The Importance Of Being Honest

You can get away with being a tad less than truthful if you’re a telemarketer. People expect it.

You can stretch the truth and make some pretty outrageous claims in direct mail. It’s part of the landscape.

You can get all breathless and excited with your promises in a radio or TV ad, and people will feel fine about it.

But if you step one inch away from the straight and narrow online people will crucify you.

That’s pretty weird when you think about it. Online commerce depends on cold, high-tech tools more than any other sales medium. In many ways, it’s the medium that is most impersonal and most distant from real-life relationships.

But customers and prospects online demand a level of honesty and integrity that you just won’t find anywhere else.

I think that’s pretty neat.

It means that you can use honesty to sell. It means the good guys can come first. It means you can do the right thing, feel good, face the kids and make money. All at the same time.

Let me give you a couple of examples of how honesty and openness sell.

Have you ever seen an America Online “pop-up”? They’re those short, two-screen ads that pop up on your screen when you log on.

I’ve seen lots of them. In fact, I write lots of them.

Generally the products being sold are software or hardware products related to computer and Internet use. The price varies from anywhere between $29.95 and $499.95 or more.

At first I was puzzled by how they could sell a $500 item off two small pages that contain a total of perhaps 200 words.

Their secret? People trust America Online. They believe what AOL says.

Maybe 10 percent of each successful sale is the result of what I write. But 90 percent is the result of the buyer’s pre-existing relationship with America Online. People buy from AOL because they trust them.

And America Online goes to great lengths to protect and preserve that trust.

The result? America Online profits from its honesty.

Here’s another quick look at how honesty and openness are becoming important in sales. Take a look at the Lands’ End web site.

In the top left hand corner of the home page, there’s a link that reads, “Your Privacy & Security Guaranteed.”

Click it and here’s what you get:

“What we do to make shopping at Lands’ End risk-free:

“When it comes to guarantees, we think that words are like water they dilute. So we’ve always tried to boil our guarantees down to a handful of words. With no conditions, and no fine print. Here, specifically, is how we stand behind our merchandise and our web site.

  1. Everything we sell is ‘Guaranteed. Period.’
  2. You have no credit card risk. Period.
  3. We’ll never misuse the information you provide us.

“If we’ve done our job, then more detail should be unnecessary. But it’s below for anyone who wants it.”

I think that’s beautifully put. Great piece of online writing.

Would I feel comfortable about buying from the Lands’ End site? Yes, I would. I trust them already.

Now think about the warranties you see in the offline world.

Think of the “limited” warranties on electronics, housewares, toys, sneakers and just about anything else you buy from the stores in your neighborhood.

Offline, everyone seems to be giving us guarantees with lots of buts, ifs and unlesses attached.

Meanwhile, online we’re learning that being honest and trustworthy with no conditions actually increases sales.

Like I said before, I think that’s pretty neat. (Now we just have to wait (for the offline world to catch up.)

So how far do you go to be completely open, honest and trustworthy on your site? And I don’t think it’s enough just to be that way. I think you have to show it too. Declare yourself.

Make your promise up front and center.

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