Truth In Selling
January 27, 2007 • By Michael Pink
Have you ever heard the joke, “How do you know when a salesman is lying? His lips are moving!” That joke is a biting commentary on the state of affairs in American business today, especially the sales profession. Without doubt, the profession has earned the reputation it has, but it need not be true of everyone in it. In fact, I am convinced that an honest man has an advantage in an environment permeated with liars. Liars are eventually found out and have a difficult time regaining trust, and trust is the highest form of human motivation, at least when it comes to business. The only way a liar can survive long term in the business arena is to move from one city to the next or change industries every couple of years.
I remember one forty-something-year-old sales veteran who told me frankly, “The fact that I don’t always tell the truth is your problem - not mine!” He believed that nobody was getting hurt when he lied and that it was necessary in some cases to get the business. He didn’t believe that a Biblically based, integrity oriented sales approach could work in the real world. He was wrong!
His company had retained me to do a sales and marketing analysis and part of that analysis was spending a few days with him in the field. On one call, after he had misrepresented some facts to the prospect and taken no time to discover their real needs, he proceeded to use traditional strong-arm tactics to “close” the sale. He tried the “special price if you buy today” close, the “alternative choice” close and even the old “Ben Franklin” close...all without success. Finally the business owner with whom we were meeting politely asked us to leave, having decided that this was not for him.
The sad part was that the service being offered was ideal for this business owner, but the salesman had broken the golden rule in trust building. He lied. He coerced. He manipulated. He lost the sale! I was in pain watching this ordeal unfold in front of me and finally felt compelled to speak up, though I was not well versed on the service being offered. I spoke truthfully, asked some piercing questions, empathized with the owner, restated the offer in precise and accurate terms, then gave him the opportunity to accept the offer which if implemented would significantly impact his business in a positive manner. What he heard, made sense to him and it was spoken with compassion and in truth. Truth is always more powerful than a lie, and genuine compassion goes a long way towards forging any agreement. This time, he bought!
The sales rep was shocked! He had already packed up his briefcase and had stood up to leave before I spoke my first words. He witnessed the power of the truth, being spoken without apology, yet in a kind and compelling manner. When we left the customers office, the sales rep had just earned $1,000 commission and was now much more receptive to my Biblically based sales approach. He tried to adapt those ways and for the next two or three months, he actually tripled his sales, but his old nature got the better of him and he eventually forgot what really worked best and fell back to his old ways. Sounds like the pattern of ancient Israel to me. Changing your ways without a heart change will never last!
Dishonesty in sales is not limited to a few home siding salesman as depicted by actor Danny Devito in Tin Man or used car salesmen as shown by Robin Williams in Cadillac Man. In fact, a few years ago, the 75th anniversary issue of Sales & Marketing Management magazine devoted its cover story to the near fatal free fall of IBM stock which lost 70 percent of its value and forced the company to eliminate about 40,000 sales related positions. According to former salesman Bill Gardner, “we were so well trained, we could sell anything, good or bad. So under quota pressures, we sold systems that our customers didn’t need, didn’t want and couldn’t afford.” This lapse in integrity gave a whole new meaning to blue chip stocks.
When I first moved to the United States, twelve years ago, I took a job selling copiers. It’s a highly competitive, often cut-throat business that churns through sales reps like frogs in a blender! You have to stay on top to survive and no one survives without scars. On my first day there, the vice president of sales laid out the ground rules. He expected no sales my first month, two the second month and four per month thereafter. I was to sell one copier out of every four or five I demonstrated. The national average was one out of four.
That’s a 75% failure rate and I wasn’t about to accept those kind of numbers! Instead, I was going to study the Scriptures and find principles and strategies that I could apply to sales and instead of settling for one out of four, I was intending to sell one out of one! My sales manager did not approve of my “unrealistic” goals. Nevertheless, I set out on my mission, Bible in hand. The first passage God opened up to me was Proverbs 3:3-4, “Let not mercy and truth forsake you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart, And so find favor and high esteem in the sight of God and man.” Well obviously, too obtain the goal I had in mind, I would need all the “favor” I could find.
For me, binding truth around my neck meant not only telling the truth but also practicing full disclosure. You can tell the truth but convey a lie. For example, I spoke at a Promise Keepers rally with nearly 60,000 men in attendance. That’s the truth. But only the guys in my row could hear me because I was seated in the nose bleed section! That’s full disclosure. You can make truthful statements yet paint a very inaccurate picture. Many sales people consider themselves honest because they didn’t actually lie, yet they allowed a customer to believe something they knew was a lie. Lying is the intent to deceive, even if you use the truth to pull it off.
I also take telling the truth one step further. Make sure you not only tell the truth and practice full disclosure of relevant facts but take the responsibility to ensure that your prospect understands what you’ve told them. I’ve had customers understand something quite different than I was trying to convey and it caused problems which had to be resolved.
After 90 days in the field selling copiers, I was attending the quarterly sales meeting and reported that I had done 22 demonstrations and had secured 22 sales which was three and a half times a goal that had never been hit and a sale to demonstration ratio of one out of one! Unheard of and totally unrealistic, unless of course you believe in the power and practicality of God’s Word and are willing to submit yourself to its rule.
Now I make my living sharing with others Biblical principles and strategies that can be successfully applied to the selling process. The good news is that what I’ve learned is transferable and others are reaping wonderful results as they too submit themselves to the authority of God’s Word and apply it to their careers. Try it. You’ll like the results!
You may contact Michael Q. Pink through his website at www.SellingAmongWolves.comor by phone at 941-377-9384. Michael Pink is author of Selling Among Wolves. You can find more on this resource in our online store Faith and Work Resources.com. Click on the link to the right.