Why authenticity is such a valuable sales skill
10 min read
Authenticity has become a cornerstone of the modern sales approach, with more and more successful sales reps recognising the importance of being genuine and honest with their customers.
In this article, we deep dive into a recent episode of The Sales Syndicate Podcast, in which Jamie Pagan, Marketing Director at Selligence, sat down with Cory Lindsay, Account Executive at Lunio, to explore why authenticity is so crucial to successful sales, examining the impact of buyer power and behavioural economics on the sales process.
The pair also took a closer look at the importance of having a strong understanding of your product, the implications of overpromising features to prospects, as well as providing practical strategies for promoting authentic, customer-centric behaviours in sales.
In this article, we will cover:
- The importance of authenticity in sales
- How buyers' power and behavioural economics affect the sales process
- Why a strong understanding of your product helps to fuel authenticity in sales
- The implications of incorrectly promising features to prospects
- Promoting authentic and customer-centric behaviours in sales
- Strategies for maintaining authenticity in sales
- Prioritising authenticity and trust for successful relationships in sales
- Building trust and long-lasting relationships in sales
The importance of authenticity in sales
The sales industry has long been plagued by negative stereotypes, with salespeople often being seen as pushy and untrustworthy. This perception has been perpetuated in popular culture through the portrayal of characters like Delboy or the all too well-known slick-haired car salesmen. Nevertheless, there is a shift in the sales landscape towards a more authentic approach that values honesty and on what is right, rather than solely focusing on making money.
Successful sales reps understand the value of authenticity and have made it a cornerstone of their approach. By being genuine and honest, they build trust with their customers and establish long-term relationships that go beyond a single transaction. It's not just about making the sale, but about building a reputation for providing value and solving problems for their customers.
As Lindsay said, "That whole idea of being authentic, being real, being honest and challenging people based on what you think may be correct as opposed to what you want out of someone, which often for salespeople is probably their money."
How buyers' power and behavioural economics affect the sales process
In the current sales environment, buyers have the upper hand. They have easy access to a wealth of information and come to the table well-informed and with clear expectations. It’s increasingly challenging to use misleading tactics as buyers can easily detect them. Therefore, the significance of authenticity in selling a product, instead of forcing an unsuitable solution, cannot be emphasised enough.
As behavioural economics has shown, psychology and neuroscience play a significant role in decision-making. When buyers feel that they are being misled or manipulated, it can quickly erode trust on both a personal and company level. In contrast, when salespeople are open and honest, it can help build trust and establish a long-term relationship that goes beyond a single sale.
The short-term benefits of using manipulative sales tactics may not be worth the long-term implications, such as losing trust and losing customers. Being true to oneself and one's values is an essential aspect of authenticity in sales, as it allows salespeople to establish a connection with buyers that goes beyond just the product or service being sold.
Why a strong understanding of your product helps to fuel authenticity in sales
In the world of sales, using the right tools can make all the difference. However, according to Cory, it's not enough to simply know how to use these tools. Salespeople must also understand the customer's problem and suggest solutions that fit their needs rather than moulding tools to fit their problems.
Building trust with customers requires communicating honestly about the capabilities and limitations of a tool and admitting uncertainty when needed. Lindsay emphasises the importance of finding a balance between expressing doubt and confidence, stating that salespeople can propose potential solutions while acknowledging areas of uncertainty. Sales representatives should prioritise customer needs and concerns over making extra money, as this can help establish long-term trust and positive customer relationships.
Company ethos also plays an important role in sales behaviours. Pagan points out that there are two types of sales teams: one focused on just getting numbers, and the other focused on finding the right customers with goals and objectives that align with the capabilities of the product. The latter is more authentic and effective in the long run. By prioritising honesty and investing time to fully understand the customer's needs, sales teams can build stronger relationships with customers and ultimately drive more successful outcomes.
The implications of incorrectly promising features to prospects
Overpromising features to potential customers can have significant short-term and long-term implications in sales. While it may provide a quick win for sales reps, it can lead to negative experiences for customers during the sales process and eventually lead to high customer churn rates.
In some cases, sales reps may promise features or capabilities that the product or tech team cannot deliver on. This can lead to a difficult situation for the sales rep when trying to fulfil promises made to the prospect. If the prospect does not do their due diligence and take a closer look at the product, it can lead to a poor user experience, resulting in non-renewal or churn.
A research study on authenticity was published in the Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes journal in 2020. The study was conducted by a group of business school professors, including Francesca Gino from Harvard Business School. It examined how people often modify their behaviour to impress others and achieve a favourable outcome.
The research found that catering to others' expectations and interests does not produce the expected benefits. In fact, it harms your chances of success. The study's authors argued that being authentic improves your chances of success. The negative impact of catering to others' expectations was explained in several key reasons by Gino and her research team:
- Firstly, catering to others' expectations negatively affects working memory and impairs information processing. In simple terms, it's mentally exhausting to constantly adapt your approach to win someone over
- Additionally, catering heightens overall anxiety and intensifies an already stressful situation. It can keep you up at night, worrying about how to impress someone instead of simply being yourself
- Ultimately, this harms performance and undermines success
Promoting authentic and customer-centric behaviours in sales
Promoting authenticity should be a priority for SaaS companies, and it should start from the top down. The company must believe in the product and promote its true benefits, rather than simply pushing for sales numbers.
Incentivising quality over quantity is another critical aspect of promoting authenticity. Companies should focus on creating a company culture that emphasises accountability and encourages clean sales. A customer-centric approach, where the customer relationship is maintained post-signing, can help establish a long-term relationship built on trust.
Customer referrals are also a valuable source of sales. Maintaining a relationship between the account executive and the customer post-signing can promote authenticity, leading to more referrals and increased customer satisfaction.
Strategies for maintaining authenticity in sales
Maintaining authenticity in sales requires a genuine belief in the product or service being offered. Lindsay's approach to authenticity involves self-reflection and being honest with himself about the value proposition of the product. He suggests asking direct questions about whether the prospect can truly benefit from the product, and if the answer is no, then there may still be more discovery work to be done.
Another key strategy to ensure authenticity in sales is to consider a buddy system for accountability. A salesperson may partner with a colleague or manager to review deals and stress-test them for authenticity. Deal reviews should be a regular part of the sales process to evaluate the ICP fit, churn rates, and other metrics related to authenticity. This not only ensures that deals are ethical and sustainable, but it also builds trust with clients, leading to more long-term relationships and referrals.
By embracing authenticity in sales, companies can build a culture of honesty and transparency that extends beyond the sales team. This culture can attract customers who value authenticity and who are more likely to remain loyal to the brand in the long term. Ultimately, authenticity is not only good for business, but it’s also the right thing to do.
Prioritising authenticity and trust for successful relationships in sales
Authenticity and trust are crucial components in maintaining successful sales relationships. As Lindsay points out, being upfront and honest about what a product or service can and cannot do for a prospect is essential in building trust. This includes prioritising the client's needs and goals above your own.
In fact, Lindsay shared a story about a unicorn SaaS business in Israel that he eventually sold to after seven months of building a relationship, even though the initial deal was put on hold because he was honest about not being able to provide what the prospect was asking for. This established a trustworthy relationship and led to a contract worth three times as much as the original pitch. Not only that, but the customer also later shared valuable insights and information with the sales rep even after the deal was done, which helped them in their current role.
By prioritising authenticity and building trust in sales relationships, salespeople can create a foundation of mutual respect and understanding with their clients. This can lead to successful deals, as well as valuable feedback and insights that can improve the product or service over time.
Building trust and long-lasting relationships in sales
In today's world of remote and hybrid work environments, building authentic relationships with customers has become more valuable than ever. Both Pagan and Lindsay emphasised that authenticity should be a core value for salespeople to build trust with prospects, maintain long-lasting relationships, and ultimately find success in different industries over the course of their career.
Salespeople should focus on understanding their prospect's needs and priorities and avoid being overzealous or pushy. By taking the time to listen to customers and build relationships based on mutual respect, salespeople can foster a more fruitful and productive work environment.
According to Lindsay, the buyer-seller relationship can often turn into a lasting friendship that can lead to future sales opportunities. Being an authentic salesperson means not just seeing a customer as a transaction, but as a valued partner. Maintaining these relationships can yield benefits for both parties in the long run.
Top tips to help maintain authenticity in sales
- Be honest - Honesty is a critical trait for successful sales reps. By being genuine and honest, sales reps build trust with their customers and establish long-term relationships that go beyond a single transaction. Honesty means being transparent about the product's features, pricing, and delivery, and not making false promises or using deceptive tactics. When sales reps are honest, they earn the respect and trust of their customers, leading to better customer relationships.
- Understand your product - Successful salespeople must have a deep understanding of the products or services they are selling. This includes knowing the product's features and benefits, as well as understanding how it can solve the customer's pain points. Good sales reps should listen carefully to the customer's needs and ask relevant questions to understand the problem they are trying to solve. They can then suggest solutions that fit the customer's needs, rather than trying to mold the product to fit the customer's problems.
- Prioritise customer needs - To build a successful and sustainable business, sales representatives should prioritize customer needs and concerns over making extra money. When sales reps prioritize the customer's needs, they establish trust and positive customer relationships, leading to repeat business and referrals. This means being responsive to customer inquiries and complaints, taking the time to understand their needs, and offering tailored solutions that fit their unique requirements.
- Don't overpromise - Instead of overpromising features, sales reps should focus on the unique benefits that the product offers and how it can help solve the customer's pain points. Overpromising can lead to disappointment and dissatisfaction, damaging the customer relationship. Instead, reps should be clear about what the product can and cannot do, and how it can benefit the customer. By setting realistic expectations, sales reps can build trust and establish long-term relationships.
- Incentivise quality over quantity - Companies should create a company culture that emphasizes accountability and encourages clean sales. This means incentivizing sales reps to prioritize quality over quantity and rewarding reps who prioritize customer satisfaction and relationship-building over short-term gains. By incentivizing quality sales, companies can establish a culture of trust and integrity, leading to sustainable growth and long-term success.
- Maintain contact post-signing - Maintaining a relationship between the account executive and the customer post-signing can promote authenticity, leading to more referrals and increased customer satisfaction. By staying in touch with customers after the sale, reps can show that they care about their needs and are committed to their success. This can lead to additional sales and referrals, as well as increased customer loyalty and satisfaction.
In sales, authenticity has become increasingly important, emphasising honesty and a focus on doing what's right for the customer, rather than just making a sale. Authenticity helps sales reps establish trust and build long-term relationships, which are essential in today's sales environment where buyers have easy access to information.
Salespeople must prioritise customer needs over making extra money, as this can help establish positive customer relationships. Overpromising features to potential customers can have significant short-term and long-term implications in sales. Instead, sales reps should focus on the unique benefits the product offers and how it can help solve the customer's pain points.
Incentivising quality over quantity is another critical aspect of promoting authenticity. A customer-centric approach can help establish a long-term relationship built on trust, leading to more referrals and increased customer satisfaction. Promoting authenticity should be a priority for sales teams, starting from the top down.