How much does honesty cost, and is it worth it?

How much does honesty cost, and is it worth it?
Dustin Lien
November 22, 2020

"What should we be doing differently?" he asked, as I tried to contain my excitement.

I was on the phone with a business owner I really respect, and he was considering hiring my company to help with some marketing.

My business wasn't in a great spot, so I had reached out to a well-connected friend to ask if he knew of any businesses who might need help with their marketing. This sale would put us back to a healthier monthly revenue. I needed this sale.

It's always a little uncomfortable asking someone to refer people they know to give you their money.

It doesn't matter if it's as simple as a restaurant referral or as serious as a business partnership referral, there's always a chance it doesn't end well, and if it doesn't end well, everyone is mad at the person who made the referral.

Lucky for me, this business seemed like a great fit, and I knew exactly how to help them.

"Well, with an audience of your size, you should consider sending at least weekly emails to push traffic to new podcast episodes, and you could also start segmenting your audience based on personalized interests to increase engagement," I said, with full confidence and sweaty palms.

I could tell he was liking my advice, and that I was one step away from closing the deal.

We had a little more back and forth, and then the conversation shifted from theoretical to practical with one question:

How much do you charge for this service?

I told him the price, and remained silent.

If you've ever done sales before, you know that you never want to be the first to speak again after the price has been said. There's usually an uncomfortable silence right after, and unless you're a sociopath, every fiber of your being is going to want to blurt out something, anything at all, after about 5 seconds of silence because you'll think that silence means the customer doesn't like your offer.

In reality, it usually just means they're thinking, and they need a second.

So, I remained silent.

After about 10 seconds, he said, "That seems a little expensive for me, and I think my team here internally can handle executing it. What else would you be doing? Why should I hire you?"

I felt a knot start to form in my stomach, but not for the reason you'd think.

It wasn't because I was caught off guard.

It wasn't because I didn't know how to answer the question.

It wasn't because I couldn't figure out how to still close the deal.

I knew exactly how to convince him to say yes.

Instead, before I could even really process why, I blurted out, "You shouldn't. We don't customize our service in a way that will make it worth your money if you already have a team that can handle this strategy, so you shouldn't hire us."

"Wow," he said, shocked. "Nobody has ever said that to me before. I really appreciate the honesty."

I felt the knot in my stomach unwind.

And that was that.

I realized in that moment that running a business with integrity is more important than money.

If I had pushed him into a deal that I knew wasn't the right fit for his business, I would be doing him a disservice, and my friend who referred me would be put in an awkward situation, and would never refer anyone to me ever again.

Most businesses are not run with integrity, but that doesn't mean mine can't.

P.S. That same friend has referred almost $100k in business to my company since that day. Honesty can pay off, too.