Honesty in Sales Has Never Been More Important!


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Business development consultants are great opportunists. We never lack for creative ways to grow revenue. And when prospects lack compelling motivation to buy, well, we just go right out and motivate the American way—by inventing something! Last month, I knew it wasn’t déjà vu when I read

“Budgets are getting tighter.”

“Customers are more demanding than ever.”

“Competition is getting more intense.”

“We’ve never faced tougher sales challenges.”

I could swear that I’ve read these urgent statements before. If budgets are trending in a near-constant negative slope, when will we reach the nadir? Hopefully not soon, so we can keep playing the message. If customers are getting more demanding every year, are vendors at risk for buckling under the stress? And nowhere in my twenty-five year catalog of sales experience do I remember any time when I could say “oh yeah, that was the period when competition wasn’t intense.” Last but not least, “tougher sales challenges” are just symptomatic of another problem: many companies haven’t kept pace by updating tools and skills. The statement works into perpetuity!

I began to wonder how much longer business developers could tell the world that the sky is falling before payback time. But I wasn’t going to say anything until last week, when I received this emailed platitude:

“There has never been a more important time to be seen as a valuable resource by your customers, company, colleagues, and strategic partners.”

With all due respect, what did the writer take me for? An idiot? Was he expecting me to sit there slack-jawed and glassy-eyed, mindlessly nodding in agreement with every pronouncement, no matter how inane? Was he suggesting that last year, being seen as valuable wasn’t critical for a salesperson? I considered contacting the sender to let him know that I could not think of a moment in anyone’s sales career when being valuable wasn’t Job #1, but I didn’t. For all I know, he’s still sending the email. Automation is a wonderful thing when what you’re communicating is valuable, but it’s plenty damaging when the message is just plain dumb.

Clearly, that marketer’s penchant for trying to make useless statements seem wise isn’t unique. Credibility is at stake. When people question facts, evidence, or research, there must be a more compelling response than “because I said so.” Similarly, if a statement is backed by anecdotal observations, they will be questioned about whether they’re extensible to The Big Picture. (But at least having first-hand observations is a step in the right direction!)

I know it’s a generalization, but generalizations mislead. Situations and context matter. An expert can say “profit margins have never been lower!” But the statement is useful only as it relates to an industry, market, or company. Or when it’s backed by sound research. Airline profits are down and commodity grain margins are up. That’s useful. Environments and forces effect different industries in different ways. Let’s dig in and understand how. Otherwise, how can real insights be distinguished from self-serving marketing hype?

Here’s mine: “Honesty in sales has never been more important!” I have no research to prove it, but who could argue?


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