Have you ever made a sale that you felt slimy about? I’m talking about something that went above your need to hit a monthly sales quota. Have you ever sold a product you didn’t believe in or didn’t believe could adequately meet your customer’s needs?

If the answer is yes, then congratulations — you’ve uncovered the reason why it’s so hard for prospects to trust you.

All that said, there’s definitely a grey area. It’s not always about bad intentions. Often, the sales you make that don’t quite sit right are a mix of issues on the seller or the buyer side.

The Complicated Nature of Sales Ethics

Put simply, sales reps are driven by goals. If you don’t hit your metrics for the month (usually closed won deals), you’ll likely be put on a performance improvement plan (PIP). If you don’t improve within a month or two after going on a PIP, you can lose your job.

A top salesperson realizes it’s easier to sell to folks who need and value your product, both because those folks are easier to close and because they will become referrals generating new sales. However, sometimes the goals of the salesperson and the person they’re engaging with are not aligned.

If you need just one more sale to avoid a PIP (or go off one), wouldn’t you do anything to close the deal? It gets more complicated if you know that what you’re selling is not a fit. It’s even worse if you’re selling a “hail mary” solution that hastens a company’s impending downfall.

Knowing When to Stop a Sale

Is it ever ok to stop a sale if you know it’s not going to be good for the prospect?

As a salesperson, you’re not exempt from emotions and the feeling in the pit of your stomach when you know you’ve done something wrong.

The answer is yes. It is ok to stop a sale if you can’t get behind it. Depending on your bosses moral code, they may disagree with you. If you find yourself in this type of conundrum, it may be a sign that you’re working at the wrong company or for the wrong manager. At this point, you may want to start seeking other options. How long can you keep this up?

When talking to a new prospect, it helps to start with a detailed, consultative discovery process. If you don’t know enough about your prospect, you’re not ready to sell to them. Don’t assume their pains — ask about them.

Once you’ve done a thorough discovery, before you present a proposal, it’s time to do an ethics gut check.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Do I believe in my product? If the answer is no, you’re at the wrong company.
  • Based on my knowledge of the prospect and our offerings, will this genuinely help the company?
  • Does this have the possibility of hurting the prospect? Have I disclosed these possibilities?
  • Will this sale potentially put the prospect out of business?
  • Will I have problems sleeping at night after making this deal?

The last question is super important because it essentially answers all of the other ones.

Regardless of if you’re a hunter or farmer, it’s the ability to build genuine trust that makes it possible to keep customers for the long haul — to the benefit of the entire company.

Even after you’ve handed off a prospect to an account manager, they’ll be able to quickly figure out if you’ve lied to them to make the sale. If you did, they will resent you (and your company) for pulling one over on them.

Sales is a contract. Sometimes one side (or both!) has unrealistic expectations. In these situations, it’s fair to claim that a sale shouldn’t be made. The implications of this fall out can be more far-reaching than eventual cancellation — it can result in negative public feedback that influences other people’s purchasing decisions.

The worst case scenario? An expectation mismatch where the vendor can’t deliver might result in a $500 million mistake.

The Manager’s Role in Ethical Sales

Because of a manager’s influence in your ability to remain employed in sales, they have a responsibility to demonstrate ethical leadership by creating systems to safeguard ethical sales representatives.

It starts with proper training and creating an ethical company culture. Good teams have a clear definition of the target customer and who will benefit from their product.

Additionally, ethical managers must publicly recognize and reward salespeople who demonstrate that they possess integrity — instead of punishing them for losing a sale that they don’t feel right about. To help create standards, create an ethical code of conduct that protects salespeople from having to make bad decisions. Then, get buy-in from sales representatives by having them sign and agree to it.

Furthermore, do a post-analysis of positive sales wins. Try to figure out what these situations have in common and how the customer benefitted. Document, communicate, and reward those successes within your team.

Integrity Solutions provides additional guidance for creating an ethical sales culture:

Final Thoughts: Sales Ethics: Knowing When it’s Necessary to Stop a Sale

All the systems and rules in the world are no match for your gut feeling. If you don’t feel right about a sale, that’s a good sign that you probably shouldn’t be making it. Of course, it’s easier to follow your gut when you have the support of your manager and buy-in from the rest of your sales team.

What are your thoughts regarding sales ethics and how to systematize it in your company culture? Tweet your thoughts at @SellingTools and we’ll share our favorites.

This week’s post is by guest author Maddy Osman, Content Manager for Cirrus Insight, a sales productivity tool that allows you to track emails, schedule meetings, set follow-ups and more, right from your inbox. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.