3 ways to build an Honest Sales Team.
Updated: Jan 18, 2019
If you have worked in sales long enough, you have experienced something called the “invisible wall.” The “invisible wall” is something you can’t see, but you can definitely feel. It is built by prospects and is a signal that they have a guard up and don’t trust you. One reason the wall exists is because of distrust. For hundreds of years, salespeople have deceived customers with false information about their products and services, ending a transaction with over-delivered promises and under-experienced results. As the saying goes, people love to buy but hate to be sold.
One reason we all love to buy is that buying puts us in the driver seat with full control over the purchasing process. Often, it can feel “safer” as a customer to make a major buying decision alone, without the help of a salesperson. This is because it eliminates the uncertainty that arises when you feel like you may be the next victim of the feared “commission hungry, lying sales rep.” Unfortunately, many sales representatives and their sales managers fail to realize their role as trusted advisors to the customer and focus more on meeting quotas and earning commissions. The truth is a good salesperson can be an invaluable resource for information and expertise to aid the customer in the buying process and end their journey with a successful outcome. When this happens, both the customer and company experience a win-win. These types of relationships can accelerate buying transactions and fuel the success of your business.
To have these types of relationships between sales representatives and customers, the “invisible wall” needs to come down through the reestablishment of trust. An essential strategy to build trust with customers is honesty. Author Stephen Covey says, “Trust is the glue of life". Psychologists state that healthy relationships cannot be built without trust. Trust is what allows customers to be vulnerable with salespeople when they don’t know all the information and don’t have all the answers. Trust forms a bridge that allows for making a connection with a prospect, establishing rapport, and developing a mutually beneficial relationship that leads to the successful win-win we all want. When a salesperson is dishonest and is found out, any trust that was once there is removed. The salesperson violated an unwritten rule that says all people expect to be dealt with fairness and integrity.
Due to the importance of trust in creating successful customer/salesperson relationships, honesty needs to be the lifeblood of your sales operation and your team’s dealings with customers. How can you make sure that your sales team is creating happy customers who love doing business with your company? It starts with building your team around being honest and having this trait as a component of your team’s foundation. Following are three keys to help you get started in building an honest sales team.
Key #1--Hire honest from the beginning
Research shows that 90% of an iceberg’s mass is underwater. This can often be true of your next potential hire. In most cases, what you see initially on the outside doesn’t line up with what is on the inside. Meaning high performance or smooth talk doesn’t always translate to a solid character. Don’t get me wrong. As a sales manager, I know there is significant importance as you interview to assess the candidate's salesmanship, past performance, and relational skills. Yet, equally important and arguably more so is the quality of your interviewee’s character.
One’s character answers questions like, “How will they act when no one is looking?” or “How do they treat others when feeling the pressure?” Our character is a reflection of our values; it can direct our actions and is closely tied to what motivates us.
As you interview, make sure to devote part of your time and questions to help gauge your candidate’s character and values. Ask yourself, “Would I feel comfortable with the person being a reflection of me and my company when I am not around?” Or take it a little further and ask, “Would I feel comfortable leaving this person alone with a close family member behind closed doors?” Some great questions to help you ascertain one’s character and hire smart from the beginning are:
• “Who is your role model, and why?”
-This question reveals the values of your prospective hire and what they aspire to.
• “What would you do if you won $10 million dollars?”
-What we do with our money shows a lot about what is important to us, and this question can help answer if your prospective hire would still work with you even if they didn’t need the money.
• “Tell me about a time when things didn't go the way you wanted--like a promotion you wanted and didn't get, or a project that didn't turn out how you had hoped.”
-Our characters and attitudes are revealed in how we deal with adversity and unpleasant situations. It's easy for us to all be nice when circumstances are going the way we want them to.
• “When have you been most satisfied in your life?”
-Another great question to help determine the values and what is most important for your prospective new hire
• “How much do you usually tip restaurant staff and why?”
-Thomas Carlyle is quoted as saying, “A great man shows his greatness by the way he treats little men.” One’s character and values are shown by how they treat those under them or those who don’t have a superior title that offers them anything.
Salesmanship and people skills can be taught and coached, but developing one’s character is a choice and is a lot harder to instill if the other person isn’t willing. Hiring smart by assessing your new hire’s character is like determining the strength of a building’s foundation before the real construction starts. It helps you know if your new hire has a solid base that you can begin building from to create something beautiful and sustainable for them personally and for the organization.
Key #2--Establish and communicate values for your team
The second key to building an honest sales team is establishing and communicating values for your team to follow. Leadership expert, Ken Blanchard says that establishing values is a critical component of the vision of your company. Without clear values, there isn’t anything concrete directing the behavior of your staff as they seek to fulfill the company’s purpose. Blanchard notes that in life there will always be “value conflicts”, and creating a list of values gives your staff guidelines to follow when conflicts arise. This not only builds a foundation of what is expected of them but also gives them direction to follow as they carry out their job responsibilities. Another side benefit of establishing values is that it can create more consistency in the experience your customers have with your business, which further develops trust and stronger relationships.
A helpful tip as you decide on your values is to keep the list short with three or four listed values at the most. This will help your staff internalize and remember them. It can also be helpful to list the values in order of importance. Doing this will help your staff know what the priority is in a potential “conflict moment”. Below is an example of the values that my sales team and I came up with. These are the values, listed in order of importance, that we want to follow as we seek to achieve the company’s mission and vision. You will note that being honest is not directly listed, but is deeply weaved within all of the values.
1. Integrity-Doing what is right when no one is looking
2. Honor-Valuing and respecting other people before yourself
3. Professionalism-Working as a well-trained expert committed to being the best
4. Positivity-Having a mindset that shows we believe the best about people and situations.
Key #3--Practice what you preach
One of the most important keys, as you seek to achieve an honest sales team, is practicing what you preach. Practicing what you preach means having consistency between your actions and words. For sales managers and others in leadership positions, it is very important that your actions follow suit with your instruction. The consistency between your actions and words adds credibility to your leadership and makes it easier for your team to follow. Being a credible example of what you promote will add to your team's confidence and trust in you. Interestingly, if you don’t get key #3 right, it will be very difficult to implement key #2. Meaning that if your actions as the leader do not line up with your value list, your team will not take what you have to say seriously, limiting the execution of your created values and its reach to your customers.
As sales managers, especially those of us who sell along with our management responsibilities, we need to perform a self-check and make sure our interactions with other staff and customers reflect what we want to see manifested in the sales activities of our teammates. America’s leadership expert, John Maxwell says that trust is the foundation of leadership. He continues to say that, “No leader can break trust with his people and expect to continue influencing them”. Just like with your customers, trust is also an essential ingredient to creating successful and productive relationships with your team. To be able to be effective as a leader and develop the type of sales team you desire, trust needs to be the bedrock of your relationships, and you can’t have trust with inconsistency. In a nutshell, practicing what you preach is being honest with your team. It will go a long way to help you build the type of truthful culture you are desiring.
The good and bad news about building an honest sales team is that it starts with you as the sales manager. You can be both the problem and the solution. When you function in leadership, you have influence by your position, and your direct and indirect actions greatly affect the nature of your team. If you value honesty and seek for it to be demonstrated by your actions, business activities, and leadership, then tremendous results will follow and so will the cultivation of an all-star sales team.