How to sell without being sleazy

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Business is a game of trust.

Most people understand this, but throw it all out the window when it comes to sales.

Hide the ugly truth. Shroud the negatives in darkness. Use pressure tactics. Act like a sleazy salesperson.

It’s all we’ve seen so it’s all we know.

Some are appalled by this and overcompensate in the opposite direction. They are too nice. Too suspiciously nice.

But there is a middle ground where sales doesn’t have to feel sleazy. It doesn’t have to be motivated by a win-lose exchange where you take everything from your victim. And it doesn't have to be spineless either.

One of my favorite books is called No lie: Truth is the ultimate sales tool, by Barry Maher.

In it, he argues that embracing the negative aspects of your products and turning them into strengths is much more powerful than trying to avoid them or pretend like they don’t exist.

And he argues for an ethical sales process where the customer benefits from radical candor.

Here’s an exchange from the book that represents 99% of salespeople online:

Maher: "You know there's more passion in your voice right now than I've heard from you all morning. And of course passion sells. Conviction sells. Honesty sells."

Student: "Yeah, I knoww." She smiled. "And once you can fake those, you can sell anything to anyone."

Maher: "Except yourself.”

This is why there is so much value in telling the truth.

For one, nobody is doing it. They are all faking it. And this is what creates that sense of unease. That feeling you can’t quite place. It comes when you sense that the salesperson is out of alignment. They are showing signs that they value and use the product. But they don’t actually believe it themselves. And, try as they may, they can’t hide this misalignment from you.

This is how your prospects feel when you’re trying to sell them something. They are reminded of all their bad experiences. All the stereotypical “used car salesmen” out there.

And so it’s your job to break that stereotype and create trust.

Candor creates trust. Candor creates credibility.

This is why Maher recommends embracing the negative aspects of your product. But it’s not just about showing off the defects of your product.

It’s about turning the defects into features:

  • Why is it a good thing that you have the highest prices in your industry? Does it mean better service? Does it mean they get a guarantee?
  • Why is it a good thing that you don’t offer X even though your competitors do?
  • Why is it a good thing that you’re younger (or older) than every other professional in your industry? Why is it a good thing that you’re a woman (or a man) when everyone expects you to be somebody else?

Make a list of the negative aspects of your product or service.  Make a list of the objections you face.  And develop a reason why each negative is actually a positive.

With a little creativity, you can turn your sales process from something that both you and your customers loathe into an honest evaluation of whether your product can help your customer solve their problem.

And even if they don’t buy, they will trust you more as a result.

That trust builds on itself. They may not buy today, but that doesn’t mean they won’t tomorrow.

Business is a game of trust. Cultivate trust in everything that you do and you’ll find it difficult to not grow.

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