Trust Me. I’m in Sales.

In a conference call amongst print salespeople last week, an interesting conversation ensued regarding trust between the buyer and sales rep. To get an expert’s opinion, I reached out to my friend and fellow PIworld blogger, Margie Dana*. We emailed back and forth.

Margie suggested that I post the discussion along with the following funny story that I’d shared with her. Have a look, and then join the conversation.

A sales rep walks into a buyer’s office for an appointment. As the buyer is speaking, the rep is doing what all reps do—scanning the buyer’s desk looking for clues and information to be used later.

Amazingly, sitting right in front of the buyer is a competitor’s proposal for a job that the sales rep is about to quote. Unfortunately for the rep, there was a soda can directly over the price.

Suddenly, the phone rings and the buyer is called away from the office momentarily. Presented with an opportunity, the rep reaches for the can and lifts it up to see the price. If he’s too high, he will make an excuse to return later with a lower price. If he’s too low and has left money on the table, he will again make an excuse to return later with a higher price.

But as he lifts the can, he discovers—to his horror—that it’s bottomless and the can was full of marbles. The buyer had set a trap for him and he was now exposed for what he is: a cheat.

The buyer returns to the office, sees what the rep has done and throws him out for good.

We all have an internal compass that guides us and shows us right from wrong. Where that line is—between right and wrong—is different from person to person. All printing salespeople learn quickly how to read upside down. At one time or another, we’ve all scanned a buyer’s desk. We also read the Guest Register at the front desk to see who else is in the account. I remember a sales manager advising me to never sign in to those things legibly. I will let you judge for yourself as to whether such actions are innocent or devious.

As a 30 year sales veteran, Bill has the perspective of a been-there, done-that sales rep in the commercial print arena. Following sales fundamentals and giving unapologetically "old school" advice, he writes and speaks in an entertaining fashion to make his points to sales people and owners who sell. "Bill Farquharson will drive your sales momentum."
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  • Alan Durdan

    If you are too low, you don’t know your market. If you are a little high, value sell! Loved the comment about sliding the can instead of liting!

  • Bernie

    Shame on both parties. Shame on the sales rep for obvious reasons. As a buyer, I am subject to oversight to ensure I’m not violating company policies and consistently acting in an ethical manner. Leaving a quote on a desk, leaving the room and letting a competing supplier see that quote is, at the very least, a violation of trust, if not policy (in my organization keeping all supplier information confidential is a policy and a violation is a terminable offense). Separately, If a buyer feels the need to set a trap to "catch" a sales rep, what does that say about his dealings with sales reps in general? Doesn’t the integrity of the buyer come into question? Was the quote on the desk from a "preferred" company and if so why is that company "preferred". There are so many underlying questions regarding the buyer’s action, they can’t be detailed in a blog post. As the title of Deborah Corn’s column reminds us two wrongs won’t make a right.

  • smartbuyer

    And this is why most buyers have the rule, always see print salespeople in an empty conference room or the lobby, never at your desk!

  • margiedana

    Bill, thanks for the plugs! I LOVE this anecdote you shared. Truly a laugh-out- loud moment. After our email exchange, I posted the question to my PBI Group: "Do you tell prospective printers who’s currently doing your printing if they ask?" Mostly, buyers said no, they don’t share. It’s sort of a "none of your business" issue, if you will. That’s generally how I feel – unless I know the printer who’s asking and have worked with him or her in the past or at least have a business relationship with the person. One member of our PBI group, who works exclusively in book manufacturing, disagreed and said why NOT share this info? What’s the downside….especially if the printer asking has something better to offer? I guess it goes to show you, there are always two sides. Anyway, thanks for posting this! Made my day.

  • Henry Segalini

    For issues of trust, I strongly recommend "The Speed of Trust" by Stephen M. R. Covey. It discusses the various benefits of having a trusting relationship and the consequences of the absence of trust.

  • Brian Miller

    Sliding the can is still cheating, in my view. Anyone who has been in sales for any length of time knows that price is seldom the deciding factor in an important buying decision (it ranks 6 out of 10 in many studies), and that orders gained on price are also lost that way.

    If 70% of reps say they would cheat if they were sure they wouldn’t be exposed, that’s a sad state of affairs.

  • Mike Brenneman

    I’m not a big fan of entrapment. The story is funny, to a point. But if I’m in a buyer’s office who has trust issues to the point that he would set a trap like that — that’s not someone with whom I’d want to do business anyway. I personally wouldn’t get caught in that trap, so I’d never know. I would never dream of touching something on my host’s desk without regard to the purpose.

    On the other hand, I see nothing wrong with developing one’s skill to read upside down. An essential tool of the trade, that. If only to read and react to the notes your prospect is taking.

  • Larry Edwards

    I think this is by far one of the best articles you have ever written.

    If a sales person starts out by focusing on price the decisions shifts that direction as well. Buyers most often like to be sold on value. A sales person who focuses on price normally sets off an allarm to the buyer. They still want to be sold not purchased.

    I am not surprised to hear 70% of the people out there would have picked up the can. Fortunately, I feel exactly the same way as you do. If people live their lives based on The Ten Commandments, everyone would be better off. You can’t hide from God.

    I have always believed it doesn’t matter if you cheat and feel you can get away with it. If you cheat, you lose because you gave up what can differentiate yourself from the competition…integrity. One of the BIGGEST reasons why clients do not buy from a sales person is because they do not trust them. A smart customer and a smart sales person usually use their intuition to feel out the person sitting accross from them. It is scary how many times my gut tells me something is wrong with the person I am dealing with. I actually have to work hard to erase my first impression so I have an open mind and can give them an opportunity to prove me otherwise.

    Customers buy from sales people they like and from sales people they trust. If the sales person lives a moral and honest life, good signals will be transmitted to the customer and they will often find themselves first in line. If sales people are dishonest and fake it, customers are usually onto them and the game is over.

    As for me, I would rather lose an order than to lose who I am. You pay a big price for selling yourself out to the dark side.

  • Jim T

    The buyer was exposed as untrustworthy. That may sound like a ridiculous conclusion, but the whole situation sounded like it took too much planning to be worth the effort. The time it took could have been better spent by working with the supplier to get past the obvious trust issue.

    I have read this story before, and the "entrapment" side of it still irritates me to no end. What did the buyer learn? He learned that if he chummed the water heavily enough that he was going to probably hook the fish? Good for him! (Sarcasm intended.) The kid may have gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar, but the buyer took the lid off and waved it right under the reps’ nose. The rep was guilty, but the buyer is much lower in my eyes.

  • Dan Visone

    Great article and very to the point. If the can could have been brought up in the conversation with the client in the office for instance,"aren’t you worried that the can will put a ring on your papers", might have opened the client up to see you do pay attention and think outside the box to find out what you want within the guidelines of honesty and may have let you know the ballpark you are playing in but you would have to pick your own section.

  • Shelly Mattingly

    I would like to tell myself that I would never have lifted the can but I am not so sure I would convince me.

  • Dosso Mebeti

    Great and very funny article.My suggestion would be do not lift the cup and do not slide the piece of paper either,just be yourself! But this is definitely not easy to do.Bill’ s advice is wise,slide the piece of paper. With all due respect,allow me to say that i don’t believe those who are saying that they wouldn’t have cheated.Before being printers,we are businessmen and you all know what a businessman can do for money.Just don’t lose your integrity!Thanks for your comments!

  • custom stickers

    A great info about to learn what your customers need and you stop trying to convince or persuade them to do something they may not want to do, you’ll find them trusting you as a valued advisor and wanting to do more business with you as a result.

  • MZazeela


    If the information was plainly visible from my vantage point, I would look. I would not move anything or change my position in order to gain a vantage point.

    If it is plainly visible, my feeling is that it is fair game. If it is obstructed or hidden, it is none of my business.