October 23, 2009

Sales People: stick to the truth, regardless of the consequences

Salespeople are often caught in a difficult position when it comes to being completely honest with the customer. For example, the buyer asks about certain product functionality, that is not yet available.

Now the functionality is under development, or that it will be developed if the customer signs the order. However, the buyer has asked a straight-forward question: ‘does the product do A?’ Just how should the sales person answer? He could tell the truth and potentially sabotage the sale, or he could lie and say simply answer ‘yes it does’. I would argue that 9 out of 10 sales people will answer ‘yes it does’.

Sales people don’t like to lie any more than anybody else, but faced with the prospect of alienating they buyer they are often called upon to fudge the truth. The only problem is that fudging the truth is something that buyers are increasingly unwilling to accept. Having been sold a ‘pig in a poke’ too many times before they know how to catch sales people out and indeed revel in doing so.

Sales people should stop taking chances on being found out. They should stick to the truth, regardless of the consequences. They should surprise the buyer with refreshing honesty – an honesty that the buyer is likely to repay in spades with trust and respect.

We saw just how powerful this can be in a presentation by one of our clients recently. The prospect had set out a list of requirements and asked competing vendors to present its response. Our client’s sales director listed not just the requirements that could be met immediately (some 60% of the total), the requirements that would require minor customization (a further 25%) and the requirements that would require software code development (the remaining 15%). He also listed the dependencies, addressing upfront the key project risks (such as integration with 3rd party systems), the steps to mediate risk, examples of how this had been achieved in previous projects, and so on. What a breath of fresh air! It immediately indicated trustworthiness and credibility.

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