The Forward Observer

How to (Nicely) Push Back on Buyers Who Don’t Tell You the Full Truth


People lie all the time. In fact, one study found most adults can’t last 10 minutes without lying. Yet while you can probably overlook the occasional fibs from your friends, family, and coworkers, you should never ignore dishonesty from a prospect.After all, your ability to help them depends on having the right information. If they don’t give you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, you’re going to develop recommendations that are wrong for their needs.

But when a prospect lies to you or omits key details, what should you do? Sure, you could say, “You’re full of it,” … if you want them to hang up the phone or walk out of the meeting. Plus, it’s usually not clear whether the other person is purposely giving you bad information — or they simply don’t know what they don’t know.

Rather than accusing them of lying, use these clever responses to make them think being honest was their idea.

1. “Huh, okay. When I’ve spoken with similar companies about [topic], I typically found they were [experiencing the opposite, came to a different conclusion, observed something else]. Can you go into a little more detail?”

Referencing your industry knowledge accomplishes three things. First, it reminds the prospect that you’ve got credibility. Second, it’ll create a sense of urgency — will not having your product hold their business back? Finally, asking them to elaborate will help you identify whether they really are lying or they’re just an unusual case.

Here’s how this exchange might play out:

Prospect: Our customers would rather get support over the phone than over email or in the app.
You: Huh, okay. I’ve worked with about 45 companies in your industry, and the vast majority report that their users had to ask for in-app and email help. Can you go into a little more detail?
Prospect: Hmm. Well, I think some of our users might want that too, a few have mentioned it to our customer support team. I’ll look at the results of our latest survey.
You: Yeah, let me know what you find! Since getting help over chat is fairly new, your users’ expectations might’ve changed pretty recently. Our own surveys show that satisfaction increases 300% after our customers install our platform.

2. “That surprises me, only because in a previous conversation I wrote down [the contradictory fact]. Let me correct my notes.”

This response shows you care about having accurate information for their sake, not yours. Plus, it puts the fault on you, rather than them — and that’s key because accusing your prospect of giving you false information might only make them dig in more.

But even though you’re putting the responsibility on yourself, you’re still subtly suggesting that the facts don’t line up. Telling the prospect you’ll update your notes gives them the perfect opportunity to say, “Wait, I might’ve been wrong about that.”

You should also take this opportunity to make sure you’re working with the right person. It’s possible they’re giving you unreliable answers because they’re not senior enough or don’t have decision-making power. If you suspect this is the case, ask, “How would the decision process work with an offering like this? What would be your role in the process, and the roles of others on the decision team?”

And if turns out the prospect is a non-decision-maker, you don’t need to walk away — here’s how to get them to sell the decision-maker for you.

3. “Alright. To clarify, [summarize what prospect said]. Did I get that right? Usually, I find …”

When your prospect has contradicted themselves or given you an answer your gut tells you is wrong, don’t automatically assume they’re crossing their fingers behind their back. Again, it’s possible they’re not purposefully lying to you. You may just need to do some digging to figure out if the prospect is confused, misinformed, or in the dark. That’s why this response is so handy: it steers clear of blaming the prospect by suggesting that if something sounds wrong, it’s because you misunderstood them.

However, it doesn’t sacrifice your credibility. By pointing to your previous experiences, you remind the prospect that you’re an expert in this area — which reinforces their trust in you.

Finally, by asking, “Did I get that right?”, you give the other person the chance to acknowledge their error or clear up the confusion without losing face.

4. “Good to know. Can we explore that a little further?”

Sometimes, it’s best to get the other person to uncover their lie for you. Most falsehoods quickly unravel as soon as you start asking questions — but since you’ve been asking questions throughout, the prospect won’t realize what’s going on. The key is to ask questions in a way that uncovers more information without getting the prospect defensive and forces them to think critically about what they’re telling you.

For example, let’s say the prospect tells you, “Our board doesn’t want to change vendors because we’re anticipating zero growth this year.”

You know this isn’t true, because you looked into the company’s latest earnings call. But rather than calling them on it, you say, “Ah, good to know. What will be your biggest challenges of adapting to that flat rate?”

Your prospect will either make something up — in which case you can ask another question — or come clean. Either way, you’ll get the truth without pissing them off.

5. “Hmm. That’s pretty unusual for [the industry, an organization of your size, the product category, the status of your business, etc.]”

If you want to be a little more direct aggressive, try this response. You’re still not telling the prospect they’re wrong, but you are plainly expressing your doubt. It’s best reserved for relationships that can withstand a little pressure.

Maybe you’re working with a prospect who really seems to trust you. Up until now, he’s been pretty transparent — but he just told you his company’s budget is locked in for the rest of the year, and they can only afford your product if you slash the price by 35%.

You say, “Hmm. It’s pretty unusual for a company of your size to have finalized the budget so early.”

You could either wait for him to say, “Well, we might have a little flexibility,” or you could steer the conversation back to your product’s value by saying, “If money wasn’t an issue, would our service solve your problem?”

(Wondering how else to respond to budget objections? Here are 33 foolproof one-liners.)

With these responses, you can get the truth from your prospect without accusing or guilt-tripping them. Yet if they continue to give you bad info — either because they’re being dishonest or because they have no idea what you’re talking about — it’s probably time to walk away.

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