Ethical and Unethical Sales Leadership: What’s The Difference?


By Linda Fisher Thornton

Unfriendly Sales Techniques 

Times are still tight for consumers and salespeople are concerned about their jobs. It seems that is more tempting now than it would be in a booming economy to use high-pressure tactics or other unfriendly approaches in order to get business.  And pushy, unfriendly sales techniques stand out even more in difficult economic times. Customers will go out of their way to avoid companies that use them.

Some unfriendly approaches that I have observed recently include:

  • More cold calls than usual
  • People ignoring “no soliciting” signs
  • People who won’t stop talking when you politely say that you’re not interested
  • People who continue to try to sell you additional services before taking the time to resolve a problem that you’ve called about

What’s the Difference Between Ethical and Unethical Selling?

See if you can relate to these descriptions of ethical and unethical selling, and take a moment to consider the important leadership questions that follow.

Unethical Selling

Selling my product (even if you don’t want it).

Ignoring the boundaries of privacy and space and being blind to our negative impact on the customer. 

Talking or pushing my way in. Lying or over promising and failing to deliver.

“You buy it and I make money. Since I was pushy, you don’t ever want to see me again.”

Ethical Selling

Meeting your need, if I can with my services.

Sharing information that is helpful to my customer. No strings.

Respecting boundaries and customer wishes.

Building trust. I meet my sales goal by how well I meet the needs of my customers.

“Since I was helpful, you are likely to buy more from me and refer friends.”

Which Kind of Selling Is My Team Using?

While pushy sales techniques may generate business in the short run, customers are quick to share negative experiences on social media and will caution their friends against dealing with people who try to “get the sale at all cost.” They realize that unethical sales people are trying to gain at the expense of their customers.

Ethical salespeople, on the other hand, focus on building trust over the long-term. They want to help their customers succeed and can see past “just the money” to provide a real service that makes people’s lives better. In taking the high road, they generate successful results for themselves, their customers and their organizations. Which sales approaches are your salespeople using?

Sales Leaders – Ask Yourselves These Important Questions:

1. Have I ever been aware of my staff using approaches that are unfriendly or dishonest, and not asked them to stop?

2. Have I set up a reward system that may lead sales people to use unethical approaches in order to get short-term rewards?

3. How can I be sure that my team understands that I want them to meet customer needs with our product instead of using unfriendly, high-pressure approaches?

4. How can I convey more clearly that being  respectful is part of the ethics of selling?

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  1. Love this, Linda. Having just spent last weekend looking for a new bed, I saw it all. Following us around became the barometer – most invaded our space and didn’t shut up. One woman someone managed to get beyond our “we just want to look” and the only thing I can say she did differently was she seemed sincerely interested in us.

    I just finished Frank Sonnenburg’s recent post on Twitter, and it seems very similar to me to what you are saying here. I struggle with this myself on social media – how much do I “sell” and how much do I just join in the conversation. These two posts gave me food for thought. Thanks.


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