Yes, You Can Sell with Honesty

Photo by Maranda Vandergriff on Unsplash

Back when I was still in the beginning stages of learning how to sell well, I remember listening to my business partner’s sales conversations and just being in awe.

He had been in the same sales class and working with the same sales coach that I had just started with for a while, so he was far ahead of me in knowing how to make all of it work for him.

My conversations, on the other hand, were stilted, forced, and probably incredibly cringe-worthy. I mean, they were at least better than they were before I had any sales training at all, but I hadn’t figured out how to put “me” in my sales education yet. 

After a particularly bad call, my partner, having heard my side of it, asked if I wanted to talk about it. I told him the situation, and then we roleplayed it where he was the salesperson and I was the prospect. 

His positioning, the way his questions were built to draw me in… I loved it so much! I couldn’t wait to be that good.

Over time, I’ve learned how to make the system work for me. I built my own process around sales, using both that original training and other things I’ve picked up in books and from experience over the years. 

But I still look back at those early roleplays with my partner, and it’s still kind of jaw-dropping, even though I’ve learned how to do my version of the same thing. 

It all comes down to the frame you start the conversations with and the honesty and authenticity you approach them with. 

It reminds me of something similar in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Jocko Willink, the author of Extreme Ownership, well-known BJJ practitioner, and all-around bad-ass, says, “that first grip (in a Jiu-Jitsu match) tells you if someone is legit or not.” 

Though I’m not nearly as experienced in BJJ as he is, I’ve found that to be true. The second you find yourself in a confident but not overly pushy/pully grip (called a clinch in BJJ), you know that you’ve encountered someone who knows what they’re doing. 

And there’s comfort in that.

People who know what they’re doing aren’t going to be overly forceful or put you in situations that you’re not good enough to handle yet. In training at least. The less practiced or less restrained Jiu-Jitsu partners are more difficult to learn with because they’re usually more likely to steamroll you without teaching you anything.

But that practiced, just strong enough clinch, that’s what a really good frame from a salesperson who knows what they’re doing is. It’s confident, it’s firm, but the prospect shouldn’t feel pushed or manipulated at all. Because they’re not being manipulated.

I told a story on the Sales Throwdown podcast a while back about starting a conversation with a new lead, and after a few back and forths, he mentioned that he recognized some aspects of the exact sales system I was using. I was more practiced at this point, so I felt more confident with it, but I hadn’t incorporated other things yet and I was still learning.

I immediately went into panic mode thinking that he was going to know what sales tactics I was using. 

After the (probably shortened) conversation, I again talked to my partner, told him the situation, and ended it by saying, “I can’t work with him. He’ll know all my stuff!”

My partner just said, “And?”

“What do you mean ‘and?’”

Then he laid it all out for me. “Even if they know exactly what you are doing, it should be one of the best conversations they ever had with a salesperson.” Essentially, knowing “the trick” doesn’t make it work any less. 

This blew my mind.

Didn’t we want to hide the fact that we were salespeople? Don’t most people hate salespeople?


They only hate those salespeople. The pushy ones, the ones that won’t take no for an answer, the ones that don’t even let the prospect talk before assuring them that they have the right solution. And the ones that can’t or won’t keep their promises about how well the solution works. 

Since then, I’ve run into plenty of other people who were aware of the sales system I started with and know some of the techniques involved. Sometimes they’ve pointed it out, and I’m sure many more haven’t. 

But not once, not even one time, has it hurt the conversation. 

Recently, a prospect wasn’t in the best place to work with me the first time I talked to him, but when I put out an offer for a slightly less expensive option, he reached out and wanted to talk about it. 

Fairly quickly into the conversation, he basically said “take my money.”

I asked him some questions, such as what had changed and how this would help him. We chatted for a while, and then he stopped, smiled really big, and said, “I see what you’re doing!”

I laughed and asked him what I was doing. “You’re using the same techniques that you coach people to do! But you’re so good at it, I almost didn’t notice.” 

Yeah, I use the same techniques I teach and coach others to use. Why? Because they work. Because they help me have the kinds of conversations that reveal whether or not I can help them and whether or not we’ll work well together. 

That’s the real trick. My process, my framing, and my questions aren’t just for me to close more deals. Their purpose is to help prospects know if it’s the right fit for them. And if it’s not, that conversation might help me point them in the right direction.

I don’t hide that I’m a salesperson. I don’t hide what I do for people, or that I have to make money to do it. And I certainly don’t try to reel people in with clickbaity tactics or BS offers. 

You’ve seen advertisements for a free webinar or consultation, and if you’ve fallen prey to any of them, you’ve probably noticed that most of them are worthless. You might get 5-20 minutes of somewhat valuable but well-known information, and then 30 minutes of selling. They’ll tell you about the car you can have, the mansion you can live in, the never-ending vacations you can take when you just pay them the money to show you how. 

It’s dishonest, and it continues to give salespeople (and marketers… and entrepreneurs… and probably men in general) a bad name. It’s why people don’t trust us.

Instead, just be upfront and honest. Frame your conversations about your intention, what will happen during the conversation, and what happens after it. Allow them to say no and to buy-in to being open to even having the conversation. 

Don’t just pitch, pitch, pitch. Or worse, absolutely do not deceive them about why you’re talking to them or what you do. 

One of my absolute biggest pet peeves is when I think I’m talking to somebody just to network, to get to know them. And then they start pitching me or even just trying to qualify me for what they’re selling.

I see it all the time, and it’s a bad tactic. 

When people get onto a call with me, they know why. If I’m talking to them to see if there’s potential to work together, they know that going in. Otherwise, the lines of networking and selling do not cross for me, and I’m always honest about my intentions. 

Most people love that. And the ones that don’t are understandably skeptical because of how often they’ve been manipulated into a networking meeting that ended up being a sales pitch.

People have their walls up around salespeople, sure. The things they hate about selling are the lies and the manipulation, the bait and switch, the incessant badgering and follow-up. 

Be authentic and take the lead in the conversation by framing it and setting expectations. This should create enough trust for you to ask the questions you need to ask, and it should create the space and comfort you need to listen to their needs and wants. 

Sales can only be viewed as a noble profession when the people doing it are noble enough to be upfront about it.