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Why ethical selling is the only way to sell

by Jessica Weisman-Pitts
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iStock 1747439035

Why ethical selling is the only way to sell

By Paul Owen, MD, True Sales

Does it surprise you to know that salespeople are some of the least trusted workers in the UK? Research by CV-Library found that only politicians and journalists outrank salespeople when it comes to whom the British public deem to be least trustworthy. But does it have to be that way?

Earning trust through ethical selling

The CV-Library survey of 1,200 UK workers found that 78.1% of people feel that politicians are least trustworthy, followed by journalists (37.7%), car salespeople (27.4%) and telesales workers (23.6%). Bankers, paparazzi, estate agents, recruiters, lawyers and bailiffs were also considered to be untrustworthy, in that order.

How, then, can the public’s trust be earned by those in these roles? It’s certainly possible in sales – but it means having a conversation about the nature of sales and understanding that ethical selling is not only possible, it’s actually the best way to sell.

Too often, we think of salespeople as being motivated to sell products or service by any means possible. Yes, there are unscrupulous individuals out there who take this approach, but they quickly rack up a bad reputation for their employer. In our modern era of social proof and online reviews, there’s little room left for dishonest salespeople or those who use hard-sell tactics. The time is ripe, then, to celebrate the true nature of what sales entails – listening to clients and helping them.

Understanding trust-based selling

This trust-based selling approach is at the heart of a focus on client satisfaction. It’s an approach that helps clients by cutting through the wealth of (often conflicting) information available online. It involves listening to what clients need and providing helpful advice. That may involve selling a product but it may not – if the product is not suitable for the client, the ethical salesperson won’t push for them to buy it. If it is suitable, they can highlight the product’s relevant points, show the buyer how it will deliver the value they need and discuss the sale in a consultative, helpful manner.

This trust-based approach is a huge opportunity for salespeople to get back to basics in terms of their roles and to enjoy the immense satisfaction that arises from genuinely helping clients. And the more clients they help, the more members of the public there will be who associate salespeople with trustworthiness. Everyone wins.

The art of listening

The cornerstone of building up trusting relationships with clients is listening to them. Not waiting for them to stop speaking so that you can reel off a list of product benefits, but actively listening with the goal of understanding their needs. Improving listening skills takes practice but it’s well worth doing. It can pay dividends in personal relationships, as well as professional ones.

In the context of selling, understanding the client’s needs lays the foundation for an honest conversation about how those needs can be met. That serves as the basis for solid business growth – the kind of growth that results in positive online reviews and sales figures that are given a boost through word of mouth from happy clients.

Taking the time to sell products ethically

Ethical selling also means not rushing a client into a decision. A salesperson who is solely focused on making a quick profit is unlikely to earn a client’s trust. The client needs time to know that the salesperson is there to help them, time to consider their options and time to validate that their choice will meet their needs, including their budget.

This slower approach to selling might not fit with long-held stereotypes about salespeople and their approach. But that’s the point. It’s time to challenge those stereotypes regarding unethical sales and build a new narrative. One based on honesty and consistency.

Supporting salespeople to sell

Firms can take actionable steps to embed a culture of ethical selling. The first of these is having an honest conversation with their teams about what honest selling entails and about putting the client’s needs first. The next is to implement a supportive training programme designed to level up salespeople’s skills over time. This not only supports them to sell confidently but shows that they are valued by their employer and that their professional development is a worthwhile investment.

Targets need to come under the spotlight too. All too often, a salesperson who meets their target is given a pat on the back and then a higher target. This essentially punishes the individual for having met their goal and can heap unhelpful pressure on them at a time when they should be feeling rewarded and celebrated. Hardly the way to support them to focus on ethical selling!

Changing the public’s perceptions can be a slow process. However, by implementing the above steps, firms can take a big leap forward in terms of achieving that change, using ethical selling to build a trustworthy reputation for salespeople.