Transparency and Selling

President Obama directly links transparency to economic performance.

In his inauguration address, he asserted “…those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”

Lately transparency has been in short supply.

Offices for sale. Ponzi schemes. The former mayor of Baltimore has just been indicted on charges that she accepted illegal gifts, including gift cards intended for the poor that she allegedly used instead for a holiday shopping spree.

Whether with respect to government, or to building client relationships, transparency is at the very root of trust.

That may seem obvious. Motherhood and apple pie. But for those of us with a career background in sales, transparency requires deprogramming. We were taught:

• Never share a weakness
• Never admit a competitor strength
• Never share cost information
• Always get as much margin as you can
• Don’t share information that could decrease your ability to close a sale

Oh yeah, and be customer focused.

What goes around comes around. In the long run, the truth inevitably bubbles to the top. You can get credit for saying it—or blame for resisting it.

As Charlie Green said in a HuffingtonPost piece, “If we see someone as being transparent, then nagging questions about motive disappear. We no longer speculate about, ‘What’s in it for him? What’s the hidden meaning? Why’d he say that? Is he lying?’ and so on. We accept the person at face value for what they say, even if—sometimes, particularly if—what they say reflects imperfection. That works in sales and in politics.” 

Yet, we’re trained to go in come back with information that will close the sale. Hunt it, kill it and bring it back to eat.

• What if, instead of dancing around an answer we don’t know, we just admit we don’t know?
• What if, instead of promising something we probably can’t deliver, we admit that and then tell them what we can do?
• What if, instead of offering “teaser” pricing and then covertly getting it on the back end, we share our cost structure?

These examples are counter-intuitive—downright treasonous in some circles.

Without the pretension, void of false promises and out on a limb – we are, admittedly exposed, naked and vulnerable.

But wouldn’t you rather buy from a seller who is willing to show you his cards, even if—perhaps because—you both know it might cost him the sale? That visceral reaction works in reverse when transparency dominates relationships (think Madoff, Blagojevich).

Transparency creates a powerful pull toward you. It also, by the way, lets you sleep easier.