Business Advice, Sales

Four questions to test if your sales and prospecting tactics are ethical

Sue Barrett /

  1. Do other people stand to gain from your sales tactics and actions?
  2. Do your sales tactics and actions have a positive influence on your own and others’ wellbeing and self-esteem?
  3. Do your sales tactics and actions move you and your customer closer to your respective short- and long-term goals?
  4. Would most people approve of how you prospect for new business and sell?

If each of us can honestly answer ‘yes’ to these questions, then it would appear our sales and prospecting efforts are underpinned by sound ethics and behaviours and set up to deliver a fair exchange of value for both buyer and seller.

If you are unsure, ask those who know you well to give honest feedback about your sales and prospecting tactics and actions in relation to these four questions. If you learn your activities are ethical and fair, then continue to use them. If not, you will need to rethink how you are selling and prospecting if you want to forge honourable long-term relationships and have buyers return.

It’s a pity those on parade at the Australian Banking Royal Commission have not used this test.

Story after story is revealing something is very wrong with the corporate cultures, principles, ethics and moral standards at these companies, and other organisations being exposed outside the royal commission. These organisations seemingly think it is okay to foster unethical, hyper-competitive, win-at-all-costs sales cultures, where the sole aim is ripping people off (mostly customers and sometimes staff) and being paid handsomely for it.

Something is very wrong with the boards and senior leaders who have convinced so many people to do the wrong thing, condoning their actions as business as usual.

Something is very wrong with ASIC and APRA, who let this happen on their watch for so long and did nothing to stop it. Maybe ASIC and APRA need to be brought in front of the royal commission to account for their lack of intervention.

I am sure there are plenty of good people who have been caught up in this drama and were not sure what to do. It is now being reported that many people in these banks and financial institutions are seeking counselling due to heightened levels of distress and anxiety. Though we understand the pressure they were under, I can’t help but still wonder why they didn’t refuse to participate or do something to stop it?

I cannot speak for people in general, but many people in similar situations stay quiet and comply because they fear losing their job, think they are powerless or think they have no other options. There are also some people who take advantage of the opportunity and take the money while they can without fear or favour.

As the great parliamentarian Edmund Burke said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Let me reassure you, good salespeople and good organisations can do something.

As an individual

Be prepared to do the right thing and take a stand. Alert your management team to better sales strategies and practices. Model ethical sales behaviours and practices yourself and don’t get drawn into the trap of unethical practices. Keep track of your ethical sales activities and results, demonstrate how you can sell better without ripping people off, and then ask to be paid fairly for good results.

If that doesn’t work, then you can leave and get a new job. There are plenty of good businesses looking for ethical and effective salespeople they can trust to do the right thing by their clients and company.

As an organisation

There is plenty written about how to lead effective customer-centric sales operations. Here are three core things chief executive officers and sales leaders can do now:

  1. Design, implement and execute effective sales strategies that deliver real value and sustainable competitive advantage;
  2. Build a business culture and reputation of trust, engagement, commitment and high performance with employees, clients and suppliers; and
  3. Build in sales systems, develop sales mastery, and minimise sales execution and operational risk to deliver consistent and sustainable revenue and growth.

Our intentions

However, despite all of these suggestions, it is our intentions which are the difference between leading an ethical business, team, sales career and life, or not.

The banking and finance senior executives and their boards, plus the other corporate leaders who are falling foul, need to own up to the damage they have created. It is their intentions that have led to this situation. They did not stand by and do nothing about these dreadful outcomes. Instead, they endorsed, encouraged and condoned it, even though they knew it was wrong.

This is what is so disturbing about this whole fiasco. The unethical, win-at-all-costs behaviour is evidenced at the most senior levels and runs deep into these organisations.

The knock-on effect of this unethical behaviour has invoked reputational risk, where losses exceed beyond credit, foreign exchange, interest rates and operating risks.The costs of doing business this way far outstrip the costs of doing good and honourable business.

It’s madness on every level.

The root cause of this mess is behavioural, not compliance or rules-based.

Perhaps these leaders need be reminded of Peter Drucker’s salient words in his 1966 book The Age of Discontinuity: “The purpose of business is not to make profit, but to satisfy the needs and expectations of customers. The consequence of satisfied customers is incremental profit.”

They also need to be reminded of what Peter Drucker thought should be the first responsibility of management: above all, do no harm.

For too long, many businesses have ignored the advice of Peter Drucker and focused solely on profit, looking at customers as numbers and a means to an end. This outlook is now coming back to bite them.

This is why these four simple questions are so important. Knowing whether your sales and prospecting tactics are ethical is a start. These questions take up very little space yet can help guide us on our journey.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

NOW READ: Three ways the fallout from the banking royal commission will affect small business owners

NOW READ: Five types of small business conflicts raised by the banking royal commission

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Sue Barrett

Sue is a selling better strategist and advisor, sales philosopher and speaker, sales trainer and coach, writer and activist. Sue is chief executive of forward thinking sales advisory Barrett and online sales education and resource platform www.salesessentials.com. Barrett develops sales strategies, standards and education that help people and businesses sell better.

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