When is it OK to lie to a client?

March 28, 2015

Me? Lie to my clients? Never!

Example #1:

You have collateral for a retail promotion that needs printing and delivery by Friday for the promotion to start on Monday. You have been inundated by work for other clients and haven’t had time to get the job to print. You’ve missed the production window and delivery will now take place on Monday instead of Friday. In your client’s world, this is unacceptable, and you know it. What do you do? Do you say that the presses were too full to accommodate the job? Perhaps you could say there was a pre-press error and you had to reprint; or you could even blame the courier company for slow delivery.

Example #2

You quote your client for the production of a TV commercial. You know your client always has a problem with the cost of talent fees, so you hide some of the talent cost within the production cost and your client is happy in their unawareness. When you go to quote the next TVC, you forget to move some of the talent costs and your client complains at the high cost of the talent. It’s too late to hide costs now, so you have to reduce the talent fee to match the previous quote, and take a hit on your profit.

As a clever Account Manager you’ll be able to think of 101 plausible excuses to deflect culpability away from yourself. For some AMs, lying has become just as much of a honed skill as listening or negotiating. For others, it's an addiction. A lie may keep your client happy in the short term, but what happens when future events do not align to the lie? What happens when you need to alter your course toward the truth, and previous lies become exposed?


When is it OK to lie to a client?

The answer is never…ever, ever, ever. Making a decision to tell the truth is more than just taking the moral high ground (though it is that), it’s sound business practice.

How would you feel if you knew a supplier had lied to you?

Deciding to tell the truth is more than just taking a moral high ground, it’s sound business practice. (Sarah Ritchie)



Why might you feel inclined to lie to your client?
  • You have made an error and you don’t wish to appear incompetent.
  • Your company has made an error and you don’t want to risk losing your client’s business.
  • You do not want to deal with the consequences that may result from telling the truth.
  • You think that telling your client what they want to hear, instead of what they need to hear, will earn you respect.
  • You want to spare someone’s feelings.
  • You think that lying will help progress your career and business relationships.
  • You want people to like you, or think the best of you.
  • You need to buy more time.
  • You don’t know what you’re talking about, but want to appear like you do.
  • You’re willing to close the deal at any cost.
  • You want your metrics to appear better than they really are.


Why lying can damage you, your career and your client relationships

Once you become comfortable telling your first lie, the subsequent lies become easier. You’ll get to the point where you are not only deceiving your clients, but you start to deceive yourself. Once that happens it’s easy to let other business principles slip away too.

Lying serves no-one other than yourself. As much as you think you may be lying to help your client, you’re not. 

Living through a lie:

  • Smart clients will see right through you, or at least begin to question things that do not stack up.
  • You’ll need a really good memory to keep up with a lie or a series of lies.
  • Lies take you from the present and prevent you from facing reality - or they create a false reality.
  • If you inflate the truth you may find it hard to live up to the expectations you create.

Consequences of a lie exposed:

  • Broken trust.
  • Scarred reputation.
  • Disheartened team.
  • Loss of respect.
  • Loss of integrity.
  • Loss of business.


Being truthful is hard work!

Yes, it can be. Not everyone will like what you say or do, and it can make you feel quite vulnerable, but the results can be striking! Your clients will gain a whole new level of respect for you when you tell it like it is (with compassion, empathy and kindness, of course).

Telling the truth doesn’t mean that you need to be totally transparent all the time. Good judgement should guide how much of the truth you tell, when you tell it and who you tell it to. What isn’t OK is making a conscious decision to deceive your clients, your colleagues, your suppliers or yourself.

A wise man once said “complete honesty is the access to ultimate power.” Don’t let lies hold you back. Shrug them off - it’s a brave new world of truth out there!


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