#64 Customer Caring: The Fine Line of Customer Manipulation

He burst into my office mad as hell. Pacing across the room and ranting.

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“This is a freaking disaster! How did we let this happen? It’s flat out irresponsible that we lost this deal.”

My angry visitor was a sales manager that worked for me. He and his team had lost a deal that he felt they should have won. He was inconsolable - but I tried anyway.

“It’s not the end of the world. It’s rounding error. You’re still going to crush your numbers.”

He stopped dead in his tracks and gave me a nasty look.

“That’s not the point. I don’t care about the numbers. I care about the customer. I know their developers and their skill sets. They're gonna fail with our competitors product. We let them down by not convincing them to choose us.”

I’m not making this up. This team really did feel this way - the customers success was priority one. And, consequently, this team and others like it always crushed their numbers.


Early in my career I attended a sales training class. And the hot topic was mirroring - copying the actions of the customer. If they cross their arms, you cross your arms. If they lean forward, you lean forward.

I was also taught to turn questions around on folks.

“Keith, can you tell me why product A costs more than product B.”

“Well Jerry, am I right that you’re concerned with the difference in price between products A and B?”

The idea was to not say a whole helluva lot - get them talking. Maybe even answering their own questions. Maybe sharing little tidbits of info that I could use to close the sale quicker.

And whatever you do, cautioned the trainer, never ever talk about price early in your discussion. Something about anchoring blah, blah, blah.

Bottom line, I was being taught to physically and verbally manipulate the customer. And the trainer claimed there was real science behind these tactics.

As proof, take a look at the book INFLUENCE by Robert Cialdini. This still popular title came out back in 1984 and here are a few excerpts…


Page 25: Food servers have learned that simply giving customers a candy or mint along with their bill significantly increases tips. In general, business operators have found that, after accepting a gift, customers are willing to purchase products and services they would have otherwise declined.

Page 151: Several studies have demonstrated that we are more likely to help those who dress like us…

Page 151: Another way requesters can manipulate similarity to increase liking and compliance is to claim that they have backgrounds and interests similar to ours…

And there are lots more examples in the book. Enough to make the case that it's pretty easy to muck with folks brains in selling situations.



Assuming price and quality are comparable, who would you rather do business with - Billy or Jimmy?

Billy is smooth and professional. He’s full of complements and even remembers your kids birthdays. He also just so happens to dress like you and claims to have a similar background. During sales calls he tends to mock your body language. Does a lot of repeating what you say, and answers your questions with questions. He also hands out lots of small gifts and tickets to sporting events. And he's always pushing to close the deal immediately.

On the other hand…

Jimmy isn’t quite as polished and even gets his words mixed up occasionally. He also doesn’t mock you. Doesn’t dress like you. And doesn’t claim to have a similar background. And rather than giving you gifts he gives direct answers to your questions. You never get the impression that he’s just telling you what you want to hear. And he only asks for the order once he knows your concerns are met and that you can place it with confidence.

So who would you rather do business with?

I’d pick Jimmy. And I’d go out of my way to avoid Billy - probably even make sure to wash my hands after he left my office.


I refused to use these manipulative techniques when I was taught them many years ago. And I'd go out of my way to avoid doing business with someone that's playing these games today. If I want to be mocked I'll train a monkey to do it. Either focus on adding value to my day in a non-manipulative way or please leave my office.

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But, maybe I'm in the minority. I had wrongly assumed that this creepy model of selling was long dead. Or only used by high-pressure boiler room folks, con-artists, etc. But I was wrong. 

Trainers still teach this stuff. Reps proudly discuss these techniques in sales discussion groups. And bloggers still write positively about them. Here's an excerpt from a blog post on the topic

"Salespeople can use mirroring to quickly build rapport with a prospect. However, it's important to be subtle! Mirroring only works if the prospect doesn't realize that you're doing it on purpose. If a prospect does pick up on what you're doing he'll probably think you're making fun of him. Overdoing mirroring can also turn you into a caricature of the other person, which is sure to offend her."

To each his or her own, but I still hate the stuff. I think more along the lines of this quote from Simon Sinek, the guru of WHY that I’ve referenced in several posts. On page 84 of his book START WITH WHY he says…

“Trust begins to emerge when we have a sense that another person or organization is driven by things other than their own self-gain.”

Well, mirroring and other subtle manipulation crap are all about the reps self-gain. It's a hidden tactic, something that might offend the customer if they pick up on it. It's something you're doing TO the customer rather than WITH or FOR the customer. It has absolutely nothing to do with building a sincere, honest, trusting connection. 


So please, cut the crap. Make sure you’re not paying for training that manipulates. Make sure your reps aren’t using this garbage. Treat your customers the way you want to be treated by the salespeople that call on your business.

Which, by the way, is exactly how the sales team I told you about in the opening treated our customers. They loved helping them achieve success with our products. And that led to customers that loved our company and enjoyed being references for us. 

A virtuous cycle that helped us blow out our numbers year after year.

That’s all for today. Stay tuned for next time when I wrap up this series of sales posts by discussing sales forecasting.

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