Ethical & Unethical Sales Techniques

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Without sales, businesses die. This unvarnished truth drives businesses and salespeople to work hard at securing sales. Unfortunately, the drive to sell or pressure from management to increase sales volume often leads salespeople to use unethical sales techniques to bolster short-term numbers. Ethical sales techniques produce enduring and profitable relationships with customers, while unethical sales techniques damage those relationships and long-term profits.

Unethical Technique – Excessive Fine Print

Some businesses bury warranty limitations, performance guarantees and other information that might undermine customer confidence in the fine print. Customers only discover this information when something goes wrong and they want a refund, repair or alteration to the product. The company informs the customers that their requests are not covered, not possible, or require an excessive fee to accommodate. This deliberate obfuscation may lead to short-term sales that a more honest approach would miss, but at a significant loss to the company's reputation over time.

Unethical Technique – Bait and Switch

A classic unethical technique, the bait and switch promises customers one thing and offers them something different at the store or on delivery. For example, a grocery store promises to sell porterhouse steaks at half the regular price. Customers arrive only to discover the store is “sold out,” except the store never stocked porterhouses from the advertised brand at all, or only has a few available that are gone quickly. Instead, it carries a more expensive brand it hopes the customer will purchase instead.

Unethical Technique – Misrepresentation

Misrepresentation takes many forms. Salespeople may misrepresent the capabilities of a product to secure the sale. The salesperson might misrepresent the actual costs of a product or offer a promotional price as though it were the recurring cost. Misrepresentation also takes the form of pretending the customer can expect product upgrades sooner than the company can possibly institute the upgrades.

Ethical Technique – Transparent Pricing

An ethical salesperson does not try to hide the actual costs of the product or service. If she offers a promotional price, the customer need to know the price goes up later and by how much. If the product performs as well as the business claims, transparent pricing shouldn’t damage sales.

Ethical Technique – Factual Comparisons

When asked, the salesperson should give a factual comparison of his company’s product and a competitor’s product. Securing a new customer often requires convincing them that the new product can outperform the old product. Ethical sales do not require blatant or overblown criticism of competitor products.

Ethical Technique – Honesty

All ethical sales techniques derive from basic honesty, whether about the product capabilities, the timetable for upgrades or the parameters of customer service. Assuming responsibility for mistakes or problems, rather than passing the blame on to a third-party, can help cement the customer’s belief in the salesperson and the company. Honest salespeople avoid high-pressure techniques, as high-pressure techniques often create short-term sales at the cost of good customer relations.

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  • Barry Austin Photography/Photodisc/Getty Images