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by Alice Alessandri and Alberto Aleo

Do you remember the scene of the movie For a Fistful of Dollars in which Clint Eastwood is told by his antagonist “When a man with a .45 meets a man with a rifle, the man with the pistol is a dead man”? If we were to paraphrase this, we might wonder what happens when an ethical salesperson comes up against a non-ethical competitor. Which of the two will have greater negotiating effectiveness?

Evidence would seem to confirm that the ethical salesperson has the “weaker” weapon. Yet, are we sure that is so?

a fistful of dollars


Ethics and Negotiating Effectiveness

Firstly, we must dispel a myth: ethics is not about being a do-gooder! As Niccolò Branca reminded us in a recent interview , there is often confusion between these two ideas, but they are very different. The behaviour of a “do-gooder” in no way resembles ethical behaviour as it fails to guarantee negotiating effectiveness and kills the system by generating overall damage.

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We should remember that the concept of “sustainability” to which ethics is linked includes businesses. To survive and continue to generate value for itself and for others, an organization must sustain itself economically and this requires negotiating effectiveness from its salespeople.
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If we use the term “do-goodism” to indicate an anti-economic behaviour, that takes only the interests of the customer into consideration, we will realize that this cannot be confused with an ethical behaviour that aims to create shared wellbeing and evolution in the system. So why then, if ethics is an economic agent, does the negotiating effectiveness of the ethical salesperson struggle to be recognized by the market?

Learning from Judo

Anyone who has done Judo knows that compared to other self-defense disciplines, it is necessary to study many years before Judo techniques can be used in real situations. Younger Judokas often feel frustrated when they see that practitioners of the other martial arts get results faster, learning to “fight” effectively in a relatively short time. The difference is that many of Judo’s techniques are not as instinctive as those of other disciplines: Judo does not teach you to give a punch but to receive it, not to parry an attack but to remain open to the opponent’s movement to use his/her energy. Only after years of practice can the student internalize these techniques to a degree that enables them to be effectively applied. The same thing applies to sales ethics:

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Where instinct and context would tempt you to take a shortcut to achieve immediate results, as an ethical salesperson you will apply a technique you have acquired through lengthy training that will bring superior negotiating effectiveness
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As James Hoopes, one of the masters of business ethics, likes to emphasize “you don’t become effective ethical sellers just because you are good people, you have to train and work to get the best results”.

judo lesson

A broader vision

But there is another reason why today the ethical salesperson’s style does not lead to full negotiating effectiveness, namely the inability of companies and economic operators to fully assess the effects of this behaviour. Currently, people tend to concentrate on immediate results and many business ventures openly declare that they are adopting a “short-term strategy”. I don’t know what you think, but in our view the very concept of strategy implies a vision that extends over time. If you are on the market and you plan to be there tomorrow as well, you will carefully evaluate the effects of your choices over time. 

But we should make our assessments based on other criteria than results over time: we must also ask ourselves “what effects will non-ethical behaviour have on my internal and external relationships in the immediate future?” The statistics say that when a customer is dissatisfied, we are in effect distancing another 9 people with whom he/she will speak, thus reducing our potential market. Relationships between colleagues and collaborators will also be affected: working for an organization that pursues incorrect behaviour is, in fact, a demotivating factor and lowers performance.

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Frequently organizations are badly equipped to measure the “collateral costs” of their non-ethical behaviour, adopting a narrow view that considers only “me and today” instead of a broader one that includes “us and tomorrow”.  Their negotiating effectiveness is thereby reduced and they fail to fully assess the positive aspects of an ethical approach.
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Too many people dream of getting without giving, delegating their happiness to someone else, and they grapple to find a shortcut to success. There are too many people ready to tempt us to take the easy road, like Candlewick with Pinocchio; they offer us pre-packaged solutions that often turn out to be no more than tricks with limited negotiating effectiveness. An ethical salesperson knows that in the economy, as in life, we must make an investment before we get returns and that these two elements are indissolubly linked. Every time we think we are getting a free meal ticket we should bear in mind that somewhere we are generating a cost we did not take into account, and that sooner or later we will have to pick up the bill. Realizing this will increase our negotiating effectiveness and allow us to fully assess the outcomes or damages of the style we have chosen to adopt. In a market where trust, word-of-mouth and reputation are increasingly important, we believe that when an ethical salesperson meets a non-ethical one they will recognize him/her as a species heading for extinction.

negotiating effectiveness

P.S. Passodue has been providing Courses in Sales Ethics  for over three years and our analysis indicates that 98% of our customers are satisfied and have achieved significant commercial results. If you want to know more or leave your feedback visit this link.

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Passodue is a consulting and training firm founded in 2011 by Alice Alessandri and Alberto Aleo, who decided to combine their experience and make a change in their personal and professional lives. The aim of their project is to change the mindset of the market with regards to the concepts of “sale”, “marketing” and “leadership”, and to prove that doing business ethically is possible and totally effective.

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