Ask most people to describe a sales person, and likely as not, you'll find yourself deluged by words like "huckster," "snake oil peddler," "fast talker," "con artist" and, of course, "untrustworthy," "arrogant" and "dishonest."
Those of us who work in sales and know ourselves to be fine, upstanding people may wonder exactly what we ever did to earn such an enviable reputation. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is, people who sell for a living do so in an environment that is polluted by a few unscrupulous - but highly visible - individuals, who are more interested in making a short-term buck than they are in creating long-term profitable relationships with their clients.
Even the most well-meaning sales people lie on occasion, and when they're caught (as they almost invariably are), this only serves to further poison their relationships with their customers - and the selling environment for all of us.
Why sales people lie to their clients
There are three key reasons why salespeople lie to their clients:
1. They don't know their product.
Some sales people lie by accident because they're unsure or uninformed about the products they're selling. In many cases, they lie simply because they're too embarrassed to say, "I don't know."
2. They're too empathetic.
Some sales people lie because they're insecure about themselves, or their relationship with their prospect. They just want the customer to like them, so they stretch the truth to tell the customer what they think they want to hear. Lying then becomes an inappropriate vehicle to build a friend first, and a customer second.
3. They're only focused on the money.
Some sales people see lying as an easy way to make a quick buck. Sales people who lie for this reason do it because they want the prospect to move too quickly, so that they can make a quick sale, pocket the commission - and move on to the next prospect before the first customer can have any second thoughts.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of prospects out there weren't born yesterday or on a turnip truck. 99 times out of 100, they've encountered these lies before, and as a result, they've become conditioned to expect a certain experience from the sales process. They assume they know how a sales person will act, and they base their responses on that assumption.
In fact, in many cases, prospects become so good at predicting sales behaviors that they become experts at manipulating the sales process to get exactly what they want - often at the expense of the sales person.
Why clients lie to sales people
Of course, when it comes to sales, truth telling (or the lack thereof!) works both ways.
One of the most common reasons prospects have for lying to sales people is that they have been lied to by a sales person in the past, and are only trying to "give back" a little of what they have "gotten."
They'll lie to avoid an annoying sales pitch. They'll lie to protect themselves against overly persistent phone calls and email follow-ups, or to avoid being pressured into making a decision. They'll lie to protect their reputations, their budgets, their time and their jobs.
Most of all, they'll lie because they automatically assume all sales people are liars, and they want to make a pre-emptive strike before they are lied to first.
Think about how sales people are commonly portrayed in popular culture. Movies like Tin Men, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Tommy Boy and Glengarry Glen Ross don't exactly paint a sterling portrait of our profession. The result is that we who do want to excel legitimately in our chosen profession have a pretty swift current to row against.
But while it may be difficult, it's not an impossible challenge. Gaining the trust of your customers and prospects just takes a little extra effort and forethought - as well as complete dedication to honesty in how you conduct your business.
If my business is still growing, why should I care?
In my research over the past 20 years, I've found that only 10% of sales people in any organization are what we might call "top performers" - those who regularly close at least half of their qualified prospects. At the other end of the spectrum are another 20% comprised of under performers, as well as those who are new or on their way out.
The remaining 70% of sales people fall into a broad category that is best described as the "average majority." To be fair, being an average performer isn't a terrible thing - these sales reps will close about one out of every three qualified prospects, and make a decent living in the process.
But few sales professionals would ever choose to be average, especially when the tools to become a top performer are so easily within their grasp.
Just consider the missed opportunities! While they regularly hit their average targets, these sales people are missing out on over two-thirds of the sales they could potentially close. This means that, for every $300k in potential sales in your pipeline, you're leaving a whopping $200k on the table - or to the competition.
The secret to sales success
Successful sales people all use a range of different styles and techniques, but they also all share one key thing in common: they know that honest communication is the single most important secret to increasing sales, and commissions.
By focusing their efforts on creating a positive customer experience based on openness and trust, these top performers can almost always rely on an extraordinary level of repeat sales. Nine times out of ten, their customers would simply never even think of looking elsewhere when they need to reorder. As we all know, it's far easier - and far more profitable - to keep repeat business than it is to land a whole new account.
So what's the "secret" to establishing and maintaining credibility in the eyes of your clients?
Don't lie. Ever. End of story.
Lies not only damage the ability of sales people to communicate with their clients. They can also result in a complete communication breakdown that is difficult - or even impossible - to repair.
Consider the consequences of this kind of breakdown in communication and trust. According to Fred Reichheld, author of Loyalty Rules, North American companies lose roughly half of their customers every five years, half of their employees every four years, and half of their investors in less than one year. In our view, most of these staggering losses are caused by a breakdown of communication in one of three primary areas:
1. During the sales cycle with potential new prospects;
2. Following unsatisfactory after-sales service (or add-on sales) between sales people and clients; and
3. Among co-workers in unpleasant or stressful work environments.
In addition to the lost sales and revenues that these breakdowns represent, there are also numerous hidden costs. Losing customers to a misunderstanding or a lack of trust can dramatically reduce your satisfaction in your work, as well as the satisfaction that your clients have about you and your company's products or services.
Worse yet, it can permanently ruin your reputation - and your ability to earn future business.
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Make sure you check out Colleen's latest book, Nonstop Sales Boom for powerful strategies to drive consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, year after year.
Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions (www.EngageSelling.com). Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.
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