Sales professionals are overwhemingly honest, well-intentioned people who want the best for their customers. But even with those good qualities, sales reps sometimes fall into ethical traps – often without intending to do so and without any malice. That creates problems further on down the line and can destroy the relationships you’ve worked so hard to build. Below are some common ethical blunders and how to avoid them:
When this topic came up for discussion in our office, one of our team members related a story about how a sales leader in a prior job overpromised and the fallout of that error. Their former employer’s VP of Sales made a promise of ROI that was 300% above projections on a conference call to close a customer. They closed the sale, but failed to meet the overpromised expectations, leading to lost revenue via a period of free service and unnecessary, hard work to repair the business relationship.
To avoid falling into this trap, you should consider only promising what you know you can deliver. Not only will this be an accurate reporting, it opens up the space to potentially underpromise and overdeliver, which will do more than anything else to ensure a long-lasting relationship. Also, certain type of buyers will appreciate being given an authentic floor, rather than a quixotic ceiling that other salespeople might utilize.
- Withholding relevant information/misleading the customer.
Sometimes sales reps leave out important information that could have an effect on the customer’s reception to the sale. We see this often in the retail sector where products are advertised as being sold with 0% interest for 36 months or something similar. But what the ad leaves out, and what sales reps occasionally fail to disclose, is that if the balance isn’t paid off in the allotted time frame, interest is calculated on the remaining balance dating back to the original date of purchase – resulting in a nasty shock to the customer and complete erosion of trust. (Situations like these are why the cliché “Read the fine print” is a common phrase first-time buyers of major purchases are told to keep in mind).
Preventing this issue involves full and complete disclosure of all terms. If a customer then has hesitations, you can work with them on a solution, thereby turning the objection into an opportunity to strengthen the relationship.
- Failing to honor commitments.
One of the fastest ways to destroy a relationship and hope of future business is to renege on commitments. While there are sometimes emergency situations that come up, not returning phone calls, being late for appointments, not delivering information within the specified timeline – all of these things are unethical sales behaviors, even if we don’t think of them as such. They reflect poorly on your character and earn you a reputation for being untrustworthy. This is particularly problematic due to the conventional wisdom that people are more likely to share a negative experience they’ve had than a positive one. In other words, your future success might be torpedoed not only with that client, but with future customers due to the spread of your new bad reputation.
To counteract this, manage your time wisely. Know how much you can realistically commit to and keep track of your schedule so you don’t do things like accidentally double-book your appointments. If you’re someone who has problems with punctuality, work on improving that aspect of your life – it’ll help with far more than your career.
- Assigning blame to someone else.
Let’s say you have a major order due to a client by December 17th. A snowstorm hits, causing a delay in delivery, compounded by the Christmas mail rush. The order doesn’t arrive until December 23rd – almost a week past the due date, which then causes major problems for the client’s own timeline and business. A logical thing to do would be to say it’s the weather’s fault and shrug helplessly. It’s also the unethical thing to do and tells the customer that you don’t care about their problems – problems that could have been avoided with foresight on your part – for example, making sure the order went out earlier to account for possible winter weather and the holiday shipping season.
Problems *do* happen though, no matter how carefully we try to account and prepare for them. To practice perfect ethics, when problems do happen, accept responsibility and make amends. In the case of the delivery delay in the example above, perhaps offer free shipping on the customer’s next order and detail the steps you’re taking to prevent this happening in the future.
There are a variety of ways that sales reps can either purposefully or accidentally engage in ethically questionable behaviors (we could literally spend an entire month’s worth of blog posts talking just about those issues). The utmost care should be taken to avoid these transgressions – whether major or relatively innocuous. By maintaining the highest possible ethical standards, you can bolster your credibility and make significant strides to becoming a trusted advisor.