Ethical Selling = Effective Selling

Since you’re reading this article you no doubt are a very eager salesperson striving to gain knowledge that gives you the edge as a great sales professional.  You’ve done diligent research on how to conduct effective cold calls, identify key decision makers, make great presentations, handle objections, develop super “C” level relationships, use all the CRM Apps to gain insight and become a “master” closer.  Your pursuit of knowledge will definitely pay off.  I too am an avid reader of sales effectiveness publications written by great writers like Jill Konrath, Keith Ferrazi, Chet Holmes and that time tested great Dale Carnegie.  However, in all my sales life, I have yet to see any disciplined focus on Ethical Selling.  As trust is the first bond you need to establish with a client or prospect I will focus on this.

Ethical Selling. To the uninformed this sounds like an oxymoron like “Jumbo Shrimp” or “Marital Bliss”.  However, to those sales people striving to be the best these two words mean everything.  You cannot be a successful salesperson if you do not develop trust with your clients as well as with the company you represent.

Trust = Results = $$ Commissions

Let’s take a look at Ethical Selling from two angles.  One is the Legal aspects and the other Cultural, or the good solid business reasons why Ethical Selling produces great sales results.

First the Legal Aspects:


There are overarching laws in the U.S. as well as internationally that governs how one conducts business.  Some of these include Contract Law, SEC Regulations, Anti-Trust laws, The RICO Act, The Economic Espionage Act, etc..  For those sales people conducting business internationally there are two more very important laws to understand.  These are the Federal Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and the new UK Bribery Act.  The penalties for violating these laws can be severe and salespeople can be found personally liable under the Alternative Fines Act.  Penalties can include huge fines and considerable jail time.  Pleading that your boss had you perform the indiscretion (i.e. Bribe) is no excuse, and neither is ignorance of these laws.

So “Protect Thyself”.  Make sure your company provides you with adequate ethics and legal education and support.

The Ethical Sales Culture Rules:


Okay, we know there are laws we need to abide by when selling and conducting business but there are also Rules regarding Ethical Selling.  Companies that have solid reputations as ethical companies simply perform better.  Websites for organizations like Ethisphere and Corporate Responsibility magazine contain studies illustrating that highly rated Ethical companies outperform the S&P 500 and The Russell 1000.  Ethical Selling = Results.

To ensure that you are always mindful of creating and maintaining client trust I have condensed the Ethical Selling Rules into Ten.

Here they are:

Rule #1: Do Not Disparage the Competition:


I know what you’re thinking.  How can I not say something to my client about the things I know are wrong with my competitor’s products?  The answer is you can, but you have to do it right, but first let’s get one thing straight.  You need competition!  Without competition you my friend don’t have a job.  There is no need for salespeople if there is no competition for your product.

How then do you point out the advantages of your product vs. your competitor?  There are several ways — here are just a few:

a)      The Ben Franklin Approach.  Remember this one?  You construct a matrix with the client’s derived buying criteria comparing your product with your competitor(s)’.  With your client you put an “x” next to each criterion under either you or the competitor.  Of course, you should role play this first before engaging with the client. Remember the 5 “P”’s (Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance).

b)      Stress the benefits of your product.  Get back into the habit of reciting Feature/Function/Benefit to the client.

c)      Offer to help write the RFP if you expect one.

d)     Get in front of the competition by proactively bringing them into the conversation.  I have seen clients react very well to my statement that “XYZ” and “ABC” can also provide what you need but let me show you why my product can provide you with so much more.  This demonstrates your integrity as well as your confidence.

Rule #2: Do Not Un-Hook a Competitor’s Contract:


Trying to convince a client to terminate an existing agreement is just plain bad business.  In addition, it could present legal issues for your employer and they can be accused of “tortious interference”, “inducement of breach” or “contractual interference”.  I recommend you find ways to co-exist with an existing competitive contract in order to establish your credibility.  When the contract expires — pounce!

Rule #3:  Don Not Bribe the Customer:


Oh, so you think this is an obvious one?  There are new Ethics & Compliance rules that get real specific about what constitutes a bribe.  What was at one time considered customary entertainment and gifts are now considered bribes that I outlined earlier.  Your best bet here is to know what your company’s rules are on entertainment and gifts as well as your clients’.  Specifics can be found on your client’s website in their “Code of Conduct” section.

Rule #4:  Do Not Overhang the Market:


Your client cannot sign a contract based on a feature or capability that is not available today.  You must be careful about describing the features provided by your product.  Of course you can show your client a product “future” but you must be crystal clear that it is not presently available.

Rule #5:  Do Not Misrepresent your Product:


This is just plain stupid and bad selling.  However, even the best sales people with honest intent can get overly exuberant about their product and inadvertently induce a client into believing that the product can do more than it’s capable of.  Again, make sure you are clear with your client about your product’s capabilities in both conversation and writing.  As a salesperson it is your job to create customer excitement with your product but make sure they understand 100% what they are signing up for.  As in Rule #4 above, the amount of time , energy and reputation you have to invest is damage control is not worth it.  One can say “that’s why we have contracts” which is true but a client mainly goes by what he or she remembers you told them.

Rule #6:  Do Not “Bait and Switch:


We’ve all been on the wrong end of this one.  How did you feel about the salesperson and the company they represented?  By definition, this means you offer a product to a client knowing full well you can’t deliver on it, get the client interested, and then substitute it for another product or service.  My most memorable “bait ‘n switch” experience was when I signed up for a golf membership to a course that was not yet built.  After the course was finally built they doubled the membership fee!  If you really want to upset me mess with my golf!

Rule #7:  Do Not Alter a Contract:


You know not to change or alter a contract but I have seen many clients pull a reversal on the salesperson.  Experienced buyers know how to “work” the salesperson.  They are very aware of month-end, quarter-end, and year-end selling pressure.  So it happens more times than not that at the 11th hour, when you really need that contract signed, that the client will demand one more contract change.  I have see clients actually handwrite in a contractual change and ask the salesperson to co-sign with their initials.  My advice to you is to stop, take a breath and tell your client you are not authorized to make revisions but “if you give me five minutes I will call my boss and get and answer”

Rule # 8: Do Not Take Competitive Information:


Under the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 theft or misappropriation of trade secrets is a federal crime.  This act is intended to cover competitive information that is not available in the public domain (i.e. brochures, websites, etc.).  If the information is private and confidential and you get your hands on it and use it to your advantage you have violated the law.  Even if your client hands you a competitor’s proposal you must refuse to accept it.  My advice is to simply ask the client where you need to be to win.

Rule #9:  Do Not fudge your Pipeline and Forecast Numbers:


In fact, take the time to very accurate with your sales numbers.  Accurate sales figures are the “Holy Grail” for your Sales Executives, CFO and CEO.  As a sales leader I have had the pleasure of managing some very successful salespeople who couldn’t forecast worth a lick.  Upon inspection I found that this was usually the result of insufficient time spent on the forecast process or they simply didn’t want sales management to know.  The cure for this was giving the salesperson the “option” of converting to a 100% Commission Compensation Plan as accurate forecasting was a requisite for receiving a Base Salary.  I always had 100% forecast accuracy compliance after that.

Rule #10: Don’t Ever Say “Well to be honest with you”:


When I was a young salesperson starting out at IBM I picked up a bad habit.  I got into the habit of saying “well, to be honest with you”.  I further added twists like “in all candor” and “to be perfectly frank with you”.  I noticed that when I said this to a client they drew closer to me so they can hear the next words out of my mouth that I had teed up with this declaration of honesty.  Then one day while presenting to a prospective client I went into my “well, to be honest with you” bit.  The client then said to me “so Carl, now you’re going to come clean with me?  You haven’t been honest with me up until now?”  I froze in place and went silent.  The client then smiled at my discomfort then told me to never declare my honesty again.  Even though it was an expression he assumed that I was honest until proven otherwise.

One simple method I use to establish trust with a client is to ask the client” It is important that I establish trust and credibility with you.  What is the best way I can do this with you?”  I will pretty much always get the same answer – “just be straight with me”.  Clients appreciate this approach and I do believe it always gets me extra credit.



As a salesperson, the brand you want to establish is like a two-headed coin.  You want your client to judge you as an honest salesperson and you want your employer to recognize you as a sales producer.  As you hopefully learned these are all linked like hand and glove.  The benefit to you the salesperson is that you will sell more, make more money and go to heaven.

Good luck and good selling.

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  1. olasunkanmi

    The subject matter of the article is a “MUST ABIDE” for any salesperson that dream to be great in the sales profession