Editor’s Note: This article is an edited excerpt of the book The Transparency Sale by Todd Caponi. Learn more about the author and the book at transparencysale.com.
Transparency sells better than perfection. To win in this digital era, where feedback is all around us and easy to come by, we need to adjust how we sell to optimize for the way buyers buy. My book, The Transparency Sale, started from a study that looked at online buying behavior. It’s no surprise that we all read reviews before making a purchase (96%). However, it turns out that 82% of us go right to the negative reviews first. A product with an average review score between a 4.2-4.5 sells better than a product that is a perfect 5.0. What does that have to do with human-to-human selling? Well … everything.
Today, anyone buying anything relies on reviews and feedback shared by strangers and often trusts those anonymously posted experiences more than the claims made by the providers of the products or services themselves.
Why? It’s in our inherent wiring. We require the full picture and find out all of the pros and cons before making any purchase. And the larger the purchase, the greater the demand for transparency.
Rethinking the Sales Pitch
I began experimenting with telling buyers about our products’ shortcomings and sharing that some buyers found our competitors’ offerings more appealing. I found that unexpected honesty and transparency shortened sales cycles dramatically. In one instance, what was normally a six-month sales cycle closed in our favor in under a month. In another, the head of e-commerce for a major fashion brand kicked his team out of the office, grabbed a folder filled with spreadsheets containing his fiscal budget, and walked me through it line by line.
Before these experiments, I had never encountered a buyer—or anyone being influenced—who was willing to show me their actual budget, much less during the first meeting. One buyer actually sold me on why the competitive offering I presented in the competitor’s favor wasn’t valuable at all, and why we were correct in our choice not to develop that same functionality.
Through this approach, I found that the relationship between buyers and sellers—or anyone who is influencing a potential buyer—was built on trust. Sellers spent less effort on unworthy opportunities from the beginning. Buyers became less likely to believe any false claims that a competitor made because transparency was established from the first conversation. And, when something went wrong once the buyer was a client, addressing issues became incredibly easy, because expectations were set properly pre-sale.
How IKEA’s Rules for Sales Success Can Help You
Have you ever been to an IKEA store? IKEA, represented by its massive buildings of blue and yellow, is a furniture retailer founded in Sweden. When you visit an IKEA, the process by which you select a piece of furniture is unorthodox. IKEA makes shoppers select their own products without assistance, find the product’s box of loose pieces and load it into their cars, and assemble it themselves when they get home.
If you were IKEA’s competitor, wouldn’t you think it would be incredibly easy to create a better experience for your shopper? The experience is inefficient, inconvenient, and downright painful in many cases. Well, guess what? IKEA continues to be the largest furniture retailer in the world, with 415 stores across 49 countries. IKEA doesn’t hide their flaws. Customers expect to have this experience when they go to the store, and as a result, the experience is less unpleasant. Your memory of the event might go something like this: “Remember last time we went to IKEA? I still have a scar from trying to load that couch into my hatchback. That was awful.” But you’ll end the story with this: “Anyway, I’m thinking about adding a cabinet. Want to go on Saturday?”
IKEA has created a highly profitable business model that provides stylish furniture at very reasonable prices and has generated notable customer loyalty. IKEA wears their flaws instead of hiding them. They essentially tell the world, “Here’s what we don’t do, but if you’re okay with that, here’s what you’re going to love.”
The truth is, no matter what you sell, it probably isn’t perfect. If you’re selling technology, it will have flaws. If you’re selling real estate, the home you’re selling could be next door to a crazy neighbor, or maybe there will be ants in the pantry. If you’re in the recruiting space, almost every candidate has a flaw on their resume.
Don’t be afraid of the flaws in your offerings, as exposing those flaws may be the very reason your customers engage with you, buy from you, and keep buying from you.
In short, you should:
- Lead with your shortcomings. Your buyer’s brain is preparing for a sales pitch. Disarming their sales filter from the beginning by leading with potential showstoppers versus waiting to address them later in the sales cycle will speed sales cycles, speed qualification (or disqualification), speed trust building, and put your competitors at a disadvantage.
- Make transparency part of your culture. Organizations that make collecting feedback and leading with transparency a core company value will be the victors as the ease with which buyers can find feedback grows.
Steps for the Transparent Sales Technique
Ready to apply these ideas in your own business? Here’s how to get started.
Step 1: Figure out where prospects go if they are looking for independent information on your business’s pros and cons.
Step 2: Do your homework to understand exactly what you offer and what your competitors offer. Create a chart. How do your competitors position their unique offerings?
Step 3: Match your competitors’ unique offerings up against your understanding of your client’s requirements. Which differences matter? Which flaws will matter?
Step 4: Put these findings in order, from what you perceive to be least important to most important to the buyer.
Step 5: Pick a couple of those offerings from the top of the list and communicate those to the client. You could say, “To ensure we’re making the best use of our time together, would it make sense to highlight a couple of the things we don’t do?”
The most important takeaway is the requirement for you and your company to embrace vulnerability. My experience shows it doesn’t take your power away.