How Numbers CAN Lie

How Numbers CAN Lie

In sales we hear it often:

The numbers don’t lie!

But if I conducted a poll which is considered “statistically significant” or scientifically accurate – which means it has a sample size of 1000+ respondents – and posed the question:

“Is this poll statistically significant?”

The first 999 people would vote no and be correct.

But when that 1000th person voted yes they would be right making everyone else wrong.

And if 99.9% of respondents can be wrong, people will obviously raise eyebrows at the validity of the question being asked because the majority of people who answer the same way are never typically wrong.

The funny thing is that this happens on a smaller scale in sales all the time and yet it is not glaringly obvious.

So although this is an extreme circumstance that conveniently aids in the development of my argument – I want us to remember this example and switch our focus away from the answer and look to the question.

A question has variables that are manipulated to appease time and condition – and variables can create answers to questions that do not necessarily provide accuracy.

It is our duty as sales reps. to ask the best questions that will give us real and accurate answers providing our client’s with an opportunity to have authentic expectations.

Managing Expectations

In sales, conditions change constantly and we must not blame our prospects for creating perceived confusion but work to understand that it may have been the questions we were asking – or the lack of questions we asked.

  • Was your ability to fulfill their request in a timely manner not timely enough for them?
  • Did they become aware of a fee that they perceived as hidden?
  • Did you educate your client on all aspects of the transaction?

Remember it’s not always the answer but the question you are asking which is important.

And there will always be gaps in understanding on the part of your client – they are an alien to your industry in many cases so it is up to you to engage and educate them on product and service evolutions.

So often we don’t consider how we are positioning questions that we receive answers that destroy our sale or our ability to understand client needs from which to create solutions.

Every word in a question should be designed with finding out a direct correlation between the answer and your client’s needs in mind.

Now I am not saying that all numbers or answers lie in fact most numbers as the cliché suggests don’t lie.

But I wanted to give you a rare example of how numbers can lie so that we remember the failure of inaccuracy does not fall with the answer but with the question.

In sales, we go in to see client’s and ask great questions but some that are not specific to the business or to their situation.

The best way to really understand the client’s perspective is to act like the business owner and ask yourself the tough questions that a successful entrepreneur must ask him or herself every single day when making a decision.

If you can’t understand why a business owner would spend their hard earned money on a product or service you are offering which they don’t need then you will understand who your target client might be.

Start doing what’s best for your client’s business and really determine whether what you are offering is in their best interest.


Ask questions in a strategic manner.

I have a tendency to be impatient and quick-to-act which although has helped me to be perceived as eager has on occasion set me up for sticking my foot in my mouth.

This is common for a younger sales rep. – and patience comes with maturity and experience.

Very often when we get the answer we aren’t looking for we blame the client and not the question we asked.

And it is not the client’s fault that you aren’t doing your job correctly – because they have all the answers you will ever need it’s about digging strategically.

The burden is always on you to prove your product or service is excellent not on the client to tell you why not.

This is why I cringe when I hear a sales rep. after being met with an objection ask the worst question in sales:



I can tell you a million reasons as a client WHY I don’t want or believe I need your product or service.

Cause realistically unless the business is going to close without your product or service your prospect doesn’t believe they need it.


Helping your customer to understand the real benefits of your product or service by educating them using real information or case studies is the only way to prove your worthiness.

We cannot make excuses even if situations prevent you from doing your best.

This is because people blame people not situations.

Say you show up late, people may understand that there was traffic but they will instinctively wonder why you didn’t do your research, find out that there was traffic, and leave 15 minutes earlier – not truly realizing the situation and that the traffic started well after your departure.

In short, it is human nature to blame people before blaming conditions or situations.

Knowing that people blame people we must create our perception in a positive light through sincereity.

This done correctly will show your client’s that you are working for them.

Where Was I….Measuring Accuracy

Now back to the main point as I went on a bit of a tangent – the numbers CAN lie based on the questions posed.

In sales we report on revenue, ROI and different Key Perfomance Indicators (KPIs) to determine whether success is happening.

But when we measure statistics that have not been proven to determine success and present these numbers to our clients as competitive advantages we are setting our customers and ourselves up for failure.

How to Overcome This?

The best way to overcome a difficult number situation is to manage expectations.

And the best way to do this is to set the expectation low and to over-deliver.

When the status quo becomes measuring inaccuracies we need to reflect on whether we are presenting the best information for success.

And when we realize we are not to shake up the system and accept evolution as a part of sales.

The numbers don’t lie when you ask the right questions.

But until we ask ourselves the tough hard questions and are willing to accept that the numbers or answers may not be exemplary – we are doing our clients a disservice.

Put your best foot forward but don’t fudge the numbers and don’t let the numbers lie.

Ask the right questions and understand the current state of a possible answer because you never know when the answer will change even when the question persists.


  1. Marc Binkley , on Feb 15, 2013 at 19:38 Reply

    Nice work on the blog Riaz!

    I’m also interested in KPIs (or KPlies as I’ve affectionately called them before) and thought you might be interested in this



  2. Riaz Sidi , on Apr 7, 2013 at 21:30 Reply

    Thanks Marc!

    I checked out the balanced scorecard and it is definitely applicable to my audience.

    I encourage everyone to read this when they get a chance!

    Thanks for your comments and visiting! Stop by again soon!

    ps: I love your whitepaper on quitting cold calling; you can thank Jon for sharing that with me!

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