REQUIRED READING: Winning Business by Making The Transparency Sale

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In the digital age, buyers are armed with a load of information about products and services—long before they reach out to sales reps. With this in mind, companies can see faster sales cycles and increased win rates by leading with their flaws. That’s the premise of The Transparency Sale: How Unexpected Honesty and Understanding the Buying Brain Can Transform Your Results, which asserts that companies can leverage transparency and vulnerability to improve sales performance. Associate Editor Sam Del Rowe spoke with author Todd Caponi, a sales leader who most recently served as chief revenue officer at PowerReviews, to find out more.

CRM magazine: What kind of research did you do for this book?

Todd Caponi: It all started with a research study that found that when consumers are making a purchase online, 95 percent read the reviews listed right alongside the product, with the likelihood of purchase peaking when the product has an average review score between 4.2 and 4.5. In other words, imperfection sells better than a perfect 5.0.

I started on a journey to find out why and whether these concepts applied to higher-consideration business-to-business purchases. This led me into the world of neuroscience and specifically decision science, where gaining a better understanding of how decision making really works is key to getting better at selling anything to anyone.

So how are reviews and feedback changing selling?

First, there’s a reason reviews are effective when selling products online. Amazon was the first, and they’re doing pretty well, right? Instead of buyers needing to call friends, do Google searches, and look for independent studies, all of the information they require is presented to them, including both pros and cons.

Imagine someone buying from you—not a website. If you are painting a picture of perfection, the buyer is wired to resist. You’re not giving him everything he needs to make a confident decision, and if he’s not getting the full picture from you, where will he find it? And once he finds it, will he come back?

Second, reviews are proliferating across everything in our lives, from restaurants and hotels to apps and TV shows. And now we’re witnessing the rise of reviews in B2B, too. Companies like G2Crowd, TrustRadius, and Glassdoor are collecting and displaying ratings and reviews, providing a key data point for current and future decision makers.

What does it mean for a company to “sell with transparency of its flaws”?

Think about it this way: If you were purchasing something online and every single review was a perfect 5.0, would you think the product is perfect, or would you think the company was hiding something?

This book has a number of examples, including one where leading with unexpected honesty shrunk a sales cycle from six months to under six weeks.

One competitor had a clear differentiator, and instead of starting with why the company was better than [the competitor], it started with why the competitor was better. That disarmed the group, brought about faster consensus, and increased the receptivity of the company’s differentiators.

Can you provide some examples of companies that sell with flaw transparency?

If you were a furniture retailer, wouldn’t you think it would be easy to outsell IKEA? Its buying process is difficult: Once you find your desired product, you have to note the location of that product in the warehouse downstairs, because you’ll be picking and packing it yourself. Once it is found, on the cart, and purchased, you make your way to the parking lot, where you jam it into your car. Once home, you open the box, and now the fun really begins. You are required to assemble the furniture yourself with nothing but crudely drawn 2-D images.

IKEA doesn’t hide these facts about its buying journey. Instead, it embraces them in exchange for giving customers modern, Scandinavian-designed furniture that won’t break their budgets. IKEA continues to be the largest furniture retailer in the world.

Is there anything you want to add?

The world of selling has evolved at an accelerated pace, largely driven by changes in buyer behavior due to the proliferation of information available. We’ve entered an era where hiding our flaws in hopes that our buyers won’t find out is no longer an option.

The future of sales is radically transparent.

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