The point we wish to make is that sales need not be unidimensional. Many salespeople do have a keen sense that they are selling not only the product or service of their company, but also the commitment, promises, and follow-through they exercise as individuals. Salespeople, perhaps more than most other employees, represent themselves when representing a company. This perspective is not lost on most people in sales departments who sell with honesty and personal integrity. The long-term effects of what a salesperson says and does build a reputation; protecting one’s reputation provides a safety valve that makes many salespeople unwilling to mislead customers.
This is especially true when sales are based on personal relationships. Salespeople can usually see that the personal codes of conduct they demonstrate elsewhere in their lives contribute integrally to their success in sales.
A company that hires and sends out its sales representatives must make clear what it expects from them. The sales plan must be part of a larger, more comprehensive marketing strategy. A company must insist that whatever is promised to be delivered. Organizations should emphasize that the interaction between sales and service is paramount. At no point does ethical decision making become more important than in weaving the “moral cloth” of sales practices into the operation.
So, what should one think of when trying to act ethically in sales?
If you want the customer’s trust, you have to earn it. Trust doesn’t precede your reputation, it follows it. Trust comes from your customers’ experience with you over time, from a knowledge that what you say is true and in his best interests. It’s built on honesty and an obvious commitment to your customer and the success of his business. As such, it’s a form of personal faith in you.
From an ethical perspective, then, the establishment of trust between you and your customer precludes any form of dishonesty, even those seemingly harmless “white lies” used to save face or avoid uncomfortable or embarrassing situations.
For example, a salesperson once informed me that the late delivery of a critical computer part had been caused by a “screw-up” of an air-express firm. In a subsequent telephone conversation with one of the computer firm’s parts expediters, I discovered that the salesperson had forgotten to place the order. I never trusted that salesperson again. Trust can take a long time to develop, but only a moment to destroy.
Credibility comes from performance, not talk. It means possessing and displaying a belief in your company, its products, and the way it does business. It means having a thorough knowledge of your products and their applications and showing a willingness to learn about your customers and their unique problems and needs. Credibility comes from a track record of successes and an ability to apply the lessons learned. It’s at the heart of true professionalism.
Like trust, credibility takes time to build and depends heavily on your professional reputation. If you’re not credible, your products aren’t saleable.
Let’s conclude with some general guidelines that should help you deal successfully and ethically with the situations and customers you encounter.
Don’t wait until you run up against a difficulty in the field. Consider the ethical implications of your work and discuss common situations with your colleagues and manager. Preventative maintenance will help you avoid taking the wrong turn when confronted by ethical obstacles
Set High Standards from the Beginning
If, by your words and behaviour, you make your ethical standards (and those of your company) apparent to your customers, you will be respected accordingly. Those customers who regularly cross ethical boundaries are less likely to propose or even hint at such behaviour if they believe it will be declined.
Face up to your Mistakes
None of us likes to admit our mistakes and failings. But, by ignoring or repressing them, we only ensure that we will repeat them. Even more dangerous, however, is the propensity to cover up blunders through lies or other unethical behaviour. Don’t run the risk of ruining your reputation and the valuable goodwill of your company simply to avoid taking responsibility for your own actions.
Certainly, unethical behaviour is immoral, but this factor doesn’t seem to have much effect on those who engage in it. By taking the easy way out, they ignore the importance of trust, credibility, and the confidence they create. Perhaps if we attach a dollar sign to ethics, salespeople will begin to recognize that high standards generate a high return in the form of future business.