Experimentation = good. Lying = BAD!

One of the things that you must constantly do in entrepreneurial sales is experiment.

You need to experiment on price, on pitch, on the offering, and essentially everything about the product.  When you experiment, you learn about what the issues are that are the most important and also what the levers are that will draw the actual close out of a person.

Experimentation can lead to learning that your price is too high, or that people want to pay monthly instead of annually.  Experimentation can tell you that one particular feature drives sales more than other features and can lead to shifts in marketing or product direction which can drastically improve the results for the company.  Most entrepreneurs understand today that playing with your messaging and keywords in organic and paid search helps you to learn about the product and what will cause an uptick – and therefore it should be an easy extension to apply this to sales techniques.

For example, at one of my start-ups, we played with offering different levels of users, and also different price packs – ultimately learning that our initial assumption that companies wanted to pay “per user” was dead wrong.  Our customers were willing to pay MORE for an unlimited pack because it meant they only had to ask for budget once rather than each time they had more users.  Lesson learned… sales prevailed.

Another time, we experimented with messaging.  The product spoke to many different aspects of the business.  Sometimes we led the conversation with the “functional”  aspects of the product – what it could do for them in terms of increasing productivity, and other times we lead with “safety and security”.  In conversations, we always talked about both – but sometimes we stressed one over the other.  This was not always random… but was often thru just a little bit of research about company goals.

One really important way to experiment is with the “non-commit” offer.  Offering something that is phrased as a non-committal is a great way to get to the root of an objection and to also learn about your product.  For example, you might say, “I can’t guarantee that my boss will go for this, but if I let you pay monthly, would that change your mind about buying this week?”  If they say yes, and your boss doesn’t want to make the offer – you have a way to go back and not take the deal.  And… perhaps after you hear “yes” 10 times, you realize that offering your product with monthly payments is what you should be doing from now on.

What you should NEVER do is lie in your experiments.  Blatant outright lies will only come back to haunt you and may actually set you up to fail – both as a salesperson and a company because lies in sales follow you.

For example, NEVER inflate your price and then claim that you are taking percentage off the price to get you to the same or other price.  Yes, I am aware that retail outlets do this all the time, and people are used to it – but in anything other than retail it simply smells rotten and slimy and will get you a reputation.

Never lie about features your product has, or customers you have landed, or your roadmap unless you are prepared to deal with the consequences.  I’ve had bloggers, reporters, and competitors that try to catch me in a lie.  And if they ever had, I’m sure they would make sure the world knows it.  Ask yourself if the risk you take is worth it.  I say that it rarely is.

When you experiment, you need to assume that your prospects will see ALL sides of any messaging / offer / or otherwise.  If you can easily resolve the discrepancies, then you are OK.  If you imagine getting the call from the prospect where she says, “I was told by you that your list price is $5,000 and I’m going on the site and seeing that the price is $4,500.  Why are you charging me more?”  and you are unprepared to let her know why?  Then you have a problem.  Your answer cannot be that you were experimenting with some new pricing – because she will want to know why you didn’t offer her the experiment.  Most likely… you will be caught in a lie and will lose the sale – and the respect of the prospect.

If you are A/B testing, are you prepared when two people in two different locations bring up your site and see completely different pricing?  If you can’t resolve the discrepancy, then you will lose the deal.  Perhaps change the price on different packages, or different length commitments, or otherwise, but simple differences in prices based on how you surfed the site or what salesperson picked up the phone when you called?  not good.

If its different messages that you are giving – do they resolve to the same core product?  Do you know that ultimately, you aren’t saying something that just isn’t true – just to see what happens?  That will certainly back-fire on you.

The bottom line is that you should experiment at will, but what you shouldn’t do is experiment with untruths – or with shady tactics that you can’t resolve if you get one prospect seeing both sides of the coin.  There are PLENTY of ways to experiment without needing to resort to shady and slimy tactics – so stay away from those.

Honesty is really the best way to go… always.

  • Franco Conte

    Mark, I’m almost done reading through each and every one of your posts. They are great. Thank you.
    I have come across related posts suggesting that start-ups like mine (enterprise software) shouldn’t wait till the product is finished to start selling. Instead they should go out pitching it to clients as if they already had it to improve market fit.
    I agree with this and I also agree with your post about never lying. At the same time though I find it difficult to reconcile being honest with a client about the development state of a product and getting them to take us seriously. I’m not suggesting to lie but I have found myself talking to client about that 10th product feature that, although in the pipeline, it wasn’t there yet.
    Because I know the product cycle can take months I knew we could implement it on time if needed.
    I have zero experience in sales and I’m just saying this hoping to hear from you that mine wasn’t the mistake you are talking about in this post.
    Thank you for sharing your valuable experience.

  • Franco,

    This is a great, great comment – especially as it relates to start-ups.  I think I’ll write a much bigger post on this topic, but you must be honest with your prospects about where you are at – although never feel like you have to share all the warts of what is going on – and if you honestly think it will be there on time, then you tell them that – say, “that feature is under active development and testing – and we anticipate that it will be fully completed and ready to go in advance of you needing it.”  The thing is that, especially when its a start-up, they know that everything is fluid and not fully-baked.  When you are honest with them about the state of where things are, then they don’t have to worry about what you aren’t telling them – wondering if they are making a huge mistake taking a chance on you.  You need to put that fear at ease.  

    You should also be very honest and direct about your product and where it is at with yourself and then apply it to your customer.  Its very infrequent that a product which is beyond MVP (minimum viable product) provides ZERO value to the customer – so while certain features may be late or not ready – the product very likely serves a portion of their need – and you should make sure that you are selling those points that are fully baked – and the value that those provide.  Then, it will only be that much sweeter when they get the rest of it.