Sales people usually think they have to paint a rosy picture in order to get the sale. You know what I mean: talking only about the pros to a product and never the cons, finding ways to brush problems with the product under the carpet, and even outright lying that the product is a bestseller when it's not. The reality is, most customers know that no product or service is truly flawless or one-size-fits-all. And as customers, we'd rather have all the facts up front--the good, the bad, and the ugly--so we can decide which issues we can live with and make an informed buying decision. Being completely honest with a potential customer is crucial to building trust and it is a powerful tool to winning you the sale more often than not.

Relationships are built on honesty and sales are built on relationships. When I first began my sales career twenty years ago fresh out of college, the jewelry company I went to work for would give us a list of products we had to mention on each call. Usually, I liked the products, but the first time I ran across one I couldn't support, I told my boss I didn't want to suggest it because I thought it was not going to sell well. He told me I had to anyway. So when I picked up the phone to the first customer of the day with my boss standing over me, I went with my gut instinct to be honest and told the customer "We have a new product that I'm supposed to tell you about today. Personally, I think it is the ugliest piece of jewelry I've ever seen, but I'm going to tell you about it anyway, just in case you think you have customers who will believe otherwise." My boss was red with anger, but the customer laughed and decided to buy some. My forthrightness had won his trust, and opened the path to what became a long and prosperous relationship.

Setting honest expectations is the only way to deliver on them. Sales people hate to disappoint customers, so they often prefer to skip over news the customer won't want to hear, rather than being blunt. A newly hired sales rep at my company recently had to dash a customer's hopes that an item she had wanted to order would be back in stock in time for a big promotion she was planning at her store. The rep hesitated and told me she thought the customer was going to cancel the order. I told her that truth is the crucial foundation of every transaction, and encouraged her to be clear with the customer. The customer thanked her for telling her the item would not be available, and instead of canceling the order, asked for her recommendation on replacements, and ended up spending more with the rep because she appreciated her advice.

When a problem arises, honesty restores faith, and customers need faith to make a purchase. This week I spoke with a customer who was frustrated because one of our products didn't work the way she expected it to. She believed that the product could be used on two opposing ends of a piece of jewelry simultaneously. It can--but only with a modification that the customer has to make herself. To make matters worse, the picture in our catalogue showed a double-ended piece indicating the product would work as she wanted straight out of the box. I told her I realized the photo might seem misleading. Then I really surprised her by saying "I completely understand why it's disappointing to not have known this in advance, and moreover to be told by a company that you've spent money with that you now have to go out and do something extra to use a piece of our jewelry the way you wanted to. If you want to return the order, you absolutely can." My honesty calmed her, and let her know that she was not backed into a corner, holding on to something she did not want. She asked questions about the modification she could make herself, and ended by saying that she loved our company. I thanked her and asked if she wanted to return the pieces, so I could help arrange a credit. She laughed and told me "No. I don't want to return them. I actually want to buy more. Now that I know what I have to do, I can do it, and I think they will sell well."

Customers want to know that the company they are considering transacting with is truthful. Truthful in the promises it makes, truthful in the service it offers, and truthful in accepting responsibility for its mistakes. Establishing this honesty is the best way to making a prospect comfortable--and when customers feel comfortable their assurance usually results in a purchase.