Is honesty always the best policy?

By: Dan Norman
Posted: 03/11/2009

I hate buying a car. I love cars; I just hate buying one. Recently I was in a dealership and noticed that my sales representative had a Bible on his desk. This struck me as a bit odd, as he had just finished both cursing at a cloud in the sky and condemning a vagrant rummaging through a trash can on the edge of the car lot. Curious to know if he had learned any of those descriptive and colorful words while reading his Bible, I asked him if he flipped through it during the day.

“Aaawww, hell no!” he said. “It’s just a prop.”

Handing my credit card to the server in a restaurant one evening, I noticed the pictures of two cute kids inside the plastic wallet that held the receipt. I asked her how old her kids were and she said,

“Oh, I don’t have kids. Those are pictures of Jill’s kids.” She pointed toward another server close by, bent close to me and said, “I wouldn’t lie about them being my kids but most people don’t ask. And having those pictures in with the bill sure does get me bigger tips!”

We can all agree that in general there is a stereotypical view of salespeople. I think we can all agree that the sales profession is one that has its share of examples of less-than-desirable and unprofessional activities. And yes, in my opinion, a server in a restaurant is in the sales profession.

With stories of high-pressure telemarketing sales representatives, news reports about scam artists preying on the elderly, and the ever-present tales of used-car salesman, honest and good salespeople can be seen as guilty simply by association or the title they bear. Having hired, developed and worked with thousands of salespeople, I can tell you that with the best salespeople, honesty is paramount.

Honesty is vital in all regards, from pricing integrity, to product quality, to features, benefits and setting performance expectations.

When I think of honesty, it reminds me of the early days building a sales organization. I interviewed a woman for a position in sales who said she was presently working as a Soft Drink Spy. The purpose of the Soft Drink Spy job was to protect the renowned and trademarked name of a soft drink manufactured by a huge soft drink company. The woman told me she would visit restaurants that had a reputation for serving customers a similar product made by a different soft drink company and not telling customers that it wasn’t the real thing. She would order a drink, put a sample of the drink in a flask, put it in her purse, get a receipt and take the sample back to the company’s lab. Test results and receipt in hand, she would go back to the restaurant and offer them an opportunity to begin carrying their product. If they declined the opportunity, she would get the legal department involved.

She said she loved the company and drank the soft drink, but she didn’t like her job. She said it made her feel sneaky and that her purse was always sticky inside. She said the final straw came on Thanksgiving Day at her grandmother’s house when she found herself attempting to take a sample of her iced tea to put in her purse. It’s not that her job was dishonest or placed her in a compromising position in any way; she felt a bit deceptive having an ulterior motive to simply ordering a drink.

She’s an example of extreme honesty in practice. I found, however, that her strong sense of honesty was mirrored in every one of the top 10 percent of sales professionals I interviewed, knew and worked with.

By the way, she was our No. 1 salesperson during her first year.i ts Selling Expo speaker

Make sure you check out Dan Norman’s

keynote address April 1, 2009, in Austin. For more

information, visit www.Benefi

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