Here are ten commandments that sales professionals should follow to ensure they follow ethical sales practices.
1. Ethical salespeople don’t intentionally misrepresent anything.
Never, never, never lie to a customer. About anything. Ever. Period.
2. Fix any important misunderstandings.
It’s possible that your customer will form incorrect ideas about some of the products you represent or the services that come with them. It’s also possible that they will misunderstand things about your competitors, and about the needs and statements of other people who work in their organizations.
It’s very tempting when these misunderstandings work in your favor to ignore them. However, that’s not acting with integrity. When you become aware of any significant misunderstandings your customer has that impact the buying decision or the larger relationship, you need to correct them. Now, this doesn’t mean that you need to set him straight on his political beliefs or his views on the controversial call in Sunday’s football game. But it does mean that on the important issues that impact the sale, allowing misunderstandings to exist is an act, on your part, of passive dishonesty. Correct them when you can.
3. Ethical salespeople work hard for their employer.
It’s easy for a salesperson to give in to the temptation to cut corners when it comes to working a full day, every day. After all, who really knows if you hit your first call at 9:00 AM instead of 8:30 AM? And who knows if you take a 30-minute coffee break between calls? And who knows if you make it home by 3:00 PM. some days, and take a number of afternoons off to visit the golf course or the fishing hole during the summer?
All of these examples are ways of shortchanging your employer that, in all probability, no one will ever know about except you.
And that’s my point. You will know. A code of ethics is easy to live by when everyone is watching. But it’s a real test of character when your ethics are tested in situations where no one else knows, and you know you can get away with it.
You owe your employer consistent, full days of your best efforts. Anything less is unethical.
4. Always be willing to trade a short-term loss for the sake of a long-term gain.
This may be another definition of integrity — the courage and conviction to walk away from a deal that is not ethical and is a short-term gain in return for a long-term gain. In other words, always be willing to give up a sale or some immediate advantage if you must stretch the truth or act in a dishonorable way to get it.
For example, you may have an opportunity to acquire a quick sale because your customer has misunderstood the specifications or features of your product. It’s tempting to take the order and not say anything. But that would not be an ethical sale.
The ethical salesperson will correct the customer and lose the immediate gain the sale would have brought. The payoff, however, is the long-term gain in your reputation for integrity.
A long-term gain achieved ethically is always worth more than any short-term advantage.
5. Ethical salespeople do what they say they’re going to do.
This isn’t as simple as it sounds. One of the obvious implications of doing what you say you’re going to do is that you must not say you are going to do something that you know you can’t do. In other words, don’t over-promise. That’s difficult to do when you’re in the middle of a competitive situation over a nice piece of business, and you know the competition is over-promising to get the sale. But, if you’re going to be an ethical salesperson, you won’t over-promise, because you know you won’t be able to do what you say you’re going to do.
There’s another implication — you must be organized enough to follow through on your promises. The most honest person in the world can be perceived as unreliable if he is not organized enough to follow through on his promises. If you say you’re going to call a customer back on Thursday, make sure that you have a tickler file, day-time planner, computer program, or some other system that will remind you to call them back when Thursday comes. It’s not only good business, it lines up with an ethical salesperson’s code of conduct.
6. Give liberally.
As a distributor salesperson, you enjoy a challenging job with a lot of freedom and a substantial income level. The world is full of people who would love to have that. You’re one of life’s more fortunate people.
I think that means that you have a greater than average responsibility to give back to society. Give of your money freely to charitable or religious causes, and give liberally of your time and expertise to the organizations that you can help. Your expertise, your time, your people skills, your organizational skills, and your confidence and ability to get things done — all of these are assets you can bring to the Boy Scouts, your church, the PTA, and a thousand other organizations that can use your abilities.
Since you are more blessed with talent, time, and money than most of the population, you have a greater responsibility to use it for purposes other than just your own edification. Give liberally.
7. Recognize those who help you.
It’s easy to get into the mindset that you alone are responsible for your success. After all, you’re out there all alone, fighting the battle every day. Nobody else knows what good work you did in getting that account, or how hard it is some days when nothing goes your way.
In spite of this, you couldn’t do your job without the support of a whole group of people back at the office. Your manager gave you an opportunity and nurtured you along. The inside people have cleaned up more than a few of your messes, and they have positively impacted many of your customers. The manufacturers you represent have put lots of time and energy into creating the products that ultimately provide your livelihood.
All of these people, and probably dozens of others, have contributed in significant ways to your success. It is just as dishonest to not recognize them as it is to misrepresent a product.
The ethical salesperson recognizes those people who have helped him.
8. Continuously learn and improve.
You are not as good at sales as you can be. You have yet to reach your potential. One of the reasons why your employer hired you for this position is that he/she saw potential in you.
I believe you have an ethical obligation, not only to your employer but also to yourself, to become as good as you can be – to continuously improve yourself. When you decide that you are good enough, that you know about all you need to know, you quit learning and improving. When that happens, you rob yourself and your employer of the potential you have that will not be developed.
What a shame! It’s not good business. And besides, it’s not ethical.
9. Never give up.
This may seem odd in a section on ethics, but I believe that giving up is the same thing as going home early or taking extra days off without anybody’s approval. Both shortchange yourself as well as your employer.
When you give up prematurely on a sale, or you give up on yourself and give in to negative thinking, you’re choosing to deprive yourself and your employer of the full benefit of your talent and time. That’s not ethical.
10. Ethical salespeople don’t speak badly about anyone.
In my first sales position, when I was selling amplification equipment, there were 29 major installations purchased in my territory. I got 28. My stomach still gets a little tight whenever I remember one of my crucial sales calls with the 29th customer.
During the course of the conversation, she stopped me and said, “You know, I really don’t like it that you’re so negative about your competitor.” I was stunned, embarrassed, and flustered. I turned beet red and stumbled out an apology. But that was the end of that deal.
All because I had spoken badly about my competitor. That was an intensely painful lesson for me. I resolved never to make that mistake again.
As I matured, I realized that, when you negatively judge anyone, you really say more about yourself than you do about the other person. Speaking badly about a competitor, your boss, your company, or a manufacturer, always makes you look bad. And besides, it’s not ethical.