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I was asked to bid on a marketing project yesterday. While preparing the bid, I found that I needed to clarify my stance on certain business practices. Specifically, I stated to my prospect that a form of partnership he was seeking was not permissible within my ethics and posed a conflict of interests.
In other words, I knew that type of partnership would make feel disingenuous and possibly cause me to lose sleep down the road.
In our day-to-day business dealings, most ethics-based decisions are cut-and-dried. Companies often have codes that specify what’s acceptable and what isn’t. But in the sales field, when deals are often made on-the-fly, requiring flexibility and innovation, we’re tempted to push the ethical boundaries. So it’s especially important to not only know your company’s code of ethics (the “letter of the law”), but also apply moral standards (the “spirit of the law”) to situations that aren’t so black-and-white.
Sometimes being ethical means you sacrifice a sale. But clarifying your position upfront helps you avoid an uncomfortable situation or damaging legal ramifications.
Temptations and traps to avoid
- Misrepresenting your product or service
- Price fixing
- Bait-and-switch practices
- Surprise charges and add-ons after the sale
- Misuse of proprietary data and customer lists
- Padding an expense account
- Badmouthing a competitor
- Kickbacks to the buyer
- Unauthorized signing of agreements
Whether or not your company has a defined code of ethics, defining and following certain guidelines are not only common sense, but good business.
Ethically responsible questions to keep in mind
- Do I know these claims to be true or am I just saying them because it guarantees a sale?
- Am I doing my best to educate the customer about the product before the sale?
- Do I understand the terms of the sales policies and what’s legally binding?
- Can this data be divulged or is meant to be proprietary?
- When quoting statistics, do I know the primary source and if it’s reliable?
- Do I know federal and state laws that apply to the company’s products and warranties?
- Am I making clear what triggers any claims to a money-back guarantee?
- Do I always think twice before saying anything negative about a competitor, another customer or a fellow employee?
- Do I ask permission before using a testimonial from a satisfied customer?
- Am I focusing on solving my client’s problem or am I just intent on making the sale?
Please comment and tell others what you’d add as #11.
– LuAnne Speeter, President, Minnesota Cause Connection Inc.
Related post: How ethical are you really? Take this quiz
Most of us assume that our personal code of ethics was formed during our childhood and locked in for life. Our upbringing – home life and parental rules, relationships with teachers and other authority figures, religious beliefs and practices – formed a protective armor of character that kept us in line. It helped us stay out of trouble after school (or to feel really bad if we got caught), kept us from swiping stuff from the convenience store and prompted us to keep a sworn secret.
Then, as we made our way into the world, we brought along that armor of character. There would be ethical dilemmas at work as we’d strive to get noticed by the boss or devise ways to beat out the competition. Tax season would roll around and, well, money’s really tight this year so who would notice a slight exaggeration of deductible expenses? And little white lies come in handy when we’re trying to keep peace at home. Still, the character’s intact. A few dings in the armor, but looking good overall.
But are we really as ethical as we think we are? Here’s an eye opener: a personal integrity survey. This quick 10-minute quiz reveals that even the most ethical of us have a few blind spots and squishy areas. While we may rate ourselves high when we consider the broad definitions of ethical character and integrity, those “rare instances” of unprincipled behavior are actually more common than we care to admit.
The survey is courtesy of the Josephson Institute, an organization focused on increasing ethical behavior in all aspects of society.
Take the personal integrity survey now – it might be the first step to fixing those character flaws we thought we could get away with.
– LuAnne Speeter