They think they’ll sell more by “growing hair” on their presentations, according to two Baylor University marketing professors and a noted behavioral scientist.

Professors Larry Chonko and Jeff Tanner and behavior researcher George W. Dudley, in remarks prepared for the National Sales Conference on Sales Management in Irvine, Calif., (March 29-31) cited research that found 51% of salespeople still sometimes stretch the truth but insisted it isn’t typical of the profession. Dudley and Tanner write on the “sincerity industry” in The Hard Truth About Soft-Selling ($26.95, Behavioral Sciences Research Press) available in bookstores or online. See

“Sales presentations are new age” says Baylor University marketing professor, Larry Chonko, “but some are just the 21st century version of an age-old problem: exaggerated promotional claims.” To Chonko, such reckless spiels are no longer typical of the modern sales profession.

The researchers used SPQ*GOLD, a psychological test that spots exaggerating salespeople, to analyze 18,886 U.S. salespeople and 18,299 global salespeople.

The study found that salespeople who exaggerate what they know the most also exaggerate what they’ll do the most. “The 3,016 U.S. salespeople claiming the greatest ability to sell highly influential prospects scored 61% on the SPQ exaggeration scale,” Tanner said. “The 2,536 claiming more realistic ability levels only scored 45%.”

“People think all salespeople exaggerate,” Dudley said, “but that’s a myth that has little to do with the modern sales profession.”

Salespeople don’t exaggerate as much as members of some other professions. The overall exaggeration rate for 53,586 salespeople is 53.64%. That conclusion is supported by an even larger sample (141,169 salespeople) reported in 2006. But, broadcasters (55%) score higher than salespeople. So do consultants (61%) and venture capitalists (65%). Some academics and psychologists score even higher.

“People don’t just react negatively to the minority of salespeople who still choose to exaggerate,” Dudley said. “They react negatively to dishonesty — regardless of profession. And, that’s no exaggeration.”