Do your clients treat you the way you want to be treated?

Never underestimate
how important personal responsibility can be in influencing our lives, and how much power
it gives us to effect change. Remember this: we train and condition people
to treat us the way we want to be treated

Consider, for
example, the use of sales and discounts. How often do you hold yourself true to your
word when you offer someone a limited-time discount? It’s a time-honored tradition
to offer a customer a discount on a sale when nearing month’s end—an incentive
to buy now rather than later. It comes implicitly with a threat:

I can only
offer you this discount if you buy before April 30th, after that, it’s back to
full price.

be honest: if that customer calls back on May 5th demanding the discounted price, how
likely are you to give it to them? This behavior is the kind that conditions customers—establishing
a precedent that they’ll expect again and again—that your limited-time offers
are anything but limited and that a lower price is something they can demand all the

In our society,
another way that we can inadvertently train others is when we don’t appear to respond
at all to undesirable behavior—when we’re silent. For example:

banker—let’s call him John—was having staff problems at his branch.
When his employees did something that he didn’t like, John wouldn’t say
anything, hoping that his silence would make a point. Instead, it had the opposite
effect—employees kept repeating the undesirable behavior.

if a customer yells at us and we don’t say anything, we’ve just rewarded
this person’s behavior—signaling that it’s okay to treat us that way.
Customers notice silence. Often, they interpret it as agreement or consent when, in fact,
it’s meant to convey disagreement. That’s why many people who have an aversion
to conflict often find themselves knee-deep in one, despite their best efforts.

We can even
train ourselves as well as others to deny the truth. Have you ever intentionally
arrived late for a meeting because you knew from past experience that it wouldn’t
start on-time? If you’re nodding your head in agreement, congratulations: the person
who chairs those meetings has trained you and the other attendees. Your behavior has
changed because of an expected outcome.

another example:

a government sales rep for a major software company was overseeing the implementation
of a new software system at her client’s site. This project required weekly project
meetings that required the attendance of the entire project team. People were regularly
late, so the meetings were never constructive. Laurie set her mind to fixing this problem.
First, she admitted to her customer that she was responsible for the meetings starting
late. Second, she emphasized that, in the future, meetings would always start on time,
regardless of the number of attendees. Third, she started all meetings at the exact
designated time—even if hardly anyone was present—and continued through
the agenda without any retracing for the late attendees. When the late arrivals requested
a review of the missed information, Laurie refused. This action trained the entire
project team about how to deal with Laurie’s meetings. It took only a few meetings
before everyone began showing up on time.

Look at your
own work habits. How are you training people to deal with you? What are you training
people at work and your customers to do? For example, if you ask your manager to be honest
with you and subsequently become defensive when they do…what happens? Your action
(or reaction) might train someone to be dishonest with you.

Bill had
a sales manager who was lying to him repeatedly. While he kept demanding that the manager
tell him the truth, it never seemed to work. After discussing the matter with Engage
Selling Solutions, Bill spoke to the sales manager and asked him: "What is it
about me that makes you feel uncomfortable about telling me the truth?" The answers
to this question gave Bill some important insights about what he could do differently
to develop a more truthful and productive relationship with his manager.

to the truth…

In sales, by
realizing how much you train and condition clients and colleagues and by taking ownership
of our assumptions, you can regain control of difficult situations. It puts an end to
the blame game. When we don’t blame someone, that person will be less likely to
become defensive and more receptive to what we have to say.

In a conversation
with someone, instead of saying "You make me think this," try saying: "I
have allowed myself to think this," or "I have chosen to
think this," or even "I find myself thinking this."

There are plenty
of ways to convey ownership of your feelings and assumptions. Just do it in a style that
feels right. Let’s apply that skill to everyday situations that we face as salespeople.

Here are two

noticed that you didn’t have anything to say during the presentation. I have
been thinking that you’re unhappy with the solution? What are your thoughts?"


noticed that you told me the proposal was okay. I’m thinking that you’re
not really that pleased with it. Do you have any feedback to give me about it?"

if that doesn’t work, how to confront a prospect who may be lying

Remember the
TV show Columbo—Peter Falk’s humble and unassuming character who
had a knack for getting at the truth? If Columbo thought he was hearing a conflicting
or inconsistent story, he would rub his head and say: "I notice you said this and
now you are saying that… I’m confused," or "Could you clarify this?" It
was a clever strategy. By taking responsibility for his confusion, he disarmed the other
person, making them feel comfortable enough to tell him the things he needed to know.

When you think
a prospect may not be telling you the truth, remember the Columbo Method. Stick
to the facts, approach a situation from the position that you are confused or unclear,
give your prospect the benefit of the doubt and ask questions sincerely to gain clarification.

Here are some

noticed yesterday that you mentioned you were looking for a product that would do X,
Y and Z. Today, you are telling me that getting the lowest price is the only consideration
for your purchase. Did something change?

When you
say you need a discount, how much do you need?

When you
say you need it next week, does that mean it has to be installed next week or just
that it has to arrive on your premises to be ready for installation?

confused. Could you help me understand your new purchasing process?

When you
say we are too expensive, what do you mean by that?

I notice
that you are hesitating over my proposal. Maybe I missed something that was important
to you. What are your thoughts about this?

of the point you wish to clarify, the Columbo Method will help you get to the
bottom of an issue quickly. Remember, much of what makes this approach work (and made
it work for Columbo) is that you have to genuinely want to find the answers and demonstrate
that it may well be your fault for not understanding. Only with this attitude of responsibility
will your questions be perceived as sincere. If you are asking these questions as a technique
to trick your prospect into telling the truth—to catch them in a lie—your
tonality will be interpreted as patronizing and disrespectful.

ownership of your behavior and assumptions. Remember, no one made you come up
with those thoughts, opinions, assumptions and conclusions. And only you can steer things

article is an excerpt from our book Honesty Sells published by Steven Gaffney and Colleen
Francis. If you liked this article you can purchase the e-book for 50% off the regular
on-line store price by visiting