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Business Ethics: How The Sales Function Can Transmit Company Values
I recently got a "thank-you" call from a man who read my new e-book Buying Facilitation.
"Boy," he said, "this method sure helps me close more deals and make more money. Thanks!"
"Glad I could help. Is that all you're looking for? To make more money?"
"What do you mean?all? What else is there? Sales is about closing deals and making money, right?"
"I'm surprised you didn't notice the value of becoming a trusted advisor, or how you can use the seller's role as one of a servant-leader to lead your clients to discover their solutions quickly."
"Well, I noticed all that. But it's all in service of me closing deals and making money, right? I don't mind doing it nicely if it gives me better results. But what's sales about if my job isn't about me making money?"
I'm wondering how many people out there still believe sales to be a job that is focused on making money? Or only about making money. All of us want to get paid fairly for what we do. The question is: how can we make money and make nice.
Most people get paid for doing a day's work. But most sales people get paid for the results of their work, not necessarily for a day's work. This leads to the tendency of sellers to have a different focus in their jobs than their non-sales colleagues: they often focus on 'closing' a sale rather than on the results of the interaction, or on 'doing a deal' rather than making sure the client has all their ducks in a row prior to making a purchase. As a result, sales practices and sellers can be seen as aggressive, pushy, eager to get immediate results, and less aware of the other person in the interaction.
What causes money, greed, manipulation, and self-interest to prevail at the expense of serving? What's stopping sellers from using their jobs to promote respect, integrity, servant-leadership, collaboration, and trust - for their customers, for their companies, and for themselves? Why is there a belief that it's not possible to serve and make money? To support and be aggressive? To be a trusted advisor and close rapidly?
I once began a Buying Facilitation® program at a major brokerage house. As I was being introduced, the manager mentioned that my program was the precursor to the program they were having the following week on 'closing' techniques. I was dumbfounded.
"You won't need that! You'll be able to close twice as many accounts in half the time after this program. What else do you need?"
"I know you say that's possible, but I don't believe it. It's one thing to have values. It's another to make money." After the program, the decision was taken to delay the 'closing' program and give it 8 weeks to see what the results would be from using Buying Facilitation®. It turned out that the brokers had a 25% increase in closed sales - the first month after the training. They cancelled the 'closing' program.
Given our business climate today, and the need to bring values throughout our corporations, and into our interactions with staff and clients, let's discuss how the actual function of sales can be used as a major delivery vehicle of ethics.
As a start, let's look at the model and beliefs that modern sales folks operate from.
Fifteen years ago, Consultative Sales found its way into the sales culture. The promise here was to move away from just pitching product and include buyers into the process by asking the buyers questions - to help a buyer actually recognize a need for themselves so they'd clearly understand that they have a problem.
I'm not convinced that the addition of Consultative Sales has changed the equation any; the process is based on the theory that if the client discovers a need, he'll make a purchase. The questions are therefore manipulative: they are cleverly rooted in those areas in the client's environment that the seller knows will come up lacking, based on the seller's understanding of the buyer's environment and probable needs.
"Why do you ask questions?" I repeatedly ask consultative sellers?
"To discover what the client needs."
"And, what will you do with that information once you have it?"
"Understand their environment better."
"To what end?"
"To help them solve their problems [with my product]."
And there you have it: the assumption that just because the buyer may have a need in the seller's product area, they will be ready, willing, and able to align all of their internal systems and variables in a way that will allow for something new to enter their system.
Let's look at the above assumption. On the face of it, consultative questions seem to be supportive of the buyer, ostensibly showing care about the buyer's needs. But if a client has a need, does that mean she'll make a purchase? Does it mean that all of the internal deciding factors are ready to do something different? That the client wants to follow the path that your product will lead?
Doesn't the buyer have a string of decisions to make that are independent of the seller's product?
If the buyer has a need in one area, it is only part of a systemic issue that must be solved internally and systemically, and it can't be solved by the simple addition of a product. Not to mention that the buyer may have a specific time factors to weigh, partnering issues, strategy issues. We have no way of knowing the micro elements that maintain and create the problems we perceive.
When sellers assume their job is to understand the buyer's needs and solve them, they are committing the ultimate disrespect:
- that an outsider knows more than the insider;
- that the insider has been unsuccessful in solving his own problem;
- that the problem is a simple one (and eschews all of the politics, partnerships, initiatives, and personalities that have created and maintained the problem) and can be solved by purchasing a new 'something';
- that all of the internal variables contained within the prospect's culture will easily assemble around the seller's solution in a way that will serve the organization's mission and strategic vision.
In other words, at the point that sellers believe they have a solution for their buyers before the buyer has discovered all of the systems pieces that need to be lined up, and before buyers can specify all of the systemic components of what a solution would need to look like, they are committing the ultimate act of disrespect.
Sales people are in a primary position to be a company's ethical representative: they are the primary emissary who touches clients daily. Sellers hear clients' needs and concerns; they share thoughts and ideas. Sellers are also in a position to convey client information back to the company. Successful companies understand that their sellers are their brand ambassadors.
Who are the sales people in a company? At UPS it's the delivery people. At the phone companies it's the customer service reps. At banks it's the tellers. At service and repair companies, it's the techs. In doctors offices it's the admin, or the payment officer. Every person who touches a customer is doing a sales job, and by definition must carry the values of the company. Every person.
I've recently had a spate of calls from banks and financial institutions seeking to expand their environment from one of a service environment to a sales environment. I have asked them all the same question:
"What are your criteria for training up your people?"
"To increase revenue."
"Is that all?"
"What else? We do service well. Now we just have to bring in more revenue."
Sales people - all of the people who touch customers - are in a prime position to teach customers how to:
- make their best decisions efficiently;
- differentiate between vendors and products;
- recognize and organize their own unique internal issues so they won't face chaos when they make a purchasing decision. Sellers are also in a prime position to become trusted advisors - even on short telesales calls.
Because sales has been based on getting products sold and using product data as the main vehicle (Tell me who among you has never assumed that because your product is terrific that buyers will know how to buy it?. once you explain it, present it, advertise it, and pitch it brilliantly??), ethics have often been ignored.
For me, the answer to the question that my caller asked - "But what's sales about if my job isn't about me making money?" - is serving.
For me, the responsibility of sales people, as the representatives of companies who touch customers daily, is to create an ethical foundation on which companies can flourish. Without business healing the world can't flourish. And sales is the foundation on which companies stand: without selling product or touching customers there is no need to have Boards, or to discuss leadership, for example, because the companies won't exist.
We can use the job of sales as the way to promote, offer, exhibit our company values; a way to show our customers and our partners, our vendors and our teammates exactly what we stand for.
WHAT DO WE STAND FOR
And what, exactly, do we stand for? As companies? As employers? As product manufacturers?
If we don't know, we shouldn't be in business. If we don't want more than to sell product, if we don't enter into business with any idea other than making money, we are losing a big opportunity of using our position to make a difference.
I believe - and I'll go out on a limb here - that those companies who thrive by creating values-based organizations will fare better over the next decade then those that don't. In my definition of values-based, I include:
- caring about people - employees, customers, vendors, partners;
- caring about the environment and how the manufactured product supports the earth rather than destroying it;
- caring about the world - finding a way to use some profits to give to groups with need.
Most large companies have community out-reach programs and have their favorite charities. But some large behemoths that we all know give large sums to world health and education, while their sales force remains greedy, manipulative, and aggressive.
For me, giving with one hand and taking with the other is out of balance. It is not only possible, but necessary, to run a sales force that turns over large amounts of business while serving its customers with respect and exceptional care. And for me, if you are just pitching information, or posing questions, with the hope of making a sale, rather than using that opportunity to be a servant-leader, you are losing an opportunity to exhibit your company's values.
As worker-bees, we have a responsibility to our customers, our staff, our Boards and shareholders, to serve them with respect and care and make money. As sales people we are in the primary position to connect in a way that will make it all possible - to make money and make nice.
As a wrap up, I'd like to put a plug in here for The Buying Facilitation Method®. I created Buying Facilitation® as a result of selling in a manipulative world, and as a way to bring my own spiritual, ethical values into my daily workplace. I believe I'm part of something bigger - my company, my family, my relationships, my country, my world - and that I have a responsibility to be in service at all times (well, as often as I'm humanly able). And I like money. I like what it buys, I like to pay bills, and I like giving it away.
To that end, Buying Facilitation® was developed to help sellers reach more customers more efficiently, support customers ethically as true Advisors and Coaches, and help customers buy quicker. When I created Buying Facilitation® I discovered a secret: that no matter how I sell or how great my product is, buyers absolutely cannot buy until they align all of the variables - the people, the systems, the initiatives - that create their current situation. Sales just doesn't work.
Buying Facilitation® will find you more buyers. It helps people who need your product (but didn't know they need it) understand how to buy. It will help them close quicker because the time it takes buyers to discover their own answers is the length of the sales cycle, and Buying Facilitation® helps them find their own answers.
This Method is not a sales method - it's a facilitative communication model rather than a sales technique. It's a way to serve by helping people make more efficient, systems-centric buying decisions that include all of the people and variables that get touched by the purchasing decision. The Method uses a collaborative, servant-leader process that is ethical and truly consultative in the truest sense. And, best of all, it crosses contexts: it can be used by managers to communicate with staff, with coaches to work with clients, with Board members to use with each other, for customer service reps to use with annoyed customers, for nurses and docs to use with patients, for parents to use with children.
It is indeed possible to use ethics in our daily communication. It's not only possible, it's a necessary component of our lives.
Sharon Drew Morgen is the author of NYTimes Best seller Selling with Integrity. She speaks, teaches and consults globally around her new sales model, Buying Facilitation.
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