Honesty and Integrity Are Table Stakes (and more)
My list of success attributes numbers eleven. It will soon number twelve, with the addition of Adaptability. I have had comments here agreeing with my choices of success and sales attributes, and I have had comments that disagreed with both my language choices (as I am prone to hyperbole) as well as what I have included on my lists (by the way, you should have your own list).
But I have not had a single comment as to the absence of Honesty and Integrity. This may because honesty and integrity are now simply table stakes; they are the minimum requirement to get a place at the table. They are assumed.
Honesty and Integrity
Honesty is the act of being truthful.
Integrity is acting consistent with your words, your values, and your principles. It is keeping your word and walking your talk.
Honesty and Integrity in Sales
Most people are honest, and most salespeople are honest. There are a still a few industries that still hire people who are dishonest, and who train in methodologies that are designed to hide the truth. But this is mostly a thing of the past.
Great salespeople are honest—they tell the truth even when it means they will not win a deal. They are willing to lose deals because of their integrity, because they refuse to violate their word, their values, and their principles. Their willingness to lose deals isn’t an economic calculation; they don’t lose simply because they may be found out and because they may lose future deals; they are willing to lose deals because they are honest and because they have integrity.
Successful salespeople are honest about the difficulties and challenges implementing and executing their outcome they sold. They know that effectiveness in sales requires both managing outcomes and managing expectation. They maintain their integrity by not painting a picture that distorts the reality that their clients can expect.
Successful salespeople keep their word. They keep their promises, no matter how small. This is integrity, and it is an internal force, not an external force, that commands them to walk their talk.
Truth be told, the higher the stakes, the more honesty and integrity become part of the deal. When the stakes are high, people buy from someone who is telling them the truth, no matter how ugly. They buy from someone they believe will keep their promise to stand shoulder to shoulder with them in the trenches to help them achieve the outcome they need. When the stakes are high, honesty and integrity become something far more than table stakes.
When Honesty and Integrity Are Missing
When honesty and integrity are missing, it is rare that salesperson gets a place at the table or a chance to compete. As soon the salespersons honesty or integrity is suspected, they are dropped from consideration.
If the prospect suspects that the salesperson is lying, they move on. If the salesperson doesn’t have integrity, if they don’t appear to walk their talk by keeping their small promises and commitments, the prospect dismisses them from consideration. These seemingly small commitments include phone calls, follow up emails, sending promised information, and other commitments.
When honesty is missing, the salesperson omits the truth. They cover up and hide factors that may prevent them from winning the deal. They obfuscate the truth and they leave out facts and considerations that don’t serve them in winning a deal.
It is a rare person who is comfortable being dishonest and it shows a lack of integrity; you cannot claim to be honest and act otherwise.
When honesty and integrity are missing, salespeople provide a vision that they cannot bring to reality. They sell outcomes that are unlikely or impossible. They avoid discussing the challenges of implementation and execution, sometimes intentionally and sometimes because they are afraid it will prevent a deal.
Mostly salespeople who lack honesty and integrity have been forced from the ranks for B2B sales and relegated to sales with lower stakes, but some still exist. When they are lucky enough to win a deal (and it is luck if their dishonesty and lack of integrity don’t come to light during some stage of the deal), they lose the deals as fast they win them (or as fast as they are discovered).
Is This Table Stakes?
The idea of table stakes means that these attributes are what allow you to play at all. It means that these attributes are factors that are considered when choosing between competing offers. I have seen a lot of buyer’s A columns, and I have never seen the words honesty or integrity listed. It is expected that you are honest and that you act with integrity, or you wouldn’t be considered in the first place.
Because honesty and integrity are so common to B2B sales, I left them off the list. Because I encounter so few salespeople who would behave dishonestly to win a deal, these attributes never come to mind; they are just assumed.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a place on my list, or, rather, near my list. Instead of including them as a listed attribute, they are better thought of as the platform underneath all of the success attributes and sales attributes.
But the bigger the deal, the more these attributes are considered, even if they aren’t ever spoken, and even if they never appear in the A column. This is because, like my list, they are before the A column.
Honesty and integrity are defining characteristics of successful salespeople. The fact that they are table stakes doesn’t mean that aren’t a critical part of the client’s evaluation and selection process.
1. Do honesty and integrity belong on the success attributes list?
2. Do they belong on the sales attributes list?
3. Are they the platform on which the other attributes and skills are built on?
4. What do honesty and integrity mean to you?