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Are Buyers Liars? Ask Questions That Get Honest Answers

As long as I have been in the car business, I’ve heard salespeople and managers jokingly use the cliché “Buyers are liars.”  When I ask them when they believe buyers are liars, they all respond with the same answer, “When their lips are moving.” I am not sure which concerns me more, the idea that a customer would lie or that we, as an industry, have not addressed this issue sooner.

As a trainer, I have studied this concern intensely for years and have spoken with both customers and dealership personnel.  It turns out that we, as an industry, have created this problem. Throughout my research, I was able to identify clear reasons why customers tend to lie at certain times during a sales presentation.  It was obvious that most people do not lie by nature. This meant there had to be a reason why individuals would lie in certain situations. My process was fairly logical and I started by asking myself two questions:

  • What has to occur before a customer will lie?
  • Why did they actually lie?

My first discovery was that customers would often lie after they had been asked a threatening question; yet they would not lie if they were asked a question that was non-threatening.   For instance, if I asked a customer whether they were looking for a new or used car, a coupe or a sedan, or, what options were important to them, they would always respond with the truth.   Since there was nothing to be gained by lying, they simply answered truthfully. Lying to these types of questions was a waste of their time looking at cars they were not interested in. This offered no advantage to what they were trying to accomplish.

On the other hand, if I asked questions about their budget, credit, trade or time line for making a purchase, they would most likely respond with a lie.  They considered these questions to be threatening to them. When surveyed, many said that by not answering truthfully, they thought they would somehow get a better deal or get more car for their money.

The obvious problems that arise from customers telling these kinds of lies are simple: we end up wasting time showing them cars that are not what they truly want or we make a bad presentation based on their response of not needing to make a purchase right away.  Both of these situations clearly reduce the odds of selling a car and create an environment where the customer has now taken total control of the salesperson and the sales process.

Once these conclusions are understood, the problem was easy to resolve.  The initial question was, “How do we get customers to stop lying to us?” The answer was simple: stop asking customers threatening questions.  Why would we ask questions that we know will result in the customer telling us lies? This of course makes no sense at all.

Then I started wondering, how we got ourselves in this situation in the first place.  Why do we ask customers questions they will perceive as threatening, in turn causing them to tell us lies?

We do this because we are focused too early on the end result of negotiating prices and closing the deal.  Instead, we should be building value and inspiring the customer with our product, our personality and the quality of our dealership.  Only after we have done this successfully do we have a right to present numbers and ask the customer these questions in preparation for asking for the sale.

When we prematurely ask customers about price, payment, down payment and trade value, we are starting the negotiation process before they have even settled on a car they like.  This is putting the cart before the horse and will nearly always cause the customer to feel pressured and respond with answers meant to get us off track.

When we organize our presentations in a structured way and put things in the proper order, the questions we ask will relieve the customers pressure, not cause more of it.  When this happens, they have no reason to lie and we can begin building value around the things that are truly important to them.

Are buyers really liars or do the things we do and say cause them to answer untruthfully? Is our presentation hindering the sales process of helping them achieve their purchasing goals?  These are important questions that must be answered if we are to be properly prepared to make a successful sales presentation.  I think you know my answer.

If we think twice about the types of questions we ask the customer, and when we ask them, we can avoid the obvious problem of customers telling us lies.  When we know that our questions threaten a customer and create the pressures that work against our success, there’s only one solution: don’t ask those kinds of questions and both the salesperson and the customer will have a more enjoyable experience at the dealership.

David Lewis
David Lewis
David’s firm is a national training and consulting business that specializes in the retail automotive industry. He also is the author of four industry-related books, “The Secrets of Inspirational Selling,” “The Leadership Factor,” “Understanding Your Customer” and “The Common Mistakes Automotive Salespeople Make.” Visit his website at

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