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Is transparency a competitive edge in sales?

Posted by Carole Mahoney on 1/13/15 11:44 AM

I first wrote this post right after the Inbound 2014 conference... and it’s been nagging at me. Here’s why.

I was talking with a marketing agency owner about some ideas for their own blog after the conference and asked them what their biggest takeaways were. They shared with me one of the things that they learned at a session was from Matt Heinz. Matt had a popular session titled, “25 Email Marketing Hacks” .

top-secret-informationOne of the tips (apparently today the kids are all calling tips ‘hacks’?) that Matt shared was using the auto reply on your out-of-office response email. Instead of saying “Sorry, I’m unavailable, try someone else to help you or wait until I get back.” Matt suggested you use a message that is a bit more helpful and compelling like: “It may take me longer than usual to get back to you since I am currently at the Inbound 2014 conference to sharpen my skills so I can help you better. If this is urgent, you can call my cell and I will return your call as soon as possible. Meanwhile, you might like this recent case study or educational content.”

“What a great piece of advice to share!” I remarked to the marketing agency owner. When I suggested that they write up a blog post on that so that they could then share the love and info with their network, I got an unexpected answer.

“That’s tacky.”

What do you think transparency in business is?!

I was a little dumbfounded. Didn’t Matt just do the same thing I was suggesting they do? Wasn’t this person just raving about how great that was? Why wouldn’t they want to share that with potential and current clients? And what did they mean by tacky?

Of course I asked. The response was even more dumbfounding to me:

“That is the sort of thing that I would want people to pay me for. I went to the conference to learn something that I could then help others with. If I share that info for free, why should they hire and pay me? It just seems tacky.” Yikes!

I had to look up tacky to make sure I was understanding them correctly. Can someone please explain to me how freely sharing helpful information to others is in bad taste?

Then I had to look up transparency...

According to the Business dictionary, transparency is a, Lack of hidden agendas and conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision making.”

Okay, so maybe sharing this tip they learned isn’t necessary for “collaboration, cooperation and collective decision making.” But isn’t that where being a helpful sales person comes from- the willingness to share what you know openly and transparently? Am I wrong?

Then I thought about why this person might react that way. They are in a crowded, noisy, and competitive environment. They needed to differentiate. They might be feeling insecure about their ability to do so and that is impacting their reaction and decisions.

It’s at those times when the choice to believe in abundance is most difficult for entrepreneurs. But I believe that those who do make those choices to be publicly helpful and transparent as a first reaction are the ones that will easily differentiate.

Transparency and trust- a sales no brainer?

In their book, Extreme Trust: Honesty as a Competitive Advantage, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers say that to overcome customers’ suspicions that you’re trying to trick them, you must go to extremes to show you’re on their side. “Trustability” is more than just keeping up your end of a bargain. It’s saving customers from their own mistakes and doing what is best for them (ie: not you).

Julia Kirby at summed up my final thoughts on this in her July 2012 HBR article, “Trust in the Age of Transparency.”

“... transparency is so intertwined with trust...customers won’t really trust you unless you’re transparent."

What do you think? Is sharing your insider information freely transparency and building trust? Is it threatening to your business because your competition might find out, or your customer might do it themselves and not need you? What happens when you can't control that anymore?

For more on other actions that salespeople do that erode buyer's trust, download the Objective Management Group's whitepaper, "The Trust Project."

Topics: sales mindsets