Selling With Virtue

Selling With Integrity

There is a selling crisis today, and it is not caused by a pandemic, inflation, or the great resignation. This crisis is causing sales professionals to struggle, lose sales, and harm their reputation. The crisis is a lack of trust from potential clients. Many sales professionals want to be considered “trusted advisors,” yet they self-sabotage their efforts with shortcuts, half-truths, and over promising. Because of the information available to buyers today, selling this way is drastically outdated. In this article, we’ll explore how sales professionals can position themselves as trusted advisors by selling with integrity.

Modern buyers do not want to be pitched, pressured, or persuaded. The future of selling will be built on trust, not overcoming objections. The only way to build trust is through selling with integrity. For sales leaders, this is about modeling to your sales team what doing the right thing looks like. For sales reps, it’s about doing the right thing, even if you lose the business. The customer’s perception of a company is not based on its website, or marketing campaign, but on their interaction with their salesperson. When a customer loses trust in the salesperson, they lose trust in the company. That is why sales integrity needs to be the bedrock of a company’s sales philosophy.

Consequence of Acting Without Integrity

Corporate scandals have become increasingly common in the headlines. Turn on the news and there is no shortage of scandals. Individuals who compromise their own integrity create negative consequences for their organizations. In most cases, it is not a lack of integrity but rather a lapse of integrity. It is a rare scenario where the individual did not know the “right” thing to do. Instead of the misdeed being caused by a “bad apple,” more often it is a case of a “bad barrel.” The bad barrel is the company sales culture and a sales culture that is flexible with its integrity fosters bad apples.

Integrity For Sales Leaders

Integrity for sales leaders is about consistency and maintaining a high ethical standard. As sales leaders, the longer we tolerate minor misdeeds, the more likely we will be faced with a major crisis. When minor misdeeds are tolerated, it makes it easier for our reports to justify bigger ones. As sales leaders, we must remind ourselves that unethical behavior grows gradually over time, rather than abruptly. Therefore, we must address a minor indiscretion before it escalates into major crises. Simple, but not always easy, when sales professionals are under pressure to make their numbers.

When sales leaders act with integrity, they build integrity with their direct reports. When direct reports consistently view leadership acting with integrity, they follow the example. Alternatively, when new sales reps witness leadership bending the rules, cutting corners, or misrepresenting facts, they receive the green light to follow their example. “Trust is built in drops and lost in buckets,” said Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank. Integrity is not something sales reps are taught by reading the employee handbook. Sales reps acquire integrity by observing what their sales leaders will not tolerate. When sales leaders give an inch on integrity, we risk creating a mile of liability.

Integrity For Sales Reps

The best way I can define integrity for a new sales rep is, “To do the right thing, even if it will cost you a deal.” Integrity in sales is a combination of honesty and courage, as a daily decision. Consider the following sales scenario: 

You’ve been working with a potential client for weeks. They have the budget and are ready to move forward. However, during the discovery, you developed concerns the solution may not work for your client. Do you share your concerns with the client or move forward with closing the deal?

This scenario reminds me of the quote from Jon Huntsman, the former Ambassador to China: “There are no moral shortcuts in the game of business or life. There are, basically, three kinds of people, the unsuccessful, the temporarily successful, and those who become and remain successful. The difference is character.”

Integrity is tested in those brief moments when the sales rep senses that the deal could be lost. This is also where the integrity of the sales leader’s example comes into play. If the sales rep has watched sales leaders cut corners, or bend the facts, it will be easy to move forward without addressing the concerns.

The Value of Selling With Integrity

Sales professionals encounter opportunities to sell with integrity daily. The reason sales professionals miss the opportunity is because they underestimate the value selling with integrity would bring them. They selected the path of least resistance, not realizing the comfortable path also delivers less value for their career, their client, and their company. Let’s explore the following common sales scenario:

Sales Rep A is in a price discussion with a potential client. The sales rep provides “best case” pricing. However, the rep anticipates this client’s needs may be greater, which potentially increases the overall price of the project. Instead of having an uncomfortable price conversation, the sales rep moves forward with the best-case pricing, and hopes for the best. 

Eventually, the issue surfaces, and the client is informed of a price adjustment. It doesn’t matter how minor the price increase is–the client will be upset. In this scenario, the sales rep won the business, but lost all chances at repeat business, referrals, and a long-term relationship.

Did the sales rep enter into the transaction with the intent to deceive the client? Likely not. Did the client feel they were deceived by the salesperson and the company? Absolutely. Could the entire situation have been avoided? Definitely. How common is the above scenario? All you need to do is look at Google Reviews where the majority of one-star reviews are from customers being told one thing, while something else happened. It does not matter if the customer was buying dinner at a restaurant, a car at a dealership, or software from an enterprise provider. When the expectation does not match the experience, the customer feels deceived. 

Now let’s consider Sales Rep B is in a price discussion with the same potential client. Instead of going with “best-case” pricing, the rep provides “likely-case” pricing. The client explains they received a quote from Sales Rep A’s company 25% below their quote. Sales Rep B was trained to be a trusted advisor, therefore begins educating the client on the likely issues, and validating the additional expense. Sales Rep B loses out on the deal.

Two months later, Sales Rep B receives a call from the client and is asked to quote a new project. This time, the client selects Sales Rep B’s company. They establish a long-term relationship, which includes years of repeat business and dozens of referrals.

What was the difference between Sales Rep A and Sales Rep B? One was uncomfortable confronting the potential issue, while the other one wasn’t. It is during that uncomfortable moment of truth that integrity is required. This issue is not limited to just pricing. As sales professionals, we can accurately represent 99 out of 100 features, but it is the one feature we misrepresent, that the client will remember. A single half-truth, a withheld fact, or exaggeration, has the potential to permanently harm long-term trust and credibility. In sales, integrity is a daily decision.

In Conclusion

The reality is, we’ve all experienced a “misrepresentation of the facts” in a sales transaction. However, because we are sales professionals, we don’t lump all sales reps into the bad apple basket. However, non-sales professionals likely will. This means, when a buyer initially engages with a salesperson, the buyer is hyper-guarded due to past experience. This leaves the sales professional with two options: To conduct business like the buyer expects a traditional sales rep to behave, or to conduct themselves with the highest integrity, knowing that the slightest misstep will be perceived by the buyer as proof that “all salespeople are the same.” This is a decision we as sales professionals are required to make daily.

As a lifelong salesperson, sales manager, and founder of a sales training organization, this article was written with the greatest respect and admiration for our profession and industry. It is my belief that the overwhelming majority of sales leaders, sales reps, and sales organizations conduct themselves ethically in their daily transactions. This is not an accusation that salespeople lack integrity, but an endorsement of the value of integrity to overcome what separates us. Consider this, in an environment where half the population questions our current President and the other half questions our past President, how much tolerance is there for the average salesperson? My hunch? Less than ever. 

Act accordingly.