Trust and the Rise of the Transparent Seller

Author: 
Todd Caponi

Every year, Gallup publishes a study focused on the most and least trusted professions. Like clockwork, this year’s results show sales once again in two of the bottom three positions, only trusted more than members of congress.

Today, the world of sales is once again shifting under our feet. Many in the sales world are worried about how technology’s rapid advancement towards AI (Artificial Intelligence) will harm the sales profession. One 2015 Forrester article predicted that 95% of B2B sales jobs will be replaced by AI by 2020.  

While that prediction clearly missed the mark, there is pressure on the profession. How can sellers understand technology advancements, adjust, and actually have buyers looking forward to their interactions with sales professionals, where they will no longer be just a necessary evil, but the key element in an easy, successful, confident decision making process?

There’s an opportunity being exacerbated by a non-obvious evolution in buying behavior.  And the solution is transparency.

Beginning with Amazon’s launch in 1995, the idea of providing consumers everything they need to predict what their experience will be using a purchased product birthed the concept of product reviews. Alongside every product, both positive and negative peer provided reviews appeared to help buyers predict what their experience will be following a purchase. In the 24 years since, reviews and feedback have permeated every meaningful purchase we make, from the products we buy, the experiences we select (restaurants, hotels, even Uber rides) and the apps we download. Buyers have come to rely on reviews and feedback, seeking reviews in 95% of their substantive purchases.

Reviews and feedback are no longer confined to just to B2C purchases. They are now inflating their way into the world of B2B, where a simple Google search allows buyers to easily review peer provided feedback on products through companies like G2Crowd, TrustRadius, and many others. Buyers can also peek inside the culture of the companies they’re considering making a purchase from through websites like Glassdoor.

As human beings, we’re wired to resist being “sold to”. We want to be in control, want to choose what we evaluate, and want to be able to confidently predict what our experience will be like using a product or service. When a website serves as the seller, negative reviews actually aid in conversion. When every review is a perfect 5.0, consumers don’t automatically think, “this product must be perfect.” Instead, “perfect” actually drives sellers to do more homework, where they often don’t come back to make the purchase. According to a PowerReviews study, purchase likelihood peaks when a review score is between a 4.2-4.5.

In B2B selling, the same thing happens! When we position our products or services as “perfect,” we create more homework for buyers. Buyers need the full picture before they can confidently make a purchase of substance. When sellers drive towards their objective, which traditionally been to convince buyers that what they're selling is a perfect match for what they require, trust is eroded. When sellers aren’t delivering the required value to a purchase journey, their importance diminishes.

In conversations with sellers, most tell me that leading with honesty and authenticity feels like the right thing to do. As it turns out, in modern selling given the proliferation of reviews and feedback on everything we buy, it is also the right thing to do to maximize performance. With my selling team, sellers who owned the dialogue with a customer, embracing authenticity, flaws and transparency, dramatically shrunk sales cycles, increased win rates, qualified deals in faster, qualified deals out faster that we would have likely lost anyway, and made it really difficult on our competitors’ ability to position against us.  

Buyers want frictionless purchases where they can easily predict their experience. They seek the assistance of sellers when those sellers are aiding in that goal.  Just like retailers and brands who transparently present both the pros and cons of a purchase right alongside the products on their website, successful future sellers will add value through providing the full picture of transparency to their prospects and customers. And when they do own the dialogue through transparency, they will not only be proud of their profession, but they will be top performers. An over time, sales will no longer occupy the lower quadrant of the trusted professions report.

Todd Caponi is the author of the book, The Transparency Sale. He also is a keynote speaker, workshop leader and trainer as principal and founder of Sales Melon LLC.