Paradoxes, Selling and Trust

One great thing about paradoxes is that they keep on teaching.

Looking at a paradox, you’re first struck about the confusing, “wrong” nature of it. And you must rediscover how to get out of it.
Think of an optical illusion—the old lady young lady vase, an Escher print. Think of the Cretan Epimenedes’ paradox, “all Cretans lie.”

Or, think of Trust-based Selling®.

How can you trust someone if they’re trying to sell you? If I get you to trust me in order to sell you, aren’t I being untrustworthy? How can you trust someone who says ‘trust me?’ If you’re getting paid a commission or a quota for selling me, aren’t your interests in conflict with mine? How can trust exist between two parties, one of whose job it is to convince the other to give him his money?

What I do for a living is explain that and similar paradoxes to others—and, to teach it, I must rediscover it for myself every time. Paradoxes are slippery.

The “answer” to the trust-based selling paradox is to accept it as paradoxical—like the apparent paradox of quantum physics. Is it a wave, or a particle?


The best way to sell is to stop selling. The best way to influence others is to stop trying to influence them. The best way to get what you want is to help others get what they want.

Put that way, it’s not hard to “get.” The Beatles got it (“the love you take is equal to the love you make”). Henry Ford got it (“the secret of success lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle”). Dale Carnegie got it (“You can close more business in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.”)

But the majority of businesspeople, I think, don’t get it. Even many in salespeople don’t get it. Here, in part, is why.

Consider some of the accepted-wisdom mantras of today’s business gurus, magazines, exec ed programs, and business schools.

• Define people development in terms of behaviors, not motives or feelings.

• Define measurable skills gaps, develop programs to augment skills, and measure their behavioral impact.

• Claim that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

• Align rewards and goals—particularly with extrinsic, financial rewards.

• Pay for performance—defined as financial contribution to the firm.

• Examine all processes to maximize efficiency, effectiveness and profit.

• Examine customer acquisition, loyalty, retention and customer profitability, through highly detailed metrics. The aim is to improve your profitability. Then refer to it as “customer-centricity.”

• Make sure all behaviors, expenditures, human “capital” development and processes are continually monitored to maximize their return on shareholder investment, and their contribution to sustainable competitive advantage.

Consider the collective impact of that set of beliefs when they come up against a concept like “do the right thing for the customer.”

“Do the right thing” has a snowball’s chance in hell.

Here’s what usually comes back:

“OK, but we need to make sure it’s working.”

“The right thing can’t be code for charity.”

“If the right thing is profitable, then let’s incent it.”

“We need to be careful about how we define “right.”

“We need 2nd and 3rd order metrics for ‘the right thing’.”

“You can’t let them take advantage of you.”

“That’s OK when times are good…”

“Great, but you still need to up the closing rate for this quarter.”

So: should you do the right thing? Or should you close the sale?


The paradox is—if you truly do the right thing, you will close more sales, be more profitable, get higher loyalty. But only if you do the right thing for the customer.

If you do the right thing in order to close the sale, etc.—it’ll blow up on you.

A Wall Street broker once told me, “Trusted Advisor? Sounds good. Anything that’ll give me greater share of wallet, I’m all for it.” You can pervert anything with bad intentions.

If a boss yells "quarterly quota" in your ear, remember: the best short-term results come from long-term customer focus—not from forced closing.

If you are a boss yelling quarterly quota in your salepeople’s ears, try retuning the message—“I want you all to do the right thing by your customer. If your numbers are bad, I’ll assume you’re doing the wrong thing by your customer; and that hurts us too.”

The best sales come from trust. It helps to rediscover that paradox every time.

0 replies
  1. Maureen Rogers
    Maureen Rogers says:

    Charlie – You’re dead-on with this one. I’ve been in situations where the "top gun" sales guys drag in the big deals, make the big commissions, and make everybody short-term, end of quarter happy. Then reality hits: the deal was oversold and/or is going to cost too much to deliver. The top line looks good, but the bottom line ends up with a customer who feels screwed and/or a loss for the company.

    The best sales guys I’ve ever worked with are the far less showy ones who develop a trusted relationship with prospects, some of whom will turn into customers at the right time, for the right product, at the right price.

    In the long run, these kind of sales folks are invaluable, but in the short run companies often favor the show horses over the plow horses.

  2. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    The thing that I still puzzle over is that while the "show horse vs. the plow horse" is certainly the way the issue gets phrased, it is still a false dichotomy.

    The best short term performance—which is what all the hubbub is about—does not come from focusing on the show horse, but from focusing on the plow horse.  The best short-term performance—not (just) the best long-term.

    Pick in any year in 5-year string of success, and it’s likely to look successful. And it got there by being part of a 5-year sensible approach.  Sensible approaches don’t get built one month or quarter at a time.

    Translate that into people’s careers, and it continues to puzzle me how we call manage to continually respond to the very short-term pressures facing us, knowing full well that if we live our lives according to long term values, the short term will look better too.

    I say puzzles, but it really isn’t puzzling.  We all are fear-driven, reacting to what Covey calls the urgent as opposed to the critical, vastly over-weighting short-term pressures.

    Still—ain’t it weird we do that?


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