Sales Does Not Equal Greed

If you’ve been following the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry you’ll have picked up on the recent spate of banking executives lamenting their shift to a “sales culture”. It seems that sales and selling has been identified as the root cause of all that ails our leading banking and financial services brands. Indeed this quote from a senior banking executive attempts to make that case:

Over recent years, we have made significant changes to shift our culture from one that is sales driven to one that is focused on meeting the needs of our customers.
— Big Bank Executive

There’s just one problem. What’s been revealed by the Royal Commission has nothing at all to do with sales. Although it may be convenient to blame sales. We don't need Sherlock Holmes to deduce that good old fashioned greed is the real villain here. And as the title of this post highlights, sales does not equal greed. Quite the opposite in fact. But before I continue let’s get some clarity around this term “sales” so we know we’re talking about the same thing. One of the very best definitions that truly captures what sales is really all about comes from Bob Burg and John David Mann in their book Go-Givers Sell More. They write:

“…..most of us look at sales backwards. We may see it as convincing people to do something they don’t want to do. But it isn’t: it’s about learning what people do want to do and helping them do that. Or, we may think it’s about taking advantage of others - while in fact, it’s about giving other people more advantage. 

But the biggest inversion of all, the great upside-down misconception about sales, is that it is based on an effort to get something from others. The truth is that sales at its best - that is, at its most effective - is precisely the opposite: it is about giving. 

Selling is giving: giving time, attention, counsel, education, empathy and value. In fact, the word “sell” comes from the Old English word sellan, which means - you guessed it - to give.”

As much as I love this definition, you could pick up any number of books on sales and read something similar. Sales at its core is all about helping your clients or customers to be more successful by focusing on their needs and helping them to achieve their outcomes, whether that’s via your products or services, or someone else’s. Sure you could hearken back to the bad old days of Snake Oil Salesman plying their dishonest trade to make the case, but let’s get real. Those mindsets and behaviours simply have nowhere to hide in today’s always on, hyper-connected world. 

On the other hand greed continues to be the great corrupter, especially for those motivated by their own naked ambition. Merriam-Webster’s defines greed as:

A selfish and excessive desire for more of something (such as money) than is needed
— Merriam-Websters Dictionary

One of the Seven Deadly Sins, the Bible defines greed as:

Excessive or reprehensible acquisitiveness: “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more
— The Bible

Sure, when driven by greed, sales skills, frameworks, and processes can be used and abused to deliver the financial results those in power desire. But laying the blame at the door of sales is just plain wrong. It may be more palatable for those responsible for cultivating a money hungry, unethical, morally corrupt, greed driven culture to point the finger rather than to recognise the gluttonous creature staring back at them in the mirror – but as hard as one might try, there’s no outrunning the truth. 

I’ll close with a quote attributed to the former Commonwealth Bank CEO Ian Narev, which I think captures the root cause of the banking sectors problems. In a meeting with one of his executives, Matt Comyn – who has since replaced Narev as CEO. Mr Comyn had been making the case for the bank to stop selling what are referred to a “junk insurance products”. Basically these products are sold to people who cannot actually makes claims on them. As useless as they were, the bank made lots of money from selling them to their unwary and trusting customers. 

However, instead of backing his colleague, ordering an immediate halt and putting in place the mechanisms necessary to reimburse their customers, Mr Comyn was apparently ordered by Mr Narev to:

Temper your sense of justice
— Ian Narev former CEO Commonwealth Bank

There you have it. We all know that leadership sets the tone, and when you have the CEO of our biggest bank making such a statement can there be any surprise we have such dysfunctional cultures and that so many lives have been negatively impacted? This may be just one example, but after watching and reading about the seemingly endless number of shocking revelations coming out of the Royal Commission, it does appear to be symptomatic of a sector wide disease.

Sales does not equal greed. So don’t be fooled, it’s just another attempt to divert our attention and for those in power to avoid taking responsibility. Our banks don't have a sales problem, they have a greed problem. Sales is a noble profession and when driven by individual and collective purpose, it is all about creating terrific value for others. But when driven by selfishness and greed sales can be manipulated to be all about extracting value from others. What’s driving your sales organisation?


Ian J Lowe is the Founder and CEO of eccoh, a sales transformation, coaching and consulting organisation pioneering a movement to change the way the world experiences and thinks about sales. The selling environment has radically changed and yesterday’s attitudes, mindsets and cultures are no longer relevant. To succeed we need to be much more than in the past. Our mission is to harness the collective energies of every salesperson on the planet as a force for good in the world. 

Image Credit: Monty Python, The Meaning of Life, 1993 Universal Pictures