Selling on Principle

Integrity, honesty, authenticity and trust may not be the first words that spring to mind for most when they think of sales and sales people. In fact if you’re one of the victims of the ''Systemic fraud'', ''systemic theft'', doctoring of customer files and ''lying to clients'' described by Senator Mark Bishop, the chairman of a powerful Senate inquiry into the Commonwealth Bank (CBA) financial planning scandal, a selection of other less complimentary words are likely to be front of mind.

The dysfunctional sales culture that infected CBA’s financial advisory business may well be making the headlines right now but they’re certainly not the first to place their insatiable hunger for growth ahead of their customer’s best interests, and sadly they are unlikely to be the last.

I don’t want to use this post to explore the long list of high profile corporate failures that have resulted from these behaviours, but I do want to stand up for the sales profession.

The sales force may well have been the vehicle the CBA and others have used to execute their ultimately misguided strategies, but what they were doing simply doesn't qualify as sales. This deceptive conduct has more in common with the kind of confidence trickery we’ve seen perpetuated by George Clooney’s Danny Ocean and his merry band of associates in the 2001 movie Ocean’s Eleven.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary sales isn't about tricks, sleight of hand or distraction. Just like the medical profession isn't about snake oil, incantations or wizardry. In Go-Givers Sell More written by our founder Bob Burg and his co-author John David Mann we say “Great salespeople live by the same code as the physicians Hippocratic oath: first do no harm. It’s something like the goal of conscious agriculture: leave the soil in better shape that you found it. Future generations will want to farm this soil too.”

Burg and Mann continue “Our first priority [as sales professionals] should always be to add value to the lives of the people we interact with, that is, to enrich or enhance their life in some way. Or at the very least, not to subtract value, which means not to irritate them, suck energy from them, intimidate them, bully them, pressure them or manipulate them.”

These are not the experiences of customers who through no fault of their own have been exposed to CBA-like situations where people masquerading as noble, honourable, trustworthy sales professionals do the opposite. They experience manipulation, they feel the pain of intimidation, they have pressure applied to them and they are lied too. These are not the tools you’ll find any true sales professional reaching for and these are not the tactics any truly customer centric organisation will entertain.

The bastardisation of sales and selling by brands large and small hell bent on achieving their own selfish desires will no doubt be something we all have to be wary of in our day-to-day. But let’s not confuse this fraudulent behaviour with the worthy and purposeful profession of selling practiced by millions of good, well meaning, value creating, life changing people around the world.

The following quote from Bob and John in Go-Givers Sell More captures the essence of this issue really well “The great upside-down misconception about sales is that it is an effort to get something from others. The truth is that sales at its best, at its most effective, is precisely the opposite: it is about giving.”

The authors go on to explain, "Even the Old English root of the word, 'Sell' meant 'to give.' So, what are you giving when you sell? If you're doing it right, you are giving time, attention, counsel, education, empathy and, of course, most of all, value."

Every truly great sales person understands this. They are always invested in their customers and helping them get to where they want to go, whether that’s through the solutions they provide or via another route that means they'll be spending their hard earned money elsewhere. They understand that sales isn't about them and it isn't about their products or services; it is and always has been about the customer. These are the principles that make them genuinely successful and, despite the headlines, they’re not as rare as you might think.

Ian J Lowe is the CEO of Go-Givers Australia, a sales transformation, coaching and consulting organisation offering a unique culture-defining philosophy and framework that makes giving value the cornerstone of a refreshingly open and authentic approach to selling.

Image Credit: Oceans 11 movie, Warner Bros, 2001