I have been in sales almost 30 years, and during that time I have never stopped learning.
Sales, like all other careers, has certain competencies and skill sets that first must be learned, then practiced, then honed through coaching and training. There are certain attitudes, habits and a high degree of knowledge that need to be acquired in order to achieve and then maintain success as a professional salesperson.
An integral part of the knowledge salespeople gain is a certain code of conduct or ethics. These ethics are what clients base their opinion of the salesperson’s company on. The higher the ethical standards of the salesperson, the more trusted and credible the company is viewed. When a salesperson is trusted and respected by the people they do business with, it benefits the company that they work for.
While the majorityof salespeople maintain ethical conduct in their relationships with clients, there are those salespeople who seem intent on the fast buck, who will go to whatever depths it takes to make a sale. They are indeed skilled, but in the art of twisting the truth, spinning the value, in essence, misrepresenting to the customer, or in plain speak lying.
Salespeople can certainly attain short-term success in a seller’s market through unethical sales tactics. I have been witness to managers actually training salespeople in unethical behavior, with little or no regard to the overall impact it has on the credibility of the organization.
An Indiana University study in “Business Horizons” found, “customers increasingly base their buying decision on whether they believe a company is ethical.” That belief is often based on what they see from the frontline company contact, the salesperson. Those of us old enough to remember the 1960’s television show can relate to Mr. Haney, the man who always had an angle to make money.
As a sales manager, it is your job to know how the customers view your salespeople and presumably your company. This can be achieved through joint sales calls, customer complaint mechanisms, dropped customers and simple customer surveys. Even decreased margins can sometimes indicate unethical sales tactics and should be investigated.
The goal of a good salesperson is to make a customer, not a sale, and in doing so you become a business partner rather than simply a vendor. This doesn’t happen without establishing trust and credibility over a long- term business relationship.
When hiring and training new salespeople, set high standards from the very beginning, instill ethics as your corporate culture, and act quickly if that ethical standard is challenged.
It is difficult at times to measure the immediate impact of training and development on salespeople because it’s a long-term investment. We can, however, instantly measure the cost of loss of trust and credibility when a customer no longer buys. Do you really want to take that chance? Just remember, if your company isn’t credible, you’re products aren’t sellable!