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Ethical Selling and Sales Management

A code of sales ethics is fundamental to sales success. It is the foundation on which sales techniques and strategies are built, and provides solid footing on which long-term, profitable businesses are built.

Written Feb 15, 2008, read 12836 times since then.
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Sales people perform amid the convergence of three demanding masters: employer, customer and self. Each party has their own agenda and the sales person, who clearly has a personal agenda, is the arbitrator.

  • The employer/seller is seeking sales, profit margin and correctly consummated closings.

  • The customer/buyer is seeking solution, value and correctly consummated closings.

  • The salesperson has the above objectives in mind and also their own income potential.

The common desire is that the sale be closed correctly. All three parties want to leave the closing feeling pleased with the final result and process that lead to it. Critical to this three-way satisfaction is the sales person saying and doing the right things and not over-promising. True and correct disclosure is the basic tenet: disclosing to the customer what the product truly is, how it can solve problems and disclosing to their employer who the customer is and what they want.

It is a challenging work of communication, that can easily be confused accidentally and deliberately.

The deliberate error most often is caused by money. People, including sales people, sellers and buyers all have and will act oddly for money. Money can lead us astray. Sales people have the added pressure of variable income streams and the challenge of having great months and poor months. The question is, “Will our sales people hold their ethical posture when times are bad?”

Micro-management is one tool to deal with this disclosure problem and many companies now use scripts and legal approval of any and all flyers or letters that a sales person might use. Misrepresentation is embarrassing and expensive. It can result in loss of business, loss of customers and worst-case scenario, class action suits. Ethical selling is an adjunct to micro-management and an enhancement to any sales effort. Sales people need to know about the conflicted position that they are in and use their own ethical posture to bolster their customer relations and service.

Ethical selling is developing trust: teaching individual sales people to act rightly, to say and print the right things; to not over-promise and make sure that buyers and sellers are fully informed.

The customer is not always right. Not all customers should be sold to, and sometimes, customers should be fired. In every walk of life there are liars and thieves. Just as sales people can over-promise and not deliver, so too can customers. The promise of purchases is not the same thing as actually making the purchase. And paying for the purchase and the product performing as advertised complete the transaction.

Sales people certainly know that all customers are not created equal. Some are large buyers and some are small. Some have prompt payment habits and some don’t pay at all. Though we would prefer the large buyers who pay promptly, what we must truly avoid are those customers that never pay. These are the unethical customers that should be avoided. Do our sales people know to avoid them?

Quality begets quantity. If and when sale people are ethical (courteous, responsible and honest) they can and will attract similar type customers. They will also be able to identify customers that may not be so. Unethical customers are to be avoided. The customer is not always right. Ethical selling involves both sales people and their customers. Can our sales people be ethical and also find like-minded customers?

Be ethical thyself and do business with same. Liars and thieves can and will play “money games” and lead a sales person astray. Are our sales people ethically secure?

Competitors are not the enemy. Sometimes they will win the day and sometimes we will. No one wins every game they play, but how do we handle defeat? Do we disparage our competitors or our operations / fulfillment teams? Do we sulk and complain to anyone and everyone? Or do we examine the events and learn from them?

Mistakes will happen and perfection is a very hard performance level to achieve and impossible to maintain for very long. Mis-communication does happen. Shipping delays occur and people do get sick and take vacations; all of which can cause a sale to not close correctly. Ethical sales people know this and can deal with these errors, and they can also communicate clearly what did occur and what might be done, without recrimination or assassination.

Ethical selling provides a framework to accept both success and loss. Surely, success is the preferred outcome, but experience and character are most often acquired when we lose. Losing is not bad, if we learn and grow from it. Developing a personal code of ethics is critical in the development of successful sales people.

I am coming from the mortgage industry, which is suffering now for many reasons and one is a market wide lack of ethical behavior. Too many players, sales people, sellers (lenders) and buyers (borrowers) are misbehaving. Too many loans have been closed that were not true and correct. Misrepresentation is not the only problem in the current mortgage crisis, but it is a contributory factor and there is truly no need for such and no excuse for such.

Learn more about the author, Steve Gatter.

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