Commerce’s Catch-22

There is a Catch-22 in business and sales.

It has to do with lies of omission:  when information is left out to foster a misconception or to hide something that might cause doubt.

In an ideal world, there would be no lies of any kind.  They wouldn’t be necessary because every product and service would be perfect.

But in the real world of negotiations and commerce, you need to makes sales even if what you’re selling has faults.

The truth:  like it or not, salespeople and negotiators often lie.

We’re not taking here about bald-face lies or fostering a misconception so severe it will have legal repercussions.  No business can expect long-term success (or to stay out of jail) when they’re blatantly dishonest (unless, apparently, you’re the CEO of a large bank…).

But that doesn’t mean salespeople will always tell prospects everything.

In hard-ball reality of sales, no salesperson is going to be forthcoming about back-end details that might sow the seeds of doubt in the prospect.  If you did this with today’s skittish, skeptical, hyper-informed internet consumer, you’d never sell anything.

No product or service is perfect, and to reveal every wart is, as they say, honest to a fault.

Consumers also lie.  They avoid being direct so they don’t have to explain their decision.  They keep the salesperson dangling with a maybe.  If they’re shopping around with a competitor, they won’t tell the salesperson.  Or they’ll leverage a “better” deal – whether they have one or not.

You want to create an ideal business based on total transparency.  But if you’re totally transparent, you can’t close enough deals to keep the business alive.

I admire the high ideas of marketing theorists like Seth Godin.  He pushes us to move from what simply works to doing what’s important.

But until we evolve into a society beyond the need for commerce, people will always do what they must to make their company work – to get the sale.  We don’t do ourselves any favors by decrying the imperfections of success, because you can’t give back if you have nothing to give.

It’s commerce’s Catch-22.  If your business doesn’t work, your idealism will never be anything but ideas.