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The Morality of Selling
Selling your services? What it takes to be sure you’ll respect yourself in the morning.
So many Christian people learn that a career in business means starting in sales – a job that often carries a reputation for manipulation and dirty dealing. Is it possible for a principled, religious person to take a sales job and feel good about it? Is there a moral approach to selling?
The answer to that question is “Yes.” A Clean Heart, an attitude of service, and the Golden Rule are key. Yet, even with a high-integrity approach to selling, there’s another problem.
As I provide sales coaching to professionals ranging from CPAs and attorneys to scientists and engineers, I discover that, fundamentally, they DO NOT WANT to sell, as if it’s beneath their professional dignity. They did not go to graduate school to be a peddler! And yet, whether you’re a carpenter, a fisherman, a doctor, lawyer or Indian chief, your business won’t survive without clients or funding!
I’ve learned that the image of sales that most people hold in their minds is of a stereotypical used car salesman. It’s as if they think that, in order to sell their product or service, they have to have the bluster, the pushiness, the willingness to mislead – an immoral bag of tricks!
No wonder they’re failing at it!
Think about this: Loyalty is dying. People shop now, even for professional services providers, and change suppliers easily and often. The professionals who do well are those who have a steady stream of new clients coming in to replace those who think they can get a better deal elsewhere. Today, consultants, lawyers, accountants, financial professionals, even doctors are in the sales business.
To survive, then, you’ll have to get past the used car salesman image and move into a Moral Selling state of mind. Here’s how:
1. Begin with a Clean Heart Position. A Clean Heart Position is what you should hold in your heart when you go out to sell: a sincere desire to see your prospect get what he or she wants, whether or not he gets it from you. If you’re focused on your prospect getting what she wants, you’ll ask questions to learn what that is, and if you discover that what she wants is not what you have to offer, you’ll suggest ways for her to get what she wants. In so doing, you build valuable trust – you’re obviously not someone who’s pushing your own services, you’re an advocate for her achieving her goals. Guess who she’ll think of the next time she wants what you have to offer?
2. Adopt an attitude of service. You’re in business to serve those whom you can help. They don’t have to talk with you – if they choose to speak with you, be grateful for the opportunity; thank them when they call you, or when they give you a project. Be more interested in serving them than you are in running up your fees. Though many people think of selling as manipulative, everyone hates manipulation -- so simply don’t do anything you wouldn’t want to have done to you. That’s the Golden Rule in action. At the same time, I know that I’m always happy when someone who knows more about a subject than I do offers to help me deal with a problem I have in their arena of expertise. My company’s success across the U.S. and internationally is a testament to the truth of that early learning – I give people information about things that I know a lot about, and if I don’t know, I always say so.
3. Forget persuading. People smell persuasion a mile off … and they run away from it. What are the chances that you can persuade senior people to spend money with you anyway? They persuade themselves! Your selling job is to keep the conversation going long enough for them to understand the opportunity you represent to them – then they can be big boys and girls and decide whether to take advantage of the opportunity. That’s selling today.
4. Remember that a selling conversation is different from any other sort of conversation. For people to make investments (that is, spend their money) with us, they have to have something that’s painful enough for them to spend money on, in hopes that they’ll alleviate the pain. So selling becomes a search for the pain your prospect is feeling, a gauging of the severity of that pain (is it simply an irritant, or something that’s so painful that it’s worth spending money to alleviate?), and then the connecting of what you offer with the lessening or removal of that pain, if you are confident that you can help with that pain specifically. And if you’re not confident, you should be inquiring -- to learn more about the situation, the ways in which they’ve already tried to address this pain, and forming a clear idea about how your approach will be different, and more likely to produce a positive result. Either that, or you shouldn’t be selling at all – let your prospect go in peace, and look for someone who can benefit from what you do best.
As a volunteer Stephen Ministry Leader in my congregation, I want to be an example to all the people with whom I work. Simply walking away from a “bad fit” sale may pinch my company’s income in the short run. In the long run, though, a moral approach to selling lets me sleep better at night, and leads to the long-term relationships that, now 18 years after forming my company, are the source of many friendships and a lot of business referrals!
Lenann McGookey Gardner, a Stephen Ministry Leader, owns Lenann McGookey Gardner Management Consulting, Inc., a sales training and marketing consulting firm that serves professional services providers worldwide. A Harvard MBA and winner of the American Marketing Association’s Professional Services “Marketer of the Year” award, Lenann is profiled in Who’s Who in America. Learn more at http://www.YouCanSell.com .
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