Polite conversation is a nice thing. As much as anyone else I know, I enjoy meeting people and talking to them. I start conversations on elevators with strangers (much to my wife’s dismay) and I’ve always tried to be polite to all the cashiers, clerks and service workers I encounter over the course of my day.

There’s one major exception to my default politeness, and it is when I am speaking with potential clients. I’ve found that clients don’t need me to be polite, they need me to tell them the truth. That doesn’t mean I’m a jerk. I can be friendly and affable, but politeness specifically is a bad idea in sales, because it prevents us from bringing up things that are uncomfortable but potent elements to the conversation.

This is especially true when we are discussing the potential fit or non fit of our product or service. I’ve witnessed countless times, sales people ignore or minimize focus on elements that may kill the sale. As a result, they spend a lot of time on a potential deal with two possible outcomes. It will fall apart at the last minute, or it will go through but cause issues afterwards because these elements were not addressed. That’s a dysfunctional relationship with your client. Very much like dating someone and ignoring all the red flags before you decide to get married. If the red flags are addressed, in advance, both parties can make a mutual decision to move forward or to admit it’s a deal breaker and move on.

Your client’s agenda should be the leading force in making you want to sell them something. A proper sales role is really one of being the buyer’s agent, and if you sense there is something that the buyer might be concerned about and is not seeing, you are better off bringing it up.

Many years ago, I was calling on retail locations for a credit card processing service. One client had two different businesses with different business models in the same building. The price point for each business was very different and hence would impact his costs greatly. I asked him if he had one account for processing credit cards for both businesses.

“I do”, he said, “Why, does that matter?”

When I pointed out that this would cause him to over pay for processing on one of his businesses (hence risking the deal), he expressed shock that none of my competitors had brought that up. His choice was to deal with it, or add another account and CC machine to handle the other business (at some cost). But at least it was his choice. He didn’t get ambushed by discovering that down the line. Because I brought it up, I won the business. I took the risk of losing the business to make sure he was aware of the pros and cons of working with my service. He referred me a ton of business because of the trust I won by simply choosing to defuse that issue before it blew up in his face.

Don’t avoid the sticky issues. Bring them up and deal with them