Are Buyers really Liars?…The salesperson’s challenge!


The solution to uncovering any truth is to ask questions…Here’s a question I asked of my fellow LinkedIn Group Network connections …

Are buyers really liars or do many salespeople fail to engage customers at the trust level? What’s your take on this issue from both perspectives…customer and salesperson?
Add your comments to the mix and add further value to the discussion!
Gordon Millar • I believe it would be far too strong to suggest that buyers are liars – although it makes for the beginning of a good rap! In the main, buyers or purchasing officers normally have to protect their employers’ commercial confidences so they cannot always impart all the information and as any good negotiator will do, they will keep something up their sleeve for the latter stage of the discussion. Some do seem to have a habit of just using suppliers to benchmark prices and this can be time-wasting and frustrating.
On the other hand, the sales rep can be the most detestable animal on the planet. I’m thinking of the stereotypical flash, fast talking, slick so-called professional who is normally commission driven. Sadly, these people give the true pros a bad name and it reflects poorly on what should be an honourable profession.I’ve been on the receiving end of this style of selling in car showrooms right through to packaging and I just walk away in disgust. More often than not, these people masquerade behind pseudo qualifications, being members of the Institute of this or that in some effort to give a pretence of credibility.
I have sat on both sides of the fence having specified and purchased much of what I have sold. In some cases, a NDA has not been necessary but I have withheld some information from my supplier having been requested to do so whilst being as open as practicable possible. At the same time, I have never blagged or misled a customer. On a few rare occasions, having been misinformed by a supplier, I have imparted incorrect information but quickly and openly
Lina Laplante• Good morning, I may not have much experience in buying but I purchase mostly tooling after my designs are finished and move to production. For my experience the price is very important but I find it very competitive as well on the product I purchase. I find that if the salesperson is very technical and knows is product in and out, if he/she can offer troubleshooting when I have a problem running their tooling or design on the machine, that is worth a lot to me. That sales rep is worth the extra few dollars which I regain, better service and less production down time can also make a huge savings compare to the initial cost of the product. Many times the buyer looks at the cost saving of one product but over looks the big picture.Liar? Can’t put all in the same basket
Gordon Millar • Here is a classic and true scenario: My brother was a Gov Sales Manager in the computer industry and typically, he would lead a team of project evaluation people who would eventually put together a proposal and present it to civil servants. They would then go through the proposal and water it down on the basis of “we don’t need that or we can’t afford this” – without any understanding of systems. OK, the contract would be signed, against best advice and the installation would be done. Within weeks of completion, it would be clear that it wasn’t able to do what was required. So, next step would be a threat of litigation. A compromise would then be agreed in that some add-ons would be thrown in (the ones originally specified) but as they had not been integrated from the start, they would not work as well and of course, the cost would go through the roof. Net result? A cobbled together system, massively over budget and needing constant maintenance at additional cost. The responsible civil servant would never be sacked for incompetence – just promoted diagonally into another area he knew nothing about to blow more taxpayers’ money.
Lee Unsworth • Having several years of experience in Sales I find this thread very interesting and there are many great points that have been made.
I have been extremely fortunate in that on the whole I have a customer base that has remain fairly consistent and we have been able to build relationships, and also the benefit of working for a ‘supplier’ that the majority of my potential customer base see some value of having a relationship with – even if the current level of trading is minimal.
My observations would be that ‘buyers’ and ‘salesmen’ are just people and within those brackets you get the extremes. Some buyers are very open and honest and will disclose any information that you ask for down to specific details and others are more closed and guarded about their information. You could call this the horizontal axis of information in terms of details given. The vertical axis would then be the level of truth – does the ‘buyer’ tell the whole truth, are they stretching it a little (for example exaggerating the volumes to attract a lower price), or are they in fact deliberately providing mis-leading information (for example – you are trying to increase your selling prices to us when your competitors are actively reducing prices that already start lower than yours).
The third axis if we wish to measure this in 3D would be the level of information that the buyer has, ranging from being completely informed to the requirements of the product or service that you are discussing, compared to simply being asked to get a quote for a product on their spreadsheet.
What I would say is that as you develop a relationship with your ‘buyer’ you get a feel for where they stand and as long as you listen to them and build a picture over time you will be able to more or less deduce the truth from the information that they give you. I have also found that it is much more difficult to ‘lie’ over a period of time as inconsistencies will start to appear.
Personally, without being naive I also prefer to give my ‘buyer’ the benefit of the doubt unless they give me reason not to do so. Occasionally this might mean I get caught out, but it will only ever happen once, and I would prefer to be occasionally misled than to treat everybody with distrust.
Gerard PERRIN • Well, I guess that this question is probably as old as humanity or any elaborate social organisation. It all evolves around negotiating the best deal. With a minimum of experience (look at children in a courtyard) you quickly learn to trade information for value. Is this a lie? Technically, yes. Pragmatically it is the same as being polite : you do not say to the rest of the world all what you think and you filter the information you leak to the outside. Because you want to be nice and because we live in a policed society. Is it a sin? No, it is considered as a gift and a talent, when you do it perfectly. And the best at it are the most socially successful individuals.
My opinion, is therefore that it is rational to withhold important information in a negotiation as long as you remain within morally sustainable boundaries. Now what are those? That is probably the key question…
Lina Laplante • I love your answer Mr. Perrin. Just plain old common sense
Bob Vermillion, CPP/Fellow• Good comments! Ahmad’s comment on making a good first impression is very true. That pertains to proposals and presentations. The more you sweat in practice, the less you will bleed in the game as my college coach would say.Go the extra mile with professionalism and value will be on the table!
Gordon Millar • It’s only from my personal experience which has predominantly been in what is generally known as “solutions sales”. My business is about devising solutions for specific issues and that does require a knowledge of the full picture and a meeting of minds. I guess I am fortunate in being in this business as I am in the main, dealing with some very astute and high calibre people. Other sectors which are less controlled may not demand much in the way of ethics so they can get a way with the “wham bam thank you mam” approach. I hate to come over as pious but I can sleep at night even knowing that I’ll never be a millionnaire. In other sectors, I suspect the term “Caviat Emptor” (forgive – not a Latin scholar) should be written in bold.Maybe fast bucks but potentially a very fast fall when people eventually suss you out.
Ian McIntosh • Interesting observation Gordon. I believe ‘professional’ buyers and sellers eventually develop a respectful relationship and understanding with each other. They both know their objective is to get the best they can for their respective companies – the win/win scenario in the modern world. I do feel that the ‘qualified’ person who has ISMM and CISP and various other paper qualifications perhaps believe they are achievers because they have done the pain so to speak. I was told about a year ago I needed to have relevant letters after my name on my business card ot be taken seriously. I asked why. I have been a lifelong attendant at the Academy of Life – seen it done it and got the T short baseball cap and anorak for my troubles. I say something very simple to all concerned, speak honestly have no political agendas respect your opponent and get on with the task at hand. Be yourself not a robotically trained moron because ‘professionals’ will find you out.
Gordon Millar • Ian, I wholeheartedly agree. I fully respect people who with perhaps the benefit of high quality technical training are well equipped to deal with certain situations and developments. However, I have always questioned the need for an MBA simply to sit in front of a customer and scroll through a Powerpoint presentation, reading bullet points which he can see for himself. As a young man in my 20s, I was frustrated to be told that I needed more experience before I could be allowed that all important credibility but I respected that. Now, as I guess we are in a similar bracket age wise, you may share my feelings about some of the young hot shots who are around. Before setting up my own business, I was interviewed by young recruiters – graduates who didn’t have a clue what their client required or what the role entailed. Equally, I was interviewed by employers who perhaps saw me as a threat rather than an asset with experience which could add value.
Like you, I’d rather have the hat, the shoes and the T-shirt than a degree in the bleedin’ obvious! The key is to still be willing to learn.
I very much doubt that either of us will ever appear on The Apprentice. Recruiters should watch that avidly and make note of the participants. Sadly, they seem to epitomise what is required nowadays. Personally, I would spurn them as I would a rabid dog. I wouldn’t trust them to run a bath, never mind a business.
Perhaps if they make a new series of “Grumpy Old Men”……………..?
Colin Chapman • Many buyers today have to purchase more than one item and find that they focus on price to much, where cost is the main issue.I was asked to supply a certain thickness film.when I asked what the specification and application he wanted, he had no idea.I explained that was like me asking him to buy me a blue car.When I offered to go in and audit, so I could recommend the correct product, he said “no I just want your best price”When I asked best for me or him, well you know the answer.I then informed him he did not qualify to be one of my customers, he told he will buy from my business if he wanted to.When I explained again that being a solution provider is like being a doctor and you do not prescribe your solution until you understand all the symptoms etc he only wanted to deal on price so he was disqualified, there was no benefit for the seller and the buyer would not listen.I am very laid back and do not get excited I listen well and take notes so I can cover all points discussed.I even offered training on the product he purchases, so he could understand all about performance materials and how the impact of the information I was to give him could become his knowledge and his company would benefit from it
This is a very shortened version of the conversation and he is a buyer in the majority side of business, but still he does not qualify from taking any more of my time.
ask the question is cost saving something you are only interested in or is this something you want?
if the answer is interested – disqualify all buyers aren’t liars though, the same as sellers. anybody that lies just win business is liar in life and must not be trusted
Gordon Millar • Picking up on Colin’s points, I would blame the scenarios he describes on buyers buying by numbers. That is to say, they have a computer listing which only quotes a product code number, say AB1349 and a brief description eg “Blue film” or “White 100ml bottle”. At one point in my career, I dealt with a major company, ruled by a young lady buyer who was notoriously aggressive. She had actually spent years and several hundreds of thousands of her employers pounds buying bottles and closures which did not fit. My company had no knowledge of this despite repeated requests for the full picture. I took over the business and was told “not to upset ****as she is very important”. I immediately upset her by contacting her Technical Director and obtaining the full specifications and information about what components were being used in conjunction with each other. Within a few short months, albeit enduring much animosity, we became “Best Supplier” and I grew the account from c £150k to c £1.5 m. She was happy, the Tech Dir was happy and my boss stopped having kittens because he was making profit through my adding value which secured the business long term.
So, don’t just place and embargo on “difficult” customers. Ask for more information.
Ian McIntosh • Gordon I dont think Grumpy old men is the right series for you. You would end up type cast. You may have a career opportunity in journalism though. There are several old gits like myself with nearly 40 years ‘working’ experience who have been cast adrift by the hot shot graduates who dont realise what a fine tune us old fiddlers can play. We end up starting our own business!
Colin I agree with you that buyers judge suppliers on price whereas the overall service offering is what may be classed as a more appropriate measure. I admire your decision to walk away from a potential client I wish there were more like you. I have advocated for years when in corporate roles that it was not a charity we were expected to make a profit but lemmings continue to fall even today at a buyers feet and say ‘what will you pay me this week’. That’s what makes the world a fascinating place. My last Manager in corporate made me redundant. He constantly over promised and under delivered but did not knowingly lie! he lost business with customers and ultimately his job – satisfaction or what!
We have lost the thread of the original question. being independent now I don’t have this issue. I don’t however consider buyers are liars but sellers have to be capable of finding the truth or the facts and sadly many are not capable hence the buyer is still the king or queen in the negotiation stakes
Gordon Millar • Ian you could be right. Journalism sounds fun though. Do you happen to know any good publishers for my soon to be completed book “Is Ethics near to London?”
Ryan Weiss • I have found communication between customers and vendors to be less than perfect.
1. Customers do not always know what they want -for a variety of reasons.
2. Customers do not always clearly express what they want -again for a variety of reasons.
3. Even when the first two criterion are met, many sales people only selectively hear what they want.
Really understanding your customer’s process is key to understanding the business fit between vendors-customers!
Colin Chapman • Find the specifiers of your products first, understand the applications. talk to as many people on the lines that may use your product. unearth any issues with your customers- customer. there may be costs incurred in returns etc that the buyer does not see as their budget.
If you have the support and information of the users, the buyer can buy in to your solution even if the price is higher, the overall business solution will cost less then there are no liars
the sleeping fox catches no poultry
Roy Wilson • Al you started an interesting thread. In my experience honesty on both sides is mutually beneficial. I suppose i am quite fortunate, in that over the years i have developed a very strong relationship with my customers.Understanding that we are “partners” together has achieved more than the old vendor/customer role. Good listening and communication skills are a plus.
Dale Moore• There are both good buyers and sales representatives. That being said from my perspective as a buyer I expect the sales representative to be the expert.They are rarely this way and it is an indictment on the company that put them in the field.On the flip side there are many poor buyers who just do not care. The next subset would be those who want to do well and do not have the time because companies do not realize that purchasing contributes mightily to the bottom line.I have to fully trust a sales person to tell me the truth no matter good or bad. A pet peeve has always been not being apprised of market conditions and doing what is in the best interest of my company. Of all the sales reps I have ever known in my long career only a few have ever shot straight . Thusly I have kept them around many years and they are very much rewarded.
Ted Brink • Buyers and sales people have their role to play, which is per definition subjective. Their game is money, more than quality or technological achievement. When a more expensive product results in higher yield (output, quality), it may be beyond the horizon for the commercial people/
As a technician, I am lucky, that technical issues are (or should be) based on knowledge and experience. So lying is not in the dictionary of a technician.
Sorry Al, that I made the discussion broader than the relation sales people versus customers.
Ahmad Jarrar • You can never have a second chance to give a first impression… this is the most important issue in sales..
Eric Gay• Mr Brink and Mr Weiss are right on. Communication break downs are generally caused by lack of proper listening or listening with a biased ear. In my experience this lack of listening or “selective hearing” is directly related to the amount of time either party feels they have to provide a solution, or their individual stake in the game. The buyer looking to purchase a solution and make a bonus and the sales person to sell one and make a bonus. The buyer may be buying multiple materials and not have invested the time into understanding the manufacturing process to understand intimately the needs of his application. The sales person is in a similar position but likely only being told by marketing or R&D what the product can do, but not understanding the sometimes more important process limitations. Toss into this environment the desire of many companies to “do more with less” which adds pressure and reduces time for proper investigation, and the statistical advantage suddenly lies with failure rather than success.How does one avoid this SNAFU?
1) Know your business. Success and failure limits. The process is key.
2) Be honest. Be accountable.
3) Ask questions and LISTEN. Define clearly needs and wants and the differences between them.
4) Be patient. the best things come to those who wait.
5) Have fun. If you don’t like what you are doing, you won’t do it well and everyone will be able to tell eventually.
Gordon Millar • Al, You started the thread and hopefully, the contributors have been tactful. However, it would be interesting to know your own thoughts on the subject – and what prompted the question.
Al Bagocius • Gordon & everyone else…Thanks for all of your responses! Readers of your postings will gain new insights from your expertise. To address Gordon’s question…I think all too often, salespeople are transactional and missing the opportunity to develop a relationship with the customer…simply by asking questions…we can understand better the needs of the customer and refrain from the “Them VS Us” that frustrates the salesperson into believing the customer isn’t forthright and the customer believing the stereotypic view of shallow salespeople.
Helen Leisi • TO GORDON.

I am not a buyer and I sell advertising which is a bit different but still requires a clear understanding of the customer’s requirement. However I read this discussion with great interest. I mainly wanted to comment to tell Gordon what a great title for a book – “Is Ethics near to London?”. Genius!!!! By the way Gordon – I am in contact with HPT in Germany regarding a possible free article in our online magazine which could lead to some extra exposure for the products you sell.

William D Lanham II • This whole line of discussion is great! I see years of experience and hard knocks peaking through but back to the original question do buyers lie. YES every single day in nearly every circumstance and until you develop a close personal relationship with them you must assume they are always lying regarding price, competitors, bottom line needs, even if they truly plan to buy from you! Why do any of us think a buyer buy nature would be different than any of us. How could it possibly benefit the buyer if you ask the price and he told you exactly what he paid the other supplier? If he does I’m suspicious he has a credit problem. The buyer’s looking for the best deal possible and the mistake made by most sales people is putting the buyer in a position to lie to you.

I love the statement from a buyer that it’s all about price. “in other words I’m not ready to buy from you” My immediate response is GREAT then we can both help each other you just want a lower price and I want to supply you product. Show me you’re current price and we’ll take 3% off, cut a PO and we both win? Surprise I’ve never gotten an order from any of them. They all respond the same way, well it’s more than just the price you need to bla bla bla. Then the selling begins. When we allow ourselves to fall into the buyers system we end up either selling our products and services for less than we necessary or we waste tons of time and effort on a prospective customer before we’ve qualified their intent to buy.

If they have no “pain” you will have nothing to “gain”.

Gordon Millar • Not sure I can agree with William on this. It assumes that everyone is a liar and despite my inherently sceptical Scottish nature, I do not accept that. I suspect that the scenarios are based on simply expecting to have to price match rather than offer an improvement in quality or some operational benefit. Some buyers can be under intense pressure to drive prices down and if you know the full story, it is possible to sympathise and look at ways of helping each other eg economy of scale in production with an underwrite of contingency stock.
Commodities are normally sold on the basis of price providing the basic spec is acceptable but the more specialist the product, the more it becomes a request to provide a solution and then, price becomes secondary to a degree although nobody in their right mind would buy anything without looking for the best all round deal.
There are many genuinely excellent buyers out there and they are not necessarily the ones who issue the orders easily. The best usually make you work for it but are open to discussion about the real benefits you have to offer.
Colin Chapman • Take the ICE out of prICE and you are left with PR

I never trust anyone that lies to me in any situation
I try to treat everyone the same as I want to be treated

Would you trust your partner if they lied to you?

Colin Chapman • Remember when selling, there is no such thing as like for like
specifications are always slightly different and manufacturing equipment is always different in age etc
business overheads are different
and biggest I do no work for the competition
Gordon Millar • Who was it who once said “If you are engaging in a battle of the minds, make sure that your weapon is fully loaded”? I imagine some people feel the need to take a Glock and full clip of 9mm hollow points nowadays.
William West PhD • Now that I have read the comments, I must say that this subject is very interesting. Once upon a time sales people were called great if they could “out smart” the buyers and the owners in their markets. Stage two was when the buyers were placed on bonus programs and then it became a game of buyer vs salesman. If a salesman is really good he/she will understand the needs of his client and foster a relationship with the organization. It is a not a scientific process. I once created a program called “UCE” which simply meant “understanding customer expectations.” I felt that it was very important as the marketplace was changing and we had to change with it. This program remains in place today and has paved the road to progress and growth.
Al Bagocius
The A & I Consulting Group
Creative Packaging Solutions
9838 Old Baymeadows Road # 387
Jacksonville, FL 32256
Voice Mail: 904.553.9539
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“We Package Your Message!”

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