What does it mean to sell with integrity? It means that you’re putting your client’s results ahead of your own desire to make a sale.

Ian Altman shares some real-life experience on why selling with integrity matters.


Welcome to the Same Side Selling Podcast. I'm your host, Ian Altman.

A number of years ago, someone approached me and asked me about integrity-based selling. And I looked at that person after I thought for a second, and I said, You know what, if you have to ask, we're probably not going to be a good fit for one another. And I want to take time on this episode to talk about why selling with integrity matters.

We were recently on vacation with my family, and it's one of our favorite properties. We own a piece of property there. And so we love going to this resort. In fact, we were just there six months prior, and we were back there again over the December holidays. And each time when you go there, they have a sales department who wants to give you a pitch about what's new and what's going on to try and sell you more stuff, or more access, or more rights to the property than you currently have. And in fairness, when we first got there, keep in mind, this is still coming out of COVID; there were a number of different service issues and things like that. We were a couple days into our trip, and there were still some things that didn't go well. But being as though I'm in the sales industry, I always agree to these presentations because I might end up with a story that I can share with you, which is exactly what happened here.

So, we met with this individual, and keep in mind that I want to give them an opportunity to make their presentation, and I value their time enough, to be honest with them. And selling with integrity means putting your client’s results ahead of your own desire to make a sale. Let me say that, again, integrity-based selling means putting your client’s results ahead of your desire to make a sale. So in the case of this individual, there are a number of things they said in our conversation. The guy's name was Mark, and I don't want to say what the resort is because, in general, this may not be something that is systemic, or maybe it is. But the individual started by saying, oh, and I don't get paid any commission. I get paid a really big salary, and I've been here for 25 years. Well, we happen to know that that property hasn't been there for 25 years. So I already know he's being dishonest. And I know enough about their sales organization to know that not only is this person not paid a generous salary, but I know that their salespeople are 100% commission-based. So before anything has happened, I know this is already somebody who is, shall we say, not exactly working at the highest level of integrity.

So once again, I always set expectations early on in these meetings. And I said, how long do we need for the meeting, they said, 40 minutes. I say, great. You know what, I'll even give you up to an hour. At a half hour through our meeting, we still hadn't learned anything new about what's going on and you could tell he's just trying to set up to give me some, you know, kind of bait and switch type tactic because this person is not working with integrity. And I said, look, it's already been 30 minutes. I know I said I’d give you 40 minutes, even an hour if we need it. If there's something new you want to present, I want to make sure that you get to that because we're not going to stay here past an hour, I can assure you that. He said, no, I totally understand. And I said to him, Look, we haven't had a great experience. So if we were going to make an initial investment in this resort, now wouldn't be the time. And I respect your time enough that I don't want to waste your time if I know just this isn't the right time for us.

And so, instead of appreciating that, when he did is he started to get hostile. I mean, it was almost that of a sitcom. And of course, I'm thinking it's funny. My wife's getting a little perturbed about it, but I'm just laughing internally because what I'm noticing is he's using tactics that were probably taught in the 70s or 80s. And in fact, at one point, I said, look, we're done. We just need to move on. I wish you the best in what you're doing. But we don't want to spend another moment here on our vacation. So he brings his manager Kyle in. And Kyle tried to use a tactic, which is to put the individual on the defensive. And Kyle says, well, we're not going to do this if you're going to come in and be rude to us. And I said, Kyle, all I'm doing is trying to be honest and transparent with you. You guys might want to try the same thing. Because I knew what tactic he was trying to play, and I really didn't want to engage in that sort of a game.

So the point of this is not that they were being rude or nasty, which they were and there's really no reason to do that in any sales environment. But here's the effect that they didn't think about. It’s not just about being dishonest. If you crossed the line with an existing client, especially, then what you've just done is turn your greatest potential referral source into an adversary. You've turned your greatest referral source into a potential detractor. So what happened is during the rest of the week, we would run into people at the pool, at the beach, at restaurants, and based on the wristbands that you wear at the property, you can tell who's an owner and who isn't an owner. And people would say, oh, did you go to the sales meeting this time? I say, Yeah, I did. And they’re like, oh, it was the worst thing ever. In fact, we're here with some friends who were interested in buying here, and after the briefing that I had, I told our friends not to go there. I thought that was fascinating, not only because that was their story, but we were there with friends who actually said they wanted to learn more about the property, and after the meeting, I said, I won't subject you to that. You don't want to have that type of experience.

Now that's with existing customers. How do you think that happens when it's a potential customer? The potential customer now tells people, oh, you don't want to deal with that company because these people are dishonest. They're deceptive. And what's more interesting is when I look at the reviews for the property, the reviews are very consistent. People say, oh, the food is amazing, the service is incredible, the grounds are impeccable, but don't go to a sales presentation there. Whatever they offer you, it's not worth it. It's just horrible. So instead of getting across-the-board five-star reviews, there are all these ones and two-star reviews from people just citing how bad the sales experience is. Now, if there were one or two reviews, you would think, well, management just doesn't know. But when you start to see a pattern of these, what happens is you realize that management might be complicit in that activity. All of a sudden, what they're saying is, it's okay if these guys are dishonest if they turn our greatest referral sources into detractors. That's okay, as long as we're still getting the sale, which isn't okay at all.

And so what you need to think about in your sales environment is, are you doing the best you can to create a positive experience across the board in your organization, or are you doing things that might make it so that you have a bad reputation so people who might otherwise want to do business with you wouldn't do business with you and your existing customers wouldn't refer someone else to you?

So how do you overcome that? Well, what they could have said is when I said I didn't have these great experiences, a well-trained sales professional would have said, You know what, Mr. Altman, I'm sorry, you didn't have a great experience. In fact, I don't want to talk to you about anything new. Let me see what I can do to make sure you have a great experience, and then I want to check back with you later in the week. And if we've recovered and made it, so it's a positive experience, I'd love to come briefly you about the property. But right now, first and foremost, we want to make sure you have a great experience. I probably would have thought to myself, wow, you know what, they're really committed to this thing, and I would have had a totally different outlook or perspective.

So right there, what I'm doing is realizing if the time isn't right, I'm better off deferring to a future time than trying to play, in essence, a bad hand. It's almost like in poker if you get dealt terrible cards, and you can tell other players in the game, have been dealt good cards, and now, things come up or that aren't in your favor on the board, and you just keep pressing it. The people with a good hand are going to win, and you're going to be decimated. So you can't keep playing a bad hand once it's been dealt to you.

The other thing you need to realize is that if there's someone on your team who is not putting the customer first, and that doesn't mean that the customer first at the expense of your values in your company, but instead making sure the customer always feels like their outcome is the ultimate goal, then take the time to speak with those individuals to make sure that you get everyone on the same side, achieving the same goal rather than being in an adversarial position. As soon as you take that step where it becomes adversarial, you've lost. You just may not know it yet.

Tune in next week for the next Same Side Selling Podcast. For now, I'm Ian Altman. See you again soon.