What Does Being Ethical Have To Do With Anything?


Tuesday, 10.13pm

Sheffield, UK

No one ever admits to doing anything shady. Do you?

Yes you might just add something onto your expenses once in a while or increase your commission just before signature on the off chance that no one will notice. Perhaps you have to say that the thing you’re selling works in dusty conditions even though you know it doesn’t because you’ll be fired.

The fact is that in business you often have to bend the truth. After all, everyone is only looking to hire someone with experience, someone who has done the job several times and is also the cheapest on the market. If you’re relatively new, you might have to big yourself up, talk confidently – after all, confidence sells.

So where do you draw the line. At what point do you realise that you’re doing something that’s unethical. And does it matter?

It might seem a little strange to jump into the ethics of selling so quickly – after all you’ve just started reading this book. Surely that’s something to worry about later – after you’ve got your customers and business. Can’t you retrofit ethics into your business?

I think it’s important to start with understanding your own position on being ethical in selling, especially when it comes to consultative selling.

The aim of a consultative selling process is to help your prospect arrive at the right choice for him or her. David Maister, Robert Galford and Charles Green write about this as being a Trusted Advisor.

Trust has to be earned. As the saying goes, it takes a lifetime to build up a reputation and seconds to destroy it. The problem is that sometimes you have to make hard choices – between what you get or lose and what is the right thing to do.

Sometimes it’s the other way around. You’re doing everything right, but your client is the one that acts badly. That hurts as well. You learn not to trust people like that.

Here’s a suggestion on how to approach ethical selling.

Let’s assume you’re not in the business of outright lying – selling something you know is complete rubbish.

What you have is valuable to your customer, but also has pros and cons. What do you do in that case? More importantly, what will the salesperson you hire do?

For starters, the way they act will probably depend on the way in which you pay them. If what they make is heavily dependent on a commission on the sale, then they’ll do everything they can to flog your product, including lying through their teeth.

If they’re on a salary and don’t lose or win based on the sale, then their primary interest will be in serving the customer. They’ll probably take a more objective view.

In my experience, a pure salesperson compensated on the first basis struggles to make any sales at all. There’s a conveyor belt of them, moving from firm to firm as they come in, get all excited, make some noise, find it’s actually quite hard, then move or get pushed out.

On the other hand, quiet consultative folk, possibly the ones in charge of the business or experienced at doing the work, have one conversation, figure out what the customer needs, put in one proposal and end up getting some business.

If you run a business that is designed around a hard sell process, you’ll attract a certain kind of staff and create a certain kind of culture. The problem is that the bad will drive out the good in this situation.

What you really want is a team around you that are dedicated to serving the customer first and making money second. It may seem idealistic, but if you do good work and add genuine value, then you will be entitled to a fair share of that value you create.

If you truly create value, the compensation will follow.

It’s also important that you have a clear idea of the kind of clients you want to work with. Isn’t it better to have a small number of clients who value your advice, that you can really serve and pay attention to closely and get along with rather than a large number who don’t trust you?

As Warren Buffett says, a good rule is to only work with people you like, admire and trust.

When it comes down to it, however, there’s only one thing you need to remember to know that you’re acting ethically.

You know the golden rule – treat others in the way you would like them to treat you.

To really operate in an ethical way – follow the platinum rule. Treat others the way they would like to be treated.


Karthik Suresh

As a reminder, this set of posts is part of a series that I’m planning on eventually collecting into a book. If you are reading this and are interested in this topic, please let me have any feedback, good or bad, so I can make this as useful and easy to read for you as possible.

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