I recently received a twitter message from a follower asking if I’d seen a Channel 4 TV programme about the sales tactics of some retailers. “They seem to confuse lying with selling” he wrote in his tweet.
Clearly some research was called for and I watched the programme via the channel on demand service.
The producers used hidden cameras to expose various techniques used to ‘upsell’ high margin products of questionable quality but what was really revealing was the comments made by some of the sales people.
‘I’ll do what I need to do get the sale – whatever it takes’ said one in store salesman who claimed to be making a heap of commission. ‘You need a good story for why it’s so cheap, like it’s liquidated stock or something’ said another taking hundreds in cash for counterfeit products she knew didn’t work.
The programme reminded me of another TV series, ‘The Apprentice’ where contestants proudly claim to be able to ‘Sell ice to Eskimos’ and suggest that business is about “manipulation, domination and treading on people’s toes”. I realize that this is mostly in the cause of entertainment and I have met some ex ‘apprentices’ that are nothing like their on-screen persona BUT – these TV series do perpetuate the myths, to millions of consumers and business people that anyone involved in ‘selling’ will stoop to some pretty despicable techniques in order to win business.
And that has an enormous impact on anyone trying to build a trusted brand.
A Faustian Pact?
I developed the strap line for my book (How to win more business without selling your soul) after speaking with the business development partner from the New York office of a global consultancy firm. She told me that selling was not really a nice thing to do and that you had to enter a Faustian pact (therefore suspending normal business ethics) when it was time to sell more services to a client. “You sometimes have to put a gloss on things and make your firm look better than it actually is” she said.
Historically the problem facing anyone involved in selling has been the tendency to view sales as a method of controlling, manipulating or otherwise inducing the buyer to do what the seller wants. In the past this used to be supported by old style propaganda marketing which resulted in an impersonal, seller centric approach to winning business.
Fortunately old style propaganda marketing has been updated to take a 21st Century client centric approach but it seems that, for some, old style selling hasn’t moved on at all.
Being prepared to do or say anything to get a sale, at best, might result in a single transaction. Businesses based on a transactional mind-set too often end up with hugely expensive complaints, customer service and litigation departments. A business model destined to underperform or fail.
Maybe if you are a business selling dodgy products then the only way to sell them is to use dodgy selling techniques. Fortunately most businesses aren’t dishonest and therefore don’t need questionable techniques in order to win more business.
Selling Ethically, With Integrity And A Conscience
21st Century selling (in order to match 21st Century marketing) involves selling ethically, with integrity and a conscience.
Selling ethically simply means identifying a situation where your product or service matches a customer’s requirements. This involves asking relevant questions, listening to the customer, exploring potential solutions and providing information in an understandable way so that the customer can make an informed decision. Selling ethically focuses on the customer and their requirements, not on the need of the seller to generate a sale.
Unethical selling (as in the examples above) is sometimes obvious and easily recognisable. Sometime it is more subtle. False deadlines to make a decision, up selling an insurance policy just for the higher commission, using fear of crime to persuade a vulnerable person to buy a security system they don’t need, the pretence of seeking permission of a superior to give a discount if the deal is closed today.
To have integrity is to act according to the values, beliefs and principles a person or organisation claims to hold. In business this is usually expected to include the honesty, truthfulness and accuracy of the sellers’ actions. The opposite of integrity is inconsistently and hypocrisy; claiming to have one set of values, beliefs and principles yet failing to consistently act in accordance with them.
or service needs to be congruent with the promises made by marketing and sales.
Selling with a conscience is about doing the right thing for your customer and the right thing for your own organisation. Good conscience is when you know your actions were inherently the right ones to take. Bad conscience is that feeling of guilt or remorse at not having done the right thing.
If you have a situation where it is clear to you that you cannot deliver on a client’s expectations, doing the right thing is about pointing them in the direction where they could be better served. Even if doing the right means turning down an order and sending them to a competitor. The pay back for doing the right thing is the trust and long term relationship you build with your customer.
We Are All In Sales
The dictionary definition of selling is ‘the exchange of good and services for money’ – therefore if you are in business you are inevitably involved in sales whatever your role or position. When anyone involved in sales behaves unethically they not only give all salespeople a bad name but they perpetuate the myths that selling is something you ‘do’ to a customer rather than what you do to help a customer.
Selling ethically, with integrity and a conscience results in customers who are motivated to buy and buy again and a business that sustains long term profitable growth.