Anything for a Sale

Closing a Sale but Alienating a New Customer in the Process Is Bad Business

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Back when my family had an entertainment subscription (aka cable TV), a new network launched, and we wanted to watch its shows. I wondered if my provider would offer it, but repeated contacts to our provider via email resulted in no responses. Next, I called them, but they couldn’t give me any answers.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

During this time, a direct mail piece arrived from their competitor. It offered an attractive price, free installation, and new equipment, including a DVR (remember DVRs?). This appealed to me since our receiver and remote (free promotional incentives from our existing provider) were wearing out. The DVR would be a bonus.

Say or Do Anything for a Sale

Upon calling the prospective provider, I talked to a helpful and confident agent, Karl. My first question was if they carried the network. Karl knew all about it and assured me they did.

Upon further digging, however, I learned we wouldn’t save money by switching. But changing providers would get us the new network and new equipment, including a DVR. I confirmed my understanding of what Karl said and placed my order.

A few days later, the installer arrived and set up the system. He gave a quick overview of its operation as he waited for the programming to download. I asked for the channel number of the new network. “I don’t know offhand,” he said, “but it’s there someplace. If you can’t find it, call this number.” He handed me an information sheet, which included a phone number. Then he left.

Thirty minutes later, and frustrated, I dialed that number. “I’m sorry,” the agent said. “I can only help you with installation issues, and this isn’t an installation question. You’ll need to call the provider.” (Karl, it turns out, worked for an authorized agent and not the company.)

The provider’s call center told me it would be an extra $5 a month to get the new network. Mad at this unexpected news, I called my buddy Karl. Unfortunately, he was no longer my buddy.

“I only deal with sales questions,” he said. “I can’t help you.” Then he hung up.

My wife, who is tenacious in righting wrongs and fixing the unresolvable, took over our quest to watch the new network. Over the next few days, she called Karl, the service department, the installation line, and the billing department, as well as any other number she could find.

Several days and too many calls later, she resigned herself to accept that I’d been had.

During our dealings, we’d received many conflicting explanations:

  • The network is part of your service package.
  • The network is available for only a dollar more a month.
  • The network is available for five dollars a month.
  • The network is not part of your local channels (even though it was broadcast locally).
  • The network is available everywhere but in your area.

There is much to learn from this saga. One miscommunication had widespread ramifications for us.

One person’s words, either by intention or ignorance, resulted in more than a dozen follow-up phone calls and a new customer who is angry and feels maligned. It will take much effort to overcome such a bad start.

As such, several recommendations are in order:


If the miscommunication was out of ignorance, then better sales training could have averted the whole ordeal. Unfortunately, the payback from training isn’t directly quantifiable, while sales numbers are. This is a dilemma that sales managers must acknowledge and grapple with.

Call Monitoring

If the miscommunication was intentional, then some policing is in order. Active monitoring might have caught the error, could have uncovered the rogue employee, and certainly would have minimized all employees’ willingness to lie to close a sale.

Incentives and Measurements

What gets measured gets done, and what gets paid for gets done better. Again, if the miscommunication was intentional, then it was a calculated lie to make a sale.

Unfortunately, sales departments’ reward systems often serve to promote activity that’s detrimental to an organization’s overall best interests. Always keep the big picture in mind.

Third Party Accountability

Whenever a company hands off contact to an authorized agent, they need to hold the third party accountable. The parent company’s reputation is at risk, and they need to confirm they’re properly represented.

This involves more than just tracking monthly sales totals or the cost per sale.


All staff must have the same information, supported by the same technology, and reinforced by training. This helps to ensure they’ll give customers the right answer—every time.

Furthermore, they must synchronize this with their websites and coordinate it with marketing pieces. This supplies a singular answer for every employee, spread across multiple channels.

Quickly Salvage Mistakes

There’s a ripple effect when a mistake happens. This occurs both within the company as more people are pulled into the problem, as well as outside the organization as others hear about the issue. Both take their toll.

Empower front-line employees to act and to solve pressing issues, not just be encouraged to end the call so they can take the next one.

Problem Resolution

After many calls, an agent finally apologized, but no one ever said, “What would you like done to resolve this?” No one ever suggested a course of action or recommended a solution.

We never did get the network we wanted from that provider, but Karl, who will say anything to close a deal, did chalk up a sale.

Sales Management Success Tip

Don’t look at sales numbers in isolation. Instead. consider how sales and marketing initiatives fit into your company’s overall long-term goals.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Sticky Series books, including Sticky Customer Service and Sticky Sales and Marketing, featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Common themes at every turn have included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.