This is Day 5 of 5 in our week-long series of selling in a recession using the Four Trust Principles. Today’s principle is Principle 4—make transparency your first instinct, except when being transparent is illegal or hurtful to others.
Transparency helps business development in a recession in three ways.
First, it gives information to your customers, suppliers and partners so they can generate new ideas about how to work with you—to cut costs, create new service offerings, or alter their own practices to align with your products or services.
Second, emotional transparency enables empathy—always important to selling, but especially now. Empathy deepens personal relationships, which build better business relationships. And relationships formed under times of stress are the strongest.
Finally, transparency is the antidote to suspicion. In a recession, bad behavior goes up. Buyers are more suspicious of sellers’ motives. Transparency eases their mind about the motives behind your actions, your words, and your intentions. Transparency helps your sales.
As you read through today’s suggestions list, you’ll probably notice that the main reason we don’t practice transparency is fear—fear of being taken advantage of by competitors, by employees, and by customers. Now is the time to remember the adage “the best way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.” You receive the behavior you expect.
Try trusting your customers by being transparent.
Here are 16 ideas for improving sales in a recession by being transparent. Please add your own—on this post, and on all five of the days’ posts.
1. Once you develop your plans for addressing the recession, share your information and concerns with key customers, including how your plans could affect the relationship. This can create an intense, positive discussion.
2. If you have layoffs that affect customers, let them know immediately, together with succession plans for customer contacts. And don’t try to shut off customers from dialogue with their former contacts in your firm; give closure room to work. If you’re afraid of what the employee will say, then you have bigger problems to work on—trying to hide it will only make it worse.
3. If you come up with an approach to the economy that could help other companies—yes, even competitors—share it publicly. Be the company that cares enough about people to share the innovative ideas that could help pull us all out, or reduce the pain that individuals will bear.
4. Share your cost structure with your customers. This will eliminate any suspicions they have about your pricing. They will also appreciate your candor, and come to trust you more.
5. Don’t BS your customers about where your own company stands—financially and otherwise—because you’re afraid of looking bad or making your clients/partners worry. Tell it like it is. They can handle the truth. Leave spin control to the ordinary companies out there. When fear rules the land, truth-telling serves as an anchor to those who don’t know what to think.
6. Share personal information about your staff with potential clients. Pictures and bios make it far easier for customers to know who they’ll be working with, or who they’ll be speaking with on the phone. Human to human. It makes it all personal. If you’re holding back because search firms might poach good people, remember—in a recession there’s not a lot of hiring going on. Right now, making customers feel safer is more important than holding rare hiring raids at bay.
7. In sales conversations, compare your product or service to others. Include all relevant information—the good, the bad, and the ugly—to help your customers make informed choices. Do not even think of spinning it—you cannot spin and be transparent at the same time. Realize that some buyers will go with your competitors as a result of what you’ve shared. Deal with it. You’ll end up with more and better in the end.
8. During your next client visit, ask yourself, is there an elephant in the room? A hidden objection, a pricing concern, a weakness, a broken promise? Take the risk; do the counter-intuitive thing and say something like, “Hey, I might be way off-base about this, but if I were in your shoes, I might be wondering … Is that an issue/concern for you?” You have to unlearn some old bad habits to be transparent. But there are few faster ways to build trust.
9. Now is the time to ask for feedback from your clients. Honest feedback. Really honest feedback. Now is also the time to offer feedback for your clients. Honest feedback. Really honest feedback.
10. Tell the truth about your own emotional reality. If you’re stressed/worried/anxious … saying so will build intimacy. We’re not advocating a public panic attack; we all have to manage our emotions well during tough times. But to an extent we’re all in a similar boat right now and being real about it has its own rewards. Not the least of which is you are far more likely to get the straight scoop from your client about his/her reality, which puts you in a much better position to be of service.
11. Consider sharing information about your backlog, prospective orders, or plans as they affect vendors and suppliers. In a recession, having advance, non-binding discussions about the future is invaluable to those who sell to you. Help them, and they will help you. Clam up and refuse to discuss, and you just frustrate them. We normally avoid this kind of disclosure out of fear for losing some competitive edge. That fear is vastly over-stated, and more than compensated for by the supplier loyalty you engender by being willing to open with those who serve you.
12. Your company wants to purchase a complex piece of equipment, but it’s too expensive. Your vendor wants to sell it to you, but doesn’t know how to make it less costly based on your specs. If you are both transparent—why you need it, what it’s worth to you, what it costs them, and how they make it—then together you can find a way to make it cheaper. That’s collaboration—but what enables collaboration is transparency.
13. Share information about your product development plans. Amazon just got slammed on their own blogs for giving their customers no advance warning and no price break for the new Kindle. Amazon will do just fine, thank you, but who needs the bad publicity? Yes, that’s the industry norm in electronics—but that hardly makes it right to tick off your existing customers in a recessionary time.
14. When your client asks you a question such as, “Do you have experience in…?”, answer honestly and completely. If you aren’t right for a project, it’s ok. Put your scarcity mentality—which drives your fear of losing the sale—on the back burner. It’s better to address that up front, then for your client to find out later. You should always do this; but in recession-based times of fear and suspicion, the power of transparency in service to the customer is magnified.
15. It’s a naked world— can’t really hide anything anymore thanks to emails, meetings at Starbucks, cell phone records. You may be practicing transparency unintentionally. But “oops” moments make you look deceitful, especially in sales. So, don’t do that. Don’t say or write anything you wouldn’t mind everyone reading in the newspaper. Honesty and lack of spin in sales in suspicious downtimes is so refreshingly counter-intuitive that your sales will increase.
16. Shareyour product development plans with your customers before the products are ready for prime time. The software industry long ago figured out that the benefits of letting customers develop their beta releases vastly outweighed the competitive advantage accruing to a customer. People are more likely to buy what they’ve had a hand in developing—if you give them the chance. If you’re in professional services, sharing the early version of a new service offering with potential clients will give you invaluable insight, help educate your buyers, and increases trust. More importantly, your willingness to share your imperfections "early and ugly" says a lot about who you are.
That’s the end of this weeklong series of using trust to improve selling in a recession. Link back to the beginning of the series here. And feel free to add your own ideas throughout.