In my Puget Sound Business Journal article on April 6, "The Golden Rule especially applies to salespeople," I offered advice to sales professionals about common courtesy and illustrated the Ethic of Reciprocity (better known as the Golden Rule) and how it applies to selling today.
The article was very timely. We have been reminded by recent headlines that a return to civil behavior, for everyone in society, is desperately in order. One need look no further than the recent Don Imus scandal to see that how we treat each other, and how the things we say and do, can have a greater impact on our lives and the lives of others than we could ever imagine.
Considering the fallout from this one incident alone, it's clear our collective patience is worn thin from the preponderance of egregiously bad manners we've allowed to run rampant in our society.
Throughout society, and certainly throughout business, a reining in of unacceptable talk and behavior is necessary. It's time for the offenders to be made aware of the impact of their behavior.
In selling, we see many examples of this.
I am often distressed at the appalling, even unethical, behavior of some salespeople.
The recent story, here in Seattle, of the report of the Huling Brothers' salesmen who stole thousands in cash from a mentally ill customer underscores my concern. The bad behavior, however, can't just be blamed on the "used car" salesmen of the world. These types of individuals can be found in every industry. While their appearance may not be as overt as those who work on the car lot, their motivation can be just as self-serving.
It is difficult for me to imagine how salespeople who behave this way think they're going to be successful in selling.
Intimidation, coercion, pressure - maybe these tactics work when you're trying to obtain state secrets. For the building of a relationship with a prospect or a client, however, they're the business equivalent of friendly fire and they have absolutely no place in selling. Salespeople are not on a sales call to break their prospects down; they're on the sales call to uplift and serve them.
"Civility is a public virtue. Like oil or wheat, it is a necessary social commodity that allows society to function," says Daniel Henninger in his recent article, "The Rebirth of Civility?" from The Wall Street Journal. "Psychologists commenting on the phenomenon of ... verbal abuse or aggressive public heckling often talk about society's expanded notions of personal entitlement. We have ratified a lot of over-the-line behavior."
The negative opinion of salespeople is also held, ironically, by sales management.
It's no wonder some salespeople act so preposterously when their behavior is not only sanctioned but modeled by their own management. This hypocrisy is most clear in the treatment of salespeople from other firms by the company or management. Disdainful policies such as "No Soliciting" speak volumes about the lack of respect for salespeople within the organization. Ironically, despite this attitude, management expects its own salespeople to be received in the community with open arms.
So many of the companies that routinely slam the door in the face of salespeople from other firms are the same ones that send their own salespeople out to hunt prospects like game.
They think that the way to get the sale is to ride prospects hard, even if that means they'll offend them or alienate them. They assume that, in our fast-paced and temporary society, they will never have to see or talk again to the prospect to whom they've been unforgivably rude and that this somehow excuses the behavior.
Causality - the relationship between a cause and its effect - is often presented as the principle of karma or "what goes around comes around." In a practical sense, however, causality can be observed in a variety of everyday situations and interactions. The angry prospect you just offended with rude, hostile behavior who calls your manager (or even the Better Business Bureau) using the number that came up on the caller ID is an example.
A negative cause or motivation usually creates a negative effect. In essence, if you treat your prospects and clients negatively, you should be prepared to expect just that in return.
Along those lines, a sales professional cannot afford to have an "anything goes" mentality. Showing respect and civility to prospects, clients and even fellow salespeople is just as important in the minor, day-to-day interactions as it is in big sales calls. Returning calls, acknowledging e-mails and communicating in a professional and courteous manner at all times is crucial - even when you have to relay bad news. Your calls should be made only when it is convenient for the recipient.
Your e-mails should be written with the same care and attention to detail as letters and contracts. Never miss an opportunity to say "Please," "Thank you" or "I'm sorry."
These little details can have a huge impact on your relationships.
Imagine how well your sales would go if you adopted a warm and courteous manner and you were able to not only get what you wanted from each interaction (i.e., a sale) but your customer got what he or she wanted, too.
Civility not only allows for people to be nice to one another; it allows for effective communication. Only through this vital component can progress toward any goal - be it selling, interpersonal relationships or international relations - be made.
"The observance of civility can minimize the ample frictions of everyday life," Henninger says. When we minimize the frictions of life by curtailing our own impulsivity and showing each other the respect we deserve we can make selling - and living - easier.
Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.