It’s hard to be in business and not find yourself frequently frustrated by things that customers say. A customer might misunderstand your product after speaking with you for ten minutes about it. She uses your product for a year, reaping great benefits from it, but then report that it is “ok.” You go out of your way to help a customer, then in the next conversation he says everything but “thanks.”

Our natural inclination is to focus on how our customer is “wrong” or “doesn’t get it.” Well, yes, your customer is often wrong, and often doesn’t get it. But, as far as your customer is concerned, everything he says is true.

The only response you can have when your customer says something “wrong” is to accept that, although it may be wrong, it is true. It is the new reality. It is part of the universe you share with your customer, and you must accept it. It is tempting to fight your customer’s truth, denying it, arguing against it, resisting it, but that won’t get you anywhere.

Often our customers’ version of truth changes from one day to the next. A friend who is a realtor has told me that people’s ideas of what they want in a home can change many times throughout the home buying process. One day it’s an older home with lots of character on a wooded lot; the next day it’s new construction with a mega-master suite, Jacuzzi and walk-in closets.

It’s not that the realtor’s clients were wrong yesterday. It’s that they had just redefined their “truth.” Her challenge is to adapt to her clients’ new reality. It may be difficult to sell to a moving target, but her only choice is to improvise and adapt.

It’s critical to be alert to changes in your customers’ reality. “Our budget was just slashed,” or “We’re making Janice the project manager,” or “The project has been put on hold for three months” are reality-changers. It’s really tempting to be frustrated by these kinds of situations, but the fact remains: your customer has redefined a new truth, and you have no choice but to go with the flow.

These redefinitons of the truth aren’t always bad, of course. Last week a client said to me, “Steve, we’ve had some personnel changes and are having challenges with senior management buy-off, so how much will it cost to extend your contract for one more month?” Personnel changes and senior management bureaucracy have become the new truth in their organization, and my best course of action was to recognize that truth and work with it (And benefit from it).

If you focus on denying and resisting your customer’s truth, you won’t be able to see a clear way out of this truth to a better place. Let’s imagine that a customer says she thinks a competitor’s product is as good as yours, but you know, with 100% certainty, that your product will work better for her than the competitor’s. Should you focus on the fact that she is wrong, or focus on understanding her version of the truth? What will make it easier for you to deal with the situation and eventually encourage her to embrace a new version of the truth?

When your customer says something you don’t like, recognize the new reality. Recognize your customer’s truth. Then, you will be in a much better position to help your customer shift from her current idea of what is true to a different truth.


  • Matt
    Mar 18, 2011 - 06:17 am

    This blog post went viral at our company yesterday. The customer’s perception is most certainly reality. Where many of us fall short in a consultative selling situation is to hear and understand what they are saying without necessarily agreeing with the customer when their feedback is counter to what we as salespeople are trying to achieve. Great post!

  • Steve Jones
    Apr 02, 2011 - 12:00 pm

    Excellent reminder that only one thing really matters in building a solid brand: what the customer thinks. Their perception is our reality. Their perceptions are nearly impossible to change, so smart brands build their image upon them.

  • Jawwad Karim
    Jul 08, 2011 - 00:47 am

    the blog awakens us to the fact that customer focus is easy to be lost despite extra emphasis placed on it despite extreme emphasis on each business text. A very useful blog I read regarding customer focus was the one authored by Hammad Siddiqui, a change management expert:

Leave A Reply