Clif Reichard, who sells for Ball Corporation and writes for the HBR NOW website, has a post with the purposefully inciting title “Can You Sell Without Lying?” As you might expect, Mr. Reichard comes down on the side of ethical norms, believing that success and honesty are not mutually exclusive. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
In today’s day and age, it is rare (very rare) for a professional salesperson to lie. The availability of information is too great, and the punishment for doing so too high. The Internet has leveled the playing field (or perhaps tipped it slightly in favor of the consumer).
Sales, in part, is about creating a vision of something better, something more than the status quo. A good salesperson can help to create that vision with the prospect. I say “help to create that vision with the prospect” because, as often as not, the prospect has some vision or dream of how something may be made better or improved. They see the vision, in part, because they want to see the vision. They have a dream of something better.
Prospects don’t buy without dissatisfaction, and dissatisfaction is realized by the vision that something can or should be better than it is.
Where salespeople get into trouble is when they don’t create a realistic idea of what getting to the vision entails for the prospect, or when they allow the prospect’s Utopian vision to go unchecked. It isn’t that the salesperson lies, it is more a case of not managing expectations.
- Instead of telling the prospect to expect hiccups in service, but to count on them to be there to immediately remedy them, they allow the prospect to believe there won’t be issues at all.
- Instead of helping the prospect understand that the salesperson’s company has a learning curve in building the complex solution that will eventually deliver the prospect’s vision, they allow the prospect to believe that the vision will be delivered when the contract is signed.
- Instead of discussing the processes and procedures for managing any issues or failures, the salesperson allows the prospect to hold onto the dream of something more than better; they allow them to dream of something perfect.
It is difficult work managing expectations in the sales process. Imagine building a vision of something great, then pointing out all things that aren’t so great.
Great salespeople manage expectations.
They tell the prospect that, like any other business, there are challenges, issues, and unforeseen circumstances that they will inevitably face together. They tell the prospect that, as a customer, those issues will be addressed in a professional manner and used as learning experiences that will allow their company to improve its service offerings. Great salespeople also ensure that the prospect can count on them to be there to ensure that the issues are resolved and that the vision they built together will be realized.
Then they do what they told the prospect they would do. That’s what makes them great salespeople.