How Honest is Honest in Making a Sale?

by Ronnie Hall/editor-in-chief
1/30/2013

"Every sale has five basic obstacles: no need, no money, no hurry, no desire, no trust," Zig Ziglar (1926-2012)

Does "all is fair in love and war" apply to sales, too?

The question arose in my mind recently after a 40-minute sit-down at the dining room table with a construction company rep. After reading my brief story below, tell me just how far you feel you can stretch the truth in getting in front of a prospect or someone you've already provided a service.

(To let you know, as soon as I detect whatever I sense to be dishonesty, even a hint of it, I'm not buying. But, maybe I'm just don't appreciate the sales "game," right?)

My story:

This past fall my wife and I hired that same company, a big national home remodeling firm, to install new soffits on our 90-year-old, two-story, wood-frame house.

Two workmen did the work. The older of the two, a wiry middle-aged man (45 to 50), did the talking. He reminded us that he was licensed and insured and he emphasized the company's guarantee of customer satisfaction. His helper - much younger - did the loading, unloading and provided support. They knocked out the job in two days. All went well. Pleased with the work, we handed over the other half of the cost of the work.

(By the way, the work cost almost twice as much as we had originally budgeted, but, true to their promise, the workmen were professional, and cleaned up after themselves when they were done.)

The job was pretty much forgotten when several months later the company called. A warm young female voice inquired if we had any questions about the soffit job. ("No.")
 
If we were pleased were we with the work. ("Yes.")

She then said that a company rep was in our neighborhood and asked if he could stop by and "look over" the work to make sure it was done to the company's standards? ("OK.") 

Later that afternoon the construction rep showed up. He was big man of about 35 years old, wearing khaki pants, a crisp green collared shirt bearing the company logo and extending a big meaty right hand as he flashed a warm, genuine smile.

It's sometimes said that "it's not enough to be liked to be successful as a salesman; you have to be very liked." This guy was easy to very like. Friendly, knowledgeable and somewhat self-deprecating, he immediately put us at ease.

As it turned out, he wasn't interested in inspecting the company's previous work on our home. The subject of the previous work didn't even come up. Instead, he skillfully directed the conversation to other projects that his company could perform on our home. Spying, the wood, double-hung windows in our dining and living rooms, he launched into all of the reasons why they should be replaced. The biggest reason, he emphasized was a 50 percent savings on our heating costs that I, at least, questioned as our storm windows relatively new and tight.  

Undaunted, he extracted a shiny metal tape measure, small battery-operated calculator and legal pad from his small leather brief case and began measuring windows and scribbling on the legal pad. Returning to our table, he set to work punching numbers into the calculator. Quickly (and triumphantly judging from his beaming expression), he arrived at a cost for replacing our windows. He wrote it on the pad and shared it with us. He assured us that it reflected "off-season" pricing as well as a "customer appreciation" discount.

Sensing our surprise at the cost, he suggested a monthly payment plan with six months free financing. We again declined. Then he came up with an even lower price at which point my wife (to my chagrin) blurted out that the give and take between us was beginning to remind her of a Forida time-share presentation we got sucked into once.

Since that meeting several weeks ago, that same rep has called again to inform us that he was "in the area" and would like to stop by. And the company has called twice more on different occasions advising us that they will have a representative in the area the very next day and that "he wants to stop by and check out" the work the company did this past fall.

I realize that we all have to "sell" and there's an art to the process. Nevertheless:

1.  How transparent should you be in getting an appointment with a potential client, especially one that your company has done business with before? ("Stop by and check out the work.")

2.  How accurate should you be in describing the features and benefits of what you're selling?  ("50 percent heating bill savings with new windows?")

3. When should you, as a company or sales rep, understand that a no means no?