate behavior.

4. I lacked empathy. It’s almost certain that my voice carried a tinge of annoyance when I spoke to the boy.  After all, I was irritated that he was giving my food a germ bath.  But being irritated, annoyed, or grumpy is never the proper way to make a sale.  I needed to get my mind around the difficult day that this harried woman had probably experienced, and then convey my thoughts to her with genuine empathy and understanding.

If I had practiced these fundamental sales strategies, would I have achieved a better outcome?  There’s no way to know for sure—but it certainly would have increased my odds—and it might have saved everyone from an uncomfortable scene.

Most importantly, it’s worth remembering that every interaction we have—whether it be with strangers, family, or friends is a good opportunity to ask questions, to practice empathy, and ultimately to hone our skills—both in sales and in life.

Nice Guys Finish...First?

Your manager lied to you.  She told you that nice guys don’t prosper in sales. In fact, she was pretty sure that nice guys don’t prosper anywhere...ever.

Encouraging research from Dacher Keltner (Author of, “Born to be Good”) http://keltner.socialpsychology.org/, suggests otherwise.  According to Keltner “People give authority to people that they genuinely like.”

Studies by Keltner and others show that this phenomenon holds true from university campuses, to the military, to global corporations.  In almost all cases, individuals who score highest on measures of agreeableness and extroversion are the ones who rise to positions of power and respect.

But here’s the weird thing; other organizational surveys indicate that the vast majority of rude and inappropriate behaviors (such as yelling and cursing), come from the offices of the people with the most authority (quick, hide your phone—here comes your boss!)

The dichotomy of nice people rising to the top—and then going totally berserk is what psychologists call “The Paradox of Power.”  Of course it’s really just a variation of what our old friend Lord Acton said in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

So what does all this have to do with selling?

Simply this; if you are a genuinely decent person, your clients and prospects will reward you with respect—and with the authority to advise them on their purchasing decisions.  But here’s the really great thing; prospects aren’t promoting you to CEO of their company, or even hiring you to be the manager of a project team.  In other words, you get all the advantages of trust and approval that come from being a nice guy—and none of the “crazy cussing” that comes from being the boss.

In fact, the prospect/salesman relationship is almost always one of unequal power—with power skewed in the direction of the prospect.  Unless you’re selling something for which there is limitless demand and a very small supply, you are in the position of supplicant.  The prospect decides if he buys, and ultimately if you get paid. That means he’s in charge.

The unfortunate corollary to this phenomenon is that individuals who are granted even a little bit of fleeting authority often exhibit symptoms of, “The Paradox of Power.”  Which is to say, they can act like jerks. 

Power tends to make people less sympathetic to others, more inclined toward hostility and impulsivity, and (this is important), less sensitive to the quality of arguments that contradict their beliefs. In other words, they make decisions based upon what they already believe to be true.

So does that mean that the trust and credibility that you’ve built up by being a decent person are all wasted on a “powerful” prospect?  Not at all.  It simply means that you can quickly learn and understand the arguments that will be most persuasive to him.

If he tells you that automobiles are destroying the planet, are you going to try to sell him a Camaro—or a Prius?  That one was easy—but what if he tells you that Microsoft products are crap—but the only thing that you have to offer him is a software system built and based upon Microsoft tools?

First off, you don’t want to directly contradict him.  We already know that he is primed to ignore or discount arguments that directly oppose his preexisting views.  Instead, you want to get to the core of his opinion.  Does he just hate Bill Gates because of the man’s vast wealth?  Is he a programmer who feels that he must at all times be publicly committed to Linux?  Or is he perhaps simply mimicking the beliefs of his manager?  Knowing how he formed his opinion is crucial to helping him see past it.