There are not many things that cause me to come unglued. But there are two that provoke immediate outrage—and usually a tirade if I’m speaking with an individual or a group.

These two things are:

  • Customers lie!
  • The customer is stupid!

These are, possibly, the most destructive statements and attitudes any business professional, but particularly sales people can have. Thinking this shapes our behaviors and approaches when we engage customers. However well we think we may disguise these attitudes, it always comes through, loud and clear, when we engage the customer. The reactions we get, as a result, we deserve!

Customers lie—yes there are, in my experience, a small number that do. I don’t bother with them, they aren’t worth the time or potential loss of integrity to deal with them. But these represent a handful of the people I’ve ever met. I don’t believe customers lie. Do they give you the right information? Do they give you all the information you should have? Do they tell you everything that’s going on or what they are thinking?

No, it’s naïve of us to think so. It’s also not the customer’s responsibility to do this. It’s our responsibility to ask them the right questions, to probe, challenge, and understand. If we aren’t asking the right questions, if we aren’t learning enough about the challenges the customer faces, if we aren’t talking to enough people or the right people, we won’t get the information we need. If we aren’t pushing back when the customer says something that doesn’t make sense, it’s our fault.

Does this mean we accept everything the customer says at face value? Absolutely not! They may be wrong, they may misunderstand, they may be guessing, they simply may not know. It’s our job to figure this out.

Do they give us bad information? Sometimes, but rarely maliciously–and if they have, it’s usually a reaction to something that we’ve done that’s terribly wrong. Some times they give us bad information because they have bad information. We may be working with people on a deal, but they don’t have everyone aligned in their organization, or they may not have their management’s support. Sometimes they give us bad information because they simply don’t know. Sometimes they give us bad information unintentionally, when they may be trying to be helpful. It’s not their fault, it’s our error in not understanding the situation, particularly the dynamics of the decision making process better.

Do they mislead us? Sometimes, but usually not purposefully. Sometimes, they let us mislead ourselves. We make assumptions, act on those assumptions, and the customer doesn’t correct us. They let us go in whatever direction we’ve chosen. Usually, that’s a result of our failure to establish a deep, trusted relationship with the customer. We’ve not engaged them properly.

We have to take responsibility for the quality of communications, collaboration, and engagement with the customer. The information we get, will only be as good as the questions and conversations we have. The engagement we get will be a direct result of the value we create. Create great value and the customer will always reciprocate. This doesn’t mean they agree with you, this doesn’t mean they will select you. But you will have a fair chance to compete.

The customer is stupid! If the customer doesn’t agree with us, if the customer doesn’t select us, if the customer doesn’t “get” how wonderful and superior our products are, if the customer has a different point of view, if the customer simply doesn’t like us–that doesn’t mean they’re stupid! It means we’ve failed to communicate effectively and persuade.

I spend a lot of time sitting in “bullpens,” or meetings. I often overhear conversations where sales people are saying, “They’re so stupid!” or “They’re idiots.” When I challenge sales people about it, they quickly say, “Oh, we’d never say that to their face!” Even though the words may never come out of a sales person’s mouth, the attitudes are shouted out to the customer through the behaviors we display. Customers can read and sense our attitudes just as well as we can. The moment, we believe our customers are stupid, we’ve lost the deal, perhaps we’ve lost the customer.

It’s our responsibility to manage the quality of our communications. It’s our responsibility to create value in every exchange. It’s our responsibility to be trustworthy and trustful. It’s not the customer’s job. After all, it’s we who are trying to get the customer to change, and we have to manage the process.

If you think the customer is stupid, take a look in the mirror. The face you see reflected is the stupid person.