Ethical selling: The truth is, nothing sells like the truth

Date: April 3, 2023
Author: Kristin Zhivago
Ethical Selling: Nothing Sells Like the Truth

As a buyer, you know you want the truth from sellers. As a seller, you are tempted—and maybe even advised—to bend or hide the truth. It has always been a mistake to do so, but in this age of ridiculously easy customer-to-customer access, it can have immediate, unwanted, and far-reaching negative consequences. Whatever you try to hide or lie about will be “outed” by your customers. 

I suppose I could stop writing now, because that pretty much sums up the situation. But it’s useful to understand why this happens and what you can do to avoid it—especially if someone above you—including on your board if you are the owner/leader of the business—is recommending that you turn your back on the truth.

Truth and Trust: Joined at the hip

All customers want to do business only with companies they trust. 

Earning trust starts with positive reviews, then continues as the customers experience the company’s products and service themselves. Remember that when customers set out to buy, their Mindset is the most important aspect for you. Their Mindset consists of their desires, concerns, and questions. As they are buying, they pay attention to:

  • How quickly they can decide if you might be able to satisfy their desires.
  • How aware you are of their concerns, and how well you address them on your site.
  • How easy it is to select products using various filters. 
  • How easy it is to find answers to their questions.
  • How easy it is to contact you. (Do you use chat? Is it manned by a real human being, or a bot who simply frustrates them?)
  • How carefully the product was packaged for shipment, and its condition when it arrived.
  • The quality of the product. 
  • How easy it is to assemble and/or use.
  • How well the product or service matches the description.

That last one is big. If they are disappointed, they will definitely say so in the reviews they post and will often include pictures. Some percentage of your potential customers will decide not to buy (I’m sure we’ve all done this!) and some percentage will be willing to buy anyway, hoping that they won’t have the same disappointing experience. 

However, if they also have that same disappointing experience, they will say so in the reviews with some language such as, “I ordered in spite of the negative reviews, and I’m sorry to say I had the same experience. Stay away!” 

The “customers asking questions of other customers” section of Amazon’s product listings do give you an opportunity to counter negative answers to questions, but you don’t have a chance to counter the negative reviews as you do on some other platforms.

In those cases where you can respond, you need to be apologetic and then explain how you are fixing the problem. If you have fixed the problem, I would even say so in an updated product description, with something like this: “NOTE: We heard from customers that they were disappointed in [X aspect], so we fixed it. As of [date], this issue has been resolved, and you can order with confidence.” 

Customers who are exposed to negative information about a product or service are quick to leave companies that are somehow suspect. It can happen in a blink. Just recently, as soon as I heard that the water in my favorite lemonade, Simply Lemonade, was compromised, thanks to Coca-Cola claiming it was “healthy despite toxic ‘forever chemicals’ levels ‘hundreds of times’ above federal limits,” I stopped buying it and started making my own. 

Again, if you are a buyer, you know how much you want the truth from sellers. But the minute we put on our seller hats, it’s easy to be tempted to fudge the truth or lie by omission. 


As soon as we decide that the person selling us can be trusted, we want to give them our business. We will even overlook minor inconveniences or small product shortcomings. We are willing to work with them to resolve issues because we know they will be truthful and we can trust them. 

There are pros and cons in any sales situation. The more forthright you are about the cons, the better. Think of it as “this may not be right for everyone.” This is a tough concept to embrace when you are struggling to make sales, but in the long run it will pay off handsomely. For example, if you sell something that will only appeal to a certain type of person or a person who is in a certain circumstance, it’s best to be up front about that from the start. 

In fact, part of our success in bringing in leads for clients involves not bringing in the leads that aren’t a good fit. Spending time qualifying leads that are simply not suitable from the start is a waste of time and resources that are better spent working with people who will benefit most from your product or service. 

The more truthful you are, the more you will sell. That is a simple fact of your revenue-growth life. Being totally up front will immediately and seriously separate you from the competitors whose sales pitches are all positive. As buyers read one “feature and benefit” after another, they begin to wonder, “OK, so what’s the catch?” 

Buyer doubts lead to seller disappointment. 

Remember that the buyer’s Mindset when they set out to buy consists of desires, concerns, and questions. If you do not address their concerns early on, or answer their questions honestly, their doubts about your solution will overwhelm their desires—and they will move on.

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