Sales transparency: is it good or bad?

“I can see right through you,” said the buyer to the salesperson. “I know exactly what you’re trying to do!” Question: Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I think it’s a very good thing. I believe that the best selling is highly transparent – no tricks, no games and no subterfuge. Great salespeople don’t trick anyone into buying from them; they help their prospects and customers to reach an unmistakable conclusion. When a great salesperson makes a sale, there’s no “buyer’s remorse”, just the confidence that comes from making a good decision.

Selling is a game
I should probably clarify this point. Great salespeople don’t “play games.” But many great salespeople look at selling itself as a game. I think that’s a healthy attitude, especially considering that salespeople “lose” more frequently than those in most other job categories. Great salespeople probably lose less frequently, but you still can’t win ’em all, no matter what game you’re playing.

Actually, you can win ’em all over a short period of time. That’s called a streak. You can also lose ’em all over a short period of time. That’s called a slump. Great salespeople have both – and just like great athletes, they know both will end. With a streak, you try to keep it going by continuing to do what’s been working for you. With a slump, you try to make it end by examining what you’ve been doing and making any changes or adjustments that seem necessary. Just like any other game, selling involves strategies and skills, and you can improve your performance by refining your strategies and/or improving your skills.

Similarities and analogies
The “selling is a game” discussion comes up early in most of my seminars. After we agree that it’s a healthy way of looking at the job, I ask attendees to consider the similarities and analogies between printing sales and other popular sports and games.

Fishing is often suggested as an analogous challenge, and when I ask why, the answer usually has something to do with being in the right place with the right bait. Chess is another common analogy, and lately I’ve been hearing a lot about the similarities between selling and poker.

I think those two in particular can help me to make my point, because I think selling at its highest level is a lot more like chess than poker. Think about the two games. In chess, the whole tactical situation is right out there in front of both players. You won’t always know what your opponent is planning to do, but you always know what he or she can do. The pieces have proscribed moves, and a player can’t change what each piece can do in the middle of a game.

In poker, on the other hand, there is always hidden information, known only to one player, and because of that, the element of bluffing is of major importance. Now, I’ll grant you that there’s often an element of bluffing when you get to the negotiation stage in printing sales, but my point is that bluffing becomes less necessary the more transparent the selling process is, up until that point. In other words, the greater the trust the less important the price.

Transparent strategy
I teach a selling strategy in which the first contact with a buyer is an introductory letter or e-mail. The gist of that communication is: “I’m interested in you because…” and “I think you might be interested in me because…” so “I’m going to ask you to agree to a meeting.” It’s quite straightforward, and I think you’ll agree, very transparent. To look at it another way, this letter or e-mail really says: “This is why I’m writing to you and this is what I’m going to do next.” It does not say a great deal about products, services, capabilities, technology, or anything else that might be described as a benefit of doing business with you. Why? Well, partly because you can’t sell everything in one letter or e-mail, but mostly because it would take away from the primary, transparent message. So here’s another way to say all of this. Keep it simple and straightforward. Don’t try to “sell” them. Instead, try to open clear and transparent lines of communication. I think you’ll find that everything works better if you can get off to that kind of start.