You know you're operating a reputable business, but is that the impression your sales force is leaving with potential customers? Or is your sales team willing to say whatever it takes to seal the deal? In today's cutthroat business climate, it's easy to lose sight of what constitutes an ethical sales program. To preserve your company's good name, don't overlook your sales force when building an ethical business culture.
Walk the Talk
Culture starts at the top. If you clearly demonstrate, through both words and behavior, your commitment to honesty and integrity, your sales team will get the message — and so will your customers.
Try to anticipate the challenges your sales force may face as they attempt to meet sales goals. The temptation to sell more than your company can deliver, for example — or to recommend a product they know isn't the best solution for a customer's problem — may be strong. Those sales strategies and similar actions may land an account, but they do nothing to build the trust and credibility that your business needs to keep the account over the long haul.
It's also important that your company and salespeople don't try to slip through loopholes when the situation requires taking responsibility. For example, some insurance companies that wrote coverage on homes and businesses damaged during Hurricane Katrina lost significant goodwill. When they were asked to pay out on those policies, they argued over whether the damage was due to wind (which was covered) or water (which wasn't).
Make Things Clear
When your salespeople make a sale, require them to be clear about what that sale includes and what it doesn't. Reiterate that their job isn't simply to make sales, but to build lasting customer relationships. To do that, they must always keep the customers' best interests in mind. To make sure the message gets heard, consider using measures for customer satisfaction and repeat business, in addition to sales revenue quotas, to determine sales rewards.
That may mean acknowledging, for example, that one of your products may not do everything the customer needs it to do. If a customer asks about a feature your product doesn't have, your sales reps shouldn't try to imply that it does. Instead, they should work with the customer to determine whether the desired feature is really necessary and emphasize your product's other features and benefits. Ultimately, however, they must be honest about your product's limitations.
Your sales force doesn't need to steer a customer to a competitor, but they shouldn't disparage the competition, either. And incentivizing customers to load up on unneeded products during promotions may boost the bottom line, but it won't do much to build trust or result in future sales.
Integrity = Success
If you want to help ensure your sales department is operating ethically, emphasize that professional integrity is a big part of your definition of success. This attitude will go further in promoting the health and longevity of your company than sales campaigns that operate at the expense of customers.
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