What’s More Important Than Making Each And Every Sale?

I once owned a seminar business. Our best salesman, Ziggy, outsold his colleagues by more than double. For three months, after the weekly sales sheets came in and he was again in the No. 1 slot, I’d ask him for his secret. “I just like to sell,” he said. “I think it’s my enthusiasm.”I believed him until the day of the seminar. It was in Grand Cayman.

We had 700 people there, and about 100 of them were very unhappy. They were unhappy about a number of things — their accommodations, the speaker schedule, and even the weather. In handling their objections, I discovered Ziggy’s secret. He would say anything to make a sale. Saying anything included resorting to various levels of exaggeration (e.g., describing a motel a half-mile from the beach as ” an ocean suite”) to downright invention (e.g., saying that President Reagan would be making a special appearance.)

Ziggy was a pathological liar — a happy and well-compensated pathological liar — and I had to clean up his mess. Needless to say, his tenure with me was short-lived. Still, I have no doubt he went on to practice his enthusiasm elsewhere. I’m all in favor of emphasizing benefits, but I think it’s a big mistake to get into the habit of lying. It’s a bad practice for salespeople, and it’s equally bad for executives and business owners. I have a friend who is a brilliant builder but has a great deal of trouble getting people to back his deals.

The reason is that he’s unreliable when it comes to telling the truth. Just the other day, I heard through the grapevine that he claimed to have bought a building that I know for a fact was unsold. He gained a temporary advantage in saying so, because the person he lied to believed him and was ready to do a deal based on it. But a few days later, the word got out and my friend lost any chance of doing business with this guy ever again. I know a marketing genius who could be a billionaire right now, except you can’t trust his word when he promises to do something.

He makes a good living — a million bucks a year — but he’s working very hard for that money and will continue to work just as hard, because he can’t earn the trust one needs to establish equity. There is a parable that touches on this: A turkey was chatting with a bull. “I would love to be able to get to the top of that tree,” sighed the turkey, “but I don’t have the energy.”

The bull replied, “Well, why don’t you nibble on some of my droppings? They’re packed with nutrients.” The turkey pecked at a lump of dung and found that it actually gave him enough strength to reach the first branch of the tree. The next day, after eating some more dung, he reached the second branch. Finally, after a fortnight, there he was, proudly perched at the top of the tree. Soon, the turkey was spotted by a farmer who shot him out of the tree. Lesson: Bullshit might get you to the top, but it won’t keep you there.