Fibs, tricks and lies: A true tale

The desperate salesman

A woman who lives in a large metropolitan area is trying to sell an apartment that sits empty in a small town just outside her city. It has been for sale for over two years. Four agencies have it listed, and what seems like an infinite stream of other agencies call weekly wanting to list the apartment as well.  They all seem understandably desperate. The woman politely says “no thank you” to them all, telling them she does not wish to list with any more agencies.

One day a man calls and asks to see the apartment; he is very interested. He says he represents an agency and the woman says, “I already have it listed with four agencies and that is enough, but thank you for calling”. And the man says, “Oh, but I am the one interested in the apartment, not my agency. I am looking for an apartment in this particular town with a large terrace. You see, I have to move from where I live now, an apartment with a terrace, and this is why I am interested in yours”.

The man’s story makes sense and she makes an appointment to show him the flat.

The day of the appointment, she makes the half hour drive to the small town, meets the man at the apartment, and he takes a look around. He is carrying a small black notebook, very official looking, which he absentmindedly passes back and forth from hand to hand as he quickly looks in each room.

He then says, “if you would like to tell me the square metres of this flat, our agency can…” The woman interrupts, “but you said the flat was for you”. The man stammers “well, yes, er, uh, well, you see, it is out of my price range and our agency would be interested…“ The woman interrupts again, “I told you I did not want to list with another agency, and you told me you were the one interested, which is why I came to this appointment”. The man stammered some more, fiddling with his shiny black notebook, and the woman repeated herself and the man stammered and the appointment came to a cold and uncomfortable end.


Because the real estate agent lied. He tried to get his foot in the door by telling a lie; he tricked her into making an appointment. That was his strategy. And, it backfired on him, quickly.

Not only did he not get his foot in the door for a potential sale, but he permanently ruined the credibility and trust in the agency he represents for the woman, as well as for her friends, her work colleagues, and as the information travels, for their friends and colleagues.

Credibility and trust are communicated by word of mouth, it’s a viral communication. It always has been; and today’s digital platforms make it even faster and more efficient.

This story is about a real estate agent, but it could be about anyone “selling” anything. It is applicable to any type of business.

The strategy of the lie or the trick is as old as time.

And when people are faced with slow sales, massive competition, crippling fear or the threat of extinction, the fib, the lie and the trick are the easiest strategies to build. They may work in the short run. But in the long run, they are always found out.

This individual man working for a large real estate agency is not fully to blame. It is clear that the leadership at the agency has not cultivated an ethical business culture or developed creative strategic models for their sales force.

By simply using a different strategy, this tale could have been very different. Let’s imagine the scenario another way:

The man calls, representing the agency; the woman says she is not interested because she has it listed in other agencies, and he says something like this:

I understand and it makes perfect sense. So I would like to make a proposal to you and you can tell me what you think. I am one of the best real estate agents in town. These are hard times for selling an apartment and if you list with our agency, I will be the one to personally attend to showing your property. And if I don’t sell it within six months, I will take it off our listing and not bother you again. But if you let me give it a try, I feel confident I can sell your apartment—it’s got the most fabulous terrace in town! I will work hard, and remember, I’m very, very good at what I do; you’ll be able to see that.”

He pauses for a moment, lets his words sink in and then good-naturedly asks, “What do you think of this idea?”

The woman, by this time is smiling on the other end of the phone. Her irritation has transformed to curiosity. She is titillated by his enthusiasm, his confidence in his own abilities along with his positive spirit, so she says, “OK, we can give it a try”.

Bingo. He got his foot in the door. He was creative and smart. He respectfully and with good spirit, turned a no into a yes. He is on his way to building trust for his company within his target audience.

If he does what he says he will do, which is work diligently, he will gain that trust permanently for his company—whether he manages to sell the flat or not. This is the most important currency they could hope to accumulate.

So, here is the first moral of this tale: in difficult times, when there is more ‘no’ than ‘yes’, when the competition is tough, when sales are down and businesses are losing ground—work as hard as you can to build trust.

When people believe in your word, your service, your product, your hard work, in your enthusiasm and in your ability, they will become faithful clients.

For many of these potential clients ‘trust’ might be the only currency they have at some moments. But when they do have money to spend, I can guarantee, they will have a very clear idea where to do that.

The unsustainable corporation

The clock marks 8:29 and at this very moment hundreds of thousands of people in all parts of the world are clients of corporate entities that they very clearly and quite simply do not trust. They are clients and consumers of organizations that have historically lied, tricked, muscled or trapped people into a purchase, a service, a loan or a contract.

Yet, we are in relationships with them—be they a utility company, a bank or a telephone service—because for the moment we see no other choice or no better option.

And in many instances that is the case. We are clients of enterprises that have a strategic monopoly on an area of the market, or on a particular product or service. We have learned through time and from the testimony of personal experience not to trust some of these organizations or the people that lead them.

However, our desire and ability to trust do not fade—the second and unexpected moral of this tale. They remain robust and healthy, waiting for new business models to show themselves on the horizon, for new kinds of organizations to be born.

The undying human desire to trust will wait patiently to guide millions of potential clients and consumers in the right direction.

Guide us toward business cultures that listen to clients, and toward socially responsible corporations. Guide us toward new places to put our money, to enjoy our leisure, and to purchase products and services.

New plans and new projects that earn our trust and sustain it.

By the way, one of those new projects is yours, right?

It’s time for one tale to end and for another to begin.

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