Selling does have a bit of a reputation for being dishonest. Not necessarily lying but then again not fully exposing the full facts.
If I contrast that with relationships - trusted relationships require a good degree of honesty and truthfulness.
So does being completely open and honest win you more business than being selective with the truth? Whilst researching this, I found several articles suggesting this tactic works well, there was however little empirical evidence to show that is that case.
Exposing the truth can clearly un-sell something - I've had direct experience of this myself but I've also had situations where the sales person helped convince me by divulging short-comings. So what was different? Why did one sale progress and the other not?
In the first case I can barely remember the sales person yet in the second, I can recall them quite well and their approach helped me feel that they were trustworthy.
Clearly my analysis here is based on a sample size of two but I think the difference here is where the truthfulness was in the sales cycle. In the first sale, I was not sold and therefore not yet convinced I wanted to buy. Exposing negatives just helped me to convince myself that I didn't want to buy.
In the second example I was sold on the product. Reflecting back on this, the sales person new what was important to me and the product fitted those requirements. I'm pretty sure he knew the volunteered down-sides were not important issues for me, so in reality volunteering the information didn't detriment the sale of the product - it improved my perception of him as being a truthful person.
So contrasting that with relationships I came up with the following. Lying on a first date will probably not win you long term success with a relationship since you will be probably found out - the same must be true in sales. Exposing all the negatives about you on a first date will not help you win the heart of your date. Do you think they really want to know about your bad habits? As a relationship matures, the dark secrets of your bad habits can be leaked out and provided they are not show stoppers (for example you killed your whole family) they can probably be accepted and will not detriment the relationship/sale.
So does it pay to be honest and transparent early in the sale? This week I did an experiment to find out. It was a very first sales engagement for a new technology. The prospect was aware of the competition but hadn't done any evaluation. In this case there are about 5 companies in the world to choose from - each one is different and because it is a new area, there is a lack of clarity about which product is the "right tool for the job". Although I am representing one of these 5 companies, the approach I took was to act like a consultant. By helping the prospect understand the strengths and weaknesses of each product, it lead to a more open discussion - much quicker than I would have expected. Again this is a sample size of one and maybe the rapport would have built up quickly anyway without this approach. Although I am not telling the warts and all situation at this stage, comparing the relative strengths and weaknesses was a useful approach since it helped flush out what was important to the prospect. This is a new area so he didn't really have a good picture of what his needs are.
As this sale progresses, I provide updates on any insights I glean from this approach.
I would conclude being truthful in sales is a good strategy but timing the whole truth requires judgement. No product is 100% perfect so the trick is to make sure the negatives for your offer don't take your product from 90% to 0%.
My job is selling technology. Actually I'm more of a translator. I sell technology to other businesses and that's where things get weird. There is a bewildering array of tech out there and unfortunately many companies think technology sells itself and the value that the technology delivers should be obvious. Wrong. That's where I come in. I said I was a translator. My job is to translate techno babble into value that customers understand. This blog share my adventures with high tech sales. Selling high tech is fun so come join me on my sales journey!