At its simplest, selling and buying is about a transactional exchange of a service or product for money.
For simple and low-cost transactional sales, where we have little vested interest in the supplier, we may not reflect as deeply on our buying interactions with them. However, if we discover that we have been ‘ripped off’, unfairly treated or discriminated against, we are likely to become highly invested in the concept of fair exchange of value.
Why? Because as human beings, we do not like being ripped off or taken advantage of at our own expense. We are biologically hard-wired for fairness. Interestingly, researchers have even observed this hard-wiring for fairness in chimpanzees and other monkey species as well.
Living and working together requires us to have trust in others. If we cannot trust others we find it very hard to focus on the things that matter and end up anxious and paranoid.
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That is why a fair exchange of value goes beyond the transactional exchange of a service or product for money.
A fair exchange of value is reflected in our day-to-day dealings with other people, post-sale attention and follow-up activities, the service department and supplier chain, contract negotiations, terms and conditions documents (T&Cs), non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), and so on.
For both the buyer and seller, what was promised to us is what we expect to receive.
As good and honourable salespeople and businesses, we want to be able to make promises we can keep and keep the promises we make. Most people want to work with others (as opposed to working against others), knowing that what they do counts towards something, even something greater than themselves.
A fair exchange of value
Selling is about creating a fair exchange of value between buyer and seller. Selling is about mutual prosperity.
Selling is about forging healthy viable relationships and recognising these relationships do not remain static and unchanged. They are designed to be stress-tested and to grow and change. These relationships thrive on trust, openness and honesty, and result in new ideas and shared common ground on which to build better outcomes together.
We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community. Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sake, for our own and for the planet.
But not everyone wants to play fair. There are those people who want everything geared towards themselves and to hell with the rest of us. One only has to read Trump: The art of the deal to see this in action. Beware of anyone who plays by Trump’s rules.
These people play a win-at-all-costs game which may deliver short-term gains for them — in the long run, makes things worse for all concerned. In Australia, for instance, you only have to see the fall-out from the Banking Royal Commission and the recent Liberal leadership spill to see what I mean. Read the comments section of any media outlet reporting on these topics and you will see the sheer volume of disgust in which these tactics and antics are viewed by most people.
We just don’t like it when things aren’t fair and people are duped and taken advantage of.
So what can we do about it? How can we protect ourselves from the self-serving who are after victims instead of prospects? How can we establish the framework and build trusted relationships that thrive on the foundations of a fair exchange of value?
1. Read the fine print and don’t accept things at face value
When sales move beyond the simple one-off transaction and get more complex, we need to make doubly sure that any arrangement we enter into is fair for both parties.
This is where much time and effort can be expended in contract negotiations. For instance, think about the work that goes into international trade agreements. Think about the diplomacy, the international relationship management, the trade-offs and agreements that need to be worked out just to trade between nations. Think about the lawyers involved, and the time and effort spent understanding and agreeing on ‘how we will work together’.
We must start from the viewpoint that everyone has a vested interest and the last thing they want is to come off second best.
Take care to read the fine print in T&Cs and NDAs. Only sign what you are prepared to accept. There are many clauses that can bring us down if we are not careful.
It may be tedious and costly, but it is worth investing the time and effort if you want to work out if you can start and keep trading with any person or entity.
Many businesses have standard T&Cs that might have made sense when they were developed or under certain circumstances but are out of proportion in dealings with you. You don’t have to sign. Ask for the changes you deem necessary to make the T&Cs fair to both parties.
2. Be clear about what you offer and know your boundaries
What are you offering exactly and what is out of scope? Be clear with your clients about where your offer finishes. You will encounter people that always want more under the same deal. Be clear and specific from the get-go.
On the other hand, be fair with what you offer and ensure your client perfectly understands your system, service or product. Delivering an offering that cannot be of full use unless the client receives specific training or particular implementation and not including such things in the initial scope is not fair either.
The worst thing you can do is make promises you cannot keep. If you do this, everyone suffers. So make sure your customer service and implementation teams know what has been agreed to and what is expected of them in order to deliver on our promises. Make sure that finance, credit and legal teams have been vetted and support the trading terms.
3. Be prepared to negotiate, compromise and find common ground
The devil is in the detail. As stated previously, ethical, human-centred selling is about forging healthy, viable relationships and recognising these relationships do not remain static and unchanged. Healthy relationships are designed to grow and change, resulting in new ideas and shared common ground on which to build better outcomes together.
In the end, recognise that every relationship that is built on fairness is an agreement built on common ground.
4. Invest in an experienced contracts and IP lawyer
Having fair, clear and well-developed T&Cs and NDAs is good for business as it will be easier for your customers to understand what they are getting and what can be expected of you and from them.
No matter what side of the deal you are on, a fair exchange of value with fair terms and conditions is the way to do business.
Remember everybody lives by selling something.