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.

6 replies
  1. Jeremy
    Jeremy says:


    Very good post.  I think that this is very true.  Many times the great salespeople don’t focus on the one-off sale, they focus on long term selling.  This of course depends on building trust and relationships.  The more transparent and honest you are the stronger the relationship can and will be. Many think that you have to be all things to all people to be able to sell and I would think that you just need to be authentic.

    I am not certain that ANY politician regardless of their political stripe can claim that they are authentic or transparent.  Too many promises to too many people for that.

    Good post.


    <a href="">Refocusing Technology</a>

  2. Rob Shore
    Rob Shore says:


    Read your post with interest as nearly the same day I sent my Feb. newsletter titled "I Don’t Trust You; Now What Were You Saying?".

    I’m affraid that the trust that has been erroded will take quite some time to rebound – even with the short memories that we all have. Of course it does not help that shoes keep dropping.

    Thanks for writing about a topic that needs much more attention…and even more action.

    Rob Shore


  3. Ray Hartley
    Ray Hartley says:

    I know this is a bit late to post, but to me the fundamental driver for transparency is that it will provide you with a competitive edge – and isn’t that what everyone is seeking? Well, rather than copy perhaps do the opposite of what the other fellow is doing, and share all of your information with the client. I do love this notion and thank you for the post. At least now I know, here in Australia, that you are there and writing good stuff.

  4. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:


    It’s never too late to post, most of us who write in track the comments, and I track all of them. Glad to hear this is all making sense down under.

    I would, however, offer one twist on what you were saying. I think you’re absolutely right that doing the opposite of the competitor in a case like transparency gives you a competitive advantage.

    However, at least for myself, I prefer to not think that my goal is to gain a competitive advantage. I prefer to think that my goal is client/customer satisfaction, and that the competitive advantage that accrues is a byproduct.

    That doesn’t make the results any less true, but it helps keep my motives clean.

    Thanks again for writing, shout out to Melbourne.


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  1. […] kind of awkward we’re talking about. Even though most of us probably ascribe to a principle of Transparency—being honest, open, candid except when illegal or injurious to others—we’ve all made the […]

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