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The Importance of Self-Honesty in Sales

4 min readOctober 6, 2021

“Well the buyers were just liars.”

Once I was riding Amtrak from NYC to Boston when a cell-phone-toting salesperson sitting in the row of seats behind me uttered this deathless couplet.

It was the last day of the sales month and my fellow passenger, who I will call Jon, clearly was attempting to rationalize his failure to close a much-needed piece of business to one of his bosses.

Jon’s unintentional verse was almost Shakespearean in the tale of drama, treachery and tragedy that unfolded in just six short words. It combined a scathing indictment of the fecklessness of the buyer with a transparent attempt by Jon to shed any responsibility for his obvious failure to win an order that he had no doubt forecast with a high degree of certainty.

How often have you been caught in this trap, where you refused to face reality and attempted to defend the indefensible? We all have at one point or another.

It’s like you’re furiously treading water in the middle of a deep lake, your legs are cramping and you’re having a hard time keeping your head above the water. Your manager is in a boat nearby, ready to throw you a life preserver. But, as you sink beneath the surface, you wave her off, and tell her that you’re fine and there’s nothing to worry about.

It’s been my experience that the intensity of the vociferousness with which a salesperson defends their actions with a particular account is usually inverse proportion to their level of understanding of their prospects’ intentions.

The fact is that salespeople who don’t understand what their prospect is going to do, and when they are going to do it, don’t have a good understanding of what is most important to the prospect. Consequently, they don’t have a handle on the value they need to deliver to help the prospect move through the completion of their decision making process. Which means that they haven’t earned the trust that entitles them to ask for specific commitments to action from the buyer.

In situations like these, the prospect doesn’t have time to waste, so they keep moving forward with your competitors and leave you behind. Treading water.

If you find yourself stuck in an uncomfortable position like this, it’s important for you to stop denying reality and take responsibility for being out of sync and lagging behind the prospect. It may be too late to recover with this deal, but here are a few steps you can apply to future opportunities.

Ask for the prospect’s help

Don’t be reluctant to ask your buyers to help you better understand their requirements. It doesn’t help you or them for you to act like you understand what they’re talking about, if you actually don’t. Don’t be afraid to ask more questions. Don’t hesitate to ask them to clarify their answers or provide more detail.

While buyers may prefer to deal with more knowledgeable sales reps, the fact is that at one point in our careers we were all new and inexperienced. I have found that buyers are willing to help, if they sense an authentic desire on your part to learn. After all, by teaching you they know that they ultimately may be helping themselves.

Make the prospect part of your team

Selling is not something you do to a buyer. It’s a collaborative process and a team effort. And, one of the most essential members of your sales team is your buyer.

For a team to succeed every player has to fully understand the role they play on the team. Your buyer has to be fully informed about the role they are playing and the expectations you have for them in order for the team to achieve its goals. This means that you have to be in the position, in terms of trust and credibility, to ask for their commitment to take specific actions.

Qualify and re-qualify the prospect

It is essential to qualify, and continually re-qualify, your buyer as they move through their buying process. It’s not unusual for buyers to learn new information during their buying process that can fundamentally change their requirements. This means revisiting hard questions about your value and suitability for their needs, their budget and their timeframe for making a decision.

If you are fully in sync with a buyer on their requirements and have been delivering value to them throughout their buying process, then you should never find yourself in a position where you don’t know what they’re going to do next.

I only heard the last line of the conversation between Jon and his boss, who I’ll call Tracy. But I can easily imagine how the first part of their conversation went:

“Hey, Tracy. This is Jon.”

“Jon.” Silence.

“How’s it going?”

Silence. Tracy was not going to make this easy for Jon.

“Uh, so, Tracy, we just finished the meeting with Consolidated.”

Silence. Tracy liked torturing salespeople with his silence.

“Well, uh, it didn’t go as we hoped.”

“So, what you’re saying is that you didn’t have a plan for the call? Just hope?”

“No, no, I had a plan.”

“Then what happened?”

“They decided to defer their decision.”

“For how long?”

“They wouldn’t say.”

“Couldn’t say? Or, wouldn’t say?”

“Uh, well, I don’t know.”

“Actually, Jon, it sounds like they have made their decision.”

“No, not at all.”

“Wasn’t it just last week that you were absolutely positive that you were going to close the Consolidated order this month?”

“Well, the buyers were just liars.”

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