‘Unethical selling’ — not selling in general — should be on trial at banking royal commission

unethical selling

With the handing down of the interim report from the banking royal commission, commissioner Hayne was scathing in his assessment of the banking finance sector. He was especially scathing of the big four banks and large insurance and investment firms, such as AMP, for enabling their cultures of greed to flourish at the expense of customers’ wellbeing, principled and ethical business practice.

Commissioner Hayne said the key questions the commission had to answer were why such poor conduct had occurred and how to stop it happening again.

He added, in many cases, the answer to the first question was obvious.

“Too often, the answer seems to be greed — the pursuit of short-term profit at the expense of basic standards of honesty,” he wrote.

“How else is charging continuing advice fees to the dead is to be explained?”

Commissioner Hayne observed that from the executive suite to the front line, staff performance was measured and rewarded based on profit and sales.

“Selling became their focus of attention. Too often it became the sole focus of attention,” he noted.

I agree with everything commissioner Hayne says, however, I believe his statement should read:

Unethical selling became their focus of attention. Too often it became the sole focus of attention.’

Labelling ‘selling’ as the issue is incorrect because ethical salespeople and organisations do not sell this way.

As I have written all too often before, those leading organisations and teams enable and condone unethical sales practices are the chief ringleaders and should be held accountable and prosecuted. Their intentions were to deceive others and put profit and greed above all else.

Despite the never-ending negative stereotyping and bashing of the sales profession, people should remember nothing happens until something gets sold, and without a healthy sales operating system and proactive ethical sales team, we have no business.

Selling is the vehicle that allows opportunities to flourish and people to prosper. It’s how we chose to sell that is on trial at the banking royal commission.

Selling exists on a spectrum of intent

Selling spectrum Sue Barrett

Many people shy away from the concept and act of selling, thinking it only relates to those desperate and devious. The negative sales stereotypes take precedence in our collective minds and only incite fear and loathing.  

However, what we all need to realise is selling exists on a spectrum of intentions and actions. It is not a black and white construct.

At one end of the selling spectrum exist the devious and dubious who are after victims not prospects, purely looking to get our money. This is what the banking royal commission has exposed. This also includes the desperate, who would do anything to save themselves from retribution and redundancy for not meeting their sales targets, so go along for the ride.

This is not selling — this is deception, dishonesty and theft.

Moving up the spectrum we start to get to those salespeople who can vary in their intentions and actions depending on the challenges they face at any given time. However, most want to do the right thing by themselves and their clients, preserving the honour and integrity of both parties.

Then we get to the sweet spot where we see really good salespeople who work with discernment, honour and equanimity, looking for a fair exchange of value, healthy viable business relationships and good long-term business. They are skilful at understanding their markets, knowing where good opportunity exists and then finding and winning business opportunities that benefit both buyer and seller. These are our selling better superstars.

Selling better is giving voice to the silent majority

The area that gets the most attention and makes the most noise on the sales spectrum is the end where the devious, dubious and desperate exist. The stories in written, oral and movie form are abundant. Not a week goes by in the media where we don’t get a report on some company and its salespeople doing something dodgy, or a scam fleecing people of their money and dignity.

This results in the silent majority — those in the rest of the sales spectrum — having their voices drowned out by the hysteria and negativity surrounding the prevailing negative stereotype of sales.

And while it’s important we pay attention to these negative stories about dodgy salespeople for risk of being scammed and becoming victims ourselves, we must look beyond the devious, dubious and desperate to see and accept better sales models exist.

Because otherwise we will risk missing and losing the many opportunities that come our way when we are sales ready and proud to be so.

The vast majority of people exist as the silent majority on the remainder of the sales spectrum, hoping never to be lumped into the devious, dubious and desperate end of the spectrum.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

NOW READ: ‘Social selling’: Why personal branding is a priceless asset to any business

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