Secrets of the Top 10% - Part III: Honesty Sells!

In last month's Engaging Ideas, you'll remember that we began discussing the second key secret of the Top 10% of sales performers: Compassion. We explored the power of reciprocity, the importance of non-verbal communication and the need to practice listening first, and talking second.

Today, we're going to wrap up our look at Compassion by devoting this entire article to another key component to being compassionate, and achieving Top 10% results: Honesty.

Honesty in sales - isn't that an oxymoron?
No!

Those who are in the Top 10% of the sales profession not only understand the importance of being completely honest at all times; they have mastered the art of open, honest communication with their clients.

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. By focusing their efforts on creating a positive customer experience based on openness and trust, top performers almost always enjoy 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.

So what's the "secret" to establishing and maintaining credibility in the eyes of your clients - and maximizing your repeat business?

Don't lie. Ever. End of story.

Lies not only damage your ability to communicate with your clients. In many cases, they can lead to a complete breakdown in communication that can be difficult - or even impossible - to repair.

In addition to the lost sales and revenues that these breakdowns represent, there are also numerous hidden costs to consider. 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 in you and your company's services or products.

Worse yet, it can ruin your reputation, seriously damage your credibility - and jeopardize your ability to earn future business.

2 steps to an honest selling environment
Successful salespeople may use a range of different styles and techniques, but they all have one key thing in common: they know that honest communication is the single most important secret to increasing sales, and commissions.

The following simple two-step process is the surest way I know to maintain an honest selling environment, and develop the kind of open, honest relationships with your clients that can help create loyal customers for life:

1. Never over promise and under deliver.
Nothing ruins a relationship faster then telling a customer you'll have something ready for them by a certain date, and then calling to tell them that it's going to be late.

Whether it's a product or a proposal, missing a promised delivery date by as little as a week, a day or even an hour may seem trivial. But customers tell me all the time that one of the things that concerns them the most is when they can't rely on a sales person to keep their word when it comes to the small stuff.

Unfortunately, most sales people are still afraid to say "no" when asked to do something extraordinary, out of fear that they will lose the sale. In fact, no fear could be more unfounded. In sales, it is imperative that you learn how to say "no" in a way that lets your customer know that he or she will benefit from your truthful answers.

For example, you might try saying something like:

  • "I'd like to say yes, but I'm afraid that if I do, I won't be able to deliver this on time."
  • "I can't make it Tuesday at 2:00PM… are you able to meet at 10:00AM instead?"
  • "I would love to say I can get you the proposal by Friday, but I'm concerned that, if I promise you that, I won't be able to receive the proper input from our product specialists that you requested."
  • "I'd love to tell you that the product will be delivered by Friday, but there's a good chance that it won't. Could we agree on a Tuesday deadline?"

These statements offer benefits to the customer as well as to you. That doesn't mean they guarantee that the customer will be happy. Nothing can do that. But any of these options is far better than the alternatives - failing to meet the customer's expectations, over-promising and under-delivering, or submitting shoddy work before it's ready.

Be certain that you are clear about what they can expect from you as well as what they can't. For example, tell them what you can deliver instead of what they are asking for. And make sure to let them know that if you are ever unable to fulfil a request, you will always tell them upfront or as soon as you realize it. Shared expectations produce harmony and more sales, so be as thorough as possible when establishing expectations, and be prepared to adjust as necessary.

Anything other than the truth erodes trust, and makes your word seem worthless.

2. Never under promise and over deliver.
Remember the old adage, "under promise and over deliver?"

The idea is that, if you exceed what you've promised to deliver, you'll become a superstar in the eyes of your clients, and they'll never, ever want to let you go. The only problem is, this old adage is a complete falsehood. Not only that, it creates a set of expectations that you might not be able to live up to in the future.

Consider this fact: according to USA Today, service levels in the United States have never been higher. Consumers have never gotten more for their money, and have never been served as rapidly and as thoroughly as they are now. Yet at the same time, consumer satisfaction remains at an all-time low.

Why? Because in industry after industry, businesses across the country have simply set the bar too high. As a result of these artificially raised expectations, consumers now expect more and more each time they shop.

Let me give you an example. Say you're able to get a customer a special price discount on a product, provided they agree to buy it before the end of the month. But what happens next quarter or next month when they need to reorder? They'll expect that same discount again, and if you don't or can't give it to them, they'll simply wait until the end of the month when you'll once more be feeling the pressure to sell, and will be more likely to cave on the price.

When you under promise and over deliver, you're setting an unrealistic expectation that you may not be able to maintain. It's nice that you can deliver early this time - but will you always be able to? Sure, you can afford a small discount on this one sale - but will your company be able to support that discount every time the customer places an order?

The answer is probably no. Will the customer expect it anyway? Yes.

Every time you under promise and over deliver, you set the bar at a new level of expectation, and your "extra-ordinary service" becomes the new norm. Remember that trust is built with consistent behavior over time - if you aren't sure that you will always be able to deliver at that level, then you're much better off not creating the expectation.

Now, I'm not suggesting that you be dishonest with the customer when you could offer them a better deal. I'm just saying be consistent, say what you're going to do, and then do it when you said you would.

After all, when it comes to sales success, it's not the size of the ring that counts - it's the consistency of the cash flow!

One last thought
If you've had a track record of not keeping your promises with a customer, come clean. Admit to them that you haven't always kept your promises. Really.

If your customers have been on the receiving end of your unfinished, late or incomplete work in the past, honestly admitting you have a problem will be the first (and best) step toward rebuilding a relationship with them. You can't have a trusting relationship with a customer who doesn't trust you. So after you've come clean about not keeping your promises in the past, you must also commit to keeping your word in the future. If for some reason you are unable to keep a promise, let them know as soon as you do.

For more ideas on how to be honest throughout the sales cycle, you may want to check out Honesty Sells: Or, you can check out http://www.engageselling.com/webinar_6-2005cdcopy.htm some of our other articles on the importance of honesty to the selling process, available free of charge on our Web site at www.engageselling.com/articles.

Then join us in two weeks' time for the next installment of our ongoing series: Success Secrets of the Top 10%!

Commit yourself to improving just one of these little things before the next issue of Engaging Ideas in two weeks' time, and see if you don't find yourself on the way to being that much better, and that much richer.

Join us next month when we finish our discussion on Compassion, and how it can help take your career to a whole new level!

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Nonstop Sales Boom by Colleen Francis 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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