You may have heard the adage, “That’s the best salesman I’ve ever seen, he could sell ice cubes to Eskimos.”
My dad hated that. Unlike politicians and used-car salesman, my father was very old school when it came to making claims about the products he sold, the services he rendered, and our commitment to our customers.
He always used to say, “There are two kinds of salesman (or saleswoman for that matter), professionals and peddlers.”
He felt like a professional salesperson’s job was to help customers solve problems and meet objectives. They were looking for long-term relationships, not a quick sale and an even faster escape. The salesperson who could sell ice cubes to Eskimos, in his opinion, was a peddler. I remember many occasions my frustrated dad had to go in behind a competitor’s salesperson and “clean up” the mess he or she had made because they had sold them the wrong product and it didn’t work. In fact, it often created a bigger problem for the customer.
This was usually the time I’d be boxing up something for delivery and he’d go into his “professionals and peddlers” lecture. He wanted to make sure everyone who worked for him understood exactly how he felt about making promises and claims you can’t keep.
Since then, I’ve come to appreciate that those who deliver a sales pitch or write a press release want to tell their story in the best light possible, unfortunately sometimes they’re trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
It’s understandable that a small business owner would want to share the story of his or her business in the most flattering manner possible. After all, everyone wants to put their best foot forward whenever they can. And, I’m all in favor of putting your best marketing foot forward too, but when you “spin up” the story to make it more exciting or appear bigger than it is, you start down a slippery slope where hyperbolae soon becomes lies, brand champions become disillusioned, and customers abandon your products or services. Over the course of my career I’ve heard otherwise honest sales and marketing professionals make excuses and justifications for lying more often that I’d like to admit. Have you?
What’s more, businesses today are faced with an online world that doesn’t cut any slack to a company that over-promises and under-delivers. Even big brands need to pay close attention to what people are saying about their brand online—building a bad reputation online isn’t good for anyone. Here are three suggestions that will help you build a reputation of credibility in a world where every buyer must beware:
- Don’t stretch the truth: Let’s just say it. If you need to lie to close the sale, don’t. I understand that salespeople have quotas and rely on commissions to make ends meet and your business might desperately need the revenue, but over-promising is a long-term recipe for disaster. It comes back and bites you. P.T. Barnum may have blithely suggested that a sucker was born every minute, but he didn’t have to deal with online review and social media sites who love to call “pants on fire” to tens of thousands (if not millions) of your potential customers.
- Sometimes you need to take the bitter pill: Let’s face it, if you need to spin up or artificially inflate claims to make them interesting or newsworthy, odds are they are neither interesting nor newsworthy. This is a bitter pill some business owners and PR professionals who are trying to share good news about their company need to choke down. Most of the people who read your press release, for example, don’t think your “news” is really news at all—no matter how much you spin it up. Those who really are interested in your announcement are not interested in misleading claims.
- Put your money where your mouth is: If you don’t stand behind your claims 100 percent, don’t make the claims. The auto industry is famous for this one. Buy a new car at $5,000 under invoice. Only one car available at this price, does not include engine and transmission, dealer surcharge not included, only available in months that end with “y”, must have a birthday on September 19, etc… you get the picture. How many people actually enjoy the process of buying a new car?
I’ve come to appreciate that the truth usually wins in the end. Sure, you might lose a “big deal” every now and again, but your customers will continue to do business with you long after the “peddler’s” career has come to an end. Besides, the truth about your products or services is often the most compelling story to tell. Mark Twain famously said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”