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If there is one thing I can count on each evening around dinner time, it’s a poorly trained salesperson calling to try to sell me something. As someone who writes about and teaches sales concepts, it is my sworn duty to take each of these calls, and then pass along the stupidity to my readers. In recent years, there has been a shift: Now, they say that they are not calling to sell anything. Rather, the caller is simply looking to conduct a brief survey. This begs the question, how honest do you really have to be with clients?

The Origin Of The White Lie

When my wife asks, “How do you like my outfit?” I know there are only two potential answers: 1) “You look amazing;” or 2) “I love you. What time is our reservation?” I know after years of marriage, that she either wants a compliment, or a compliment.

This situation could be the scientific origin of the little white lie. Some might convince themselves that this selfless act of dishonesty can apply in business. However, when dealing with customers, it gets a bit tricky.

When White Lies Go Wrong

Recently, my family and I stayed at an amazing resort in Mexico. They offered a vacation ownership (timeshare) presentation. Given my profession, I feel obligated to attend and report back to you.

The recruiter at check-in said, “We will take 10% your entire stay, you’ll get 1,500 pesos toward spa services, and you’ll be entitled to $60 green fees instead of $250. All you have to do is give us one hour.” They explained that they would pick us up start with breakfast as their guest, and then we’d have the presentation.

The next morning, much to my wife’s dismay, we left our teenage children in the villa, and met our salesperson for breakfast. Upon arrival, the representative clarified that the 60 minutes would begin after breakfast. That seemed reasonable. After breakfast he said, “All I ask is that you give me an open mind and your honesty.” He would get both, and would later learn to be careful what you ask for.

Where The Lie Backfired

The resort really delivered a great presentation – better than most we have seen. The salesperson kept talking, thinking it would persuade us. I explained that we had been there for 75 minutes at this point, and we had to get back to our family.

Much like the old-school car dealerships, then the sales manager stopped by. He rambled for another 20 minutes. Finally, I said, “Guys, we’re just not a fit for you. We’ll never do business together. It’s time for us to leave. We agreed to spend 60 minutes. At 75 minutes, you kept going. Now it has been over 90 minutes.”

He replied, “How many people do you really think will invest this kind of money in only 60 minutes?” He continued, “You have to agree that we have an amazing product and what we’ve laid out for you is an incredible value. How could you possibly not take advantage of it?”

Here is what I said.

“We agreed to 60 minutes. By your own admission, you don’t expect anyone to just spend 60 minutes. Clearly, you lied about the time, and don’t respect our time. You presented a bunch of stuff that sounds great. However, we can only assume that you are lying about those things, too.”

Once you lie to your customer, it is reasonable for them to assume that you are willing to lie whenever it serves your interests.

How To Avoid This Mistake

You might setup a meeting with your client for 20 minutes. The meeting is going great, and the client is clearly engaged. You notice that it has been 18 minutes. What do you do? Try this.

“Sorry to interrupt. I know we agreed to spend 20 minutes together, and we’re almost at that point. My schedule is open, but I didn’t want to spent more time than we had agreed to spend without checking with you, first.” If your client is engaged, they’ll give permission to continue. At a minimum, you will have earned their trust and they just might schedule another meeting to take a deeper dive.

It’s Your Turn

Where has an initial lie eroded your trust? What examples do you have of honesty that proved to earn trust? Share your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Building Trust With Customers

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