As a sales professional, how would you describe yourself? Would you use terms such as "pushy," "annoying," or "aggressive?" Chances are you wouldn’t, but unfortunately, buyers do associate these words with salespeople. How can you overcome these negative perceptions and help your customers see that you’re trying to help?
By exhibiting ethical behavior and selling with integrity.
One of the greatest obstacles to upholding sales ethics is taking a "sales by any means necessary" approach. However, cutting corners with customers during the sales process doesn’t result in greater returns. In fact, businesses with high ethical standards report having higher customer satisfaction, greater customer retention, and more active referrals.
Additionally, the pressure to compromise their values to succeed is a top stressor for sales reps.
Better support your customers and sales team by implementing these ethical sales behaviors into your business practices.
1. Foster trust and credibility with the customer.
To create a positive experience for both the customer and the company, it is imperative that trust-building is at the center of every sales interaction. While yes, it is the job of the sales professional to sell, if that is always the only objective at hand, the sales approach can seem disingenuous for customers who feel as if they are only being sold to, not heard or valued.
Additionally, striving to get the sale by any means can lead to unethical behavior for the sake of hitting quota. When interacting with prospects and customers, reps should strive to build trust first and sell second.
Here are some ways reps can build trust with their customers:
- Social proof — Share truthful testimonials and anecdotes from other happy customers.
- Share credible data — Take a data-driven approach to help customers and make interactions less subjective. Provide credible third-party research or data to back up your points so your customers feel they can trust your expertise.
- Be mindful of nonverbal communication — When speaking with customers in person, maintain natural eye contact to convey trustworthiness and confidence. Try to keep eye contact to no more than seven to 10 seconds at a time. Staring intensely can make others feel uncomfortable.
- Ask open-ended questions — Take a genuine interest in your customer’s concerns by asking them questions that cannot be answered with a "yes" or "no." Asking thoughtful questions (i.e. "Can you tell me about your experience with your last vendor? What worked? What didn’t?") to better understand your customer’s experience demonstrates genuine concern that fosters trust.
2. Be accountable.
If a problem arises and you were at fault, quickly and truthfully take responsibility. While it may be tempting to defer responsibility to save face, being accountable for your actions and offering a solution to remedy the situation is a more ethical approach.
Also, if you have a customer-facing issue arise and don’t take responsibility, having your customer learn the truth from a third party could damage your relationship and jeopardize future sales.
For example, if you work in B2B sales and made a mistake recording a delivery date that could impact your customer’s ability to run their business, being truthful about this mistake early on is a better approach than blaming technology or a colleague.
3. Share clear, truthful information.
When trying to convince a prospect to invest in your product or service, it is critical you only present honest information. Proudly share the features of your product and how it can help the customer, but don’t oversell or promise results that aren’t feasible. Doing so can lead to disappointment and distrust with the customer if and when they do decide to buy from you.
Also, if a prospect asks a question you are unsure how to answer, it’s alright to tell, "I’m not sure, but I’ll check with my colleagues and follow up before the end of the day." Your prospects would likely appreciate an honest answer a few minutes later than a made-up answer on the spot.
4. Provide fair competitive comparisons.
Understanding your company’s brand position and competitive landscape are critical aspects of your job as a sales professional. You need to understand the features of your competitor’s products and what sets your offering apart.
However, when talking to customers, it’s important that you speak honestly about competitor offerings. Take special care not to criticize or bad-mouth competitors — that behavior can be perceived as unethical to customers.
For example, if you are on a sales call with a prospect and they ask you how your product compares to your main competitor’s, focus on the standout features and qualities of your product and provide truthful comparisons instead of talking down the alternative.
5. Address problems head-on.
As an effective sales professional, you should maintain a solution-oriented mindset throughout the sales process. Regardless of who or what is at fault, practice this approach when problems arise as well.
Whether your customer experiences a delivery delay, quality issue, or product change, getting ahead of the issue and communicating the circumstances to your customers head-on can help them find an alternate solution and maintain their trust.
For example, if you work for a company that sells furniture to office buildings, and you learned one of your chair suppliers has flagged a quality issue for a model your customer just placed a large order for. Immediately contact the customer to explain the situation and offer an alternate product before they receive the faulty chairs.
6. Follow through on commitments to the customer.
This point is simple. If a commitment is made to your prospect or customer, it needs to be kept. Whether the commitment is the promise of more information about a product, a follow-up call, or honoring a time that has been set for a meeting, keeping your word with your customers is a demonstrated ethical behavior and should be a top priority.
7. Take objections in stride.
Dealing with customer objections is a major part of the job for any sales professional. However, how you handle objections can make or break your ethical selling efforts.
Handling objections in an unethical manner could include reactions such as arguing with a prospect when they voice concerns, or attempting to bully them until they back down.
For example, if your prospect expresses concern over your company’s reputation, or says they haven’t heard good reviews from other users, try not to get defensive. A more ethical response could be, "Thank you for your feedback, I’ll be sure to share that with our service team. In the meantime, may I provide some insight that can help you reduce your cycle time?"
Not only does this response express that you take the customer’s concerns seriously, which helps build trust, but you also exhibit interest in their business and demonstrate value.
8. Lead by example.
Last, but certainly not least, the most important thing sales managers can do to uphold ethics is to exhibit ethical behaviors themselves.
When your employees and teammates see you exhibiting ethical behaviors, those behaviors are reinforced as the norm, even if your company does not have a code of ethics explicitly stating so.
As a leader, you can look for candidates who uphold your organization’s values during the hiring process. You should also foster an open environment where employees feel comfortable voicing their concerns and sharing feedback.
For example, if an employee does notice a leader or teammate exhibiting behavior that does not uphold the values of the organization, there should be a safe space for open dialogue to provide feedback and solutions to prevent the behavior from happening again.
Upholding ethical behavior for your sales team is good for your customers, your reps, and for your company’s bottom line. Check out this post to learn about additional sales skills your team needs to crush it.