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Communication is always tricky. There are so many ways a conversation can be misinterpreted by either party. Both people in a conversation have expectations and objectives.


“Buyers are liars…” I hear this a lot and I used to say it even more. Over the past several years I have discovered that, yes in fact, buyers will occasionally and deliberately lie. However, I have found this is a very small percentage.

This led me to conclude the rest of them are either: Making statements they believe are correct, but aren’t, or the customers true meaning was obscured by the seller jumping to a conclusion based on their own bias, agenda, or emotions. Regardless of the reason the best way to get to the truth is to ask better questions.

Making statements they believe to be true…

Early in the discovery process buyers will tell you what they think they need based on what they know about your product or service offering. A variation of this is when the lines between needs and wants are blurry. Either way the seller dutifully listens to the wants, needs and desires of the prospect and goes to work. Then later in the buying cycle those clear specifications morph into something that looks totally different, or they buy something else from someone else.

When we, as sellers, take things at face value we are doing a disservice to the buyer and ourselves. During the discovery process, salespeople take down the information without digging deeper—perhaps out of fear of challenging the prospect, or because we want to get to the “sale”. Your strategy in the discovery process is to dig deeper for their true motivations by asking more questions. Your best ally in the fight for the truth is “Why”. Your prospective client says they need “X”. Your next response could be “Why is that?”

In a recent coaching session, one of my clients in Commercial Real Estate processed the following issue with me. “They said they wanted one thing and ended up doing something totally different!” We went on to discuss a prospective tenant initially looking for 25,000 square feet of office space and ultimately landed on something half that size.

I suspect at some point they thought they needed that much space and then realized that it was an error, or perhaps they don’t know what 25,000 square feet looks like. Either way they weren’t lying. They initially thought they needed 25,000 square feet.

A few questions earlier in the discovery process could have possibly addressed this and gotten everyone closer to what they really needed and wanted much sooner. i.e. “That’s a good size space. Why do you need so much?” “How many people are going to use it?” or “How much space are you in now”?

These are all examples of digging deeper to get a better understanding of what the client is trying to accomplish and why it is important to them before moving on to showing them an unsuitable space. The best advice I can give any sales professional is to slow down a little and ask “Why” before moving on.

Customer’s true meaning obscured…

Communication is always tricky. There are so many ways a conversation can be misinterpreted by either party. Both people in a conversation have expectations and objectives.

In addition to all of this both parties are usually speaking under the influence. Not the influence of drugs or alcohol, but the influence of emotion or an agenda. When you take all of these things into consideration, it isn’t hard to think a prospect is being less than truthful.

Your agenda is to sell. Their agenda is to not buy—at least not yet. When it becomes the sales person’s perception the prospect is being less than honest, it also becomes their reality and the conversation stops.

During coaching session with another client of mine who was struggling to get anywhere in the cold calling process, he turned to me and said, “All of these guys are either lying or going out of business!”

He was calling on contractors most likely to need and buy his product, and after a brief introduction to himself and his company he asked, “Do you have any projects you would like me to quote for you?” The response was always “No”.

My client assumed all of these people were lying or going out of business. After all, how could they stay in business if they weren’t involved in any projects? The reality was the contractors were answering a different question.

My client was asking if they had anything he could quote them on. When he was told “No” he assumed they were lying or not working. The real answer was they didn’t have anything for him to quote because they didn’t know, like, or trust him…yet.

This prompted a change in strategy. My client started focusing on “Connecting” with them on a professional level first. Asking questions about their business, their current challenges, what types of projects they preferred doing and so on.

By changing his initial approach and making it first about them, he started getting prospects to say, “I have a couple things coming up. Can you get me some pricing?” By changing the conversation and making it more about the buyer my client was able to earn his prospect’s trust and, as a result, be more open and candid with him.

When it comes to conversations with prospects the goal should always be to connect, gain trust and discover what they need and want. The best way to do this is by asking more questions and digging deeper before jumping to the sale. The power is in the probe!

About the author

Les Lent

Les Lent

Les Lent is a Sales Trainer, Coach, Consultant, and holds 20 years experience as…

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