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Why doing the right thing, in sales, is always the right thing

I had a big decision to make.

I was young, just starting out in my career and wanted to learn how to sell. The company I worked with had a number of salespeople, including two I got to know well. Being young, I continuously asked them questions.

Dave was a sales star. For the previous six months, he had topped the performance rankings. He was an intense, driven individual. Every week, it seemed, he was closing a new corporate account and introducing the company to a new client.

Peter was known as the heart and soul of the company. He was relaxed and friendly. While not always achieving the same outstanding sales results as Dave, he was consistently one of the two or three top performers. He also maintained close, long-term relationships with his clients.

I liked them both. However, their advice was conflicting.

Dave suggested I should do and say “whatever it takes” to close a sale. His mantra was “ABC – Always Be Closing”. He’d say things like “It’s better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission”. When I listened to him, it all seemed like perfect sense – after all, he was a salesperson and was selling me his ideas.

Peter’s perspective was almost the complete opposite. The most important element of a sales relationship, he’d say, is trust. “Be transparent, open, honest and ethical, and the client will trust you. When you build trust, the business will follow, and everyone wins.”

As much as Dave’s approach held a certain attraction to an ambitious young man, it also made me uncomfortable. I always came away from talking with him thinking that he’d sell his grandmother if there was a buck in it.

I felt that Dave’s perspective and actions verged on dishonesty. Despite his short-term successes, I couldn’t see how they served the long-term interests of clients or the company.

I decided to follow Peter’s advice and, after years of doing so, I can say it has enabled me to build a sustainable, enjoyable and profitable career over many years.

The dangers of dishonesty

When a salesperson lacks integrity, they may fail to appreciate a clients’ needs. They can exaggerate the features and benefits their products or services deliver. They tend to gloss over a product or service’s shortcomings. They’re likely to bad-mouth competitors.

Dishonest salespeople focus on a sale for today, rather than a client for tomorrow. And this invariably hurts their reputation and their long-term success.

Dishonesty always backfires, because any lack of integrity will be discovered.

With almost universal Internet access, secrets in business no longer exist. It only takes a Google search for anyone to learn the truth about a company, product, service or salesperson.

For this reason, and many others, dishonesty is simply stressful. And wrong.

The benefits of telling the truth

Honesty and transparency, on the other hand, will help your cause in a multitude of ways:

Honesty builds trust. The earlier you demonstrate honesty, the earlier you give a prospect a genuine reason to trust you. They’ll be open to the potential of a long-term business relationship.

Honesty helps you qualify prospects early. When you’re transparent about the true features and benefits of your product or service, you’ll quickly identify whether it’s the right fit for a customer.

Honesty generates referrals. People give referrals (the best source of leads) when they believe you’re honest and reliable. We all fear referring a friend to a business that might deceive them.

Honesty generates repeat business. Telling the truth eliminates ‘buyer remorse’. When you give customers exactly what you’ve promised, or more, they’ll feel comfortable purchasing from you again and again.

Honesty enhances your reputation. Just as people tell stories about difficult buying experiences, they also spread the word about their positive experiences with honest, reliable salespeople.

Honesty increases your confidence. Most people are uncomfortable acting dishonestly. When you tell the truth, you’re more comfortable and confident.

Honesty is contagious. When you’re honest, customers are likely to be honest with you. They’ll give you more information, so you can design a solution that meet their real needs.

Honesty is good for your career. A reputation for honesty and reliability grows fast. It helps you build a network of advocates and ‘raving fans’.

Honesty helps you to close more sales. People like to buy from someone who tells the truth, keeps their promises and can be relied on to meet their needs.

Integrity brings happiness

When you consistently tell the truth in business, you sleep better at night. And your relationships (even personal ones) all benefit. It’s been decades since I worked with Peter and Dave. However, Peter and I stayed in touch, loosely, over the years, and about five years ago I met up with him for lunch.

He was with a larger company and was enjoying a much bigger retainer with impressive commissions. He still loved his work and had maintained close business relationships with clients from the days we had worked together. Many of these relationships had evolved into lifetime friendships.

Peter’s personal life and family life were also thriving.

I asked if he’d heard from Dave.

“Not lately,” he said. “But I understand he struggled for a while. Dave was sometimes unable to live up to some of the promises he made. He burned a few bridges, and moved from company to company. But I think he eventually learned to moderate his style. So I’m sure he’s doing much better now. At least I hope so.”

My lunch with Peter reminded me that in sales, doing the right thing, is always the right thing.

It’s the most effective way to engage prospects, build rapport, present product/service features, explain benefits, close sales and nurture customer relationships over the long term.

Peter always did the right thing – not just in sales, but in every area of his life. And you can see his successes. He’s respected and trusted. And he’s a really good guy. Looking back, I’m glad that I decided to follow Peter’s advice and not Dave’s.

Honesty is the foundation of your integrity, and your integrity is the foundation of your career success.

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