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Honestly, to Tell You the Truth, the Honest Truth is that We Aren't Here to Rip You Off!

"Negotiation is the art of reaching agreement by trust while lying."  -- Keith Shetterly, 2011

Wow!  My friends have pointed out that I needed another article for "trust-eroding" words and phrases--spoken or written--that can kill sales, so here comes Part 2 of what is now a series.  What do I mean by "trust-eroding"?  Well, that's best explained by going right to the first example:


Honestly.  You're eroding trust directly with the use of this word--because when you reach a point in a conversation where you say, "Well, honestly, . . .", does that mean to the customer that you were lying the entire time before you said that phrase?  YES.  My opening quote is true of negotiation, in that the customer knows things like the dark history of their trade and/or their credit score that can kill a deal, while the dealer knows the invoice, holdback, step money, bonus motivations, etc. that can make a deal happen.  And nobody wants to reveal any of that right out at the front.  It's hard enough to establish trust in any negotiation because of that situation, so you don't need to call yourself out in some mistrustful way while you are negotiating!  Using "honestly" puts you backwards immediately and erodes trust.


The Fix: Instead of saying "Well, honestly, . . . ", say "Let me share something more with you . . . ".  The first says you're a liar, the second says to the customer that they've successfully negotiated and corned you into revealing more information--and it's usually a very good idea to stroke the customer's ego during a sale.  So, "Let me share something more with you . . . " is now your trust mantra!  And, as well, never, ever, use the next phrase . . .


To Tell You The Truth.  This sounds a lot like "honestly", and there is certainly that full aspect for this phrase, so if necessary please read the previous item on "honestly" again.  However, there's even more for this phrase:  It's often mis-applied as a bonding-with-the-customer moment, as in "I'm breaking a rule here to reveal this . . .", but "To tell you the truth" actually says to the customer that, not only have you perhaps been lying up to this point, but that you also might lie again in the future!  You'd have to beat this phrase to death as a preface to every statement you make in order to theoretically offset that, but that repetition in reality would just erode trust even further.  Avoid "to tell you the truth", even as a preface phrase like "To tell you the truth, I don't know."  Really?  Thank goodness you didn't give another lying answer to the other questions I asked already or as you will to the next ones I'm going to ask!


The Fix:  Use the phrase "Let me tell you one of our secrets . . ." instead.  Again, you're stroking the customer's ego, bonding with them, and telling them (again) that they've cornered you in the negotiations into revealing more information.  And NOT eroding trust!


The Honest Truth Is.  Yep, here's the "Ultimate Trust-Eroding Combo Pack" built on the last two phrases.  Are you saying there is a "dishonest" truth?  And, whatever that is, the customer is now thinking, again, that you're a liar, that you're going to be a liar--and, additionally, that the very next words you are now about to utter after this phrase are most certainly a lie.  "The honest truth is that my sales manager has done as much as he can, and this is the lowest price he can offer."  Sure it is.


The Fix:  Say, instead, in this case "The fact is . . ."--because facts are evidence, and truth is philosophy.  You are telling them a fact they can choose to believe because they know you've worked hard on their behalf with your sales manager.  You've let them know that, right?  You're not using "The honest truth is . . ." because you're shortcutting the sales process, are you?  Exactly.  Use "The fact is . . ." because your work on their behalf is a fact, your sales manager has negotiated fairly, and your dealership does treat its customers the best in the area.  


We Aren't Here to Rip You Off.  Ugh!!  Really?  If you're not here to do that, why did you have to tell me that??  Alert!  Alert!  Trust erosion ahead!  This phrase, and those like it, attract customer suspicion like honey attracts bees. 

The Fix:  Just learn that real trust is built, not on what you aren't, but on what you are--and say instead:  "We are an honest dealership . . .".  Simple and says it all.  And back-able by appropriate additions such "our online reputation with our customers shows", "our fifty years in business means", etc.  Trust is built on positives, not negatives!


Now, hit your sales floors (phone, UPs, Internet, email, etc.) knowing how to get, and keep, trust from your customers with the words you use.  Honestly, they're very important!  :)


by Keith Shetterly,

Copyright 2011,

All Rights Reserved 

Views: 254


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Comment by Tom Gorham on September 26, 2011 at 4:34am
Love your comment even more than the article. Of course there are limits to everything including tranparency and even honesty. There are such things as rights to privacy, good manners, etc.  I feel this industry is being dragged kicking and screaming into a whole new way of selling.  The dealers who look for advantages in that new way of selling will do better than the ones that resist it.  Thank you!
Comment by Keith Shetterly on September 25, 2011 at 3:07pm

That's okay, Tom.  I assert that you can't negotiate on the truth, you can only agree (or agree to disagree) on it.  For full transparency on my part, here's my invoice, my holdback, my OEM stairstep money, and my motivation from my pay plan bonuses (weighed by the depth into the month) to take this deal.  If I am not ready for that transparency, then I'm negotiating.  And anyone negotiating, whether it's by asserting a false position OR by withholding information, is lying.  When I tell my soon-to-be-five-year-old that lying to me by word or omission is a lie, it's a point still true for adults.


Saturn's ideal, somewhat eroded by the end of that line, was no negotiation on price.  I liked that direction very much because I think we burden our cars with a lot of stupid money spent in this industry--from OEMs down to dealers--advertising "deals" that we could SAVE just by asserting a price.  Because negotiation now, especially, involves you, your customer, and every other dealer in the area.  There's less and less money in it, imho.

My feeling, to some controversy and actually some heat on myself when I publically said it, is that the OEMs needed to reduce their supply channel and took advantage of the bankruptcy to circumvent franchise laws to cut dealers.  Many reasons for that, but one of the effects is that dealers have fewer folks to negotiate against.  Except now they don't.


Negotiated price on new cars is the bad girlfriend this industry can't quit.  And commission-only sales, and the AVERAGE quality of salesperson that draws, is the crack cocaine we are convinced we can't do without.


I know of a successful dealer that doesn't negotiate on price and pays his folks $15 an hour.  And is nationally ranked.

And THAT is the way to stop the lying that comes with any negotiation.


My $.01.  :)  The other $.01 can come later, I guess.

Comment by Tom Gorham on September 25, 2011 at 2:51pm
Keith, I get your point.  "To be honest" (sic), I almost didn't read the entire article because I had a hard time getting past, "Negotiation is the art of reaching agreement by trust while lying."  I am one of those people who believe transparency is the new paradigm.  I agree that certain words and phrases should be retired.  Truly, saying that you are honest is the first tip to a customer that you are not honest.  Refusing to compromise your original "lowest" price is the first step to proving your ethics to your customer.  We often over-estimate our own intelligence and under-estimate our customer's intelligence.  That is the beginning of a bad relationship.  In an age where relationship building (Social Media and Reviews) is paramount, I think mutual respect is the best policy.
Comment by Keith Shetterly on September 25, 2011 at 12:31pm
P.S. I left out "And Trust Me." from this blog on purpose.  Do you think I should've put it in?

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