The Gift of Truth Telling

Denver-Based Sales Leadership Development Available Nationwide

Posted: August 24, 2009

One of the nicest Christmas cards I've ever gotten was from a former colleague I will call Joan.

At one time, she was brilliant in her profession. Unfortunately, due to an illness, Joan wasn't able to recapture her former level of excellence. The problem was that no one was willing to tell Joan.

She continued to get hired -- and six months later, get fired. Friends kept telling Joan to continue her pursuit, declaring she was still qualified. I finally pulled Joan aside and gently explained that life isn't fair. It wasn't fair that Joan was sick, not recovering and unable to execute with her former flair.

I also shared with Joan that she wasn't being fair to herself. By going after the same positions, she was setting herself up for failure. It wasn't fair; however, it was the truth.

The Christmas card I received in 2003 thanked me for being understanding and upfront with her. In Joan's words, she thanked me for being a "truth teller" when others weren't.

I often have thought more sales teams would be more productive, be more genuine and close more sales if they would just learn to be truth-tellers.

Here are just a couple of examples:

Example A -- The prospect asks you to put together a proposal. The salesperson hasn't heard any dissatisfaction with the prospect's current vendor.

Truth-telling response: "Mr. Prospect, I would be happy to put a recommendation together for you. However, I haven't heard any reasons why you would need to leave your current supplier. They seem to be giving you excellent service, fair pricing and are good at anticipating your needs. What am I missing?"

Isn't this the truth? Why should the prospect switch? Why should you spend hours on a proposal for a prospect with no problems?

Example B -- The prospect asks you to put together a recommendation but won't allow you to speak with other decision-makers. The salesperson knows input from other members of the organization is necessary.

Truth-telling response: "Mr. Prospect, I am going to decline turning in a recommendation. I can turn in a proposal; however, without input from the rest of the team, the proposal will be insufficient and miss hitting all company objectives."

Isn't this the truth? Missing data equals poor solution.

The above examples sound simple. So why is truth-telling hard on a sales call?

Salespeople are afraid of the truth. We don't want to hear the prospect is happy and satisfied because that means we may have to go out and find a new prospect. It's more comfortable spending time and energy creating proposals than creating new relationships.

There is lack of conviction in our sales process. For example, a good surgeon goes into surgery with the correct instruments, technology and nursing staffing. They don't compromise or skip steps. They have a process for surgery.

Good salespeople need to be just as convicted in their sales process and not compromise or skip steps. They need to be truthful with prospects about their process for doing a "sales diagnostic" in order to provide an effective recommendation.

Truth-telling doesn't stop with sales and sales calls. It extends to sales management and leadership roles. I have had good mentors in my business and sales career. Many of these mentors were truth-tellers holding up a mirror to my weaknesses.

One such mentor was Kline Boyd, my former boss. He was a gracious, Southern gentleman. I was a young, brazen Midwesterner climbing the corporate ladder. More than once, Kline pulled me aside, pointed out how my direct style offended others, suggested I slow down and reminded me to treat others the way I wanted to be treated.

Did I always like truth-telling? No. Did truth-telling make me grow as a person and professional? Yes. Truth-telling is a great gift.

So why don't more leaders engage in truth-telling?

It's not always comfortable and may create conflict. Many people equate conflict with hostility and anger. What most people don't understand is that a relationship with any depth to it probably has experienced some kind of conflict. (Anyone reading this article married?) Conflict often provides an opportunity for introspection, growth and change.

Truth-telling isn't a popularity contest. I strongly believe the sales manager's main role is to develop and grow people, both personally and professionally. That growth may come from teaching a salesperson how to work on a team to being more effective on a sales call to developing good work habits.

It may not be easy to tell the truth about someone's attitude, lack of sales skill or poor time-management skills. But keep in mind you may be the first sales manager to tell this salesperson the truth. You may be the first sales manager who cared enough about the salesperson to confront him or her with the reality of the situation. You may be the first sales manager who is helping this salesperson grow.

Truth-telling is a great gift. It's free. Pass it on.