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An analysis by Christophe Fournier, university professor at the IAE in Montpellier. And published by The conversation.
Sellers too often suffer from one negative image : liars, hucksters, greedy, ready to do anything to sell and this in most countries of the world. For example, this is the image of Michael Scott in the series The office, ready to get a partner drunk to get him to sign a sales contract. This stereotype seems almost global.
Some will say ” business is business », that is the business law, and it is up to the consumer to be vigilant. However, at a time when concerns about sustainable development are growing, where we talk more and more about corporate social responsibility and when we praise the benefits of ESG (environmental, social and governance) reports, it seems legitimate to ask the question: is it possible to have a sales ethic, and if so, why and how?
In addition to questions of morality, there is a certain one in the scientific literature consensus indicating that ethical business practices have always proven to be more profitable than those that were not. This is all the more true if you are part of a long-term perspective and therefore in customer relationship management.
Our works show a beneficial effect from the point of view of the workforce: the more the company cares about ethics, the more successful salespeople are encouraged to become. In other words, a good ethical climate is an excellent means of restraint turnover and keep the best. Given the turnover rates that may exist in the sales function and the recruitment difficulties of the sector, it thus appears that investing in adherence to a particular ethical approach is equivalent to a company killing two birds with one stone.
Once you are alone, the temptation is great
With 132 French salespeople from several companies, we were therefore interested in the relationship, which has been studied many times, between performance and turnover advertisements. Although some studies show no significant relationship between these two variables, most conclude that there is a negative relationship: the weaker the performance, the greater turnover is high.
Our results paint a somewhat more complex picture. The relationship between these two variables actually seems moderated by the ethical climate. The better the salespeople perform, the more they tend to want to leave the company in case of a weak ethical climate. Especially since, due to their results, they have a strong employability in the labor market and they are offered good opportunities in other companies, competing or not, but which provide a favorable ethical climate.
Low performers, on the contrary, will tend to stay in their current company because there will be little demand for them in the labor market. In order to achieve a certain level of performance, they will also adapt more easily to a less ethical climate.
However, how can we create this ethical climate that attracts the most brilliant employees? Due to the singularity of the subject, the matter does not seem obvious.
Indeed, one of the characteristics of salespeople is that many of them have a double independence: physical, many of them are in the field and, above all, psychological. Alone in front of the customer or buyer, they have to find solutions, answer questions and sometimes deal with pressure. It is therefore easy and tempting, in certain situations, to “win out of it” and thus engage in behavior that we would qualify as not particularly or not ethical at all.
However, several simple tools can be easily activated to promote the emergence of a virtuous climate, such as setting appropriate and achievable quotas. It is clearly proven that the higher these are, the greater the temptation to cheat.
Beware of incentives
Instead of maintaining so-called “production” quotas and thus sales, it is better to offer quotas on items of a more qualitative nature, customer satisfaction for example, or assessments of key behaviors to be adopted or mastered during the sales process. ONE strong control and a tight framework with rather subjective indicators is preferable from an ethical point of view to a control more centered on results. The challenge is also to maintain or even strengthen the customer relationship.
In the same direction is competitions and other sales challenges launched by a very large number of companies can also quickly get out of hand. Especially if we are not careful to set goals adapted to an ethical vision and in line with the company’s strategy.
Is more broad on the speech package of remuneration and off motivation advertisements. A number of studies show, for example, that it is still preferable, from an ethical point of view, to prefer fixed remuneration to variable remuneration with commissions based in particular on sales.
Guardian and security measures
We must also mention the key role of the manager, the latter can be both the initiator, but also the promoter and guardian of the company’s ethical spirit. It will exemplarily show the way to its business partners, who from then on are less inclined to venture down winding paths. His attention to these questions seems to have to focus during recruitment of his team.
However, these actions may not be enough. Finally, we must mention the relevance for the company of adopting a code or an ethical charter, a key element in promoting the emergence of a positive climate. In a few lines, the main rules of conduct will be formalized to which sales representatives can refer in case of doubt or question about certain practices. This formalization of ethics is an important safeguard not to suppress all unethical behavior, but at least to limit it.
Admittedly, it will not be possible to 100% avoid the deviant actions of its sellers, but the implementation of a few simple devices can be of great help. Sales and ethics are not an oxymoron.
This article is republished from The conversation under creative commons license. Readoriginal article.