Multimillionaire Australian businessman Jim Penman, founder of the Jim’s group, attributes his success in business to his policy of applying scrupulous honesty in all his dealings with his franchisees, and always doing his utmost to look after their interests. In his book Selling without Selling, Jim tells the following story of his early days selling lawn mowing franchises, his first (and still most recognisable) foray into the business world:
“I had no people skills, I couldn’t take rejection, and I absolutely hated selling. I was a thoroughly awful salesman. But now, for my business to succeed, I had to sell mowing rounds consistently, month after month. I struggled with this problem for a couple of years and tried many ways to overcome it. I approached business agencies, experimented with different forms of advertising, even hired others to sell rounds for me. It came to the point where a professional salesman, on commission, sold rounds for me in my office while I either looked on or sat with my back to the scene, pretending to be involved in something else. If this sounds absurd, it was. It was also ineffective. I asked a family friend what I should do. ‘Be your own salesman,’ he said. ‘No one can sell your own business as well as you can.’ Easy for him to say. He had the charm and confidence that went with many years as a business manager. Not much help to a social incompetent like me.
But he was right, and one day I did learn how to sell. Which opened the door to a business far beyond anything I could have imagined. It happened because I was looking for advice on advertising, and went to see someone I knew who was partner in an advertising firm…
Eventually he invited me in and spent half an hour answering my questions. Advising me on media, how to word ads, anything he thought might help me out. And at the end of the interview, advised me that I really could organise and control my own advertising, and that at this stage I didn’t need an agency. I remember leaving the office feeling very impressed by this man and his agency – but then wondering why. He had not told me about his clients nor shown me any promotions. In fact, he had advised me not to use him. Yet I knew that if I ever did need an agency, I would use his without hesitation, without asking about price, and without considering any competitors. (Which I did a few later when we decided to run TV commercials). He had done nothing to sell me on his business, yet he had given me the most effective sales pitch of my life.”
Jim then decided to apply this approach when seeking his own clients. He continues:
“What if their best interests lay in not buying from me? I faced this challenge about a month later when a young man who had been to see me rang back for advice. He had been offered another round in the same area. Which did I think was better? I asked him all the relevant questions: the cut, the number of clients and how widely scattered they were… Then I did my sums. The other round worked out about ten per cent better value than mine. What to do? I was taking this approach to try and grow my business, but if I advised him fairly he would buy the other one. At this point what came to the fore was something that had been a standing joke in my family for years: my complete inability to tell a lie. There are a number of stories of me blurting out some inconvenient truth in response to a question, a symptom of my extreme social awkwardness. So in this case I just told the truth. I said the other business was better and advised him to buy it. He thanked me and hung up.”
The same thing happened with two other clients. Jim was feeling quite virtuous but a little discouraged, until something amazing happened. All three of them rang him back and bought from him!
“Amazing as it may seem, from that time on I had no more problems selling lawn mowing runs. And weirdest of all was that my own social ineptness, my biggest obstacle to successful sales, had become my greatest asset! I forgot about all other principles and focused on making my buyers into fans, a job which only just began when they bought the business. I would give them advice over the phone, provide free training seminars, be scrupulously fair in replacing lost clients, and buy back their businesses at the best possible price if they wanted to sell.”
Any reputable sales or marketing guru would say that Jim was crazy for telling the prospects not to buy from him. Yet his phenomenal success in business proves a very profound spiritual truth – when you go with the flow of the natural order, everything works out better. Honesty is in alignment with the natural order – dishonesty, sleaze and coercion are not.
Although readers may point out that the many of the richest people on the planet have not earned a reputation for resplendent scruples, if we exclude the top-tier wealthy (i.e. people with the ability to manipulate the system in their favour), I believe you’ll find that honesty is actually a powerful asset in business, as well as being an absolute must for anyone on a serious spiritual journey.
One of the problems with modern life is that everything has been over-studied and over-analysed to the point where it has been reduced to a formula. Everyone’s so busy trying to get the upper hand by manipulating people’s emotions that some very basic principles have been lost – principles which used to be fundamental to the majority of people’s lives.
Sales is one of those over-studied and over-formularised areas – hence why you can’t buy anything online these days without being subjected to a torrent of aggressive sales bullying. You know the drill, because you see it every time you buy anything online – upgrade to the luxury package within 24 hours to claim your exclusive discount, and if you choose to spend ten times more than what you originally intended to, you’ll get a never-to-be-repeated 90% saving on the extra products! Stocks are strictly limited so order now!
There’s no doubt that someone employing these kind of techniques would have much more impressive weekly sales statistics than Jim. But how many of these people go on to build lasting multi-million dollar international empires? How far can sleazy marketing really take you before people cotton on and refuse to do business with you? How many businesses have had meteoric rises on the back of these kind of tricks – then have spectacularly crashed and burnt? You’ve all heard the stories.
Politicians are another example of things being studied and formularised to the point of ruination. The idea may have made some sense in the beginning – after all, why not put your best foot forward and deliver your message in a way that resonates with voters? And because the initial strategies worked, politicians assumed that more must be better. Now everything that comes out of their mouths has been focus group tested and spun to within an inch of its life. Somewhere along the line, all authenticity and honesty was lost from the equation and virtually all politicians became loathsome walking focus groups, despised by all and sundry. If a politician appeared who actually spoke honestly and directly to the public, he’d be a shoo-in at any election.
So be honest with others, and above all else – be honest with yourself. Not only are you developing and cultivating your own integrity by doing so, but you’re setting a good example. You’ll never be caught in lies and your reputation as an honest person will precede you. Live an ordered life in unison with life and the universe, and the universe will look after you beyond your wildest expectations.