Q. How do you sell something if you don’t believe it is right for the customer?
A. What a great question. I suspect that every salesperson, at some point in his career, wrestles with that question. What should you do about selling something you don’t believe in?
Let’s think about this together. We should start out with a clear understanding of what we mean by “sell.” I really believe this is central to a resolution of the question.
One definition of “sell” is this: You have the product, and you are actively and strongly promoting it as an appropriate solution to the customer’s needs.
Or, it could be that “sell” means: Your customer has discovered the product on his own, and is actively seeking it. They discovered that you are the source, and want to buy it from you.
You can see the difference, I hope. In the first situation, you are recommending the product, while in the second, you are only responding to the customer’s request.
One other thought as a preface; your question said: “If you don’t believe it is right for the customer.” Notice your words – “If you don’t believe”. We’re talking about beliefs and opinions, here, not necessarily facts. In other words, you could be wrong.
You don’t think that it’s right for the customer. But you probably don’t know the customer’s needs, the customer’s situation, and the customer’s values nearly as well as the customer does. Allow for the fact that the customer probably knows better than you do what is right for them. So, it is entirely possible that you don’t believe it is right for the customer, but the customer, knowing his situation much more deeply and clearly than you know it, believes that it is right for them.
Assembling an Answer
Now, let’s try to assemble these random thoughts into a coherent response to your question.
If you are proactively promoting the product like the first scenario above and you don’t think it is right for this particular customer, then I believe that you have an ethical responsibility to share that belief with the customer. Temper your comments with the understanding that you could be wrong. This is just your opinion, after all. If the customer wants to go ahead with the purchase anyway, you should not refuse the order. It may be that you are wrong. If you have shared your concerns with the customer, it is now his decision, not yours.
It may be that you don’t like the product at all, and you don’t want to promote it to anyone. There is something better out there that they should be buying. Again, that’s your opinion, based on limited information about the customer. If we only bought the best product, none of us would be driving Hondas and Fords and Chevy’s — we’d all be in BMWs. There is a place in this world for products of less than the best quality.
It may be that the product doesn’t do what you are told to claim it does. That’s a different situation. I dealt with this exact situation once in my career. The product just simply didn’t work. It hadn’t been field-tested and had been rushed to the market too quickly. The initial deliveries resulted in problems and were routinely returned. In that situation, I could not, in good conscience, promote the product. To do so would be that I would have to lie to my customers. It wasn’t a matter of good, better or best, it was a matter of a deceitful promise about the product. Frankly, it was the reason I left that company.
Let’s go to the final scenario: The customer has discovered the product on his own and wants to buy it from you. I would very softly and subtly raise some questions about the efficacy of the product. If the customer still seems intent on buying it, take the order. Remember, you could be wrong. The customer surely knows his situation better than you do.
Thanks for asking what turns out to be a deeply moral question. Good luck as you sort through your options.