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Honesty and Integrity in Sales

Posted by Alvaro Gafaro on 27-Apr-2015 09:00:00

Honesty_and_Integrity_in_SalesHonesty and integrity are essential to a Sales Professional.

Honesty is maybe the easiest to be clear about; you have to tell the truth and not tell lies. If you tell a lie, even a small one, and you get found out your credibility is gone and any chance of a sale goes with it. And if you over-promise and don’t deliver you will never get more business from that customer, or from anyone he or she ever talks to. Sadly people remember things that you have done wrong much more clearly than all the good things you do.

And lying is such hard work! You have to remember what lies you have told and who you have told them to, the moment you slip up you are caught out.

What lies are Sales People tempted to tell?

When Sales People are enthusiastic about their product and keen to make a sale it is tempting to exaggerate or bend the truth a little. For example, to say that their solution meets the needs of a prospect when it doesn’t or that it can be delivered within a time frame or budget that they know is not possible.

Another time that it may be tempting to skip over some uncomfortable truths is when you are writing a proposal and it comes to discussing risk. If you are honest about potential risks (and show how you would mitigate them) you will gain more trust than if you say there is no risk. And in the decision making stage it may seem easier to give positive answers to questions that should really be referred back to technical experts.

Why are some Sales People dishonest?

The best Sales People are passionate about what they are selling and determined to make sales. This is good, but sometimes people get over enthusiastic and lose sight of the importance of being completely honest. It’s always better to slightly under-promise then over-deliver and delight your customer than the other way around and disappoint them.

It can also be the fault of the managers. If too much pressure is put on Sales People to sell a solution, particularly one that is over priced, underspecified or wrong for a particular customer, Sales People may feel they have to lie to meet their targets. Also, customers expect Sales People to be experts in the solution they are selling – this comes out very clearly in the research done by Infoteam. If a Sales Person is not properly trained and given all the information they should have about the solution they may be tempted to pretend they know the answer.

More bad stories than good

My colleague Phil was in a workshop with a large IT company recently and the Sales Teams were talking about their biggest problems and they all said they could not take customer calls because the connectivity was so poor – despite everything their telecoms supplier had told them during the Sales Process.

I also worked with a telecoms company that was having big problems with dissatisfied customers. The customers complained that Sales People had lied about mobile coverage, implementation times, and technology and had failed to give them ongoing support as promised. Sales were made but the profits were not because of the time taken up by dissatisfied customers.

What integrity is and why it matters in sales

Integrity is about having strong ethical values and sticking to them. For example, not talking negatively about your competition or not sharing confidential information or in our business not working for a customer’s competitor. And when you are talking to the Buying Centre and one person expresses his poor opinion of another person, don’t say you agree (even if you do) but rather acknowledge this and see whether you can help resolve it.

An excellent example of integrity arose recently when the Digital Marketing Agency we work with introduced us to one of their prospects. The prospect was originally talking to the Agency about a marketing campaign to generate more leads, but the Agency started exploring their needs and discovered their proposal win rate was only around 1 in 8. The Managing Director of the Agency explained it would be more cost effective for them to improve the win rate than get more prospects and that this would give them more money to spend on better marketing later.

And to end on a positive note, I have a client who sells bottling plants. He was approached by a company wanting to set up a new water bottling operation in Africa, with a capacity of 10K bottles an hour. My client looked carefully at the figures and the projections and had sufficient integrity to recommend the customer should buy a larger capacity second hand bottling line (up to 60K per hour) rather than a new one from him. He introduced the company to a second hand seller and made a little money helping with the implementation. Within a few years the company was knocking on the door saying the business was so successful that they needed a new bottling plant, but much bigger than the one they first asked for.


  • Are you tempted to bend the truth a little to make a sale?

  • Do you have all the knowledge you need to answer questions about the solutions you sell?

  • Do you feel under pressure to make sales at any price?

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