401-423-2400 Kristin@Zhivago.com

Bad guy companies making it tougher for good guy companies

Buyers are literally bombarded, every day, with messages from sellers that sound wonderful but are absolutely, positively, designed to cheat them.

As buyers, not one of us has escaped the onslaught. We are being swarmed by this kind of deception. Deception is at historically high levels because the bad guys have more ways than ever to invade our personal and commercial spaces with their lies.

High levels of deception have also made life more difficult for legitimate, caring companies. Because our customers are constantly under attack by the cheaters and chiselers, we have to go further than ever to prove that we will take proper care of them. We have to be more educational than pushy; we have to provide proof of performance using customer reviews and testimonials, and we have to find new ways to prove ourselves to customers before they decide to buy.

Email has been most hurt (although deceptive social media is certainly trending). Customers get disgusting emails by the hundreds every week, telling them that $1,567,895 is sitting in a bank somewhere waiting for them to pick it up – AFTER they provide the incredibly sincere and gracious emailer with their banking information.

But more subtle, sophisticated methods used by large companies are also contributing to sky-high levels of buyer skepticism.

There’s the insurance agent talking to a customer who has called in to say his basement finally flooded, in an exceptional storm. This is the customer’s first claim ever, after paying the insurance premium faithfully for 24 years. The customer says that to the agent. The agent says, very cheerfully and conversationally, all friendly-like:

“Yes, thanks, I see that in your account info here. Such a shame, about your basement. [Pause.] Tell me, did you have a sump pump?”

“Well, no, because I’ve been in this house 24 years, and there’s never been a problem with moisture of any kind.”

“Gee, that’s too bad. Because if you had a sump pump down there, even if you never used it, I’d be sending you a $10,000 check today. But since you don’t have a sump pump, there’s nothing I can do.”

At that moment, the customer realizes he’s just been shafted by his “friend,” who had waited until this moment to tell him this essential piece of information. The customer also decides that he is going to start looking for a new insurance agency.

Will he have better luck with the next insurance company? Probably not. When I interviewed a bunch of doctors for a medical device division of Johnson & Johnson, they told me that their biggest problem, one that has cost them dearly, is getting insurance companies to pay for surgeries they have already performed. The insurers’ excuse was always some paperwork, method, or device technicality.

There are zillions of examples of this crooked, promise-them-one-thing-then-do-another activity. We have all been victims, and we all have our own stories, so I won’t go into any more examples.

What has happened, as a result of all this lying, cheating, and stealing, is that customers have adopted a “guilty until proven innocent” mindset to all of their purchasing. Customers will discount 90% of the content on your website, as they search for a way to determine just how honest you really are. This is especially true for expensive, high-risk purchases.

I recently interviewed buyers of an industrial, electro-mechanical product that is used in R&D labs. I always ask what they’d do first if they wanted to buy one of those again – what their steps would be, and what they’d type into Google, if they used Google. Every single person said 1) first they’d call other people they knew doing similar jobs for other companies, and ask what their experience has been with this type of product and 2) then they’d also go to Google.

Using recommendations and then Google, they’d quickly narrow down the candidates to 2 or 3 companies. They’d go to the websites, but they wouldn’t spend a lot of time trying to separate fact from fiction. They’d call the sales rep, hoping to get answers to their very specific questions, quickly. One person summed it up perfectly: “I get tired of looking for stuff on websites. I just call them – so they can tell me.”

When a customer does call, it takes about two seconds for a knowledgeable customer to figure out if the salesperson is 1) going to be helpful, 2) has been trained to help – versus being trained to manipulate the caller into buying, and 3) is able to answer the customer’s specific questions. The customer will quickly terminate the call if he sees the conversation going in the wrong direction, and will keep looking elsewhere.

Note that the first thing customers do is talk to their working buddies. That means that the only way you will get on the “recommended list” is if you’ve been successful selling to enough people, and you’ve treated them right after they made the purchase. Your own good-guy behavior is your most powerful marketing tool.

Once that customer finds a vendor who is helpful, honest, and knowledgeable, that customer will go out of his way to take his business there. He will even be willing to pay a little extra. He will also tell others about his positive experience, and recommend that vendor, without reservation.

If your business model is based on being honest and helping people, keep in mind that you must take into account the deception swarming around your customers, and work even harder to demonstrate your positive performance and honest character. Every interaction your customer has with your website and your people must be straightforward and reassuring.

One more thought on this subject. There may be someone on your staff who “kisses up and —— down.” That person will treat those below him badly, and will also treat customers badly. The only way you will know about that person’s behavior is by:

  • Asking those at the bottom of the ladder how things are going. In the course of your conversation, ask who tends to be most helpful and who tends to obstruct progress.
  • Talking to customers who come in contact with the person. In the course of a normal customer interview, ask who has been the most helpful and who is not as helpful. While people are often reluctant to say anything negative, if you tell them their comments will not be shared (you must keep that promise, of course), they will open up.

A deceptive employee will present himself to you as a model employee, but will selfishly take advantage of your other employees and your customers. His behavior will create a viral negative wave that works against your company and makes it much harder for you to sell.

It’s important to ferret out the deceivers on your staff, warn them, and re-train them. If they still don’t get it, replace them.

Good guys always hate to fire people. But if you’ve really found a stinker, don’t put it off. Afterwards, employees and customers will breathe a sigh of relief and will ask, “What took you so long?” My own experience has proven to me, over and over, that once you are back to an all-honest staff, everything will go up: morale, sales, and your company’s reputation.


  1. Yep, couldn’t agree more!

    Companies that are going after clients and short changing them and under cutting the good guys are just bad biz. My humble opinion, you have to call them out. Bring them to the surface and expose their tactics.

    We have all the tools as a social society to do this – and it dosen’t have to be in a vicious fashion.

    I recently wrote a post about the Value of Your Connects on my blog. Nice to meet you, read your review in the latest SOCO.

    They didnt post any URL’s to you though!

  2. Thanks, Matt. Good comments.
    You’re right – we now have the tools – and if we use them constructively, everyone benefits.
    Thanks for the heads up about the SoCo article. Interesting that there are no links. Here’s one back to the SoCo article – although they use a frame-based approach, and you have to go to page 56 to see the article.
    Nice to meet you, also. Nice blog you have. Interesting.


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