Can You Tell the Truth About Being Self Interested?

The other day I was teaching a seminar, and someone phrased the following question:

I understand your point that, in sales, we should pay attention to the other person, focus on their needs, subordinate our own ego, and so on. But I have a hard time squaring that with honesty. After all, I’m in business to make money. They know that as well as I do. Isn’t it disingenuous—even dishonest—for me to pretend I’m totally focused on them, and not on myself?

That’s a very relevant issue to lots of people, and very well stated.

The answer in many ways boils down to one word—timeframe.

If I’m in a romantic relationship for sex, I’d better plan on some dinners, flowers, conversations and companionship on the way there. (And vice versa, by the way).

If I’m going to rely on friendships, then I’d better be prepared to invest in them over time.

If I want to have high energy and good health, then I’d better be prepared to forego the chocolate cake cravings from time to time, and to exercise sometimes when I don’t feel like it.

In other words, the desire for immediate gratification is often the enemy of longer-term happiness. Sad but true. In one study (maybe a reader can help me remember where/when), five year-olds were analyzed according to their ability to defer gratification (“one cookie now, or two in an hour”). Their subsequent lives were then traced over decades. Those kids who chose more later were notably happier, more successful, more stable later in life.

So it is in sales.

If I insist on closing every deal; if I insist on metricizing every little aspect of my sales process and tying rewards to each part; if I am constantly evaluating the discounted present value of the next ten minutes of conversation so as to decide whether to qualify or flush the prospect—then I am not a deferred-gratification salesperson, I am that greedy kid saying “me want cookie now!”

And people react to us accordingly. People who expect sex too early in relationships tend not to get it. People who never invest in their friends lose them. People who can’t resist the extra piece of cake get fat.

Back to my student.

The apparent conflict between self-interest and customer orientation evaporates if we look at the right timeframe. If all I can see at any point in a sales conversation is the likelihood of closing, then I am a “me want cookie now” kind of salesperson.

But if I’m willing to invest in the relationship—to let go the incessant attachment to outcome, to enjoy the ride as well as the destination, to qualify leads occasionally as opposed to constantly, to drive my reward from the total package rather than the quarterly pieces, to live in the relationship not the transaction—then things get better.  In fact, all things get a lot better.

It’s a bit of a paradox: the best short-term results do NOT come from trying to manage the short-term, but from managing in the long term. Your own best sales results come not from trying to sell the other guy, but from helping him get what he wants.

Your own self-interest is truly served by serving the other. And that’s the honest truth–about which you can be honest.

The contradiction is only in how you phrase the problem. Phrase it in the longer term.


Trust Based Selling in the Real World Case Study Number 42


When the Beatles sang that in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make, they could have been singing about software development consultant Andrés Taylor.

Andrés describes himself this way:

"I am Andrés Taylor. I’m one of the founders of blueplane, a consulting firm specializing in helping software teams produce better code more reliably. I write mostly about the soft arts of team work."

He wrote some nice things about my book Trust-Based Selling. But what really grabbed my attention was his story of a recent sale.

Andrés mainly a technology person—not a sales guy at all. So it was with great trepidation that he responded to a customer’s request for a reference by putting the customer in touch with a past customer.

He got the old customer to visit the new-customer on the new customer’s premises; they got on well, and eventually Andrés got the feeling that maybe he should just leave the room. And he did. Abandoned the customer in the middle of the sales call. Didn’t do a close. Didn’t ask for the sale. Just left him with an old customer.

And of course, a happy ending ensued.

Read the post itself, it’s worth the click-through.

Here’s my take on what he did right:

  1. His decision to allow other users in tapped one of the strongest sources of trust: testimonials from others.
  2. His decision to use old-client as a case example is part of selling by doing, not selling by telling: giving a practical demo.
  3. His decision to let the old client client speak for himself—to the extent of leaving the room—visibly demonstrated:
  • his detachment from trying to control;
  • the fact that he wasn’t trying to control old-client;
  • his confidence in old-client’s probable answer;
  • his confidence in his own services’ abilities to speak for themselves through others.


But what really tells me that Andrés “gets it” is this statement in his post:

“My very explicit goal for every meeting I have is to listen to what they say, and try to find something that is a problem for them. If I can, I try to share some experience or knowledge with the person, that might help them with whatever they are having a problem with.”

That’s Trust-Based Selling at work. Trusting that in the not-too-long run, doing right by your customers ends up doing well for yourself.

And that’s not a Beatle song, that’s a business model.

Well, maybe both.