Are your sales techniques ethical?

7 November 2013


The world of sales techniques is littered with unethical practices. Whether you’re selling ice cream on the streets of New York, or a new point of sale software package to businesses in the Dubai Mall, you will have targets to meet and commissions to strive for. However, using unethical sales practices may work for you in the short term, but will seriously undermine your reputation in the long term.

Here are three practices that you should avoid, or use carefully.

Time limits

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Putting a time limit on a sale is a typical technique employed by salespeople. It is a way of pushing a customer into making a fast decision – but it may not give them sufficient time to truly consider whether it’s a good deal for them or not. Many people expect this in an end of season sale, but if you are trying to build a long-term relationship with a customer, it could leave them feeling less secure in their dealings with you.

Save the time limits for when they really do apply, for example, if you have a block of stock you want to get rid of and are genuinely offering all your customers the opportunity to purchase it at a reduced rate. By being honest with everyone, you’ll show that you are a company worth staying with.

Withholding the truth

You may feel that the deal is almost done; that you’re so close you can see the commission entering your bank account. But then the customer stalls, uncertain about a certain feature of the product. Do you assure the customer that the feature fits their needs perfectly, or admit that it may not at the moment?

These are the moments that sort out the ethical salesperson from the unethical. You can go for the fast sale and happily accept the commission, but you’ll also know that at some point down the line there will be come-back on that sale. The customer might demand a refund, and you may have to lie to your boss and wriggle out of the hole you’ve made for yourself.

Telling the truth in these circumstances is hard. You may lose the sale, but there is a way to show you are a conscientious sales person.  You tell the customer you don’t know, but can find out. It takes longer this way, but you may be able to come back and tell them that although it’s not possible in it’s current state, you’ve spoken to the developers and changes can be made to accommodate the customer’s needs.

This doesn’t always work. Making a change to please one customer demanding changes no other customer needs, could be expensive and not give a good return. But it’s better for you and your company to make those decisions ethically, rather than sell something that the customer ultimately cannot use.

Ease up on the upselling

Upselling is common practice, but in some circumstances it can be downright unethical. The obvious one is selling insurance when none is required, or suggesting that additional equipment is needed to make a product more productive, when it clearly doesn’t.

To build a more harmonious relationship with your client, leave out the upsell and only suggest additional products when you have discussed them in detail with the customer and you can both see the benefits.

In sales, and most particularly for small businesses, how you treat your customers at the outset will determine the long-term success of your business relationship. Which is why it’s important to insist on ethical sales techniques from your sales team.

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