I don’t know about you, but when a buyer says to me, “By the way,” the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Sometimes it’s no big deal: “By the way, did you notice the price of gas this week?” Or, “By the way, there’s something stuck on the back of your shoe.”

But sometimes it’s a whole lot more: “By the way, I had a question about that last invoice.” Or “By the way, there’s been some talk about restructuring.”

It’s best to assume that any “by the way” that involves you, your products or services, your pricing or your buyer’s business is more than an offhand remark. Often, such comments signal that buyers have something very important — and often unpleasant – they need to tell you. But because they’re uncomfortable, they just sort of drop a hint into the conversation.

And if you miss the hint, well, that’s on you, buyers rationalize. They’ve done their duty and moved on. And later, when you complain about being blindsided, they’re shocked. “I don’t know why you’re surprised,” they say. “I told you that three months ago.”

“By the way” is just one example of a conversational iceberg – benign-looking little remarks that have a whole lot of ugly underneath. There are many more – and they can be subtle. Don’t overlook them.

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