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by Alice Alessandri and Alberto Aleo

Is it necessary to always tell the truth when dealing with clients?” this is one of the most common questions we receive from those who take part in our courses. As the creators of the Sales Ethics  method, our only answer should be “Of course!”. In fact it is not so easy to be always completely sincere with clients. Not so much because of the budget and sales targets we need to achieve; in fact sometimes expressing our personal opinion can prove useless, if not detrimental to our clients. Let’s see how and when this might happen, and analyse what serving the truth really means!

Truth

Photo Kristopher Roller by Unsplash

Absolute truth

Truth is a complicated concept: is it really possible to describe facts and reality objectively? Far from being only a philosophical statement, what we call truth is inevitably influenced by our  knowledge and point of view. If salespeople express their personal opinions – and truly believe their ideas correspond to reality – they might actually negatively affect the success of their negotiations: acting as depositaries of absolute truth they risk damaging themselves and others. When salespeople express their opinions or give unsolicited advice they forget that their job is to help their clients choose according to their own needs and reasons, without interference! Therefore we should try and avoid sentences which are based on our personal point of view, such as “if I were you I would…”, unless explicitly required; or express absolute  judgments like “Nobody would buy a product with…”, which are just opinions passed off as universal laws. Bear in mind that clients don’t choose only to satisfy a material need: they take into consideration a range of intangible – yet very concrete – requirements which need to be respected and satisfied just like all the rest. 

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Therefore if a client chooses a  particular drill model because “it is beautiful”, we should not comment that drills are meant to be useful instead of beautiful: who are we to judge their reasons and sense of aesthetics?
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Free to choose

In our opinion truth and freedom are two linked concepts. The former should allow us to act freely and consciously, aiming at our well-being and development. The tool to reach this is knowledge.


During sale transactions successful salespeople should offer their knowledge – not their judgments or personal opinions – in order to encourage their clients’ ability to choose autonomously.


This means when we set up a negotiation we should not consider our own purchasing motivations and should concentrate on those of our clients instead: it’s them we have to persuade,  not ourselves! As strange as it may sound, many salespeople tend to talk to themselves instead of addressing their interlocutors when they present their products or services. But what if our clients’ values and objectives are different from our own? We happened to be present at a negotiation where the seller kept describing the economic advantages of a particular choice, as opposed to a more expensive option. The client felt rather insulted and replied “Listen, what made you think that I cannot afford the most expensive product?”. Our personal opinions and prejudice towards what we are selling might keep us from seeing advantages which could be noticed with a little more open-mindedness, objectivity and a different point of view. We are technically afflicted by information asymmetries which prevent us from really knowing what we sell, and consequently keep us from transferring this knowledge to our clients.

Free to choose

Photo Mohamed Nohassi by Unsplash

Sincere and winning


Becoming aware of our behaviour and of its possible side effects can help us develop a sincere and effective style.


Personally we think sellers who ignore their interlocutor’s reactions are aggressive. They proudly say things like  “I’ll say what I need to say because I’m honest!” or risk offending their clients with remarks such as “the model you’re using is rubbish!”. The attempt to impose our personal point of view as the only acceptable one might  generate in the clients a sense of prevarication which will inevitably turn them away.

Another category we don’t like is that of passive sellers, those who put up with their clients’ choices and support them even when they are wrong. Sincerity is necessary to inform our clients when they are wrong: customers are NOT always right and it is not ethical to indulge them just to make them happy. If we realize that another product or service might better respond to their needs, we should direct them towards the best choice: they will be grateful!

Another risky behaviour is the manipulative approach, which reawakens the atavistic fear of the “deceiving seller”. Misleading sales people, who tell lies or omit important information to persuade their clients to buy, enrich the collective imagination which contrasts ethics and sales.

Which allows them to express their subjective point of view and share their knowledge, bearing in mind that their clients’ experiences and opinions might be different but can’t be ignored or be regarded as wrong.

In order to fully understand who we are dealing with and what their reasons and purchasing motivations are, we need to listen: this is the only way we can guide our clients towards the right choice for them, facilitating their decision-making process.

behaviour

Truth and sales are two concepts which “coexist with difficulty”, just as objective vision and the condition of human beings. In order to close the gap between ourselves and reality it is necessary to be flexible, accept and embrace diversities. However we often pass off our opinions as the truth: that’s because we need to impose our personal vision of the world. Of course as human beings we can’t help but try to direct others: after all we have been programmed to pursue evolutional goals which require the participation of those around us.


Whether this behaviour is ethical or not does not depend on the act of trying to influence someone else; it lies in how we do it, more or less selfishly.


Trying to satisfy the clients’ needs is the form of sincerity and altruism we appreciate the most: the action of proper Ethical Sellers, at the service of the freedom of their interlocutors!

| partem claram semper aspice |

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Passodue

Alice Alessandri and Alberto Aleo, a couple in life and work, are founders of the consulting and training company Passodue, which operates in the field of ethical sales and marketing.
Their publications and articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines. In the US since 2013 they collaborate with researchers and professors on the topics of Business Ethics.

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