Ethical Sales – Core values for building long-term mutually beneficial relationships

This article is essentially about approaching your day to day business activities with ethical core values.  Fostering mutually beneficial relationships with customers based on honesty, integrity, respect and dedication will not only encourage short term success but also long term sustainable performance. This applies to any role in business. My first rule of business is:

  • Always do what you say you will.

By adhering to this simple edict you will earn the trust of not only your customers but also your partners, managers and colleagues. Let’s expand on the following core values and see how they are relevant to your pre-sales activities:

  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Respect
  • Dedication

Honesty

The day of the shifty used car salesman is well and truly over.  Picture this situation… You head to a car show room to buy a new car.  You are approached on the forecourt by a rather smartly dressed salesman who captures your attention and strikes up a conversation.  He asks you if there is anything in particular you are looking for and you explain that you’re looking for a 4 wheel drive.  He takes you around the selection of 4 wheel drives but nothing is really hitting the mark or feeling quite right.  He proceeds to bamboozle you with technical terminology and every question you ask about the car the answer is “yes, it does that”.  The process of assessing your buying signs and pushing through the sale is carefully managed, down to how many cups of coffee you’re offered in the office. You eventually sign the papers and are handed the keys with a smile and a wave from the salesman. Was this a successful sale?

Ten minutes later, you are half way home in your shiny new car and still a little unsure it was a good buy.  You’re looking around for the controls for various features and realise that the car doesn’t actually have 3-4 of the features the salesman was adamant it had. They’re not show-stopping features but would you buy from the same salesman again? In fact, would you buy from the showroom again?  This style of sales can produce very short term results, but loses you a future stream of orders every time a sale is made.

An old commercial colleague of mine recently told me that sometimes I’m “too honest”. Another more technically focussed colleague said that he didn’t realise that honesty wasn’t a binary trait. i.e. You are either honest or you are not.  You can see the perspective of both these points of view.

When asked specific questions about what your solution can do, give accurate answers. Be honest about your capabilities.  What this does not mean is that if you have a list of 20 requirements and your product is particularly weak on 5 of those requirements, that you go into your customer and talk at length about how bad your solution is at delivering that functionality.  If there are things that you definitely can’t do and you are specifically quizzed on those things, acknowledge that the functionality isn’t currently available.  This will give the customer confidence that you’re not just saying “yes” to everything. Expand on this, you may find that it’s not a show stopper and the customer doesn’t really fully understand why it’s been listed as a requirement. There may be a way to meet the business need by using a different function of the solution. Think Laterally.  If it is a show-stopper then look at the possibility of adding the feature.  With enough time, money and effort, anything is possible.  Maintain your honesty and the customer will develop their trust in you.  This will ultimately lead to them preferring to choose you over other suppliers.

Integrity

Definitions of Integrity:

1. Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.

2. The state of being unimpaired; soundness.

3. The quality or condition of being whole or undivided; completeness.

When referring to integrity, I’m referring to the quality of the information you provide and the commitments you make. It takes a long time for a customer to build an understanding of your integrity, but once they do again they will trust you.  You can speak to a customer 100 times. 99 of those times the information you provide is accurate and one time it is not. The problem here is that the one time you tell it wrong, will cast a massive shadow of doubt on the 99 other assertions.  Genuine mistakes should be acknowledged and explained to restore the customer’s confidence.

It’s easy to find yourself pressured by over-zealous sales people who fail to see the bigger picture when they’re focussed on getting this quarter’s commission.  I was once on a business trip to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. I was assisting our American sales team with various meetings, the objectives of which was to sell a GSM operator billing solution.  We met two mobile operators in the morning and the presentations went well. In the afternoon, I was sharing a taxi with one of the salesmen. He told me that the next meeting we had was with a water utility company.  Furthermore, he’d already told this company that we had several water utility customers across Europe.  He wanted me to confirm this and “make up” some details about how they were using our system.  I politely told him to call the customer and cancel the meeting.  There was no need to waste our time as the sale would never happen and I certainly wasn’t willing to risk my reputation or that of the company or such a poorly qualified situation.

Maintain your integrity; it’s hard to build but very easy to lose.

Respect

A common mistake I’ve seen throughout my career is to believe that it’s possible or even easy to get something past a customer without their knowledge. I’ve seen reams of material on how to manipulate customers into making purchases. “Use NLP, Hypnotism, Mind Control, etc”.  What the advocates of these kinds of sales tactics seem to miss, is that the customer will probably have an awareness of the tactics too.  This is especially true in environments where multimillion dollar decisions are being made. I’d always assume they do, if a customer realises your trying to dupe them using some of these approaches, you may as well pack up and move on instead of wasting your time.  Respect your customers, assume that they are astute and experienced enough to be aware of underhanded tactics.

Dedication

None of these core values described above are revolutionary new values you can acquire to change the face of business.  They provide a basis for your interactions with customers which will enrich your ability to build long term mutually beneficial relationships.  Successful sales and pre-sales people adhere to them on a daily basis and they should be considered a pre-requisite for any kind of positive performance in business. What you can add here is your own personal dedication to your field.  Work hard to understanding your customer’s changing needs and envision new, more efficient solutions to fulfil those needs.  Not only will you assist your business in pushing ahead of the curve, but you’ll also be able to sustain that performance for the long term.

Thank you for reading.

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