Can you sell with integrity?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines selling in two ways.

Definition # 1    To handover for a price
Definition # 2    To persuade someone of the merits of

Many of the problems encountered by sales people, are inherent in these tired definitions.

“To handover for a price” is not selling; it is the sale. It is the transaction. It is merely one possible outcome at the end of the sales process.

Imagine if we applied this model to another professional; a doctor. One possible outcome is that the doctor gives out big yellow tablets. But what if the doctor defined their job as giving out big yellow tablets? Whatever symptoms you had would then be irrelevant. The doctor would always prescribe the same big yellow tablets. Now imagine you knew the doctor was receiving commission on those tablets. Would you trust the doctor?

It seems ridiculous and yet this is what sales people do. They go and see the customer with only one or two solutions for which they receive commission. They define their job as the transaction, and still expect the customer to trust them.

Definition # 2 is introduced at this juncture. If I am seeing a customer and all that matters is the sale, then I have to persuade my customer of the merits of my product or service. Of course, it does not matter whether it is the right solution for them or not. My job, as the salesperson, is to persuade them that it is right; right?

In the new economy, with the increase in choice and access to information that customers have, we need to redefine what selling is; I suggest two alternative definitions.

1.    Selling is about problem solving.

Every purchase solves a problem. I buy milk so I can have a cup of tea in the morning. I put petrol in my car otherwise I can’t get to work. These are logical purchases.

However, many sales solve emotional rather than logical problems. For example, someone who buys clothing on impulse, that they don’t appear to need, can be solving a number of problems. It can be one of self esteem; they feel good about themselves when they buy something. It can be status or aspirational. They may define their success by owning lots of clothes or always having the latest fashions.

2.    Selling is about conveying possibility

Sales people need to be experts in their field. In many ways they are consultants and educators. Life has become increasingly complicated, and even relatively simple purchases are more difficult than ever before. So a sales person’s job is to show people what possibilities they have and explore if there is a better way.

A doctor doesn’t define their job as giving out yellow tablets. A doctor is someone who cures and prevents disease. If a doctor can’t help cure and prevent the disease you have, they are happy to refer you to a specialist who can.

Similarly, if a sales person’s job is to solve problems and convey possibility they should be willing to walk away if they can’t help and refer the customer on to someone who may be able to be of assistance. This is selling with integrity.

Focusing solely on the transaction can only lead to bad selling and mis-selling. This is because the focus of the process is on the sales person getting the deal instead of addressing the customer’s problems. Focusing on solving problems and conveying possibility makes the process totally customer focused and, in the new economy, is an approach that will be more successful.

Grant Leboff is Principal of The Intelligent Sales Club working with companies on effective sales and marketing strategies and lead generation; creating a steady stream of sales opportunities for businesses. For more information email  or call 0844 478 0044.